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« Why Nigerian Leaders Need to Learn from the Best | Main | Osuji Lectures #3: Nigeria's Political Socialization »

October 06, 2005

Osuji Lectures #2: Nigeria's Political Culture

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Wherever human beings are found, they not only live in groups but have collective patterns of behaviors. Human beings everywhere develop collective approaches to phenomena.

Human beings ask existential questions like: who are we, why are we here and what are we doing here? They individually and collectively respond to those questions. Their individual and collective responses to those ontological and epistemological questions become part of their religious and philosophical culture.

Human beings live on a tough physical environment. Their physical environment does not give them their food and other means of survival. They have to struggle to obtain their food, clothes and shelter. Nature does not provide them with free food. Manna does not fall from heaven; once, it was claimed to have fallen from heaven but those who ate it died before they reached the Promised Land they were heading towards. Human beings survive through the sweat of their brow.

In their efforts to extract sustenance from their impersonal physical environment, they develop some working understanding of how the physical environment works. This understanding of how the physical environment works is called science and the approaches to adapting to the environment is called technology. Every human group has a scientific and technological culture.

Science and technology may be rudimentary in primitive societies but they do exist in them, nevertheless. They have to exist in them for human beings are distinguished from other animals by their scientific and technological nature. The best that our closest animal relatives, Chimpanzees, can do is employ sticks to ferret out ants from anthills; it is because of this primitive technology that they are said to be closer to human beings in evolution; indeed, Chimpanzees are, genetically, 97% the same as human beings.

Human beings ask why questions (science) and device techniques (how questions) to adapt to their world. The answers to their why and how questions constitutes their scientific and technological culture.

Human beings live in groups, society. They tend to have interpersonal and social conflicts. Wherever human beings live, they have issues with one another. Sometimes these issues lead to wars. Human beings, since the dawn of history, have always had wars (and probably will always have wars?).

Because they have interpersonal and social differences, human beings everywhere seek ways to get along with each others. They develop patterns of behaviors that enable them to reduce conflicts and increase social harmony. Over time, all human groups developed norms of accepted behaviors.

Norm is that behavior which is socially accepted (which, hopefully, contributes to social harmony). Some norms are mere socially accepted mores, whereas others are codified as rules of group behavior. Where societies are highly developed, rules of behaviors tend to be further codified as laws (enacted in constitutions or enacted by legislatures).

There are several kinds of laws: written and unwritten, common, constitutional, statutory, administrative, criminal, contracts, torts, equity, family, admiralty law and so on. For our present purposes, the salient point is that all human societies have legal cultures that attempt to make sure that people get along with each other and punish those who transgress the laws, those who negatively affect other persons.

Culture is an omnibus term. It is global and inclusive of everything human beings do that enables them to adapt to their world. Whatever enables people to survive on planet earth is part of their culture. In this light, culture is that behavior that enables a group to adapt to its physical and social world and enables it to survive. There are many things that enable people to survive, including religion, philosophy, science, technology, laws etc. This means that the term culture is all encompassing, too broad to be useful in social analysis.

Nevertheless, during the late 19th and 20th centuries, a field of study that specifically studied culture emerged in the academic horizon. It was called Ethnography or cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropologists descended on what they called primitive societies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and studied everything done in those societies under the rubric of culture.

The societies studied by cultural anthropologists were preliterate and did not have bodies of written literature about their approaches to phenomena. As the racist historian, Trevor Roper said, Africa does not have written culture and, as such, is the purview of anthropologists, meaning that what is known about them is written by Western anthropologists rather than by their own scholars. In effect, Trevor Roper was saying that Anthropologists study primitive societies whereas historians study civilized societies.

Western cultural anthropologists wrote about primitive societies (which in generous times they called traditional societies). Essentially, they told us about their religions, philosophies, science, technology and social institutions.

Whereas in the West itself specific disciplines studied each aspect of what anthropologists told us about primitive societies, in African countries anthropologists were know it all and told us all about those societies. Thus, whereas in the West we had theologians writing about their people’s religions, philosophers writing about their people’s systems of wisdom, physical scientists writing about physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, historians writing about their people’s history, economists writing about their countries economic performances, in Africa, a single white boy who studied anthropology wrote about everything about the society he studied. Thus, for example, if he studied Igbo society, as Ottenberg of the University of Washington, Seattle did, he became an acclaimed expert on everything Igbo.

Anthropologists knew so much that, in fact, they knew nothing about the societies they supposedly studied. How could they know something about those societies? Consider: these so-called anthropologists were usually graduate students who were required to go do one year of field studies in primitive societies. They then came back and wrote about their findings and are awarded the doctorate degree. Subsequently, they obtained teaching positions at Western universities. Only one year of stay in Africa made these persons experts on every thing African! Of course, they knew next to nothing about African cultures. Reading the material written by these so-called experts on Africa is actually a waste of time; most of them simply did not know what they were talking about.

Consider complex Yoruba religious practices. It would take a life time of studies to begin to understand these practices. But a white boy would spend a year of field studies at Ile-Ife, return to his university at Berkeley, California, writes a book on Yoruba culture, and inclusive of Yoruba religion and such a book would be considered an authority on everything Yoruba. These foreign experts reduced people’s complex lives and practices to the parameters of their infant discipline.

By the 1950s, political science had emerged from philosophy as a separate field of study. The field began to build its own body of literature. It looked into cultural anthropology and borrowed the concept of culture from it. However, it recognized that culture is inclusive of everything a group of human beings do and that to study culture per se is to study everything the people did to adapt to their environment. The term culture is too broad and had to be divided up into several areas: thus, there is religious culture, farming culture, child rearing culture, schooling culture, medical culture, and culture for everything else a group of people do.

Political scientists zeroed in on a group’s political culture, that is, on how each group of human beings governed themselves. Political culture is those aspects of culture that relate to a group’s political behavior. It answers such questions as: how do these people govern themselves? How do they select their leaders? How do they train their leaders; indeed, how do they train every member to behave politically?

Human beings live in human polities (polity is a fancy name for organized society). They have conflicts. They have mechanisms for resolving their conflicts before they end up shooting each other in their efforts at conflict resolution.

Every known human society practices politics. Politics is the effort to govern a group of human beings, to make the laws that govern them (legislation) and execute those laws (executive organ of government), adjudicate conflicts on the bases of laid down laws (judiciary) and implement the laws and policies made by the governing bodies (bureaucracy).

Every society has a specific manner of going about its politics; its legislating, executing, adjudicating and implementing of laws. Every society trains its people to practice politics in a certain manner (Political socialization).

The sum of political practices of a group is its political culture. Societies differ in their political cultures.

In the early 1960s, emergent political scientists like Gabriel Almond, Verber and James Coleman (one of my mentors at the University of California) spanned the globe studying different society’s political cultures. The body of literature they produced now constitute the corpus of political culture. These political scientists would go to a country and, instead of studying its global culture limited their studies to an aspect of it, its political behavior. (The field later gave rise to comparative politics.)

Essentially, political scientists learned from anthropologists and recognized the shortcoming of a single anthropologist becoming an expert on every thing about a people. Perhaps, it is possible to be an expert on a small segment of a people’s culture but not all of it. No one can fully understand Yoruba religions much less all of Yoruba culture. Political scientists delimited themselves to studying political culture, rather than the entirety of a people’s culture. This is a wise decision; their studies, though reductive and stereotyping tend to be more useful than anthropological reductionism.

The political scientists who studied political culture really did not add much to our understanding of politics, but gave us insights into psychological and sociological aspects of politics. Thus, for example, in the Civil Culture, we learn something about the psychological and sociological behaviors of those they studied. We learned that Americans are individualistic in their general psychological make up, as well as in their attitude to politics and that they pursue liberty, equality, democracy and civic duty and individual responsibility. . This is a stereotype of Americans, of course, for there are Americans who are not individualistic, who are, in fact, every bit as collectivistic as so-called un-individuated primitive persons in Africa. But let us humor political scientists and talk as if there are group characters.

In this stereotypical light, Americans individualistic political culture is characterized by expectation that their governments do certain things for them but not everything. They have limited government and do not expect their rulers to become surrogate parents who take good care of them. They want to take care of themselves. They do not want their government to tell them what to do. They do not want their government to tell them what type of religion they should practice, what kind of school they should attend, whether they should carry guns or not. Simply stated, Americans are said to be individualistic and want their government to only do those things that the individual cannot do for himself and leave the individual to do for himself what he can do for himself.

Generally, people need to organize to defend themselves, to fight wars. Thus, individualistic Americans accept that it is a proper function for their government to provide them with national security. They are willing to pay for a strong military and for internal security measures (such as a strong police, judicial and penal systems). But beyond these accepted roles for government, Americans do not want to pay for their government to perform other functions. They do not think that it is the function of government to engage in social engineering that changes peoples behaviors. They do not think that it is the proper function of government to provide their people with education, (it took pulling of teeth for America to provide K through 12 grade education for free to its citizens; in fact, some die hard conservatives still believe that the government should butt out of education and leave it in private hands; these people send their children to private schools, for they do not liberal public school teachers telling young minds, as they want to do, that homosexuality, abortion on demand, free sex, out of wedlock bearing of children and so on, is okay; a government that provides everything for every body is a government that tells everybody what to do; beware of big governments, conservatives wail) medical health insurance, welfare money etc. Simply stated, the American political culture defines certain roles for the government and the individual. Study of American political culture shows these dynamics, the push and pull of government’s efforts to do certain things and citizens opposition to it. For example, the conservative government of George Bush would like to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wide Life Reserve in Alaska, but liberals and their environmental lobby oppose such drilling. The result is standstill. This is American government at work, no dictatorial government telling the people what to do. Should government over step the line drawn for it, Thomas Jefferson tells the people that they should form a posse and chase the now criminals out of office. (A government is legitimate to the extent that it operates within laws.) As conservative Americans would have it, citizens ought to keep their guns so that they can, at any moment, form a militia and chase out their leaders from office, should they go beyond what they are required to do. Liberals, on the other hand, always wanting to expand the role of government, do not want citizens to posses governs, they want to pass legislation taking guns away from the people, and should they succeed, it is goodbye to freedoms and welcome to the dictatorship of do-gooders. Soviet type monolithic totalitarianism hovers around liberal policies, conservatives say.

A study of Japanese political culture shows a different set of approaches to politics. The Japanese, as well as the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and related Asians, were socialized to what is roughly called the Confucian culture. Confucius lived about 2500 years ago, and laid down acceptable behaviors for the people. Asians, by and large, behave in accordance with Confucian norms.

Among other things, Confucius demands respect for authority, particularly the authority of the head of the family and the head of the state, the emperor of China, the emperor of Japan etc. Thus, Asians were brought up to see their lives as meant to serve their families and emperors. A Japanese man would literally die from shame should he be unable to provide for his family (he may commit suicide should he loose social face from inability to provide for his family). He is brought up to lay down his life for his emperor. A Japanese soldier would literally do whatever his leaders asked him to do, including flying suicide planes into American war ships (Kamikaze) and in the process die. He dare not disobey what authority told him to do. This makes Japanese society authoritarian and well ordered.

Compare and contrast the Japanese to Nigerians lack of devotion to serving their nation, Nigerians interest is in serving only their individual bellies hence corruption in Nigeria. The Japanese lives to serve his society and would literally jump into fire and stay there and die should his leaders ask him to do so. His culture would reject him should he place his life ahead of the society’s goals. (It is said that a finger that sticks out is harmed down in Japan).

Oriental cultures tended to train for social conformism. People were rigorously brought up to adhere to Confucian rules of etiquette and disobeying them brought swift social punishment.

Asians contact with other cultures, particularly with the West has changed much of Asian cultures; nowadays, they seldom commit suicide, hara-kiri, when they loose social face. Nevertheless, it is a useful assertion, albeit it over simplistic, to state that whereas the West is individualistic that the Orient is group Oriented. We are talking about group stereotypes here, not necessarily reality.

Political scientists studied the various European countries political cultures. The British tend to be somewhat similar to Americans in their civic culture, with the exception that they tend to serve their king or queen and will die fighting for the king and England. (Americans will die fighting for republican democracy and freedom to be individualistic.)

The Italian tends to be exuberant in his behavior and tends to be lackadaisical about following orders and routines. It took Mussolini all he could to make Italian trains run on time…Italian are back to running on Italian time, that is, late. This lackadaisicalness is reflected in Italian government. The Italian government is not a serious force to be reckoned with. The Italian military, for example, is a joke as far as disciplined fighting is concerned. Fire a gun into the air and these so-called soldiers surrender in mass.

One the other hand, is the iron disciplined German military that will obey their officers command and keep coming at the enemy, even as the enemy keeps mowing them down. The exploits of the German army at the Western Front, during the First World War, at Verdun, is a study in military disciple. Nigerians ought to study German military discipline and see if they could discipline their unruly military. Germans carry their individual and military discipline to their government. The trains run on time in Germany. If a train is scheduled to be there at 1PM it is bound to be there at 1PM. This is a well ordered polity for you. The government performs what it is expected to perform. The German government works because it reflects a German culture that is disciplined and obeys the laws.

The Russian government, unlike the German government, traditionally is chaotic; it reflects a chaotic Russian culture. Russia is almost always unprepared for anything and is almost always caught off Guard. Adolf Hitler wrote a book, Mein Kampf, in 1925, delineating his plan to kill ALL Russians and take over their land. He believed that they were subhuman beings and unintelligent. At the same time, 1923, the American Congress passed a law preventing Russians from immigrating to America because they were allegedly unintelligent. Despite these hand writings on the wall, Russia did not prepare for war with the West. It behaved as Hitler said that she would behave: unprepared to fight hence easily defeated.

In 1941, Hitler launched operation Barbarossa and literally walked, unopposed, to the outskirts of Moscow. At that point, Russians gave up their Vodka and realized that Hitler meant business and was about to wipe them off from the surface of the earth. Where he conquered, Hitler killed off the Slavs. He killed 25 million of them and was bent on killing off the rest of them. Russians finally got out of the fumes of alcohol and discarded communism and rallied around mother Russia’s flag. They fought and died like men. The retaking of Stalingrad was their finest hour during the war. They gradually pushed the Huns back to Berlin and eventually defeated them.

Russians seem disorganized and are always taken by surprise but in the teeth of time always manage to fight back and defeat their enemies. Napoleon over ran Moscow with little difficulty but mother Russia fought back and extracted its freedom from the lion’s teeth.

It does not take much political precocity to recognize that a disciplined army, today, could easily defeat Russia. However, at that juncture, Russians would stop being bloody drunks and fight like driven monsters and chase the invading army out of their country, even if it means for all Russians to die at the battle field. It would be nice if Russians were disciplined and not have to regain their freedom in the last moments. If America attacked Russia, she probably could easily defeat her, but Russians. If their history holds constant, would come back and probably defeat America? Do not toy with Russians, they may be drunk and foolish but when push comes to shove they know what to do and do it well. Russians are semi Asiatic and semi European. They are difficult for a Western scholar to understand. Consider their seeming preference for Oriental dictatorships but at the same time quaffing under such yoke, whereas the oriental is fatalistic and adjusts to his murderous dictatorial leaders. Iraqis are currently yearning for a murderous Saddam Hussein type to rule them.

Political scientists studied various people’s political cultures and showed us how those cultures affect their practice of politics. We know that Germans have a disciplined culture and that that is carried over to their government, that the Russians are chaotic and that that is carried over their government, that the Italians are lackadaisical and that that is carried over their government, that the English are extremely tactful and cunning and while giving you the impression of being friendly towards you are scheming to cut your throat. The Englishman looks gentle and civilized but in fact is the most blood thirsty human being on earth. John Bull looks after Albion’s interests and no other persons interests; that the Americans are playful but have their eyes on the almighty dollar, profit, and will also cut your throat to make a dollar; that the Nipponese (Japanese) are disciplined and will fight to death for their country and that this is carried over to a disciplined government in Tokyo.


Now that you, hopefully, have a general understanding of what political culture is, let us see what it is like in Nigeria. In our introductory lecture, we alluded to how Nigeria came into being and the fact that she is composed of many tribes, aka ethnic groups. Let us pick up from where we stopped. Nigeria is a conglomeration of several tribes, some as different from each other as night is from day.

Given the many ethnic groups in Nigeria, it is impossible to talk about a unified Nigerian political culture.

From what we know about human history, it would probably take at least a thousand years of common experience for the disparate groups in Nigeria to develop a unified perception of phenomena. What we have in Nigeria are particularistic, not universalistic approach to phenomena. This cultural diversity is the bane of Nigeria’s politics.

Were the rulers of Nigeria serious leaders of men, the first order of business they would have undertaken would have been seeking ways to encourage the development of a unified culture. For example, they would have being encouraging Nigerians to marry out side their tribal groups. This would commingle the people’s cultures and bring about some needed uniformity. Other means of generating common culture include forcing all Nigerians to serve in the military and while in the military be stationed in areas other than their tribal areas. Attending the same schools also helps to reduce tribal identification.

Instead of doing what must be done to create a sense of nationhood, the self indulgent leaders of Nigeria increase ethnic identification. And if they continue stressing their tribal roots they would go the way of the Balkans (Yugoslavia) and devolve into their separate ways and become banana republics. If Nigeria breaks up, each of the emergent little countries would become the play thing of big powers like the United States and China. It is in our African self interests to have large geographic republics. Preserving Nigeria is a must, though we need to figure out a way to structure the Federation along realistic lines.

At present, there is no unified Nigeria political culture. What exists are different group’s political cultures. I will spend some time talking about these tribe’s political cultures.

The Hausas are said to be the largest ethnic group in Nigeria. (Please note the tentative nature of that statement; it is because Nigeria’s census figures are not reliable; like everything else in Nigeria, census are rigged, inflating figures for certain tribes, so as to give them the right to rule the Kleptocracy.)

Hausa is really not a tribe. Hausa is a language. The language evolved from the commingling of Arabic and African languages. In essence, Hausa is a Creole language, sort of like Pidgin English. The language is a mixture of several African tribes’ languages and Arabic. It is spoken not only in Nigeria but in other Sahel African countries, such as Niger, Chad, Mali, Upper Volta, Ghana, northern Cameroons, even Senegal and Gambia.

In the context of Nigeria, many of the tribes living in Northern Nigeria, while retaining their indigenous tribal languages, speak Hausa language. Hausa language and Islam is what gives these apparently different peoples a common identity. Apart from their common language and religion, the man from Sokoto is different from the man from Kano or Bornu, Nupe etc.

Hausa people have had almost a thousand years of exposure to Islam and, therefore, share the culture of Islam. They worship Allah, in a certain manner, looking towards Mecca for their religious guidance. (Mohammed was a shrewd politician and had all his followers bow to Mecca while praying; he also had them chant their prayers in Arabic; the idea was to get them beholden to the rulers of Mecca; whoever controls the politics of Mecca controls Muslims around the world; at present, it is the Wahabis and the progeny of King Saud that rule the Holy Land and consequently rule the Islamic world; the Shiites seem not to accept the leadership of the Wahabis who are Sunnis.)

Hausa land developed a political structure that is reminiscent of Feudal France and England. It had a Sultan (king) and emirs (big chiefs, English Dukes) and sheiks (small chiefs, sort of Earls) and other minor functionaries.

In 1804, the Fulanis under Othman Dan Fodio took over the control of the Hausa states. The Fulanis rule that empire to the present. The Sokoto Caliphate, its Caliph, the Sultan of Sokoto, its prince (Saduana) and emirs essentially control Hausa land.

Hausa land has a feudal political structure. What this means in real terms is that the people tend to obey their feudal lords. Like the English man, before the bourgeois revolution that threw out the Aristocracy in England and gave leadership to common folks in England, the Hausa man tends to unquestioningly obey his feudal overlord. Indeed, he is very capable of fighting to death for his lord.

On the whole, Hausas tend to make better soldiers than other Nigerians because they formed the habit of obedience to leaders. One needs to be obedient to be a good soldier. ( Igbos make the worst soldiers in Nigeria, but they do not know it. They lack a sense of loyalty to any king or government. They tend to be too questioning of authority. To be a good soldier, you have to accept a role as a cog in a big wheel and not question authority. If Igbos had developed to Feudal level, perhaps they would have had obedience and loyalty and defeated the Nigerians during the civil war? It is difficult to unite Igbos into a coherent fighting force. They need a draconian leader to whip them into a fighting unit, not the present noise making rabble they seem to be. In Anambra state, practically every Tom Dick and Harry challenges the government and thumbs his nose at organized authority and gets away with it. The result is chaos and anarchy. If the Igbos had social discipline a man like Chris Uba who opposes the legitimate government of a state would be cooling his heels in prison.)

If we adopt Marxist analysis (dialectic materialism), societies evolve from primitive individualism to slave states to feudal states, to bourgeois individualism and finally to enlightened communism. Each of these states, according to Marxists, is advancement over others. Igbos were at what one might call pre feudal state. Every Igbo person looks after his self interests and does not have a concept of subjugating his life to the nation. Igbo land did not have a nation state before the white men came to the scene. As Peter Eke delineated, even the idea of Igboness is a post colonial phenomenon. It was during the colonial era, when the Igbos went to other parts of Nigeria and were treated as if they belonged to a common group that they began to see themselves as a unified group. Moreover, their pride and arrogance tended to cause other groups to hate and even persecute them. On several occasions, they were killed in northern Nigeria. These persecutions added to their sense of being a unified people.

But Igbo unity is only skin deep. To the present, there is deep cleavage in Igbo land. The Onitsha man fancies himself superior to the Owerri man and the Owerri man considers the Onitsha not even an Igbo, as an alien, a Bini man masquerading as an Igbo man. It is only to other Nigerians that there seem a unified Igbo. In actual fact, what we have are Igbo clans: Owerri clan, Onitsha clan, Orlu clan, Okigwe clan, Mbaise clan, Ikwere clan, Ika clan, Wawa clan, Umuoahia clan, Ngwa clan etc.

If Biafra had succeeded in separating from Nigeria, Igbo land, I speculate that it would have become like Somalia where, though, the people speak the same language the various clans fight each other. As far as I know, Owerri people do not like Onitsha leadership and would have declared war on the Onitsha dominated Biafra.

It is being in Nigeria and the impact of other tribes that give Igbos their fragile sense of oneness. If they separated from Nigeria and are a nation, their internal cleavage would tear then asunder. This is one other reason why we must preserve the political unit called Nigeria.

With regards to Igbo political culture, it tends to be undisciplined and, if you like the truth: Igbo individualism seem of the undisciplined variety. It is not the type of individualism found among white Americans. White Americans will fight for America and die for America. Igbos fight for their individual selves, not for the whole.

I know that I am essentially attacking Igbo pride, but as a social scientist, I am obligated to state the truth and only the truth and may God help me. Any one who trusts Igbo to help him trusts the wind; the Igbo will place his interests ahead of yours; in fact he will sell you off to the rulers of Nigeria. The Igbo, despite all his talk about Igbo unity, has no well defined sense of social interests. His culture did not socialize him to sacrifice and if necessary die for the group.

This is not just a personal opinion but the universal observation of those who have paid attention to Igbos. The British rulers of Nigeria admired Hausas for they saw them as politically sophisticated and saw Igbos as lacking even the basic rudiments of social organization. In 1929, for example, the British colonial administration tried to tax Igbos so as to be able to fund local government and Igbo women went on a war path.

Question: how on earth do you expect to fund government unless you tax the people? The Igbos were not used to centralized governments and the need for taxation to fund them. To the present, Igbos expect to get from the government but not to fund it. They do not seem to realize that government is a necessary evil that we must have for our security and therefore must tax ourselves to fund it.

If the oil revenue with which the mushroom governments in Nigeria are funded dries up and the people for the first time are compelled to, in fact, fund their governments with their taxes, one expects the silly governments to break apart and chaos to reign everywhere. Of course, anarchy can be prevented if we develop leaders in Nigerian, men who insist that the people pay taxes and throw any one who does not pay at least 20% of his annual income in taxes into jail.

Government is exercise of coercion not child play. Government is using force to get the people to do what ordinarily they would not want to do. Government is not opportunity to satisfy our narcissistic egos desire for social admiration but an opportunity to use power and authority, military, if necessary, to beat the people into behaving socially appropriately The Hausas understand the proper role of government as necessary evil force whereas Igbos tend to see government as opportunity to get another Ozo title, to be very important persons. No, government is a means of shaping up the people, making them become socially interested rather than behaving in only self interested manner.

Yoruba political culture is akin to Hausa political culture. The Yorubas developed feudal states, although not as sophisticated as that of the Hausas. They did not have a Yoruba wide political structure, as the Hausa-Fulani Caliphate did. What obtained in Yoruba land was a situation where each of the Yoruba clans had its own king, Oba, and ruled itself through its centralized political structure: the Oba, his bureaucracy, army and prime minister, the Balogun. They had fairly well organized clan structures at Lagos, Oyo, Ife, Ogbomosho, Abeokuta, Ilorin (before the Fulani Caliphate absorbed it) and so on.

The Yorubas had clan armies and indeed fought each other. This is not the place to talk about the Yoruba wars. What we need to extrapolate from Yoruba political development is that the Yorubas had a more sophisticated approach to government. They learned to obey their Obas and to fight for him and die for him. This is better than to live only for ones self. More importantly, the Yoruba learned to negotiate among the various clans. The Oba of Ife had to negotiate with the Oba of, say Abeokuta, and the result is development of sophisticated diplomatic skills. Of all the Nigerian groups, the Yorubas are, perhaps, the most tactful and diplomatic. They ought to be given priority in selecting Nigeria’s diplomats.

If one is not sentimental, but dispassionate, one would seldom select Igbos for diplomatic jobs. If Igbos are given such positions, given their tendency to pride and tactless talking, they would probably generate conflict for Nigeria.

(There is an Onitsha Igbo chap in Naija politics, an apparent paranoid personality, who thinks it funny to call people names. Every time he opens his uncivilized mouth strings of abusive words flow from it. Apparently, he thinks that this primitive behavior is being tough. If such an uncultured man is given political power, he would stimulate war in a minute. Yet this brother does not seem to recognize how unsuited he is to governance and talk as if he knows all there is to know about politics; it is the familiar case of an empty vessel making a great deal of noise.)

Yoruba political culture is acceptance of law and order and acceptance of properly elected leaders. The Yoruba respects proper authority and will fight illegitimate authority. The Igbo will support any person in power irrespective of how he got to be in power.

The Edos are pretty much like the Hausa and Yorubas in their political development. They had an Oba of Benin. They had developed a feudal social structure that controlled Edoland for over five hundred years. Therefore, the Edos understand the need for obedience to properly constituted authority.

Nigeria has many tribes and each of them has its own culture and a political variant of that culture. Those who are interested in tribal politics can go to each tribe and study their cultures and political culture. I am not invested in tribal politics. I am only interested in Nigerian politics, and, indeed, in Pan African politics. I am a Pan Africanists. Folks like Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko etc are my heroes. Eventually, all of Africa will unite into an African federation, with each ethnic group forming a state in it, but with every effort made to develop a unified African culture that transcends tribal politics.

Nigeria came into being in 1914. That means that it has been in existence for 91 years. All that 91 years has not been for nothing. The various ethnic groups, willy-nilly, are mingling and developing a Pan Nigerian culture. Whether we know it or not, a unified Nigerian political culture is, in fact, emerging, though still incipient. This is good and one hopes that the process could be accelerated.


The ugly side of the emergent Pan Nigerian political culture is the rise of corruption. Nigeria’s politics is such that each tribe seem to enter into national politics with an eye to getting something for its tribal members (each politician first gets something for himself). Nigeria is a free for all arenas for stealing from the national treasury. To be a politician in Nigeria is synonymous with being a criminal. This is unpalatable but there is no other way of putting it. People seem to go into politics in Nigeria to become rich and to become very important persons.

Apparently, no one has told these folks that one ought to go into politics to serve the public good. A good leader is a person who does not care for his personal interests but dedicates his life to serving the public. He may end up poor. But the public love him for what he does for them. When such a leader dies his people cry, in fact, they become depressed.

On the contrary, when Nigerian leaders die, the people feel good riddance; indeed, they spill into the streets jubilating. When Abacha died, Nigerians literally were overwhelmed with joy.

Compare and contrast that with what happened when Kennedy died. Americans, left and right, democrats and conservatives, became literally depressed. The entire country mourned the young president who looked Krushov in the eye (although he was clearly afraid of the noising making, boisterous Russian bear) and the later blinked (1962 Cuban Nuclear show off).

Kennedy, like his fellow Americans, felt humiliated that Russia had beat America to space by putting Yuri Gagarin into orbit and told his people that before the end of this decade (1960s) that America not only would be in space but on the moon. He mobilized resources, capital and human, to accomplish his goals and objectives. That is real leadership at work: setting goals and working towards them like driven men.

When such leaders die the country mourn their passing. But when the cho-chop criminal-leaders of Nigeria die, the people rejoice.

Olusegun Obasanjo bought a private jet for himself and cruises to every corner of the globe, while his people starve. The average Nigerian makes a dollar a day. The average Nigerian eats, pardon my French, shit, while Obasanjo fancies himself an important leader and stays in $2500 dollars a night hotel rooms. Nigeria has developed a political culture of corruption.

Elsewhere, I tried to explain the origin of the culture of corruption in Nigeria. I looked at several causal factors, such as the creation of Warrant chiefs in Alaigbo; this artificial construct was imposed on a people without a history of governance by chiefs and how the so-called chiefs became corrupt. These so called chiefs were among the most corrupt Nigerians.

The Nigerians of yesteryears who sold their people into slavery were corrupt and evil human beings. One hopes that those ancestors of us who sold our brothers into slavery burn in hell forever and ever (assuming that there is hell, they cannot be forgiven their crimes against humanity).

The roots of corruption in Nigeria is very deep. This lecture is not the place for me to look at this phenomenon in detail. Let us just say that Nigeria has a culture of corruption. Nothings gets done in Nigeria without some one bribing someone. The police are nothing but Toll booth agents collecting tolls for their private use.

Clearly, we have to figure out a way to deal with corruption in Nigeria. How about draconian laws? How about arresting any official who misspent a penny and putting him in jail for, at least, twenty years; and while in jail, make him work to feed himself; society should not feed garbage. How about using these criminals to do some dangerous public works? How about chopping off heads of corrupt public officials? Where did our sentimentality about life come from, after all we are a people that sold our brothers into slavery and can hardly be considered a loving people?

During the French revolution, to wash the past away, the nobility were put to the guillotine. Marie Antoinette and her effete husband watered the grass of France liberty with their blood. That is the way it ought to be in Nigeria. Decapitate the heads of all corrupt officials.


Nigeria has multi political cultures. We have alluded to some of those. We have also alluded to the emergent national political culture, albeit it a negative one, the culture of corruption.

Despite her problems, Nigerians must be held together at all costs. The alternative, the various tribes ruling themselves, would be chaos. Our task is to find a way to make Nigeria work, not to destroy her, for she remains Africa’s best hope.

If things are put together in Nigeria, she will be second to none in the world. The intellect locked up in Nigerians is so great that were Nigerians to be given good political leadership, no country in the world, repeat, no country, would out compete them.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

If you are a student, read all 20 lectures, read the attached bibliography and responded to the twenty essay questions at the end of the last lecture, you can grade yourself. Give yourself 5 credit hours for the Course: Introduction to Nigerian Politics.

October 5, 2005

Next Lecture: October 7; Topic: Nigeria’s Political Socialization

Posted by Administrator at October 6, 2005 01:32 PM


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