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An Essay in honour of



O. Igho Natufe, Ph.D



This essay is in honour of the MIDWEST HISTORY MONTH 1999. Before dealing with the subject matter, I would like to thank Dr. Nowa Omoigui for his foresight in initiating this event. In my reply to him on July 30, 1999, when he invited Midwesterners to participate in this historical milestone, I thanked him "for reminding us of our being". Too many of us have either forgotten or do not care about our history.

To Midwesterners, and to Nigerians in general, the creation of the Midwest State on August 9, 1963, will for ever remain a key factor in determining the future of federalism in Nigeria. As a student and teacher of comparative federalism, I have always supported the federalist movement in Nigeria. In one of my weekly columns in the Observer Group of Newspapers, the Sunday Observer, (Benin City, August 7, 1988, p. 12), entitled "On Nigerian Federalism" I wrote: "While Bendelites are celebrating the Silver Jubilee of the creation of their state this month, 567 Nigerians are continuing their assigned debate in Abuja to rewrite the Nigerian Constitution." In that same piece I argued as follows:


"As Nigerians, we assume we are operating a federal state when in fact we are not. ....Nigerian federalism ensures that the central government dictates to the governments of the federating units, thus negating a key aspect of federalism ...It may not be necessary for each state to have its own constitution, provided the agreed division of powers underlining the independence of each state is written in the Federal Constitution. It is obvious that Nigerians do not want unitarism, but where they elect to adopt federalism then they should be prepared to pay the price of federalism. The Constituent Assembly members should give Nigerians a Federal Constitution that is truly Fedral in all aspects. "


Eleven years later, we are still addressing the same concerns I articulated on the Silver Jubilee of the Midwest State. The purpose of this anniversary piece is to underline the significance of the creation of Midwest State in Nigeria’s federal polity. We will also invite other concerned Nigerians to (re)examine the federal structure of Nigeria in such a way that recognizes the independence of the federating units.


After more than two decades of selfless struggles by the representatives of the peoples of the region, the Midwest State was created on August 9, 1963. The creation of the Midwest State is significant for the following reasons:

  1. It was the first state to be created in Nigeria.

  2. It remains the only Nigerian state to be created by constitutional means, and not by a military fiat.

  3. Its creation facilitated a stronger voice for the articulation of minority rights in Nigerian Politics.

But the journey to August 9, 1963 was not an easy one. We. Midwesterners, must remain eternally grateful to those who fought for the creation of the state. Prominent among those was the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II, without whose personal intervention and guidance the state may not have been created in 1963. The others whose names must be recognized were Dennis Osadebay, Jereton Marierie, and James Otobo. It is instructive to note that Otobo was the only prominent member of the Action Group (AG) from the region who fought publicly for the creation of the Midwest State. As we celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the Midwest State, I am sad to declare that we have not done anything to immortalize the lives of those four freedom fighters.


In constitutional debates, many may argue that Midwest State was a product of the series of commissions of inquiries that called for the creation of states for Nigerian minority groups. It would be a gross oversimplification to do so, because the inquiries by themselves did not create the Midwest State. While the results of those inquiries were powerful arguments in favour of the proponents of state creation, the contour of pre-1963 Nigerian politics denied state creation for any minority groups. Let me explain.

The Richards’ three regional structure of 1947 rendered moribund the Lugardian north-south amalgamation that gave birth to "modern" Nigeria in 1914. The event of 1947 coincided with the formation of the three main political parties that eventually governed the respective regions. We all accept that Nigeria is a creation of British imperial rule. The hitherto independent kingdoms of present day Nigeria were colonized, "united" and christened "Nigeria" by Britain. When these disparate kingdoms regained their independence on October 1, 1960, it was not as separate independent entities which they were, but as a political community called NIGERIA.

They were brought together by Britain to experiment with the art of governing a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual polity. Since 1960 Nigerians have been grappling with this experiment. Of the three major political parties that defined the landscape of contemporary Nigerian social and political history, only the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was established as a national political party. Both the AG, a creation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), were founded to promote Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani interests respectively. That the NCNC later became to be perceived as an ‘Igbo’ party was not entirely the design of Igbo political elites, but rather the machinations of some powerful Yoruba nationalists who did not cherish the notion of an Igbo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, becoming the premier of Western Nigeria.

As the leader of the NCNC, Azikiwe was to be the first premier of Western Nigeria following the elections of 1951, with Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba, the leader of the AG, as the leader of the opposition in the House of Assembly. It should be recalled, with profound sadness, that prominent Yoruba traditional leaders and political elites exerted pressure on a number of Yorubas elected on the NCNC platform to "cross carpet" in the House and join the AG, in order to deny Azikiwe the premiership in favour of Awolowo. The concept of "carpet crossing" was thus introduced into Nigerian political discourse. Azikiwe had assumed the leadership of the NCNC following the death of Herbert Macaulay, a Yoruba. There would have been no basis for "carpet crossing" if Macaulay, and not Azikiwe, were elected premier of the West on the NCNC platform in 1951.

As a result of this blatant injection of ethnicism into Nigerian politics, Azikiwe was compelled to "return home" to the East where he became the premier of the government. It is safe to postulate that, were it not for this event, the post 1951 development of Nigerian politics could have been spared much of the instability and crisis the country has experienced. This was a vital turning point in the political history of contemporary Nigeria. It helped to influence most Igbos to seek political shelter in the NCNC, just as the AG became privatized by most Yorubas, and the Hausa-Fulani political elites sought comfort in the NPC.

Following the 1959 federal elections, the NPC, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the prime minister, formed a coalition government with the NCNC. Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the AG, became the leader of the official opposition in the Federal House of Representatives. Samuel Akintola replaced Awolowo as the premier of Western Nigeria, while Michael Okpara replaced Azikiwe as the premier of Eastern Nigeria. Ahmadu Bello, the leader of the NPC, remained as premier of Northern Nigeria. As part of the NPC-NCNC coalition, Azikiwe became the governor general, and subsequently the first (ceremonial) president of Nigeria, when Nigeria became a republic on October 1, 1963.

It was against the above background that the debate for state creation took place. The movement for a Midwest State was the most topical. For the past 50 years the political development of Nigeria has been viewed, rightly or wrongly, as a power struggle for hegemony by the three dominant ethnic groups: Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. Scholars later used the appellation, "Hausa-Fulani" to depict the symbiotic relationship between the Hausa and the Fulani as a result of the strong Islamic ties that bind the two dominant ethnic groups in the northern part of Nigeria. Before August 9, 1963, when Nigeria had three constituent parts, the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo political elites exercised hegemonistic powers in the North, West, and East respectively. It is interesting to note that while none of them wanted a separate state created in their region, they supported the agitation for state creation in the opposing regions. This position was identical to the concept of preventive imperialism of 19th century European imperialism in Africa. I refer to the Hausa/Igbo/Yoruba hegemony as a tripodal conspiracy to subjugate the minorities of Nigeria. We will return to this issue later.


We identify three premises of Nigerian federalism. These are (1) the equality of the federating units; (2) the Hausa/Igbo/Yoruba tripodal conspiracy; and (3) the question of minority rights. If Nigeria were a normal political entity, we would expect the first premise to be dominant in the polity. The fact that the Hausa/Igbo/Yoruba tripodal conspiracy determines the form and content of Nigerian federalism is reflected in the way the political leaders of those three ethnic groups viewed the minority areas within their provinces as their respective colonial possessions, just as European colonial powers regarded their African colonies. It was a scramble for Nigeria by the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba to maintain their power over the minority areas located in the regions that they controlled. (See Table I below) It was against this background that the battle for the creation of the Midwest State was fought and won.



























As shown in the above table, the demand for state creation in any particular region enjoyed the support of the opposing political parties in that region. For example, while the NCNC opposed the agitation for a COR State (Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers) in the East, they strongly supported the agitation for a Midwest State in the West and a Middle Belt state in the North. Thus, for the Midwesterners, the AG was the "enemy" party on the issue of a Midwest State. The debate over state creation in the various regional houses of assembly was dictated by the ideological prism of the ruling political parties. With Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and other prominent members of the AG facing charges of treasonable felony, the AG opposition to the creation of the Midwest State gradually became insignificant. The AG crisis that began in May 1962, following the party’s convention in Jos, fundamentally altered the alliance construct of Nigerian political parties in the 1962-1965 period. This provided an ideal constitutional framework for the Midwest State movement. The crisis also offered the NPC -NCNC coalition government a golden opportunity to crush the AG.

Meanwhile, deserters from the AG, led by Akintola and Ayo Rosiji, established a new political party - the United Peoples’ Party (UPP) - which in mid 1964 was renamed the Nigerian National Democratic Party (UNDP). As premier of the West, Akintola emerged as the leader of the party. In the Federal House of Representatives, Rosiji led the pack of former members of the AG to "cross carpets" to swell the cell of the NPC. The disarray of the AG, and the impact of the treasonable felony trial against Awolowo, Enahoro and other leaders of the party, created ideal situations for the NPC. The NPC no longer seem to need its alliance with the NCNC, and thus became politically arrogant towards its coalition partner. Akintola, who as the premier of the AG-led government of the West had opposed the creation of a Midwest State, now began to view the creation of the state through the same ideological prism of the NPC, a party with which his UNDP was now aligned. Thus, the governing parties of the East (NCNC), the North (NPC), and the West (UNDP) now all agreed on the creation of the Midwest State. The houses of assembly of the respective regions had little difficulty passing the required resolutions in support of the proposal to create the Midwest

State. Irrespective of its growing schism with its coalition partner at the federal level, the NCNC voted with the NPC and the UNDP at the Federal House of Representatives in favour of the creation of the Midwest State. With the above scenario, the subsequent plebiscite of August 9, 1963, became a mere formality as Midwesterners overwhelmingly voted for the creation of their STATE. Midwest thus became the first STATE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


Simply put, nations decide to federate for one or a combination of the following reasons:-


1 socio-economic;


  2. political; and


  2. security.

A nation decides to federate for socio-economic reasons because it:





  3. possesses shared values with other independent federating units;


  2. wants an access to a larger domestic market;


  2. desires a secured access to a sea port;


  2. seeks access to a higher standard of living; and


  2. would enhance its welfare policies.


Politically, a nation decides to federate in order to:






strengthen existing relations with its co-federating units


possess a stronger voice internationally.

Thirdly, a nation decides to enter into a federation in order to be able to protect itself from real or imagined threat to its national security.

The above factors, in varying degrees, could be said to influence the leaders of Nigeria’s three regions to federate after they had obtained their respective independence. We recall that the East and the West obtained their self government status (independence) in 1957, while the North obtained theirs in 1959. Each could have opted to go its own way as we witnessed in the case of the former federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which metamorphosed into the independent states of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. More importantly for us Midwesterners, the above factors influenced our decision to remain as a constituent unit of the Nigerian federation in 1963. None of the federating units became parts of a federal Nigeria in order to forefelt their independence. It is essential that we take this point into consideration in our discussions of Nigerian federalism.



1 The central government represents the federation as a subject of international law.


  2. Federating units cannot represent themselves as subjects of international law.


  2. Federating units independence within own jurisdiction must not do harm to the federation


  2. A highly centralized central government does harm to the federal polity as it could lead to a quasi federal (or unitary) system.


  2. A decentralized federalism could destabilize the federal polity as it is capable of eroding the powers of the central government and making the federating units too powerful.


  2. The two levels of citizenship - state, and central - could be entangled in perpetual conflict if the central government and the federating units fail to agree on vital issues of interest to the federating units.


  2. Citizens' loyalty gravitates towards their respective federating units than to the central government in a highly decentralized federal polity.


  2. A central government's inability to equitably relate to the federating units could give rise to centrifugal forces that could destabilize the federal polity.


  2. It is more expensive to run a federal system than it is to run a unitary system because of the levels of governments in the former.


  2. The system of checks-and-balances is more evident in a federal polity than in any other system of government.

The 1963 Republican constitution of Nigeria recognized the independence of the federating units. It was an example of how a federal constitution should look like. Unfortunately, we have witnessed a systematic erosion of that independence since the military intrusion in the governance of Nigeria. As I indicated in "If Nigeria Must Survive", in the Sunday Observer, (August 28, 1988, Benin City, p. 5) "A mere criticism of the military regime does not, and could not, imply that Nigerian civilian governments have performed creditably in operating federalism". The performance of the Shehu Shagari administration of the Second Republic continued the pattern established by the previous military regimes, while that of the current Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian administration is an extension of his own military administration of the 1970s. I referred to the Hausa-Igbo-Yoruba triumvirate as a tripodal conspiracy in our brief discussion on the creation of the Midwest State above. No where is this more glaring than in the area of revenue allocation.









































It is interesting to note that, the decline of the amount due each state of the federation coincided with the growing significance of oil as the main stimulant of the Nigerian economy. The current revenue allocation formula, as defined in Section 162 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, discriminates against the minority ethnic groups of the oil producing areas of the country. We should also note that, this formula is not applicable to other natural resources as iron, hides & skins, cocoa, palmoil which, again coincidentally, are situated primarily in the non minority regions of Nigeria. When these products constituted the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, the revenue allocation formula favoured the respective federating units. But the game was changed when oil became the dominant single produce sustaining the Nigerian economy.

Who changed the rules of the game? The answer is simple: members of the tripodal conspiracy group! Ask we say in Nigeria, monkey de work, bamboo de chop. Not only did the change violate the principles of federalism as they were when Midwest State was created, it also demonstrates a gross misuse and abuse of the power of the majority to subjugate the minority. As I have argued elsewhere ( "The Nigerian Polity." Sunday Observer, Benin City, September 18, 1988, p. 5), the "federal revenue allocation to states should be made to correspond proportionately to the revenue generated within each state. It is only in this way that states will begin to be serious and strive to be independent and autonomous, instead of waiting for a national cake shared on a wrong formula whereby the bakers get less".


The current structure of Nigeria federalism will lead to the demise of Nigeria, except a thorough restructuring of Nigerian federalism is urgently put in place. A key consideration in a democratic polity is for the dominant political and economic class to recognize and respect its limits to power. It should be prepared to discard its own selfish agenda where this conflicts with the national interest of the nation as expressed by the population in given circumstances.

It should not appropriate to itself the right to determine what should be the national interest of the nation. It is the task of the ruling class, particularly in an embryonic democratic polity like Nigeria, to always ensure that democratic principles prevail. Members of the tripodal conspiracy have failed in this regard. This is reflected in the entire body of the current (1999) constitution where the federating units are described as subordinates of the central government.

The concepts of independent and coordinates, key prerequisites of federalism, have been completely discarded. Furthermore, the proposed Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill which President Obasanjo recently submitted to the Nigerian Senate is a graphic display of the machinations of this tripodal group. The bill outlines a strategy of how to systematically dismantle a federal state.



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