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Nigeria’s Regionalism Re-Imagined

By Victor Opatola




Nigerian lawyer, Victor Opatola Esq, in this piece interrogates issues on the new call for regionalism in the country.


Regionalism, as a concept and practice, has had a profound impact on Nigeria’s political, economic, and social development.

In a recent document titled “A Bill for an Act to substitute the annexure to Decree 24 of 1999 with a new governance model for the Federal Republic of Nigeria” drafted by Dr. Akin Fapohunda, the private bill which among other things advocates for regionalism and has been forwarded to President Tinubu for his consideration, and has reignited debate about the potential benefits and pitfalls of such a system. This article critically examines the historical evolution of regionalism in Nigeria, its implications, and the necessity for a reimagined approach that addresses past shortcomings while harnessing the strengths of regional governance.

Historical Context of Regionalism in Nigeria

The roots of regionalism in Nigeria can be traced back to the colonial era, marked by significant constitutional developments. The Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, and the Macpherson Constitution of 1954 laid the groundwork for regional governance. These constitutions, however, were primarily administrative tools designed for efficient colonial administration rather than building a cohesive Nigerian state. They introduced a system that emphasized regional distinctions and catered to the administrative needs of the British Empire, rather than fostering national unity. The 1946 Richards Constitution and, more decisively, the 1951 Macpherson Constitution formalized regionalism by establishing regional governments.

The political Bureau report of march 1987 in page 28 stated that “the regionalism introduced by Richardson Constitution of 1946, and more forcefully in the McPherson Constitution of 1951, itself largely a product of the deliberate reservation of treating Nigeria as one, served the ultimate purpose of creating a mental awareness of differentiation among diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria”. This system inadvertently deepened ethnic divisions by creating a mental awareness of division among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups. For instance, according to the political bureau report of 1987, the division of the Southern Nigeria into East and West in 1939, was a political move to suffocate the growing tides of protest in the south Nigeria – which later created a deep structural imbalance in the post colonial Nigeria. Consequently, political parties formed during this period, such as the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and the Action Group (AG), developed along ethnic lines, further entrenching regional and ethnic identities.

Regionalism in the First Republic

Given the foundation laid for regionalism in Nigeria, it was not shocking that that Nigeria didn’t not developed a political leadership of collective consciousness  and a sense of public duty over ethnic and filial lines.  Consequently,  the political leadership and the Nigeria of the first republic was a by-product of the jaundiced and faulty division laid by the regional system, a divide and rule system. Post-independence Nigeria adopted a regional system that reflected these colonial divisions, as laid down during colonial days. The First Republic (1963-1966) operated under a federal structure with three regions—Northern, Eastern, and Western—each with significant autonomy.

While this period saw notable economic and social development in regions like the Western Region under Ahmadu Bello,  Obafemi Awolowo and the Eastern Region under Michael Okpara,  it also highlighted the weaknesses of regionalism. The regions often operated like autonomous entities, prioritizing regional interests over national cohesion, leading to intense competition and conflicts. One of the most significant challenges of regionalism in Nigeria is the tendency towards ethnic and regional parochialism. The regional governments, instead of fostering national unity, exacerbated ethnic divisions and promoted a sense of exclusivity. This led to feelings of alienation and distrust among different ethnic groups and regions, hindering the development of a unified national identity. The regional system also fostered an environment where political leaders prioritized regional interests, often at the expense of national unity and development. This parochialism was evident in various discriminatory practices, such as employment policies favouring indigenes over non-indigenes. These practices deepened ethnic and regional divides and undermined efforts towards national integration and social mobility. Furthermore, regional structure also contributed to significant economic imbalances and political instability. The concentration of resources and political power in certain regions created disparities that fueled tensions and conflicts.  Moreover, the regional system’s inherent weaknesses, such as the lack of a cohesive national strategy for economic development and the emphasis on regional self-sufficiency, hindered Nigeria’s overall economic growth. The competition for resources and political power among the regions often resulted in conflicts that disrupted economic activities and slowed down development.

Re-imagining Regionalism in Nigeria

According to Robert Pirsig, “If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves.” The mental and psychological foundation of division, built into regionalism must be re-imagined and rewired.  If the present day Nigeria will go back to regionalism then it must go through the pains of re-imagining the ills and pitfalls of regionalism. We must stop the fantacisation of the good old days and romantisation and nostalgia of what worked in the past without making deliberate effort and rigour to re-imagine and rebuild same to make them suit the challenges of the present and future.   If “we the people “ are not ready to put in the rigours to re-imagine a build a better regional system with the benefit of hindsight of colonial regionalism and First Republic regionalism, then we have no business venturing again into regionalism.  Given the historical challenges associated with regionalism, the recent calls for a return to this system necessitate a critical examination of its potential benefits and pitfalls. Any move towards regionalism must address the issues that plagued the system in the past and brought it to its knees, such as ethnic parochialism, economic imbalances, and political instability.

Now, given the new quest to revert to regionalism,  the question arises; does regionalism in itself bears the magic wand.  What can be achieved under regionalism that cannot be achieved without regionalism. It is a given that with or without regionalism, Nigeria needs to devolve more powers out of the exclusive list, that Nigeria needs to practice federalism in its true sense, that Nigeria needs to strengthen its Judiciary, that it needs to make politics financially unattractive, curb excessive and discretionary powers of political office holders, tear down and rebuild the Nigeria Police, minority protection,  security, citizenship and cohesiveness .  How will regionalism become a magic wand to achieve all these. Nigeria must shun the spirit of romanticize the old glory days, out of nostalgia. The past is gone, the future is what we must work hard to create. Federalism can definitely be achieved without regionalism, so the question remains of what peculiar importance or advantage is regionalism.


The renewed call for regionalism in Nigeria presents an opportunity to reimagine and redesign the country’s federal structure. By critically examining the historical context and addressing the structural weaknesses of the past, Nigeria can develop a more balanced and inclusive model of regional governance. This involves constitutional reforms, strengthening national institutions, promoting inclusivity and national integration, and ensuring political stability. Yet, before transitioning into regionalism, “we the people “ must be rigourous in our approach to regionalism this time.   Ultimately, the success or failure of any adopted political system in Nigeria depends on the collective efforts of political leaders, policymakers, and citizens to create a political environment that prioritizes national unity and development over regional and ethnic parochialism. By learning from the past and adopting a holistic approach, Nigeria can harness its potentials to promote economic growth, social development, and political stability, thereby creating a more united and prosperous nation.

Opatola Victor is a legal practitioner and policy analyst. He can be reached through

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