The sagged politics of religion, tribe and class in Nigeria

April 15th, 2019

By Abuchi Obiora

The polities of Nigeria has been un­der serious pressure, heavily sagged by religion, tribe and class.

Though Nigerian politicians swear allegiance to the nation and her peo­ple on assumption of office, experi­ences of Nigerian politics show that the first love for many of them on as­sumption of office is religion. Their second love is tribe while class is their third love.

These three allegiances and not their promise to serve the nation and the people define their actions in of­fice. It does not matter to them if they have to abandon their electoral prom­ises and political party manifesto in so far as they maintain allegiance to these three impediments to Nigeria political maturity.

This writer has also observed a re­peating pattern whereby the strongest of the religious, tribal or class cliques will hijack the machinery of govern­ment to its advantage as soon as a new government is constituted in Nigeria.


The amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates of Nige­ria in 1914 by Lord Lugard was the origin of the north/South dichotomy which threatened, and is still threaten­ing the stability of the country.

The weak knot of 1914 amalgama­tion managed to survive before Gen­eral Yakubu Gowon tied another knot to keep the unity of Nigeria and to dif­fuse the mounting tensions. He creat­ed the twelve states out of the four re­gions of Nigeria.

Subsequent governments created more states and delineated six geo-political zones for easy geo-political administration of the country.

All these measures were well-con­ceived and aimed at decentralization of government and taking it to the grassroots.

The Nigerian factor

But it is unfortunate that non of these measures have solved the prob­lems they were meant to address. Rather, they have all unwittingly cre­ated a suppressive group of more re­gional lords, more tribal champions, and recently, more local government power brokers. Infact, the expansion of the institutions of government in Nigeria to forge peace and prolifer­ate governance has achieved the ex­act opposite result from the intentions of the governments that conceptual­ized these measures.

Why, you may ask? The Nigerian factor!

‘The Nigerian factor’, that is, the way Nigerians see and do things, is a major reason why we have over-bearing influence of religion, tribe and class in Nigerian politics.

Religion, Tribe And Class

Another example of the Nigerian factor can be taken from the inter­pretation of the vivacious pronounce­ment by one of the founding fathers of Nigeria to ‘dip the Qur-an in the sea’. This pronouncement has been taken off-context by some politicians of the extraction of the founding father who trade with the pronouncement, and this has galvanized a cult-like obei­sance around an innocent, exuberant statement made by an ardent Moslem and admired leader who loved his re­ligion and his people.

That statement is wrongfully inter­preted today in some quarters as a call to Jihad and other quarters as an im­perative to balance the historical acci­dent of the colonization of the coun­try by Britain – one of the countries known to champion a religion other than that of the personality who made the statement.

Let me quickly warn here that no­body can ‘Islamise’ or even ‘Christian­ize’ Nigeria. It is impossible to do this and the person or group who attempts that will be going on a misadventure for both themselves and Nigeria.

Man lives and survives in a com­petitive world and this competition permeates the fabrics of the activi­ties and engagements of man includ­ing his religion. Charity begins at home, so people must speak good of and promote their religions. But the challenge of secular co-habitation de­mands that all man’s sentiments of re­ligion must be expressed within the limits of the laws of the society where man lives.

The problem, therefore, is not with the man who made a hearty state­ment, but with some politicians of the same stock and breed who wrongful­ly use the statement as a cheap instru­ment of religious propaganda to ad­vance their careers in politics.

Be that as it may, this misinterpre­tation of history by some politicians is wicked and it threatens the very foundation of a secular Nigeria. It is the traditional practice of some Nige­ria politicians to employ religious sen­timents and ethno-centric emotions to promote their political ambitions especially when they lack in empiri­cal things to improve the welfare of the people. They take advantage of mass illiteracy and ravaging hunger stalk­ing the people to sell their dummies.

Nascent Nigerian Class Structure

It is important to study the nascent Nigerian class structure alongside re­ligion and tribe in politics in order to understand why the country always have problems in her general elec­tions.

Once elected, politicians are ex­pected to build bridges across diver­gent political divides in order to fos­ter amity that is necessary to build a conducive environment for service to the people.

Very often, it does not happen this way in Nigeria. With the winner-takes-all mindset, most of them fall back to their religious, tribal and class cleavages for protection while in office as they swim in official corruption.

The less favored after every election year – mainly from the oppositions – decamp and cross-carpet for the same reason of protection.
Presently, Nigeria has a five class structure, notably:

The Ruling Class

The Nigerian ruling class compris­es the highly segregated and well-pro­tected bourgeois, and they are period­ically drawn from:
1. The Military Elites
2. The Public Service Elites
3. The Political Elites, and
4. The newly-admitted Elites in the Academia

All the members of the Nigerian ruling class- those who call the shots in Nigeria- are less than one thousand persons.
The upper class

The Upper Class comprises the highly respected and sparsely circulat­ed business people at the helms of the affairs of key and juicy government in­vestments and high net-worth multi­national corporations.

Chameleonic in character and in-and-out-of government with wide international connections, they weld immense power home and abroad. They are kingmakers and the sacred cows of all governments.

The interests of the Upper Class are protected in all government poli­cies because their contacts permeate the four elitist groups that periodical­ly and jointly run the governments. As a matter of fact, the members of the Upper Class always indentify and nurture the elites to positions of lead­ership long before those individuals become rulers.

Two different sets of people make up the Upper Class – the active mem­bers and the co-opted/passive mem­bers. All the first class traditional rul­ers in Nigeria are co-opted members of the Upper Class. Other co-opt­ed members of the Upper Class are drawn from notable families of the founding fathers of Nigeria.

Active members of the Upper Class come from all parts of Nige­ria. Nigerians are conversant with them and where they are fixed. A few nouve-riche usually join their exclu­sive club as those nouve-riche ‘arrive’

The middle class

The Middle Class comprises the admired senior working class genre who bake the national cake. This set of Nigerians are in the ‘engine room’ of the Civil Service and private sec­tor investments, the middle-level businessmen and women in sundry business houses across the nation.
Their vantage middle position shelves them from direct impact of adverse economic conditions, espe­cially as their hands are continuous­ly wet with the oil with which they lu­bricate the economy.

Being managers of the economy, they maintain economic stability that only the Upper Class and the Ruling Class can afford. They are the second largest group following after the peas­ants (see below).

The peasants

Nigerian peasants are domiciled ev­erywhere. The annihilation of the lower middle class by consecutive economic depressions in Nigeria has increased the population of the peasants. The peasants are not only in the rural areas anymore. Running away from the rural areas and ex­treme poverty, the peasants are now mostly stuck in urban and sub-urban areas earning their livelihood doing anything they can lay their hands on, including subsistence agriculture.

Apart from their traditional profession of subsistence agricul­ture, the peasants now engage in other small businesses as mainte­nance work, ancillary services, street trading, hawking, ‘Mairuwas’, ‘Mai­guards’ etc.

Environmentalists will observe that the preponderance of the peas­ants in our cities is the major rea­son for the environmental challeng­es which the cities face as a result of multiple dirt and garbage.

More than half of Nigerian pop­ulation is presently in this class, many of them slipping off daily to what Franz Fanon calls ‘The wretch­ed of the earth’.

Fallacy of Nigeria elections

Though the governments of Ni­geria spend huge amounts of money to organize elections, it is becoming clearer that governments emerge in Nigeria when the interests of the ruling class (or the clique within the ruling class that has hijacked power) coincide with that of the other class­es down the class ladder.

When there is no coincidence be­tween these two interests, a rigging takes place – or as we have recent­ly witnessed – an entirely new elec­tion result is written and announced in stark disregard to what people vot­ed. This, to me, is the climax of the Ni­gerian factor.

The Nigerian factor is a challenge to legal draftsmen and jurisprudence experts who must widen the scope of their research to track the unique fea­tures of the evolving Nigerian socio-political character and respond with corresponding amendments in the electoral laws to quickly snuff out the smoldering smoke that may turn into a razing inferno in a future Nige­rian election.

Never again

During the political logjam caused by the annulment of June 12 mandate of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, some emi­nent Nigerians from across the profes­sions organized themselves under the umbrella of ‘Concerned Profession­als’. They adopted the cliché ‘NEVER AGAIN’ and I shared in their dream.

Never again. Never again did those professionals believe that Nige­ria will be confronted with the type of obstinacy on the part of her lead­ers, which drove the IBB government to annul an election widely accredited across the world to be free and fair. But here we are, twenty six solid years af­ter that annulment being drilled along the same tortuous path of playing with the people’s mandate.

Never again. Three times have I felt like throwing away my Nigerian citizenship. The first was during the event follow­ing the said annulment; the second was on the day of former minister Orubebe drama at the 2015 presidential election collation centre; the third was during the days preceding the 2019 presiden­tial election as Nigerians scampered to their roots fearing attacks from the host communities where they do their busi­nesses.

Never again. Must they rule us?. ‘Na by force?’ Nigerians are happy liv­ing together – Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, the other tribes: Christians, Moslems, Pegans, Animists, Atheists, etc. Why do they put our lives at risk as we are condemned to live with many of our angry countrymen who have no food, education and shelter because of their misrule? Nigerians must say NEVER AGAIN.

Determination of our tenor

While the electoral injustice is be­ing extended across selected parts of the country against the opposition, the whole process is at the risk of being hi­jacked by ethnic jingoists and religious irredentists. Nigerians who reside in the Northern parts of the country will un­derstand the reason for my apprehen­sion because this part of Nigeria can be volatile at times like this.

An intelligent report that filtered from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America some years back was quoted to have documented that Nige­ria may run into extinction – may cease to exist as a country – by the year 2015!

There is only a four-year differ­ence between 2015 and 2019, so Ni­geria still need to be careful about that prophecy of doom. One would have thought that the government will show serious interest to annul all possibilities of manifestation of the prophecy. But this is not so, rather the government is conducting itself in a ‘leizzez-faire, san soins’ attitude chasing its own agenda.

Viewed from the perspective of the multiple crisis of Boko Haram, the sacking of communities by cat­tle rustlers, extra-judicial killings by security forces, religious/ethno-cen­tric killings in many parts of Nigeria, and recently, misgivings arising from the 2019 general elections, the ques­tion that comes to the mind of wor­ried Nigerians is ‘Are the undertakers here with us?’.

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