Biafra Nigeria World Weblogs


BNW: Biafra Nigeria World Magazine



BNW: Insight, Features, and Analysis

BNW Writer's Block 

BNW News and Archives

 BNW News Archive

BNW: Biafra Nigeria World


BNW Forums and Message Board


Biafra Net

 Igbo Net: The Igbo Network

BNW Africa and AfricaWorld 

BNW: Icon

BNW: Icon


Flag of Biafra Nigeria

BNW News Archives

BNW News Archive 2002-January 2005

BNW News Archive 2005

BNW News Archive 2005 and Later

« Independence Day Protest in New York by Nigeria Liberty Forum (NLF) | Main | Science of Thinking »

October 04, 2005

The Ozodi Thomas Osuji Lectures on Nigeria’s Politics*

by Ozodi Osuji, Ph.D. --- (1) INTRODUCTION: WHY STUDY POLITICS? I will begin this first of twenty lectures on Nigeria’s politics by focusing on politics in general and not specifically on Nigeria’s politics. I will respond to these questions: what is politics and why do we need to study it?

It is very difficult to define what politics is or is not. Perhaps, the best way to approach the subject is to examine human beings. What is human nature? Perhaps, human beings cannot be defined? To define something is to limit it; human beings seem limitless hence cannot be defined?

Be that as it may, we can describe human behavior. Empirical evidence shows that wherever human beings live that they live in social groups. The human society could be as small as the family unit, the kindred unit, the village, the town, a tribe, a nation, a continent and, indeed, the entire world.

Aristotle (The Politics of Aristotle) called Human beings social animals because wherever they are found they live in social settings. It is doubtful that a person who does not live in society and interact with other human beings can be considered a human being. A person who does not interact with other human beings probably would not speak since speech is a social phenomenon; without other people to talk to, one cannot speak. It seems correct to assert that to be a human being is to live in society and participate in social activities.

Observations show that wherever there are two or more persons living together, sharing the same space that they tend to have conflicts. They have conflicts because each person is an individual and tends to be different from other persons. Whereas all human beings have certain characteristics in common, nevertheless, each of them is unique. Each human being has different conceptions of what phenomena is or is not. His beliefs, values and political ideology tend to be different from other persons. What one human being may see as important may not be seen as such by other persons.

The English logical positivist school (examples: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, George Berkeley, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham) asserts that each human being tends to be primarily interested in his personal survival. Whereas a well socialized person internalizes the value of working for social interests, it seems that when push comes to shove that every human being will place his self interests ahead of other persons’ interests.

Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan), in fact, argued that each human being is inherently selfish. Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) agrees with Hobbes negative view of human nature. As Hobbes sees it, in the state of nature, that is, in pre-civil society, human beings only looked after their personal interests. Each person did whatever he could do to survive. Where necessary, the individual tried to use other people to enable him to procure the means for his personal survival hence slavery and feudalism existed in most primitive human societies. The physical environment is impersonal and seems not to care whether human beings survived or not. An earthquake, volcano, flood, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, plague, bacteria, virus and other natural forces destroy human beings as if they do not matter.

It is difficult to extract a good living from our impersonal environment, therefore, those human beings who could exploit other people and use their labor to procure pleasurable living for themselves do so.

In the state of nature, each person was primarily interested in his personal survival. As a result, people were constantly engaged in war and conflict was the order of living. As Hobbes sees it, the powerful tried to use the weak to earn a living.

Much of what is called arts is produced by those classes that did not directly work for their daily bread, hence had the luxury to contemplate beauty. To have the freedom and time to concentrate on the finer things of life, someone else had to work to support artists and intellectuals. Those working to make sure that idle artists and intellectuals produce their beauty are slaves, in today’s categories, proletariats.

Indeed, the powerful often killed the weak and took their property. Powerful Europeans came to the Americas beginning in 1492 and subsequently killed weak Indians or relegated them to reservations and took over their lands. Naturally, the weak does not like been killed or having their property taken over by the powerful. Thus, the weak often banded together and fought with the powerful. The cumulative effect is that human existence was characterized by war and conflict; life was nasty, brutish and short. Insecurity reigned in the state of nature. Each person could be killed and or enslaved at any time by his neighbor.

Hobbes believes that this perpetual insecurity apparently tasked the emotional well being of human beings. They simply could no longer take it and did not want to live that way any, longer. They, therefore, decided to give up aspects of their natural freedom to do as they liked and form civil society.

Civil society, ip so facto means delegating power and authority to a few persons to rule the many. It means having a few make the laws that govern the many. Simply stated, to live in organized society is to agree to reduce ones freedom to do as one likes. It is only in the wild, in the state of nature that human beings have license to do as they please. In organized society they, by definition, live under laws and that means that their freedom is abridged. The law and its enforcement agents could arrest and punish law breakers. This is the price people have to pay to obtain some measure of security, for the alternative, anarchy and chaos, life in the state of nature is perpetual insecurity.

As Hobbes sees it, human beings every where formed governments to rule them because they want to obtain social security? They selected some from among them and gave them the power and authority to make laws and enforce those laws. This may entail selecting a chief (king) and authorizing him and his agents to make laws, hire law enforcement agents (police, judges, prison wardens) and make sure that all persons obey the laws of the land or else be arrested, tried in a court of law, and if found guilty, punished (sent to jail or killed, as in capital punishment).

Why do we have governments and laws? Thomas Hobbes says that it is because we have conflicts, that if left alone that in pursuit of personal interests, we do harm each other and that we need governments to reduce our conflicts and make sure that we do not harm and or kill one another.

Hobbes made certain assumptions. He assumed that human beings lived in a state of nature before civil society. He further assumed that human beings are self interest oriented and harm each other in pursuit of their self interest. Finally, he assumed that we need government to restrain us from harming each other. These assumptions have not necessarily been verified as true; nor are there ways to verify them since human beings always live in society. We have no way of ascertaining that human beings ever lived alone in the jungle and then later came together to form civil societies. As Aristotle told us, man is always a social animal. We cannot prove or disprove Hobbes assumptions and shall accept them as working hypotheses on the origin of society.

Hobbes assumed that man is self interested and that if unchecked would kill or enslave other people. To prevent this from happening, Hobbes recommended a strong government. In fact, he wanted society to be ruled by an absolute monarch who is given the power to arrest, jail and or kill law breakers. Hobbes believed that man is so self centered by nature that he needed an absolute ruler to make him obey the laws that serve common interests. If government is not draconian, Hobbes believed that given the evil nature of human beings, that they would not obey the laws.

As Hobbes sees it, human beings are driven to live at all costs and fear death and can only be made to obey laws if laws threaten to kill him. Charles Darwin (Origin of Species) and Herbert Spencer (Ethics) seem to validate Hobbes dim view that man is motivated by desire for survival and fear death.

Because human beings are driven by desire to live and fear death, government is made possible. If people did not desire to live and feared death, government would not be possible. How? Government is that social force that is given the power of coercion, the right to arrest, jail and kill people. People want to live and necessarily fear that agent that could take away their freedom by placing them in jail, and worse, kill them, hence they obey government. People, Hobbes believes, obey the laws of the land, not because they are good but because of their invested self interest in not being jailed or killed by society. That is to say that law is obeyed for pragmatic reasons, not out of the goodness of the human heart, as idealistic religionists would tell us. To Hobbes and conservative thinkers, if any society takes away the forces of law and order anarchy would reign in society; supposedly church going persons would pillage their neighbors’ properties. (The recent hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, USA, has shown us how hitherto law abiding persons, in the absence of the police, loot their neighbors’ properties. Hobbes advices having the hangman around if we plan to obtain law and order in society.)

Hobbes wanted government to optimize power by treating the people draconically. Consider Nigeria. Crime is rampant. Hobbes would say that this situation is because the government in Nigeria is sentimental about human nature. If the government is realistic about human nature, recognizes that people are by nature self interest oriented and would steal if not punished, that the government would vigorously go after criminals. As Hobbes sees it, the Nigerian government should arrest, incarcerate and or kill all corrupt officials and criminals.

The Monarchs of England built the London Tower and English criminals were arrested, tried and quartered, literally. In the London of Hobbes time, heads were chopped off daily at the Tower. You committed a crime and you were arrested and punished in the most severe manner. No sentimental approach to criminals, no sociological understanding of why some one took bribes, you simple cut off his head. (Later, English criminals were shipped off to America and much later, to Australia.)

Hobbes would say that if Nigerians vigorously went after criminals and made a sport of killing them in the public square, that given the cowardly nature of human beings, their fear of death, that within a few years Nigerians would be transformed into law abiding citizens. But as it is, the Obasanjo’s government talk empty talk of fighting corruption and not walk it. The joke of a government at Abuja talk about its anti corruption measures, yet few high profile Nigerians have gone to jail or had their heads chopped off. It takes British authorities to arrest a corrupt Nigerian governor and hold him in custody.

Hobbes wanted the monarch and government to be given absolute power and authority to corral people into obeying the laws of the land. Absolute power may seem advantageous in taming wild people but experience shows that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you give the ruler unchecked power, given what we know about human beings, it tends to go to his head and he uses it to defend his vanity. Human beings are vain, proud and narcissistic. If they have absolute powers, they tend to use it to punish those who do not respect their imaginary dignity. Joseph Stalin, the little paranoid personality that ruled Russia, wanted all Russians to see him as god and any one who dared question his divinity was arrested and killed. The man terrorized the entire Russian population and killed more people than the other paranoid character, Adolf Hitler did.

Giving rulers absolute power is problematic. Therefore, John Locke (Second Essay on Government) reasoned that since it is the people that constituted government and gave it power to govern them, that they have a right to give it only certain powers and reserve others to themselves. He argued for limited government. In effect, the people should write a constitution and give certain powers to their rulers and reserve the rest to themselves. A limited government has the authority to do certain things but not every thing.

For example, the United States government is a limited government; it can do certain things but is prevented from doing others. The United States government is prevented from intervening in religion; it cannot tell people what religion to belong to, or prevent people from belonging to religions of their choice. By contrast, the communist government of Lenin and Stalin had absolute powers. Operating under the socialist delusion that it knows for certain that God does not exist, these misguided communists banned religion. Actually, they made their political ideology a new religion, with themselves as the saints of that pseudo religion. No human beings know whether God exists or not and therefore no government has a right to interfere in peoples religious activities.

Locke is a useful check on Hobbes’ dangerous absolutism. But Locke did not go far enough. The Frenchman, Charles Montesquieu recognized that human beings are inherently power drunk and if given the opportunity would be tyrannical. He recommendaed that we not place the power of governance in one hand but, instead, spread it into many hands. Government naturally performs three functions: legislative, executive and judiciary. Montesquieu argued that these three functions should be reposed in three branches of government.

Moreover, Montesquieu recommended that we encourage the three branches of government and their personnel to be in adversarial relationships. The persons in the three branches of government must jealously protect their tuffs and fight encroachment on them. Montesquieu believed that it is this competition for shared power that prevents tyranny in society. If the president is fought by the legislators and the judiciary zealously makes sure that all political actors play by the rules of the game, constitution, Montesquieu believes that we would be able to have democracy. If not, we would not have democracy.

When the founders of the American polity met at Philadelphia in 1787 to write their constitution (actually, they were not sent to write a new constitution, but to improve on their problematic Articles of Confederation) they took the writings of Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu to heart. They structured a government that is limited in its scope of powers and gave powers to different sets of actors; each encouraged to fight the others. The result is the relative democracy that exists in America.

The idea of democracy is today taken for granted. It was not always so. Europe used to be ruled by kings who believed that they derived their right to govern from God. As they saw it, God selected the Pope of the Catholic Church to be his vicar on earth. The Pope, in turn, chose the monarchs to be God’s Stewarts. The European kings ruled by what was called the Divine Right of Kings; they had self arrogated authority to rule and not account to the people why they did what they did. Thus king Louis the fourteen taxed Frenchmen into penury to build his Versailles Palace and other frivolous chateaus. Marie Antoinette ate cake for breakfast while Frenchmen starved. The French Monarchs believed that God put them on earth to rule and put the people on earth to serve them and to do so while starving.

It took the neurotic philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau to thunder against the idea of divine right of kings. In his seminal work, Social Contract (1760) Rousseau argued that not only is there no God, that no God gave kings the right to rule Frenchmen. Whereas the other French enlightenment thinker, Voltaire merely sparred with the king of France, Rousseau saw the king as illegitimate. As he saw it, only the people have the right to select their rulers. The people’s General Will is what gives rulers the authority to rule them, not some made up divine right of kings.

Rousseau launched a frontal attack on the kings of Europe and, as would be expected, they tried to protect their illegitimate right to rule by judging him a law breaker. They chased Rousseau from place to place. Those who insist on the truth never know peace in a world that seems to subsist on falsity.

(Cowardly Nigerians expect there to be good government in their country. When their criminal rulers’ fire shots into the air they, like terrified rats, scamper; they run to the safety of America, from whence they make idle noises about their corrupt leaders. If Nigerians were real men, they would stay at home and fight the criminal gang that seized Nigeria’s government and if necessary get arrested, jailed and or killed. Such is the price for freedom. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill observed that freedom requires willingness to die rather than see governments abridge it. Indeed, he had contempt for Africans for he saw them as not capable of democracy because they are too afraid of death hence tolerate bad governments rather than fight and die for freedom. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, made similar points about how Liberty requires eternal vigilance.)

Rousseau stimulated the French revolution of 1789; a revolution that changed the face of Europe forever and ever. Indeed, he indirectly stimulated the American Revolution, although the American Revolution is really not a radical revolution; it was a conservative revolution; one class of ruling class white persons replaced another. The rulers of post independence America did not even extend the vote to all white Americans, not to talk about black persons. The 1787 American constitution did not consider black persons as human beings. Thomas Jefferson did not include blacks in his declaration (of Independence) that all men were created equal by their creator. To him, Africans were animals, no different from horses to be used to produce wealth for him to live in pleasure. The man owned over 600 slaves and did not give any of them freedom, even as he waxed eloquently about human freedom. (Madison, Hamilton and Jay, the writers of the Federalist Papers, America’s political philosophy that explained why they chose the type of government they did, were in support of slavery.)

I have, hopefully, established that human beings live in groups and that they are individuated and have different values and, as such, tend to have conflicts, and that conflicts demand resolution, and that government is a mechanism for resolving conflicts in the polity. It seems necessary to have government in society. That taken for granted, the next question is the nature of that government.

Essentially, there are two approaches to the discourse on the nature of government; one is idealistic and the other is realistic. Idealism tends not to take empiricism, that is, historical experience of human beings on planet earth, into consideration but, instead, use imagination to visualize how human beings ought to be ruled. Plato (Republic) was an idealistic political thinker. He used pure mentation (deductive reasoning) to come up with how governments ought to be. He wanted society ruled by philosopher Kings. He outlined how to train and select such wise rulers. In his view, not every person can rule, so we ought to select the best from among us and have them rule us. Pericles oration tells us who these philosopher kings ought to: victorious generals.

Aristotle, on the other hand, is, more or less, an empirical observer of human nature. He can be called the first political scientist if, by that, we mean a person who, in an unsentimental manner, observes politics, as it is practiced, not as it should be practiced. Instead of using ideational thinking to decide who should rule society, the social scientist observes real human beings at work in ruling themselves, and on that basis, decides who would rule.

As Aristotle sees it, people have different natures. Some are natural soldiers, others are artisans, and others are merchants. Each person is good at doing certain things, not other things. To Aristotle, each person ought to go do well what he has natural aptitude in doing. The soldier type ought to join the military and fight wars for his nation and be rewarded with glories (including the medals with which they decorate their chests). The merchant type ought to trade and generate wealth for his nation. The artists (which would include intellectuals) should contemplate their navels and provide society with beauty. Wole Soyinka, a gifted artist, should write lovely plays that amuse people but not wade into politics, an arena he probably knows very little about. Being a wordsmith is not the same thing as leading oppositional human beings. It takes guts and ability to spill blood to govern unruly human beings.

Politics, as Aristotle sees it, is not for sentimental intellectuals who talk idealistic rut, but for hard nosed, tough skinned persons, men capable of making decisions to send their young men to war, to go kill and get killed. The politician type is the type of person who is not squeamish from the sight of blood, death and dying. Ruling men is not a task for women, Aristotle says, but for hard boiled men who would look at fields of death and dying and drink their wine and not lose sleep. The ruler, as Aristotle sees it, ought to be retired military generals.

Aristotle has useful insights into politics, for clearly not every person is qualified to rule. One of the saddest aspects of African politics is the tendency for Africans to equate education with ability to govern. Thus, Nigerians are over impressed by the term doctor and place sentimental children with doctorate degrees in governance. Every fool who calls himself Doctor is deemed capable of ruling the human polity. No, most leaders, in fact, tend to be average students and seldom waste their time pursuing more than a modicum of education (say master degree).

Politics is not a house wife’s fairy tales. Politics is the jostling for power and control of a polity. Politics is war by peaceful means. Actually, politics is violence and, as in all wars, the strongest win and rule the weak.

Machiavelli (The Prince) recognized the nature of politics and in a clear headed manner delineated it. Politicians are soldiers fighting for victory. They are generals leading their men at battle and the stronger ones win over the weaker ones and rule them.

Politics, Harold Laswell tells us is the art of deciding who gets what in society. People pay taxes and politicians decide how to spend that money. Politicians decide who to give the people’s money and who not to give it to. Invariably, the more powerful, those willing to go to war and fight for their own share of public good, get more share of public wealth, whereas sentimental persons, cowards who are afraid of fighting and dying, get very little. The streets in rich neighborhoods are usually well maintained, whereas the streets in poor neighborhoods are not. If bureaucrats do not maintain the streets where the powerful live, they are sacked from public employment.

In America, white folks get the greatest share of public goods whereas Indians get the least. Blacks get something to the extent that they overcome the fear that made them tolerate slavery and go fight and die for a fair share of the wealth of the nation. In Nigeria, the more warrior like Hausa tribes naturally rule the country and get more public spending in their areas whereas those tribes, like the Ijaws, that merely talk and when guns are fired into their midst’s and a few persons killed, beg for their lives or like rats scamper into their burrows and hide, instead of stand up like men and fight and die for what they believe in, get the least. Simply stated, politics is war by every means and the strong win over the weak.

As far as I know, no human group exists without some politics. Even in the most primitive societies where there were no formal structures for political activities some form of political activity took place. Structural functionalist scholars have gone to primitive societies and studied how they governed themselves. In these societies, there does not exist formal structures for governance, structures as we know them in the West, such as legislatures, executives and judiciary. Nevertheless, those governmental functions were being performed in these preliterate societies.

Igbo society, for example, did not have formal structures for governing itself. Yet, cultural anthropologists tell us that within their villages and towns those governmental functions were performed. Whereas there was no Igbo king, legislature and court system, the Igbo Oha, Amala, (public) gathered and made laws (legislation), executed those laws and judged law breakers and punished the guilty ones. A society does not have to have formal institutions for governing to perform the usual roles of government.


Talking about the Igbos brings up the difference between participatory democracy and representative democracy. Igbo society was pretty much like Athens (Greece) of old. All Igbo males above age fifteen gathered in their village green (square). Women and slaves were excluded. This gathering made laws (legislative function), executed them, (executive function) sometimes by delegating that function to a few of them to accomplish for them and judged (judicial function) those who disobeyed the laws of the village and punished them. This is participatory or direct democracy. It is pretty much what obtained in Ancient Athens.

Male Athenians gathered at the Acropolis and made their laws, executed and adjudicated them. Like the Igbos, they excluded women and slaves from governance. Aristotle made an unfortunate argument that women and slaves were not qualified to participate in governance.

Slaves tend to live in fear. It takes fear to accept other men telling one what to do. Slaves so want to live that they permit other men to abuse them rather than fight back and insist on freedom, and if not, die, rather than live as slaves. Instead, slaves live as other men’s chattels, beasts of labor. On the whole, slaves tend not to be courageous and insist on the truth and fight for the truth. They are habituated to kowtowing to other people’s will.

In America, African slaves allowed sadistic white persons to tell them what to do, instead of fight and die rather than live as second class persons. Such persons do not tend to make good candidates for high political office.

Society ought to be ruled by courageous persons, not cowardly slaves. On this account, Aristotle ruled out timid slaves and women from participation in politics. Igbos did the same.

The Igbo admire bold persons and the moment you are seen as cowardly, you are discounted in Igbo society. The opinion of a coward is not even listened to in Igbo Oha gathering; only real men, courageous men, are listened to. Given their society’s insistence on courage, Igbo males try to seem bold, even if they are quaking with fear.

It is clear that direct democracy, as practiced in Athens and Alaigbo, is possible only in small populations living in a small geographic area. It is simply impossible to have millions of people scattered in a large geographic area, gather and discuss issues and make decisions. Therefore, as society became large other ways of governing were discovered.


Representative democracy has replaced direct democracy. In my opinion, John Stuart Mill wrote the best books on the nature of representative democracy. The salient argument for this attenuated democracy is that it is impossible for all persons in a modern polity to gather as a legislature and make laws that govern them. They need to select their representatives and delegate authority to them to make laws and policies on their behalf. This is simply a reality of modern politics.

However, this reality raises a different set of questions. Should representatives vote their conscience or should they vote as they think that those who they represent would like them to vote? This is a very serious question. Edmund Burke probably wrote the best books on this subject.

Consider the dilemma confronting an American legislator. Most small town American whites are racists. They would like legislation disenfranchising black persons. So how should a white legislator in Congress vote on issues before him? Should he vote his conscience (assuming that he is not a racist) or should he vote as his electors would want him to vote? If pure democracy is allowed to govern his voting, he should vote for racist laws. This is what Southern democrats used to do in America. If these folks voted their conscience and supported civil rights bills, they were not reelected two years later, when a general election was held in the country.

There really is no simple solution to the problems raised by representative democracy. In the real world, legislators manage to combine their conscience and their people’s wishes. One supposes that they have to do so, for, after all politics is the art of the possible. Politics entails bargaining, compromising and trading off in making public policies that takes several peoples public opinions into consideration.

In real life politics, one cannot get only ones opinion, wishes enacted into public policy; public policy must reflect the consensus of all opinions in a polity. Failing to compromise, to give and take, horse trade, those who lose feel angry and may resort to violence (if they have courage…there is always war hovering at the gates of the legislature).

To the extent a politician is able to maneuver around this subject, doing what he thinks is right and what the people want done, he is considered a good statesman.

Consider Nigeria. There are obviously good politicians in Nigeria. These men probably hate corruption. But Nigerian politics is a free for all game to loot the national treasury. The politicians at Abuja essentially gather to share the oil revenue that accrues to the country. Each politician tries to get something for his constituency (ethnic group). To do so, he must join the merry go round and participate in taking and giving bribery. If he refuses to do so, he probably would not get any thing done.

The recently disgraced minister of education, Fabian Osuji (not a relation of mine, thank God) said that he bribed legislators because that was the only way he could get them to approve projects for his ministry. His desire to accomplish goals he set for his ministry, he said, left him no choice but to join the thieving crowd that govern Nigeria. The man saw himself as a victim. As he sees it, he did not do what other politicians in Nigeria do not do. Indeed, he wonders why he was selected to be made an example. Good question, Mr. Osuji.

The man has a point. Nevertheless, he does not have to join the thieving crowd at Abuja; he could have stayed teaching his zoology at his university.

The salient point is that politicians are placed in a dilemma and must combine doing what they think is right and what is expedient. This is the nature of politics. Politics is not for boys’ scouts or Vienna boys choir singing hosanna to their deaf gods; politics is an arena where real men divvy up the national wealth, decide who gets much and who gets little. In real politics, those who control the means of coercion and do not hesitate using it to get what they want generally get the most of the national wealth. The military, for example, in most polities get most of their budgetary requests because, if politicians do not give it to them, they might as well be looking for different careers, assuming that they remain alive. (The US Defense Department eats up a substantial part of the American national budget while poor blacks in the ghettos get sent to jail.)

Politics is inevitable in the human polity. We do not have a choice as to whether to have politics or not. We must have politics. That which is inevitable in the polity must, therefore, be studied and understood. We must understand the nature of politics, how it operates and, if possible, improves it. One may not like politics and consider politicians as crooks, the fact is that in a modern polity, we can only have a representative democracy or rule by a few (oligarchy) or rule by one person (dictatorship). It, therefore, behooves us all to understand the nature of politics. Avoiding politics will not make it go away.

Some one(s) must decide who gets what in a polity, so we might as well pay attention to the activities of that Leviathan. Therefore, we must have political scientists studying the activities of politicians. What is inevitable must be studied, understood and hopefully properly managed.


So far, I have talked about politics in the generic sense. Let me therefore make a few introductory comments on Nigerian politics.

Nigeria is a unique country. It is unique because it is an artificial country. It is not an organic community in the sense that it grew up gradually. Nigerians do not have a history of shared experiences that unified them, and make them believe that they are the same people. Nigeria was invented by foreign persons.

Briefly, Nigeria came into being in 1914. Prior to that date, there was no entity called Nigeria? The country came into being as a result of historical accidents.

In 1492, Europeans (Christopher Columbus) discovered America and subsequently settled there. Somehow, they needed slaves to work their land. Somehow they believed that Africans were most adapted to working as slaves in their new lands. Thus, they came to the West Coast of Africa and bought slaves from the Africans.

I do not know exactly when the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade began, but it is safe to speculate that it was in the 1500s? It was at that time that the Portuguese and Spanish were settling Mexico and South America. The British settled in North America later, 1607 (at James Town, Virginia).

Slave trade led Europeans to establish slave ports along the coasts of West Africa. They did not go inland but stayed at the seaports and had native Africans bring slaves to them. Apparently, Interior Africans captured and or bought each other and marched them to the coast and sold them to Europeans. The Europeans transported these persons to the Americas and sold them into slavery.

Portugal and Spain fell as important powers in the 1600s. Other Europeans countries replaced them as the major sea powers, hence became slaving powers. For a while, it was the Dutch that controlled the slave trade. Then the English and French got into the business and began buying slaves from West Africa. This sordid business brought the English and French into Africa, at least, to coastal Africa.

Man may be evil but there are always some who refuse to be so. Thus, a few Europeans decried the practice of slavery. In England, the anti slavery movement was led by men like William Wilberforce. These groups eventually managed to get the British Parliament to outlaw slavery in 1807.

Outlawing slavery in Britain did not bring an end to slavery. The trade continued. To really do something about stopping it, English naval ships began prowling the coast of West Africa, intervening, boarding and searching ships to make sure that they were not carrying slaves. If slaves were on-board, they were freed and taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone. This situation continued for a while but did not really stop the trade.

Finally, the British decided to directly intervene in Africa to stop slavery at its source, to prevent African slavers from selling their own people. Thus, by the mid 19th century, they began landing their military personnel at several West African ports. In 1851, for example, they landed at Lagos and used force to remove the Oba (King) that insisted on slavery. Oba Kosoko was replaced by another one, who promised not to sell his people (which promise he broke and kept the trade alive).

This cat and mouse game lasted for a while and, ultimately, led the British to decide to establish protectorates in West Africa. Initially, Britain chattered royal companies to trade with African people and essentially governs them. For example, she chattered the Royal Niger Company of Sir George Goldie. This company traded along the River Niger and its Delta. It traded in what was then considered slave replacement goods: palm oil, palm kennel and so on. That company encouraged Africans who hitherto sold their people to now sell non human commodities. The Royal Niger Company essentially was the government that ruled southern Nigeria until 1906 when the British decided to exercise direct governing of the protectorate. Britain also established a protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

(Question: Why didn’t Nigerians actively play a role in the fight to abolish the transatlantic slave trade? Indeed, why did many of them fight to continue that trade? Frederick Lugard and his West African Frontier Army stormed Arochukwu in 1902 to stop the Aros three hundred years…1600-1900… practice of selling their fellow Igbos through the hoax they called the long juju, a racket for capturing and selling Igbos into slavery. It was subsequent to the defeat of the criminals of Arochukwu that the British marched into the interior of Alaigbo, such as Owerri; this is the so-called pacification of the lower Niger country. We shall pick up this issue in a later lecture, for its implication is far ranging. Contemporary Africans are still selling their brothers in the form of corruption and by not caring for the welfare of every person in the polity. Contemporary Nigerians seem as self centered and callous as their slave selling ancestors.)

In 1914, the two protectorates were amalgamated to form what is now called Nigeria. A former employee of the Royal Niger Company, Frederick Lugard was made the first Governor General of Nigeria.

We shall be commenting on aspects of Nigerian politics as our lecture series progresses. For now, the critical point is that Britain conglomerated different Nigerian tribes into one country in 1914. In effect, Britain invented an artificial country. The problem is how to govern these different tribes: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, Edo, Ijaw, Tivi, Ishikiri, Urobo, Bornu, Nupe, Kanuri and so on and so on. How do you govern people who not only have different cultures but had no historical experience to give them a sense of nationhood? This is a big task.

The British used military and bureaucratic force to hold together the disparate peoples of Nigeria.

In 1939, Adolf Hitler launched his war against Eastern Europe, bent on killing off all Slavic people, whom he deemed inferior and taking over their land. Britain and France, for any number of reasons, intervened and declared war on Hitler. Even though Hitler wanted his fellow Germanic people (the English and French are actually more Germanic than Germans) to help him clobber Eastern Europeans, Britain and France chose to fight the little corporal and his murderous Nazi gang. Hitler then unleashed his rage on those two countries and but for the intervention of the United States would have easily conquered them.

When the war ended in 1945, Hitler was dead, Britain and France and their American allies won. But Europeans were so weakened that they could no longer militarily control their foreign colonies. The only way Britain could effectively rule Nigerians was if the United States of America, its then liberator and benefactor, agreed to fund its colonial adventurism. America made it clear that it was not interested in helping European powers maintain their empires. Thus, Europeans grudgingly gave Africans independence. In 1960, Nigeria was given independence.

Now ruling its self and not having a foreign power to blame, blaming who united the different tribes, Nigerians fell in among themselves. The 1960s was a period of one political disaster after another. The country slouched from one self inflicted wound to another. The rulers of post independent Nigeria were late comers to the game of leadership. In fact, they were novices and did not know a thing about governing modern polities and economies. What they seemed to know how to do was steal from the national treasury.

The Military scattered the thieving politicians and took over power on January 15, 1966. The military ruled, with a brief interregnum between 1979-1984, until 1999.

We shall get to the specifics of military rule in different lectures. For now, the salient point is that Nigeria is composed of different ethnic groups and that how to govern these people is the key problem of Nigerian politics.

How do you rule different ethnic groups, each of whom has different concepts of what the appropriate function of government is? The Igbos want a democratic government, the Hausas are used to feudal political arrangements, the Yorubas are adapted to sophisticated diplomatic relationships between different Yoruba kingdoms hence are more able to take advantage of the chaos that is Nigeria. In subsequent lectures, I will examine the problem of governance in Nigeria.


I hope that I have made the point that politics is inevitable in the human polity and that we cannot run away from it, ugly as it sometimes seems. Our job is to find a way to govern Nigeria, so that every Nigerian benefits. Whereas in the nature of things, some persons will always get more than others, yet good statesmanship finds ways to make sure that all members of the polity also benefit. Failure to share the national wealth, in such a manner that all persons in the polity benefits, often lead to the fall of nations. We all want Nigeria to survive, but for it to survive it must engage in realistic political behavior.

*These lectures are presented as Ozodi Thomas Osuji’s contribution to the celebration of Nigeria’s 45th birthday. Each week, two or three lectures, each one hour long, and about ten pages long, will be presented, for a total of 20 lectures. The topics to be covered include: Nigeria’s Politics, Nigeria’s Political Culture, Nigeria’s Political Socialization, Nigeria’s Political Ideologies, Nigeria’s Political Economy, Nigeria’s Political Parties, Nigeria’s Political Recruitment, Nigeria’s Interest Groups, Nigeria’s Legislature, Nigeria’s Presidency, Nigeria’s Judiciary, Nigeria’s Bureaucracy, Nigeria’s Public Opinion, Nigeria’s Public Policy, Nigeria’s Civil Rights, Nigeria’s Civil Liberties, Nigeria’s State and Local Governments, Nigeria’s International Politics, Nigeria’s International Organizations, Nigeria and Africa’s Politics, Nigeria and Transnational Corporations, Nigeria’s Extralegal Governmental Structures: the Military, Churches. Each lecture will not be cluttered with references but a bibliography on Nigeria’s politics will be provided with the last lecture on November 30, 2005. These lectures will eventually be edited and published by the publishing wing of Africa Institute Seattle.

October 4, 2005

Ozodi Thomas Osuji

Africa Institute Seattle

600-1 Avenue, Suite 325

Seattle, WA 98104

(206) 464-9004

Posted by Administrator at October 4, 2005 05:50 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?

BNW Writers A-M

BNW Writers N-Z



BiafraNigeria Banner

BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer


BiafraNigeria Spacer

BiafraNigeria Spacer


BNW Forums


The Voice of a New Generation