THE CHARACTER OF STATE AND POLITICS iN NIGERIA Ake (1985:9) characterizes the State in Nigeria differently thus:

“The unique feature of the State in Nigeria and this is typical of periphery capitalist formations generally, is that the State has limited autonomy. That is the State is institutionally constituted in such a way that it enjoys little independence from the social classes, particularly the hegemonic class, and so is immersed in the struggle of the class. (In Nigeria)

there may well be a case of talking about political

administration or government instead of State. It does

not matter what we call it as 1on as we are clear about its objective character and how it differs from the pure ideas of State.”

The political implications of limited autonomy of the Nigerian State are many. First, the political differences and struggles in the society are not easily mediated because the State is also immersed in the class struggle.

Because of this, it is not impartial or perceived as impartial. What thismeans is that the rules which govern political competition and other aspects of social life do not have adequate institutional nuarantees of their impartiality. Therefore. political and economic competition becomes essentially “normiess” and “lawless”, or at any rate. conducted in clear preference of efficiency norms instead of legitimacy norms. This partly characterizes Nigeria’s politics whereby in the \jews of Ake (1985): .

“Contending groups struggle on grimly, polarizing their differences and convinced that their ability to protect their interests and to obtain justice is co-extensive with

their power. That creates the politics of anxiety. In this type of politics, there is deep alienation and distrust among political competitors. Consequently. they are profdly afraid of being in the power of their oppone1ts. This fear in turn breeds a huge appetite for power, which is sought without restraint and used without restraint. This is the type of politics that has prevailed in Nigeria since independence”. (Ake, 1985:10).

The summa of our position on this matter is that the Nigerian State, like the colonial State before it, turns on the calculus of strength rather than legitimacy. What is uniquely negative about politics in Nigeria arises from the character of the State —its lack of autonomy, its proneness to abuse and the lack of immunity against it. The character of the State in Nigeria rules out a politics of moderation and mandates a politics of lawlessness and extremism because the very nature of the State and the perquisites of office make the capture of State power irresistibly attractive. The State in Nigeria has appropriated the wealth and resources of the people. It has turned itself into a contested terrain where interest groups, political parties and ethnic/religious communities go to fight to capture, privatize and protect their interests. The result is, there is no “common wealth of Nigeria” because the State, unlike it counterparts in other societies, does not incarnate -our collective identity. In the words of Ake (1996:70:

“How can there be (a common wealth) when we have managed to fabricate an endless war between regional, ethnic, religious and communal grç1lps; when most of us encounter what answers to the S4te only as predatory force on rampage; when those who are supposed to defend us have turned their arms against us and never grant us any respite from exploitation”

This is the character of the State in Nigeria; it is the character of politics in our society. It is a State where governors act with impunity and remain above the law; a State where Senators and Assembly men do not represent any constituents but themselves; a State where police brutality is commonplace. A State where thuggery and gangsterism have become attractive ways of life. Th a society such as this. people are made to believe that life is war; it is a case of survival of the fittest. And in the jungle of politics, only the strong survive. It should not come as a surprise that where impunity and lawlessness reign, we have inadvertently created the fertile ground for militancy and terrorism to grow



State terrorism has been defined as acts of terrorism conducted by governments or terrorism carried out directly by. or encouraged and funded by an established government of a State. Generally, it is terrorism practiced by a government against its own people or in support of international terrorism. Dictatorships (especially military At independence, the Nationalists inherited this structure or instrument àf State that is constituted as a specific modality of class domination. The dominant social forces and class struggled to maintain their domination, while the subordinate social forces (spearheaded by workers’ associations and peasant groups) struggled against their subordination. This scenario was made worse by the zero-sum character of Nigerian politics in which winners take all and losers have nothing. The intensity of the struggle for power and the absence of an effective mechanism to mediate conflict engendered a situation in which the process of political competition was constituted as warfare. Electoral violence, instability and political crisis became common features of the First Republic. It did not come as a surprise when the masters of warfare —the armed forces — overthrew the civilian government in the first military coup of 1966.

The emergence of military rule was the biggest setback to the growth of democracy in Nigeria. Democracy is a learning process. Military rule is the archetype of government by impunity; it governs by decrees. It does not require popular approval or majority rule. The culture of impunity became the dominant political culture in military politics and governance in Nigeria. Ake (1996) aptly sumid it up thus:

“The military addresses the extreme and the extraordinary while democracy addresses the routine. (administration); the military values discipline and hierarchy, democracy values freedom and equality; the method of the military is violent aggression, that regimes) terrorize their own populations. In the same vein, authoritarian civilian governments are also capable of terrorism. The State in Nigeria had its roots in the colonial State. Absolutism and arbitrariness were the main distinguishing features of the colonial State (Mene, 2002:48). The colonial State arbitrarily introduced exploitative policies with regard to what products should be marketed via marketing boards. Taxes and forced labor were other forms of State repression employed by the colonial State of democracy is persuasion, negotiation and consensus building”.

The long years of military rule in Nigeria (1966-1979 and 1983- 1999), which lasted for 29 years institutionalized the culture of terrorism as a basic feature of governance. Because culture is the way of life of a people, the dominant political culture in governance has a demonstration effect on the rest of society. The process of political socialization can only inculcate the values and principles of the dominant political culture. Military tradition in governance was conducted with the mentality of “war” such that evei the programme of re-orientation of the citizenry for orderly jblic conduct was called “war against indisèipline”. Habits, they say, die hard. Hence our politicians, who have worked closely with the military and imbibed the military culture of governance, continue to exhibit the culture of impunity. Evidently, the militarization of social life for almost 29 years largely accounts for this In the subsequent sections, we outline some of the classic cases of State terrorism in Nigeria.



  1. In 1974, the building of Bakolori Dam Project in Sokoto State led to a violent clash between the military and peasant farmers.

The siting of the dam led to loss of farmlands by the peasants. The remaining potions of the land were generally flooded by the dam. Following protests by the farmers, the government reclaimed the lands and re-allocated parcels of land to the peasants on condition that they cultivate cash crops such as wheat, rice and vegetables. This conflicted with the peasants’ own priorities and crop preferences. The disagreement degenerated into violent conflicts and the government deployed the military who brutally suppressed the uprising. The ensuing conflict resulted in the burning of villages, killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children (Summit, 1990: Yahaya, 2002).

  1. On November 1. 1990, the people of Umuechem, a town 37 kilometres from Port Harcourt in Rivers State had a taste of State terrorism. The Nigerian Mobile Police Force invaded the community, pulling down gates, walls and other structures. The police occupied the town for seven days and when they left, the traditional ruler — His Royal Highness. Chief Alexander Ordu, his two Sons (Ekwubiri and Nwaraegbu) and three brothers of Akpan family (Okon, Friday and Ebenezer), among scores of other persons were killed (African Concord. 1990: 14: National Agenda, 1996:12). The Umuechem incident was said to have started the previous day October 31, 1990. The community youths and women had gathered to peacefully protest the neglect of the community by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) since 1957 when oil was discovered in the area. With no pipe-borne water, no electricity, no secondary school and no university scholarships to indigenes of the town after 33 years of oil exploration in their community, the people felt sufficiently aggrie\ ed and proceeded to peacefully protest at the SPDC facility. The company (SPDC) quickly asked for “Government Protection”. In response. the government dispatched a team of armed policemen to quell the protest. The result was the casualties reported above (Ati-ican Concord. 1990: 23; Newswatch Magazine. 1995:10). A government inquiry into the Umuechem Massacre revealed that neither SPDC nor the police were under any major threat from the villagers. The report of the government panel only apportioned blame, where it could not hide the facts, when it £tted that:

The mobile police who attacked Umuechem village was like an individual army that had vowed to take the

last drop of the enemy’s blood. They threw all human reasoning to the wind, shot people and razed down a total of 495 houses in the village with blast grenades. The preponderant share of this responsibility rests with the mobile police force who forgot that their duty was to protect life and property and not to destroy them (Tell Magazine, 1994:13).

  1. Beginning from January 1990, the people of Ogoni in Rivers State embarked on a sustained protest to express their concern over oil exploration in their land. They complained that for over 35 years, oil resources had been exploited with very little or no returns to compensate them for the attendant destruction of the environment and livelihood. The Ogonis also blamed the government for condoning the recklessness and disregard of standard environmental protection measures by SPDC. Reports showed that:

The Ogoni environment had been systematically destroyed by the oil companies which in collusion with Nigerian governments have been appropriatin their natural resources without adequate compensation for their losses. (i.e) unproductive farmlands, polluted water sources and general environmental degradation (Tell Magazine, 1993:28)

Under the auspices of a Pan-Ogoni pressure group —the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Ogonis steadfastly confronted oil workers and their police escorts with demonstrations leading to work stoppages and the loss of 200 million dollars of revenue in 1993 alone. The government responded militarily. By 1994 government military repression accounted for the death of about 1000 Ogoni people in what international Human Rights groups dubbed “genocide in Ogoniland”. In one incident in the town of Kaa, at least 35 men. women and children were killed and over 5000 people rendered homeless by government forces (Africa Magazine, 1994:2)

  1. On December 11. 1998, Ijaw Youths met in Kaiama, Bayelsa State and formed the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). The council adopted a declaration which demanded for:

“The immediate withdrawal from Ijaw land, of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian State. Any oil company that employs the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian State to protect its operations will be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people. Family members of military personnel stationed in Ijaw land should appeal to The declaration warned that unspecified steps would be taken to implement the resolutions by December 30, 1998 by youths in “all the communities in all Ijaw clans in the Niger Delta”. Expectedly, on December 30, 1998 youths supporting the 1YC declaration held peaceful demonstrations in different communities across Ijaw land. In Bomadi town in Delta State, the military administrator, Navy Captain Walter Feghabo, attended and it was peaceful. But in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, soldiers posted at the gate of the Government House, opened fire on the peaceful demonstrators, killing three youths (Obari, 1999:8). The next day, Ijaw Youths from the nearby communities of Kaiama and Odi town headed for Yenagoa town for mass demonstration. They were intercepted by soldiers at Mbiama junction on the East-West road. Fighting ensued and more than 10 youths were killed. (Human Rights Watch, 1999:7). The recourse to military might did not restore peace in the Niger Delta Region. Attacks and counter attacks by soldiers and militant youths reinforced the culture of violence in the region and by year end, precisely on December 4, 1999 culminated in the infamous Odi Massacre. A detachment of Nigerian Army invaded the town, ostensibly in search of militant youths. The community was bombarded, houses razed and scores of people killed. (Tell Magazine, December 6, 1999;

Alapiki, 2000:133).

their people to leave the Ijaw alone (IYC Declaration, 1998:2).