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Nigeria Reimagined

Beyond Uncertainty and Insecurity

Richard Joseph


On August 30, 2022, a major presentation was made in a NexTier forum of tracked data on armed conflicts in Nigeria.[1] This essay was inspired by that forum. It involves the “long view”: looking back, peering forward, but staying abreast of actual developments. Two years ago, I published an essay entitled “Nigeria’s Dismal Tunnel: Is There an Exit?”.[2]  Since then, Nigerians have become further trapped in a “complex web of insecurity that shapes everyday lives”.[3]  This essay considers issues to be addressed in various forums including a University of Oxford Colloquium on Africa to be held at New College, Oxford, in June 2023.[4]


After the Lekki Tollgate Atrocity on October 20, 2020, I said it was “a signal to rewind the Nigerian clock and redesign a polity whose agents can wantonly extinguish the lives of innocent citizens”.[5] Since then, threats to lives and livelihoods have morphed and multiplied. As the country’s multilayered security architecture is battered, the structure of the polity itself is contested. To exit the Dismal Tunnel, a consensus must be reached on a national destination and pathways for reaching it.


There has been a significant decline of “The Nigeria Project” of a unified, democratic, and sustainably developing nation.[6] In the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, debates ensued on the appropriate national configuration and political system. Soon after my first arrival in Nigeria at the end of February 1976, I was drawn into these vigorous debates. A year later, I was invited to participate in a conference on Issues in the Draft Constitution at the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.[7]

I led off the presentations with a paper entitled, “National Objectives and Public Accountability: An Analysis of the Draft Constitution.”[8] The conference participants included prominent Nigerian leaders from academia, politics, law, and civil society. My inclusion in these deliberations reflected more than my academic credentials. Also acknowledged was my identity as a Trinidadian, and thus a former British colonial subject, and as an African American.[9] Four and a half decades later, I am as engaged as ever in addressing the challenges confronting the largest collectivity of African peoples.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of the Caribbean and South American countries with a deeply infused African culture.[10] It was also an important crucible of anti-colonial thought and activism. As a youth, I experienced the final drive to political independence. Aspects of the movement for independence, which evolved into an ill-fated campaign to establish the Federation of the West Indies, are remembered. They include emblems and chants of the People’s National Movement (PNM) led by the renowned scholar-politician, Dr. Eric Williams.[11] My subsequent engagement in the Civil Rights Movement in America carried forward these experiences. The pursuit of a democratic, developmental, and harmonious political order in Nigeria therefore dovetails with my journey as an engaged scholar.

My study of Africa began in January 1968 at New College, Oxford, under the guidance of Thomas Lionel Hodgkin, the eminent historian of Africa and pioneer scholar of African nationalism.[12] Later that year, I began comprehensive research on the movement for the independence and reunification of Cameroon, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), led by the outstanding Ruben Um Nyobè.[13] The focus of my research later shifted to the transition from military to civilian rule in Nigeria.[14] In 1987, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic, was published.[15] Its concluding words were prophetic:

Consensual politics, governmental efficiency, economic resilience and public ethics must evolve via a process of dynamic interaction. Such a process requires of political actors and commentators a long view of the contemporary political period. There are no “quick fixes” for Africa’s post-colonial predicament in all its ramifications. This study of the political travails of Africa’s most popular nation ends, therefore, on a note of moderate optimism. After the completion of the current cycle of political rule by military officers, perhaps some author will have good reason to write of the political triumphs and temporary travails of the Third Republic.

The Third Republic - whose tortuous creation was overseen by the military regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993) - was terminated with the annulment of the victory of Moshood Abiola in the June 1993 presidential elections. While there have been political triumphs since constitutional government was restored in 1999, the nation’s travails have been far from “temporary”. Indeed, they have become forbidding and pervasive.[16]

The ruins of The Nigeria Project are evoked ceaselessly by commentators such as Professor Ayo Olukotun in his weekly column in the Punch newspaper.[17] Wole Soyinka states that Nigeria no longer reflects his core beliefs and values. Indeed, he contends, it has become “derailed”. Uzodinma Iweala, in a probing article, speaks of “the country’s deep malaise”.[18] References are often made to Nigeria having the most poor people in the world. Iweala cited a statistic that was particularly jolting. It is estimated, he said, that 88 million Nigerians now live in poverty. That was the total estimated population of Nigeria when I taught at the University of Ibadan in the late 1970s.

Iweala ponders whether Nigeria will continue “to limp along or even disintegrate”. His essay echoes Eghosa Osaghae’s seminal study, Crippled Giant.[19] “A terrorized and impoverished nation” is the expression used by Oluwatoyin Adeboju on September 8, 2022, responding to an Olukotun essay. Indeed, “Multi-dimensional insecurity” is an appropriate term to capture not just the Delta region but the afflictions confronting Nigerian societies writ large.[20]

In the NexTier program on August 30, 2022 – Nigerian Security Situation Analysis – an impressive body of statistical data was presented on banditry, farmer-herder conflicts, cultism, terrorist incidents, extra-judicial killings, and secessionist struggles.[21]  Here are take-aways from the event:

  • Ungoverned spaces, a concept highlighted by former U.S. Ambassador John Campbell, is now frequently evoked [22]

  • Banditry has acquired a “socialized” dimension having become an alternate form of income generation.

  • As transportation becomes insecure and uncertain, basic endeavors are constrained or suspended: trading, farming, schooling, social services, and cultural events.

  • In the absence of effective protection by state agencies, communities often negotiate local “peace pacts”.

  • The varying character of violent conflict calls for a deep understanding of socio-political and religious factors.

  • The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) has emerged as an important institution for knowledge-generation and policy action.[23]

  • The perennial debate on state versus federal police should adjust to the creation, in various configurations, of state and regional security entities.

  • More can be distilled from the long-running militancy in the Niger Delta and diverse government responses.[24]

  • Forms of local governance have emerged in the absence of effective governing authorities. They can now be regarded as alternatively governed spaces.

  • There is a need for restorative justice within communities to promote social healing.

  • A central-controlling authority has never worked in Nigeria because of the nation’s complex composition.

  • There is no analytical framework that captures multi-dimensional insecurity in Nigerian societies. I once suggested the need for a “prismatic” approach, acknowledging that the mélange of political, social, and other diversities elude analytical coherence.[25] 



The “derailing” of Nigeria can be traced back several decades. In the summer of 1977, I perceived a significant gap between its presumed and its actual economic trajectory.[26] During a stay in Oxford, England, I pored over reports, articles, and newspaper clippings brought from Nigeria. Puzzled by observations since March 1976, I sought to understand the country’s economic performance. This exploration induced me to put aside prevailing analytical frameworks and construct one based on experiential learning.

In the first paragraph of an article published in 1978, I mentioned the risk confronting individuals who unexpectedly receive a large fortune: “After a few years of dissipation, the money has been squandered, the physical and mental health of the nouveau riche broken, and the glorious future of unlimited possibilities constricted into a bleak vista of regret and recrimination.” Here again, I would not have known that my words would be so predictive. Three decades later, in a meeting of Nigeria experts at the MacArthur Foundation, its president inquired about the prospects for peace and development. I responded: “You can’t get there from here”.[27]

During a conference in Britain on “Whither Nigeria”, Wole Soyinka was pointedly asked: “Are Nigerians willing to go to the barricades?” He promptly replied: “Nigerians are too intelligent to go to the barricades.” Today, self-preservation dictates differently. A panelist in NexTier’s “Security Analysis” stated that, before leaving home, he computed his personal value to ensure that he could be ransomed if kidnapped. While amusing, his remark was telling. As Iweala pertinently wrote: “persistent violence may be even more concerning than the economic malaise.”[28] How does this awareness affect behaviors and especially economic planning? While viewing a September 8 forum hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on diversifying the Nigerian economy, I pondered: “How can the economy be diversified, or any major policy advance take place, in the absence of basic security?”[29] Virtually all economic activities require travel and transport, while the freer movement of persons and goods has been a core tenet of African regional and continental organizations.

Nigeria and the Reimagining of Africa

“Reimagining” is an implicit dimension of major political and social transformations. Slavery and the slave trade were once fundamental to the economic growth of the western world. Abolitionist movements emerged to challenge it. They were led and inspired by individuals who imagined a world system that would not be tied to human bondage.[30] As mentioned earlier, I experienced directly the major transition from colonialism to independent sovereign states in the “Global South”. My engagement in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States began soon after the start of my university education at Dartmouth College. In both transformations, “reimagining” was a pivotal process.

Africa Reimagined is no longer focused on ending the impressment of African peoples and forcibly extracting their labor. No longer, also, is the core commitment ending imperial rule over African lands, and its subsequent manifestations as colonialism, settler rule, and apartheid. Following the ending of colonial rule, the right of African peoples to elect governments of their own choosing was not universally acknowledged. Yet alternate political orders based on such principles were imagined; the struggle to enact them launched; and popular mandates in democratic elections defended against myriad attempts to subvert them.

Nigeria has a vital role to play in the new global era. It is difficult to be hopeful about the prospects for many African countries if Nigerians cannot go beyond devising responses to uncertainty and insecurity. Here are ideas and opportunities to consider:


    I.    Postimperial Reckoning and Reparative Justice

It is now understood that the world was profoundly shaped by the exercise of power by certain peoples who gained technological advantage over others. For centuries, the labor, creativity, and products of the latter were exploited in the interests of the former. The most concrete manifestation of this reckoning is reparative justice reflected in the restitution of thousands of art works that were forcibly seized or unfairly acquired. This Grand Reckoning has only begun. While struggling to overcome its self-inflicted deficits, Nigeria must become an effective actor in the global rebalancing of power and wealth.


    II.    Overcoming State Erosion

One of the courses I taught at the University of Ibadan was “The Theory of the State”. Enrollment quickly soared. A talk delivered to students majoring in Classics, “Nigeria and Plato’s Republic”, was published in a national newspaper, The New Nigerian. Nigerians, as other post-colonial peoples, had an acute awareness of the significance of the state. No state, no security, no sustainable economic development, and no agency in international affairs. The notion of “our own state” took root.[31] As communities took steps to assure their physical security, “our own state” accelerated the delegitimizing of governmental authority.


Nigerians readily understand the implications of prebendalism for their lives and livelihoods. As bits of the state – in the form of governmental offices - are appropriated and their resources privatized and communalized, the hope for positive collective outcomes diminish. Reversing state erosion will require innovative thinking followed by appropriate action.


    III.    Contemporary Global Shifts

“Multipolar” no longer suffices to characterize the post-colonial world. The Soviet Union disintegrated but Russia emerged as a determined global actor. It has acquired new pertinence in Africa through the subcontracting of military intervention and access to mineral and other natural resources. France, for decades a strong actor across a wide sweep of west and central Africa, has seen its influence diminish along with that of regimes it long sustained. China’s global surge has slowed through policy missteps and US-led containment. Nevertheless, it is a major economic actor in Africa in several areas. Some Middle East nations, such as Saudi Arabia, have become key actors based on their petroleum resources, and the capacity to exert influence in specific regions such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The same is true of Turkey.


There is no leading African nation today in the global arena. Nigeria once played this role while South Africa aspired to do so. How can Nigeria again be a significant actor outside its borders? John Campbell’s argument that Nigeria should be “rethought” largely concerns accepting the reality of fragmentation over the illusion of a cohesive nation-state. “Reimagining” is not about “downsizing” ambitions but remaking the polity so it can also exert influence in regional and continental arenas.


    IV.    The Responsibility to Protect

When state authorities are unable to provide basic protection for the lives and properties of citizens, international organizations – especially the United Nations – have a responsibility to assure this protection. How, in the case of Nigeria, will this commitment be met remains to be seen. There are multiple external capacities that can be called upon by Nigerian authorities. How this will be done in ways that respect national sovereignty should be determined domestically. It is imperative that this protection is activated.


    V.    Reversing Development-in-Reverse

Alex de Waal’s notion, “development-in-reverse”, is applicable to the Nigerian experience. Institutions in higher education, for example, have expanded in number while decreasing in performance and output. A few decades ago, the Economist magazine made an estimate of the hundreds of billions earned by Nigeria from the export of crude petroleum. If that sum had been effectively used, the Economist contended, Nigeria would have become an economic “colossus”. Those financial revenues now amount to trillions of dollars. Having failed to build capacity to refine its crude, Nigeria continues to export most of it and to import petroleum products.


Instead of “quick fixes” to such fundamental shortcomings, a commission can be created of Nigeria’s foremost policy thinkers. It can draw on experts at home and abroad and identify how other countries have achieved a transformation from developmental failure to success.[32] What approaches should be tried in Nigeria? More than two decades have elapsed since the restoration of constitutional and elected governments. While continuing to support such processes, I no longer view them as sufficient to overcome reverse development.


    VI.    The Energy Transition

Nigeria is endowed with a range of energy resources. In addition to petroleum, it has huge reserves of natural gas, much of which has been flared off. Liquefied natural gas is also an important option as countries seek to reduce reliance on Russian sources. Insecurity has stymied the capitalizing by Nigeria of the head-start it enjoyed over other African producers. Nigeria’s Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, has been an impressive spokesperson in international meetings, making the case for African countries to balance their development and energy sources, and for external financial assistance to facilitate the energy transition. Nigeria has perhaps the greatest experience in global negotiations on petroleum production and pricing. Will it parlay this experience into beneficial results as multiple sources of energy are now being developed globally to balance development and climate goals?


    VII.    Leapfrog via Technology

At a meeting of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs several years ago, an individual who overheard me talking about Nigeria introduced himself. He was the president of the Illinois Institute of Technology. He had noticed that the top performing students at his Institute had unfamiliar names. After making inquiries, he learned that they were Nigerian. He was surprised because he did not associate Nigeria with high performance. In fact, Nigerians are exceptional performers once provided the opportunities. Technology is one of them. Libraries may have decayed and bookshops reduced to roadside vending or shops in airport terminals. But computer skills can be acquired via the Internet, and from in-person training. Nigeria can parlay its large population, and large youthful cohorts, into bastions of technologists at various levels of sophistication.


    VIII.    Governance Imperatives: Enhancing Capacity and Integrity

In 1986-1988, I adopted the term “governance” to refer to institutional practices in the conduct of public affairs. During that period, I served as a program officer of the Ford Foundation for Governance, Human Rights, and International Affairs. Under the rubric governance, institutions were funded to increase their capacity to deliver desired public goods.


Three decades later, the Dutch Foreign Ministry supported an experimental program, Consortium for Development Partnerships (CDP), in which local organizations in West Africa – university-based and civil society groups - would collaborate to improve performance in selected policy areas. With the HIV/AIDS pandemic looming, one of these areas was reducing transmission of the virus. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided a major grant to support research projects involving African and non-African experts. The program was entitled the Research Alliance to Combat HIV/AIDS (REACH). Despite substantial financing, what hindered both exercises is what a Nigerian participant called “the absence of capacity to build capacity”. Reliance on external organizations to create and sustain developmental entities in Africa had lost its appeal to major donors. These entities would succeed or fail depending on the organic nurturing of institutional capacity.


Integrity is a notion that has been paired with capacity. They both require low levels of corruption and high levels of accountability. Professor Monica Prasad of Northwestern University, as I mentioned in an earlier essay, is one of the most insightful thinkers on this topic, exploring how “islands of integrity” can be fostered.[33] I have long believed that Nigeria was ripe for a vibrant domestic movement aimed at building capacity and integrity. Such endeavors can no longer be delayed.


    IX.    Democracy under Siege: Retreat and Affirmation

The retreat of democracy has become a staple of contemporary political analysis and debate.[34] The Administration of President Joseph Biden has made the promotion of democracy a foreign policy priority. A Democracy Summit was held during its first year and a second is being planned. The Ukraine war, and the struggle over energy resources, have encouraged European countries to bond over defense of a “rule-based”, i.e.  democracy-preserving, international order. Disruptions to global supply links, and China’s entrenchment of its autocratic system, have prompted a U.S.-led alliance to act cooperatively to defend constitutional democracy.


Nigeria’s electoral democracy, however flawed, is the largest in Africa. During the post-Soviet democratizing upsurge of the 1990s, Nigeria was hobbled by the prolonged and eventual failed creation of a Third Republic. The repressive rule of General Sani Abacha, 1993-1998, further sidelined Nigeria. The Fourth Republic since 1999 has been plagued by violent extremism, armed conflict, and institutional decay. Nigeria is challenged to demonstrate how a country faced with growing poverty, increased indebtedness, multiple violent conflicts, and ethno-regional divisiveness can reverse the downward slide via democratic means.


    X.    African Diasporas

A significant number of Africans living outside the continent trace their origins to Nigeria. These diasporas reflect multiple waves of migration, coerced or voluntary, during the imperial, colonial, and post-colonial eras. Nigerian and other African political leaders have espoused activating these historical connections, but little of concrete significance - with perhaps the exception of Ghana’s citizenship conferment – has taken place. Wole Soyinka contends that African leaders, in creating pan-African entities, pursued a continental vision involving north and sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, he suggests, the Caribbean, South African, and north American diasporas should have been included in this vision.


In a new globalizing era, Global Africa perspectives should be encouraged. The intellectual, cultural, and economic resources of Africa and its diasporas are vast. Nigeria Reimagined would include the re-invigoration of pan-Africanism. At present, a resurgent African awareness among people of African descent seldom extends beyond cultural assertions and domestic political mobilization.[35]


    XI.    Building Social Wealth

Exactly forty years after my first arrival in Nigeria, I delivered the Guest Lecture at the launching of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), February 1-2, 2016. Here is an excerpt from that lecture:


I recommend to the ISGPP and other Nigerian institutions the systematic study of

Social Wealth and how it can be expanded. There can be a paradigm shift in thinking about

wealth as not just individual and familial but also social. In the latter case, W would stand for

Water, E for Electricity, Education, and Environment, A for Agriculture, L for Lawful

Governance, T for Transport, and H for Health and Housing. A country with high social wealth would be one whose citizens enjoy these attributes. Human progress is marked by steady increases and refinements in what are considered basic human rights. Nigeria can take the lead among nations in upholding the provision of social wealth. As Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, forcefully argued, using the example of the polluted water supply in Flint, Michigan, government is central to the provision of public goods, another name for much of social wealth.


Instead of building social wealth, Nigeria continues to typify “post-colonial entities in which elite predation and popular insecurity are interwoven”.[36] After six decades of national independence, will the axis of the Nigeria’s political order shift from elite predation to popular security and the provision of public goods? As I subsequently wrote, “banditry in the roadways mirrors banditry in government offices”. Nigerians fully understand this axiom based on their lived experiences.



    XII.    African Social and Cultural Resources

Africa is endowed with great social and cultural wealth. As museums in many countries return numerous art works to the continent, repositories must be created and curatorial staffs trained. There is often a stark disparity between Africa’s social and cultural wealth and modern institutions. Cinema, architecture, and design are world-level endeavors in Africa, but where is this vitality reflected in institutions responsible for the public welfare? A parallel mode of inquiry concerns governmental systems. The Nigerian political sociologist, Peter Ekeh, distinguished authority systems with colonial versus traditional roots. Richard Sklar called this distinction “dual majesty”. There is often an interpenetration of the two realms. Africa Reimagined can carry forward these important analyses.


    XIII.    Upholding the Right to Education

“You have failed us!” This declaration by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager, about the environmental disasters bequeathed to current and future generation, can be applied to other concerns. In a Prof. Toyin Falola Interview of March 27, 2022, I commented on the millions of Nigeria’s “out-of-school children”. I described the failure to ensure that all Nigerian children receive a basic education as being a “crime”. In addition to the youths who are wholly unschooled, and therefore illiterate, there are many who received minimal formal education. While the world is advancing in knowledge, many Nigerian and other African children are receding into a darkness that is distressing to contemplate.


If governmental and other institutions, such as faith-based entities, are no longer able to serve the educational needs of young Nigerians, other efforts must be launched to narrow the gap. The recent creation of book clubs, in Nigeria and Ghana, is an important development. One of the top priorities of Africa’s anti-colonial leaders was the assurance that all citizens would obtain a minimal level of formal education. In Nigeria, reverse development is apparent in the educational sphere. Schools, teachers, and schoolchildren have become targets of armed militants in northern states, a region already educationally deficient. A national and global response to this tragedy is imperative.


    XIV.    Ensuring the Right to Movement

I have traveled by road throughout Nigeria, savoring its social, cultural, and topographical diversity. Nigerians are a trading people and so markets, small and large, could be patronized. Banditry was then a minimal risk. Today, the roads are often unsafe. Citizens, accustomed to impressment by police officers more than armed robbers, embark on journeys uncertain of safely reaching their destinations. NexTier’s data tracking makes it possible to visualize the geographical range of violent conflict. Is it possible to “rewind the Nigerian clock” to a time when travel was more likely to be impeded by the physical erosion of infrastructure than by armed bandits, herdsmen, or violent extremists? Kidnapping for ransom has further increased the uncertainty and trauma.


Dr. W.A. Ajibola, a colleague in political science at the University of Ibadan, once surprised me by using the term “security zone”. He was referring to southwest Nigeria where he felt more secure as an indigene than elsewhere in the country. Is this notion relevant today? The liberty once enjoyed to travel relatively freely around Nigeria has diminished. Few dimensions of the “Dismal Tunnel” are as dismaying as the loss of freedom of movement for Nigerians. Peace commissions at state and regional levels might yield concrete ideas for freer movement, perhaps in localities and in stages. The “multilayered security architecture” has not produced desired outcomes.  For now, I will cite the following refrain from a poem by Wendell Berry:


It may be when we no longer know what to do,

We have come to our real work,

And when we no longer know which way to go,

We have begun our real journey.[37]


    XV.    The Naija Nation

Nigerians already have a term for the real journey. It is “Naija” increasingly used as a substitute for “Nigeria”. The word Nigeria was coined by the wife of a colonial governor-general, Lord Lugard. “Naija”, however, is a Nigerian coinage. It is spoken with affection, not derision. During a period of much negative assessments of their country, Nigerians still evoke the positivity that characterizes much of their social and cultural life.


In February 2023, registered voters will go to the polls to elect executive government leaders and fill many federal legislative and state positions. Alongside the electoral processes, however, a deeper knitting together of communities can occur. Relevant to this process is Benedict Anderson’s classic book: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. Within the chrysalis of the Nigerian state, a new organism can spawn. A “Naija Project” would not aim to change Nigeria’s constitutional democracy but infuse it with renewed purpose, values, and objectives.


The use of the term “nation-state” often obscures the diverse trajectories followed by countries that became sovereign entities. While debating the structure of Nigeria’s federal government, the cultural identities, vibrant colloquial language, and other social attributes can be nurtured. A Naija nation is evident when Nigerians of different states and regions of the country gather, in small or large groups. It can be a resource for the revitalizing of the governmental and political system.


    XVI.    An Enduring Federal Republic

In a public lecture in Lagos in June 1991, I said: “It took France over a century and a half, and five republics, to finally achieve one that would endure…Nigeria is following an uncharted course toward the establishment of a stable, constitutional and democratic polity. That is the way all great nations have done it.”[38] Nigeria’s Fourth Republic has lasted longer than its three predecessors combined, yet it is highly contested. This paradox is a central theme of the forthcoming edited book by Wale Adebanwi. Hastily put together by a military government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Fourth Republic was inaugurated in May 1999 with retired General Olusegun Obasanjo as its Executive President.[39]

I have written in an endorsement of the Adebanwi volume that “the call for restructuring the federation is insistent, but so also is the determination to maintain the political structures bequeathed by military administrations.”  These administrations governed Nigeria for 29 of its 62 years since independence in October 1960. They oversaw and ratified all the federal constitutions since first assuming power in January 1966. From the four sub-national regions designed by civilian governments, all 36 states of the federation owe their creation to military regimes. Although power has changed hands via elections - more or less credibly conducted - two of the four executive presidents since 1999 have previously served as military heads-of-state.[41]

The military’s impact on Nigerian state and governance is a crucial aspect of the Republic’s endurance. Another is the fundamental compact underlying the sharing of governmental power. The ethnic, regional, and religious identities of prominent political actors often feature in disputes about equity and inclusion. However, there is a tacit understanding that Nigeria’s “cultural federation” requires that adjustments be made to national political institutions rather than their wholescale transformation.[42]

Imagined as a ship, the Nigerian state might tilt when storms are encountered. However, there are rebalancing mechanisms that have prevented it from capsizing. Nigeria Reimagined involves understanding the factors responsible for the resilience of the federal system despite its failure to produce desired social and economic outcomes.

Conclusion: Beyond Derailment

In mid-October 2022, as the writing of this paper was concluding, massive floods inundated many Nigerian states. Many lives and homes were lost and millions of persons were displaced. The export of petroleum, already diminished, was gravely affected, and so was the country’s liquified natural gas industry. While climate change was largely responsible, governance failures over decades were also acknowledged. Environmental degradation and challenges have long been signaled.[43] Global warming has reduced water resources, such as that of Lake Chad, and herders have been obliged to drive their cattle further south in search of forage, thereby fomenting clashes with farmers.

This paper has outlined ideas and opportunities to revitalize Nigeria. It is meant to provoke debate and discussion and identify new pathways from the predicament.[44] In February 2023, Nigerians will return to the polls to fill many executive and legislative positions. Government, business, civil society, faith-based and customary institutions can coalesce around an agenda for sustainable progress. A Reimagined Nigeria can be a lodestar for a Reimagined Africa. Moreover, its achievements can rekindle hope among other distressed peoples and nations in a turbulent world.

[1] NexTier is a policy research and advocacy center based in Abuja, Nigeria. Its reports appear regularly online. The presentation by a team of its researchers was followed by two panel discussions: “Banditry and Terrorism: What are we missing?” and “Achieving Security, Stability, and Secure Public Spaces in Nigeria”.


[3] T.M. Ebiede, C.O. Bassey, J.B. Asuni, Insecurity in the Niger Delta. Academic Associates PeaceWorks (London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers, Ltd, 2021), p. xv.

[4] “The Nigerian Prospect: Governance, Security, and Economic Development”


[6] See John Campbell, Nigeria and the Nation-State: Rethinking Diplomacy in the PostColonial World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

[7] Suleimanu Kumo and Abubakar Aliyu, Issues in the Nigerian Constitution, Department of Research and Consultancy, Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1977 (printed by Baraka Press Ltd).

[8] A slightly revised text is available at

[9] Principally responsible for my participation in this conference was Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, then Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).

[10] See Melville J. Herskovits and Frances S. Herskovits, Trinidad Village (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947).

[11] Interestingly, it was the Nigerian artist and scholar, Obiora Udechukwu, who first encouraged me to reflect on my Caribbean intellectual and political heritage. On his invitation, I delivered the annual C.L.R. James lecture at St. Lawrence University on November 8, 2012. It was entitled “Freedom Work”.

[12] Hodgkin is also author of Nigerian Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 1960 – revised edition, 1965). First published to coincide with Nigeria’s independence in October 1960, it is a unique compendium of documents on the history of the peoples subsequently included within the boundaries of Nigeria.

[13] Among my many publications on Cameroon, see “Ruben Um Nyobè and the Kamerun Rebellion,” African Affairs, vol. 73, No. 293 (October 1974), and Radical Nationalism in Cameroun: Social Origins of the U.P.C. Rebellion (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1987). Much of this research was conducted as a postgraduate student at Nuffield College, Oxford University.

[14] Notably “Political Parties and Ideology in Nigeria”, Review of African Political Economy, no. 13 (May-August 1979); “Democratization under Military Tutelage: Crisis and Consensus in the Nigerian 1979 Elections,” Comparative Politics, vol. 14, no. 1 (October 1981); and “Class, State, and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria”, The Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, vol. XXI, no. 3 (November 1983) – Guest Editor, Nelson Kasfir.

[15] This Cambridge University Press book was re-issued in 2014. A Nigerian edition was published by Spectrum Books in 1991. A synthesis of my thoughts and analysis, “The Logic and Legacy of Prebendalism in Nigeria”, is available in Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare, Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Interpretations (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).

[16] Among forthcoming studies is Wale Adebanwi, ed., Democracy and Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: Governance, Political Economy and Party Politics (James Currey Publishers).

[17] These are posted online to a large number of Nigerians and Nigeria experts.

[18] “Nigeria’s Second Independence,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 101, no. 4 (July/August 2022).

[19] Crippled Giant: Nigeria since Independence (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

[20] See Insecurity in the Niger Delta, p. xv.

[21] A presenter kept repeating as the graphs and charts were shown: “We are not trying to frighten you”. Anyone who is not frightened by what has been taking place in Nigeria, and other countries in the region, has not been paying attention.

[22] A NexTier report of September 12, 2022 discussed “Disconnected Spaces”. How do we think about the “nation-spaces” of Africa, a term once used regarding the former Belgian Congo, will feature in discussions about Africa Reimagined.

[23] The NGF has encouraged the creation of peace-building commissions and agencies at the state level. They have been strongly supported by the Africa Center of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

[24] After decades of insurgencies and governmental initiatives in the Delta, the authors cited earlier contend that “the Region’s security remains very fragile and responses grossly inadequate”. Insecurity in the Niger Delta, p. xi.

[25] This is a challenge often taken up, with enthusiasm, by artists in various modes. On “prismatic” see Richard Joseph, “Growth, Security, and Democracy in Africa”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 25, no. 4 (October 2014).

[26] A diplomatic exercise, during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, involved the “rebranding” of Nigeria for external consumption. It collapsed under the weight of its implausibility.

[27] During a coffee break, former U.S. Ambassador John Campbell asked me: “Did they (MacArthur officers) understand what you were saying?”

[28] Ibid, p. 151.

[29] The event celebrated the launching of a book on this topic by Dr. Zainab Usman, Director of African Studies at the Center.

[30] Hence the famous exchange between Thomas Hodgkin and the British historian, Hugh Trevor Roper. When the latter wrote that all our (British) ancestors were involved in the slave trade, Hodgkin replied that his “forebearers were Quakers and Abolitionists”.

[31] It referred to communities having to provide their own basic services. See R. Joseph, “Africa: States in Crisis”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 14., no. 3 (July 2003).

[32] See R. Joseph, “Industrial Policies and Contemporary Africa: The Transition from Prebendal to Developmental Governance,” in J. Stiglitz, J.Y. Lin, and E. Pahel, The Industrial Policy Revolution II: Africa in the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[33] See “Nigeria’s Dismal Tunnel”, Arch Library, Northwestern University:

[34] See Larry Diamond, Ill Winds (New York: Penguin Press, 2019).

[35] The election of Ms. Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian, as her country’s vice president has elicited considerable enthusiasm.

[36] See my endorsement on the cover of John Campbell’s Nigeria and the Nation-State (2020).

[37] “Our Real Work”, Standing by Words (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 1983). It was previously cited in “The Dismal Tunnel”.

[38] “Challenges of the Third Republic”, The Guardian (Lagos), June 18 and 19, 1991. The lecture was delivered at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) on June 5, 1991 during the launching of the Nigerian edition of Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria.

[39] General Abdulsalami assumed the leadership of the federal government following the death of the dictator, General Sani Abacha, in June 1998.

[40] It will appear in an endorsement of the volume.

[41] Assuming President Muhammadu Buhari transfers power to his elected successor in 2023, he and Olusegun Obasanjo would be the only Nigerian presidents (thus far) to complete two successive terms in office.

[42] In a comprehensive chapter by Rotimi Suberu in Democracy and Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, he presents this argument based on sustained research and writing. Mallam Turi Muhammadu, a former general editor of The New Nigerian, once told me: “Never forget that Nigeria is a ‘cultural federation’ ”.

[43] The Shehu Yar’Adua Foundation has produced an alarming documentary, “Nowhere to Hide”, on the deleterious impact of licit and illicit crude oil production.

[44] “Misgovernance and the African Predicament: Can the Code be Broken?” It was the title of my inaugural lecture as John Evans Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. The talk was also delivered as the Inaugural Distinguished Lecture, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, November 2006.


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