Nigeria’s political system has been considered static due to the way it locks women out of the equation. From this, it is clear that the Nigerian political space and democratic system lacks an understanding of the most common definition of democracy by Abraham Lincoln: “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The Nigerian democratic system has abused this definition by making it patriarchy-centered, which is to the detriment of women. It also defeats the notion of the term being for “the people” because certain groups, youths and women more noticeably, are being marginalized from the political helms of leadership.
Understanding the intricacies of this unhealthy “democratic” Nigeria, the women spoke during the Toyin Falola Interviews on women’s participation in Nigerian politics and the undermining factors that have hindered women from taking active leadership roles in the country. The interview was focused on the health of Nigerian democracy from the Fourth Republic in 1999, the various reforms needed in the system, and the possibility of establishing a platform for a sustainable Nigerian society.
In the Toyin Falola Interviews session held on July 11, 2021, three vibrant scholars/panelists were actively involved and gracious to share their knowledge with us. The first panelist was Ayisha Osori, a Nigerian lawyer who has advocated for good governance, gender equality, women’s economic and political participation, and the elimination of violence against women. She is currently the executive director at Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the author of many books. Her most recent books include Love Does Not Win Elections, Too Good to Die, Third Term, and The Myth of the Indispensable Man in Africa. She contested for a seat at the National Assembly in 2014 under the People’s Democratic Party but lost the election. Love Does Not Win Elections is a memoir about her election experiences and Nigerian politics in general.
Ms. Nseabasi Ufot, a trained lawyer and the second panelist on the TF Interviews, was named one of “Time’s 100 Next” in 2021, after being nominated by Ai-jen Poo, an American labor activist. Her numerous accomplishments include serving as an assistant executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers and as the senior lobbyist and government relations officer for the American Association of University Professors. Ufot is the CEO of the New Georgia Project, a non-profit organization founded in 2013 by Stacey Abrams as a legal action group and to offer voting assistance during elections. Ufot is a labor rights lobbyist and advocate, and her administrative abilities and competence contributed to the success of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election and 2021 run-off elections.
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The third speaker was Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor, a Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute and a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) African Studies Program. Dr. Nwankwor’s work has been published in the Social Politics Journal and Democracy in Africa. She has co-edited a book about the Nigerian National Assembly and contributed to numerous book chapters such as “Transformations and Continuities: Women’s Political Participation in Nigeria” and “Women’s Struggle for Independence.” Her research focus includes gender justice, the relevance of identity in African politics, women’s participation in politics and leadership, and economic growth in Africa.
Ms. Ireti Bakare-Yusuf, an online personality with about 30 years of experience as a TV broadcaster, moderated the session. She is a Principal Partner at Nottinghill Media, and committed to the promotion and empowerment of women. Bakare-Yusuf promotes women’s emancipation and empowerment, and has given her voice to the movement against sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria. Significantly, through her creativity as a moviemaker, she has made contributions to the second largest film industry in the world (Nollywood). She is the creator of #NoMore, a mobile application that university students can download on their devices to report issues of rape or sexual assaults.
Women Speak on Challenges of Active Participation in Nigerian Politics
Enunciating the subject of concern, it becomes instructive to note that women’s engagement is a difficult issue in Nigerian politics. Nigerian politics has always been male-dominated, making women politically invisible. As a result, numerous attempts to instill skills and knowledge that will aid women’s active participation in politics have increased. This was the central aspect in the Toyin Falola Interviews, which was scheduled to promote and strengthen women’s political engagement in Nigeria and provide a platform for women to speak. Though, as all the panelists opined, women have always been speaking and the main question is “has anyone been listening?”
If given the opportunity to participate in politics, women are believed to do better than males. However, gender inequality in political representation is an attempt to diminish women’s fundamental rights. Despite the efforts of government and non-governmental organizations, and particularly in response to the declaration made during the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, which called for 35 percent affirmative action to increase women’s participation in politics, women have remained politically marginalized. According to Ayisha Osori, fewer than 15 percent of political aspirants and candidates in Nigeria are women. Using herself as an example, when she contested for a seat in the House of Assembly in 2014, she noted that women are often discouraged from running for office due to the ordeals and challenges associated with the political party system. By her description, the party system favors men over women, and in cases where women attempt to run for office, they are faced with monumental cultural and financial challenges. As a result of the latter, the few women who make it to the top might be forced to abandon their transformative agenda.
Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in Nigeria, women have faced the challenge of proper representation and active participation in politics. In this regard, Ireti Bakare-Yusuf’s first question for the panelists was if anything has changed since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, and this elicited an intense response from the panelists. However, this question was of utmost relevance as understanding the past, and especially the present, will help provide a forecast of the future. In response, Dr. Osori emphasized the need to begin from the discussion about Nigeria’s democracy, which was termed “unhealthy” by the three panelists.
This assumption was made in light of women’s low participation in Nigerian politics and on the basis that, according to Ayisha Osori, the political terrain is getting more hostile, not just for women but also for every individual who is not part of the current political class. For instance, Nigeria has never had any female president or governor due to a partial political structure.
Similarly, Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor described the Nigerian democratic system as being in an Intensive Care Unit. She further noted that, in theory, democracy is supposed to directly affect governance and development in the sense that it is expected to provide long-term sustainability and upward mobility for the people. However, Nigerian democracy has flouted all the rules of fair and equal participation, making the Nigerian political system more difficult.
Another angle to consider in the challenges of women’s participation is culture as a tool for female marginalization. During the Interview, culture was extensively discussed, and Dr. Nwankwor stressed the need to create a gender-competitive society that involves creating laws that speak to cultural and normative changes. Nigerian cultures view women as weak in terms of social struggle, forcing them to take a backseat to men in politics and other areas of life. A lot of cultural traditions still exist that restrict women from participating in politics. The biological explanation for women’s poor political engagement promotes the sexual ideology that underpins and emphasizes men’s social domination over women. Institutions such as child marriage and purdah are hurdles to adult females exercising their basic constitutional rights.
An additional issue that came to the fore of discussion and contemplation is finance. Indivim.dual political participation is influenced by socioeconomic status. People in high socioeconomic positions, such as those with a high level of education and income, are more likely to adopt psychological orientations that promote their involvement in politics. Hence, considering that Nigeria is one of the world’s thirty most unequal countries in terms of income distribution, a particular set of political elites keeps determining those in power. These significant differences in income distribution affect women’s participation in politics. From this, all the panelists at the interview agreed on the fact that the Nigerian electoral system is expensive and contributes to the low involvement of women as candidates at elections. They denote that women’s networks are often not so expansive; therefore, men tend to have more funding advantages than women.
Nseabasi Ufot confirmed that funding and finance keep women out of politics, and it is one of the factors that need to be trashed if there is ever going to be a possibility of women running for top political positions in the nearest future. In light of this, she advised women to tap from the resources of the post-Beijing Conference initiatives in funding their political aspirations. She also recommended that donors be encouraged to donate money to specific female candidates as this has been found to be more effective in certain places than general fundraising done on party platforms.
SOLUTIONS FOR A SUSTAINABLE GENDER REPRESENTATION
Although women’s political participation in both elected and appointive capacities has increased somewhat since the 1995 Beijing Conference and the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, it is important to note that women continue to be underrepresented, disenfranchised, and discriminated against in Nigeria’s political sphere. Women continue to speak, but the question of who is listening remains unanswered. Also, identifying the challenges women face in the patriarchal society is one thing, providing a possible solution to the marginalization of women is another. During the Toyin Falola Interviews, it was revealed that despite the difficulties women face, women’s activism, advocacy, education, empowerment, and women’s desire to participate in politics are all receiving high levels of positive energy.
In light of this, all the panelists agree that to overcome women’s marginalization and encourage their active representation in Nigerian politics, feminists have to engage in strategic planning such as:
Advocating for a change of the Nigerian constitution to one that discourages patriarchy
Employment and usage of the entertainment industry as soft power
Social media mobilization
A Nigerian women trust fund
Cross mobilization and coalition building among civil society and women’s groups.
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These listed plans were discussed by the panelists as means to achieving equality and creating a level playing field for women’s participation in politics. Articulating these points, Osori called for a thorough review of the 1999 Nigerian constitution, where elements of women marginalization are still entrenched.
More so, Nseabasi Ufot supported the use of soft power when solutions to the challenges of women’s participation in Nigerian politics are discussed. Soft power, formed by Joseph Nye, is the ability to entice and co-opt others rather than coerce (hard power). In this vein, she encourages the portrayal of the change we want in Nigerian politics to be evident in Nollywood films. With this, Nollywood, just like Hollywood, Ms. Ufot noted, would be a representation of society. Understanding Nollywood can help change cultural perspectives, as seen in Tunde Kelani’s Arugba, an iconic representation of the Osun Osogbo festival. This film not only represents that culture, but it also brought to the limelight the representation of feminine prowess and impact on the stability in the land. Soft power becomes a vital channel to be employed if feminists intend to curb and change the pattern of the narrative of the patriarchal society that continues to portray women as belonging only in the kitchen and the “other room.”
In addition, Ufot and Osori considered strategic litigation as another option for resolving society’s ills. Overall, legal action was recommended in obvious cases of marginalization. However, Osori went further to express that in discussing legal actions, there must be a need to investigate the laws of the society that have themselves been embedded in cultural imbalance.
In conclusion, women have been speaking and would keep speaking up until the right ears listen to their feminist cries. Media communication, a women’s trust fund, and cross mobilization and coalition building were other recommended solutions provided by the panelists to end the marginalization of women in this patriarchally defined society. More important of these three is finance, which undermines the female right to participate in expensive elections. Ayisha Osori’s book narrates how difficult it was for her to raise funds for her participation in an election. Thus, effective mobilization, coalition, and movement, backed up by adequate financial power can change the narrative towards power contestation and active involvement of women in Nigerian politics.
(This is the second and final report on the interview on “Political Reforms Nigeria Needs—The Women Speak” on July 11 2021) For its entire recording, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbkjm59oRdw&t=6s
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The Nigerian Condition: Paths Out For The Nation (3)
In the natural order of things, solutions are implemented where problems arise—or, at least, debates on what those solutions mean. In Nigeria, there have been attempted solutions to find a way out of the Nigerian condition. There have also been debates on the best path out of the country’s predicament. There have been talks, in fact, moves, on what the national response to the Nigerian condition should be. However, the more ideas we debate and explore, the more contested the prospects of getting out of this Nigerian condition become.
Before delving further into the Nigerian condition, it is essential first to examine the consummate ideologies, problems, actions, inactions, and mentalities that have led to the formation of the malignancy of the Nigerian condition. Why has it been so difficult, even seemingly impossible in some instances, to get out of the Nigerian condition? How have the Nigerian people contributed to that which they seek to run away from? Are the country’s problems compounded, not by some bad fortune, but by the very acts that everyone parades? More so, in what ways have Nigerians attempted to escape from the Nigerian condition?
Discussing the difficulty of getting out of the Nigerian condition without reference to the associated causes will constrain that conversation and make it incomplete. So, when presenting arguments, the roles of the average Nigerian in our national calamity must first be engaged. Of these roles, we have the longstanding problem of disinterest. If the focus and attention of the average Nigerian citizen are considered, it might be amusing to find the country on the bottom of the rung. For many out of the about two hundred million people in Nigeria, agitating over the country’s issues holds little weight.
At the general elections in 2015, a fragment of the country’s population voted the administration into power. In 2019 again, Nigerians demonstrated their nonalignment with political issues by spending the day at home. Even during states and local governments elections, the general attitude of the Nigerian populace leaves voting as a task for a specific class. But a few years down the line, the right of complaints became free for all. Individuals, voters and non-voters, lament the collective sorrow that has befallen the citizens. And while this is an acceptable reaction to suffering, one should not forget the point from which it all began. Already, for many Nigerians, election days are desirable public holidays rather than days for performing their civic duties. If this is continued, then we might as well call the quest an odyssey, for it will indeed be a long journey.
Furthermore, at the core of Nigerian society is a problem of internal division. From the inaugural days of the amalgamation down to the challenges of the 21st century, people have been at loggerheads with their affiliation. Rather than be branded Nigerians, a name that confers fellowship with other ethnic nationalities, many defend their ethnic roots while the nationality is saved for international passports. Attitudes that prevailed in the days of Nigeria’s infancy have been passed down through generations. Differences along religious and ethnic lines are at the forefront of any political consideration. In Southern markets and communities, Northerners are glared at with suspicion, and in the North, a slight misstep by an “outsider” is all the precedent for crises. This tense relationship and dissonance from a sense of nationality make it challenging to prompt Nigerians out of the Nigerian condition the right way.
Explicitly, the citizens seek a way out of the Nigerian condition the wrong way because their motivations are problems in themselves. Ethnic loyalty drives many quests out of the Nigerian condition, making ethnic disengagement from the Nigerian state the goal of these quests, a move that has proved unsuccessful, not once or twice. More so, the mention of religion or ethnocentric loyalties drives charged responses to national issues. Thus, Nigerians worsen a condition that would be less complicated without underlying rifts in ideology.
Similarly, the issue of grassroots corruption exists. Another hindrance dangling above the breakaway from the Nigerian condition is the diffused nature of corruption within the societal fabric. In Nigeria, corruption is a learned principle. Young minds are nurtured in an environment that justifies corruption and lampoons uprightness for its seeming absurdity. Even as anti-government rhetoric is never far from the tongue, the cheating mindsets of critics prevent these from gaining seriousness. Many Nigerians only see evil in corruption—one of the fundamental causes of the Nigerian condition—if they are not at the helm of affairs, calling the shots for corrupt moves. The moment they also get a chance at being corrupt, they forget that corruption is evil. This has blinded many Nigerians from the truth.
Break up into different factions all we will; the Nigerian condition will not suddenly roll away because two ethnic groups decide to split up and become independent states. If Nigeria were divided into different countries today—Biafra and Odua—we would, sooner than anyone can imagine, start to talk about the Biafran condition or the Oduaist condition, which would hardly make any difference on the Nigerian condition.
In demanding justice, many Nigerians contemptuously treat their obligation to act reasonably. Corruption is a worn standard of practice for people in the civil service and other government offices, yet it is in these same circles that the government is most likely to fail. So, while it is convenient to shame political officeholders at every point, the citizens bear the fecal stains that are often overlooked. But as long as they remain, the validity of this quest remains in doubt. If we were to cast the above reasons in stone, a fundamental error would be committed, which is the failure to understand.
Regardless of questionable societal trends, however, an overwhelming responsibility lies upon the government. In many cases, the citizens’ responses to dynamics are attempts to adjust to emerging situations. Yet, any drug that must cure the Nigerian condition must work in both ways—a reformation of public mindsets and a concurrent attitude of change from administrative levels. On that note, let us look into the various paths that have been tried, all in the bid to find a lasting solution to the Nigerian condition. To wit, each of these paths finds strength in diverse arguments. Popular among these paths are talks of restructuring, agitations for secession, and fiscal federalism.
This is perhaps the story-changing solution that no one really understands. To many Nigerians, restructuring means different things. These may be classified into two: broad application of the term “restructuring;” and restructuring in a more specific sense. A broad application of the term finds faith in a loose portrait. Here, Nigerians characterize restructuring as anything, even the slightest shift, that differs from the current operation of the government structure. This model has no particular demand. Instead, it leads people to believe that satisfaction will be found in a change, no matter its form. It might even be argued that this is likely what most Nigerians accept because of uncertainty. There may be a clamor for a reorganized system, but where an understanding of what that should look like is absent, people tacitly accept a form that says, “anything goes.”
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However, there is a more specific application of the term “restructuring.” Here, the word is not specific because it is universally agreed upon but because the purveyors have mentioned, in succinct terms, what they posit it to look like. To the purveyors of this more specific form of restructuring, there should be reforms such as state policing, devolution, and decentralization. The advocacy for state-run police units posits that internal security management should not be within the unilateral purview of the federal government.
Instead, these powers should be adequately centered in the states. As opposed to the current structure, federating units can run their police forces, design and deploy them according to the peculiarities of respective territories. The idea of state police is mainly born out of prevalent security challenges across the country’s subregions. The federal response to this has been in the form of “community” police officers, another fancy word that portrays policing as one that grows out of the neighbourhood itself. In a burst of geopolitical dissatisfaction, governments in the southwest and the southeast have established their security networks—Amotekun and Ebubeagu.
Nevertheless, evolution and decentralization carry a broader political weight than their preceding counterpart. In this model, power is parcelled and redistributed from the central government to the component units. Responsibilities of the federal superstructure are limited to matters like defence and external affairs. Most sectors where the administration was formerly dominant will directly engage the states. Thus, the reins of power are held by hands as many as the number of states.
We can define secession in two names—Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho. It does not take much to understand where this is headed quickly. Amongst all the solutions in the public space, this is perhaps the most radical, most combative, and best attempted of all. No administration likes to hear the word, and those who say it are wary of what could come. In the context of the names mentioned above, what applies is years of litigation and maybe, in a rare demonstration of government clout, detention in foreign countries. Secession rends the fabric of the Nigerian map and gives each region its piece. It is a farewell to what we once had.
There have been arguments against the plausibility of secession for any one component of the Nigeran state, arguments that find their footing in the provisions of the Constitution. There have also been arguments about the secession ratio: will those who secede do so based on the size of their ethnic population? What fraction of the national land would become theirs? Will minority ethnic groups join the seceded nation? There are many questions, arguments, and governmental moves; some backed by the law, others not so backed, which have stalled the success of any secession. The closest any part of Nigeria came to seceding was the first agitation for the Biafran nation, which led to the Nigerian civil war.
Fiscal federalism possesses ties to the incumbent vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The model presses for stronger financial muscle in the states as opposed to prevailing norms. Rather than have components that scramble for bread bits, fiscal federalism poses to have fewer dependent states. Without mincing words, it considers finance as the primary cause of political ramblings. Will the corruption-inclined nature of the Nigerian state allow for the success of fiscal federalism? Undeniably, there is a quest to get out of the Nigerian condition. The phrase “Nigerian condition” is not to be viewed at face value, for it truly represents a spreading disease whose symptoms are manifest on the surface and visible to passers-by—other countries of the world.
Nigerians are not wrong in seeking ways out of the Nigerian condition. In fact, Nigerians who have made moves to help the people out of the Nigerian condition should be applauded for trying. Yet, here we are, and it seems like the situation is getting worse by the day, making people wonder why this is so. In the last part of this series, we would look at why the attempts to find a solution to the Nigerian condition have proven futile and how we can genuinely end the Nigerian condition.
Part 3 of 4 of the series on the “Nigerian Condition,” commissioned by the New Times. In Part 4, the concrete exit options will be examined.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Our Journalists Are Our Last Hope
In the big spirit of our broad democratic tongue, mind, heart, eyes, nostrils, ears and skin, this column is devoting today to some ardent followers of it. It is letting some readers pour their hearts out with respect to our “Journalists are bandits” which appeared last Friday. The fabulous readers who number among the column’s main-stream followers cut across various geographical spaces of our country and across the professions of our educated and academic elite. Of those selected one or two are females. What gives this columnist immense joy is that they pour out their patriotic saliva with respect to our country’s current predicament which its political helmspersons especially at the centre of governance are turning bleaker and bleaker day by day and day by day without qualms, but with severe pains to the ruled, the unfortunate bearers of the brunt of rudderless presidencynologists. These readers share perfectly and in-to-to this columnist’s sentiment and positive and courageous, brave and bold hope that things cannot continue as they are now in your country my country our country. Our journalists and columnists must rise to the occasion and become bandit-journalists and bandit-columnists to make our country the progressive country it is destined to be.
The very last two paragraphs nailed it. As a journalist I know that the profession has gone to the dogs! That not withstanding, those who are committed to their conscience must continue to stand by the truth. I say with boldness: Afejuku belongs to the class of the Noble!
I don’t know what APC did but it’s an irony that the same media they rode on to victory is what they’re now scared of. Never have people been so scared to criticize government as it is today. People are afraid to offend the powers that be or to avoid being marked. If those who are elected to serve are not criticized, then they have nothing to fear again. They can do as they so wish without fear. The propaganda that they employed to write glamorous stories just as the best movie producers can produce magical films but a thousand lies cannot stand one truth.
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The ironically dense and sarcastically biting essay emphasizes the misperception by political rogues in power of journalists and creative writers who deploy the pen-craft to awaken our collective dead conscience to the reality of power abuse. As always the vintage essay is timely because we witness evermore constant threats to the media by this censorship-monger of a presidency. We thank God for still keeping “bandits” like you in active rebellion against silencers of the vociferous.
Good morning, Sir. I just want to personally say thank you for your article … this morning (Friday, 23 July). God bless and continue to protect you. You have given me hope that all is not lost.
Thank you for assuring citizens like us that there is still hope. A lot of Nigerians have given up, and they can’t be blamed; the people (religious leaders, private entrepreneurs, politicians and systems) they looked up to have failed them. Nigeria shall survive and will be great again by God’s grace.
Good morning, Sir. I read through your interesting piece and my standpoint comes from this quote. “Of course, the Khashoggi treatment was much earlier on in Nigeria (on 19th October 1986) visited on our own dear Dele Giwa.” My sincere question is: do we have journalists these days who can tell the truth in the face of threats of death? I see many journalists these days being drafted into political positions as chief press officers, commissioners of communication and media officers and their force of eloquence and vibrant zeal as the 4th wheel of the government estate comes to an end. Will the real journalists stand up and be counted?
Thank you sir for this professorial piece. I read and read and reread and saw truth embellished in the article. Of a truth, it takes extra boldness to tell the whole truth at a time like this in Nigeria.
I have read the masterly, scholarly piece twice. It’s so loaded and rich. The man Buhari bared his fangs in his first coming ala GMB with his draconian press-gag decrees. We can’t forget what Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson went through. It appears the democratic apparel with which he has been donned in this second coming as PMB is getting worn out and really now thin. He is losing and has almost completely lost patience and is set to show you bandit-journalists or journalist-bandits, pepper whether you are 4th, 3rd, 2nd or 1st estate of the realm. But I like your spirit. Our journalists are our last hope. Whether he knows it or not, he will find out soon that there are bandits and that there are bandits. You guys should continue your harassing and confounding brand of banditry bravely and boldly. Na him go taya. Plenty hailings for the great column …
Amazing insight! Journalists should be the first estate of the realm! This is an idea they should take seriously to stamp their authority on the socio-economic and political affairs.
Sir, in my own little way, I dare say that this one is an exercise in apocalyptic and eclectic journalism! In guarded temerity and mellifluousness it reminded me of the parallax ingenuity of the Giwas and Ekpus and the audacious erudition of the Babarinsas and Soyinkas, etc. It takes a “YOU” to journalistically puncture the acropolis of feudalistic conspiracy and the planned annihilation of the scum of the society!!! Thanks for keeping the flag flying!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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The Nigerian Condition: A History Of Division (2)
The Nigerian condition is not a happenstance; it is a condition with history and extensive roots. Nigeria is what it is today because some things were never right from the outset and are still not right. Therefore, it is tantamount to moving in circles if we seek to get out of the Nigerian condition without taking thoughtful reminiscing and examining where the problem started. If we do not visit our past, we will continually make the mistakes of our predecessors, thereby meeting the waterloo they met. I have often said that the problems of Nigeria are made in Nigeria, patented by Nigerians, and manufactured in our cities.
Corruption in the Nigerian government did not start three or five years ago. Kidnapping and banditry are not matters of a few years ago; only that they have grown beyond the capacity of the state to stop them. Agitations for disengagement from the Nigerian entity did not start twenty years ago—all ethnic groups had threatened to secede. Neither is it true that agitators are only just recently meeting their waterloo—Isaac Boro and Odumegwu Ojukwu were visited by state violence. All these things have been playing out from the onset, and they keep doing so in an endless loop, in a seemingly wash, rinse, and repeat manner. If we wish to make any tangible progress in solving Nigeria’s problems, it is essential that we first study the Nigerian situation. Thus, it is pertinent to ask ourselves: What is Nigeria?
Nigeria is the “afterthought” of a British commissioner, Lord Frederick Lugard. At the allocation of entities on the African continent following the 1884-1885 Berlin conference, the different entities that currently make up Nigeria fell into the possession of Great Britain. These entities consisted of distinct kingdoms which shared geographical boundaries—Hausa, Jukun, Ebira, Tiv, Nupe, to mention a few of them, in what is now called northern Nigeria. These kingdoms had their distinct languages, cultures, and people. The kingdoms in the Sokoto Caliphate had their relationships cemented by Islam. They traded, exchanged ideas, and fought wars. Some groups interacted outside the framework of how the colonial government defined “states” and “power.” For the benefit of the colonizers, the entities which make up present-day Nigeria were grouped along geographical lines. The first was the grouping into Northern and Southern protectorates, laying the foundation for solid divisions.
The earliest seeds of the fully grown and malignant Nigerian condition can be traced to this epoque, when peoples of different orientations, cultures, value systems, and beliefs were broadly zoned into two protectorates. However, the seeds were not fully germinated at this time because most of the kingdoms still operated on some degree of autonomy as they still had their fundamental monarchy-based system of governments. All the kings had to do was report back to the commissioners and district officers. This meant that before 1914, there was nothing known as Nigeria as a country, and the differing cultures had not been fused in the cauldron of a faux unifying culture and identity. At that time, there was no need for the peoples of those different cultures and kingdoms to present themselves as one, and there were no conflicts of interest, all of which make up the Nigerian condition today.
In 1914, the distinctly governed protectorates were amalgamated into one. At the whimsical thought of Ms. Flora Shaw, the new entity was named Nigeria. One thing that many people have failed to think deeply about is that the amalgamation of Nigeria goes beyond merging two protectorates. The British, through Lord Lugard, merged these two entities for easier administration and more efficient economic management. Did they consider some underlying nuances that would have served as pointers to the seeming impossibility of merging over 250 ethnic groups, with little to no interaction, into one country? The entities which make up present-day Nigeria were distinct, unrelated entities before the colonial administration. Therefore, the amalgamation can be seen as the earliest sign of the existence of a half-blown Nigerian condition. Recall that the lauded indirect rule, as applied by Lord Lugard, failed woefully in the East but was a massive success in the North and a partial success in the West. This, if not anything, should have given the colonial administration some insights into the fundamental discrepancies between the peoples and cultures they chose to merge into one.
During the earliest years of the new country, the Nigerian condition still manifested at half capacity because the administration was structured along a regional basis. The people were allowed a degree of self-identification. The West, consisting mainly of the Yoruba people, had the government of the western region. The Hausa-Fulani and other minority groups were in the northern region, the Igbo were in the eastern region, while the Niger Delta and mid-western region belonged to the ethnic groups that now make up the bulk of the South-South geopolitical zone. Nonetheless, the Nigerian condition started and was further aggravated, as the politicians in the South insisted, by the wrong allocation of rights by the British colonial government. In a country with four regions at the time of independence, the Southerners argued that it was crooked of the British to have allocated 52% (over half) of the legislative seats of the soon-to-be country to the Northern region in an attempt to make the North agree to the country’s independence. Till today, what the British might have seen as a clever move is a driving force in the psychological makeup of northern Nigerian politics.
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In allocating over half of the legislative seats to the North and leaving the other three regions to scramble for 48%, many have argued that the British inadvertently passed a message to the North that all regions of the soon-to-be independent Nigeria are equal, but the North is more equal than others. Could they have carved out the Middle Belt as a separate region? To the South, the mentality of being the No. 1 manifests in the North’s approach to politics and national concerns to date. Why should the biggest region not control power? Nigeria operates a federal system of government, yet the federal charter does not take effect in the bulk of federal appointments or university admission, to mention a few. By advocating for a unitary government, Majo General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, who came to power in the first military coup of 15 January 1966, was blamed for unleashing the process that produced the centralization of power and wrong-headed federalism. A civil war followed, with the military in control for years. Power became highly centralized in the federal government.
The Nigerian condition is about the blame game and finger-pointing. The narrative from the South has permeated the thinking of millions of people. It is expressed simply: The “North-is-more-equal” mentality continued into the first few administrations of the new country, coupled with deeply corrupt practices, till the military, deeming itself as the people’s messiah, arose to take power from the civilian government. Is this view correct? If so, did it make matters better? It did not. Since its inception, Nigeria has faced corruption, a warped sense of national and uniform identity, and nationalism deeply punctured by ethnicity and ethnic loyalty. These are endemic problems caused by the fact that Nigerians have never entirely accepted the sense of being one nation—we are too apart in our notions, beliefs, social formation, and cultures. The narrative about Nigeria is tied to the region where it is created. People think first of their ethnicity before they think about Nigeria. During elections, parties permutate along religious and ethnic lines rather than ideological ones: “We have a Muslim Hausa as the presidential candidate, let a Christian Yoruba man be his vice, and an Edo woman his campaign chairperson. The Igbo did not vote for me!” There is nothing for the Igede, and nobody remembers the Esan. “The Edo can wait to produce the chairman of the party!” It has never been about ideologies; it is always about the best ethnic conjunctions producing concoctions that produce constipation.
When agitators like Nnamdi Kanu, Omoyele Sowore, and Sunday Igboho take up the challenge to call for a revolution or seek the disengagement of their ethnic groups from the Nigerian entity, millions applaud them for the courage to challenge a sitting government. Yes, it is well to applaud them for their one minute of fame. However, they also remind us of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu’s Biafra, the Mid-Western region’s Republic of Benin, and other secessionist or separatist moves that have been made in the history of Nigeria. In the early 2000s, Afenifere and Ohaneze called for a national conference to examine the legitimacy and plausibility of a federal and united Nigerian state. The years that led up to the country’s independence prove that the citizens have never for once seen Nigeria as a successful “United States of Nigeria.” The agitators for an independent Nigeria saw a failed state even before Nigeria got its independence. Since then, many Nigerians have always advocated for the country’s breakup, which has formed the basis for the Nigerian condition.
Taking a tour through Nigeria’s history will reveal that the Nigerian condition is a phenomenon that has been with us since the first attempt to lump different peoples together to form two protectorates in 1900. The amalgamation of the two protectorates gave rise to the malignancy of the phenomenon, and it has seemingly become worse ever since then. The failure of the Nigerian state is rooted in the deep sense of commitment to ethnic and regional beliefs. And because the components have never been wholeheartedly invested in making the clumsy centre succeed, the centre does not hold. The citizens consider themselves first as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik before considering themselves as Nigerians. This is why the quest out of the Nigerian condition cannot be fully quenched. It will rise, like the phoenix, in another form because the old and the young go through the baptism into ethnic-centric loyalty.
There is no problem related to the Nigerian condition whose cause cannot be traced to the fundamental problem of the country’s formation, an artificial contraption. Also, there is no failed secessionist or separatist agenda or movement whose failure is distinct from the failure of others. Perhaps, Kanu and Igboho did not know this. Sowore is probably aware, which may be why he opted for revolution instead of the breakup agenda being pushed by ethnic leaders and warlords. Nigeria is what it is today because things were not set right from the beginning. The moves to divide Nigeria have failed because all agitations have shied away from the same thing and followed a similar path.
What have the agitations and agitators shied away from? Can the quest out of the Nigerian condition be rightly brought to the light of fruition? In the next instalment in this four-part series, I will examine the fundamental problems of the attempted paths out of the Nigerian condition.
. Part 2 of 4 of the series on the “Nigerian Condition,” commissioned by the New Times. In Part 3, the failures of the exit options will be examined.
. Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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