The Paradox of Nation-Building in Nigeria. Nigeria's Strife and Strivings up to 2016

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

17 Pages, Grade: 4.0


Table of Contents


Prelude to Nigeria’s ‘Political Independence’: Interplay of Ethnic Arithmetic

Imperatives for Nation-Building

Independent Nigeria and Nation Building: Gravitating Around the Periphery
Historical Intrigues
Widespread ‘Institutionalized’ Corruption
Socio-Economic Cleavages
Crime and Public Safety
Political Hypocrisy
Constitutional Imbalances




The question of Nigeria’s failed attempt at nation-building is that of a full moon; clear enough even for a hypocritical sight. A critical examination of Nigeria’s over five decades of independence, suggests that Nigeria is still comfortably seated in the woods. Even as we move into the 21st Century, in this age of globalization, it seems to be gravitating around a peripheral approach to nation building. With successive government and its people gracefully ‘enjoying’ a utopian construct of the Nigerian ‘GREAT NATION’, corruption, social disturbances and insecurity, unemployment and underemployment, endemic intergroup conflict, health hazard, constitutional challenge, weak educational system and structures, ‘gender gap’, civic pride and fake living, malfunctioned transportation, political deceit, secessionist threat, pawn status and so forth continues to outplay nation building attempts. There is optimism however, of a realistic construct of this ideal.

Prelude to Nigeria’s ‘Political Independence’: Interplay of Ethnic Arithmetic

There have been several constitutions in the making of independent Nigeria prior to that of 1946.[1] But this was defining in that it was that which actually dictated to a larger extent the workability or otherwise of nation building of the Nigerian State bearing on the undeniable – the Nigerian State is made up of nations – historical truth. This new constitution divided Nigeria into three regions, each with a separate House of Representatives and a separate executive council. The NCNC[2] opposed the constitution and sent a delegation to England to protest about it. The delegation failed and the NCNC lost some support. In 1951 new parties were founded: the Action Group (AG) formed by the Yoruba and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) by the Hausa/Fulani elements.[3] From that time on, politics in Nigeria is to be run on an ethnic basis.

In 1957, yet another new constitution gave internal self-government to the East and West. A Northerner, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, became Federal Prime Minister. He formed a coalition government with ministers from the three political parties. In 1957, there was a general election and each of the parties tried to win national support. However, the result shows that each party was supported within its own ethnic region. The NPC had the majority. It therefore formed a coalition government with the NCNC under Sir Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister. AG formed the opposition. Thus on October 1, 1960 Nigeria became independent with Nnamdi Azikiwe (an Igbo) as its first President.[4]

Imperatives for Nation-Building

Nations are an important part of modern society. History supposed that the world used to be divided into empires and kingdoms. In the modern period, however, nations or nation-states have replaced empires as the basic unit of human political organization. Such that the United Nations is an organization set up to ensure the peaceful coexistence and the social economic development of the worlds numerous nations. As an integral part of the modern world, therefore, Nigerians are rightly concerned about nation-building.[5]

It is however a matter of emphasis that nations just don’t happen by historical accident; rather they are built by men and women with vision and resolve. Nation-building is therefore the product of conscious statecraft, not happenstance. Nation-building is always a work-in-progress; a dynamic process in constant need of nurturing and re-invention. Nation-building never stops and true nation-builder never rest because all nations are constantly facing up to new challenges,[6] to which urgent solution need be worked out thereby forestalling unnecessary emergencies.

Nation-building has many important aspects. Firstly, it is about building a political entity which corresponds to a given territory, based on some generally accepted rules, norms, and principles, and a common citizenship. Secondly, it is also about building institutions which symbolize the political entity – institutions such as a bureaucracy, an economy, the judiciary, universities, a civil service, and civil society organizations. Above all else, however, nation-building is about building a common sense of purpose, a sense of shared destiny, a collective imagination of belonging. Nation-building is therefore about building the tangible and intangible threads that hold a political entity together and gives it a sense of purpose. Even in these days of globalization and rapid international flows of people and ideas, having a viable nation remains synonymous with achieving modernity. It is about building the institutions and values which sustain the collective community in this modern times.[7]

The case with the fore stated matrices is different in Nigeria. Gambari noted that “there are some people who represent our national importance by calling us the ‘Giant of Africa’. This is an ascriptive perspective.” We are seen as giants not necessarily because of the quality of our national institutions and values, but simply by virtue of our large population and oil wealth. But in reality, the greatness of a nation has to be earned and is not determined just by the size of its population or the abundance of its natural resources. China and India have the largest populations in the world, but they are only now rising as important global players. On the other hand, Japan has few natural resources, but has long managed to turn itself into a global economic powerhouse.[8]

In today's world, skills, industriousness, productivity, and competitiveness are the determinant factors of national greatness. Not even the possession of the nuclear bomb is enough to make a nation great without reference to the industriousness and creativity of its citizens. Since the time of Adam Smith, every serious nationalist and politician has come to know that the wealth of a nation is not based on the wealth and opulence of its rulers, but on the productivity and industriousness of its citizenry.[9]

The real question at this juncture is why has the task of nation-building been so difficult in Nigeria, and the fruits so patchy, despite our enormous human and natural resources? One would rather suggest that we look for the answer in the human, material and dispositional threats and challenges posed by the Nigerian human and geographical environment for nation-building.

Independent Nigeria and Nation Building: Gravitating Around the Periphery

No other African country may elicit the sort of interest that will be accorded to Nigeria, during what is termed the golden jubilee celebration,[10] about seven years ago. This is not because of the earlier squabbling over the cost of the ceremonies, but perhaps due to the sheer size of Nigeria in terms of population or human and material resources, as Africa’s most populous country and containing may of the resources found in other African countries. At independence on the first of October in 1960, there was great expectation of the emergence of a great modern state in Africa called Nigeria. On the contrary, she has had course to battle with hopelessness and uncertainties which is both internally motivated and externally enhanced. This problem has grown with a multiplier effect in all Nigerian subsystem, as such; the system is on the verge of crashing. The impediments to nation building in Nigeria are numerous such that hardly can anyone do justice to them, an attempt to discuss all independently under different sub-headings would rather make this work unnecessarily bulky. I have therefore offered to discuss them under six categories; historical intrigues, widespread ‘institutionalized’ corruption, socio-economic cleavages, crime and public safety, political hypocrisy and constitutional imbalances.

Historical Intrigues

The legacies of colonial rule in historical perspective did create some challenges for nation-building in Nigeria. Colonial rule divided Nigeria into North and South with different land tenure systems, local government administration, educational systems, and judicial systems. While large British colonies like India and the Sudan had a single administrative system, Nigeria had two, one for the North and one for the South. It was almost as if these were two separate countries, held together only by a shared currency and transportation system. Many members of the Nigerian elite class in the 1950s and 1960s had their education and world outlook moulded by the regional institutions. Some had little or no understanding of their neighbouring regions. Under these conditions, it was easy for prejudice and fear to thrive. During the period of the decolonization struggle, Nigerian nationalists from different regions fought each other as much as they fought the British colonialists. Nigeria never had a central rallying figure like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Instead, each region threw up its own champions.[11] As such it would not be out of place to overtly speak through the tongue of Sir Ahmadu Bello when he aver; “God did not create Nigeria, the British did”.[12] There is a grave implication to this supposition. Nigeria is at best a creation of a man – Lord Laggard – “who woke up one morning, had a cup of tea and threw us all together”.[13] The result of this is a fierce evolution of too many “Nigerians” within Nigeria.

From this historical legacy, therefore, regionalism has been a major challenge to nation-building in Nigeria. To their credit, however, the founding fathers of our nation tried to deal with this challenge by adopting federalism and advocating a policy of unity-in-diversity. Unfortunately, the lack of consolidation of Nigerian federalism around commonly shared values and positions means that this challenge of divisive historical legacy continues to undermine our efforts at nation-building. One current manifestation of this historical legacy noted Gambari[14] is the division between ‘indigenes’ and ‘settlers’. This division has been a source of domestic tension and undermined our efforts at creating a common nationhood.

Widespread ‘Institutionalized’ Corruption

“Corruption is at the root of many of Nigeria’s problems” proclaimed Uzochukwu.[15] This is largely true as it is said to have pervaded the Nigerian society on a sectoral basis. Such is the case in Nigeria that there is economic, institutional, psychological, spiritual, marital, political, educational and even genetic corruption. This needs no pre-emptive analysis as – in Olukoju’s view[16] – “it is a lived experience for anyone who resides in the country for half an hour”.

In 2013, Transparency International deemed Nigeria one of the most corrupt nations in the world, ranking as 144th in Corruption Perception Index out of the 177 countries measured.[17] Mathematically, it shows that Nigeria was the 33rd most corrupt country in 2013. In the year 2012, a Gallup poll found that 94% of Nigerians thought corruption was widespread in their government. The spoils of political corruption—billions of US dollars—are stashed in foreign bank accounts. The Abacha administration in the 1990s notoriously looted upwards of $3 billion. Since then, government institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the former President Goodluck Jonathan have vowed to eradicate corruption. Even so, as recently as 2013, the Central Bank of Nigeria reported the 76% of the country’s crude oil revenue intended for the Bank was unaccounted for.[18]

The subsequent result on the level of corruption in Nigeria has improved when compared to that of 2013 and other years. In the 2014 result on corruption ranking, Nigeria is ranked 136 out 174 surveyed countries. This implies that Nigeria is the 38th most corrupt nation in 2014. The result was published by Transparency international on Wednesday, 3rd December, 2014.[19] The result shows that former President Goodluck Jonathan administration was making impact to bring down the corruption level in Nigeria. The current president, President Mohammed Buhari, is putting his own efforts to bring corruption in the country to the minimal level. This made few who looted in the past regime to bring back some of the money they embezzled.[20] This is in no means an affirmation that there is no traces of looting in the current dispensation, what is rather correct is that there is a reduction. It has even been observed that “the Administration is only fighting economic corruption”.[21] The question that arises therefore, is what happens to other forms?

Election-rigging is not unheard of in Nigeria. The citizens of Nigeria are tired of coming out to cast their votes on election day only to feel their votes haven’t been counted. A Foreign Affairs investigation of the 2007 elections counted around 700 election-related violent acts in the year leading up to the elections, including two assassinations. International observers in 2007 reported rampant theft of ballot boxes, and while in 2011 the situation improved, ballot-rigging was still rampant. During elections, Nigerians and international watchdog groups tell stories of thugs hired by candidates to hijack the ballot boxes and intimidate voters. Many of these thugs are disaffected and unemployed youth.[22] Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) on 2nd October, 2014, reported that European Union (EU) Committed 15 Million Euros (€15,000,000) in the country’s 2015 election.[23] while this is taken as a form of external manipulation anyway, how the fund was spent is better imagined.

Corruption doesn’t only exist in government, but is pervasive in society. For example, what happens in some companies with male CEOs when a woman applies for a job? Unless they already know them, some of the CEOs demand special and sexual favours from young women seeking employment and at times do not hire them in the end. Those at the top adopt an attitude of “if I do not already know you, I’m not going to hire you,” and exploit their power—this is just one illustration. Those who do not have connections to top officials or executives remain jobless, even if they’re university graduates with top marks.[24] Gender and education will be discussed later, but this is a concrete example of how systemic corruption perpetuates a host of problems in Nigeria.

The press is constrained in its efforts to report corruption and election-rigging. Some have been paid off by the governments they report on, a practice which produces weak news and must be stopped. In 2013 the Committee to Protect Journalists, an American NGO which evaluates press freedom around the world, added Nigeria to their impunity list, a list of countries where journalists are routinely harassed and murdered with little to no recourse.[25]

It is true that Nigeria is blessed with crude oil (petroleum) but the question is on how correct is the volumes that are exported out of the country. For instance a head in one oil servicing company in the country may export about one thousand barrels of crude oil from the country and went back and gave a report to the government that he exported five hundred barrels.[26] What happens to the remaining five hundred? The money goes into his personal account-corruption in the higher order.

Corruption is also rampant among Nigerian businessmen and woman. How many have bought any electronic product with a particular capacity and the product gives him or her result of what is written on it? In Nigeria, many populations of those who deal in electronic products buy products of particular lower capacity and use their own manufactured stickers to high the capacity on the products. For instance, a businessman may buy a Tiger generator of 4.5h.p (horsepower) and change the capacity to 6.5h.p to sell at higher price. In other business sectors, some sell inferior products to costumers to make high profits. There had been lots of cases of misunderstanding in the country’s market places between sellers and buyers because of inferior products sold to the buyers

In fact the intensification of corruption had been captured by Jubril[27] as “the greatest growth industry in post-civil war Nigeria”, thanks to a succession of regimes since the Shagari Presidency which overreached themselves in the infamy. Individuals who neither inherited properties nor own any visible income-generating, productive enterprise suddenly acquired private jets, opulent mansions in foreign countries and loaded accounts in Switzerland and other notoriously money-laundering havens in the West. They developed warped values, such as increasing their harem, acquiring dubious (often customized) chieftaincy titles and seizing the wives, daughters and property of the weak and poor. Economic crises soon spawned deep social and political crisis as ill-gotten wealth was flaunted and deployed to catapult charlatans and upstarts into positions of authority, including political godfatherism.

Socio-Economic Cleavages

An important aspect of nation-building noted Gambari[28] is “the building of a common citizenship”. But how can we have a common citizenship when the person in Ilorin has a radically different quality of life from the person in Yenagoa? Or when the woman in Gusau is more likely to die in childbirth than the woman in Ibadan? Through the development of the economy and equal opportunities for all, or through the development of social welfare safety nets, mature nations try to establish a base-line of social and economic rights which all members of the national community must enjoy. Not to enjoy these socio-economic rights means that the people involved are marginalized from national life. That is why in many Western European countries, contemporary nation-building in about preventing ‘social exclusion’ or the exclusion of significant segments of the population from enjoying basic social and economic rights.

In Nigeria, however, not only are many of our citizens denied basic rights such as the right to education and health, there is also serious variation in the enjoyment of these rights across the country. As a consequence, the citizen is not motivated to support the state and society, because he or she does not feel that the society is adequately concerned about their welfare. Secondly socio-economic inequalities across the country fuels fears and suspicious which keep our people divided.[29]

Gambari, in his The Challenges Of Nation Building: The Case Of Nigeria, drew our attention to some of these socio-economic inequalities. If we take the level of immunization of children against dangerous childhood diseases, we note that while the South-East has 44.6% immunization coverage, the North-West has 3.7% and North-East 3.6%. If you take the education of the girl-child as indicator, you see a similar pattern of inequality with the South-East having an enrolment rate of 85%, South-West 89%, South-South 75%, North-East 20%, and North-West 25%.[30] Only 25% of pregnant women in the North-West use maternity clinics, while 85% of the women in the South-East do.[31] It is not surprising that 939% more women die in child-birth in the North-East, compared to the South-West.[32] Education and poverty levels are also important dimensions of inequalities across Nigeria. If we take admissions into Nigerian universities in the academic year 2000/1, we see that the North-West had only 5% of the admissions, while the South-East had 39%.[33] As for poverty, a former Governor of the Central Bank, Charles Soludo, recently pointed out that while 95% of the population of Jigawa State is classified as poor, only 20% of Bayelsa State is so classified. While 85% of Kwara State is classified as poor, only 32% of Osun is in the same boot.[34]

These inequalities pose two related challenges to nation-building. Firstly, high levels of socio-economic inequalities mean that different Nigerians live different lives in different parts of the country. Your chances of surviving child-birth, of surviving childhood, of receiving education and skills, all vary across the country. If different parts of Nigeria were separate countries, some parts will be middle income countries, while others will be poorer than the poorest countries in the world! A common nationhood cannot be achieved while citizens are living such parallel lives. Inequalities are a threat to a common citizenship. Secondly, even in those parts of the country that are relatively better off, the level of social provision and protection is still low by world standards. The 20% that are poor and unemployed in Bayelsa State are still excluded from common citizenship benefits. We therefore need a Social Contract between the people on the one hand, and the state and nation on the other. The state and nation must put meeting the needs of the disadvantaged as a key objective of public policy. Such an approach can make possible a common experience of life by Nigerians living in different parts of the country and elicit their commitment to the nation. Instead of resorting to the divisive politics of indigene against settler as a means of accessing resources, a generalized commitment to social citizenship will create a civic structure of rights that will unite people around shared rights and goals.

Unemployment is a hot issue in Nigeria, and many people are frustrated with widespread joblessness. Unemployment in Nigeria is like a disease that the cure is not yet discovered. According to official statistics, 24% of Nigerians are unemployed. These numbers are worse for young people. Official Nigerian statistics say 38% of those under 24 are unemployed, but the World Bank estimates this number to be closer to 80%. In March 2014, 16 people were killed in stampedes when 500,000 desperate job-seekers rushed to apply for under 5,000 vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service.[35]


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The Paradox of Nation-Building in Nigeria. Nigeria's Strife and Strivings up to 2016
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Afeez Tope, RAJI was born on October 13, 1989 in Osogbo, but originates from Iwo, Osun State. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) - History and International Studies – 2014 and M.A. in Cultural History - 2019 from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria. He has two books, five Journal articles and two on-line articles to his credit. His research interest is in the areas of Cultural Studies and Aesthetic History. Henhas participated in six International Academic Conferences and published a number of papers.
The Socioeconomic experience of Nigeria
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Mr. Afeez Tope Raji (Author), 2016, The Paradox of Nation-Building in Nigeria. Nigeria's Strife and Strivings up to 2016, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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