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Contradictions in the Nigerian Political System

  • Richard L. Sklar


There are three basic contradictions in the Nigerian political system. They may be stated briefly at the outset. First, the machinery of government is basically regionalised, but the party machinery—the organisation of the masses—retains a strong trans-regional and anti-regional tendency. Secondly, the main opposition party has relied upon the support of a class-conscious regional power group in its drive against the system of regional power. Depending upon a regional section of the political class to effect a shift in the class content of power, it was really asking that section to commit suicide. This contradiction produced a crisis in the Western Region which might easily be repeated elsewhere. Thirdly, the constitutional allocation of power is inconsistent with the real distribution of power in society. The constitution gives dominant power to the numerical majority—i.e., under existing conditions, to the north—but the real distribution of power is determined by technological development, in which respect the south is superior.



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Page 202 note 1 Daily Service (Lagos), 29 03 1951. There is a brief account of the Committee of National Rebirth in my Nigerian Political Parties (Princeton, 1963), pp. 112–14.

Page 202 note 2 Azikiwe, Nnamdi, The Development of Political Parties in Nigeria (London, 1957), pp. 1517.

Page 202 note 3 Awolowo, Obafemi, Path to Nigerian Freedom (London, 1947).

Page 204 note 1 Mosca, Gaetano, The Ruling Class (1896; republished New York, 1939).

Page 204 note 2 Djilas, Milovan, The New Class (New York, 1957). Eme O. Awa has observed that it is the intention of ‘some politicians’ to form the core of a dominant social class. They ‘believe’, he wrote, ‘that in a modern society there must be a bourgeois class and they should therefore use their political influence to establish themselves as the nucleus of that bourgeoisie.’ ‘Roads to Socialism in Nigeria’, in Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research. Conference Proceedings, March 1962 (Ibadan, 1963), p. 20.

Page 206 note 1 Cf. Schatz, Sayre P., ‘The Repayment Problems of the Regional Loans Boards’, paper prepared for the annual conference of the Nigerian Economic Society at the University of Ife, February 1965.

Page 206 note 2 Federation of Nigeria, Report of [Coker] Commission of Inquiry into the Affairs of Certain Statutory Corporations in Western Nigeria (Lagos, 1962), vol. I, pp. 28 and 36. It should be emphasised that the Coker Commission was empowered to investigate the operations of governmental agencies in the Western Region only. Were similar investigations to be held in the other regions, disclosures of a somewhat similar nature might result. A suggestive case is mentioned by Helleiner, G. K., ‘The Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation: a study in sources and uses of public development funds, 1949–1962’, in The Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies (Ibadan, 1964), p. 117.

Page 207 note 1 Minutes of a meeting of the federal executive council of the Action Group on 23 September 1960, quoted in ‘The Queen and Maja in re Omisade’; Record of Appeal from the High Court of Lagos to the Federal Supreme Court of Nigeria (Lagos), vol. 9, p. 13.

Page 207 note 2 Ibid. vol. 7, pp. 4–6.

Page 207 note 3 The Queen v. Omisade and 17 Others; F.S.C. 404/63. However, one Justice of the Supreme Court demurred on the ground that the validity of this contention depended upon the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice, although he concurred in the conviction of Awolowo on other grounds. In fact, those few persons who were in a position to testify with any degree of certainty about the activities of the tactical committee were, in every case, deeply committed to one faction or the other.

Page 207 note 4 An inference to this effect may be drawn from the trial record of The Queen and Maja in re Omisade, op. cit. vol. 6, p. 11, and vol. 7, p. 59.

Page 208 note 1 Federation of Nigeria, Parliamentary Debates, First Parliament, First Session, 1960–61. House of Representatives (Lagos), vol. 1, 29 11 1960, cols. 573–86.

Page 209 note 1 55.7m. people were enumerated, distributed thus: Northern Nigeria, 29.8m.; Eastern Nigeria, 12.4m.; Western Nigeria, 10.3m.; Midwestern Nigeria, 2.5m.; Federal Territory of Lagos, 675,000. The announced total indicates a statistically startling population rise of 5.5 per cent per annum since the previous census.

Page 209 note 2 In 1963 there were 2,485,676 pupils in the primary schools of southern Nigeria—i.e. the Eastern, Western, and Midwestern Regions, and the Federal Territory of Lagos—compared with 410,706 in Northern Nigeria. At the secondary school level, including general education, technical, vocational, and teacher training schools, 231,261 pupils were enrolled in southern Nigeria compared with 20,312 in Northern Nigeria. See Federal Ministry of Education, Statistics of Education in Nigeria, 1963 (Lagos, 1965), pp. 913.

A revealing index of technological development is the official report of electricity sold in Nigeria for all commercial and industrial uses. In the year ending 31 March 1964, approximately 270,000,000 kwh. were sold in the Eastern, Western, and Lagos areas, compared with 40,000,000 in the entire Northern area. Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, Thirteenth Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for the Year ended 31 March 1964 (Lagos, 1964), p. 56.

Page 210 note 1 E.g. shortly after independence, the political authority of the Premier of the Northern Region was defied by the Emir of Kano, one of the most powerful of the traditional rulers. In 1963 the administration of the Kano Native Authority was investigated by the Regional Government and the Emir was compelled to abdicate. Meanwhile, it had been reported that Action Group strategies for penetration of the north had contemplated co-operation with the ex-Emir of Kano; ‘The Queen and Maja in re Omisade’, op. cit. vol. 2, pp. 169–71, and vol. 7, pp. 4950. In 1964 a political party loyal to the ex-Emir aligned with the opposition bloc in Kano.

Page 211 note 1 See the account by Harris, Richard L., ‘Nigeria: Crisis and Compromise’, in Africa Report (Washington), x, 3, 03 1965.

Page 212 note 1 This is not, by any means, intended to suggest that the anti-regionalist cause has been lost, certainly not before the impending Western Regional election. The two big electoral alliances may indeed be refined into permanent electoral parties. Such a development would gladden the hearts of liberal democrats who perceive in the two-party system a promise of stable democracy, especially if each party is broadly based and ideologically diffuse, so that each includes within its fold members who share fundamental beliefs with members of the other.

But the viability of a two-party system in Nigeria at the present time is open to question. First of all, it could be undermined by an excessive identification of either party with a ‘home’ region of the country. Secondly, a competitive party system would require for its survival a greater degree of political toleration than we can take for granted in the light of recent experience. This said, a compromise alternative to the rival ideas of the U.P.G.A. and the N.N.A., involving the formation of a national front or congress of regional elements, may not be inconceivable. See my essay, ‘For National Reconciliation and a United National Front’, in Nigerian Opinion (Ibadan), 1, 1, 01 1965, pp. 56.

* Lecturer in Political Science, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. An earlier version of this article was presented at the first West African Political Science Conference held at Ibadan, 4–6 March 1965.

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