Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue
                 Wilberforce Conference on Nigerian Federalism

A Project of Nigerian Scholars for Dialogue


The last five years have brought to the surface simmering crisis that protracted military dictatorship has created for Nigeria's economy, governance, public morality, and ethnic relationships. After nearly thirty years under successive regimes of military rule, the Nigerian economy is in shambles, with its heavy reliance on petroleum oil (which now provides 90% of Nigeria's export earnings). Over-centralization of public policies has endangered the federal principle on whose worth Nigeria's stability had historically rested. Public morality and the norm of accountability have been imperiled, with corruption impairing a bureaucracy that was once the model for other African nations. The suppression of expressions of genuine grievances by those most affected by the military's mismanagement of Nigeria's public affairs has created an explosive political situation in many communities, particularly those of the oil-producing Niger Delta where the Federal Government and the Shell-BP have been accused of serious transgressions.

Such problems have been growing for decades. But while some of these issues were generalized across the country, many of them were localized in certain areas. The annulment of the 1993 Presidential Elections and the horrific scale of the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogonis of the eastern Niger Delta in November 1995 have brought these questions to a widespread national level as well as to the consciousness of the international community. Responses to these events have been narrowly framed along issues dear to those concerned about them. Thus, for examples, reinstatement of the 1993 elections, democracy, human rights, and environmental problems have featured prominently in reactions from Nigerians and the international community. But the larger issues of prolonged military rule and what will replace it -- if ever it is finally terminated -- have rarely been discussed.

An outstanding aspect of engagement with the ongoing Nigerian crisis is the degree of involvement by the expatriate Nigerian community which has grown considerably since 1990. It now includes politicians, journalists, and academics, all of them fleeing persecution or the ill-consequences of gross mismanagement of Nigeria's public affairs by the military regime. The expatriate Nigerian community also embodies a large number of professionals, especially engineers and medical doctors, who have either fled Nigeria or else have refrained from returning home after their training in Europe and North America. As the list of those jailed and harassed by the Federal Military Government grows, the forthright analysis of Nigeria's problems inside Nigeria has become a dangerous exercise. In these circumstances, a large portion of the burden of surveying Nigerian affairs in ways that will be helpful to Nigeria's future falls to the responsibility of expatriate Nigerians.

Many of these have engaged in debates about the Nigerian crisis in responsible media as well as in more sensational venues. Sadly, a good number of the controversies which they generate reveal deep ethnic fissures which have often led away from discussions of fundamental problems facing Nigeria. As people who have previously engaged in the examination of Nigerian problems, expatriate Nigerian scholars are in a position to bring some order to discussions of the Nigerian crisis. Our conversations have revealed that federalism is one subject that brings most Nigerians together. It is for this reason that we have focused on federalism as a way of resolving the Nigerian crisis of governance.

This project has thus emerged from discussions among Nigerian scholars in North America, Europe, and South Africa. We look forward to its extension to Nigerians scholars in Nigeria itself -- a possibility made more distant by Nigeria's harsh political circumstances and decaying communications infrastructure. We hope that this project will result in a praxis of scholarship that will allow us to employ our previous academic experiences of studying Nigerian problems in constructing new ways of helping to resolve the Nigerian crisis of governance by strengthening the norms and the political culture of federalism. These efforts will emphasize dialogue among rival religious and ethnic groups and discussions of the larger issues of ethnic harmony without which Nigerian federalism will continue to be imperiled. It will also explore ways of bringing the Nigerian military into a dialogue with the Nigerian people.

The initial conversations joined a narrow band of scholars who had worked in Nigerian universities but who have resettled to new academic life in the United States. Following the initial letter from Peter Ekeh in November 1996, interest in this form of dialogue rapidly spread to the larger Nigerian community in American universities and beyond. It now includes younger Nigerian scholars and graduate students in North America.

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