What is Federal Government?

A federal government is a system that divides up power between a strong national government and smaller local governments. Let’s take a look at how power plays out between the national and local government, and the benefits of a federal government.

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or ‘federal’ government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

Leading examples of federations or federal states include the United States, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Australia and India. Some also today characterize the European Union as the pioneering example of federalism in a multi-state setting, in a concept termed the federal union of states.

Definition of a Federal Government

federal government is a system of dividing up power between a central national government and local state governments that are connected to one another by the national government. Some areas of public life are under the control of the national government, and some areas are under control of the local governments. Federal government systems usually have a constitution that specifies what areas of public life the national government will take control over and what areas of public life the state governments will take control over.

In federal states, the federal government is the government at the level of the nation-state. The structure of central governments varies from institution to institution. By delegating powers from the central government to governments at a sub-national level, autonomous regions are created by many countries. In a federal system, there are two or more levels of government that exist within an established territory and govern through common institutions with overlapping or shared powers as prescribed by a constitution or other law.

The central government has the power to make and enforce laws for the whole country which are in contrast with local governments. The usual responsibilities of the central government which are not granted to lower levels of government are maintaining national security and exercising international diplomacy, including the right to sign binding treaties.

In general, the difference between a central government and a federal central government is that the autonomous statuses of self-governing regions exists by the sufferance of the central government and are often created through a process of devolution. A federal central government can be brought into being by an agreement between a number of formally independent states. The United States of America is an example of a government that was created in this manner.

How Nigeria Adopted the Federal System of Government

At independence, Nigeria adopted the federal system of government as opposed to the unitary system of government which Ghana during their own independence. A major requirement for a federation is that the country be geographically big and have a large enough population. Nigeria covers an area of 923,768 km² and at the time of independence, the population of Nigeria was about 45.21 million.

In Nigeria, there are three major ethnic groups. These are the Yoruba, the Igbo and the Hausa Fulani. Apart from these three major ethnic groups, there are still over 245 other smaller ethnic groups. Within these ethnic groups are diverse languages and dialects and this diversity was also a factor that led to the adoption of federalism by Nigeria.

Regional political leaders were also in support of the adoption of a federal system of government. Also, two constitutional conferences held prior to Nigeria’s independence to discuss her independent constitution saw an overwhelming support for a federation. Factors such as these led to the creation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Features and Conditions for the Adoption of a Federation

  • The various states a federation are usually physically close to one another.
  • Federal systems can be adopted to provide considerable amount of decentralization in the administration, thereby promoting regional and local participation.
  • Sharp differences in the level of economic development between different units of a country can lead to the adoption of a federation.
  • Some federations are formed when states or regions with a common historical background come together. For example, the different parts of Nigeria which were all previously under the British colonial empire adopted federalism at independence.
  • A federation can be formed when previously independent states come together as one federating unit, perhaps due to the threat of an external aggressor. For instance, the thirteen American colonies joined together in a federation following the American War of independence for the purpose of collective security.
  • Different groups within a country may adopt federalism as a means of preventing the over-concentration of power at the centre.
  • Federalism can also be adopted for the purpose of pooling resources together for the development of the country as a whole. The desire to promote trade through the removal of all internal trade barriers, for example, contributed to the success of the American federation.
  • Federalism is useful as a means of preventing the over-concentration of power at the centre.

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