Skip to main content

Review of Geographies of Citizenship in Nigeria


By Osita Okagbue

Geographies of Citizenship in Nigeria. ed. Oga Steve Abah. Tamaza Publishing Company Ltd, Zaria, 2003. 151pp. ISBN 978-2104-72-8 (pb). np.

A central concern in Oga Steve Abah’s Geography of Citizenship in Nigeria is the problematic surrounding notions, concept, understandings and expectations of citizenship in the context of Nigerian social and political life. Also implicated in all these is the thorny issue of inclusive democratic governance with regard to participation, responsiveness and accountability in the political process. All the essays contained in the book, written from multiple disciplinary perspectives, succeed in giving the reader a rounded insight into the problem of citizenship and citizenship rights, as well as the failure in Nigeria to achieve inclusive and accountable democratic governance. This, the essays seem to suggest, results from a fractured notion of what is it is to be a citizen of Nigeria.

Abah’s introductory essay, ‘A Performance of Disconnects’ argues that, in general, Nigerians ‘demonstrate greater levels of affinity to their ethnic nationalities or loyalty to their religious beliefs and groups than they do for the nation’ (ix). Thus in the articulation of citizenship, a conflict arises in individuals, between the frame of the nation and the frame of their respective competing nationalities. Okwori’s ‘The Patchwork that is Nigeria’ traces the source of this to the colonial alchemy of 1914 that brought Nigeria into being, and he concludes that Nigeria was and remains a ‘collection of ethnicities bounded together by the force of politics’ (1). People’s belief and feeling for their ethnic nationalities is much stronger than their feeling for Nigeria, because, as Abah points out, ‘in Nigeria being a citizen of the country in and of itself guarantees no one anything’(ix). Attempts by successive governments to break this ethnic or regional hold have so far not succeeded. Toure’s essay, ‘Inclusive Citizenship and Democratic Governance in Nigeria’ argues that the problems already highlighted by Abah and Okwori, make the ‘project of articulating a pan-Nigerian identity based on equality of citizens, common political practice’ very elusive (22). He suggests that there is a colonial basis for non-inclusive citizenship in Nigeria, which can be attributed to the manner of the 1914 amalgamation of the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. The fact that both were artificial and arbitrary creations of the British meant that there were underlying tensions from pre-independence which have since multiplied in the context of the Nigerian nation state. Independence, as devised and delivered by the British, managed to scupper the ‘radical’ anti-imperialist nationalism championed by Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN) and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) in the 1940s. The failure of the post-independence government of the British sponsored Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to create an inclusive citizenship in Nigeria was largely responsible for the emergence of undemocratic military dictatorships, in which there is a negation or abolition of the rights of citizens. The subject of the military in Nigerian politics is explored further by Ayam in ‘Democratic Governance: The Military Factor’, where he asserts that military rule succeeded in stunting political development in Nigeria by drastically reducing political participation by the people while at the same time emasculating civil society. (49) In ‘Gaps and Potholes in Nigerian Political Practice’, Alubo argues that in Nigeria the issue of citizenship is a national question and that the challenge of inclusive citizenship has not yet been resolved.

Alabi and Akpa introduce a gender dimension to the issue of citizenship and citizenship rights in Nigeria. Their essay, ‘(En)Gendering Citizenship in Nigeria’ highlights the fact that in the construction of citizenship and citizenship rights in Nigeria women ‘were forgotten’, a historical mistake which they argue has ensured that women remain disadvantaged and discriminated against in all spheres of life within Nigerian society (74-80). Egwu addresses the issues of accountability and responsiveness in governance in Nigeria. For him these are two essential ingredients of democratic government, which needed to be embraced across all sections of society (95) as a means of eradicating the endemic problem of corruption in Nigerian public life. Mutfwang’s ‘The State, Civil Society and Governance in Nigeria’ sees civil society as central in the support and maintenance of democratic institutions. He also warns of the danger of the ‘phenomenon of exit’ which can arise when ‘the arena of politics becomes exclusive of the people due to the inability of the state to behave as a state’ (110). For him, the solution lies in the expansion of the democratic space in order to achieve an inclusive form of governance; something totally lacking in the military authoritarianism that has characterised the Nigerian political sphere since independence.

Abah’s second contribution highlights the fact that despite of the numerous poverty alleviation programmes in Nigeria under various governments, poverty has continued to get worse. This he argues is because of the top-to-bottom approach in conception and realisation of these programmes. He suggests that mass mobilization methodologies such as Theatre for Development (TfD) and Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), can change the ways these programmes are conceived and delivered because of their inherent democratic principles of listening to the poor, instead of talking to and for them (121). The poor, he argues, must be made part of the exercise of defining the dimensions of poverty and the nature of the interventions needed to alleviate it. The last essay, ‘Caterwauling Citizens’ by Abah and Okwori, revisits the issue of the ancestral centeredness of citizenship definition and understanding in Nigeria. They find that this can be traced to underlying and still surviving pre-Christian and pre-Islamic belief systems of Nigerian peoples. These belief systems have their locus on the question of land-ownership, of a sense of belonging and identity, and how these shape people’s understanding and articulation of citizenship.

Geographies of Citizenship in Nigeria provides a usable historical, and socio-political contour map of the Nigerian public landscape. Taken together, the essays present a composite picture of the indeterminable issue of citizenship and citizenship rights in Nigeria. They also show how this indeterminacy impacts on notions and attainment of democratic governance, mass participation, accountability and responsiveness. What emerges ultimately is a consensus view that despite forty-four years of political independence and a hoped for evolution of a Nigerian national identity, the fact of a truly Nigerian nation with a viable and fully functioning citizenry is as yet elusive.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 67 (2005), pp. 84-86]

Article keywords:

Article Categories: