In This Review

Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria
Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria
By Rotimi T. Suberu
U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2001, 274 pp

Nigeria is tropical Africa's most important country, with an estimated 110 million people and major oil resources. This instructive study helps explain why it lacks a stable political framework for economic and social development. Bequeathed a contentious federal system by the United Kingdom at independence in 1960, successive Nigerian governments relentlessly centralized all revenue collection as the country's oil industry grew and then allocated this money to state and local governments using evolving "cake-sharing" formulas. In time, Nigerians were saddled with what the author terms "an intensely dysfunctional system of centralized ethno-distributive federalism." All efforts to create a bigger cake collapsed as regions, groups, and individuals engaged in frenzied competition to control the consumption of existing revenues. After analyzing the broad problems associated with revenue sharing, the author concentrates on the struggle of minorities to create new states, the unhealthy ramifications of Nigeria's "federal character" principle, and the politics of conducting national censuses. A final chapter presents proposals for reform of Nigerian federalism, but it leaves readers with little hope that the system's operational failings and institutional deficiencies can be overcome.