Politics and Economic Development in Nigeria

By Tom Forrest | Go to book overview

2
State, Society, and Economy: Historical Background

Federal Structure, Regions, and Unequal Development

Although in theory colonial Nigeria was ruled by the British as a single political unit, in practice the administrations of the units were distinct and independent. There was no central representative institution or unifying political focus. 1 After World War II, under pressure from nationalist politicians, constitutional developments led to a truly federal system of government in which the regions had considerable autonomy.

In 1954, Nigeria became a federation of three regions (Northern, Western, and Eastern). The centre had responsibility for foreign relations, defence, the police, overall aspects of finance and trade policy, and major forms of transport and communications. The regions had responsibility for primary and secondary education, agriculture, public health, and local government. They could undertake their own initiatives in spending and public works. The judiciary, the public service commission, and institutions like the Marketing Boards were regionalised. Responsibility for economic development, together with higher education and labour matters, was shared between the centre and the regions.

The federal structure reflected the wide cultural and political differences between the country's three largest ethno-linguistic groups--the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa-Fulani, which constituted the majority of the population in the Eastern, Western, and Northern regions, respectively (see Table 2.1). Within each region, the majority group tended to exercise political dominance over numerous other smaller ethnic groups.

Through the regional system of separate administrations and the use of local authority structures, the British divided and ruled. In this way, cultural and linguistic differences were emphasised and communal sentiments encouraged. 2 Local systems of authority were upheld, provided they did not conflict with commercial expansion and administrative convenience. 3 The policy of indirect rule strengthened and centralised existing forms of leadership and authority. In the north, the emirate structure

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