One major point commentators on Nigerian politics and leadership problem have paid very little attention, especially these days the nation, is faced with revelations of massive corruptions and lootings of public funds going on in some federal ministries and agencies, political instability and general insecurity, is the way international politics relates with African nation states and people. The intrigues of the international politics’ relation to African nation states, rulers and people in general, should give us all a cause for concern, especially at this time of Nigeria’s checked history. 

Commentators on Nigerian politics have not paid sufficient attention to the fact that the way international politics relates with African states is a major factor contributing to the mess in Nigeria today. These things are often, neglected in Nigeria’s political debate.

The fact also that the Nigeria situation has gone beyond what architects of the colonial configuration of that geographical space had ever imagined, but which still gladdens their hearts, has not been given sufficient attention by commentators on Nigerian politics. This situation of things is at the root cause of why an African nation state such as Nigeria, after 60 years of political independence and 114 years of Lugard amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates (in 1914), still function chaotically the way it does. Because its’ political gladiators have not been able to give sufficient attention to the root cause of the mess that the country is passing through today. 

Implicitly, in all these, is the survival mechanism of the African ruler for himself – his selfish interest other than that of the state and people, which in turn, is sustained by the same international politics’ relations with African states and people. 

Therefore, understanding the intrigues in the way international politics relates with African nation states and people, and the selfish survival mechanism employed by the African ruler in that regard, will to some degree, assist us in evaluating adequately, the reasons behind the current political mess in Nigeria. And why the political class and elites in Nigeria have not been able to build up that geographical space as a veritable modern nation state in a way comparable to what is obtainable in other parts of the world, e.g., Europe, America and countries of Asian giants. 

That is, why 60 years after political independence from Great Britain in 1960, the nation’s political class and elites have not been able to build up Nigeria as a veritable, modern and truly independent nation state. A nation state where peace, equity, freedom, truth, honesty, security, and prosperity would be entrenched as the bedrock of the society. This should not surprise anybody since as a people, we have not paid sufficient attention to the workings of international politics in its relation to African nation states and the selfish survival mechanism often employed by the African ruler. 

Nobody is exonerated in the mess! Because, the bulk of the blame must be located at the doorpost of the African ruler, who chose personal interest over and above general interest of the state and all the citizens. Because also, it is the primary responsibility of the Nigerian ruling class and elites, for example, to have addressed those problems earlier than now. Just as it is also their responsibility to have challenged the existing colonial dehumanizing legacies; and to have lived up to the challenge of purposeful leadership, unravel the colonial trappings and draconian intrigues of present-day international politics in its relation to Africa and the country. This is to help restore the dignity of Africans and the country, in particular. 

Unfortunately, our ruling class and elites instead of living up to the hallmark of their leadership responsibility, chose instead, to remain collaborators in the way international politics – neo-colonial project of powerful nations – relates with African states and people. Most of the African rulers are either outright collaborators as local agents – spinoffs with the neo-colonial globalists in the international politics, while some are just complacent, careless and naïve to these things. That is why we are where we are today in that British contraption called Nigeria. As PLO Lumumba, the popular Kenyan lawyer and pan-Africanist once said, “African politician is Africa’s curse!” 

This behaviour of a typical African politician and the ruling class in general, is also part of the reason why an African nation state like Nigeria, functions in the way it does. The most painful part of it all is that African politicians themselves are comfortable with the situation, because it is to their advantage, self-interest. For these reasons, things have continued to remain stagnant, unchallenged! The real general interest of the common citizens, in the streets and villages do not count in the mind of a typical African ruler or politician. Neither, does an African politician or ruler see a priority of a leader built around the following essential reasons for the existence of any nation state: peace, security and prosperity for all the citizens. 

Therefore, the focus of our present article is about the intrigues of international politics in its relations to African nation states, and the selfish survival mechanism of a typical African ruler, taking Nigerian state, as a case study. It is a continuation of a conversation on Nigerian politics and the way out of the present political crisis in the country – a conversation, which I started in my last two articles on the same theme. The first article was, titled, “Nigeria at the Dilemma of Absence of ‘Unity of Spirit'”; and the second, titled, “Nigeria’s Neo-Feudal Representative Democracy at Crossroads.” 

The Problem 

We are talking of Nigeria as one of these African nation states created by European colonial powers after the Berlin Conference of 1885, and which they conceded political independence in the 1960s – with all the neo-colonial trappings and intrigues responsible for the dysfunctional character of those African states, as is being played out today in Nigeria. We have not paid sufficient attention to the workings of international politics from the viewpoint of these ‘Berlin Conference created’ African nation states and, the people – which are at the bottom of any conventional ordering of global power, importance and prestige. 

The intrigues rest on the fact that international relations has tended, understandably enough, to look at the world from the viewpoint of its most powerful states, what some refer to as ‘cosmopolitan politics.’ This international relations has been developed as a subject of study in the major capitalist states, and has been directed largely towards helping them to manage the demands of an increasingly complex international system – most obviously through the avoidance of war, which includes heavy foreign military assistance and presence as well as intimidation of African nation states and other poor countries. 

It is also being carried out through the management of the global economy and in other ways. Its dominant focus during the era of the Cold War was on the relationship between the superpowers, with a secondary but still important emphasis on relations between other industrial states such as those of Western Europe. Even the study of ‘north-south’ relations characteristically had a heavy emphasis on north-south relations, often within the context of superpower competitions, rather than on south-north ones. 

Yet most of the world’s states – and in the context of this article, notably those of sub-Saharan Africa – are poor, weak and subordinate. Most of the people in them are poorer, weaker and more subordinate still. International politics affects these African nation states and people in ways that often differ appreciably from the ways in which it affects the people and governments of more powerful states. Yet at the international stage people expect the weak or rather weaker African nation states to compete on equal basis or level playing ground with any of the Western countries, US, or even China, etc.? That is impossible. It is like putting a round peg in square hole. 

Such that at international politics, it is as if Africa does not exist. This in turn, affects politics at all levels, national, regional or international levels of Africa’s relationship with international politics. Decisions affecting African nation states and people even in their own homeland, are determined by those powerful nations, who wield power and influence at international politics. 

Thus, even though nation states are central to the understanding of international relations in ‘Third World’ countries like in African nation states as elsewhere, nation states themselves are often very different kinds of organization from those that the conventional study of international relations tends to take for granted. Their interactions, both within their own populations and with other parts of international system, correspondingly differ as well. And although the international relations of African nation states has attracted an increasing amount of attention, much of this have operated within assumptions about the nature of statehood and the international system which may be seriously misleading. 

A view of international politics from the perspective of the founding story of African nation states created under Western European colonial arrangement, may therefore help, not only to illuminate the impact of the global system on those who are least able to resist it, but to provide a perspective on that system. Hence, on why an African nation state such as Nigeria functions in the way it does, 60 years after political independence. 

For instance, I remember, about three years ago, in a discussion with a European friend. The man told me that, “the ‘landmines’ (anti-Africa colonial trappings), the West had planted in Africa is such that there is no way any African ruler (or nation state) can come out of it to develop his/her country or improve on the lives of the people.” He went further to tell me, that even I as an African now living in Europe, if I decide tomorrow “to return to Africa and settle there to work to help your people, I can assure you, in two or three years you will run back to Europe. Because there is no way the ‘landmines’ planted there by the West will ever allow any African leader or elite with good intention, conscience and lofty ideas to live and work in Africa.” 

This is how bad the African situation and reality is. It confirms why we must learn to begin to view international politics from the bottom up instead of the usual top bottom. That is, the necessity of an African perspective on international politics or relations as a whole, which may complement and even correct the dominant Western perspective gained by looking from top downwards. 

This view from below is especially apposite to sub-Saharan Africa – its states are not only amongst the poorest in the world, but were by and large created by international action in the form of European colonialism, and have been left with state frontiers which rarely correspond to pre-colonial socio-cultural or geographical identities of the African people. 

The first question that needs to be asked is therefore how these African states managed to survive till today? For example, how did Nigeria manage to survive – for a period of 60 years, after independence – within a global order dominated by former colonial masters and their states, which were evidently vastly more powerful than any or even all African states put together? This is not only a question about what African states – or more precisely, to make a very important distinction, the rulers who acted on their behalf – did in an attempt to help them to survive. 

Writing on this, Christopher Clapham reminds us that “the evident weakness of African states did not reduce them to a state of inertia, in which their fate was determined [exclusively] by external powers. On the contrary, it impelled them to take measures designed to ensure survival, or at least to improve their chances of it” (C. Clapham, “Africa and International System: The Politics of State Survival”, University Press, Cambridge 1996, 4). 

The issue of survival, however, raises the question of ‘whose survival: the state’s, or the ruler’s?’ As the Nigeria case shows, in the great majority of cases, African ruler seeks to assure his personal and ethnic-group survival by seeking survival and indeed strengthening the central government, which in turn he makes sure is dominated by people from his ethno-religious group at the detriment of equity, justice and fairness in relation to other confederating ethnic-nationalities. 

On the whole, African ruler thinks that the best way to protect his own security is by preserving and enhancing the power of the central government of the nation state he rules, all for his personal advantage. But though the defence of statehood normally provides an essential element in personal survival strategies, these strategies none the less impose a particular view of statehood, which associates it with the welfare and security of the ruler other than those of the citizens of the state as a whole. 

Such that both the security and law enforcement agencies – military and police, in most cases, see themselves as officers whose primary duty is the security and welfare of the ruler, relegating to secondary place their obligation to protect and provide security to the masses at all times. Military, police, other security outfits, as well as other federal government agencies, ministries, parastatals, companies, etc., are seen by the African ruler as his personal property. That means that all these organs of the government, generally, see themselves as serving the interest of the ruler and not of the state or citizens as such. 

Moreover, since the security of African rulers was often particularly at risk, they felt the need to make use of their control over states in distinctive ways. For instance, in Nigeria, and the other most troubled West African states, this led to what experts have called “shadow states”, behind which rulers used formal statehood merely as a façade, to conduct what became essentially personal survival strategies. In Nigeria, in particular, it is known as “Cabals” – what is supposed to be central government is now under the control of “Cabals”, a gang of three or more persons, unelected individuals, drawn from the President’s own clan and religion. They make sure that all the major posts in the federal ministries, security – military, police, paramilitaries, and in all other federal parastatals and companies, are occupied by people from their own tribe and religion, loyal to the president and ideology he represents. 

The African ruler makes use of the primitive divisive elements of religious and ethnic differences in his nation state to his own advantage. That is, the trappings of the colonial arbitrary boundaries, become a major weapon to use for the personal survival of the African ruler. Ethnicity and religious bigotry takes a centre stage in the politics of survival of many African rulers. Again, to feel secure in his post, the African ruler feels that the only way to achieve his ambition is to surround himself in office with people of his clan – ethnic group, and renegades he recruits from other federating ethnic groups. This is exactly, the situation in Nigeria today. 

Furthermore, survival is not, of course, the only goal of rulers, but it is none the less the precondition for pursuing any other goal. The less secure the rulers, the greater the prominence that it is likely to assume. The insecurity of many African rulers, meant that for them, staying afloat in office come rain come sunshine, is more important than going somewhere. 

International Politics and Image of Africa

Since personal survival, however important it may be for individual African ruler, is not normally regarded as a legitimate basis for political action and debate. It is characteristically, excluded in the rhetoric of international relations, in favour of goals, which provide a more respectable rationale for their activities. As Christopher Clapham argues, these most commonly consisted in domestic transformation goals, normally expressed in terms of ‘development’ and ‘nationhood’, and external transformation goals, normally expressed in terms of the ‘liberation’ either from alien rule, or from the domination of outside powers. International politics in its relations with ‘Third World’ states, takes such approaches. 

However, in our context, in today’s narrative of international politics in relation to Africa, the emphasis is often on “Africa as a place of disaster, poverty and misery.” This negative image and narrative about Africa has paved way for invasion of African states by foreign inspired and based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The NGOs, actually, are one of the ways international relations is played out in Africa today. African ruler, who promotes foreign interests in his domain over and above the domestic interest of his country, is sustained in office by his foreign sponsors, largely under the cover of “foreign charity” and military assistance – ‘helping the poor Africans.’ Which, however, is a deceptive way to continue with the colonial image and exploitation of Africa. And which in turn, is meant to legitimize the current international politics’ relation with African states as well as their neo-colonial project in the continent. 

The NGOs are generally, seen as the providers of famine or war relief, and the source of development aid and residual social services; as pressure groups seeking the implementation of basic human rights; and as a significant source of food, money, publicity and other resources for insurgent movements. However, in spite of the noble motive of their function, some concerned individuals have expressed grievances against some aspects of the role of the NGOs in Africa. The image of Africa as a disaster zone in the Western media indeed owes much to the funding needs of the NGOs. What is often hidden from the public is the fact that most of the NGOs are sponsored by powerful nations, and of course, by the Multi-National companies, involved in the ongoing (illegal) exploitation of African mineral and natural resources. 

Furthermore, the arrival of the NGOs engendered a change in the content of the external world’s relation with Africa, in ways which reduced the normal state-state relation, and increased that of charitable and civil-right organizations. For the populations of most Western states and others, Africa is largely synonymous with disasters, which call for charitable aid. This aid is in turn most easily associated with private charitable organizations. Hence, in an effort to attract generous donors and benefactors, the NGOs influence numerous television programs which reinforced the popular Western image of Africa as an untamed wilderness where vast herds of game roamed wild and free, rarely ended (without however, reference to the fact that their pictures are taken from either Zoo or game reserve and not from human habitation in Africa). 

In addition, the NGOs broadly represent the privatization of North-South relations. In Africa, they come with strongly held Western values which encompass the full range of often contradictory attitudes and sentiments that the continent evokes. Some of them, and notably those concerned with issues such as human rights or nature conservation, have political agendas, which implicitly or explicitly involve the imposition of external controls on the behavior of African governments. 

Moreover, in recent times, some workers of the NGOs have been suspected as either members of secret security services or agents responsible for arms’ sale from industrialized states to despotic African rulers, dictators, especially, tyrants and sit-tight African rulers, and to rebels and radical Islamists groups. This has led to the expulsion of some NGOs in some countries of Africa with independent minded, conscientious rulers, or of “terrorist” attacks on the nationals of the foreign states involved. 

International Politics’ Rhetoric of Mechanisms of Impoverishment 

Engelbert Mveng, a Jesuit priest from Cameroun contends that there is impasse in arresting poverty in Africa as well as in freeing Africa from the despotic rulers the international politics have imposed on it, principally, because of modern mechanisms of rhetoric in the international politics’ relation with African states. These modern mechanisms of impoverishment have kept producing poverty instead of destroying it – the mechanism employed in international politics’ relation to African states and to the Third World nations. 

The concrete order of these mechanisms of impoverishment is based on perversion of meaning of political rhetoric. It “is a discourse that claims to speak of life and produces death, that claims to speak of freedom and produces oppression; that claims to speak of equality and produces inequality, that claims to utter justice and produces injustices, and so forth”. One such perverted rhetoric is found in the use of the expressions: ‘development’ versus ‘underdevelopment’, ‘industrialized nations’ versus ‘Third World.’ At the end, what is produced is nothing but a twin industry of power and misery, of rich and poor. Thus, the world comes to be divided into two: the haves and the have nots, the masters and the slaves, the giver and the receiver (cf. E. Mveng, “Impoverishment and Liberation: A Theological Approach for Africa and Third World” (in R. Gibellini (ed.), “Paths of African Theology”, SCM Press, London 1995, 159ff). 

As Julius Nyerere reminds us, “Poverty is not the real problem of the modern world. For we have the knowledge and resources which could enable us overcome poverty. The real problem – the thing, which creates misery, wars and hatred among men – is the division of mankind into rich and poor. The significance about this division between the rich and the poor is not simply that one man has more food than he can eat, more clothes than he can wear … is not simply that one nation has the resources to provide comfort for all its citizens, and the other cannot provide basic services. The reality and depth of the problem arises because the man who is rich has “power” over the lives of those who are poor, and the rich nation has power over the policies of those which are not rich. And, even more important, is that our social and economic system, nationally and internationally, supports these divisions and constantly increases them, so that the rich get ever richer and more powerful, while the poor get relatively poorer and less able to control their own future.” (Julius Nyerere, “The Church’s Role in Society”, (in J. Parratt (ed.), “A Reader in African Christian Theology”, SPCK, London 1987, 11-118). 

To paraphrase Mveng once more, on this point, what all this amounts to is a creation of ‘a new discourse of world domination by those who possess force, wealth, and power.’ The paradox is that it is by making the poor poorer that the rich become richer. Thus, poverty becomes this industry’s indispensable raw material. Poverty is not something to be done away with. On the contrary, poverty is something to be developed. To eliminate poverty would be to exhaust one of the sources of the oppressors’ power. 

All the foreign loans African nation states are rushing to China to obtain today, for example, and even sometimes, cede part of their national sovereignty to China, are all done in the logic of the same international politics’ relations with African states and their political rhetoric of Africa as a continent of poverty and misery. 

Nigeria and What is Not Nation-State!

The question is, “Does Nigeria (and other African states), really fit into the meaning of a “nation-state”? That is, in the way nation states in the Western world and other places, are conceived and function? A brief discussion on this, will help us to appreciate the good intention and purpose of all those who have been calling for political renegotiation of the Nigerian state – those advocating for devolution or “de-partitioning” of the colonial boundaries in Africa through the legal means of referendum. This is because, many of the African nation states, like Nigeria, do not fit into the traditional definition of states by social and political scientists. 

Traditionally, political scientists have employed two terms to identify the structure of political entity known as the state: homogeneous and heterogeneous. The homogeneous state – the nation per se, is defined as “a single people, traditionally living on a well defined territory, speaking the same language, practicing the same religion, possessing a distinctive culture, and united by many generations of shared historical experience.” Japan and the two Koreas are good examples of the homogeneous state. 

Heterogeneous or multiethnic nation state comes about after the gradual fusion that may occur between the diverse national and cultural groups within the state after a prolonged maintenance of political control by the central government over the given territory and its inhabitants. United Kingdom (or Great Britain) is a classical example of a heterogeneous state. However, the continued feuds of hostilities between the disadvantageous groups such as Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, and the domineering English people and monarch, shows that all is not well with such a union. 

Thus, those who reflect on conflict resolutions and nation states, argue that most of the African nation states such as Nigeria, lack at least three elements necessary for nationhood: e.g., a national language, a predominant religion and a long history of organized cohabitation among its various peoples. This school of thought suggests that the African problem will only end with a permanent separation of the ethnic groups involved, respecting the above three points. 

Neighboring ethnic-groups with shared value systems, cultural affinity and philosophy of life, whether viewed as minority or majority ethnic group in the present dispensation, could after referendum, decide to form their own nation state where the rights of all will be protected, and respected. In case, they want, two or more neighboring minority ethnic-groups may decide to come together and form a nation state of their own, the type we see in Switzerland and Belgium in Western Europe, and other places. 

The point is that the real situation in Africa is not as a result of acute poverty (or of any lack on the genes of the people as some foreigners appeared to have stereotyped the Africans in the past), but a struggle for second independence from domineering ethnic groups in the present African nation states created by colonial fiat. Government in Africa is in essence winner-take-all. As a game of numbers, democracy in Africa favors only the domineering ethnic group and those in the corridors of power. 


In Nigeria today, many believe that the issue of nationhood must be resolved before genuine democracy and community development as well as real relationships among neighboring ethnic-groups can take root in that geographical space. 

This is an indictment to Nigerian ruling class and elites today. They must show that they are capable of organizing their people and fashion a new kind of ‘nation-state’ – even if it entails new independent nation states out of the present configuration that will correspond and respond to the yearnings of many citizens today. Nigerian rulers and elites should exhibit objectivity and intellectual vigor at this critical moment of the country’s life. In this way, they would be able to participate and develop a kind of new ‘nation state’ (or ‘states’), provide the people with a constitution of a really federal character as the panacea of ensuring successful government in the envisioned new nation state/states, whether ‘homogeneous’ or ‘heterogeneous.’ 

This would then validate both equality and diversity as well as encourage interdependence among the various ethnic-nationalities of the new nation state/states to emerge. The new African state need to develop creative constitutions as well as common laws and legal system that are both neutral to all ethnic groups and religions operative in each state. Any act of favoritism of the state (constitution and legal system) to one ethnic group or to a particular religion in a pluralistic society destroys the foundation of that society or nation. 

This is a great temptation the present crop of Nigerian leadership have not been able to overcome in that pluralistic African nation state. This is why every hand should be on deck today to redefine the nature of nation state in Africa, especially, in Nigeria as the most populous and most ethnically and religiously divided African nation state. 

By Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji, a Roman Catholic Priest and a Professor Ordinarius of contextual theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome.

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