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The Nigerian troubadour: Statehood or nationhood? – Part 1


President Mohammadu Buhari (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

A mood is pervading the Nigerian social space, coalescing around the unworkability of the Nigerian state as both civic and national project. At the same time, cartographers are busy mapping frontiers of new nations from the existing Nigerian territorial polity. The logical consequence of this mood is the accentuation of the nationhood discourse. Without doubt this discourse has assumed a new currency beyond its everyday usage in the political vernacular—deeply woven into the country’s national anthem. The currency of the subject is fed by the deepening contradictions of the Nigerian state generated and regenerated by the ruling clique. The contradictions, though a continuum, have gained salience by the governance output of the Muhammadu Buhari administration which has attracted corresponding responses from eminent Nigerians. Indeed, there is an ongoing rapprochement among the dominant and minority nationalities in the country to forge unity for the goal of reordering the country based on equity and justice. In some ways, a handshake is taking place across the Niger and Benue rivers. Notably, there is a growing consciousness of the ethnic fault lines by the international community, especially the United States which has begun to call the Middle Belt by its proper delimitation in its diplomatic dispatches. This has often been glossed over by the state-bearing nationality self-styled Hausa-Fulani as a sustaining logic of its dominance of the institutions of state.

Early 2018, former President Olusegun Obasanjo pointed to the governance deficits of the prevailing administration, namely, poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics, among others. The former president accented the nepotist strain of the administration which he said was counterproductive to the goals of nation-building as “national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest.”

Similarly, Bishop Matthew Kukah in his lecture titled, Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion delivered at the 2018 University of Jos Convocation focused a great deal on the crisis of nationhood. He posited that:

The idea that today, semi illiterate and illiterate herdsmen have held the country to ransom under the Boko Haram insurgency and the endless killings across the country suggest how low we have sunk in the quality of our security systems and in terms of levels of cohesiveness in our society.


Professor Sola Ayeyeye, like Obasanjo and Kukah captured in a scholarly treatise the exigency of the moment. In his words,
…these days are not the best for Nigeria. At the risk of being called prophets of doom, we really have no choice than to admit that our country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, lies on the paths of sundry tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, storms, superstorms, whirlwinds, and typhoons all of which are rushing towards our Republic with deadly speeds and their concomitant devastating momentum.

The killings in Benue and Plateau states hallmarked by mass burials have also aroused global concern and condemnation. According to a statement by the spokesperson for the US Department of State, Ms Heather Nauert,
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of civilians and destruction of property in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region over the weekend…We are concerned by the recent increase in armed violence against civilians and call on all political and community leaders to lend their voices to peace and to work together to find lasting solutions to these rural conflicts (Vanguard Online, June 26, 2018).

The British parliament was also seized of the matter. Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB), in the debate in the House of Lords remarked that:
…the tragic topicality of today’s debate was underlined last weekend when more than 200 people were reported to have died in co-ordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Plateau state in Barkin Ladi. These attacks began on 22 June and lasted until 24 June. The majority of the victims were women and children. At one location, 120 were killed as they returned from the funeral of an elderly member of the Church of Christ in Nations. A dawn to dusk curfew was established and, as I heard first hand yesterday from the honourable Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, the area remains tense. This most recent episode is shocking, but it is also the latest in an extended pattern of violence that has become all too common across Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt and increasingly in some of the more southern states.

The above situation report points to a crisis-ridden country. In the rest of this paper, I shall argue that what the post-colonial elite sought to nurture in Nigeria is not nationhood but statehood which intended destination is civic nationhood. Also, I shall contend that the statal project has failed and that the resultant effect is the widespread micro-nationalism, constriction of the democratic space, a rentier economy and social anomie. Efforts would be made to suggest a way forward. First, I undertake a conceptual tour of nationhood and statehood, two tropes that will pervade this analysis.

Statehood and Nationhood: A conceptual excursus
In the context of the above introduction it is pertinent to dissect the concept of statehood and nationhood as conceptual categories because they constitute our analytical compass. Besides, the two concepts are derivatives or essentialist representation of state and nation.

For a definition of the state I begin with the well-known contract theories of the state by the contractarians, namely, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacque Rousseau that the state arises from the necessity of freedom from the anarchy of the state of nature. Although for Locke, the state of nature is a state of perfect freedom, the ‘harm principle’ provides a superseding justification for the state. So, the state is therefore willed into being as an umpire of the social order, accountable to the popular sovereignty, its lowly origin.  Also, the state in its Hobbesian inversion is a leviathan—totalitarian. The significance of a contractarian conception of the state lies in the fact that it indicates the human agency of the origin of the state. This goes to affirm the primacy of the nation before state. I shall come back to this later in this paper. I am largely preoccupied with the Weberian modern state here and its modification by contextual realities. As Laski (1925) has noted, “No theory of the state is ever intelligible save in the context of its time. What men think about the state is the outcome always of the experience in which they are immersed”. In other words, men conceive of the state in the context of their own experience. For this reason, it can be argued that modern states bear the empirical strains of the history of the society in which they are embedded. In Weberian terms, the state:


…possesses an administrative and legal order subject to change by legislation, to which the organised corporate activity of the administrative staff, which is also regulated by legislation, is oriented. This system of order claims binding authority, not only over members of the state, the citizens, most of whom have obtained membership by birth, but also to a very large extent, over all action taking place in the area of its jurisdiction. It is thus a compulsory association with a territorial state. Further-more, to-day, the use of force is regarded as legitimate only so far as it is permitted by the state or prescribed by it (Weber, 1968).

Put in other words, the state is that entity which is characterised by territoriality, people, independence, government, and has monopoly over the legitimate use of force. A Weberian definition of the state does not convey the class nature of contemporary society over which a Marxist concept does a great deal of justice. The dominant class in a capitalist society invariably constitute the ruling class that controls the means of production and constitute the governing class hence Marx and Engels (1998, p. 5) definition of the state, that is, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.  Miliband (1969, pp. 265-266) further espouses the historical mission of the state as he argues that the state in a class society is “primarily and inevitably the guardian and protector of the economic interest which are dominant in them. Its ‘real’ purpose and mission is to ensure their continued predominance, not to prevent it”. The Weberian conception of the state gained salience in the international community that invests and reifies sovereign equality of states. Empirical content of statehood that formed the basis of legitimation of the state was never on the radar of international players until the end of bipolarity with new rules of engagement, namely the ‘responsibility to protect’ of the United Nations and the principle of ‘non-indifference’ of the African Union. Whatever other values abstracted into the conception of the state today, the point of departure must be the Weberian moorings already sketched above. A problematic content of the state is the population. This is a complex demographic entity because in the context of the state, it habours nations, the notion of which I now turn.

Professor Akhaine of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, delivered this lead paper at the Faculty of Social Sciences International Conference, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria


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