Urhobo Historical Society

An Essay on the Future of Nigeria

By O. Igho Natufe, Ph.D.

A Paper Presented at the International Conference on The Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization at the Dawn of the Millennium   Organized by the African Studies ProgrammeHoward University, Washington, D.C., USA. April 11 - 14, 2001
O. Igho Natufe is a Senior Policy Research Advisor with the Canadian Government, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is also the Deputy Chair of the Urhobo Historical Society. He taught Political Science and International Relations at Canadian, Ghanaian and Nigerian universities. The views and opinions expressed in this paper do not reflect the views and opinions of the Canadian Government nor of the Urhobo Historical Society.


Over the past twenty years, the international community has been infected with the globalization bug. Scores of conferences at national and international levels have been organized to assess the impact of globalization on the international system. The theme of this conference, "The Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization at the Dawn of the Millennium," presents a venue for yet another reasoned discussion of the implications of globalization for Nigeria and other countries in the so-called "less developed" world. As an integrative concept of world economy, globalization has enkindled mixed feelings across competing polities in the international system, as well as divergent views between academics and public policy analysts. (1) We cannot ignore the views of non governmental organizations (NGOs) on this global issue.

This paper discusses the problematic of politics as a struggle between contending parties, and the response of Nigerians and the Nigerian state to the dialectical imperative of the unity and struggle of opposites. The interdependence and conflictual relationship of contending forces of politics and globalization vividly illustrate this dialectic. Linkages will be made to external stimuli, in the spirit of globalization, as we ponder on the survivability of Nigeria "at the Dawn of the Millennium." The seemingly intractable natures of the current crises in Nigeria pose a serious challenge for policy makers, as well as presenting them with opportunities to determine the continued existence of Nigeria as a federal polity. We will engage in a discussion of these crises. However, before we do that, let us briefly review the concept of globalization, as this will help to situate our discourse on Nigeria.


Simply put, globalization is the free movement of capital, goods and services across national boundaries. The exponents of globalization argue that such an unrestricted movement will enhance the economic well-being of all societies. On the other hand, argue the anti-globalizers, globalization will deepen the economic and political decay in "less developed" countries, as well as in some "highly industrialized" countries. (2) Both sides on the globalization debate argue passionately for their respective positions. Information technology has played a critical role in the globalizing process. Access to the Internet, e-mail and fax machines has obliterated territorial boundaries between nations.

The impact of this phenomenon on international trade cannot be overstated. However, does this imply an unqualified benefit of globalization for all those involved in the process?

The main forces driving globalization are countries and multinational corporations (MNCs) of the "western world", led by the United States and its corporations. In fact, globalization has become a euphemism for Americanization. The strategic and economic interests of the globalizers are therefore not in doubt. With the unfettered access to the markets and resources of other countries, especially in the "less developed" countries, globalization is in reality a neo-colonial policy of neo-liberalism. While it argues for the free movement of capital, trade and investment as well as access to the markets of foreign countries, it, at the same time, denies the free migration of people. The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the free movement of labour, i.e., migration, is very instructive. In Nishimura Ekio v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court declared;

It is an accepted maxim of international law, that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty, and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions, or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe. (3)

As far as the United States is concerned, it is insignificant that the "notion that a State possesses the unfettered discretion to restrict migration has no ancient precedence" (4) in international law. Thus, the strategic intent of globalization is to exploit the resources and labour of the "less developed"countries, while denying migrants from those countries entry to the centers of globalization. This is a further demonstration of the center-periphery dichotomy in the international political system. As oligarchic institutions with profound powers to compel governments to do their will, MNCs play critical foreign policy role for the United States and its western allies on the globalization file. The mobility of their capital across national boundaries grants MNCs the power to do so. This phenomenon compromises the ability of several governments to respond to public policy demands, as they become captive to private sector interests - domestic and foreign capital.

The subjugation of governments, especially in the "less developed" countries to domestic and foreign capital remains a fundamental objective of globalization. International financial institutions (IFIs),  for example, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization for Economic  Cooperation and Development (OECD) underline this imperative in their recommendations of privatization as the only viable policy option for "less developed" countries. The essence of  privatization is the sale of publicly owned enterprises to private companies, which are very often foreign companies operating through their affiliates in "less developed" countries, including Nigeria.

As a rule, these IFIs and the OECD provide financial assistance mechanism with an inbuilt structural adjustment programme (SAP). Countries "benefitting" from SAP are compelled to reduce their social services budget as a condition for any foreign aid. from IFIs and the OECD. The goal of privatization and SAP, therefore, is not to ensure social justice, but to promote economic adjustments favourable to MNCs under a globalized regime of managed capitalism. Globalization and privatization condemn a vast majority of the population to poverty, and increase the dependency of the "less developed" countries on the United States and its allies. The allies of these phenomena include representatives of the ruling class in the "less developed" countries. If the participation of a vast majority of citizens in shaping the political process is a key prerequisite of democracy, it is very instructive to note that the ideologues of neo-liberalism will argue for the exclusive right of the private sector in controlling the economic sphere of a democratic polity.

Globalization is not a new concept in international political economic parlance. Ever since the industrial revolution, capital has moved fairly freely across national boundaries. The proliferation of multilateral institutions in the 20th century, and the accompanying growth of MNCs especially after 1945, helped to propagate the notion of a global marketplace. However, the intensity with which this notion has gained international currency, with the aggressive support of the Unties States and its MNCs, has raised serious questions about the sovereignty of nations and their institutions. Even in several leading western countries, for example in Canada, the anti globalization movement is anchored on this premise. (5) A global network of NGOs has emerged to challenge globalization. The proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was aborted because of the stance of several NGOs, who have also organized effective protests against instruments of globalization - meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the IMF. Witness the protests in Seattle (1999), Washington, D.C. (2000), Prague (2000), and Devos (2001). A similar protest is anticipated in Quebec City, Canada, at the April 20 - 22, 2001 Summit of the Americas where the integration of the Western Hemisphere will be discussed.

Though the State remains a preeminent actor in international politics, other strong actors now compete with the State for legitimacy, power and influence. With the revolution in global  communications, MNCs, NGOs, and scores of international organizations have posed severe challenges to the State. The Internet has rendered obsolete the monopoly of a State to control and manipulate information from within its boundaries, just as NGOs have become a counter force to MNCs. Time and space are no longer obstacles to the dissemination of information. The world has truly become a very small village with a super highway where capital, goods, services and information travel at supersonic speed. Individuals and organizations within each country have organized into opposition groups against their governments' reception of globalization and  privatization. The undemocratic base of globalization and privatization is challenged by citizens and NGOs who argue for the independence and sovereignty of their states. It is significant to note that, the movement for a restoration of the State is led mostly by the same individuals and groups that are victimized by the State. Thus, globalization is perceived as the source of fragmentation and integration. This notion is aptly captured by James N. Rosenau (6) in his analysis of the conflict between fragmentation and integration leading to what he calls "fragmegration." The groups which bear the exploitative burden of the State's economic policies and the injustice of its legal and political oppressions, are the most vociferous in their attack on globalization in defense of the State. As recognized by Gordon Smith and Moisés Naím, the result of globalization "has been to exacerbate inequalities of wealth, consumption, and power within and between countries." The "forces of globalization," they continue, "tend simultaneously to break down states and to build them up. Globalization can undermine a state's capacity and legitimacy; it can also impart new capacity to a state and ascribe to it new purpose, new popular expectation." (7) The capacity of a State to maintain its legitimacy against the destructive forces of globalization depends on the maturity of its institutions and the resilience of its economic and political base. This imperative is either absent or very fragile in most countries of the "less developed" world, a fact which clearly underlines the dangers of globalization for those countries. Even in several countries of the "industrialized"world, globalization still poses a threat to their values and democratic institutions.

If the intent of globalization is to establish a vibrant world economy that benefits all societies, the denial of the free movement of labour across national boundaries will hardly be a democratic contribution to this process. Several other aspects of globalization expose the neo-colonial policies of its ideologues. First, the relocation of industrial plants from "high wage" economies of the western world to "low wage" economies of the "less developed" world is motivated by the need to exploit "cheap" labour, and not by a desire to enhance the economic growth and development of the "less developed" world. Second, the environmental practices of these MNCs in the "less developed" countries violate the tenets of corporate social responsibility which they are compelled to observe in the western world. Third, nationals of the "less developed" countries working for these globalizing companies, as well as their counterparts in other MNCs in the "less developed" countries are grossly underpaid, in comparison with their foreign colleagues who perform similar functions for the same MNCs. Thus, globalization is neither a democratic process nor an equitable mechanism for integrating the international economic system. It is incongruous for MNCs and the apostles of globalization to treat the world as one global economy with different working conditions and salary structures weighted in favour of the "highly" developed world, irrespective of the fact that MNCs' employees in the two "worlds" perform the same duties.


Politics is about power and influence. It is a struggle of contending ideological viewpoints on the allocation and distribution of resources. It determines who gets what, when and why. Resistance to politics is constructed in response to the distributive mechanism adopted by the governing political party in the polity. The disadvantaged groups feel oppressed and/or marginalized. Thus, resistance to oppression manifests itself in any of the following categories: class, ethnic, race, regional, religious, or gender. Elements in these categories argue for systemic changes that will eliminate the causes of their oppression. They demand for equity and fairness. On the other hand, resistance to change is championed by elements of the ruling class, which includes representatives of the military-industrial complex, and some academics who provide intellectual leadership that sustains military and civilian oppression in politics. Resistance to change is a major obstacle to social progress. My analysis will focus primarily on the impact of class, ethnicity, region, religion, the military and intellectuals in government.

As a fundamental dynamic of social progress, change is a constant phenomenon which must be embraced and nurtured as a political imperative. When protagonists of resistance to oppression and resistance to change fail to engage in a meaningful dialogue, their conversation could easily degenerate from a dialogue of the deaf to a dialogue of the deaf and blind, which invariably leads to a systemic breakdown. Thus, it is the responsibility of the proponents of resistance to change to engage their opposing parties in a transparent and constructive dialogue leading to a peaceful resolution of their conflicts.

Oppression is a reality of a political struggle. Its continued manifestations compel a people to revel in their historical past as they compare the way they were with the present. This historical retrospection influences their politics. For them, History becomes an intoxicant for social and political activism, perhaps in the same way that Karl Marx referred to religion as the opium of the masses. Depending on where we stand on the spectrum of oppression, History can provoke us to adopt positions inimical to peaceful resolutions of conflicts. The vigour of ethnicism or nationalism in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta is explainable in History. The conflict of interests is perceived as a challenge to the legitimacy of ethnic or nationalistic claims to power and authority. Representatives of the given categories of the countervailing interests employ different survival tools to advance their course. Depending on our particular attachment to any of these categories, we recognize the losers as heros. For example, while the regime regulators and their agents gloat over the assassination of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his associates, their life and death are celebrated by their people and admirers worldwide. The defeated celebrate their heroes, sometimes with greater passion and intensity than the victors celebrate theirs.

The international system is replete with cases of oppression. No country is immuned from this affliction. There are groups within each country that experience different forms of oppression: class, ethnic, racial, religious, or gender. While these phenomena have led to grave consequences for several countries, others have "succeeded" in managing the conflicts within more democratic settings. If the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was peaceful and democratic, that of Yugoslavia is an ongoing exercise of discord, war and destruction. Though Rwanda still "survives" as a country, the bilateral killings of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups have left irreparable scars in the consciousness of the country that question the rationale of Rwanda's survival. The failure of politics is also witnessed in Liberia and Sierra Leone where ethnic conflicts have caused severe damages to the respective polities. Even in a mono-ethnic state like Northern Ireland, religious conflict continues to tear that country apart.

The situation in the Americas is rather complex. The indigenous populations have either been extinct or reduced to nothingness by agents of European colonialism. These settler regimes that have acquired global legitimacy as sovereign states have perfected the act of oppression that systematically eliminated the indigenous populations from access to political and economic activities. Resistance is expressed differently across countries of the Americas. The progression from violence to managed coexistence is predicated on the correlation of forces in the respective polities. The United States exemplifies this progression. In early 2001, the Mexican state was compelled to lend partial recognition to the rise of the Zapatistas in Mexico in order to construct a basis for rapprochement with that country's indigenous populations that have been oppressed for over 500 years. Named in memory of Emiliano Zapata, the great Mexican indigene who led the struggle against Mexican dictatorship, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (ZNLA) has emerged as a symbol of the struggle against oppression. The Zapatistas' demand of tierra y libertad - land and freedom - is fundamental to the position of the proponents of resistance to oppression in all societies. It calls for a change of the status quo which has failed to engineer any viable policy of national reconstruction and reconciliation.

How do we situate Nigeria in all these? Like Mexico, Nigeria is a colonial creation. But unlike Mexico, Nigeria is not governed by colonial settlers, rather it is governed by indigenous populations of disparate lands that the British "amalgamated" into one country in 1914. Since 1914, these disparate peoples now known as Nigerians have not been able to establish an agreeable framework on the type of country they want. This failure has led to a series of crises, including the civil war of 1967-70, as well as the current turmoil in the country. It must be stressed that the 30 years of military dictatorship, out of the 41 years of independence since October 1, 1960, has distorted the values of politics and the landscape of the country's institutions.

While it is true that the military has facilitated the exponential growth of this phenomenon, it is equally true that many civilians, especially some academics have provided the intellectual justifications for the various military and civilian regimes to destroy the fabric of Nigerian political development. I recall an article by Obaro Ikime (8) in which he depicted the deplorable situation of some Nigerian academics in government, who have permitted themselves to be kicked around like a football. This was in the fourth year of Ibrahim Babangida's military dictatorship. I identify two categories of Nigerian academics: the cooperative and uncooperative. As a rule, the uncooperative intellectuals are never invited to advise Nigerian governments (military or civilian). But when they  are invited, they are always prepared to stand by their cherished principles. They readily resign rather  than compromise their principles. Eme Awa (9) exemplifies this breed of Nigerian intellectuals. On the other hand, the cooperative Nigerian intellectuals, driven by greed and power, are always ready to prostitute themselves to the regime regulators. They are the ones that readily abandon their lectures and classrooms and become frequent visitors to Dodan Barracks and Aso Rock, in quests of political appointments as advisors and speech writers to the military and civilian governments. They justify their role in government as an avenue to convert military (and civilian) dictators to democracy. The dictators, on the other hand, perceive such academics as mere tools to legitimize their dictatorial rule. Notwithstanding the series of oppressive measures of the dictatorship, these academics, as emissaries of the regime, continue to propagate the dictators as humane, democratic, peace-loving and visionary leaders. They enjoy their intellectual leadership power behind the throne of military and civilian dictatorship. This breed of Nigerian intellectuals (10) poses greater dangers to Nigeria and Nigerians than military and civilian dictatorial regimes.

On Politics

The contest for political power in Nigeria is driven by the contrasting imperatives of ethnicity and regionalism, which, by implications, is devoid of any sustaining unifying theme or ideology. Corruption and political opportunism have emerged as the critical elements of Nigerian political behaviour. The history of Nigerian politics is replete with individuals who have consistently violated the peoples' trust and have lost any credibility in the system. But because of the poverty of thought and the abysmal level of political consciousness of the population, Nigerians have hailed these individuals as folk heros. Musicians have composed songs praising these individuals. While they are criticized for betraying the people, Nigerians do not hesitate to elect them to represent their collective interests. Thus, in spite of their credibility gaps, Nigerians have bequeathed their thinking faculties to these individuals and give them a blank cheque to continue abusing their trust. Politics has acquired a bad name in Nigeria. Given the recent political history of the country, Nigerians have come to equate a politician with a highway robber. This breed of politicians dominates contemporary Nigerian society.

None of the current political parties in Nigeria can be said to represent the interests of Nigerians. The process of party formation is monopolized by the wealthy few who control access to power. The interests of the working class and the poor are excluded by implications. Even the middle class in Nigeria has been rendered obsolete and moribund. This dislocation of the middle class and the growing impoverishment of the vast majority of Nigerians has intensified the exploitative grip on
power by the wealthy few. Even in the areas of articulating capitalist ideological policies, the ruling parties have demonstrated gross ineptitude. The primary focus of Nigerian political leaders has been  the promoting of their respective ethnic interests. The emphasis is not on developing economic infrastructures that will benefit the entire country, but rather it is on which ethnic group will produce the next president. Defined in this context, therefore, the construct of political alliance and alignment in Nigeria is driven by inter-ethnic coalition, and not by any reasoned ideological framework that cuts across ethnic divide. As a rule, when people of diverse ethnic groups establish their respective political parties, the motivation has been on how to embezzle public funds and further the underdevelopment of the country. Addressing his party's - the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) - 3rd National Convention in Abuja on March 31, 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo seemed to lament the lack of an ideology in the PDP. According to him, the PDP is "no more than a dynamic amalgam of interest groups." He continued:

And what has held us together, if anything at all, is that our party is in power and there is a strong expectation of patronage, our party lacks cohesion
Itemizing the properties of a political party as "cohesiveness, organization propelled by strict discipline, ideology-based human ideas and solidarity and socially motivated unity of purpose," he asked his PDP members: "Can we in all honesty say that we are such a party?" (11)

The "dynamic amalgam of interest groups" that Obasanjo referred to is the group of Nigerians whose main raison d'être in politics has been to "make money" and deplete the national treasury in the process. Not much thought has been devoted to nation building. This phenomenon is not restricted to the PDP; it forms the basis of the other political parties - All Peoples Party (APP), and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The fact that some prominent leaders and members of these parties, including their former presidential aspirants in the 1999 elections decamped and joined the PDP can only be explained by their desire to belong to the "party in power," because "there is a strong expectation of patronage" to be gained in the PDP. It is doubtful if such leaders play any significant role in advancing the democratic agenda in Nigerian politics.

Deprived of a national party to articulate their interests, the working class, the poor and Nigeria's middle class find solace in their respective unions, for example, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It is only within these unions that serious socio-economic and political questions of relevance to the country are discussed. They also articulate the frustrations of the oppressed nationalities, especially in the Niger Delta, who experience the brutality of exploitation by domestic and foreign capital. For these peoples, particularly in the Niger Delta, the current Nigerian state is a prison of nationalities.

Niger Delta is representative of the exploitative nature of domestic and foreign capital in Nigeria. Over the years, Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnicity, have aligned with foreign capital (MNCs) to exploit the natural resources of the Niger Delta with complete disregard to the development of the region. The ecosystem of the region has been ruined. Thousands of families have lost their  agricultural lands and fisheries, as a result of the environmental degradation of the region by oil (domestic and foreign) companies. None of the political parties, including the federal government of President Obasanjo has developed any concrete policies on how to deal with the degradation in the region. The unions and NGOs, especially the Environmental Action Rights (ERA) and the Civil Liberties Organization of Nigeria (CLON) have remained the main voice of the oppressed and deprived peoples of Nigeria. Those politicians that have spoken in support of the oppressed and deprived peoples of Nigeria have done so, not as representatives of their respective political parties, but as representatives of their constituencies. The absence of a well articulated national development plan in any of the parties has increased the polarity between the proponents of the resistance to oppression and those of the resistance to change.

Access to power is the chief cause of social strife in any society. (12) Those in power determine the distribution of resources and who gets what, when and how. Driven by the desire to preserve the status quo, those in power have neglected their responsibility to create a conducive environment for the articulation of contending policies that would benefit the entire country. However, a reluctance to accept change may lead to a break down of the polity. With respect to Nigeria, the challenge to the status quo has been argued primarily in ethnic, state and religious terms. A brief discussion of these will help to situate the status of the current crisis in Nigeria.


From time immemorial, ethnic identity has defined the scope of political intercourse in pluralistic societies. (13) Nigeria exemplifies such a society. In each of these societies, including Nigeria, a critical element of the conflict is the treatment of minority groups by the majority groups. Thus, the majority-minority relationship lends itself as one of the conceptual frameworks for analyzing the problems of plural societies, including Nigeria. The others are ideology, religious affiliation, etc. Each level of analysis addresses specific problems of the relationship.

Ideologically, as argued by Marxists, the ruling class determines the form and content of the means of production as well as the distribution and consumption of national wealth. Marxists argue that it is the ruling class that controls state power. In Nigeria, however, the debate over this phenomenon has regrettably acquired an ethnic flavour because of the concentration of state power in the hands of a specific group, the Hausa-Fulani. Territorial disputes, access to power and wealth, to employment and education, and to social services and resource control are some of the causes of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. In the absence of a national, ideologically oriented party representing concrete class interests of Nigerians across the ethnic divide, ethnic based political movements have filled the void to challenge the present distribution of power and wealth, demanding a restructuring  of the political system in such a way that will grant them equitable access to these properties. For example, Afeniferi and the Odua Peoples' Congress represent the Yoruba ethnic group, while the Igbo is represented by Ohanaze Ndigbo, and the Union of Niger Delta speaks for the South-South. An Arewa Consultative Forum has been established to defend the core interests of the Hausa-Fulani who feel threatened by these challenges to their power. On both sides of the Niger and the Benue, competing ethnic political movements and military units have been established to advance the courses of their respective ethnic groups. This development poses serious potential dangers to the Nigerian state, if the causes of ethnic conflicts are not meaningfully resolved.

Over the past four years a series of violent inter-ethnic clashes has caused severe damages to the polity. Witness the Ezon-Itsekiri-Urhobo schism in Delta State, the Ezon-Yoruba confrontation in Lagos, the Igbo-Hausa clash in Aba, the Hausa-Yoruba conflict in Lagos and Sagamu, and the Hausa-Igbo crisis in parts of the North. All these incidents resulted in the death of scores of Nigerians. Buried in this push-and-pull is the perennial problem of minority ethnic rights in the polity. The increasing failure of Nigerian political leaders to construct a viable and sustainable strategy for national integration and equitable distribution of national wealth has significantly facilitated the rise of ethnic (and religious) conflicts in the polity.

Arguing from opposing ideological perspectives, both liberal and Marxist theories predicted the withering away of ethnicity as a political force in the polity. For the liberals, the imperatives of modernization with its emphasis on individual success and economic activity will compel the formation of inter-ethnic national associations that will render ethnicity obsolete. On the other hand, Marxists referred to ethnicity as a false consciousness of the masses and a stratagem of the bourgeois ruling class to subjugate the working class. However, historical experiences over the past two centuries have contradicted both assumptions. Across the globe, ethnic conflicts have remained as, arguably the most potent destabilizing factor in respective multi-ethnic polities, including Nigeria. Over 90% of states in the international political system are multiethnic, with two or more ethnic groups. Competing ethnic nationalisms challenge the sovereignty of states in Asia, Africa, the Americas, Middle East and Europe. Thus, it is vital for Nigerian political leaders to respond to the dynamics of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. It is not enough to condemn ethnocentrism in Nigerian politics, they must take appropriate measures to address its causes.

With an estimated population of 123,337,822, Nigeria is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups. In any polity with such diverse ethnic affiliations, it is perhaps inescapable that inter ethnic conflicts will play a vital role in the country's politics. Each ethnic group regards itself as a distinct nationality with defined customs and territories. The contending desires to assert this distinctiveness collides with the federal government's strategy to create a NIGERIAN. It is perhaps futile and
counterproductive to attempt to create a NIGERIAN and destroy his or her historical being in the process. That historical being is the source of the individual contemporary Nigerian traceable to his or her ethno-regional base. Thus, he or she is first and foremost a Bini, an Efik, an Esan, an Ezon, a Hausa, an Ibibio, an Igbo, an Itsekiri, a Nupe, a Tiv, an Urhobo or a Yoruba, etc. This fact must be recognized and accepted as the only viable base upon which contemporary Nigerians are molded.

It compels Nigerians to also recognize and respect their diversities just as much as they emphasize  and celebrate their shared historical similarities. Thus, they cannot celebrate Nigerian multi-culturalism on the debris of their respective historical being.

Every ethnic group in Nigeria is marginalized, deprived and oppressed. Irrespective of the fact that the North has produced most of the leaders (civilian and military) and has controlled the apparatus of state power in Nigeria since 1960, the average Fulani, Hausa, Kanuri, or Nupe is not materially better than the average Efik, Ezon, Itsekiri, or Yoruba of the South. Thus, all Nigerian ethnic groups have been victimized by a coalition of North-South political leaders who have neglected the basic needs of the Nigerian populace. Who speaks for these victimized Nigerian ethnic groups? While it is true that the federal government has failed in this regard, it must be stressed that the various state governments have also failed to respond to the basic needs of their respective constituencies. The same politicians who facilitate deficient governance are also engineering the populace to blame the other level of government for their ineptitude and gross mismanagement of the economy.


The crisis of inter-ethnic relations, made possible by the collapse of good governance, informs the deteriorating state of Federal-State relations in Nigeria. As citizens of a federation, it is expected that Nigerians will pay allegiance to their respective States, for without the federating States there  will not be a Federal Republic of Nigeria. The inability of a federal government to equitably relate to the interests of the federating units gives rise to centrifugal forces that could destabilize the federal polity. Thus, the levels of citizenship - State and Federal - become entangled in perpetual conflicts as the federal government and the federating units fail to agree on vital issues of interests to the later. Under this scenario, citizens' loyalty gravitates toward their respective States and the legitimacy of the Federal government becomes questionable. The current crises in Nigeria are explicable in these terms. A number of States has challenged the constitutional base of Nigeria's federal structure. While the country is supposedly a federation, the 1999 Constitution is fundamentally a unitary document. It makes the federal government highly centralized, a phenomenon which is injurious to the federal polity as it establishes a quasi federal or unitary system.

Given the above, any protestation by a State is perceived as an "ethnic" position against the federal government and the coalition of interests protecting the status quo. This is so because of the ethnic composition of the states. For example, when Ondo State adopts a constitutional position opposed to that of Sokoto State, it is immediately construed as "Yoruba versus Fulani," thus lending ethnic colourations to a genuine concern on constitutional renewal. This strong linkage of contending ethnic  and state interests tends to obfuscate the imperative of a national consensus on the constitution, for example. Thus, every legitimate constitutional question has ethnic ramifications. As a federal polity, the constituent units of the federation are supposed to agree on how much power their each want to concede to the federal government of Nigeria. Such an agreement does not exist. A significant segment of the population, for example, the 17 states of southern Nigeria, has raised fundamental objections to the current constitution which was imposed on the country by the last military  dictatorship. On the other hand, the government of President Obasanjo and the 19 states of northern Nigeria argue for a maintenance of the status quo. The 1999 Constitution, imposed by the military during the elections of December 1998 - February 1999 that led to the present civilian regime, was  crafted as a unitary document reflecting the monolithic structure of the military, irrespective of its being called a "Federal Constitution." Instead of being coordinates with the federal government, the 1999 Constitution subjugates the federating units to the federal government, thus making the former mere administrative arms of the latter. Several states have demanded a constitutional conference where the issues of federal-state jurisdictions will be resolved, taking into consideration the exclusive jurisdictional powers of the states over, for example, state police, state/local government elections, natural resources, education, culture, local government, etc.

The Niger Delta has emerged as the epicenter of the agitation for constitutional renewal. The demand for resource control by states of the Niger Delta, and the unwillingness of the federal government to address it, has led to violence and wanton destruction in the region. The federal government and the northern states seemed unwilling to endorse any idea to construct a genuine federal system that would recognize the independence of the federating units. President Obasanjo responded to the legitimate demands of the Niger Delta in November 1999 by sending Nigerian military to invade and destroy the town of Odi in Bayelsa State. (14) Energized by the symbolism of Odi, governments of the 17 states of southern Nigeria have repeatedly called for a federal restructuring of the polity. While ethnic organizations of the southern states endorse this position, those representing the core political interests of the north are opposed.


Competing religious values further complicate the conduct of politics in a multi ethnic polity. While Islam predominates in the northern states, Christianity predominates in the south. While the majority of the ethnic groups in the south are Christians, the greater population of the North is Muslim. These demographics underline the north-south polarization of Nigeria along ethnic and religious boundaries. The clash of religious values is a potent force of de stabilization of any polity. Given the history of Islam, its conquest of parts of Africa and the militancy of its conversion strategies, it is highly unlikely that it can co-exist peacefully with any other religion under the bowel of the same State. Unlike Christianity, Islam has a political manifesto which makes it difficult for most Muslims to accept the governance of "non believers." This contempt for "non believers" is evident in the Muslim stratagem to islamize Nigeria from the Sahara to the Atlantic. According to Muhammed Adamu, the Hausa-Fulani, meaning the Muslims, have the "tacit approval of God to rule Nigeria." (15)  The series of religious conflicts in multi ethnic states of Africa, Asia and the Middle East lends credence to this viewpoint.

It is within the above parameters that the perennial religious conflicts in Nigeria should be approached. The recent introduction of sharia in several northern states is regarded by Christians  as a Muslim scheme to force Islamic legal system on non Muslim Nigerians. The controversy over this issue has led to interreligious clashes in northern Nigeria. Even though sharia contravenes the 1999 Constitution, its introduction may facilitate the stage for asymmetrical federalism in Nigeria. Viewed from this perspective, therefore, sharia is a valuable jurisdictional precedence for the proponents of constitutional renewal in Nigeria. Based on this, other States in the federation may be able to appropriate certain powers of the Constitution as falling under their respective exclusive jurisdictions, including state police, state/local government elections, natural resources, state police, local government, etc.


There are three dimensions to this question: ethnic, religion, and state. Should the contending parties reach a rapprochement on the architectural design of a renewed federal polity, they will be responding to the ethnic and state dimensions of the current crises. A reconstruction of the architecture will recognize the independence of the federating units as a solid base on which Nigeria could be built. The religious dimension will be difficult to resolve, for the reasons we discussed above. Let us briefly consider the contending views on the question of renewed federalism.

Those arguing for a re-construction of Nigerian federalism base their arguments on the premise that the current federal constitution is faulty. For example, the constitution grants the feral government exclusive powers on almost every vital aspects of jurisdictions. The federal government controls the only police service in the country. It determines the creation of local government councils. It has exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources (oil, gas, mining, etc.) Natural resources companies have to register with the federal government to whom they pay royalties. None of the states has its own constitution or flag. These are some of the anomalies which the proponents for constitutional renewal are proposing should be addressed, in line with the best practices of federalism in the world. They demand the convocation of a national constitutional conference, where delegates from the federating states will decide on how much power they each want to concede to the federal government. At such a conference, the independence of the federating states will be recognized. Thus, States that wish to concede their jurisdictions over police and natural resources to the federal government will be free to do so at the conference, while those that do not wish to concede these powers would be free to exercise their jurisdictions in those areas. This asymmetrical federal structure will be following the precedence of sharia. Under asymmetrical federalism, the polity will be energized by competitive federalism, a phenomenon which will enhance productivity and sustain the federating states.

The counter argument is anchored on two premises. First, the exponents reject the convocation of any national conference to discuss changes to the constitution. They argue that the apostles of change should follow the established procedures for amending the constitution. They challenge their counterparts to refer their demands to the National Assembly, as is required by the constitution. Second, they contend that the natural resources in Nigeria belong to the federal government, irrespective of the location of those natural resources. It is obvious which premise is primary in the considerations of those opposed to a constitutional renewal. While the first premise seems rationale on constitutional grounds, the second premise has pre-determined the outcome of the debate.

The primacy of the second premise in the calculations of the opposition to constitutional changes would seem to suggest a continuation of the crises. But it is in the overall interest of Nigeria that the crises are resolved, in such a way that will reflect the essence of federalism as evident in leading federal systems. President Obasanjo and his allies should seize the historical opportunity presented by acting on the imperative of change. A resolution of the crises will enhance inter-state cooperation as well as foster inter-ethnic harmony. It will strengthen Nigeria's voice in the international political system, especially in intra African politics.

If, on the other hand, the crises are protracted, we could be witnessing the gradual withering away of Nigeria. Even if Nigerian political leaders succeed in crafting a compromise, it is highly unlikely that there will be a decline in inter-religious conflicts. Continued Muslim-Christian confrontation could lead to catastrophic results for Nigeria. At any rate, it is difficult to see how Nigerians could resolve the constitutional crisis and the religious conflict at the same time.

Both the 1960 Constitution and the 1963 Republican Constitution adhered to the concept of true federalism. Both constitutions recognized the independence of the constituent units and their  exclusive jurisdictions over natural resources. The 1969 Petroleum Act promulgated by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon that transferred this jurisdiction to the national government, was perceived as an emergency measure to aid the government in its conduct of the civil war against the secessionist Biafran regime of Lt. Col Emeka Ojukwu. This emergency measure eventually acquired a permanent status as successive military administrations used it as a precedence to justify the national government's exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources. General Olusegun Obasanjo's military regime of 1976-1979 promulgated its 1978 Land Use Decree as a follow-up to Gowon's 1969 Petroleum Act. These military injunctions were subsequently injected into the 1979 Constitution by General Obasanjo, and into the current 1999 Constitution by the previous military regime that handed over power to the civilian administration of President Obasanjo on May 29, 1999. Thus, as a military dictator, Obasanjo played a key role in the militarization of Nigerian federalism. As a presidential candidate, he expressed a commitment to true federalism. However,  since his return to power as a democratically elected president on May 29, 1999, he has been pursuing the military policies of both the 1969 Petroleum Act and the 1978 Land Use Decree that expropriated the exclusive jurisdictions of the constituent units over natural resources. The federal government's legal suit against the 36 federating states over the ownership of natural resources is currently before the Supreme Court in Nigeria. Though the suit is against the 36 federating states,  it is actually against the eight littoral states of southern Nigeria, and the other nine southern states that have joined the eight littoral states to argue for resource control and true federalism as imperatives of constitutional change. The outcome of this suit will determine the form and content of the battle over resource control and true federalism in Nigeria.

It is interesting to note that the chairman of the PDP, Barnabas Gemade, argued for the adoption of international best practices for his party, at its 3rd National Convention in Abuja on March 31, 2001. Arguing in favour of the proposal that the National Executive Committee of the PDP have a four-year tenure, Gemande opined:

Our party must evolve a practice that is in consonance with  international practice in party administration. (16)
While the leaders of the PDP recognize the need to adopt international best practices in the conduct of their party affairs, it is instructive that they reject the application of the same principles to Nigerian federalism. By adopting this double standard, the PDP, in alliance with the political leadership of northern Nigeria, has rendered a peaceful resolution of the constitutional crises impossible.

The real issue at stake in Nigeria is rather a simple one: Is Nigeria a federal state or not? While there is a universal consensus among Nigerians that the country is a federal polity, it is however disturbing that Nigerian political leaders seem to prefer monolithic political structures as a vehicle to govern a federal political system. This gross incongruity, a caricature of Sovietism, exposes a major conceptual flaw in the articulation of federalism in Nigeria. If Nigerians want a federal system, it is essential that they disengage from such a debilitating monolithic construct.

Thus, the fundamental challenge facing Nigerian political leaders is how to disengage from the fabric of militaristic federalism that defines the current constitution of the country. Decades of military dictatorship have distorted the concept of federalism. But it is doubtful if military dictatorship should be held solely responsible for the current political crises in Nigeria, or the arrant drive for power by some of its constituent units that constructed the current constitution as a stratagem to maintain their grip on power. The status quo is not a viable option. To deny the federating units their independence is to invite them to reconsider their membership in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The coalition of forces that are opposed to a restoration of true federalism will only facilitate the dismemberment of the country. When this will occur, cannot be determined. Should this occur, the core interests which the exponents of resistance to change intend to protect, with regards to the control of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta, and access to the sea, will be lost. Since the centre of this resistance to change is located in the northern parts of contemporary Nigeria, the post-Nigeria politics of these exponents will be compelled to severe their ties to those resources.


1. For a balanced analytical discourse of globalization, see David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture, Stanford, CA., 1999. For other perspectives, see Hans Binnendijk, ed., Strategic Assessment 1999: Priorities for a Turbulent World, Washington, D.C., 1999; and W. W. Cornelius, P. L. Martin, and J. F. Holifield, eds., Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, Stanford, CA., 1994.

2. For a critical analysis of globalization, see Gordon Smith & Moisés Naím, ALTERED STATES: Globalization, Sovereignty, and Governance, Ottawa, Canada, 2000. For a debate on the pros and cons of globalization, see Thomas L. Friedman and Ramonet Ignacio, "Dueling Globalization," Foreign Policy, Fall 1999, pp. 110-127.

3. As cited in John D. Snethen, "The Evolution of Sovereignty and Citizenship in Western Europe: Implications for Migration and Globalization," Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 8, 1, Fall 2000, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN., p. 229.

4. Ibid., p. 228. See also, Sujit Choudhry, "Globalization in Search of Justification: Toward a Theory of Comparative Constitutional Interpretation," Indiana Law Journal, 74, 3, Summer 1999, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN., pp. 917-894.

5. See, for example, Maude Barlow, "Globalization and the Dismantling of Canadian Democracy, Values and Society," The People-Centered Development Forum, Number 17, March 10, 1996, Ottawa, Canada.

6. See, James N. Rosenau, Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier, Cambridge, 1997.

7. Smith and Naím, ALTERED STATES, pp.8-9.

8. Obaro Ikime, "Football of the Year," The Guardian, Lagos, August 13, 1989, p.7

9. The late Professor Eme Awa was a pioneering Nigerian Political Scientist. He was the Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He resigned from his position as head of Nigeria's electoral commission instead of complying with the anti democratic pressures and interferences of General Ibrahim Babangida's military dictatorship.

10. See, Tunji Olagunju, Adele Jinadu, and S. Egite Oyovbaire, Transition to Democracy in Nigeria, 1985-1993, Ibadan, 1993.

11. See The Guardian, Lagos, April 1, 2001.

12. For a detailed analysis of this phenomenon, see Billy J. Dudley, Instability and Political Order: Politics and Crisis in Nigeria, Ibadan, 1973.

13. For a discussion of this subject, see Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, Enugu, 1978; Donald Rothschild, ed., State and Ethnic Claims: African Policy Dilemmas, Boulder, CO., 1983; and Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, Berkeley, CA., 1985.

14. For a detailed account of this issue, see "Federal Government of Nigeria's Policies and the Niger Delta's Problems,"


15. See, "Nigeria: Hausa-Fulani Must Always Rule: Rotational Presidency is Bullshit," Sunday Concord, Lagos, April 13, 1997.

16. See, The Guardian, Lagos, April 1, 2001;PANA News Agency, Dakar, Senegal, April 1, 2001.