Document continues from Addresses . . .
Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue
                 Wilberforce Conference on Nigerian Federalism


A Case for Dialogue on Nigerian Federalism

ByPeter P. Ekeh
State University of New York at Buffalo

In late 1995 and early 1996, I attended two conferences on what was then perceived as the deepening political crisis in Nigeria. The conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, November 10-13, 1995, sought to examine the Dilemmas of Democracy in Nigeria while that at the University of York in Toronto, January 11-12, 1996, concerned itself with the growing problems of Refugees and Displacement: A Developing Nigerian Phenomenon.(1)

Looking back at both conferences later, I was struck by two facts. First, Nigerian scholars at these meetings were noticeably uneasy about the future of their country. Their plight was in all probability heightened by the unsettling fact that the Madison-Wisconsin meeting began with the news of the hanging of Ken Tsaro-Wiwa earlier that memorable Friday morning of November 10, 1995. There was pain and confusion in the opinions of Nigerians attending these conferences. I could even sense timidity on the part of many Nigerians who expressed their views about their beleaguered country. Some were passionate while others seemed frightened. Ironically, these are traits that Nigerian intellectuals in the past attributed to African scholars from such other sad lands as Uganda, Ghana, Malawi, and Zaire which were once ravaged by tyranny. Ten years ago, few Nigerians could have imagined that we would become the object of pity from other African countries.

I was also struck by our retreat to a piece of ironic history in the struggle for freedom in Africa. Beginning at the turn of the nineteenth century, a series of Pan-African Congresses was held in London and other European cities with the aim of plotting African freedom from foreign rule (DuBois 1963, Padmore 1963, Geiss 1974). But they could not be held anywhere in Africa because most of the continent was then ruled by colonial dictatorships. I thought it was ironic that neither of the two conferences at Madison-Wisconsin and York University could have been held on Nigerian soil for fear of military dictatorship.

Since the dates of these meetings the pace of events surrounding Nigeria's fortunes has quickened. On the happy side, Nigeria won the highly coveted world class Olympics soccer trophy in late 1996. That is no small matter for a country in the throes of political crisis. I was proud and encouraged to see that Nigeria's military leaders mobilized the nation to greet this marvelous piece of good news. I was impressed by the fact that Nigeria's military rulers took credit for our supreme victory in the Olympics. And that is how it should be. As managers of Nigeria's public affairs, these military men should take credit for good results flowing from our national efforts. On the other hand, they should also assume responsibility for any misfortunes, especially ones induced by mismanagement, that befall Nigeria.

Since those two conferences in 1995 and 1996 our misfortunes have been plentiful. At home, our public affairs painfully are in tatters. Our educational institutions, especially at the university level, are in disarray. The most elementary security needs of individual citizens have not been met, as violence has become the norm in governance and outside it. The economy has been very badly damaged. Relationships among neighboring ethnic groups, such as the Ijo and Itsekiri in the Delta State, have sustained major setbacks.

Nigeria has suffered greater reversals of fortunes in her external relationships. Since 1995, Nigeria has been suspended from the (British) Commonwealth of Nations. Nigeria is haunted in the corridors of human rights organizations. Our political stocks in Washington are miserable. Nigeria's Head of State cannot dream of what most other African nations regard as a commonplace of international diplomacy: a visit to the White House. We are the only African country cited as a drug-trafficking nation by the United States. Nigeria Airways is virtually banned from international flight. We are in trouble in many agencies of the United Nations. In one word, Nigeria is fast becoming an international outcast.

What is disturbing about these internal and external misfortunes is that no one has stepped forward to take responsibility for the downfall of Nigeria's public affairs. Nor, as far as one can see, have any credible measures conceived by the people of Nigeria been enacted in order to restore our fortunes at home and our graces abroad. Instead, the Federal Military Government and its enemies have engaged in trading accusations of blame. Clearly, this is not how the affairs of any major nation should be managed. Surely, some one, some group, some government has to answer for all these dire misfortunes that have befallen a country that was regarded as Africa's pride only a few short years ago.

The fast deterioration in our fortunes since 1995 recalls to my mind a sad story about the slave trade and the Oyo Empire that I should share with you. Some of you may be aware that for several centuries Oyo managed a splendid political system which was remarkable for the way it balanced power between the Alafin, the King of Oyo, and representative assemblies, the Oyo Mesi. Oyo's political system has especially appealed to students of the political sociology of ancient Africa because it achieved an uncanny system of accountability in which noblemen of the Ogboni Chamber as well as the King of Oyo, the Alafin, were fully answerable for their public behaviors. Such a tradition was manifest in the famous institution of royal suicides by which the King of Oyo was compelled to commit suicide if his acts of governance were gravely abusive of the public interest. It was the ultimate expression of the norm of accountability in ancient Africa.

All these remarkable achievements were ruined when Oyo plunged itself into the Atlantic slave trade, becoming a major source of supply of captives for the evil trade. Slave raids into neighboring ethnic groups could not satisfy the demands for captives, it was a matter of time before the violence of the slave raids turned inwards, as members of many non-royal groups became victims of the slave trade. As violence begot violence, Oyo imploded in a fierce civil war in the early part of the nineteenth century.(2)

The story that I wish to share with you was set in these circumstances. Soldiers from an Oyo satellite town, ruled by a Bale, a feudal lord, were pressed by their leader into the civil war. They lost. Rather than being taken as prisoners of war, as it would be the case in previous normal times, they were now sold into the slave trade. Six of these soldiers -- all grades of them: general, horsemen, foot soldiers, and of different ages -- found themselves as slaves in a Caribbean sugar plantation. One afternoon, as they labored in the field, three new slaves were brought in to join them. One of the ex-soldiers looked up to observe these new labor recruits. He then cried out: "Oh no, oh no, oh my God: It is the Bale himself." The others joined him in this emotional recognition of their ruler back home in Yorubaland and Oyo nobility and commoner, all now slaves, wept together at the fate of their fallen ruler and their fallen civilization. None of them knew of the fate that had befallen their wives and children and relatives at home. But each of them had paid a heavy price for the mismanagement of Oyo's public affairs.

Oyo's misfortunes in the nineteenth century should provide us with a parable from which to examine Nigeria's current predicament. Oyo was not conquered from outside its realm. It collapsed under the weight of its own mismanagement. It had a lot going for it. It could have resolved its problems internally through dialogue and its own tested institutions. Instead it chose the violence of the slave trade. And it destroyed itself.

Since its independence from British colonial rule in 1960 and until recently, Nigeria was regarded as Africa's paragon and its hope for the future. It had everything it needed to launch itself into the modern world: an ample supply of intellectual resources; mineral wealth; and a good agricultural base. So what has gone wrong?

One main goal of this project and this conference is to provide an enduring answer to this vexed question. But I must steer this assembly away form one over-easy explanation of the abiding controversy of what has gone wrong with Nigeria's public affairs. There has been a comfortable temptation among many Nigerian scholars to select individual military rulers, current or past, as the source of our crisis of governance. Yes, each person who has presided over our affairs should answer for his deeds and misdeeds, at least in the pages of history. However, there are two reasons why we in this project should look for more fundamental answers.

First, blaming individual military rulers, exclusively, for our downfall allows the greater evil of military dictatorship to escape blame. Second, many Nigerian scholars have engaged in the dangerous exercise of choosing between "good military rulers" and "bad military dictators". I do understand that many such scholars helped to shape the rise of their favored "good" military rulers and that they now find it difficult to toss them all into one sinful category of military dictatorship. However, the truth of the matter is this: military rule is especially and inherently corrupting. One scholar's "good" military ruler is liable to be another scholar's "bad" military dictator. The greater evil is the subjugation of our public affairs to military dictatorship. This, rather than the distraction of individuals, should be the focus of our efforts.

By sheer act of arithmetical assignment military dictatorship should be held accountable for a great deal of Nigeria's achievements and misfortunes. Since our political independence from British rule in 1960, military men have been in control of Nigeria for twenty-eight of its thirty-seven years of post-colonial history. We must begin this account by acknowledging that military men fought the Nigerian civil war (1967-70), on both sides, with passion and distinction. Military rule also should be credited with the rapid resettlement and reconciliation between the enemies of the Civil War. Having fought that war, the military unfortunately refused to leave the scene. Their refusal to give up power was helped by the geopolitics of the Cold War of the 1960s through the 1980s during which Western and Soviet rivalries allowed African dictators to play each side against the other. Nigerian and African dictators were also aided by the prevailing intellectual atmosphere of modernization theory, Marxism, and dependency theory, all of which encouraged strong centralized governments and so-called strong leaders. These trends allowed Nigerian military men to continue in their self-adulation and the false belief that they were gifted rulers.

The catalogue of the misfortunes inflicted on Nigeria as a consequence of military rule is painfully long. The most enduring and pervasive of these may be highlighted here as follows:

First, and quite ironically, an obvious and dangerous negative consequence of military rule is the weakening of the professionalism of the Nigerian military. Not long ago, the Nigerian armed forces were regarded as a fast emerging regional military presence.(3) Sadly, the Nigerian military has failed to recognize the historical truth that ultimately any military establishment can only be as strong as the civilian population on which it depends. As Nigerian civilian population comes under attack from the military, it has experienced enormous problems of morale, loyalty and competence. As constituted today, the Nigerian armed forces must be seen as political formations, rather than as professional forces trained to fight wars. Their professional weaknesses may be inferred from the basic fact that their chieftains cannot entrust themselves to the loyalty of members of the armed forces. That is why since the 1980s Nigeria's military heads of state have largely relied on foreign mercenary security agents to protect them from their own men. Disloyalty in the armed forces has led to purges, imprisonment, and assassination of serving and past members of the military leadership. This decay in standards has not been helped by the disturbing fact that the military's training propaganda is such that the ordinary Nigerian soldier regards civilians, that is Nigerian civilians, as the enemy.

Clearly, this is no way to run a nation's military establishment. The objective truth of the matter is that the Nigerian military forces need civilian control to save them from self-destruction. It is our responsibility as scholars to persuade the Nigerian military in any dialogue that we may have with their leadership that mixing up the art of civilian governance with the demands of professional military organization is unworkable and that the Nigerian military order is now paying a heavy price for not disengaging from the governance of Nigeria.

Second, there is urgent need for a dialogue on the related matter of the organization of the Nigeria Police. Tekena Tamuno, the distinguished Ibadan historian, tells us that the origin of the Nigeria Police Force is the [British] West African Frontier Force, a paramilitary organization with quasi-police functions formed in 1898 (see Tamuno 1970).(4) For much of the colonial era, the Nigerian Police retained its military characteristics, lacking in the qualities of a civilian police establishment. However, the local police of Native Authorities, a fully civilian outfit established under the doctrine of Indirect Rule, functioned alongside the Nigerian Police in some sections of colonial Nigeria.(5)

These arrangements for multiple police formations changed under the regime of decolonization when the 1960 Constitution abolished the Native Authority police, enabling the Nigerian Police Force to become the sole police establishment in Nigeria. The understanding then was that its regional units would be subject to some local civilian control. With the upheavals of the 1960s, this arrangement collapsed. Under military rule, the Nigeria Police Force has become a sub-branch of the armed forces, depriving Nigerians of the benefit of having civilian police formations. In years past, under the civilian arrangements, the Nigeria Police was internationally acclaimed as an exemplary police organization.(6) Today, after years of its subjugation by the military, the Nigeria Police Force is despised internationally for its inefficiencies and for its egregious human rights violations (see Usman 1982; Lawyers Committee for Human Rights 1992).

Nigerian scholars must pay attention to this important subject because Nigeria needs good civilian police formations more than it needs a military force. We must persuade our countrymen and women that a country of Nigeria's size and complexity needs separate police formations at the federal and state levels as well as in the local districts and in townships and cities. The Nigeria Police must have narrower and sharper functions that will make it much more efficient than it is currently. Let other units of government establish their police formations for their local security needs, provided they can pay for their services. Persuading our country men and women that this is a worthy aspect of any new constitutional changes should be an important mission of our dialogue with the Nigerian people

Third, civilian leadership, once a notable distinction of Nigerian history, has suffered grievously from the saga of military rule. The abundance of civilian leadership in the 1930s-1960s was the result of opportunities for practice in various organizations which colonial rule allowed. Even indirect rule had room for practicing in leadership skills. Such training for civilian leadership is now vanishing from Nigerian society, having become another major casualty of military rule. Military dictatorship has turned compromise, the essence of politics, into a sinful vice. Instead, it preaches the art of dealing with dissent "ruthlessly." Under military rule, orders must be obeyed "with immediate effect." At least two generations of Nigerians have grown up without the benefit of the knowledge that leadership and politics call for negotiating opposing points of view.(7) Ironically, proponents of military rule have turned around to proclaim that Nigeria has no civilian leadership to replace the military. It is the responsibility of Nigerian scholars engaged in a dialogue with the Nigerian people to persuade them that the ways of military rule are wrong for a civilian population and that leadership includes training for negotiation and compromise.

The civilian leadership that developed in the pre-military era of our politics included a strong presence of women who did not encounter imponderable problems in vying for important positions in various political parties and who freely formed and led women's movements. One destructive consequence of military rule is that it has stifled opportunities for women's leadership in an age in which liberalization of politics has given women in other regions of the world some important opportunities in leadership categories.

A fourth main casualty of military rule in our history of the last thirty years is the disappearance of the norm of accountability from our public affairs. Accountability was a staple of traditional politics in precolonial West Africa, as our previous references to Oyo politics should reveal. Despite the oppressions of colonial rule the norm of accountability persisted, even among colonial rulers. Apart from the Colonial Office, there was always a Parliament in London that challenged the conduct of colonial officers in major administrative transgressions such as those that led to the so-called Women's War of 1929 among the Igbo and Ibibio in Eastern Nigeria. The indictment and investigation for corruption of such men as Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo in the 1950s and 1960s, during the civilian era of our politics, at least established the point to the ordinary Nigerian that no one was above the law and that we were all accountable for our public and private actions (see Colonial Office 1957 and Nigeria 1962).

All these standards have fallen away under military rule. Priding themselves as those who have replaced colonial rulers, Nigeria's military rulers are not accountable to any parliament or public opinion. Some times high-placed military spokesmen seem to suggest that the Head of State, as well as Governors in the states, should be above the law. As trust in the integrity of military and police officers has become eroded, the norm of accountability has suffered immeasurably, making corruption a commonplace phenomenon among ordinary folk in the country. Nigerian scholars have a responsibility to suggest ways of restoring the principle of accountability to our public affairs. We have the obligation of elucidating the point that in a republic no one, not even the Head of State, is above the law and that all persons are answerable for their actions.

These four areas of failures of military rule are underlined by intellectual weaknesses on the part of the military involving their relationships with the Nigerian people. In the first place, in their dealings with civilians, the Nigerian military leadership expects total obedience from those they rule as if they were their subjects. In so doing, they intellectually confuse obedience with discipline. An obedient person submits to orders because he or she fears punishment from those wielding the implements of violence. A person with discipline complies with rules because he or she shares in the norms that establish those rules. A disciplined person respects authorities while an obedient person fears them. Very often a disciplined man or woman may be quite disobedient. A disciplined person is governed by an inner-directed code of behavior while an obedient person is forced to comply with orders by outer-directed compelling circumstances(8). The problem with military rule is that it has driven Nigerians to adopt obedience as a standard behavior in our public affairs, compelling us to escape the higher standards of disciplined behavior.

This piece of intellectual weakness on the part of the Nigerian military is coupled with another form of confusion. Nigerian military leadership has confused power with violence.(9) Power is exercised by applying rules of authority in which those wielding it and those on whom it is imposed accept common ground rules. Thus, a policeman wields power when he applies laws binding all of us. Violence involves the raw application of force in which there are no common rules between the enforcer of violence and its victims. Thus, an armed robber wields violence, not power. Sadly, the saga of military dictatorship has confused these two, inclining Nigerians to be ruled by violence rather than by power.(10)

Both of these strands of intellectual weaknesses in the Nigerian military have created incivility and chaos that have grown coarse as the years of military dictatorship in Nigeria have dragged on. A nation that is governed by the norms of obedience and violence is liable to be weak in its internal affairs. Despite its outward appearances of toughness, military dictatorship breeds weak citizenship. Citizenship enjoins a morality of discipline and of respect for power that the rule of law promotes. Subjects are more likely to live in expectations of obedience and violence. Herein lies the essential intellectual weakness of military rule: it attacks citizenship and turns citizens into subjects, at least as viciously as colonialism.(11)

The negative consequences of military rule extend to a fifth area of Nigeria's public affairs that is perhaps of the most moment. Military dictatorship has deliberately sought to undermine the principle of federalism that has been entrenched in Nigerian political history. The evidence for this goes back to the first military regime that attempted to abolish federalism in 1966.(12) Although Nigeria has since then continued to bear this title, under the military federalism has been weakened in major ways. Most of our efforts in this project will be aimed at highlighting these failures and at suggesting ways for restoring and improving our federal system of governments after military rule.

We will probably appreciate the extent of the disruptions that military rule has caused in Nigerian federalism if we understand its roots in our political history. Nigeria has always been distinguished from all other African nations in terms of its preferences for federal political arrangements. This unique Nigerian attachment to the federal principle dates back to the colonial era. Of all attempts by European colonial rulers of African countries to experiment with federalism, only Nigeria's survived. Such other cases as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nysaland, the proposed East African Union (of Tanganyika [Tanzania], Uganda, and Kenya; and efforts to build a federal system from the provinces of South Africa, all of which were attempted by British colonialism in Africa, were unsuccessful (see Hicks 1978). Similarly, France's efforts at forging federal systems in its West and Central African colonies, failed. Remarkably, in the post-colonial era, only Nigeria has retained a federal system on the African continent.(13)

The basis for Nigerian federalism was laid from sheer economic necessity during the early years of British colonialism in West Africa. Although the two British colonies of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria were contiguous, they were distinct colonies for over ten years of their colonization after they were separately conquered by Great Britain. Frugal British administrators were not pleased that although Southern Nigeria could pay for its own administration, Northern Nigeria's administrative costs were subsidized from London. It was for the sake of achieving economic balance that the amalgamation of the two separate colonies of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria was effected in 1914 (see Lugard 1912-19: 58-59). Since then, Nigerian political affairs have reflected these two separate entities of the resulting country of Nigeria. However, for much of the country's history under British colonial rule the federal nature of Nigeria was implicit rather than being fully laid out.

Formal federal arrangements came with de-colonization and Nigerians' attempts to gain independence from Britain. In 1954, three federal Regions of Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, and Western Nigeria resulted from the previous groups of provinces that were the basis of colonial rule. These Regions were strong centers not only for governance but also for economic development. The Federal Government that emerged from negotiations for Nigerian independence from Britain was small and had narrowly defined roles, with emphasis on defense and external affairs. Such key functions as education and economic development were the Regions' primary responsibilities.(14)

Nigeria's strong federal arrangements changed dramatically with episodes of military coups d'etat in 1966 and the Nigerian Civil War that followed them. Since then, with military rule, federal arrangements have been weakened under regimes of centralization. The four Regions were expanded to twelve and renamed "states." Their numbers have since been increased to thirty-six by acts of military fiat and decrees. Since constitutional law was suspended by military rule, the states more or less have become mere provincial outposts of the central government. The functions of the states have been diminished significantly, as the Federal Government usurps regional and state roles in educational policies, economic development, etc.(15)

It is important that we highlight those principles of federalism that have been attacked by military rule. Two of these are especially significant. First, the pioneering 1960 and 1963 Constitution deliberately sought to avoid over-concentration of powers in any offices of the Federal and Regional Governments. This arrangement was achieved from protracted negotiations (see, e.g., Ekeh 1995). It was able to do this not just through the usual principle of separation of powers among the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive, but by further requiring that the functions of government be differentiated from those of the state. Thus the office of the Prime Minister was in charge of the affairs of the Federal Government while the larger interests of the Nigerian state were expected to be jealously guided by the President as the Head of state. In each of the Regions, these roles were performed by a Premier and a Governor.

Military rule simply canceled these arrangements and concentrated powers in single offices, combining the office of the head of government and that of the head of state. Moreover, military rule has attacked the principle of separation of powers among the judiciary, legislature, and the executive by ignoring the role of the judiciary in the determination of constitutional problems and by decreeing laws from the executive branch.(16)

Second, military rule has abolished the autonomy of the states. We need not belabor this point in this address because it is well understood and well regretted by Nigerians. What is not as well understood is its main economic consequence. Indeed, the point needs to be emphasized that a debilitating consequence of the abolition of the autonomy of states by the military is that they cease to be engines of economic growth and expansion. In the few years that they functioned in a federal system, before the interruption of military rule, the power of the Regions was manifest in their race for economic and educational development. They did so on their own terms, often pursuing policies that were different from those of other Regions and the Central government. No Regional Government could survive on what was handed over to it by the Federal Government in the 1960s. They raised their own finances and pursued their own separate economic policies. Consider this: the main argument against the creation of the Midwest Region in 1962 and 1963 was that it would not be economically viable.(17)

In opposition to such dispersal of power, military rule has enforced uniform policies. In doing so it has turned the states into units of consumption, away from previous times when regional governments served as units of production. Military rule has transformed the states from units of economic growth, turning them into political simpletons always prostrating for political favors from the central government.

These are serious principles and issues that Nigerian scholars should not be afraid to examine. Those who designed the original Independence Constitution dreaded the concentration of power in the hands of a few people and few groups. Can we debate the merits of these principles? Not according to the military. In the first full attempt to construct a new constitution under the military in 1976-79, the military leadership bluntly made it clear that there was only one available choice: a presidential system in which the powers of the Head of State and that of head of government are fused. The consideration of other models was barred to the Constitution-makers.(18) Although not expressly so stated, the states were to depend on the Federal Government for their economic needs in the 1979 Constitution. The concentration of funds flowing from the sale of mineral oils was a major premise of the 1979 Constitution. Since the downfall of the Second Republic and the return of the military in 1983, military dictators have treated Nigerians to new versions of constitution-making. Carefully selected members of the so-called Political Bureau virtually made sure that the economy shall be centralized.(19) By now the constitution-making process has virtually become a secret affair of military rulers.

There is another area where the military has forbidden any other considerations other than its commandment. Elected civilians assembled in the Constituent Assembly in 1978-9 flirted with the idea of constitutionally banning military coups d'etat. But the military firmly prevented them from so expressly stating that issue.

Assessing the role of the military in the construction of future constitutions for the governance of Nigeria should be a central assignment in any dialogues that we may be privileged to have with the military and the Nigerian people. The thorny question is this: what role should the military credibly play in a constitutional process that will be acceptable to the masses of the Nigerian people? This question should be answered in two parts. First, we should assess the military's role in constructing constitutions for Nigeria up to the present time. Then, second, we should look into their future role in the light of their past performances.

The first attempt by the military to work out a constitution for Nigeria was in the time period of 1975-79. The military Government empowered a Constitution Drafting Committee which it charged with the responsibility of drawing up a constitutional document within parameters set by it (See Williams 1976). This draft document was then considered by a partially elected Constituent Assembly which made recommendations to the military authorities. The final text of the 1979 Constitution was what was authorized by the Supreme Military Council after making significant changes in the Constituent Assembly's work. It was on this Constitution, approved by the Military, that the Second Republic (1979-83) was based. In 1983 the military disregarded the Constitution that it had authorized and organized another putsch that ushered into power a new military junta.

From 1983 to the present time Nigerians have been treated like little children by the military in a gamesmanship of raw deceit in the making of constitutions. First, in an incredible display of arrogance, Nigerian scholars with ties to the military leadership were assembled and named Political Bureau. Their responsibility was to think out what constitutional principles should guide us. After much expense, they published their report (Nigeria 1987). The military leadership ignored quite a bit of it, but it did present from these intellectuals' work some material to a Constitution Review Committee and then another partially elected Constituent Assembly which produced another draft Constitution for the Military to approve in 1988. By this time it was clear that Nigerians had no faith in this so-called Constitution. In any case it led to the elections of 1993 which were promptly annulled by the military. Since then yet another partially elected Constituent Assembly has considered another 1995 Constitution whose final fate lies entirely in the secret deliberations of military rulers.

These ad hoc processes of constitution-making and the contents of these military-inspired constitutions differ dramatically from the 1960 and 1963 Constitution which was managed and produced by Nigerian politicians and the Nigerian people.(20) Three of these differences deserve special mention. First, the 1960 Independence Constitution and the 1963 Republican Constitution were approved by elected bodies, not by fiat from dictators as has been the case under the military. Second, there were no preordained forbidden zones in the making of the 1960 and 1963 Constitution, other than the need to preserve the integrity of Nigeria. On the other hand, under the military, constitutions are circumscribed by several restrictions imposed by the military leadership. Third, constitution-making in the nineteen fifties and sixties was a decentralized exercise involving large segments of the country in consultation and approval. Indeed, apart from the overall national Constitution, each Region served by a government, had its own separate constitution. Thus, the 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consisted of five separate constitutional laws for Nigeria, Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, Midwestern Nigeria, and Western Nigeria (see Nigeria 1963). On the other hand, the so-called military constitutions were centralized, with no involvement from the states.

In the light of these differences, what role should the military play in any future efforts aimed at restoring faith in the Constitution-making process in Nigeria? The answer to this question should be determined by judgment regarding what constitutes a legitimate Constitution. In my view, the 1960 and 1963 Constitution is the only legitimate Constitution that Nigerians ever had. In my view, the military Constitutions are illegitimate because they were authorized and approved by military fiat. It is therefore wrong to involve the military in further exercises in the making and approval of constitutions for Nigeria. There is another potent reason why it would be wrong for the military to be involved in the making and approval of constitutions for Nigeria. It is the case that on each of the two occasions, in 1966 and 1983, when the military sacked civilians from power, the military's first act was to abolish the Nigerian Constitution. Thereafter, the military leadership has proceeded to eviscerate all constitutional norms of the rule of law that it finds inconvenient. The Nigerian military order has made a deliberate choice to run the affairs of the Nigerian state outside the restraints of the rule of law. A constitution is a supreme law binding all citizens under its jurisdiction. Those who refuse to obey its mandate should not be surprised if those on whom they seek to impose some circumscribed constitutional order regard their acts of constitution-making as illegitimate.

The virtues and legitimacy of the 1960 and 1963 Constitution and its superiority over the military constitutions speak for themselves. It will serve Nigeria's future prospects well if we retreat to the premises and wisdom of the 1960 and 1963 Constitution in the construction of a new Constitution for Nigeria. Any new constitutional efforts must revive the legitimacy of constitution-making by involving Nigerians and their representatives on a broad scale at the federal and state levels. Obviously, there is need to update our federal framework beyond the 1963 Constitution, both with respect to the constituent states and the need to grant greater autonomy and responsibility to district and town governments. On the other hand, it would be a disservice to compel Nigerians to base their political future on the defects of the military constitutions. Neither the 1979 Muhammed-Obasanjo Constitution nor the aborted 1988 Babagida Constitution nor the current 1995 Abacha Constitution is worthy of Nigeria's future.

However, there are two ways through which any military leaders of goodwill can help to smooth the constitutional path for Nigeria. As those with de facto power, military rulers can play a role in allowing civilians to engage in the acts of constitution-making, involving negotiations and compromises, without facing hindrance and intimidation. Second, those in the military who believe in constitutional governance should accept the proposition that a modern Nigeria cannot withstand further military violence in coups d'etat. Therefore they should enter into an agreement on behalf of the military forces with the Nigerian people forbidding military intervention in civilian matters and accepting the principle of civilian control over the military. Such an agreement should, and can, be guaranteed by acclaimed international bodies that would move to impose punishing sanctions should the military ever break their word and drive elected civilians from office.

These are the issues over which Nigerian scholars now gathered at Wilberforce, as well as others in Europe and Nigeria who have been unable to attend this meeting, these are the issues over which we seek dialogue with the military rulers in Nigeria and the Nigerian people. The proposal for a dialogue presumes that we do not believe that those military rulers who govern Nigeria are evil men. Indeed, many of them are good men. But we must urge them to recognize that an organization which compels normal and decent men to treat their own country men and women as conquered "natives" must be an evil system. Military rule is evil. Sadly, such an evil system will inevitably turn good men into bad people. As scholars, we must use the capital of our credibility with the Nigerian people to persuade the military who currently dictate our ways of living that the scale of the Nigerian crisis is enormous. We will not recover any lost grounds by being treated with more of the same doses of military dictatorship.

We must use the opportunity of this project to assure the military leadership that history will be most kind to anyone among them who will reconcile the military with the Nigerian people most of whom have become disenchanted and alienated by the excesses of military dictatorship. History will smile on those of them who have the courage to prepare the military for permanent disengagement from governance. History will eventually shine on the military and recognize its contributions if its leadership acknowledges that it has made the mistakes which now threaten the worthiness of Nigeria. These are times when wise men will not assume that they have all the answers to Nigeria's enormous problems. History will bless those military leaders who are willing to open up and have worthwhile dialogue with their country men and women, as citizens like them, but not as their subjects.

On the other hand, it is only fair to advise Nigeria's military rulers that those of them who for short-sighted personal gains insist on continuing with the wrong ways of military dictatorship shall be bludgeoned by history's judgment. We must let them know that those who fail to see that military dictatorship in the post-Cold War era is incongruous with the international norms of civilized leadership must be ready to be the scum-bag of international affairs. Nigerian military dictators who refuse to heed the times should be ready to join the tragic memories of other African destructive dictators: Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu, and Jean Bokassa. The difference, of course, would be that these were not aware that history would spit at them. Nigerian military rulers who knowingly lead their own country into the path of disgrace and self-destruction should not expect kindness from Nigerian scholars whose responsibility it is to record Nigeria's national history.

As scholars -- as political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, historians and philosophers -- as Nigerian scholars from various disciplines, we are collectively and ultimately the handmaiden of the history of our nation that shall be called upon to pass judgment on those who have been privileged to manage our public affairs. Our credibility with the Nigerian public is at stake here. We must understand our responsibility in any dialogues with the military and the Nigerian people. Let us not be like those in the Oyo Empire of the nineteenth century who could not rise above the appeal of the day in order to secure their people's place in the world of the morrow. We have business to perform for our nation. Let us all put into it our utmost.

1. For publications resulting from these conferences see Paul A. Beckett and M. Crawford Young (1997 forthcoming) and Paul Lovejoy and Pat Williams (1997).

2. For a smattering of the ample literature on the history, politics, and social organization of Oyo, see Johnson (1921), Law (1977), and Morton-Williams (1960).

3. In 1986, the following claim could be made of Nigeria by an expert in the field of military intelligence: "Nigeria has emerged as at least a regional power in West Africa and is regarded widely as having impressive military potential, bolstered by its population and oil wealth. It clearly influences issues continent-wide although in strictly military terms its power is more regional. In the long run, Nigeria has more military potential than any other black-ruled state" (Thom 1986: 108). It may be noted that this assessment was made before South Africa emerged as the uncontested regional power in Black Africa and before the rapid decay in Nigeria's opportunities for influencing continental policies and issues.

4. See Tamuno (1970: 39): "By far the most crucial factor in understanding the existence in Nigeria of semi-military police lay in the nature of Nigerian opposition to British jurisdiction and rule. .... These sources of friction ... emphasized the need for troops and police as the ready instrument of enforcing government orders when peaceful overtures failed.... In the circumstances, the police formed the front line of defence in Britain's attempts to maintain law and order while soldiers afforded the last -- at least in theory. Where however the Constabulary housed, as it were, both the soldiers and the police, the distinction was meaningless."

5. "The [Nigerian Police] Force was assisted in the North and in the West by local native administration [N.A.] forces of varying size and quality ... No such forces existed in the East" (Clayton and Killingray 1989: 26)

6. In 1963, during the Congo (Zaire) crisis, the Secretary General of the United Nations had so much faith in the Nigeria Police that he pleaded with the Security Council to solicit Nigerian assistance in the modernization of the Congo Police. U Thant told the Security Council: "The question of training of the ANC [Congolese National Army] would have lesser importance if law and order could be protected in various [Congolese] localities by the local police force. Unfortunately, those forces tend to be badly organized. .... It is very satisfying, therefore, that the Nigerian Government has now undertaken to help the Congolese Government in the reorganization of the Congolese Police Force, which in the long view is also vital for the country." (Cited in Ohaegbunam 1982: 125.)

7. "Prolonged military rule has affected the psyche of civilians and the political class such that they operate like the military thereby creating opportunities for the military's return to power" (Friedrich Ebert Foundation 1997: 240). Also see Ihonvbere (1996) for a passionate account of the failure of civilian leadership in Nigeria's Second Republic.

8. For a distinction between inner-directed and outer-directed character modes see Riesman et al (1950).

9. "It is insufficient," Hannah Arendt once wrote, "to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent" (1969: 54). The use of power as a mode of dominance bonds the ruler and the ruled to a set of common societal values, thus enhancing rulers' legitimacy from which their power is further nourished. Dominance by violence is careless of the views of subjects, relying on securing their compliance from the employment of the implements of violence. Power and violence stand opposed because reliance on violence as a mode of dominance hardly ever enhances the legitimacy of rulers once the grounds for fearing them are removed. But it is an error to believe that dominance by violence is liable to be short-lived. For when the initial promises of domination by violence in, say, a military putsch, are in danger of proving false and unjustified, violence transforms itself into terror. "Terror is not the same as violence; it is, rather, the form of government that comes into being when violence, having destroyed all power, does not abdicate but, on the contrary, remains in full control" (Arendt 1969: 55).

10. Unfortunately, Nigerian political science has been corrupted by a common misunderstanding that Max Weber's discussion of power and authority makes these concepts opposites rather than paired constructs. A more careful reading of the German sociologist will reveal that rather than being opposites, power and authority are synonyms. The view that power and authority are opposites is widely inferred from Weber's definition of power as "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his will despite resistance" (Weber 1947: 152). To cite one prominent use of this definition, Ralf Dahrendorf based his theory of social stratification on his acceptance of "the useful and well-considered definitions of Max Weber [according to which] .... [the] important difference between power and authority consists in the fact that whereas power is essentially tied to the personality of individuals, authority is always associated with social positions or roles" (Dahrendorf 1959: 166). But any interpretation of Weber's definition that eschews society's influence from the individual's power over others would unfairly belittle the significance of "social relationship" in it. His earlier formal definition of "social relationship" underlines its societal constitution: he used the term "to denote the behavior of a plurality of actors in so far as ... the action of each takes account of others and is oriented in these terms." He adds, rather emphatically, that in his definition "social relationship thus consists entirely and exclusively in the existence of a probability that there will be ... a course of social action" (Weber 1947: 118). It is only when Weber's definition of power is conjoined with that of "social relationship", on which it is predicated, and therefore on the sociological injunction that all of them be seen in terms of "a course of social action" that its societal dimension emerges fully.

According to my reading of Max Weber, authority is legitimated power, one leading to the other. They are thus not qualitatively different from each other. The differences between them are ones of degree, not of kind. In this regard both power and authority stand opposed to violence as a mode of dominance. I have added this long note in order to persuade my fellow Nigerian social scientists, long used to the false intellectual fetish of contrasting power with authority, to see from another point of view that, philosophically, the opposite of power is not authority but violence.

11. "It is shocking to note that some Nigerians actually have come to believe, and with good cause, that the colonial authorities did not treat Nigerians as badly as the Nigerian military has done. After all, under both situations, Nigerians had no right to vote, the political actors were not elected and were not accountable to Nigerians, and personal freedoms were severely limited" (Ihonvbere 1996: 132).

12. This was clear from the very first act of military rule in 1966. "Decree No 1 empowered [the new military Head of State] to suspend the legislature and to transfer the full executive power of the state to himself, power which he was free to exercise at his sole discretion and for which he could not be held accountable to anyone" (Dudley 1982: 80).

13. Daniel J. Elazar, reputed to be an astute observer of modern federal systems, recognized Nigeria and the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, a string of islets in the Indian Ocean, as the only federal systems in Africa among a total of nineteen such political arrangements world-wide. There are also five other African countries (Republic of Ghana, Republic of Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Republic of the Sudan, and the United Republic of Tanzania) which employ quasi-federal arrangements among a world-wide total of twenty-one such nations that "utilize federal principles to incorporate a measure of constitutional decentralization in their systems of government" (Elazar 1995: 475).

14. For perspectives on the development of Nigerian federalism see Coleman (1954), Sklar (1963), Awa (1964), Ezera (1964), Arikpo (1967), and Eleazu (1977).

15. For problems confronting Nigerian federalism since its inception see Mackintosh (1966), Nwabueze (1983), Ekeh and Osaghae (1989), and Adebayo (1993).

16. Apart from such extraordinary measures as suspending the Constitution, Nigerian military rulers have rashly lived outside the law. The [Nigerian] Constitutional Rights Project has identified four classes of abuses of Nigerian constitutional and legal processes by the military: (a) retroactivity, involving the backdating of decrees in order to include targeted enemies in new punishing decrees; (b) ouster clauses that forbid aggrieved persons to have access to the law courts for relief by placing military decrees outside the jurisdiction of the courts; (c) legislative judgment which are ad hominem laws that punish persons whose conduct the military do not approve of but which is not illegal according to existing legislation; and (d) prohibition of judicial appeal which disallows appeals from special military tribunals manned by military men who have no training in the law. (See Constitutional Rights Project 1995.)

17. The Midwest Region was eventually created in 1963 following several constitutional steps demanded by the enabling constitutional law. These included (i) consenting legislation by the House of Assembly of the Western Region, of which the Midwest was then part, and by the Federal House of Representatives and (ii) a referendum in the Midwest Region for its citizens to give the required approval. But the creation of the Midwest Region was also notable for the prolonged negotiations among its various ethnic groups for the distribution of key offices and benefits associated with the creation of a new state and its government. Thus, the office of Premier was allocated to Western Ibo while the Urhobos had that of the Governor of the Region. The headquarters of the new state was allocated to Benin City. There was also a special provision guaranteeing the status of the minority Itsekiri in Warri Local Government. By way of contrast to these constitutional but tedious arrangements, the military rulers of Nigeria have taken several decisions on this region without consultation with the people and outside constitutional requirements. The name of Midwest Region was changed by military decree to Midwest State in 1975. In 1990, the military Head of State, Ibrahim Babagida, split up Bendel State into two: Edo State and Delta State. The siting of the headquarters of the new state at Asaba was said to be a reward for his wife who hails from that area.

18. In his address to the inaugural meeting of Constitution Drafting Committee in 1975, the military Head of State told the constitution craftsmen what the boundaries of their efforts were to be: "The Supreme Military Council went further to see how some of these principles could be implemented in practice and we came to the conclusion that we require:- (i) Genuine and truly national political parties .... (ii) the President and Vice President are elected , with clearly defined powers" (Muhammed, Murtala 1975: xiii).

19.  Oye Oyediran (1996: 104) recently reminded us that the socialism-inclined Political Bureau rejected what its members imagined to be capitalism's "theory and practice of minimum government or minimisation of the public sector of the economy on the one hand and the maximization of the private sector on the other" (Nigeria 1987: 52).

20.  The major difference between the Independence Constitution of 1960 and the Republication Constitution of 1963 was that at Independence Nigeria's Head of State was the Queen of England, in imitation of older members of the British Commonwealth of Nations like Canada. The Republication Constitution of 1963 made Nigeria a republic with its own Head of State (see Nigeria 1963).


Adebayo, A. G. 1993. Embattled Federalism: History of Revenue Allocation in Nigeria, 1946-1990. New York: P. Lang.

Arendt, Hannah. 1969. On Violence. New York: Harcourt Brace and World.

Arikpo, Okoi. 1967. The Development of Modern Nigeria. Middlessex, England: Penguin Books.

Awa, Eme O. 1964. Federal Government in Nigeria. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Beckett, Paul A. and M. Crawford Young. 1997 (forthcoming). Dilemmas of Democracy in Nigeria. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Clayton, Anthony, and David Killingray. 1989. Khaki and Blue: Military and Police in British Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies.

Coleman, James Smoot. 1958. Nigeria: Background to Nationalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Colonial Office [London]. 1957. Report of the Tribunal appointed to inquire into allegations reflecting on the official conduct of the Premier [Nnamdi Azikiwe] of, and certain persons holding Ministerial and other Public Offices in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. [Foster-Sutton Tribunal.] London: Cmnd. 51 H.M.S.O.

Constitutional Rights Project. 1995. Suppression as Law: The Arbitrary Use of Military Decrees in Nigeria. Lagos: Constitutional Rights Project.

Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1959. Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

DuBois, W. E. Burghardt. 1963. "The Pan-African Movement." Pp. 13-26 in George Padmore, editor, History of the Pan-African Congress. London: Hammersmith Bookshop, 1963.

Dudley, Billy J. 1982. An Introduction to Nigerian Government and Politics. London: Macmillan Publishers.

Ekeh, Peter P. 1995. "African (Democratic) Theory." Pp. 1231-1238 in Seymour Martin Lipset, ed. The Encyclopedia of Democracy, Volume IV. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Ekeh, Peter P. and Eghosa Osaghae, eds., (1989) Federal Character and Federalism in Nigeria. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.

Ekeh, Peter P., Patrick Dele Cole, and Gabriel O. Olusanya, eds. (1989) Nigeria Since Independence. The First Twenty-Five Years. Volume V: Politics and Constitutions. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.

Elazar, Daniel J. 1995. "Federalism." Pp. 474-482 in Seymour Martin Lipset, ed. The Encyclopedia of Democracy, Volume II. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Eleazu, Uma O. 1977. Federalism and Nation-building: the Nigerian Experience, 1954-1964. Illfracombe: Stockwell.

Ezera, Kalu. 1964. Constitutional Development in Nigeria. An Analytical Study of Nigeria's Constitution-making developments and the historical and political factors that affected constitutional change. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Friedrich Ebert Foundation. 1997. Constitutions and Federalism. Proceedings of the Conference on Constitutions and Federalism, held at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, 23-25 April, 1996. Lagos: Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Geiss, Immanuel. 1974. The Pan-African Movement. Trans. Ann Keep. London: Methuen.

Hicks, Ursula Kathleen Web. 1978. Federalism -- Failure and Success: A Comparative Study. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ihonvbere, Julius. 1996. "A Radical View of Nigeria's Political Development." Pp. 108-134 in Oyeleye Oyediran, ed., Governance and Development in Nigeria. Essays in Honour of Professor Billy J. Dudley. Ibadan: Agbo Areo Publishers.

Johnson, S. 1921[1966]. The History of the Yorubas. London: Routledge and K. Paul.

Law, Robin. 1977. The Oyo Empire, c1600-1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. 1992. The Nigerian Police Force: A Culture of Impunity. Washington, D.C.: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Lovejoy, Paul E. and Pat Ama Tokunbo Williams, editors. 1997. Displacement and the Politics of Violence in Nigeria. [Special Issue] Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, 1997

Lugard, F. D. 1968 [1912-19]. Lugard and the Amalgamation of Nigeria. A Documentary Record. Compiled and introduced by A. H. M. Kirk-Greene. London: Frank Cass.

Mackintosh, John P. 1966. Nigerian Government and Politics. Prelude to the Revolution. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Morton-Williams, Peter. 1960. "The Yoruba Ogboni Cult in Oyo." Africa, 30:362-374.

Muhammed, Murtala. 1975. "Address by the Head of the Federal Military Government, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces at the Opening Session of the Constitution Drafting Committee on Saturday, 18th October, 1975." Reprinted in Williams 1975.

Nigeria, Federal Republic of. 1962. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Affairs of Certain Statutory Corporations in Western Nigeria. Four volumes. [Coker Commission.] Lagos: Federal Printing Office.

Nigeria, The Federal Republic of. 1963. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [Containing: The Constitution of the Federation.--The Constitution of Northern Nigeria law, 1963.--The constitution of Eastern Nigeria law, 1963.--The constitution of Western Nigeria law, 1963.--Constitution of Mid-Western Nigeria Act, 1964.]. Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information, Printing Division.

Nigeria, Federal Military Government. 1987. Report of the Political Bureau. Lagos: Federal Government Printer.

Nwabueze, B. O. 19983. Federalism in Nigeria under the Presidential Constitution. London: Sweet & Maxwell.

Ohaegbunam, Festus Ugboaja. 1982. Nigeria and the UN Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo: A Case Study of the Formative Stages of Nigeria's Foreign Policy. Tampa: University Presses of Florida.

Oyediran, Oyeleye. 1996. "Billy Dudley on the Military and Political Development in Nigeria." Pp. 93-107 in Oyeleye Oyediran, ed., Governance and Development in Nigeria. Essays in Honour of Professor Billy J. Dudley. Ibadan: Agbo Areo Publishers.

Padmore, George, editor. 1963. History of the Pan-African Congress. London: Hammersmith Bookshop.

Riesman, David, in collaboration with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer. 1950. The lonely crowd; a study of the changing American character. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sklar, Richard L. 1968. Nigerian Political Parties. Power in an Emergent African Nation. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Tamuno, Tekena N. 1970. The Police in Modern Nigeria, 1861-1965: Origins, Development, and Role. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.

Thom, William G. 1986. "Sub-Saharan Africa's Changing Military Capabilities." Pp. 97-112 in Arlinghaus, E. and Pauline H. Baker, editors. African Armies: Evolution and Capabilities. Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press.

Usman, Yesufu Bala, ed. 1982. Political Repression in Nigeria. Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation.

Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, tr. by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, ed. with an introd. by Talcott Parsons. New York, Oxford University Press.

Whitaker, C. S. 1970. The Politics of Tradition, Continuity and Change in Northern Nigeria 1946-1966. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Williams, F. R. A. 1975. Report of the Constitution Drafting Committee Containing the Draft Constitution. Volume I. Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information, Printing Division.

Document continues with Agenda and Participants . . .

Return to Contents
Return to Main Page