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Notes on Nigeria’s regional disparities


Understanding the National Question

By Edwin Madunagu

In discussing the disparities in the distribution of “development,” wealth, power and poverty in Nigeria, many people—most of them young, but educated—seem not to be conscious of two important factors, namely: the factor of history and the factor of capitalism.

We therefore begin these notes with five simple facts whose combined significance—as important as it is—should, however, not be mystified or distorted. They do not explain everything; but to refuse or miss to be actively guided by them is to leave the road to comprehension.

The first fact is that the emergence of Nigeria as a single country was a result of a series of essentially military actions carried out by Britain and lasting about three decades: from the time of the Berlin Conference of European powers in (1884-1885) to the amalgamation of northern and southern segments of the emergent British colonial territory in 1914. Two: Long before this 30-year period, Britain had established and maintained all sorts of unequal relations—peaceful and coercive—with the territories and peoples that eventually became parts of Nigeria. Three, Also, long before the 30-year period of creation, and during that period, the territories and peoples that eventually became parts of Nigeria had established—peacefully or by coercive means– – all sorts of bilateral and multilateral relations. Put differently, precolonial “Nigerian” territories and peoples were not entirely strangers to one another.

One of the immediate results of Nigeria becoming a British colonial territory was that it became an appendage or periphery of British capitalist economy. In other words, Nigeria came into being not just as a colony of Britain, but also and essentially as a capitalist colonial territory. This can be listed as the fourth historical fact. The fifth fact is that at the time of their integration to become a capitalist colonial country, the various territories and peoples were passing through different types of political, economic, social and cultural experiences and were at different levels of class and social formations. Put differently: At creation, Nigeria emerged not just a colonized capitalist country but a colonized capitalist country with significant internal peculiarities and disparities.

The summary of these facts can be presented this way: Capitalist and imperialist Britain, a colonial power, created a single country it called Nigeria out of several pre-existing empires, states, confederations and communities with different modes of production, class structures, social formations, political structures and cultures and with different types of relations with one another and with the colonial power.

What emerged was a capitalist colony with significant internal peculiarities and disparities—at the very beginning of its existence. That was by 1914. The issue now is what happened between then and independence, in 1960, and between 1960 and now—a total period of 105 years. (The phrase, “at the very beginning” reminds me of what we used to call “initial conditions” in differential equations. It may interest readers who are students of mathematics to call up the importance of “initial conditions” in seeking a “complete solution” to a differential equation).

So, what happened between 1914 and 2019? We recall that the final act in the creation of Nigeria was the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates on January 1, 1914 to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. But the disparities between the various parts of the new country especially between the North and the South, and the disparities within the various parts of the territory as a whole did not begin to reduce as a result of unification. Rather, they began to widen and deepen as a result of differences between the policies pursued by the colonial power in the northern part of the country (Northern Provinces) and those pursued in the southern parts (Southern Provinces).

These differences in policies sprang partly from differences in administrative needs of the colonial power in the North and in the South and partly from differences between the “agreements” the colonial power reached with, or enforced on the indigenous authorities that the colonialists removed from power. In fact, between amalgamation in 1914, and about 1946, colonial Nigeria was more or less a “confederation” of the Northern and Southern groups of Provinces. As a Nigerian chronicler recorded: “Unfortunately, amalgamation did not mean the complete fusion of the two administrations. In the Northern Provinces, important departments such as Medicine, Education, Police and Prisons were separated in policy and control from their Southern counterparts.” The system of “Indirect Rule” which the colonialists established in their new colony was not a single system but a set of methods of control including the creation of active hierarchies among defeated peoples. “Indirect Rule,” in all its forms, in the North and in the South, had only one conscious justification for the colonialists: The end justifies the means.

In 1939, the Southern group of Provinces was split into two: the West and the East. Under nationalist pressure the colonial power began the process of decolonization after the Second World War. The groups of Provinces became Regions. And in 1954 colonial Nigeria formally became a federation of three regions: the North, the West and the East. With this structure Nigeria became independent in 1960. Thirty-six years later, in 1996, Nigeria attained the current structure: 36 states, informally split into six geopolitical zones—three in the North and three in the South and a federal capital territory.

Today, 105 years after creation, Nigeria has neither relinquished nor repudiated the pattern of internal disparities with which it was born. But the reason is no longer to be located in the fact that Nigeria was born with disparities and into capitalism—as important and relevant as these factors are. The reason is now to be sought and found primarily and principally in the perpetuation of capitalism: struggle for primitive (or primary) capitalist accumulation; pursuit of profit as motive force of economic investment and production; and capitalist philosophy and methods of governance. Fortunately, Marxism, globally and in Nigeria, has long established that “unequal development between regions and nations” is in the essence of capitalism, just as the “exploitation of labour by capital.”

Also, in the essence of capitalism is the fact of uneven development within the exploiting capitalist class and disparities in the distribution of poverty and misery within the exploited and dominated classes and peoples. But fortunately, again, Marxism has also shown that these strands of the essence of the mode of production called capitalism cannot, at any stage of its development or any point in its history, be disentangled from each other. They can only be taken together and fought together. There are, today, other social disparities which, though not originated by capitalism, cannot be eliminated or substantially reduced without capitalism being held by the throat. These include disparities associated with patriarchy.

The capitalist class, which is the ruling class in Nigeria, is a single class—but one with blocs, fractions and factions. However, the Nigerian state, which is the state of the capitalist ruling class, represents the interests of the class as a whole. The distribution of wealth and power within this class does not correspond either directly or inversely to the distribution of poverty and misery in the country. Why? Because the logic of the dominant law of capitalism—the maximization of profit and the accumulation of capital—does not consciously work to favour or disfavor the “places of origin” of owners of particular fractions of capital. That is why a capitalist may be able to “develop” a foreign region, or even a foreign country, but may not be able to “develop” his or her own region.

Madunagu, mathematician and journalist, writes from Calabar, Cross River State.

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