Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960, after which it adopted the structure of a federal republic. It initially operated, however, with a strong central government. The post-independence First Nigerian Republic (1960-66) combined a Westminster-style parliamentary system with an awkward federal structure of three (later four) large, but unequal, regions, each of which was dominated by a major ethnic group and controlled by a political party representative of that group. A period of military rule followed from 1966 to 1979, during which the four regions were divided first into twelve and later nineteen smaller states in a successful bid to foster Nigerian state unity following the Nigerian Civil War which took place between July 1967 and January 1970.
The Second Nigerian Republic (1979-1983), saw the restoration of civilian rule and the establishment of the 1979 Constitution which introduced a presidential system of government, established the nineteen state federal structure, and recognized local governments as the nation’s third order of government. It also saw a shift of fiscal and legislative powers from the states to the central government.
The number of states was increased from nineteen to thirty six during a second period of governance by the military which lasted from 1984 to 1999. The return to civilian rule in 1999 provided an enhanced environment for democratic rule and federalism in the country. The current Nigerian Constitution, enacted in 1999, included provisions charging the central government with the duty of promoting the country’s federal character and obliging state and local government to conduct their affairs in a manner that recognizes the diversity of its people and promotes a sense of belonging and loyalty.
Nigeria is a federal presidential representative democratic republic comprised of 36 states and the federal capital territory, Abuja. The President of Nigeria is both the Head of State and Head of the Government. The executive branch is divided into Federal Ministries, each of which is headed by a minister appointed by the President. In selecting his cabinet, the President must include at least one member from each of the 36 states.
The National Assembly of Nigeria, the Nigerian Legislature, consists of two chambers. The House of Representatives, the lower house, is comprised of 360 members who are elected for four year terms in single-seat constituencies. The Senate, the upper house, consists of 109 members who are elected for four year terms in 36 three-seat constituencies which correspond to the country’s 36 states, with a single member elected in the single-seat constituency of the federal capital.
Nigeria is a country characterized by diversity – of ethnic groups and religious belief. Indeed, the expansion of the number of Nigerian states is a direct result of demands of sub-state groups, often ethnic- or tribal-interest groups, for greater influence over was in which the regions in which they live are governed. Today, Nigeria’s population of 173 million makes it the most populous nation in Africa. It is currently experiencing a period of economic growth, but is also battling with issues of security, corruption, and poverty. It faces the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country and attacks on the petroleum industry in the oil rich Niger Delta. One of the major challenges for federalism in Nigeria is the issue of how oil revenues are shared between the central government and the states.