Ex Deputy Governor Talks on: Federalism, Regionalisation And Ethnicity: Foundation Of Nigeria Educational Policy

Former Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, now Chairman of the National Board for Technical Education delivered the 12TH Foundation Day Ceremony Of Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State.On 14th Of March, 2017. The Lecture Was Titled; Federalism, Regionalisation And Ethnicity: Foundation Of Nigeria Educational Policy


Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure and greater honour to be in this beautiful University with its enviable physical structure which is conducive to both teaching and learning. I am, therefore, not surprised to see the high quality of students produced in this great citadel of learning. What I want to talk about today is a subject that is dear to my heart because it combines my professional and political experiences. It has to do with politics and education in Nigeria. I am sure that, at least, a handful of people here know that I am both an educationist and a politician. The combination of these two roles is neither odd nor incompatible, after all education and politics are like Siamese twins. The history of the linkage between politics and education is rooted in the development of the civil society. It is a long history. In any society, policies pertaining to education are always influenced by the prevailing politics of the social formation.  This is how one can trace contemporary education policies of Nigeria to the political history of the country itself. Thus, since the colonial times when the country came into being, the evolving socio-economic and political forces have interacted to chart the course of education policies and development of Nigeria. In my opinion, to accurately capture the political context of the policies and development of education in Nigeria one would have to trace the evolution of Nigeria’s federalism and nation-building efforts.

The Nigeria federal system is the oldest on the African continent. It was established in 1954. In its contemporary incarnation, the Nigeria constitution puts education on the concurrent list. Thus, the responsibility for education is shared by the three tiers of government: the Federal, States, and Local Governments. The federal government has the power to make laws for the federation or any part thereof and establish institutions for “university, technological, professional, and post-primary education” among others. The state has the power to make laws and establish institutions for “technical, vocational, post –primary, primary or other forms of education” for the state. Since education is on the concurrent list, just like the federal government, a state may also make laws and establish institutions for “university, professional or technological education”.  According to the constitution, the functions of a local government council “shall include participation of such council in the government of a state with respect to the promotion and maintenance of primary education” among other subjects.
Federalism in Nigeria
As I suggested earlier, the factor that has had the greatest impact on the development of education policies in Nigeria is the character of the evolution of federalism in the country .Broadly defined, federalism is a system of government whereby government powers are shared between the central government and its constituent regions or states. However, the sharing of power may not extend to all policy sectors. It is often the case that the central government has exclusive legislative powers to execute certain functions. As for education, power is shared concurrently between the local, the states and the federal governments.
Ideally, federalism in the words of Wheare (1963) means the method of dividing powers so that federal and regional governments are each located within its sphere, and are co-ordinate and independent. Thus, Wheare’s proposition posits that the federal principle essentially entails a legal division of powers and functions among different levels of government with a written constitution guaranteeing and reflecting the division.
It was this principle of federalism which provided the real opportunity for the old Western Region of Nigeria to design and implement education policies that were distinctly different from those of the other two regions of the country.
Ever since the British amalgamated hitherto separate territories in Nigeria, successive governments, both colonial and post-independent governments,(including the military government) each sought to design or fine-tune a political arrangement which could, in the words of Jinadu (1979) “cope with the twin but difficult task of maintaining unity while preserving diversity”.
The Richards Constitution of 1946 established three Regions, each ethnically heterogeneous, as the fundamental political units within Nigeria. This was an admission on the part of the colonial administration that, at the very least, Nigeria contained three distinct major socio-cultural units. However, the major challenge of the Richards Constitution was the extent to which its essentially unitary form of governance would accommodate   the diversity recognized by that constitution.
The Macpherson Constitution of 1951 was the answer to the challenge posed by the Richard Constitution.
The Macpherson constitution, through its provisions, gave the Regional Houses of Assembly power to raise and appropriate funds, and pass laws in specified fields such as education, health, agriculture and local government. In this regard, the constitution provided each of the three regions the opportunity and autonomy to legislate on their educational policies and goals. This is why the Western Region in particular started the first ever free Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1955, followed by Eastern Region in 1957 and Northern Region in 1958.   Finally, the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 removed the final shade of unitary system of government from Nigeria by establishing a true federal state in the sense that it shared power between the central and regional governments.
In so far as education policies were concerned, until the military came on the political scene in 1966, the centre of power in the Nigerian federal structure remained in the Regions. Regrettably, given its corporate structure, and its reliance on well-defined hierarchical chain of command, military political rule in Nigeria produced the dominance of the centre over the constituent units. Consequently, several items on the Concurrent Legislative List were either shifted to the Federal Exclusive List or were abridged. One such abridged item was education.


Regionalization is the process of dividing an area into smaller segment called regions.
The evolution of federalism in Nigeria promoted and strengthened regionalism.  In the Nigerian situation, there were three regions between 1945 and 1963. As of 2017 there are 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).Despite having 37 constituent units, most Nigerians and their elite groups think of the country and its politics and policies in regional terms.
This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Indeed, it should be expected that states and regional rights and power would be enhanced or diminished by the terms of association embedded in an evolving federal structure.  The unique challenge of the growth of regionalism in Nigeria arose from the coincidence of ethnicity and regional/state boundaries. In the event, regionalism in Nigeria resulted in unsavory ethnic competition and struggle over resources and control of the levers of power especially at the centre. This became the Achilles heel of educational development in Nigeria. To interrogate this claim, I now turn to a brief discussion of the role of ethnicity in Nigerian politics and policy making.
 An ethnic group can be referred to as a category of people who identified with each other based on some putative similarity or affinity in matters of identity such as ancestral claims, language, beliefs etc. Ethnicity is behavioral in form and conflictual in content. Essentially, ethnicity exists only within a political society or social formation. What breeds ethnicity is the very act of collecting several ethnic groups into one political territory with the attendant competition over resource allocation. This problem is compounded by ethnocentrism which means a pride in one’s ethnic group or a tendency to see things through the lenses of one’s ethnicity. Theoretically, ethnocentrism may yield benign effects. However, it is usually the case that ethnocentrism tends to intensify the emergence of social and political cleavages and conflicts especially where resources and opportunities for social mobility are limited.
Whereas ethnicity refers to the conflictual relationship existing between groups each of which claims to share distinct linguistic, cultural and such other primordial characteristics, regionalism, on the other hand, refers to the competition between constituent political territories or units of a federal state which may or may not consist of several ethnic regional terms.

At this juncture, the pertinent question to ask is “how does ethnicity become a factor in the public policy-making process, especially in education policies?”. We need to remember that in the context of imposed consociation and its attendant brutal competition, an important characteristic of this social phenomenon called ethnicity includes its tendency to crystalise common consciousness within a previously loose and fluid group. Which is to say that ethnicity and ethnic competition tends to transform a “group by itself” into a “group for itself”. The transformation not only further sharpens the identities of competing units it also makes it possible for self-serving social classes to hijack the groups for use in their hegemonic struggle for control of regional and national powers. According to Durotoye (1988), this development had the following consequences for public policy making in Nigeria:
First, ethnicity provided the main impetus for the control of regional and national administration.  If one may recall, with the establishment of regionally based political parties, ethnicity became a tool for mass mobilization in the hands of the rising bourgeoisie in their bid to secure control of regional governments and thus qualify to contest for the control of the central or national government. Secondly, given the use-value of ethnicity, victorious political classes every now and then would announce policies which fanned the embers of ethnicity. This provided profitable opportunities for the merchants of ethnicity to assume the role of the intrepid defenders of the interests of their people who ought to be kept in power for this crucial function. Thirdly, because ethnicity promotes exclusiveness, which is expressed in a “we versus they” language, it often motivated the central government in Nigeria to adopt policies which were aimed at weakening the “out-group”, the opposition ethnic group. Finally, at the regional or state level, ethnicity permitted the use of public policies for competitive purposes that are designed to promote differences and distinction.
For instance, the administration of Region A would decide to execute policies which might positively distinguish it from Region B ensuring in the process, the ascendancy of Region A as a superior Region.
With a little push and shove, one would see that over the years, the development of education policies in Nigeria followed this tradition. In the special case of the development of education in the regions, federalism first and foremost provided the post-Macpherson constitution governments, particularly the maiden Action Group government of Western Region, the freedom to design policies that met the special needs of the people of the region as well as distinguished them as trailblazers. The race had begun. To put it differently, at this stage of the evolution of federalism in Nigeria the constituent units, that is the regions, had the right to develop and deploy their resources to achieve their objectives. In the event, successive governments and the people of the regions, especially Western Region, appeared to believe that free education was not only a desirable priority programme it was the means to modernize and be competitive in the Nigerian project. Little wonder then that the regional governments thought that it was in order and acceptable for government to spend any amount of resources to execute their educational programmes.
Different parts of Nigeria had differing exposure to Western education.  Those who had an early start in acquiring Western education were represented in the civil service, and other professions such as law, engineering and medicine.  As it were, the Southerners, particularly the Yorubas of the then Western Region, enjoyed supremacy in this lopsided development vis-à-vis the Hausa/Fulani of the North and even the Igbos of the East who were only then (in the 1950’s) just emerging on the educational scene. Of course, where ethnicity predominated, such situation as described above fostered and exacerbated unwholesome rivalry.
In Nigeria as it is elsewhere, once members of an ethnic group gained access to the best jobs they automatically used their positions to find jobs for other members of their ethnic groups. As time went on, the repercussion of these engendered inequalities (based initially on education) began to be acutely felt as it resulted in unequal levels of employment, income, assorted opportunities, and economic development.
As can be expected, most regions/states soon became pre-occupied with the development of education in their respective areas.  Consequently, the struggle to counter and correct or else maintain the imbalance in education was often at the heart of postcolonial politics and policy making.  Over the years, various education policies had been designed and implemented by the various regions or states.  Some of these included a free education policy  (of the qualitative or quantitative variety of 1979), a quota system of selection into federal institutions, establishment of multiple state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, the introduction of free primary education policy by the Federal Military government in 1976 to mention a few.  In each case, one observes that the primary motivation remains the attempt by different regional groups to correct or maintain the obvious imbalance in education and overall development.
From the above, it is seen that the Western Region, under the leadership of Awolowo and the Action Group (AG), led with the introduction of a Universal (Free) Primary Education (UPE) Scheme in January 1955.  It was the first of its kind in Black Africa.  The Eastern Region under the Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) government later followed in 1957 and in 1958 the Northern legislature led by the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) decided to plan for primary education on provincial basis.  Even though, in many areas, the Southerners were disturbed by the Northerner’s numerical strength, they expressed little concern that the North would overtake them in the educational race.  As it were, the Federal Government was in a weak position to effect educational developments across the board in the regions particularly at the primary and secondary school levels.  The West and the East were relatively autonomous and were aggressive in formulating their educational policies from 1955 and 1957 respectively. Access to primary and secondary schools were opened and enabled. They also established world-class regional universities to absorb the school leavers. This was the situation until successive military governments began to apply the brakes in the 1970s and beyond.


A lot of arguments have been advanced concerning the role of the central government in education.  Undoubtedly, in the past four decades, the federal government has been controlling education through a lot of its policies and have, in the process, eroded the powers and functions of the states and local governments. As we have indicated, this overbearing control has neither been consistent nor stable. It has been observed that the regions and the states enjoy(ed) relatively more autonomy and latitude in the formulation and implementation of education policies during civilian rule compared to when the country was governed by the military. Even so, the legacy of the prolonged military rule is proving difficult to overcome by the successor civilian governments till date. By way of illustration, the centralization of power and the concentration of resources at the center by the military continues to determine the ability of the states to fully finance and implement their policies especially in education. Consequently, when the economy is in distress as it is presently, the states go cap-in-hand to the central government for crumbs that may have fallen from the masters table to pay teachers salaries in particular.
Politics itself has been defined by David Easton (1957) as the “authoritative allocation of values”. One of such values is education .One of the basic elements of federalism, according to Wheare (1963), is that each level of government must be financially independent because this will afford them the opportunity to perform their functions without depending or appealing to others for financial assistance. It is evident that this basic requirement is absent in Nigeria’s version of federalism. This is because most of the resources are being controlled by the federal government and each state has to go to the central government every month for federal allocation without which they cannot implement their programmes especially in education. This has also made the state government to become subordinate to the federal government. The state and the federal government are therefore no more co-ordinate and independent. This turn of event occurred when the military took over power in Nigeria. As we argued earlier, given its hierarchical structure and martial culture the military is not set up to nurture or practice federalism.  Simply put, a military organization cannot give what it does not have.
In Nigeria, most of the education policies that should be on the state residual list were taken over by the federal military government. In Higher Education, federal government policies on JAMB and the NUC eroded the powers of the state. For instance, in line with (Olufemi Taiwo teaches at the African Studies and Research Centre, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY,USA) “only a militarised civilian regime will establish a state university and put it under federal control, in spite of the fact that education is on the Concurrent List, and put it under contraption like The National University Commission (NUC), The Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB), and other…. Most of these “contraptions” were manufactured and imposed by the military”. The JAMB for instance is a Board of the federal government that conducts entrance examination into Nigerian universities. This covers federal, state and private Universities. The board is also charged with the responsibility to administer similar examination for applicant into Nigerian public and private Mono- technics, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. Similarly, The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was established as an intervention agency under the TETFund Act 2011. It charged with the responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tasks to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
To illustrate the sweeping powers of the centralized structures of education, let us dig a bit deeper into one of this gatekeeper institutions, namely, the National University Commission (NUC) which is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Education.
The main functions of the Commission are outlined as follows:
i. Granting approval for all academic programmes run in Nigerian universities;
ii. Granting approval for the establishment of all higher educational institutions offering degree programmes in Nigerian universities;
iii. Ensure quality assurance of all academic programmes offered in Nigerian   universities; and
iv. Channel for all external support to the Nigerian universities.  
The practical implication of NUC’s functions is that the state and private promoters of higher education are subordinated to the whims and caprices of the federal government. This is contrary to the intention and mandate of any function that is on the concurrent list of the constitution of a federal government. Whether the low ranking of Nigeria universities is a consequence of this unfortunate circumstance is open to debate. Nevertheless, I believe that a serious analysis of the problem will most certainly reveal some degree of correlation.
It is, therefore, meet and proper to accept Adamolekun’s recommendations(2016) to overhaul the NUC in order to reduce its extensive powers and end its centralized, domineering and unitary approach that prevents universities from determining their curricular and to restore the right of universities to admit their students by abolishing a centralized admission through JAMB.
As for secondary education, less intervention is observed from the federal government but, school holidays, the curriculum and some other invisible policies are dictated by the federal government. In basic education, the federal government enacted the UBE Act in 2004. This Act regulates the Primary and Junior Secondary Schools of the state in a manner that makes both the state and local governments completely subordinate to the federal government. The UBE Act grants the federal government the resources and right to disburse funds from the commonwealth to fund primary school infrastructure and teachers’ capacity building. The commission also goes as far as buying books and supplies for the states. The control of the purse bestowed on the federal government by this Act, assures that the states are placed under the thump of its might.
Undoubtedly, education is a political tool for national unity and for national development .It is being argued that the Federal Government under the military realized that education was too important to be left alone to the states as this may give one state undue advantage over the other. Considering that the nation nearly irrevocably broke apart when the Eastern region seceded in 1967, such sentiment appears to be reasonable. Reasonable or not, the argument is unquestionably the poison chalice of a federal system of governance. These argument and the policies that followed from it raises the question whether Nigeria is practicing federalism or unitary form of government especially in education which has always been on the concurrent list. The crux of the issue is how the national resources are distributed especially who gets what, when, and how. This, Harold Lass well (1963) argues, is the essential definition of politics. Following this we can easily contend that Nigerian politics has empowered and privileged the centre. The adage that says, “ he who pays the piper dictates the tune” is relevant in the relationship between the federal government and the states government. In the maturity of any federal structure in the Nigerian circumstance, the piper is the state and local government while the paymaster is the federal government. In the event, the resource that goes into the state which is distributed by the centre determines who goes to school, the quality of education provided, and the overall development of the state. In the matter of education policies and development, the federal government is the overbearing father whose parental control is unwarranted in the context of federalism.
Because the federal government has appropriated a lot of resources to itself at the expense of the state, it can always dictate policies that are binding on the states. Of course, we do not all agree on this point. For some, most of the policies on education that emanate from the federal government are designed not only to forge and promote the unity of the country but also to bridge the gap between all sections in the country especially between the educationally advantaged and the educationally disadvantaged areas, between the regions and ethnic groups as it was in the 1950s during the era of Universal Primary Education (UPE). For others, most of the policies are not designed to promote progress but, rather, they were designed to encourage competitiveness and growth which maybe healthy for each region or state. Be that as it may, the inequality in educational achievement and the attendant disparities in socio-economic development between the North and the South are still there today. It is apparent that a new politics of education is urgently needed. This probably will be found in the restructuring of our political architecture.


The early years of Nigeria’s independence (before the military rule) can be described as the “golden age” of federalism or the era of “true federalism”. This was also the period when the constituent units pursued policies that made the quality of education in Nigeria competitive with the rest of the world. The ascendance of the military in Nigerian politics reversed this trend and undermined true federalism. Surely, education is one strong instrument that is important to the federal government because it is being used to promote unity in diversity. Given the near dismemberment of the country the Federal government involvement in education policy was inevitable. Since then, education continues to be at the center of our national politics. I will want to suggest decentralization of the power of the federal government in the area of education policies and policy implementation. The federal government should be limited to establishing national goals for education as stated in the National Policy on Education and ensuring that states comply with the right of the child to education. This does not preclude incentives to states. I believe strongly that education is an area best left to state and local governments because they are in the best position to know the problems of their states and so will respond appropriately to their individual needs. A centralized unified approach may not adequately respond to the problems affecting each state because Abuja may, in all likelihood, not appreciate and understand the peculiar needs of each state and their communities and is not in the best position to develop a curriculum and pedagogy tailored to the unique needs and environment of each state. Shifting more control over schools to the federal government while still leaving the state and local governments with the responsibility to fund schools will only produce frustration and hinder innovation. In short, it is best to allow the states and local governments to tailor their education to their local needs. Here lies a sample of the constitutional principle and practice of true federalism. Thank you for listening.


Adamolekun Ladipo (2010) Nigerian Federalism at the Cross Roads: The Way  Forward.
Adamolekun Ladipo (2016): Nigerians are Not Proud of the 1999 Constitution. Being  the 9th Convocation Lecture of the Lead City University. Ibadan.
Durotoye  O.O (1988): The Colonial Foundation of Contemporary Policy Environment In Africa”; Department of political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University.
Easton David (1953): The Political System: An Inquiry into the state of political Science, New York, Knopf,
Jinadu, A.,  (1979) “Note on the Theory of federalism”. In  : Readings on Federalism. Edited by B. Akinyemi  et al, Lagos, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs.
LassWell Harold (1963), Politics: Who Gets What, When and How, New York, McGraw-Hills,
Wheare Kenneth (1963), Federal Government, 4th ed, London, Oxford University press


  1. Professor Adelabu has done thorough dissection of problems battling education in Nigeria. I will only suggest a modification to the suggestion that Federal Government should out rightly relinquish education to local and state government, I disagree with this. The role Tetfund is playing in the sector has underscored the importance of the federal government in education in Nigeria. If states and local government are to structure curricular,the federal government must harmonize the outcome, since we operate under the umbrella of a nation. The system as lopsided as it seems have vibrant products to its credits.
    We may need to look critically at policy implementation.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Court Halts Judgement On Murder Case In Ekiti

Special Invitation To All Mothers And Mothers To Be. (Virtuous Mothers' Summit 2019)