The Nigerian State: Historical, Creation, Independence, Post-Independence & Facts


The Nigerian State: Historical, Creation, Independence, Post-Independence & Facts


Pre-Colonial Period: Exploring the Primordial Communities

Originally, the pre-colonial societies (now known as Nigeria) were made up of diverse polities inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups with diverse cultures and linguistic traditions at different levels of state formation and development. Within these indigenous communities, traditional leadership institutions served the dual purpose of both cultural and political leadership of their communities. Apart from focusing on the ideals of common good of all, the indigenous social orders schemes sustained a consensual order that prides itself in public accountability because the communities checked leadership excesses on public trust and expectations so as to ensure harmony of relationships between the ruler and the ruled.

It is important to note too that the autonomous political units with imprecise boundaries were subject to alteration depending on the leaders. This is because some societies had ‘organized’ political entities while many political entities had not evolved any above their lineage.

This is because the heterogeneous nature of the societies/groups as well as the complexity of developing collective identities will not make it easy to achieve uniformity of political and social organizations.

Let us now do a review of the three types of socio-political groupings in Nigeria so as to understand how the indigenous societies through their different age-old institutional forms, norms and values ensured reciprocity in relations between the ruler and the ruled around basic principles.

The first, socio-political groupings comprised of centralized states exemplified in the institution of Caliphate in the Bornu and Sakkwato areas that shared indigenous African values and Islamic political system.

Here, the ruler ruled in association with a traditional council of state that formulates and implements policies within the framework of sharia (the law which Allah has revealed to guide human affairs).This feat was achieved because the legitimacy and credibility of the leadership was based on ruling in accordance with the Sharia law (the law which God has revealed for man’s direction of human affairs). The implication of this explanation is that the law becomes supreme and not the ruler or people.

The second socio-political grouping is comprised of the centralized states of Western/ mid-western states of Yoruba and Edo lands. This group premised on indigenous African values ensured that the ruler (a constitutional monarch) did not act without the consent of the state council which had a way of relieving the monarch of power and authority if any acted in the contrary so as to uphold laws of governance.

The third indigenous socio-political group in pre-colonial Nigeria comprised of people of diffused governmental authority where the elders make decisions based on consensus that are unanimously agreed upon which expectedly will be binding on all. This was the situation

among the Igbo, Ijaw, Isoko, Tiv, Ukwani and Urhobo societies. Among the Igbo though, the terms ‘acephalous and stateless’ are often applied to them to depict a set of highly decentralized, segmentary lineage- oriented cultural groups dominant around the eastern region of Nigeria.

Thus, although there is no agreement of the origin of the Ibos as a preliterate stock their segmentary lineage forms as a main scheme of social control does not amount to problems in leadership.

Rather, they are deeply republican people with mapped out public schemes for administering their public affairs through native customs and traditions that abhor indiscipline. The understanding is that the political or culturally-rooted leadership that can manage power and authority is not lacking. In effect, what holds in the Igbo traditional concept of political power and authority (often diffuse in character), is structured and determined by the concept of Umunna (within this context the leaders emerge through the family institution which most times are patrilineal) while the memberships of associations are also based on title systems.

From the brief review, the apparent common strand among the three socio-political groupings is that all the three had theocratic tendencies (based on morality) which not only ensured justice and peace but accountability and administrative efficiency (lacking in the modern Nigerian State). This was achieved through the checks on the exercise of power reinforced by social structures as council chiefs, age-grade associations, warrior bands and religious institutions evident in the dexterity with which rule of law was applied in judging situations.

It is therefore clear that the pre-colonial system of administration was not autocratic and absolutist in nature. However, despite the feature of morality of the indigenous societies they had their weaknesses because there was one form of vice or another as we have today.


Colonialism: The Creation of the Nigerian State

In historical terms, it is an established fact that Nigeria came into being in its present form in 1914 with the amalgamation by Sir Frederick Lugard of the two British protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. This dramatically affected the demographic constitution of the citizenry. The union was so sudden and included such widely differing groups of people that not only the British who created it, but the inhabitants themselves often doubted its stability. This is evidenced in the exacerbating identity differences between the three major ethnic groups (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) and the minorities which now dominate a Nigeria’s social and political scene. It also culminated in the perception of northern Nigeria as being predominantly Muslim while the South would be portrayed as being predominantly Christian, further exacerbating the differences. What is worthy of note is that it appeared that demographic constituency of the new state was politically engineered in order to placate certain interests.

Basically, colonialism or ‘colonial situation’ was a disruptive force evolution of the Nigerian state and of democracy variously. Understanding the realities of the society under colonial rule cannot be divorced from the interplay of the relationships between the colonizer and the colonized so much so that it brought about ‘dislocation of state-society’ relations. It is this dislocation that has underpinned the character of the Nigerian state as it relates to ethnicity, minority issues as well as the politics of citizenship.

The first concerns border on the formation of the new state as well as the definition of the citizenry occurred simultaneously.

Second, the modernization process was the dividing point between pre-colonial primordial structures, so much so that traditional institutions were not only marginalized but aided the transformation of the rural ‘tribesman’ who was not conscious of their differences into the modern ‘urban’ ‘ethnic man’.

Third, the colonial state was created basically to ensure law and order with no ‘welfarist’ pretensions which was sine qua non for furthering the ends of colonialism which is contrary to colonial ideologies of ‘civilizing mission’.

However, while this was on, the individual’s identity with, and loyalty to the state transformed. This is in relation to the emergence of autonomous state ethnic organizations that came to be welfare agencies which emerged and therefore became something of an ‘alternative state’ or, in any case, a rival, competing with the state for the individual’s loyalty and support.

To this end, it could be said that apart from the colonial experience bequeathing a political economy that emphasized patronage over production, it created a political culture that tried to socialize the local population as passive subjects.

This situation entailed the development of two public realms:

a) A communal realm based on membership in an ethnic group.

b) A civic realm based on an assumption of universal citizenship.

In sum, the anti-colonial orientation fostered non-challant attitudes towards the state and its apparati, and the conviction that nothing was wrong with ‘stealing from it”. By and large, in sum, it was conceived as normal to for an individual to loot the state’s treasury to the benefit of his/her group. It also bequeathed commerce over industry and state over civil society and market forces. This provided the basis for state-led corruption that is a hallmark of governance in Nigeria.

However, because the citizens disagreed with this manner of government, some sections of the state were encouraged not to pay taxes and, in others, to vandalize government properties. This practice not only exploited Nigeria’s diversity but to date is one of the crises of citizenship and identity in contemporary Nigeria.

In fact, it is important to state that within this context, the colonial situation propelled the ‘ethnic associations to turn into political parties and interest groups, thereby becoming the major claimants to power’.

Thus, political struggles became primarily an instrument for securing access to state resources for particular ethnic and social groups and thus becoming detached from the people and their social movements.

Consequent upon the detachment, the ethnic group had to take up some of the welfare functions which the state failed to provide such as recruiting fellow ethnics to fill positions over which s/he had control, and to concentrate government projects in his or her ethnic homeland if she/he is in charge of the responsible government department.

The summary of the impact of colonialism transcends being an episode as some African historians have argued (Ade-Ajayi, 1968), to epochal dislocations. This is in no other sense that apart from the result of the continuities in the ‘dislocations’ which has underpinned the character of the Nigerian state as it relates to ethnicity, minority issues as well as the politics of citizenship it also nurtured an already fragmented elite class.

Accordingly, colonialism created the ‘infrastructure’ for ethnicity through building alien and mostly artificial political structures that lumped diverse people together. This is in terms of: urbanization, improved transportation and communication facilities creating new abodes of acquaintances; through Western education, social amenities, new jobs, the monetization and integration of the economy all of which nurtured unequal competition for scarce resources.


Independence / Post Independence

Starting from the late 1940s, the local anti-colonial movement instead of demanding greater participation of the local elite in the colonial enterprise, the movement changed its demands to the quest for full independence. Subsequently, on the 1st of October, 1960 despite many difficulties and differences among its various component groups,

Nigeria became a sovereign State. Consequent upon this, independent efforts were made by the new government to meet the social compact forged during the national mobilization against civilian rule.

However, contrary to expectations, independence unfortunately did not change the issues raised in (colonialism) given that the First Republic became mired in ethnic and regionally-based power politics so much so that it was riddled with unparalleled violence, vote-rigging, nepotism, corruption and mismanagement. The reflection of the political upheaval in the country inevitably led to the country being under military dictatorship for more than 30 years of its existence as an independent nation, starting in January 1966 with the coup of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.

Consequent upon this truncation of civilian rule, Nigeria had to endure nine military coups with seven military heads of state who constantly justified their usurpation of state power on one objective: to restore order and good governance in the polity. But ironically, successive regimes, with the exception of Ironsi and Buhari/Idiagbon (1983-1985), who promised and initiated transition to civilian rule programmes it was only the Obasanjo (1976-1979) and Abubakar (1998-1999) regimes that fulfilled them. With the successful execution of the transition programme (June1998 to 29 May,1999) the Abubakar regime finally nipped in the bud, 12 years of wide goose chase of Babangida’s ‘transition without end’ which had commenced in 1986.

With the transition to civilian rule, the democratic process expectedly should be rooted in a full-fledged democratic process premised on democratic culture that will protect the rights of Nigerian citizens (not only a few)and invariably must express their views through unrestricted communication between the government and the governed as well as active citizens’ participation in governance.

However, this was not so because military rule is not only an aspect of militarism but a total culture and a way of life. Expectedly, military intervention in politics culminated into the militarization of society so much so that the political culture of the leaders as it relates to relationship with citizens has been that of intolerance and impatience in the face of dissent. In fact, to date the militarist culture is still reflected in the behavior of many elected officials under civilian rule so much so that the character of party politics has been on disagreements along ethnic lines over the allocation of national resources, including top government positions, and the frequent ‘ethnicisation’ of military coup d’etats and regimes which indeed are dysfunctional to national development.

In effect, it not only led to the elevation of force, order, intimidation, compulsion and control but also to the excessive centralisation of power.

In effect, to date the need for a symbiotic relationship between the executive and the legislature is still undermined. For example, while the attitude of the executive is largely intolerant the legislature tends to over exert its oversight powers on the executive. At the state level the governors are always at strife with the legislature so much so that impeachment clause is invoked even in issues undeserving. Little wonder that legitimacy of the 1999 constitution has been contested to the extent that there is agitation for genuine democratic reforms.

The concept of a constitutional democracy requires the elected government to be responsive to the needs of the people, their rights, well-being and safety and not following a military command structure.

At this point, it is pertinent to state that the ‘political culture’ of democracy constitutes:

(a) A reflection of norms and values that place a premium on the freedom of the individual-freedom from the state abuse and infringement of rights by other individuals.

(b) Guarantees equality before the law

(c) Provides opportunities for all citizens to have equal access to the material and cultural resources that guarantees basic livelihood.

However, the paradox is that the Nigerian democratic culture appears to be in a dilemma in achieving these features because of the manifestations of authoritarianism such as arbitrariness, intemperate language, total absence of debate, intimidation of civil society, total disregard of civil rights, absence of rule of law and due process, total disregard of civil rights and non-independence of the judiciary.

The important point therefore from the aforementioned is that Citizen – State relations has been riddled with frustrations not because Nigerians are still impatient with matters that require due process but because the structure of the State and pattern of allocation of resources needs to be demilitarized.

In the absence of these, Nigerians will not only continue to be intolerant of one another but be embroiled in the lack of acceptance of ethnic diversities, religious pluralism and cultural differences. This frustration with the pattern of orientation has culminated in the resort to violence which is now a common feature in Citizen-State relations.

In sum, the issues raised above bring to bear the fact that independence which obviously was merely a ‘change of guards’ rather than state apparati unfortunately did not change the issues raised in (colonialism) such as:

(a) The retained ‘alienated’ character of the State as well as the continued emphasis on law, order and violence.

(b) The primacy of the state was greatly reinforced given that it is at the center of the extraction and distribution of resources which is of primary interest to all groups and classes. Expectedly based on this, ethnic politics became centered on capturing the reins of state power while inter-group competition for state power got so fierce that it resulted in the protracted civil war (1967-1970)between the Federal government and the Ibo in particular who did not feel safe and secure anymore within the territorial entity known as


(c) The institution of primitive accumulation of surplus basically involves the using of the state to create the ‘means of production’, a process that had ensured that ethnicity was easily becoming a mask for class privilege.

(d) The emerging political parties were bent on playing the sectional cards thereby failing to offer effective platforms for national political mobilization. Also the colonial policy and lack of vision made them become detached from the people and their social movements.


Re-Orientating the Nigerian society

What is therefore needed is the total reorientation of Nigerian society from authoritarian culture to embrace the norms and values of democracy which can be achieved through a ‘massive education of the citizenry’ through the media and civil society organizations.

The reorienting of the society must be at three levels: the family, society and the State.

The Family

The expectation is that as the first arena of contact, children inevitably should absorb democratic norms and values.

However, in most homes the opposite is the case because children are commanded instead of being consulted. The expectation is that attitudes should guide behavior and anything short of this is termed discrepancies between attitudes and behavior. To therefore be a part of the process of re-orientating the family towards a democratic culture, children’s rights need to be inculcated in the home in order to nurture future democrats.

In effect, for a well-rounded upbringing parents should be less autocratic, less overbearing and less rigid with children. In effect, children should be socialized. The essence of this is to checkmate the incremental possibility of militarized society.


The essence of building a strong civic culture among the citizens is that most civil society organizations due to the incursion of military in governance have tended to focus on the civil and political rights to the detriment of economic, social and cultural rights.

However, it must be reiterated that democracy must yield dividends in order to reinforce civil society only through political education at all levels of society.

This is pertinent because as long as the attitude of the leadership is positive towards the culture of democracy the citizens will inevitably be obligated to it. In effect, Nigeria needs to build on its institutions as well as on policies that are people- oriented so as to enhance the development of its citizenry. The necessary issues are issues like education (this institution should be where democratic values are imparted through teaching of civics which borders on the need to create an atmosphere for students to transcend the limitations of their different provincial knowledge and orientation), media (this institution is a part of democratic institutions that need re-education and re-orientation on legislative processes and procedures), arts ( the idioms of arts and popular culture i.e. songs, theatre, dance, drama, masquerades, poetry and novel forms should be used to consolidate a democracy of a state), political parties (government should democratize the formation of political parties), religious ( the freedom and rights of all religious groups in Nigeria must be guaranteed) and traditional institutions(the appointment, maintenance and deposition of traditional rulers should be the prerogative of the people through the king-makers), human rights commission, gender equality, corruption and decentralization.

The State

The problems and challenges of the structure of the Nigerian State can only be achieved when the problems and challenges that are itemized below are addressed.

These are:

1. The practice of a federal system should be in reality such that power should be devolved to an acceptable level in the federating unit and not on paper. This position becomes important based on the fact that a federal state, is a political contrivance intended to reconcile national unity and power with the maintenance of state rights for certain common and mutual purposes.

2. There should be an adherence to the provisions of revenue allocation that would be in the adherence with the Constitutional Allocation of Revenue between the Federal, States as well as the Local Government are in sections 162-168 as well as A and D of part 11 second schedule under the 1999 constitution. Section 162 of the 1999 constitution provides for common pool of financial resources (called the Federation Account) which is to be distributed among the Federal and State Governments as well as the Local Government Councils in each State, on such manners as may be prescribed by the National Assembly. In the same vein, S. 162(2) sets out to pacify the oil-producing areas agitating against the Federal Government owning a lion share of the mineral revenues. The allocation of 13% to the states of origin resuscitates the principle of derivation.

3. The executive should display more of openness and transparency in leadership.

4. The civil service should jettison bureaucracy and ensure that people are served promptly, politely and efficiently.

5. The legislature should make laws independent from the influence of the executive.

6. The anti-corruption should not be about witch-hunting but an agenda aimed at nipping corruption in the bud.

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