Politics of sub-cultural nationalism A study of state creation and national development in Nigeria


Price: 2000 Naira (BSC, MSC)




  1. Background to the Study

“It is the material environment that determine the formation of cleavages in the terms of social groups and classes with competing interests, and thereby defines the character and structure of political interaction in a competitive bargaining situation and it is the material resources actually or potentially available to individuals and groups in the polity that determines their relative importance and power”.

-Barongo (2000)

The demand and agitations for more states in Nigeria has been a recurrent feature since the London constitutional conference of 1957. With the dominant ethnic groups controlling the governmental machineries in the defunct  three regions, sub cultural nationalities in fear of the being marginalized and in attempt to assert their right to live under a government of their own started agitating for states. The Willink’s commission of inquiry that was set up by British colonial government in 1957 did not make any recommendation that would break up the three regions, instead, it held the view that the only meaningful way of allaying the fears of minorities was to encourage democratic government within the regions.

After independence in 1960, only the mid-West was carved out of the old Western region. Thereby modifying the colonial tripodal regional structure into four region system. In 1967, in what became the first in a series of military-mediated territorial reconfigurations, General Gowon replaced the four region system with twelve states. In 1976, the Murtala Mohammed-Obasanjo regime transformed the twelve states structure into nineteen states system. During General Babangida’s eigth-year rule, the states increased from nineteen to twenty-one in 1987 and from twenty-one to thirty in 1991.Abacha’s regime created an additional six states, thereby  instituting the federation’s current thirty-six states structure.

However, far from abating the agitation and pressure for territorial changes have tended to increase and intensify with each round of reorganization and also, the logic of national development, that is usually employed to foundation the agitation for state creation becomes baseless as creating more states reduces the viability of the existing states thus making a leviathan out of the federal government.

  1. Statement of the Problem

The nature and character of Nigerian federalism have been shaped by two critical features of the countries’ political economy, viz: economic statism and ethnic pluralism.

The political maneuvering of sub-cultural nationalists  – in the name of agitating for more states – and the economic centrality of Nigerian states virtually heightened the centripetal forces of Nigerian federation. By giving the Nigerian states a pre-eminent role in the use of resources and dispensation of patronage, these factors also elevate distributive consideration, rather than ideological or programmatic contestation into the primary impulse for political competition. The ramifications of these phenomena constituted the following:

  1. Unabated agitation for more states
  2. Economic non-viability of the existing states
  3. And emergence of over powerful federal government.
    1. Research Questions

In order to solve therefore mentioned problem, the following research questions need to be answered:

  1. Is the agitation for creation of more states in Nigeria informed by sub-cultural nationalism?
  2. Is there any relationship between the clamor for state creation and national development in Nigeria?
  3. Has the creation of more states in Nigeria allayed the fears of the minorities?
    1. Objective of the Study

The primary aim of this research work is to study the politics of sub-cultural nationalism that surround the clamor for creation of more states in Nigeria. In so doing the research work will explore the following.

  1. The nature of sub-cultural politics in Nigeria particularly as it related to agitation for state creation.
  2. The correlation between state creation and national development in Nigeria
  3. Whether the creation of more states has eradicated the fears of the minorities.
  1. Scope of the Study

The main focus of this work is to study and analyze the relationship between state creation and national development. The main issues covered in this work bordered on the following:

  1. State creation and national development
  2. The fears of the minorities
  3. The sub-cultural coloration of the agitation for state creation in Nigeria.

The analyses of the aforementioned key issues in the study, were restricted within the period of military dictatorship in Nigeria from 1976 to 1999.

  1. Limitations of the Study                                         In carrying out a research of this nature, many challenges manifested themselves but the most evident ones include:
  2. Financial Constraints: The researcher’s effort of carrying out a thorough and value-free research was limited by the researcher’s inability to access some materials and facilities that will enhance the study due to lack of finance.
  3. Divided Loyalty: finally, the researcher’s aim of carrying out a painstaking study was affected by his aim of making good grade as the research went concurrently with the researchers other academic programme.
    1. Literature Review

We shall use chronological method of literature review in offering critical assessment of what other scholars have said about state creation and national development showing the gap in knowledge that necessitated the study.

The first document to be review in this process is the Willink’s report of 1958. The strong fears of political incapacitation and domination expressed by the minorities in the defunct three regions (Northern, Western and Eastern) in the formative stage of Nigerian federation made the then secretary the state for colonies Mr. Alien Lennox Boyd to appointed a commission of inquiry (having Sir Henry Willink as the chairman, sir Gorden Hatow, Mr. Philip Mason and Mr. J.B. sheerer as members) to consider the matter and means of allaying them. While the commission found evidence of discrimination and other problems alleged by the minorities and acknowledged the genuineness of their fears and anxieties, it rejected the creation of additional states as a solution. Thus the report observed:

“While there remained a body of genuine fears, the creation of separate states would not provide the remedy for the fears expressed” (Willink’s commission Report 1958).

According to the report, there exist dissimilarities in the fears expressed by the minorities in the said regions. Whereas in the East and West, the fear bordered on ethnic discrimination, in the North, the fears were partly religious and partly ethnic in nature.

However, the Willink’s commission report of1958 made an epochal study of the fears of minorities but failed to devise a mechanism through which the aforementioned problem can be eradicated.

Awolowo (1968) and Azikiwe (1974) suggested adoption of the principle of ethnic homogeneity in creating state as means of eradicating the fears of the minorities. Thus Awolowo noted:

“Ethnicity is the major factor to be considered as a criterion in creating any state in a federation so that minority groups in the midst of majority groups who differ in language, culture and historical background will not feel inferior”.

In another work credited to the amendment of creation of western region, Awolowo came up with another set of criteria for creation of states in Nigeria:

“The Action Group (AG) had adapted two distinct but coordinated approaches to the issue of more states in Nigeria. The first approach is idealistic one, while the second is the materialistic approach. The AG as a matter of fundamental principle believes that if the unity of the country is to be enduring and if our populace is to have a binding peace and happiness, each ethnic. or linguistic group in Nigeria must be assured of political self determination within the federation” (Awolowo, 1947:54).

 Notwithstanding the soundness of these arguments, these views failed to understand that there exist within every ethnic/cultural groups, sub ethnic/cultural groups that compete for dominance.

Justice lrikefe commission of 1976 studied the issue of state creation in Nigeria focusing on the economic viability of the proposed states, location of administrative capitals of the proposed states and the issue of minority fears. After making case for creation of more states, the report observed:

“The creation of states should seek to establish institutional frame-work which would ensure rapid economic development among all ethnic groups, increase participatory democracy as an insurance against political instability, promote and institutionalize a balanced and stable federation and finally removed fears of domination of any group in the political development of the country”.

Quite obviously, state creation can never in itself or rather by itself assuage the fears of the minorities. One particular fact that Irikefe and his colleagues failed to fathom is that whenever a new state is created new minorities emerged! Hence Elaigwu (2005)’s analysis:

“One of the political rashes or side-effect of creating new states has been the emergence of new majorities and new minorities”.

Billy Dudley (1982) noted the politics of addressing the fears of the minorities by the colonial masters in relation to granting Nigeria independence on first October 1960. He observed:

“The statehood aspirations of minorities in the immediate pre-independence period were sacrificed before the Nigerian alters of ethnic chauvinism political sovereignty…… political expediency”.

No doubt, the urge for self-rule during this period was stronger than that of the fear of the minorities.

Larry Diamond (1988) analyzed the sub ethnic coloration of the agitation for state creation in Nigeria when he said:

“Ethnic minority fears and grievances centered around obtaining a fair share of the rewards and resources of an expanding economy and state; loans, scholarship water supplies, street lights, schools hydro-electric projects. Minority demand separate states were for based on the belief, actively promoted by their leaders, that the minorities were being cheated in the distribution of these resources by the majority dominated regional government”.

Quite obviously, Diamond’s observation was very correct in that it is the distributive nature of Nigeria federalism that heightened the sub cultural nationalism upon which foundation the agitation for more states in Nigeria thrive. Concluding his short essay on state creation in Nigeria, Larry Diamond maintained:

“The greater the number of states, the weaker and less viable individual states will become, with the direct consequence that the center would actually gather more power and initiative” (Diamond 1988).

Otwin Marenin (1988) made an epochal analysis of the correlation between the agitations for state creation and economic interest in Nigeria. Maintaining that the agitation for state creation is knotted with economic overtones he observed:

“Nigerian society is characterized by an over powering statism which inextricably intertwines political and economic power .The line demarcating economics and politics has been erased as state power equals wealth and wealth pathway to power”.

Unarguably, this view is self-explanatory as well as self convincing in that the economic centrality of Nigerian state underdeveloped the federation. As it instituted the cake-sharing syndrome in the country’s politics. Be that as it may, the scholar failed to consider the logic of balancing the structure of the federation.

Making analysis on state creation and national development as well as the viability of states, Shagari (1996) noted:

“…it is hard to see what contribution the creation of yet more states will make to our recovery and progress…. Civil servants rapid promotion and businessmen and women a fresh wave of contracts for more prestigious buildings and projects. That will be it…. No new resources are likely to be generated either from taxes, production or services. Dependent on federal handouts and ill-equipped to perform their functions, the new states will simply be a drain on already limited resources…. That is not development. It is absurdity”.

Shagari’s observation clearly underscored the predicament creating more states in Nigeria will generate; as state creation instead of encouraging development, under develops Nigerian state.

Gowon (1997) analyzed the problem facing Nigerian federalism and justified as follows as the rationale for the creation of states in his regime:

“In May, 1967 when my government created twelve states out of the existing four, it was to restructure the federation such that on one state or group of states could threaten the corporate existence of the country or hold the country to ransom. The creation of the states by my government was to make for justice and fairness as the new states would now start on equal footing. There was also the fact that the twelve states structure was established to ensure the protection of the minority elements in the regions dominated by the majority ethnic groups. This way we believe that the principle of self-determination would be allowed to flourish (Gowon 1997)”.

 In this thinking, state creation becomes an instrument of political warfare. On the issue of protecting the minorities in the defunct region, today’s agitation for state creation clearly debunked that argument.

 Seberu (1998) gave an earthshaking account of state creation as well as the politics that surrounds the entire enterprise. In his seminal analysis, he observed thus:

“The attendant proliferation of sub-national units in Nigeria has added a pathological and cyclical dimension to what has been characterized as the Deeping crisis of Nigerian federalism. The more perverse consequence of the practice of territorial fragmentation in Nigeria have been shown to include: the promotion of ‘cake sharing’ syndrome; the augmentation of the center’s political and economic hegemony via erosion of the size and resource base of sub-national government”.

The truthfulness in the assertion of Suberu is self-evidence in that what we created are states that are not economically viable. These very reasons explain why states in Nigeria relied mainly on the federal government for sustenance. The lack of independent source of revenue made the federal government virtually strong. Talking about the interface between sub-cultural nationalism and the elite politics that are associated with the agitation for state creation in Nigeria Suberu (1999) observed:

“While distributive pressure lie at the root of the clamour for new Sub national units in Nigeria, the actual processes and outcomes of territorial reorganization usually reflect the interests, perceptions, calculations and manipulation of national governing elites. These considerations… are embedded in diverse political goals, including the augmentation of cultural hegemony, the cooptation or mortification of restive local elites and constituencies, the maintenance of some equity among the major regions and geo-political segments of the federation, the promotion of the federations stability and, perhaps most importantly, the creation or expansion of regime support or legitimacy” (Suberu 1999).

Okwudiba Nnoli (2005) in his seminal work on ethnicity x-rayed the bourgeois impulses that formed the basis of the clamour for more states in Nigeria. The work of this pundit did not dwell much on state creation as the work concentrated much on the implication of ethnicity in African politics.

Elaigwu (2005) in his own critical analysis of state creation in Nigeria noted uncompromisingly that the political geography of the creation  of states contribute to the strength of the federal centre. Thus, he observed:

“Paradoxically, as additional states were created to meet the demands of sub national groups for greater autonomy, the greater the number of states, the stronger the federal center, and the more imperative its role as a center for taking necessary homogenizing or harmonizing actions in matters transcending each state”.

Concluding his short essay on state creation, Elaigwu maintained:

“One of the greatest impetus of the unitary streaks in Nigeria’s Federation certainly came from creation of additional states by the military” (Elaigwu 2005).

Femi Mimiko (2011) x-rayed the elite ingredients in the agitation for state creation in Nigeria. He maintained uncompromisingly that the agitation for state creation in Nigeria is an elite affair when he stated:

“It [state creation] is an enterprise contorted, prosecuted and employed by the elite’s desire for power and relevance and the entire appurtenance that go with that. This is why even 38 years after the first state (region) was created in 1963, the phenomenon has not been a basis of resolving the national question and the attendant problem of mass alienation from the political and economic process of the nation” (Mimiko 2011).

This view was given credence by Oyebare (2011) when he added that the additional states has became “new locations for expansion of the elite class and the corresponding expansion of the population of the country’s poor” concluding, Mimiko observed thus:

“State creation has become an instrument of political patronage and one designed to enhance the competitive edge of particular tendencies or regimes that become dominant at different points in the historical trajectory” (Mimiko 2011).

No doubt, state creation has become a veritable tool with which a string of unitarist leaders have dealt a fatal blow to Nigerian federalism.

Ojo, Emmanuel and Adebayo (2012) took a cursory study on the structural imbalance of Nigerian federalism as well as the possible way of restructuring the system. Looking at the unabated agitation for state creation in Nigeria, the scholars observed:

“Nigeria’s internal territorial reforms have remained pathetically inclusive, as each successive exercise in state and local re-organization has merely spawned new minorities, antipathies and agitation for new states and localities. The cyclical character of territorial changes in Nigeria contrasts sharply with experience in most other federations, where initially reforms of states and/or local boundaries have been followed by period of fairly stable consensus on the internal territorial configuration or morphology of the federal system (Ojo and Adebayo 2013)

Kukah (2013) made a powerful analysis of the relationship between the upsurge in the clamour for state creation in Nigeria and national integration. Concluding his analysis he opined that:

“Agitation for state creation is a sign of disunity….. It’s also hindering our sense of belonging due to its tribalistic constitutionality which is self defeating”.

Kukah analysis needs not to be questioned in that the agitation for state creation is a sign of dissatisfaction by the minorities in the states where they are living.

  1. Hypothesis
  2. Agitation for more states in Nigeria is informed by sub cultural nationalism
  3. There exist no significant relationship between state creation and national development.
  4. Creation of more states in Nigeria has not allayed the fears of the minorities.
    1. Theoretical Framework

This work is build around political economy frame work. The choice of this framework is anchored on the fact that political economy espouses the primacy of material condition, dynamic character of reality and relatedness of different elements of society as well as analyzing political phenomena in their economic context.

Political economy emerged from the writings of Karl-Marx and provided an understanding of politics essentially from economic point of view. Politics therefore attempts to look at the society essentially as an economic entity mediated by political relationship. Apart from Marx, Engels and Lenin other purveyors of this theory includes: claude Ake, Samir Amin, John Saul, Eskor Toyo, Okwudiba Nnoli etc.

As it relates to our study, the clamour for creation of more states must be seen on the basis of its underlying propensity which is economical in nature. Therefore, the understanding of agitation for state creation in Nigeria makes sense only when it is foundationed on the interplay between power and interest among agitators and within the locality agitating for new state. In context of this thinking, political economy framework, becomes important in this study in that it enables us to see beyond logic of development and allaying the fears of the minorities and come to understand agitation for more states in Nigeria as an attitude of Elites (within the sub cultural nationalities) whose desire to crave empire for themselves is fuelled by the distributive pressure of the “cake sharing” syndrome in Nigerian politics.

  1. 10 Significance of the Study

This research is very important for various reasons:

One hinges on the disadvantages inherent in creating more states as well as the perennial factors engendering these tendencies in Nigeria.

The study will further help in making definite and scholarly contribution towards understanding the interplay between power and interest in every agitation for state creation.

Policy makers, government and non-governmental organizations and Nigerians (as a whole) are to gain more insight from this study as it weigh experience in political cum economic scales of development.

Finally, this research will stimulate further studies on the issue affecting national development in Nigeria as well as means of controlling the subcultural impulses. It will serve as reference material for researchers in the area of the politics and government in Nigeria.

  1.  Method of Research

The research is descriptive; the design adopted is historical and explanatory.

The type of data used in the study is secondary data which will be collected from library relevant textbooks, seminar papers, magazine and internet. Analysis of data used is based on content analysis.

  1.  Definition of concepts.

In this section, we shall give a conceptual clarification of the major concepts that forms the basis of this research work:

  1. State creation
  2. National development
  3. Federal character principle
  4. Subcultural nationalism
  5. Minority fear
  6. The zoning system and power sharing in government
  7. State Creation

State creation implies a process of creating or carving out from an existing unit or units of a federation a new component unit or units in a federation. And in this context, agitation for state creation implies demands for creating new component units from some quarters in Nigerian federation.

  • National Development

Development in its basic sense denote progress, that is, transformation or change from a position or condition hitherto to unfavorable or less favourable to one that enables man to achieve his socio-political and economic needs as well as promote the growth of the society at large. Betran (1999) in conceptualizing development defines it as a directed and widely participatory process of deep and accelerated socio-political change geared towards producing substantial change in the economy, the technology and the ecology of the country so that the moral and material advancement of the majority of the population can be obtain within conditions of generalized equality, dignity, justice and liberty. National development therefore refers to gradual manifestation of positive and economic life of a country. Ogai (2003) posits that national development deals with human endowments, natural, psychological and other factors. National development goes beyond having plenty of money; it embraces all aspect of law and order, resource fullness in business dealings, honesty in business relation, sophistication, broadmindness, familiarity with gadgets and overall positive outlook. National development has three major aspects viz:

  1. Economic and social aspect
  2. Political and cultural aspect
  3. Industrial and administrative aspect.
  4. Federal Character Principle

Federal character principle in its simplest term was the product of the contradiction between the ethno-moral balances. It was an attempt to redress North-south regional imbalance resulted in the creation of states.

Afigbo (1999) viewed it as a strategy of ethnic balancing such that the benefits of the state are equitably distributed.

  •  Subcultural Nationalism

Cultural nationalism is a form of nationalism that places primary emphasis on the regeneration of a nation as a distinctive civilization rather than as a discrete political community. Not uncommonly, cultural nationalist view states as a peripheral if not alien entity.

 In this thinking, sub cultural nationalism can be viewed as a patriotic sentiment and consciousness on the part of sub cultural group to assert their right to live under a government of their own making for the preservation of their political, social and economic interests.

  • Minority Fear

Nigeria like many other countries is multi-ethnic in nature. The ethnic groups differ in size, in the areas of population and physical land mass. While some of the ethnic groups are big, others are small. The big ones are called majority and small ones minority.

The existence of ethnic groups of different size is not the problem per se. The important thing is the nature of relationship between the majority and minority cultural groups in relation to state power and distribution of the resource of the states.

Therefore the term minority fears denote the feelings by minority groups in Nigerian federation of being marginalized and subordinated if they are not living in their own states (component unit)

  • Zoning System And Power Sharing

When state creation failed to correct the perceived problems of marginalization and domination, among other complaints, a new zoning and power sharing remedy became part of the standard agenda of socio-political reformers of the early 1990s.

Zoning system simply denotes a mechanism for power sharing geared towards promotion of national integration. Professor Onigu Otite, in a scholarly 1995 study ‘zoning and power sharing system in Nigeria’ advocated six zones (“for the purpose of rotatory presidency”).

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