The first Republic was the republican government of Nigeria between 1963 and 1966 governed by the first republican constitution. The main factors that led to the collapse of the first republic are traceable to the following:
The institutionalization of regionalism during the colonial era provided the basis for the ‘divisive’ politics that existed in the first Republic. There was territorial and population imbalance between the regions which placed distributable resources equally among the regions.
The political parties that existed in the first Republic were equally regionalized, as there existed no national political party. The 3 political parties, Action Group, Northern Peoples Congress and National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon were dominant political parties for the Western, Northern and Eastern Regions respectively.
The regional political parties pursued exclusively their own ethnic and political agenda. There was no cooperation among the regional governments and even between them and the federal government, which constituted a threat to national unity.
2. The Fundamental Human Rights Provision
The constitutional provisions on the fundamental human rights was not only vague but lacked uniform interpretation throughout the country.
3. Bribery And Corruption
Political leaders and public officers were only looking for ways of enriching themselves at the expense of the masses. Politicians collect bribes and demand 10 percent gratification from contractors apparently for funding party activities. The public servants on the hand hand, saw public offices as gold mines.
Leadership at all levels was gripped with poor imagination, tribalism, nepotism, bribery and corruption and yet the political leaders wanted to hold on to power at all cost.
4. Electoral Malpractice/Fraud
Electoral malpractice which has always been a source of political crises in Nigeria, was one of the main factors that led to the collapse of the first Republic.
The electoral malpractices during the 1964 and 1965 elections such as the rigging of elections, thuggery, stealing of ballot boxes, the harassment of electoral officers and candidates abused the democratic principles. People were deprived the right of choosing their leaders.
5. Incompetent Leadership
Nigeria during the first Republic lacked capable leadership, capable of commanding the support and confidence of all the ethnic groups in the country. This was due to the ethnic sentiments of the political leaders, in their struggle to share and control resources at the center.
Nigerian politicians during this period, due to their parochialism failed to achieve consensus on all aspects of governance. Leadership became visionless, botherless, hesitant and confused especially at the federal level.
In short, Nigerian political elites lacked the positives values and attitudinal traits which were indispensable to the operation of a democratic system of government. The consequences was disastrous.
6. Revenue Allocation Formula
During the colonial era, revenue allocation was mainly based on the principles of derivation, needs and national interest, but with the attainment of independence, the principles of population and equality were not used for revenue allocation.
7. The Census Results Of 1962/1963
Population census enables governments review their economic and social development plans. In Nigeria, it is a politically sensitive issue because population size is taken into account in revenue allocation.
The 1962 census, believed to have been inflated was never published officially. Northern dominated, federal rejected the results and a new date fixed to repeat the census in November 1963. The official figures which were published on August 29, 1964 put the population of the country at 55.6 million, the Northern dominated, federal government accepted the results, but the Eastern and Mid-Western regions rejected it because the Northern Region had a higher population then the Southern Regions.
The Eastern region challenged the result in court claiming that the inflation would affect the Eastern Region with regard to delimitation of electoral constituencies and monetary grants from the federal government. This severed the relationship between the Northern and Southern Regions which provoked tension.
8. Tribalism And Nepotism
Another remote cause that led to the collapse of the first Republic could be traced to the seeds of tribalism and nepotism embedded in the formation of the 3 major political parties by the 3 ethnic groups that were later to control the regional governments of their origin.
The above mentioned factors led to the intervention of the military on January 12, 1966.