Williams Ehizuwa Orukpe
Department of History And International Studies University Of Benin

This paper examines federalization through state creation as an instrument of nation building in Nigeria. Nation building efforts in multi-ethnic societies seek to facilitate nationalism and development. But in Nigeria, we find that the paths to nationalism so far adopted, instead of yoking her peoples into one bundle to promote development have paradoxically disintegrated and underdeveloped them. Hence, using Esanland as a case study and the political economy analysis framework, this paper seeks to historicize this issue. We seek to interrogate the problem of political integration without corresponding economic integration bedeviling rural areas in Nigeria. And to demonstrate that Nigeria’s adumbrated federalism is partly responsible for rural economic underdevelopment; and the economic disconnect between rural and urban economies in the nation. This paper maintains that rural underdevelopment in Nigeria is currently fueling ethnic-nationalism and crises of confidence in Nigeria’s federalism; and socio-economic dystopia in Esanland and other rural areas.

Since 1946, federalization through state creation has been resorted to in Nigeria, as a means of fostering unity in diversity. Thus, from Arthur Richard’s division of Nigeria into three regions to Oliver Lyttleton federalizing them in 1954; federalism has become a nation building instrument of development in the hands of Nigeria’s political elites. However, since independence Nigeria’s federalism we insist has only succeeded in bringing government closer to the people; but not the economy. Therefore, we conclude here that economic federalism above all else is central to promoting rural economic development; and rural-urban economic integration in Nigeria.

Keywords: Nation Building, Nigeria, Esanland, Federalizing, Development.


Nigeria has not always been a federation. And the peoples of the nation have not always existed as one bundle. They were from earliest times organized into autonomous communities characterized by several ethno-religious pluralities that set them apart as distinct identities. There are currently over 250 of these ethnic principalities in modern Nigeria; and they are politically organized into over 774 local government areas where they are unevenly distributed across Nigeria. But despite their ethnic diversity and socio-cultural pluralism, the peoples still have a basis for unity. The historicity of this unity rests on the historical tripod of religion, commerce, and politics. In the North, Nigerians are religiously united under the banner of Islam the pre-dominant religion in the north; while in the South Nigerians are mostly united under the banner of Christianity the dominant religion in the region. Hence, it is safe to maintain that religion is the foremost building block of federalism in Nigeria. In pre-colonial Nigeria, religion arguably served as the cultural melting point that enhanced unity in diversity by the understanding it promotes among members of the same religious faith. For instance, in Igboland the worship of the Ibini Ukpabi (Long Juju) deity of Arochukwu fostered religious unity in diversity in the region. And in colonial Nigeria, the religious commonalities of the peoples partly enhanced unity in diversity in the three regions. Therefore, it is not a misnomer to regard the trans-Sahara trade and the trans-Atlantic trade that introduced Islam and Christianity into Nigeria as the historical foundations of federalism in Nigeria.

Indeed, the socio-cultural cross fertilization and religious integration of the Nigerian peoples, Christianity and Islam promote in the country, has become a veritable instrument of national bonding in post-independence Nigeria. In other words, religion is arguably the common denominator and mortar cementing and sustaining the fragile unity among the culturally distinct peoples of Nigeria without which federalism would be unworkable in the nation. According to F.A.C. Akamere, federalism as a political concept originated from the Latin word “foedus” which means treaty or agreement. Implicit in this understanding is the clear linkage between religion and federalism in Nigeria. Put simply, religion provides the cultural meeting point for Nigerians to agree with one another. Most especially as religious teachings of the dominant religions in the country tend to advocate more for mutual love, respect and tolerance among her heterogenous peoples. Understandably, in post-colonial Nigeria religion is enabling Northerners and Southerners in the nation to see eye to eye despite their deep seated general resentment towards the non-consensual amalgamation of 1914.

In time however, the historical foundation of federalism in Nigeria shifted from religion to the economy, especially in the 19th century, when trade and commerce came of age with the inception of legitimate trade. During this period, buying and selling locked the pre-colonial peoples of Nigeria together as one economic unit through inter-group trade relations. Markets consequently emerged as the uniting bond among Nigerians and the economic framework for national integration. Traders from diverse ethnic identities bonded with fellow traders from other ethnic groups and buyers as well. However, with the turn of the 20th century politics and governance displaced economics and emerged as the main driver of federalism in Nigeria as a result of the official imposition of colonial rule on the autonomous peoples of the country. For administrative convenience, the colonial authorities federated the colony of Lagos with the Southern protectorate in 1906; and this paved the way for the integration of the Esan people with the Yorubas, Urhobos, Isokos, Itsekiris, Binis and other Edoid speaking peoples into one political unit called the Southern protectorate.

This was followed by the Lugardian nation building effort in 1914 when the British amalgamated the Northern protectorate, created in 1900, with the Southern protectorate. This political surgery was a British political masterstroke to cut the cost of governance and reduce British direct financial investment in her Nigerian colony. It also aided the centralization of colonial administration of the whole country from a single colonial headquarters in Lagos; thus, a National Council was created to legislate for the whole country and a separate Legislative Council for Lagos. This political union was crowned with a naming ceremony in 1914 where the end product of the amalgamation was christened Nigeria. However, in the years that followed the colonial union of the peoples of Nigeria, the absence of the people’s consent and assent to the social contract of 1914 generated serious internal heats that sundered the union. And this made the union a union without unification; and the Nigerian nation a nation without nationalism. Consequently, Obafemi Awolowo described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression; and this description aptly depicts Nigeria as a nation plagued by ethnic-nationalism, social disharmony, and love-lost for the country.

Accordingly, Biodun Adesina and Shina Alimi’s “The Burden of Nation Building: Constitutional Crisis and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, 1945-1960” observed that by 1944, the major knotty problem that confronted the British colonial authorities was how to create a political structure that will allow the individual ethnic group in Nigeria the opportunity to flourish and excel without compromising the unity of the nation. In response to this challenge, Sir Arthur Richard submitted a proposal to the Legislative Council on March 6, 1945, spelling out his strategy for addressing the minority issue. Following the approval of Richard’s proposal, it became the Richard Constitution in 1946. By means of this constitutional framework, the colonial Governor of Nigeria advocated state creation (regionalism) as the most viable to political tool to protect the unity of the nation. Therefore, out of regard for the ethnic distinction and peculiarities of Nigerians, Sir Arthur Richard introduced regionalism as a protective safeguard. He divided the nation into three regions: North, West, and East, dominated by the majority ethnic groups in the country, the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo.

It should be noted that the cardinal objective behind the regionalization of nationalism in Nigeria as James Coleman describes it, was to promote unity in diversity. However, during the period, the people of Esan were integrated into colonial Nigeria under the Western region where they existed under the dominion of the Yoruba majority. The three regions created by Richard were arguably elevated to the status of federating states in 1954, by Sir Oliver Lyttleton when he became the Governor General of Nigeria. Lyttleton through the legal framework he initiated, the Lyttleton Constitution, officially introduced federalism into Nigeria. It was at this point in Nigeria’s political and constitutional development that it became very clear that the federalization of the peoples of Nigeria under the leadership of a generally recognized and accepted central government through state creation is the best political means of fostering nationhood in Nigeria. And not the British unitary system introduced by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1914 that did not regard the ethnic distinction and peculiarities of the Nigerian peoples before merging them together. It follows therefore that the modern art of federalizing Esanland into the Nigeria bundle began constitutionally in 1954; when the Esan peoples became a member of the Nigerian state as one of the minority ethnic groups in the Western region.

It is against this backdrop that this paper seeks to examine the federalization of Esanland in post-colonial Nigeria through state creation. Since 1960, the Esan people have been federalized into Nigeria from being under the Western region to being under the mid-Western region in 1963, and to Bendel state in 1976, and subsequently to being under Edo state in 1991. Therefore, the paper contends that through state creation in Nigeria, an aggrieved section of the nation is given a distinct constitutional and political identity in the Nigerian federal system to enable it to thrive as a microcosm of a macrocosm. While state creation is arguably a political move to end minority unrest by checkmating political and economic marginalization and exclusion of the minorities in Nigeria by the dominant majority ethnic group in the region of the country where they exist; it has paradoxically fuelled economic isolationism in Nigeria. Because Nigeria’s adumbrated federalism has failed to promote rural economic development; and rural-urban economic integration.

Hence, this study intends to interrogate the extent to which federalization (integration) of rural communities into Nigeria through state creation has been able to facilitate rural development or otherwise. Hence, some of the pertinent research questions guiding this study are: has state creation in post-colonial Nigeria abated minority agitations and unrest? Should more states be created out of already existing states? Is Nigeria’s survival dependent on ethnic-nationalism or nationalism? Does political federalism amount to economic federalism? Why has federalism in post-colonial Nigeria produced basically national disintegration instead of achieving unity in diversity in the country?  Therefore, using Esanland as our case study, this paper seeks to assess the impact of federalism on the socio-economic development of the minority ethnic groups in Nigeria. We seek to find out why the economic fortune of Esanland has continued to retrogress in the twenty-first century? Also interrogate the problems of Nigeria’s federalism that are currently obstructing rural development in the country.

Esan: The Land and the People

Image by BenBlack
At this point, it is appropriate that we give attention to the study area to create and enhance a visual understanding of Esanland and its peoples. Geographically speaking, Esanland is currently located in the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria. It is a plateau located 80km North-East of Benin-City the capital of Edo state. Esanland (Oto Esan) occupies a total land mass of 2,814.347 square kilometer land space out of Edo state’s 19,794 square kilometer and Nigeria’s 923,763 square kilometer territory. The region is bounded in the North-East by Etsako, in North-West by Owan, in the South-West by Orhiomwon and Ika, and in the South and South-East by Aniocha and Oshimili; and on the Eastern frontiers, Esanland is bounded by the River Niger. The region is about 134 meters above sea level and situated on a plateau that rises from the Orhiomo River and drains into the Orle River, Orbu River, Uto River, and other small streams. Esanland is a tropical rain forest economic zone characterized high temperatures, high humidity, and heavy rainfall in most part of the year. The constant rainfalls in the region accounts for presence of tall trees such as: the Iroko trees, Mahogany tree, Ebony tree, Okpekpe tree, Obeche tree, and Agba tree; with Palm trees and Mango trees being the most dominant in the forest.

The Esan peoples of Nigeria are divided into thirty-five (35) communities. They are the Uromi, Irrua, Ekpoma, Ekpon, Emu, Ewohimi, Ewatto, Ubiaja, Egoro, Ebelle, Ewosa, Ukhun, Amahor, Ugbegun, Igueben, Idoa, Ohordua, Okhuesan, Oria, Ogwa, Okalo, Uzea, Onogholo, Orowa, Urohi, Ugun, Udo, Ujiogba, Iyenlen, Ifeku, Ilushi, Opoji, Ugboha, Uroh, and Ewu peoples. Who are in modern Nigeria political organized under five (5) Local Government areas:  Esan West, Esan North-East, Esan South-East, Esan Central, and Igueben; and one (1) Senatorial District- Edo Central. The Esan people are culturally homogenous people united by the Esan language, which belongs to the Kwa language group of the Edoid people. They are one of the minorities and less privileged ethnic groups in Nigeria. They are intricately yoked with the Benin people and other Edoid peoples in Edo state through the state creation of 1991. As a collective, the Esan people according to Nigeria’s 2006 population census numbers 591534  and have the propensity for a steady projected annual population increase.

Federalism in Nigeria: A Conceptual Understanding

Federalism is a political arrangement characterized by division of political powers in a nation between the central government and the component or federating units.  A. Appadorai along this line observes that the distinctive feature of a federation is the formal division of governmental powers by a constitution between the constituent units and the larger state which they compose. According to Michael Aloye Orieso, the idea of federalism did not spring from intellectual conceptualization but out of exigent national circumstances. This implies that federalism in a nation is usually triggered by the need to achieve social cohesion, that is unity in diversity, especially in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. Hence, L.O. Dare asserts that federalism is a voluntary form of political union, either temporary or permanent, by independent authorities for special common purposes such as defence against foreign powers, for the interest of trade communications or for other reasons.

For the effective functionality of federalism in any nation Appadorai reveals that its adoption must be necessitated by a desire for a union among the members of a society. This implies that it must be voluntary and consensual for it to work. And it must be contrived to ensure and protect the independent or distinct identity of the federating units; and to eliminate all forms of political and economic inequalities among the component units. However, for federalism to facilitate equality in resource distribution in Nigeria, Orieso maintained that the central government must be given a limited responsibility in the federation. This implies that the component units in a true federalism must be given more power than the central government. Thus, the federating states in a true federalism should have full ownership and control of all the resources found in their domain. They must be allowed to generate and manage their own revenue and contribute periodically to the central purse for the sustenance and smooth running of the central government. Therefore, Venkatarangaiya argues that in a true federalism the component units exercise supreme power over the central government in all matters and completely free from any form of possible encroachment from the other federating units.

Consequently, in Nigeria for federalism to successfully allay the fear of domination upsetting minorities in the country and fast track unity in diversity in the nation; the federating states must be empowered to be the masters of their destiny in Nigeria. The regions must control and use the resources in their territory for the development of the state and for the uplifting of the standard of living of its members. When this is the case in Nigeria, state creation will appropriately emerge as a nation building political instrument and means of consolidating federalism in Nigeria. Because state creation will not only pacify minority agitations and fears; it will most importantly empower minority ethnic groups in Nigeria politically and economically. This will secure the future of less privileged Nigerians and fan the embers of nationalism; and douse secessionist tendencies in the nation.

State Creation and National Integration in Nigeria

During colonial rule, in response to minority agitations against their discrimination, oppression, and domination by the majority ethnic in Nigeria, the colonial authorities set up the Willinck Commission to look into the issue of the minority. For instance, in the Western region where the Esan people were integrated into colonial Nigeria under the leadership of the Yoruba majority, the Yoruba’s generally referred to the Esan people and other non-Yoruba’s with the derogatory term “Kobo-kobo”. Understandably, Akamere observes that,
The fears of the minority in the West did not only stem from political domination in favour of the Yoruba’s; but also, from the increasing expansion of some aspects of the Yoruba culture over non-Yoruba areas in the region. This gave the indigenes of these areas the fear of eventual loss of their cultural identity.

When the Willinck Commission waded into the minority question, it found that the fears and concerns of the minorities scattered across the three regions of colonial Nigeria was real. However, the commission put off state creation for the minorities and recommended the repositioning and strengthening of Nigeria’s constitution, security agencies, and other institutions of the state to help ameliorate the fears of the minorities. On the part of the minorities, they later willingly suspended their agitation for state creation in favour of independence, as the colonial authorities made it clear that creating more states at that time would stall the independence of the country. This explains why immediately after independence was attained in 1960, minority agitation for state creation resurfaced as the bane of politics and governance in Nigeria. For the minorities, creating their own state for them was the best way to guarantee their patriotism to Nigeria and secure their future in the nation.

Minority agitation for state creation bore its first fruit in the Western region when the mid-Western region was created in 1963. Thereby increasing Nigeria’s federating units to four (4). However, minority agitation for state creation did not end here. The minorities in the other regions of Nigeria kept pressing for the creation of their own states convinced that it was the most viable means of promoting national integration and unity in the country. The fiery heat the minorities mounted on the government for state creation continued until the collapse of Nigeria’s first republic in 1966. In time, however, the long ignored clamour of the minorities for state creation, especially the movement for the creation of the Calabar Ogoja River state (COR), became the most pragmatic political masterstroke in the hand of the government of Yakubu Gowon to avert disintegration of Nigeria; when the threat of Biafra (Eastern region’s) secession from the country became potent and a civil war in the nation imminent. Hence, in an attempt to aver the civil war and protect the unity of Nigeria, Yakubu Gowon divided Nigeria into twelve (12) states in 1967. He created the states of South-Eastern state, Rivers, Lagos, North-Western state, North-Central state, Western state, Mid-Western state, West-Central state, Benue-Plateau state, North-Eastern state, Kano, and Kwara. The states that were carved out of the Eastern region were political designs to weaken its power, subvert its secessionist tendencies, and preserve the oneness and togetherness of Nigeria.

It is at this stage that state creation became a clear instrument of national integration in the hand of subsequent Nigerian governments. Following Gowon’s twelve state creation, General Muritala Muhammed in 1975 set up the Irikefe Commission headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe to examine minority demand for more states to be created in Nigeria. At the end of its assignment, the committee recommended the creation of more states on the following grounds:

1.      State creation will bring government closer to the people.
2.     State creation will ensure even development in Nigeria.
3.     State creation will preserve Nigeria’s federal structure.
4.    State creation will promote peace and harmony in Nigeria.
5.     State creation will allay minorities fears and minimize the minority problems.

Following the recommendation of the Irikefe Commission, the Muritala Muhammed’s government created new states: Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Cross River, Anambra, Imo, Plateau, Benue, Borno, Bauchi, Gongola (renamed Adamawa in 1991), Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Rivers, Bendel, and Lagos, to make Nigeria’s states nineteen (19) in 1976. To create these states, the government tore apart some hitherto existent bigger regions, and renamed others such as the mid-Western region (renamed Bendel state) and North-Central (renamed Kaduna state).

The progressive demand for more state to be created in Nigeria as a means cementing Nigeria’s bond, in the years that followed the creation of the nineteen (19) states federal system, led the General Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda government to set up a 17-man Bureau charged with the responsibility of finding out the viability of creating more states and determining the most suitable political system for the country. At the end of its assignment the Bureau recommended the creation of six more states: Katsina, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Enugu, Kogi, and Sadauna states. But the Babaginda’s government only approved the creation of two (2) new states: Katsina and Akwa Ibom; and this brought the number of states in Nigeria to twenty-one (21) in September 23, 1987.

The creation of twenty-one (21) states did not end minority agitation in Nigeria for more states. Aggrieved minorities in the country continued to advance their cause, especially those whose desires were not met by the previous state creation exercises. Subsequently, the Babaginda’s government created nine (9) new states in addition to the existing states to make the number of states in Nigeria thirty (30) in 1991. He created the states of Delta, Edo, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Jigawa, Kebbi, Osun, and Yobe. While General Sanni Abacha’s government, in a further attempt to foster national integration in Nigeria by responding to the demand of the minorities in newly created states added six (6) more to Nigeria’s existing thirty (30) states to make the number of Nigeria’s federating units thirty-six (36) in 1996. He created the states of Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Nasarawa, and Zamfara. Under Nigeria thirty-six (36) state system, the diverse peoples of the nation have thus far been integrated in a political framework that allows them to thrive as a distinct cultural identity albeit several challenges due to the malversation of the country’s federalism.

State Creation and the Federalization of Esanland in Nigeria

The federalization of Esanland in Nigeria is rooted in history. The people of Esan from the pre-colonial times have always been a part of the Nigerian state. In the fifteenth century, the rise of Benin Kingdom, as a foremost state in the forest region of Southern Nigeria under Oba Ewuare, led to the annexation of Esanland as a vassal state of the Kingdom. The Esans remained so, and paid tribute to the Oba of Benin, until the Anglo-Benin war of 1897 led to the defeat and conquest of Benin. The fall of Benin paved the way for the Esans to break free from Benin hegemony to assert their independence. In time, British imperial ambition in Esanland led to the Anglo-Esan war of 1899-1906. The war ended in the conquest and colonization of Esanland in 1906. Consequently, in the colonial state that was built by the British in 1900, Esanland was integrated and federated into colonial Nigeria as the Esan Division of Benin province. 

Subsequently, as stated above in 1906 Esanland was integrated into the Southern protectorate before it was finally incorporated into the Nigerian nation in 1914. The division of the Nigerian nation into three regions in1946 led to the federalization of Esanland under the Western region. And in 1963, the status of Esan changed in Nigeria when the people were federated into Nigeria under the Mid-Western region. In 1967, the Gowon state creation exercise saw Esanland still federated under the mid-West; and in 1976 the region was federated under a renamed region called Bendel state. However, in 1991, the status of Esanland changed when the people were federated under the newly created Edo state. Hence, for most part of Nigeria’s history Esan has always been a part of a whole and not a whole itself.

Therefore, the question arises: is the creation of a separate Esan state apt in the twenty-first century? The more states are created in the Nigerian federation, the more new minorities will continue to emerge in the nation. Thus, our response to the foregoing question is that the federalization of Esanland as a separate state in Nigeria is not what is truly important to the region now. Hence, we maintain that what Esanland and other rural communities within the Nigerian federation really need in the twenty-first century is economic federalism. In Esan, we find that there is no scarcity of federal government political presence in the region. Because the region has five Local Governments that apparently have brought government closer to the people and one Senatorial District; and tax collection and internal revenue generation for government is also going on smoothly in Esan. But the economic presence of the federal government in Esan is elusive. Road construction in Esan is poor, industrialization non-existent, and government investment in agriculture in Esan eclipsed by the rise of oil.

Resultantly, it is safe to contend that, politically Esanland is adequately federated into Nigeria, but economically disconnected from the Nigerian federation. The economic presence of the federal government of Nigeria is invisible. As there is a near total lack of federal government assisted water, electricity and health care projects and programmes in Esan; and even economic institutions such as banks are a rarity in the villages of Esan. Hence, it is apt to contend here that Esanland in the twenty-first century is arguably devoid of the dividend of federalism. Understandably, federalism in post-colonial Esan so far has only succeeded in creating a crisis of confidence among Esan people as with other rural dwellers on Nigeria’s federalism. To achieve unity in diversity, rural areas need to be federated economically into Nigeria. Economic federalism is good for the development of Esanland and other rural communities; and for the development of the modern Nigerian economy as a whole. Economic federalism as used in this study refers either the increased federal government economic investment and spending in rural areas, that is, top-bottom development initiatives and programmes, or the complete economic autonomy of Nigeria’s federating states over the use and control of the resources inherent in their domain. And this is central to fast tracking bottom-top development initiatives and programmes in Nigeria. Therefore, until political federalism in Nigeria is matched with economic federalism, the Nigerian nation will continue to remain fluid and dicey. Hence, we insist that the ossification and tight-bonding of the peoples of Nigeria into one close knit and compact political unit is dependent on the economic federalization and development of all regions in the nation; and nothing less.  

The Political Economy of Esan Underdevelopment: Challenges of Nigeria’s Federalism

The political economy of underdevelopment in Esan and elsewhere in Nigeria refers to the political contradictions fuelling rural underdevelopment in the country and economically de-federalizing the nation. It interrogates how politics has fuelled rural-urban economic disconnect instead of integration in Esan and other rural areas in Nigeria. Since 1960, Nigeria’s federalism has proven itself to be unworkable and defective because nation building efforts through federalization, as a political instrument, have only succeeded in promoting political integration in Nigeria; but have failed to integrate all regions of the country economically as noted above. The economic neglect of Esanland demonstrates that federalism in post-colonial Nigeria is still plagued with the centrifugal forces that fuelled the agitations for state creation right from the colonial period. Under colonial rule, the politics of ethnicity resulted in the marginalization, oppression, and suppression of the minority ethnic groups by the majority ethnic group in Nigeria. And in post-colonial Nigeria it has resurfaced as the fundamental challenge of Nigeria’s federalism. Therefore, it is safe to contend in this paper that the increased ethnicization of politics and the Nigerian economy since 1960 are directly responsible for the economic underdevelopment and backwardness of Esanland and other rural enclaves in Nigeria.

Ethnicity politics in post-colonial Nigeria has become a major political negation that has ensured that economic development efforts and programmes in the West African nation are mainly concentrated on urban areas mostly dominated by the majority ethnic groups and the elites in Nigeria. That Nigeria’s political system has become corrupt and dysfunctional is fact that cannot be overemphasized. Scholars have adequately made this point clear in their examination of the problem with Nigeria.  According to Chinua Achebe’s assessment: “The problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership…The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility …of true leadership” In Ola Balogun’s assessment, the problem with Nigeria is purely the corruption of its politics and system of governance. Balogun explains it this way,

Over the years following independence, political life in Nigeria developed into a cut-throat struggle for power at the Federal level… Nigerian political parties developed primarily as instrument in the hand of the local leadership group seeking to attain a number of given economic and social ends…

This clearly demonstrate that federalism through state creation is not the problem with Nigeria; but rather the problem lies in the corruption of Nigeria’s federalism that has resulted in the elevation of the federal government to a god-like position in Nigeria around which everything revolves in the country. Consequently, those who have been able to capture power at federal level automatically become the masters of the country’s destiny and that of her peoples. However, these political elites instead of using federal might and resources to promote the economic development of all regions in the country (urban and rural) focused squarely on urban development because that is where they reside. Hence, federalism has been used to promote poverty and underdevelopment in Esan and rural areas of Nigeria. Because leadership under Nigeria’s current federal structure had clearly failed to initiate top-bottom economic development strategies that will integrate all rural economies in the nation.

More so, infected with the seemingly incurable disease of ethnicity, political office holders at the federal level see their position as their god given opportunity to better the lot of their ethnic group above all else in Nigeria. Resultantly, they have established industries and constructed other critical economic infrastructures in their hometowns that most often than not neither have the capacity and resources to feed the industries nor the pressing need nor population to utilize most of the infrastructures constructed per se. In some parts of Nigeria tarred roads are lying fallow; whereas in other parts of Nigeria where they are critically needed to boost the economy and development of the region they are no-where to be found. Thus, the concentration of developments in parts of Nigeria sparsely populated; while they are lacking in areas densely populated is clear evidence of ethnic politics in Nigeria. Therefore, it is our conviction that the major twenty-century problem hindering the economic growth and development of Nigeria is not corruption per se; but the nation’s malfunctioning federalism.

True Federalism and the Prospect of Esan Development

Under a truly federalized country, the component or federating regions are giving more powers than the central government. This is because the central government would not be in existence if the regions in the country did not agree to come together under the political umbrella of federalism. Hence, in a true federalism, the powers of the federal government as contained in the exclusive list of power are functions that basically have to do with the conduct and management of the nation’s international relations and internal security. Hence, the federal government becomes the public image of the federating units and not the master of the units. Thus, in a true federalism the state and the people are the masters of their fate as this is considered the ideal means of ensuring unity in diversity.

Under this condition, states in a true federalism are empowered to own, control, and use all resources found in their domain for the development of the state and its people. This is the only way federalism can bring about economic federalization of all the economies in a nation. Economic federalism is the key to making the federating units of Nigeria strive very hard to generate their own revenue to run their government, harness and distribute their resources among their people the best way they know how; and raise money to make periodic remission to the federal government or federal purse for the upkeep of the central government. In Nigeria, when true federalism is entrenched the government of Edo state will automatically see the need to work hard to harness all the resources found in the state for the development of the region. The need to generate revenue for the running of the state and to meet the financial obligation of the state to the federal government would propel the state to look more of inward than outward. Looking inward, the government will find that Esanland like other regions of the state has the capacity to contribute to the economic development of the state.

Image by: BenBlack
In Edo state, Esanland once enjoyed an undisputed comparative advantage in cloth production over all the other ethnic groups in the region. This potential of the region along with its other capabilities such as palm oil production and rice production in Ekpoma and Illushi can be revived and fully exploited by the Edo state government to increase the viability of the region. The government of the region can also develop the Igbabonelimi cultural troupe of Esanland into potential tourist attracting activity in Edo state. Then the Igbabonelimi of Esan beyond providing entertainment will become, a money generating socio-economic activity in the Edo land.  Without doubt therefore, true federalism is the key to unlocking the storehouse containing the rich economic resources and potentials inherent in rural areas; and in promoting rural development in Nigeria. The allocation federalism that Nigeria is currently operating has reduced the federating states of the country become political civil servants of some sort; who basically await the end of the month patiently for their salaries before they could carry out any activity. Hence, states have become heavily tied to, and dependent on the federal government that has become their master. Far from this sardonic situation, true federalism will make the federating units of Nigeria to become entrepreneurial states, job creators, and employers of labour who do not depend on the federal government for their survival.
In the final analysis, true federalism at the end of the day will finally drive-in the last nail on the coffin of ethnic politics in Nigeria. This is because under true federalism all man (states) will as it were be for himself. Consequently, there will be nobody, ethnic group, or region to politically and economically marginalize, discriminate against, oppress, suppress and exploit another. Resultantly, in each of the federating states of Nigeria, rural areas where most of the resources and people are found will be converted into a beehive of economic activities. Both local and foreign direct investments will be attracted to and focused in these areas; and this will result to the establishment of industries in rural areas because of easy access to raw materials. More so, roads will be speedily constructed in rural villages to open up rural Esan and facilitate the convenient movement of persons, goods, and resources from Esan to the Edo state capital and to other parts of Nigeria and vice versa. Therefore, true federalism is crucial for promoting bottom-top economic development drive in Nigeria. And it is central to permanently resolving minority neglect and agitations in Nigeria; and for tightly cementing the Nigerian bundle that have over the years been weakened by the politics of ethnicity.


This paper has thus far examined the problem of nation building in Nigeria through state creation, that is, federalism. We have seen that Nigeria road to federalism is indeed a long walk to political maturity that is still evasive. From the pre-colonial times, several internal and foreign factors have aided the bonding of the peoples of Nigeria one tight or loose political bundle for the good of mostly the central authority. But following the Lugardian amalgamation of 1914, we find that the minority question has become the bane of Nigerian politics in a persistent struggle of the oppressed people to alter Nigerian federalism to their favour. Ethnic politics has significantly obstructed the development of rural areas of Nigeria which is vital for the true freedom, happiness, and satisfaction of rural dwellers.

Hence, using Esanland as our example, this paper has shown that while the region is effectively federated into Nigeria politically; economically the region is yet to be fully federated into Nigeria. This is evident in the stark economic underdevelopment of Esanland; which has psychologically disconnected the people from Nigeria: as they feel abandoned and neglected in a land supposedly flowing with milk and honey. It is against this backdrop that this paper concludes that true federalism is critical to ensuring economic development in Esanland; and in giving the Esan people a sense of a pride of place in the Nigerian federation. Cumulatively, rural development will permanently appease all disgruntled and economically neglected peoples of Nigeria because of the phenomenon of ethnicity politics since 1960.

The paper finds that the socio-economic neglect of rural areas in post-colonial Nigeria is currently fuelling animosity and grievances among rural dwellers towards the Nigerian state. Further, it is increasingly making them disorientated and dispassionate towards the nation. Understandably, there is growing discontent and crises of confidence in Esan, as in elsewhere, in the politics and government of Nigeria. And this is fast disintegrating the Nigerian nation and fuelling secessionist tendencies in the country. Thus, as a stopgap measure this paper advocates for the entrenchment of true federalism in Nigeria; where the states and the people will become the true masters of their destiny and the real foundation of Nigeria. Because as we insist in this study, there is nothing wrong with the adoption of federalism in Nigeria, in fact, it is best political framework for a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria; but problem is that political federalism is yet to be matched with economic federalism in Nigeria since independence. And this constitutes the major bane of nation building in the West African nation.


1.      F.A.C. Akamere, Issues and Concepts in Government and Politics of Nigeria, Lagos: Silmak Associates, 2001, p. 28.

2.     O. Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom, London: Faber & Faber, 1947.

3.     B. Adediran and S. Alimi, “The Burden of Nation Building: Constitutional Crisis and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, 1945-1960” in Alexander Esimaje et al (eds.), Perspectives on the Humanities, Benin City: Benson Idahosa University, 2017, p. 1.

4.    J. Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, Benin City: Broburg & Wistrom, 1958, p. 319.

5.     B. Adediran and S. Alimi, “The Burden of Nation Building: Constitutional Crisis and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, 1945-1960”, p. 2.

6.    M. Orieso, A Brief History of Constitutional Development in Nigeria up to 1966, Benin City: Adena Publishers, n.d., p. 24.

7.     Wikipedia the Online Encyclopedia, “Esanland”, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/Esanland&hl=en-NG Accessed March 28, 2019; and see Edo State Statistical Year Book, Benin City: State Central Office of Research and Statistics, 2013, p. 1.

8.   A.I. Okoduwa, Harnessing the Origin and Economic History of Esanland: A Dialysis for Autarky in Nigeria, Benin City: Independent Concept, 2018, p. 1.

9.   National Achieves of Nigeria, Intelligence Reports on Ishan Division of Benin Province, National Archives Ibadan, 1982, p. xiii.

10.                        A.I. Okoduwa, p.1.

11.                        Citypopulation.de, “Edo State in Nigeria”, https://www.citypopulation.de/php/nigeria-admin.php?adm1id%3DNGA012&hl=en-NG Accessed March 28, 2019.

12. F.A.C. Akamere, p. 28.

13. A. Appadorai, The Substance of Politics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 495.

14.M.A. Orieso, “A Historical Understanding of the Nigerian Federalism up to 1967” in Alexander Esimaje et al (eds.), Perspectives on the Humanities, Benin City: Benson Idahosa University, 2017, p. 172.

15. L.O. Dare, Perspectives on Federalism quoted in M.A. Orieso, p. 172.

16.A. Appadorai, pp. 498-500.

17. M.A. Orieso, p. 173.

18.                        Venkatarangaiya, Federalism quoted in F.A.C. Akamere, p. 28.

19.F.A.C. Akamere, p. 187.

20.                       Ibid., p. 189.

21. Ibid., p.190.

22.                       Ibid., pp. 190-191.

23.                       Ibid.

24.                       Ibid., pp. 191-192.

25.                        C. Achebe, An Image of Africa: And the Trouble with Nigeria, London: Penguin Books, 1983, p. 22.

26.                       O. Balogun, The Tragic Years: Nigeria in Crisis, 1966-1970, Benin City: Ethiope Publishing Corporation, 1973, p. 14.

Department Of History And International Studies University Of Benin
Edo State, Nigeria
08030666367; 08026277547


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