Vol. XIV, Issue 3 (Summer 2007):Nigerian Politics and Society


Gloria Emeagwali
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Table of contents

by Dr. Gloria Emeagwali

In this issue of Africa Update, Professor Okafor of Eastern Michigan University explores an area with tremendous implications for Nigerian electoral politics, revenue allocation and even regional stability. The Professor suggests that Nigeria should consider making use of the expertise of the United Nations in future censuses.

 Also included in this issue is an analysis of the booming  video film industry  and visual literature by Dr.  Ademiju-Bepo of the Nigerian Film Institute, Jos.  He makes comparative  references to the era dominated by Nigeria’s literary giant, Femi Osofisan, and  what he refers to as the’ post-Osofisan’ era. 

 In April 2007, Nigeria held its Presidential elections. A  former chemistry professor turned politician, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua,  emerged victorious, pledging to turn Nigeria’s economy around and serve the country as a whole rather than regional interests. He vowed also to ensure that future elections of Nigeria would be free and fair. We have included  in this issue an interview produced exclusively for Africa Update on the April 2007 election. We interview Ms Therese Nweke, a veteran journalist and commentator who has been a keen observer of Nigerian politics and society for the last thirty years. 

Nigerian electoral politics and the recent elections would be the theme of  the Fall issue of Africa Update.

We thank the three contributors to this issue for agreeing to provide us with  their penetrating analyses of Nigerian politics and society.

Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor, Africa Update

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Nigeria’s Census Jinx: Is there a way out?
By Professor Victor Oguejiofor Okafor1
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
Email Address
: victor.okafor@emich.edu

Students of Nigerian politics could not have been surprised by the swirling controversy over the recently-released provisional results of the national headcount, which the federal government of Nigeria conducted in 2006. Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC) announced that the 2006 census produced a national population of 140,003,542. According to the commission, this result indicates a growth of about 20 million from the 1991 census figure of 120 million. This represents a growth rate of 3.2 per cent and a female to male ratio of 105 males to 100 females (71,709,000 males and 68,293,683 females). The provisional results, like previous Nigerian censuses, show the north to be more populous than the south. A breakdown of the new national population of 140 million shows the three geopolitical zones of the North as having a combined population of 75,025,166 (53.7%), while the combined population of southern states is 64,978,376 (46.3%) (Omonijo).

Despite notable objections that have been raised from several sectors of the south, as are discussed later in this article, Nigeria’s Council of State2 advised President Olusegun Obasanjo to accept the results of the 2006 census. The next step required by section 213 of the operative 1999 national constitution of Nigeria is the laying of the census report by the president before each chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral federal legislature (and it would appear that this step has been taken) and subsequently publishing it in the Official Gazette of the federal government. Going by section 213 (3) of that constitution, it appears that the disputed census results have already scaled the most critical huddle, namely its acceptance by the Council of State. This does not bode well for the segments of the nation that have objected to the census outcome. It is particularly important to recall that on the same day that the census result was announced, Jare Ajayi published a claim that instead of 140 million, the census exercise had generated a population of about 200 million but had to be amended by the national population commission. Here is the rest of his account. “Compatriots, I happen to know (unofficially) that the initial census figure after the exercise was about 200 million. The Nigerian Population Commission (NPC) had to frantically go back to the field to verify most of the claims made. It was in the process that a whopping 50 million figure got dropped. The point I'm trying to make is that so many things in Nigeria appear or occur unnaturally. Things that are simply and honestly done elsewhere are twisted in Nigeria - especially at the official level. May the Almighty save us. But we need remember that Heaven helps those who help themselves.”  

Needless to say, throughout Nigeria’s history, no national head count has ever won nation-wide acceptance, specifically because all recorded national head counts have shown the northern, predominantly Moslem part of Nigeria to be more populous than the predominantly Christian south. As is happening now, southern politicians have always claimed that the north is not as populous as successive national head counts have demonstrated. Reacting to the provisional results of the 2006 census, a pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere described the results “…as an attempt to use ‘well-managed and manipulated demography to justify the inequities that have made calls for restructuring so strident’" (Ogunmade). By “inequities,” Afenifere refers to the following statistics of Nigeria’s political power configuration. “These figures are well understood when other statistics are considered. The North has 54.1 per cent of the states in Nigeria and 54.1 per cent of local governments. In the National Assembly, the North has 53 per cent of the House of Representatives seats, as well as 53.2 per cent of the seats in the Senate. The North also draws 55.3 per cent of the Federal Allocation to local governments” (Ogunmade).

Its Igbo counterpart, Ohanaeze questioned the results but betrayed a somewhat subdued reaction as shown by this excerpt from a national news report regarding statements made by its president. “… Dr Dozie Ikedife, while faulting the result, said the group would make a full statement after studying the breakdown in detail” (Omonijo). The news report further quotes Ikedife as saying that "We have to study the figures before I can give you a categorical answer. But my preliminary observation suggests that there is a shift and that shift cannot be justified by what is on ground. But my full comment will come after we have reviewed the details so that demographers and population experts will be able to guide us, so that what we say will be scientific and factual. From the figures, the South-East population is the least in Nigeria, and this makes you wonder if this is real. But as I said, a full explanation will come when we have had a detailed study" (Omonijo)

While the north contains a larger share (600,000 square kilometers) of Nigeria’s land mass of 923,768 square kilometers,3 than the south (323,768 square kilometers), southern politicians have consistently insinuated that the south is more densely populated than the north. As Nigeria’s Vanguard brilliantly recalls in a recent editorial, “Each new census has benefited from the fouled environment of the one preceding it. The first head count in 1866 - 141 years ago - was controversial. The subsequent ones in 1871, 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, 1953, 1962, 1963, 1973, 1991 were all doused in controversy over which part of the country was more populous” (Colours of Census). As Vanguard’s editorial recalls, Nigeria’s census disputes pre-date its national independence from British colonial rule, which occurred in 1960. For instance, the census of 1950-3 produced an outcome that led southern politicians to accuse the British colonial authorities of manipulating the results “… in order to give the North (which the colonial establishment perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a dependable ally) a political edge in Nigerian politics” (Okafor 99). 

Another recent commentary on the 2006 census reminds one of the fact that the new census controversy has given fresh currency to Nigeria’s north vs. south bi-polar politics despite the breaking up of the multi-ethnic federal republic into 36 states. As the commentator puts it, “In a federation prone to ethnic and religious unrest, which has a powerful northern elite yet derives its wealth from its southern states, the issue of whether Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north is more populous than the Christian south is always thorny. The latest census has proved no exception” (Vesperini). The preceding passage hits the nail in the head by drawing attention to the main reason for the successive politicization of the results of Nigeria’s national headcounts. Not unlike most countries, Nigeria uses population as its major criterion for the sharing of nationally-derived revenue among the constituent 36 states and more than seven hundred local governments. Nigeria’s mineral and other natural resources are publicly owned and so are managed by the central government. Revenue that accrues from such resources, including petroleum (Nigeria is a major producer of crude oil, which is the mainstay of its national economy) are shared among the federal, state and local governments, based on a formula that uses population as it key yardstick. Besides revenue sharing, the census is also the basis for determining the number of legislative seats assigned to each state of the federation. Thus, besides serving as a basis for planning, the census has both economic and political power implications. 

In this new controversy, the sourest point appears to be the census results’ claim that Kano state recorded a higher population (9.4 million) than Lagos state (9.01 million). Lagos Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu objects to this result, while a group that is described as the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE insists that the 2006 census results run counter to known rules of demography. It also reported that both Abia and Bayelsa State governments dismissed the census results all together. Governor Tinubu’s reaction is rather cautious. He is reported as saying that the census result is “… something that must be scientifically approved or disapproved. We are looking at our data base; we are looking at the basis scientifically. The basis of this figures, I would not react to that now until we finish all the analysis that we are conducting and the evaluation both demographic and our GPS and the survey area and number of forms. I know that the NPC processing centre accepted 4.9 million forms for households, I can tell you that. Are you now saying each household is less than three? That is where I will just wait for now, till later" (Omonijo).

In his reaction to the census controversy, the Chairman of Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC), Sumaila Makama, is reported as saying that “the figures from the 2006 census are a true reflection of Nigeria's population,” and that there is “… enough basis to support the census results which for the first time was 'scientifically' aided” (Muhammed). President Olusegun Obasanjo’s own reaction to all the controversy is somewhat enigmatic. Having accepted the report of the National Population Commission, the president is reported as describing the census result as “not too bad.” And, he advised Nigerians to “…to accept or reject it,” adding that “I have concluded my assignment" (Muhammed).

The 2006 census was marked by controversy even before the counting began. For instance, prior to the headcount, which was conducted in March, 2006, the five governors of the Southeastern states, along with Pan Igbo cultural organizations, such as Ohanaeze, had fought, in vain, to have the federal government change its decision not to include ethnicity and religion in the census questionnaire. The governors’ stance is based on their belief that the Igbos of Nigeria constitute a larger proportion of the national population than what previous censuses had reported. Although Igbos are indigenous to only five of the 36 states of the federation, they are probably one of the most widely dispersed groups throughout the country. But one cannot help asking the following rhetorical questions. Is it true or false that, as a reaction to the federal government’s refusal to track ethnicity and religion during the 2006 census, a south-eastern separatist group known as the Movement for the Actualization of Biafra (MASSOB) engaged in attacks against census officials and actively discouraged or prevented some citizens of several Igbo states from making themselves available for the headcount? Given MASSOB’s reported obstructionism, should it come as a surprise that the South-East zone recorded the least population of 16,381,729? The other southern zones, namely the South-West and South-South registered higher figures of 27,581,992 and 21,014,655, respectively.

 Nonetheless, one remains puzzled as to why the federal government disallowed the tracking of ethnicity and religion, particularly in a country where life’s opportunities tend to be affected significantly by a person’s ethnic and religious affiliations. If government insists on remaining blind to ethnicity and religion, then it has a duty to ensure that those two factors are never taken into consideration in school and other forms of admissions, political appointments and distribution/allocation of economic resources, including employment. It also has a duty to enshrine this ethic in the body politic and its political culture by using the executive, judicial and legislative powers of the federation to protect the constitutionally-stipulated equal citizenship rights of Nigerians in all nooks and corners of the federation. But the dilemma that faces the governing elite is the constitutional challenge of reflecting the federal character of Nigeria in their political appointments.


 The question, therefore, remains: how can you equitably enforce the normative federal character code if you do not have accurate information pertaining to the ethnic composition of the nation? This sort of question has also been raised in racially-diverse countries, such as the United States where race is tracked in successive national censuses. Supporters of the tracking of race in the United States contend that policy makers cannot effectively monitor the implementation of social equity programs and anti-discrimination policies if the national census does not recognize and document racial identities. Ideally, Nigeria ought to be experienced as a society where you are judged by the content of your character and where your life chances depend principally upon your skills and aptitudes. Like race, ethnicity should not matter. But has Nigeria become an ethnically-blind nation? When it becomes one, then the issue of the tracking of ethnicity will become mute.

Given the deep-seated mutual suspicion and distrust that exist between the north and the south over Nigeria’s unresolved census jinx, there is, in my view, a factor that some of us may have historically underestimated or even brushed aside, namely the demographic fact of a north that is predominantly polygamous (and Islamic) versus a predominantly monogamous (and Christian) south although there is a Moslem minority in the Yoruba segments of the south and a Christian minority within the northern fold. Thus, generally-speaking, an average northern and Moslem household consists of more wives and children than an average southern and Christian household.  While polygamy is typical of Islam-dominated northern social life, monogamy is the typical marital orientation in the Christian-dominated south. Therefore, should it take the intelligence of a rocket scientist for one to understand that this key factor alone would suggest that the northern population grows at a faster rate than the southern population? 

The apparent intergenerational southern bias/mindset that the north is ever guilty of inflating its population (vis-à-vis an innocent south that never engages in headcount manipulation) in order to unjustly obtain a lion share of Nigeria’s national revenue, to the detriment of the south, implies that Nigeria, on its own, probably cannot conduct a national census that will ever survive the prejudices inherent in the country’s north vs. south bipolar politics. Besides its importance for planning and prudent economic development, an accurate census is necessary for electoral purposes. If one side of the nation lacks confidence in what is officially proclaimed as Nigeria’s population, is that side likely to repose confidence in the elections and voting lists that are derived from the same questionable national census? It is my considered opinion that for Nigeria to settle its census jinx once and for all, its federal government should invite the United Nations to conduct a fresh national census in the country with a team of international and Nigerian officials. Some people may resist this idea out of national pride. But what national pride inheres in the fact that for all time, Nigeria has failed to produce a credible national census? In 2006, the United Nations assisted the Democratic Republic of Congo with the conduct of the nation’s first  multiparty elections in the country in 46 years—a country that was, for years and years, embroiled in inter-ethnic strife. There is nothing shameful about seeking help when a person can no longer solve a problem by himself/herself. This is the case with Nigeria’s proven inability to conduct and produce a credible national headcount. It takes wisdom, not empty pride, to recognize when one needs help. There is no doubt that the Nigerian nation needs help at this time.


Works Cited

Ajayi, Jare. “Unofficial Nigeria: New Population Figure? Unnatural and Unscientific.” USA Africa Dialogue 29 December 2007. (http://groups.google.com/group/USAAfricaDialogue).  

“Colours of Census,” an editorial. Vanguard 17 January 2007.  

Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Lagos: Federal Government P, 1999.  

Muhammed, Hamisu. “Census-Use it or Dump it, Obasanjo Tells Nigerians.” Daily Trust 17 January 2007.

Ogunmade, Philip. “Census Results Fraudulent, Says Afenifere.” This Day 15 January 2007.

Okafor, Victor. A RoadMap for Understanding African Politics: Leadership and Political Integration in Nigeria. New York: Routledge, 2006.  

Omonijo, Bolade, et al. “Census-Kano Beats Lagos.” Vanguard 10 January 2007.  

Omonijo, Bolade, et al. “Rejections Greet Census Result.” Vanguard 11 January 2007. 

Vesperini, Helen. “Nigeria’s 2006 Census Results Resurrect North-South Rivalry. Agence France Press 11 January 2007.  

 1 The writer, Dr. Victor Oguejiofor Okafor is a widely-published author of several books, chapters in anthologies and journal articles. His books include Okafor, Victor. A RoadMap for Understanding African Politics: Leadership and Political Integration in Nigeria. New York: Routledge, 2006, Okafor, Victor. Towards an Understanding of Africology. 2nd ed. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt, 2006, and Okafor, Victor, & Adeleke, Tunde. Eds. Studies in African American Leadership: Individuals, Movements, and Committees. New York: Edwin Mellen Press. 

2 The Council of State consists of  the President of Nigeria as Chairman, the Vice-President as Deputy Chairman, all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of State, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, all the State Governors, and the Federal Attorney General. The Council of State advises the president of Nigeria on several national matters, including national population census compilation and publication.

 3 “World Statistics.” (http://www.mongabay.com/igapo/world_statistics_by_area.htm).

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The Visual Literature and Emergent Paradigms: Nigerian Home Movies and the Dialectics of Orientation
By Adediran  Ademiju-Bepo, Ph.D
National Film Institute,

Jos, Nigeria.

When Irele (1981:69) summed up our modern African literature as:


’ a form of response to those events and forces whose impact upon our societies have determined their present state and course of historical development but also as a means of entering more fully into their meaning and implications for our (African) lives,’


 in his critical x-ray of that tradition, he could as well have been predicting, the revolution that catalyzed a few years later in the annals of modern Nigerian dramatic literature.


Sharing Irele’s contention that our modern literature presents itself not only as a response but also as a determining factor of socio-political development on the continent and indeed, its country of origin, it can be argued that the evolution of the generation which came after the Osofisan’s aligns with the motive power of drama, which De Graft (1976:5, 22), sees as a perennial search, a reaching out by the whole man towards the goal of sanity and security in a world that threatens annihilation, from all directions. Going further, De Graft advocates an understanding of the new forces that threaten our society, the things that hold terror as well as joy for our people, the need to create new or more compellingly relevant themes.


This paper is an examination and a critique of the evolution of a new generation of Nigerian playwrights- their orientation, thematic aesthetics and contribution to a growing corpus of work otherwise known as visual literature and   the emergent paradigms.
Jeyifo once observed that a literary work, or the corpus of a writer’s output, survives only to the extent that it continuously receives critical attention. Garuba (1988:269) has equally argued that,

Young writers in every literary tradition attempt to create a space for themselves by fostering different orientation of consciousness which will focus attention on their works, whether this effort leads to rancorous posturing…the outcome is on the whole the healthier growth of the tradition.

That singular experience invariably provides a current in the continuous stream of collective consciousness, creating a nexus of the old and the new order; especially while the creative regeneration of a generation, and its subsequent evolution, last.


The point here is: it is apparent that the new writing coming out of Nigeria, or that has come out, the work of young and budding playwrights, owes something to the past and a good deal to the future but expectedly, with a visible reaching for its own individuality.


The NUTAF initiative of the early 1980s which spread like a tornado swept in a strong, new generation which emerged towards the end of the 1980s in the University of Ibadan as well as other University towns of Ile-Ife, Benin, Calabar, Jos, Nsukka, Zaria, Port-Harcourt, Ilorin and Maiduguri, came with the purpose of reviving the consciousness of theatre-loving Nigerians to their own art, and that of bringing a re-generation of the art. Writing of this generation, Abati (1990:18) argues that when the basic shortcoming of these student-dramatists in their imitativeness and fascination with the simple and the psychedelic is tolerated, “their drama reveals a lot of promise.”



Attempting an ideological reading of the thematic thrust of the new drama of the ‘90s, Adesokan (1990:27,28), has noted of Tunde Ajayi’s “Streaks of Blood”, one of the entries in the NUTAF, that

the spiritual transformation that culminates in the evolution of a new system can be said to be the playwright’s own conception of what a social change should be. He seems to believe that the enthronement of Marxist or socialist government through violence or political processes is not the best cure. If everybody is spiritually reformed and the irreconcilable ones equally eliminated, what we would have would not only be a politically stabilized country, but a morally purified one. 

Invariably, this thesis which establishes the shift in the thematic aesthetics of the generation after Osofisan et al, who chose to turn their back on the previous Marxist-materialist approach, is our conceptual premise. While not turning its back on the formalist tendencies, the approach here is generally sociological.


These playwrights have reflected, and continue to reflect the Nigerian society and beyond from thematic perspectives such as leadership crisis, military misadventure, national unity, political and ethnic rivalry, state oppression of the masses, poverty, human rights violation and injustice, the scourge of campus secret cults, war and conflict, among other socio-economic issues and themes, and of course, the ravages of HIV/AIDS, cancer and other viral diseases. They do this with the newness and purposiveness that contemporaneity dictates. Their thematic and creative tendency continues to deal with Nigeria’s prevailing political and economic anguish, chronicling and mirroring our times, and offering outlets from our fast enclosing cells. 


Indeed, the 1990s came with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a contending world power, the collapse of orthodox communist structures in Eastern Europe, the retreat of Marxist-socialist creeds, on the one hand, and the triumph of America and a new right offensive, a new capitalist challenge and order, on the other. Cautiously, Udenta (1993: vii) notes that

The world became witness to… a new racial-ideological onslaught. Internationalism gave way to nationalism and the class struggle to a new era of practical economic and political co-operation on the shadow of a new world order.

The themes of the recent playwrights, rather than being shaped and sharpened by the ideology of predecessors such as Osofisan, have been ordered more by the search for a spiritual solution to our socio-political problems. To these playwrights, ideologies have failed to awaken the desired consciousness in the people to confront their realities. On the religious level, the rise of Pentecostalism, “now a most interesting development in contemporary Christianity worldwide” (Nihinlola, 1998:5) and fundamentalist Islam also coincided with the rejection of socialism in favor of survivalism as the ideological platform of expression for the generation. Today, with the return of drama to the church as in the medieval period, there are Christian groups (and Moslem sects) using drama as a vehicle of mobilizing their worshippers, both on stage and on screen. To this, Adelugba (2003:29) attests when he enthuses

…I must say that the drama performances, the live theatre that now take place in churches is no kind of output to laugh or scoff at. Some of the works coming out of the church dramatic groups have in recent years been quite impressive. Indeed if you are going to talk of the group at Ile-Ife that has not only succeeded in stage dramas, but also has had their works adapted for television and video…..


This development however cuts across the two major faiths mentioned above as an Islamic group based in Ibadan, The Caring and Sharing Brotherhood in Islam also employs drama in the same light.  


The emergence of this new set of talents at the turn of the ‘90s was an instrument in the struggle for self-determination. As we have noted elsewhere (Ademiju-Bepo, 1999:46), these “new” plays also sought to re-write the history of dramatic enterprise in the country in an attempt to wrest the reins of dramatic mode from the ‘older’ generation, whose influence is however still sparingly discernible in the plays of the ‘90s. 

As far as their themes are concerned, it was a new vision for drama in the country, a vision which has now assumed a pre-eminent place in the critical tradition of recent drama, with the rise of the home video, therefore giving the world a whole new visual literature as a medium of entertainment, the challenging, rival tendency of survivalism and economic pressures notwithstanding. Oyesoro (1999) has argued for the declining popularity of the live theatre at the turn of the 1990s:

…inasmuch as the new breed generation playwrights want to make their impact felt on the dramatic terrain, they have been handicapped by the diversion of the home video phenomenon which has lured many of them because of the instant financial gain it offers.  Rather than wait for the live stage or the publishers to get their plays to the public, many of these playwrights simply choose to sell off their scripts to home video producers.




The video movie aided by technology has today become a major Nigerian dramatic form of the nineties. Taking up Haynes’s contention (2000:xv), one can say that the motion picture industry has found its feet, sustained by the increasingly diverse and powerful cultural energies currently flowing into it and the tremendous growth and mutation it has experienced, in its first decade and a half of its emergence. We want to posit that the survival of this paradigm has been buoyed by the post-Osofisan playwrights who gravitated to and became spellbound to same in their search for contemporary relevance and dramatic prominence. Interestingly, empirical evidence shows that the choice has neither been ill-inspired nor motivated as these playwrights of the ‘new order’ now practice in the realm of visual literature as opposed to dramatic literature. The dialectics of their transition from the stage to the screen was invariably inspired by their ideological orientation and disposition, viz survivalism.

The dramatic spirit of the “new age”, which became the emergent paradigms of expression in the genre, appeared to have been galvanized by Soyinka (1979:98), who once asserted that

… The two (the stage and the screen) are interrelated and mutually complement each other so often, both in practice and theory, that new comers to the cinema, which include all of us, tend very often to transpose the form of theatre directly into film, with of course, very stagey, static film.

 In the same vein, the television, cinema and the new forms of entertainment and communication, in Bamidele’s contention, which we share, have become a sort of visual literature, since these can now be viewed as gatekeepers through which a literary work passes to the audience (2000:40). The philosophy behind the creation of the several series in the TV play left some topics or thematic pre-occupation to be cliché-ridden, noting that such pioneering screen efforts, as we have noted above, gave the video makers the impetus to experiment with new form, topic (themes) and technical innovation with the daring, new video technology (2000:48), now gone digital. Bamidele goes ahead to aptly capture that “transition” when he asserts that

The television play has shifted the attention of many playwrights away from the stage. There are those who have been associated with live theatre for most of their lives and there are also performers who have grown up as artists before the eyes of popular theatre audience who no longer write and perform for the live theatre.  Reasons for this shift may be traced to some socio-economic factors (2000:50).

A theme, according to Farker, implies the linearity or extension of a work in a way that other subject matter do not. He further asserts that:

Theme may refer to those repeated parts of a subject which control aspects of a work which is perceived as formal as well as conceptual. Theme is therefore, a more concrete and formalistic term with structural implications (1991:247-249).


We should not forget that the same events, images, and symbols of their social realities, which now set the pace for their thematic thrust, had roots in the theatrical experimentations offered by the NUTAF initiative. Haynes (2000:4) has stressed that “the videos may not give us what we thought we wanted, but…They offer the strongest, most accessible expression of contemporary Nigerian popular culture.” According to him, they are a prime instance of the interpretation of the global and the local through the international commerce in cultural forms.


Thus, their recourse to visual literature in the home video syndrome, therefore, is both an assurance of better means of livelihood and continuing relevance, visibility and viability as the dynamics of tradition and change affects them, spurring them on to take full advantage of the creative symbiosis of literature and motion picture.


These interpreters of our social reality have responded in both economic and cultural perspectives by evolving a popular art form to interpret and reflect contemporary tendencies. For instance, Femi Kayode, an isolated exemplar of the generation in discourse, wrote the screenplays for White Handkerchief and Thunderbolt (2000) for Mainframe Productions, one of the fast growing video production outfits, owned by Tunde Kelani.



The trends of video films in the twenty-first century, according to Adesanya, are unpredictable, because, literacy, artistry, history, contemporaneity and the future would have to come into cognizance in the dramatic perspective, beside the new realities which the hopeful filmmaker has to embrace. He says,

while dramatic release is the principal market for the film producer, the videographer was able to consider theatrical release and the video market (Adesanya, 2000:42).

 The theme of any film on the other hand, is its intellectual content, its subject. Since a motion picture is a method of communication between the filmmaker and the audience, it has a language and vocabulary of its own. The filmmaker (or scriptwriter) usually has something to say, and it is this content that is the theme of any film. However, contemporary film has become fragmented and often seems to lack cohesion and a recognizable form or structure, that it is easy to assume that theme is either absent or unnecessary. Tracing the thematic trends in recent Nigerian home video films, Akpovi-Esade (2003:66) in an incisive article notes that against the backdrop of Kenneth Nnebue’s 1992 daring road marker, Living in Bondage, which opened the floodgate of ritualistic themes, movie producers began to duplicate storylines. According to him, before the trend met a natural death,

The National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB had to step in when some Nigerians were murdered in a mob action in Accra, Ghana in the late 90s. Offence: Nigerians were accused of being responsible for the death of a little girl that had her head severed after she was murdered, presumably for ritual purposes. The conclusion reached by the angry Ghananians was that Nigerians being ritualists as portrayed in our home videos must have been responsible for the death!


That trend was supplanted by themes drawing from violence, heroism (e.g. football), American  Hollywood style, tradition, religion (Pentecostalism), comedy, and love in that order of quick succession, as thematic pre-occupations of the producers who now double as the scriptwriters/directors. 

The less than two decades of the home video phenomenon in Nigeria invariably produced filmmakers who stand as gatekeepers of the enervating symbiosis between literature and visual technology. From among these, we have selected two exemplars, our choices, of course particularly influenced by their NUTAF antecedents. The visual literature of Charles Novia, and Pedro Agbonifo-Obaseki among other NUTAF proponents, has come to represent the voice of the new generation. The strength of their thematic and aesthetic idiom and dramatic form is played out in the commitment to the survival of the art of visual literature which they pioneered in the country as a representation of emergent paradigms.


i)          Novia

Charles Novia’s foray into the art and business of video films came as a response to the urge to utilize the wider scope offered by the television and video technology over the stage, rather than a fluke. The last time he produced a play for the stage was in 1996, some ten years ago, with the gracious sponsorship of the Goethe Institut, the German Cultural Centre in Nigeria. Since his discovery of the television as the ‘new medium’, he joined the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Lagos, as a scriptwriter and worked behind the scene for four years. Novia however contends that the stage and television are different ball games. But with the advent of the home video, he enthuses:

I wouldn’t know what the stage will be like in five years. But it would continue to be the training ground, even though there is no enabling environment for the arts in the country. We are in a quandary: torn between a bohemian life of the artist – are you a committed or commercial artist? (Novia,   2003).


Choosing the romantic, human interest, and family angle as his thematic canvas, Novia has carved a niche for himself as a love creator/writer. In his words: “I see the family as a component part of the society. In view of so much strife in the society, I choose not to follow the bandwagon, hence, my love stories. With love, we can overcome a lot of stress. I run away from banal themes, and once you are consistent, you become known and accepted and appreciated, if you are good. The viewers would scold you if you are otherwise. It’s been tough, but very rewarding.”

His works to date, some of which have embraced other thematic concerns as well, include Deep Secrets (2000), Easy To Kill (2000), Spiritual Husband (2000), Lovers Day (2001), For Your Love (2001), The  Assassin (2001), Afro (2001), Judas (2002), The Pastor and The Harlot (2002), Love of My Life (2002), Love For Sale (2002), When Love Dies (2002), Real Love (2003), I Will Die For You (2003), You Broke My Heart 1&2 (2003),  Adam and Eve (2003), Husband & Wife (2003), Missing Angel (2004), among others. These he has produced under the inspiration of Charles Novia Think, from the stable of November Productions based in Lagos. 


Novia’s When Love Dies is a story about the consequences of war involving Mary, a young pretty Liberian refugee who finds herself in Nigeria after fleeing the scourge in her native land. Rescued from a refugee camp by a pastor, she becomes a house help in Colonel Bala’s household. In the course of adjusting to a new life, Bala seduces her, forcing his wife to send her packing. The Colonel seeks her out and proposes for her to become his mistress, with a house and servants to the bargain. She succumbs to the pressure after he rescues her from jail and moves to her new home.  

Although transformed and well-catered for, the heavy hand of loneliness, lovelessness and depression soon descends on her. One evening at the club in Bala’s company, she meets and falls in love with a young, homeless musician, Daniel, even as she has to steal backstage to see him. She later asks him to move into a Boys Quarters in her house. This turn of events sets both of them on the path of destruction as soon as the Colonel finds out about their affair through Shade, Bala’s girlfriend, whom he introduces to Mary as his niece, and sends to stay in the same Boys Quarters. Unknown to Mary, Shade used to know Daniel and plots to get even with him for jilting her. Daniel is detained and beaten up on Bala’s orders. Undaunted, he says to him:

DANIEL:          What more can you do to me than to          torture me and have me killed? (When Love   Dies. Scene 14)

Infuriated, the Colonel gets back home and beats up Mary, who ends up in the hospital and is later diagnosed of suffering from cancer of the liver. But she tells Bala:

MARY:           Daniel is the first man I ever loved.  You’ve been so kind to me… But…


Daniel is released to go and vacate his room, after being forced to write off his love for Mary. He meets his mother waiting for him as the Colonel shows up in a bid to monitor his packing and comes face-to-face with “a young barracks girl twenty-five years ago.” She recounts how Bala, fresh from the Defence Academy then, denied and refused the pregnancy that became Daniel. The die is cast: Father and son fighting over the same girl!

DANIEL:          You call yourselves soldiers who protect innocent citizens…But once you allow power to get into your head… 

Too late, Daniel rushes to see Mary in the hospital where she has already made up her mind on her next line of action, but all the same sympathizes with him:

MARY:           I’m sorry that I’ve put
                      you through so much,
                   so much on my behalf…

Out of hospital, they both go out to the beach and hands him a letter in which she has left him the sum of four million Naira to finance his album and also for her former refugee camp. As Daniel reads the letter, she wanders off on the sand. By the time he looks up, she has vanished. And he begins to search for her. 

Individual responsibility, marital infidelity, senselessness of war, revenge, power, betrayal and sacrifice, apart from love, are some of the themes treated in this film. Bala’s refusal of the pregnancy is a failing in his individual responsibility to the girl in question and the society in which he later grows to become powerful as to inadvertently terrorize the same fruit of that union over a woman he keeps as mistress – to be used and dumped. His transparent unfaithfulness to his wife raises a moral question about his sense of duty. Mary’s bequest in the last scene, rescues Daniel’s talent in spite of Shade’s betrayal and revenge.  

Critically, I do not think it is plausible for Mary to have sacrificed her life simply because of her diagnosis of cancer, when she does not even get to learn that the Colonel is Daniel’s biological father. It renders that dramatic twist a contrived sub-plot in order to elicit the audience’s empathy for Mary. After her battle and suffering, finding real love in Daniel could have provided the needed elixir to see her through the pains. However, Novia succeeds in weaving all these thematic concerns into a good and well-crafted piece consistent with his style and forte¢.

ii)         Agbonifo-Obaseki

With four published and twelve yet-to-be-published plays, two anthology of poems, a non-fiction novel, numerous home video movies, teledramas and documentary to his credit, Pedro Osa Agbonifo-Obaseki (otherwise known as Don Pedro) may yet be described as the ‘rising icon of the post-Osofisan generation’ of Nigerian playwrights.  

The man who won the Director-of-the-Year Award in 1999 for his epic video film, IGODO, has also either written or produced Obaseki, Azagidi, “Nights of Erinmwin”, Idia, “Sunset in the Lagoon”, “Soldiers O’Fortune”, “Rendezvous At Hell’s Gate”, “Goodbye My Redeemer”, “Ikpoleki”, “Ritual of Rebirth”(dance-drama), “Hallowed Screams” (for the stage); and Evil Thing(1998), Eziza (2000), Days of Rage, Four’s Kompany, Images, Akwa: Tales of the African Woman, Tara (2000), The Brave Soldier (2001), Spell Binders, Grip of Fate, and Shades (for the screen) as part of his own contribution to the body of writing from the post-Osofisan generation. 

Since film basically weaves thematic hoists and narrative devices with new elements, it relates socially with familiar or topical subjects with a sense of contemporaneity.  His art takes his Bini culture of the Edo people up for the world to see and appreciate. The result is an interesting blend of old and new elements to tell stories that have dramatic relevance for his generation. 


In The Redeemer (2000), Agbonifo-Obaseki weaves the revelation of the Anti-Christ and such themes as prostitution, materialism, unemployment, greed and the inordinate quest for miracles rather than salvation by a majority of today’s church goers to tell a very enervating story of contemporary reality. Three Fingerlings-turned-men rape a pretty harlot, Maryann, while easing herself in the course of plying her trade one evening, after a quarrel with Zico, her regular ‘boyfriend’. About a year later, she is delivered of a baby boy on her way to the hospital.  

A blind beggar at the scene immediately regains his sight as soon as the baby is raised up for the crowd before the ambulance arrives to whisk mother and baby away. As soon as the stretcher bearing both of them is wheeled into the ward, dead and sick babies variously experience revival and resurrection, unknown to them that:

V/O: This day…a child is born
A son is given! And the
government shall be
upon his shoulder. And
he will be called wonderful…
Of the increase of his government…there will be no end. He shall strike the earth with the rod
of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips, he shall slay
the wicked. He shall set up a banner for all the nations. Out
of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, you have
ordained strength. And a little child shall lead them.
(The Redeemer.p.8).

Before Maryann is discharged, a visibly elated Zico, a graduate-turned ‘common mechanic’ secures her hand in marriage witnessed by those present in the ward. The baby is christened Jessy, a psychedelic version of Jesus, amidst his mother’s protest:

ZICO:  Okay! We’ll call him…Jesus! He will be unique. Nobody calls anybody that kind of a name. So? He will be…


MARYANN:     That’s blasphemous! We cannot call our son…my son ‘Jesus’. He is not a messiah! …(p.11) 

As a child, Jessy performs a series of minor miracles unacknowledged by the parents, until he helps Zico with winning numbers in a pools betting, and one day, heals a deaf man during a deliverance session in their church:

JESSY:            I can heal that man, Papa.


ZICO:              Hmmm? What man?


JESSY:            The deaf and dumb. I can heal him.


ZICO:              Heal him? How?


JESSY:            I’ll just say the word(p.31) 

Zico brings this to the notice of Pastor James:

ZICO:  You are pastor. My boy has healing             power; a  divine ability to heal the sick, and   cure the afflicted. That is a devastating       combination! Here is the deal. You preach,            my boy heals and performs miracles. People             will invade our little church. The House of God grows, and…Mo’more money!


PASTOR:         How did your son come about this   power?


ZICO:  I don’t know and I truly do not want           to know…(p.32)


Soon, Jessy becomes the attraction of his ministry, healing, delivering and performing other miracles while his church continues to grow and the mega-bucks increase, until the president gets to know about it. The parents’ lifestyle and fortune change for the better and Zico decides to quit his mechanic job but Maryann accuses him of exploiting her son:

Unknown to many, Jessy secretly begins to groom an ‘army’ from amongst his schoolmates for his eventual diabolical assignment in this world. His first disciple is Agatha, the baby girl pronounced dead before Maryann was wheeled into the ward after having Jessy and who “woke up from the dead.”

JESSY: They think it is the End time. Not yet. You instead, are going to be apostles of the future. All that I’ve healed in his name shall soar with me, and you all will return as         soldiers and conquer the world for him.


JUDE:  And we shall reign for one thousand           years…


EMEKA: Because we are the anointed…


TUOYO: The chosen ones…


AGATHA: And we all bear the mark…


JUDE:  And carry the number…


ALL: Six…Six… (p.48)


By the fullness of his time, Jessy reveals his identity and takes over the church from Pastor James after he fails to get his own share of the proceeds from his miracles-generated booty from him and his father, who dies soon after while the pastor also runs mad:

JESSY: The Lord has abandoned you, Pastor James. You       fell for money and you sold your ministry and your soul to the devil long ago.


PASTOR:         What?!


JESSY: Now they will mock you. A prophet without honor among his own relatives, and in his own home. I’ve taken over the church.


PASTOR: Stop it! You, you little devil! ...Jessy…who are you?


JESSY: I’m God’s other Son (p.42) 

He brings his ‘soldiers’ into the church, changes its name and goes about with a battalion of bodyguards and a fleet of luxury cars. For the commissioning of the new church headquarters, the President donates two Lexus jeeps and a Mercedes SLK 230! 

Maryann rescues Pastor James and rehabilitates him in time for the epic encounter between the forces of darkness - led by Jessy and the Lord’s army of parents whose children Jessy has under his evil spell behind James - which takes place on a prayer mount as the kids are about “going on a short journey of a thousand years”:

PASTOR’S VOICE OVER:        Ancient of Days. The Lily of the valley. Father... We covenant in the blood and stand against the plans of the evil one…We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,     against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world…We send forth the Holy Spirit to cover our children…Because, oh Lord…You are God.


JESSY: And I cover you in the new covenant. You shall live a thousand years. In no time,          you shall return to rule the affairs of men. Because you bear the mark. The number and mark of he that sent me. The number and mark of his name.


ALL:     (In unison) Six…six... six.


JESSY: …The ‘Soldiers of the new Order’! ...           Stand to defend the kingdom!


ALL:     We stand to defend the kingdom!    (pp.53-54)


With police help, the children are all rescued except Jessy who is really not a human being and is taken away by the Fingerling who impregnated Maryann, for the scripture to be fulfilled:

PASTOR: It is written. “But there were also false prophets…who will secretly bring in         destructive heresies, even doubting the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.(p.54)


From a critical reading, the film is a timely statement to the multitude of church-goers who are merely miracle seekers today in the heat of Pentecostal revolution gripping the nation and indeed, most part of the world. The derailment into materialism and prosperity preaching by many of the new day founder-pastors of these so-called psychedelic churches has assumed an alarming proportion, hence, Agbonifo-Obaseki’s thematic treatment of this trend to warn believers that the end time is at hand. While condemning the religious trend, the film also moralizes on the ignominy and stigma that go with prostitution as we find Zico until his death castigating Maryann because of her scarlet past. She herself is ashamed to narrate the experience to Pastor James. Another habit it calls attention to is pools betting, which has actually rendered so many men who ought to be breadwinners of their respective families useless and poor.



The relationship between the stage and the screen and the development of the motion picture from a purely narrative storytelling entertainment to a genuine art form capable of communicating profound themes with subtlety and depth took place over a span of some three decades. Despite the wide variety of film styles and movements within the past twenty years, there is a common trait and trend running through artistically successful films, which is a discernible theme that is both intellectually and philosophically arresting.  

In the two films we have chosen to represent emergent paradigms, from the repertories of Charles Novia and Pedro Agbonifo-Obaseki, the contemporaneity with which the themes are treated is refreshing. For instance, introducing the space ship into the Anti-Christ saga in The Redeemer is a well-handled novelty. Despite the numerous churches, crime rate in Nigeria has continued to confound every right thinking citizen. The gospel of prosperity being championed by these 21st century pastors seems not to have done anybody much good, except to confirm the growing belief that church is now a business. Many analysts are of the opinion that that is the only thriving industry in Nigeria today. Yet life must surely go on, even in the face of brazen deceit from the pulpit.    

This paper argues that the generation after the Osofisan’s has taken the visual medium of film beyond entertainment. Film is now the culture of our society, more than any other art form, even though it is the product of a society. They realized that when film is not culture, it is business, a commercial proposition. When it is not business, film is politics, history, education, or propaganda, and much more. And this they have utilized in their and art business. Today, the story is even different, thanks to innovations in the digital revolution, which has thrown up more possibilities for the video format. And Nigerian motion picture practitioners are poised to take the ART to the next level which would equally translate to a better and wider acceptance of the home movie industry in Africa’s most populous nation, with a huge market potential.



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2.    De Graft, J.C. (1976). “Roots in African Drama and Theatre.” African Literature Today, No.8. London: Heinemann.

3.    Garuba, H. (1988). In Ogunbiyi, Y. (eds.) Perspectives on Nigerian Literature. 1700 to the Present. Lagos: Guardian Books.

4.         Abati, R. 1990. “Recent Nigerian Dramatists: Context, Attitudes and Pattern”. The Guardian, November 3, 10 and 17.

5.         Adesokan, W. (1990). “ “Streaks of Blood”: Advocating Change Through Mysticism”. In The Masque, magazine of the Association of Theatre Arts Students, ATAS, University of Ibadan, Vol. 2, No. 2.

6.         Udenta, U.O. (1993). Revolutionary Aesthetics and African Literary Process. Enugu: Fourth Dimension.

7.         Nihinlola, E. (1998). A Biblical Evaluation of Pentecostalism. Ibadan, Sceptre Prints Limited.

8.         Adelugba, D. (2003). “Death of Theatre”. Interview in Position International Arts Review, Vol. 1, No. 2. Lagos: Position Magazine.

9.         Ademiju-Bepo, (1999). “Recent Nigerian Dramatists: Context, Attitudes and Trends”. Unpublished Research Project, IFRA, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

10.     Oyesoro, S. 1999. Interview with writer.

11.     Haynes, J. (eds.) (2000). Nigerian Video Films. American Edition. Ohio, USA.

12.     Soyinka, W. (1979). In Opubor et al (Eds.). The Development and Growth of the Film Industry in Nigeria. Lagos: Third Press International.

13.     Bamidele, L.O. (2000). Literature and Sociology. Ibadan, Stirling-Horden Publishers (Nig.) Ltd.

14.     Farker, R. (eds.) (1991) A Dictionary of African Drama. London: New York: Routledge.

15.     Adesanya, A. (2000). “From Film to Video” in Haynes, J. (eds.) Nigerian Video Films. American Edition. Ohio, USA.

16.     Akpovi-Esade, J. (2003). “Love, love everywhere in moviedom.The Guardian, October 16.

17.     Novia, C. 2003. Interview with writer/ When Love dies, Video (2002).

18.     Agbonifo-Obaseki, P. 2003 Interview with writer/ The Redeemer, Video (2000).

Return to Table of Contents


Brief Note on the Author

ADEMIJU-BEPO, Adediran has a Ph.D in Dramatic Literature & Criticism and Film Dramaturgy (Ibadan). A graduate of Playwriting, Directing and Media Arts from the same University, whose plays have won awards at the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF), his research interest covers Generational / Comparative Literature, Film Genre / Popular Culture and Media Arts. diranbepo@yahoo.com


      An Interview with Professor Gloria Emeagwali,  Chief Editor,

Africa Update (AU) and Thérèse Nweke (TN), Journalist and Writer-

     who has worked with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and has

     served in various advisory capacities for Nigerian parastatals for

     over three decades. 


AU:      The current news coming from Nigeria is that the General Elections of April 2007 were neither free nor fair. Given  your extensive knowledge of the Nigerian and African terrain can you share some of your views on this?  

TN:      It is indeed true that these elections were not free or fair. Actually, they were the worst elections in Nigeria’s 47 years of political independence. One of the main causes for this was that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by Maurice Iwu, was poorly prepared for this task despite the huge sums of money given it by the Presidency, which was in charge of its funding and who had hand-picked the US-based Iwu for the job. INEC, which is supposed to be a neutral electoral umpire, spent valuable time fighting “the enemies” of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and President Olusegun Obasanjo through the process of disqualification, exclusion, disobedience of court orders and appealing legal decisions; thus demonstrating its partisanship. These distractions prevented the body from training its staff, educating the electorate, getting the voters’ register in good time, printing ballot papers with serial numbers and security features, and concentrating on perfecting its electoral logistics.  

            Given the poor track-record of the PDP and the unpopularity of President Obasanjo and most of the PDP governors, more than half of whom are being investigated for corruption, it was most unlikely the PDP could win these elections. In view of this, the PDP had to employ the machinery and resources of state power to ensure a massive electoral victory. According to Obasanjo, it was: “a do-or-die” affair. Hence, INEC, the police, the army, party thugs and the various paraphernalia of the state and its funds were co-opted into the PDP strategy. The opposition was doomed to lose. The general low voter-turn out should be interpreted as a protest against the system, because most Nigerians did not believe their votes would count. 

            A large number of local and foreign observers and monitoring groups who attended the elections have written them off as “a fraud” and “a charade”. They include the European Union (EU), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) headed by a former American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, the Transmission Monitoring Group (TMG) (with more than 50,000 observers), the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), the Institute of Human Rights & Humanitarian Law and the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), one of Nigeria’s oldest and most effective human rights organizations. Other notable critics of the elections include Nigeria’s Senate President, Ken Nnamani and the Nigerian Nobel Laureate of Literature, Wole Soyinka, one of the country’s most relentless political activists.  

            Let me give you a sample of some of their criticisms. Max Van den Berg, the EU’S Chief Observer, described both state and federal elections as having “fallen short of international and regional standards for democratic elections”. They were marred, he said, by poor organisation, lack of essential transparency, widespread procedural irregularities, significant evidence of fraud, particularly during the collation process, voter disenfranchisement at different stages of the process, lack of equal conditions for contestants and numerous incidence of violence. As a result, he explained, these elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and  they cannot be considered to have been credible. Van den Berg stressed: “it was the worst elections the EU has observed”. 

            Albright of the NDI actually described INEC’s Maurice Iwu as having “a delusional mentality”, when he awarded himself 80 per cent for producing “good” elections. She regarded the elections as: “a step backwards” in the conduct of good polls in Nigeria. 

            The TMG’s Head, Innocent Chukwuma, listed a series of election malpractices, which included intimidation of opposition party members and voters, partisanship of INEC officials and security agents (the police and the army), hoarding and non-arrival of election materials at polling stations, such as ballot papers and result-sheets by INEC officials, which created deliberate scarcity, and the theft of ballot-boxes. Others, Chukwuma said, included the inability of voting to take place in most rural areas, as well as the states located in the South-East, South-South and North-East axis of the country, even though INEC later produced results for these states.  

            More sinister was the fact that election result-sheets were unavailable to opposition party agents, so this would inhibit attempts to later contest the results at election tribunals. Observers, party agents and voters observed that many ballot papers had no serial numbers, and in the case of the 60 million new ones hastily printed in South Africa a few days to the presidential elections to accommodate the addition of Atiku Abubakar, the Vice-President, to the presidential race, these had no security features. In addition, political party agents claimed that often they were prevented from signing the results as required by the Electoral Act, as these were forcibly taken away by the security forces, at times with the collusion of INEC officials. Those officials, who refused to sign that an election had taken place in a state where none had occurred, were denied their allowances and had to later abandon their duty posts in fear of their lives.

             Groups, such as the CLO, noted the low voter turn-out, while others listed problems such as INEC’s attempts to muffle the press, killings, burning of houses and vehicles, as well as violent demonstrations, which they claimed could have been avoided if the collation and announcement of results had been transparent.  

            I have gone into some length for you to have a clear picture of the trauma the Nigerian people have just experienced. With this, I agree totally with individuals like Nnamani and Soyinka that it is not enough to condemn these elections. It is even naive to tell its losers, who have been brazenly cheated on a monumental scale, that as flawed as they were they should head to the Election Tribunals to obtain justice. Although I don’t expect this to happen, these elections must be cancelled. They represent an unjust, immoral and lawless act and will simply not go away, or be swept under the carpet in hypocritical reconciliation. The beneficiaries of these tragic elections have sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind. The military coups, dictatorships, general insecurity, under-development, rebel movements, civil wars and genocide are spawned by elections like these. 

AU:      How would you compare this election to the others you’ve witnessed? 

TN:      In its 47 years of being a state, Nigeria has held just eight General Elections. I have witnessed six of the eight, the exception being the first two. Let me deal primarily with the ones in which I’ve participated. Up to 1966 and Nigeria’s first military coup, this nation practised the parliamentary system of government, derived from the Westminister model. From 1966 until 1979, the military was in charge. The 1979 elections which General Olusegun Obasanjo oversaw while he was Nigeria’s fourth military Head of State were controversial and gave rise to the famous Nigerian mathematical theory of “122/3”. This allowed Shehu Shagari to emerge as Nigeria’s first civilian president, after a military interregnum of 13 years and a bitter civil war which ended with the collapse of Biafra and the ushering of a united Nigerian state. From 1979 until now the country has practised the presidential system of government, based more or less on the US model. 

            The subsequent elections of 1983, which represented a transfer of power from one civilian administration to another, were so flawed that when Shagari and his party were returned by landslide margins, they provided the military, under General Muhammed Buhari, with the perfect excuse to overthrow the government three months after its inauguration. And Nigerians were so disgusted with the fraudulent elections and the corrupt and inefficient Shagari administration that they welcomed the return of the military. However, this singular act of General Buhari was responsible for sentencing Nigeria to 16 years of military rule, something I believe people have never been able to forgive. 

            The military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (who had over thrown Buhari in a palace coup) promised to restore “democracy” and usher in a civilian government. It took Babangida eight years to achieve this. In 1993 the General Elections conducted by his regime were acclaimed both within and outside Nigeria, at the time, as free and fair, and in fact the best Nigeria ever held. However, it was open knowledge that the Babangida regime favoured the National Redemption Party (NRP) and Bashir Tofa, a northern Nigerian as the presidential winner over the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) Moshood Abiola, who was from southern Nigeria. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) under Humphrey Nwosu, a US-trained academic, however, acted as an impartial and efficient impire -- so much so, that when the junta saw that its preferred party and candidate had lost to the SDP and Abiola, it suddenly and inexplicably annulled the General Elections.  

The most significant feature of the 1993 elections was that for the first and only time in Nigeria’s chequered history, the people voted without the usual ethnic, class or religious biases. This saw Tofa being defeated not only in the southern states but in the northern ones as well, including his home state, Kano. Abiola was generally accepted across the ethnic, economic, class and religious divides, and widely seen as a unifying figure. Therefore, the historic opportunity, which June 12, 1993 presented of setting Nigeria on the path of democratic rectitude, was selfishly truncated and frittered away. I believe people have never forgiven Babangida for this, and like Buhari it would be highly inconceivable for him to return to power in free and fair national elections. 

            But the military by now had lost all credibility. By 1999 it pragmatically decided to give way to a hastily cobbled alliance of ex-military actors and politicians, with General Obasanjo as head of this motley crew, on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Obasanjo had just been freed from prison where he had been dumped on trumped-up coup charges by the Sani Abacha military administration. With public sympathy on his side and the fact that he and the late Abiola were both from Abeokuta in Ogun State, the military pragmatists regarded him as the most suitable choice to usher in “democracy”. Obasanjo was also a fellow colleague who would, they argued, protect or, at least, not damage their interests.

             The 1999 elections were not particularly free or fair, but the Nigerian electorate was so disenchanted with the excesses, corruption and ineptitude of military rule that it wearily and willingly accepted whatever results it was given. 

            Not so in 2003! To ensure that these elections were not spuriously cancelled, the electorate went on its best behavior. Yet when INEC released results that were so flawed, (for e.g. votes were awarded to a favoured PDP candidate far in excess of the number of registered voters in the state!) It blamed Nigerians for not literally accompanying the election results to its state headquarters. The people were advised against violent demonstrations and told to go to the courts for redress. On the whole, not much was gained from these law-suits. Some lasted almost four years, (the life of the present administration), and to the extent that those politicians who eventually won had less than a year to actualise their mandates.           

            In the 1966, 1979 and 1983 elections, the standard rigging strategy was multiple voting and ballot-box stealing. By 2003, this had graduated to the shredding of original results and writing new ones. Last April, electoral fraud was further fine-tuned to include voter disenfranchisement in which a majority of registered voters was not allowed to vote, either through the non-arrival of INEC officials and materials, inadequate provision or the absence of voting booths, voters’ pictures and other aids to assist voting. Even where voting was possible as in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, some candidates and parties had their photographs and symbols excluded on the ballot papers. Most disturbing was INEC’s illegally disqualifying certain candidates from contesting, which made them to head for the courts. In this, INEC lost almost all its cases.  

            Elections were only allowed in urban centres and a few strategic areas, where photographers were opportunistically invited by government and PDP agents to record the voting. Some states where no elections were held, such as Anambra, a former Obasanjo aide, Andy Uba, was announced as Governor-elect with “1.9 million” votes. Later when it was realized that this figure exceeded the state’s registered voters, the announcement was amended hours later to “1.09 million”. 

            But even before these elections, a main pre-election complaint which characterized the activities of most political parties, especially the ruling PDP, was the undemocratic, fraudulent and high-handed nature of party primaries. The result was that neither the best nor the most popular candidate emerged, as those who “won” had been selected long before the primaries. Indeed, a quick scan of the list of “new” legislators at both federal and state levels indicate that the newcomers will make up around 80 per cent of the incoming legislature.  

Yet another dangerous and novel aspect of these elections was INEC’s circumscribing the nation’s civil society organizations, to prevent them from effective election monitoring. The CLO reported stiff opposition from INEC and other government agencies to provide independent and credible polling station observation. It noted that it was harder to observe an election under an apparently democratic administration than under the military. The CLO claimed that a plethora of fictitious observer and monitoring groups organized by the PDP and accredited by the National Orientation Agency were set up to create the appearance of election oversight, especially in areas where rigging was intended. But when the CLO investigated these groups, they discovered they did not exist at their addresses and in fact had never existed! 

AU:      What do you think should happen to solve this imbroglio?

TN:      Most of us who care about Nigeria and are not in a state of denial believe these elections ought to be cancelled. If you have an unbiased understanding of Nigerian realities, and want to be honest, you’d know that the Election Tribunals will not, and cannot, solve the problem. But I’ll come to that later. The Senate and House of Representatives say they will review the elections. How far their action can go remains to be seen. I am not sure if the independence which the legislature demonstrated in dousing Obasanjo’s third term ambition might be evident. 

            Recently, calls have been made by aggrieved politicians asking all citizens to emulate the sort of political action which took place in Poland, Georgia, the Philippines, Madagascar and Kenya when the people of these nations through mass protests and demonstrations defied their leaders in order to overthrow unpopular governments or policies.  

Except for the occasional protest by the talakawas of Kano and Bauchi, when they blocked the streets with their bodies to ensure the votes of their leader, Muhammadu Buhari, were not stolen, or that of labour protesting unpopular government policies, the chances of Nigerians taking to the streets or embarking on other forms of civil disobedience as they did in 1993 against the election annulment and to get Babangida to leave (as he indeed did), are extremely slim. Many Nigerians were killed and some ended in exile or in prison as a direct result of June 12, 1993 and its aftermath. The police and the army in Nigeria are never neutral or patriotic; and from the colonial era have systematically sided with the tools of oppression or become oppressors themselves. Moreover, these agents participate or aid in election rigging and are most brutal in their exercise of physical force. And when they do overthrow civilian governments, their regimes are decidedly worse. Their entry into the governmental space more than any other factor has hindered Nigeria from nurturing and sustaining a democratic political culture which would enable its politicians to grow and mature. The massive fortunes the military and their civilian accomplices amass while in power through the plunder of Nigeria’s oil wealth, they subsequently use during the civilian phases of government to operate as “politicians” and subvert the democratic process.  

            In respect of the Election Petition Tribunals (EPT) and the Electoral Act governing them, it is extremely difficult for election results to be overturned through the EPTs, except in rare cases when the establishment wants to pursue a vendetta against a specific politician. A careful examination of the Act indicates that it is not petitioner friendly, and is tilted in favour of the respondent. Going by the reading of the Act, it is impossible for election petitions to be determined before the May 29, 2007 handover of the Obasanjo government. So these election cases may continue almost ad infinitum, except the Supreme Court in the future reverses the case laws. Bringing an action and proceeding with it is an extremely expensive option, and not a task for the faint-hearted petitioner, while the incumbent-respondent has recourse to state funds and power to prosecute it, and can, and do, resort to delaying and expensive tactics to frustrate the petitioner. As it is, the present Electoral Act should be revisited and scrapped. 

            What else can be done? The law setting up the National Electoral Commission has to be reviewed to make the body financially independent and politically non-partisan. It should not be funded from the presidency. The need for civil and voter education is imperative both for the Agency and the electorate. 

            Political party funding and campaign finance are areas which are open to abuse even in older democracies such as Britain’s and the US. In emerging democracies such as Nigeria’s the need for these to be reviewed, controlled and enforced is perhaps more imperative. In the absence of party discipline and accountability, large-scale thieving and “mismanagement” of campaign funds are commonplace, and it is not unusual for wealthy entrepreneurs to hijack a party with the hope of recouping their “investment” through inflated contracts from the government they helped to install. There is also the phenomenon of “the god-father syndrome”, in which influential and rich individuals, usually ex-military officers, or their civilian beneficiaries finance political protégés to elective office, in exchange for their turning over the state’s treasuries to them to plunder. This was the case in the state of Anambra when “the god-son” later refused to co-operate with “the god-father” and chose to become a people-oriented Governor. There’s also the absence of political ideology and informed political debate, so whichever party can provide a candidate with a “winning” ticket is the party most politicians join. Thus, it is not unusual for opposition candidates to swiftly transfer their allegiance to the ruling party shortly after losing an election, as is the case right now. This “unshockable” state of affairs makes it extremely difficult for an effective opposition to emerge and provide a viable alternative to poor governance. In a sense it is the media, labour, the human rights organizations and sections of the intelligentsia who represent enlightened opposition in Nigeria. The recent calls to make election rigging a treasonable offence demonstrate the extent to which people are genuinely aggrieved and frustrated. 

AU:      How then would you assess Obasanjo’s legacy?

TN:      Obasanjo has to be judged primarily on whether he left Nigeria better than he found it. I don’t subscribe to the belief that charity begins abroad and ends at home. The world’s greatest leaders always put their national interest first, and all else followed after. Most people regard Obasanjo’s ability to free Nigeria from debt to the tune of $18 billion as his greatest domestic achievement, yet fail to remember that it was under his watch in the 1970s that Nigeria first fell victim to debt entrapment.  

He appointed as Finance Minister a technocrat from the World Bank, who presided over increased foreign reserves of over $34 billion due to high oil revenues, and insisted on financial transparency to the extent of publishing all the monies allocated to the states, local governments and federal government agencies. However, she fell from favour when it was alleged that she killed Obasanjo’s third term agenda by starving it of funds from the nation’s foreign reserves. 

Reformist agencies which Obasanjo introduced such as the National Agency for Food & Drug Administration (NAFDAC) and the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have made life difficult for those who made fortunes manufacturing and selling fake drugs or involved in the abuse of office, corruption, as well as fraud in the financial sector. Nevertheless, there is urgent need for the EFCC to be insulated from presidential manipulation and politicisation if it is to be more effective. For some time now, it is widely regarded as a presidential tool to hound opponents and punish enemies. In addition, the impetus and momentum to recover the billions of stolen dollars from the nation’s former leaders, their relatives and collaborators seem to have disappeared.  

Another Obasanjo achievement is the consolidation of the banks, opening up of the telecommunication space with the arrival of “GSM” (which has democratized mobile phone ownership), and some measures of sanity in these sectors. There’s also the re-capitalisation of the insurance industry which led to mergers and stricter operating rules. The privatization of key government companies has produced a new class of billionaires, and on the whole has done little to improve the condition of most Nigerians. In terms of per capita income, Nigeria’s performance is less impressive than smaller and less endowed African nations, such as Mauritius or Gabon. While Nigeria has $2, 784 per head, Mauritius has $60,284 and Gabon, $43,168 per head. 

Nigeria’s power sector is a national disgrace. In my 33 years of living in Lagos, Nigeria’s most sophisticated city, I have never experienced uninterrupted electricity for 72 hours… and under the present government the situation has become dire, to the extent that some parts of Lagos have power outages which last a month or more! This has impacted negatively on industrialisation and led to the collapse of many cottage industries which can no longer survive on generators or expensive diesel and petrol.  

Other sectors, such as education, health, agriculture, employment opportunities and security are moribund. Crime rates are high, and the police are held in such contempt by ordinary Nigerians that they say POLICE means: “People On Low Income Collecting Egunje”, “Egunje” is a Yoruba word meaning “bribes“. They have also translated police “check-points” to mean “chop-points”. In local parlance “chop” means “to eat”; when extended it signifies bribe-taking. People are now agitating for the police to be under the state governments.  

Indeed, Obasanjo’s campaign against corruption is widely regarded with indifference and some cynicism. Scandals which immediately come to mind include those of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the controversial $1 billion (US) arms deal with Israel, the unusually expensive Abuja National Stadium, the National Assembly complex, COJA Games, Obasanjo’s Presidential Library and the library complex of his Bells University. Nigerians are also quick to point out that for eight years this man headed the Petroleum Ministry (Nigeria’s goose and layer of golden eggs) and was accountable to no one. Then there’s the matter of loans given to Ghana, Sao Tome and Principe, without legislative approval, the selective implementation of the federal budget since 1999 and the falsification of the 2005 Budget. 

Under Obasanjo, the rule of law was rarely respected and his disregard for court judgments, including those of the Supreme Court, was legendary. One which readily comes to mind is his punitive and continued starving of local government funds to Lagos State, despite a Supreme Court judgment in favour of the state. He was fingered in the destabilization of a number of state governments, particularly that of Anambra, in order to punish independent-minded governors. As head of the executive arm of government, he consistently undermined the legislative branch in order to make it effete. This resulted in a situation whereby Nigeria had five senate presidents in less than six years. 

Nowhere in Nigeria is there a mass transit system and despite N300 billion (the exchange rate is N135 to $1 US) spent between 1999 and 2003 on the ministry in charge of roads, there’s very little in the way of roads and maintenance to show for it…. ditto for other sectors of communications. As for the current crisis in the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria which has escalated into large-scale kidnappings, sabotage of oil companies and extended to activities beyond the revolutionary to outright criminality, Obasanjo’s ad hoc fire-fighting approach has aggravated the situation to the point of being almost unmanageable. Now, in the dying days of his administration he has announced a “master-plan”, which he believes will work. This for me is a case of: “a little too late”.

Obasanjo has always wanted to be regarded as an African statesman and a democrat in the mould of the highly revered Nelson Mandela, hence his activities in the region and international forums. At various times he was Chairman of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS), Chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism, Chair of the Commonwealth, as well as NEPAD’s Head of State & Implementation Committee. He has also tried to be active in the G77 and at conferences such as the one held annually in Davos, Switzerland. While he must be commended for his contributions in helping to bring Liberia’s debacle to an end, he was unable to alleviate the Togolese people’s suffering, when as Chairman of ECOWAS and the African Union, he allowed elections that were massively rigged to perpetuate the 40-year-old dynasty of the Eyadema family. Elsewhere in Africa, the problem of failed states such as Somalia and genocidal, racist ones like Sudan proved too much for both him and the AU to handle.  

Reminiscent of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, I cannot help from making a somewhat similar comparison, though this has to do with: A Tale of Two Leaders. Recently, the French like Nigerians went to the polls to elect a president. France had 40 million registered voters, Nigeria, 60 million. The French elections were not just uncontroversial, but results were announced on the day people voted. In Nigeria, the opposite occurred. Both Chirac and Obasanjo were faced with the possibility of political colleagues succeeding them whom they disliked. Both men preferred having some measure of power influencing whom their successors would be.


How did the two handle their dilemma? Chirac and Sarkozy were rivals. Chirac preferred his Prime Minister to succeed him rather than Sarkozy whose popularity was rather high. But Chirac is a shrewd politician who has been in government since the 1950s and held positions such as Mayor of Paris. He is also proud, and does not tolerate presumptuous behaviour from politicians, especially those younger than him. Still, when he saw his Prime Minister would not make it, he let go. Meanwhile, the ambitions Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, strategically positioned himself as Chairman of their party and Presidential candidate, without Chirac’s endorsement. At the time the election began, Chirac still had not endorsed Sarkozy’s candidature. Attempts by Chirac to devalue Sarkozy’s reputation and undermine his ambition would have backfired, since the abuse of state power in influencing the electoral process is not tolerated in a democracy. Early last year, a negative newspaper publication about Sarkozy and corruption was traced to the Prime Minister, and the scandal and public outcry which ensued were not about Sarkozy, but the Chirac government.


On the Nigerian scene, Olusegun Obasanjo has been a highly respected military/politico (“militician”, to quote Nigerians) since the 1970s, and has exercised a large measure of influence on most governments since then. He was considered the best compromise candidate to the presidency in 1999 shortly after he emerged from prison. His Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, a self-effacing, ex-customs officer, but clever, political strategist, had inherited a highly efficient political machinery, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) from his mentor, Shehu Yar’Adua, a “militician”, who had ruled with Obasanjo from 1979 and was the elder brother of Musa Yar’Adua, the President-elect. Atiku moved the PDM into the PDP to actualise Obasanjo’s Presidency.


The two men got on well at first, and in 2003 Atiku was said to have relegated his presidential ambition to the background and supported Obasanjo for a second term. However, when it was obvious that Obasanjo was determined to amend the Nigerian constitution so he could run for a third term in 2007, and extend his tenure from two to three terms of four years each, Atiku rebelled. He not only refused to support Obasanjo, but scuttled any change in the constitution. Obasanjo retaliated by hijacking the PDP, rewriting its constitution and getting Atiku expelled. The corruption charges against Atiku, investigative panels and the attempt to remove him as Vice-President are all Obasanjo-inspired. In return, Atiku formed another political party, the Action Congress (AC) and won its presidential nomination. INEC, then, promptly disqualified him.


Atiku has fought all his battles with Obasanjo through the courts, even going as far as the Supreme Court, and won all. This has gained him sympathy and even admiration from Nigerians across the ethnic and religious divide, and has done much to damage the president and his PDP party –a party, which Atiku, and not Obasanjo, had built. He attracted to his cause the best brains from the PDP and other parties, and with them built a formidable party machine, which, despite the flawed elections, somehow succeeded in capturing Lagos, one of Africa’s most populous cities.


Atiku was allowed to contest in the presidential elections at the eleventh hour, courtesy of a Supreme Court judgment. This created a serious electoral impasse, in which INEC hired South African companies a few days to the elections to print 60 million ballot papers to include Atiku. The companies later claimed that because of the rushed nature of the job, they did so without putting the necessary security features on the ballots.


In his vendetta with Atiku, Obasanjo showed scant respect for the Nigerian Constitution, and did not hesitate to misappropriate state power and influence, manipulate the PDP machinery, and subvert and cripple the electoral process to obtain his own predetermined results. In doing this, he has wrought havoc on Nigeria’s political and ethical space and left them far worse than he found them. Obasanjo has failed to resolve the inherent contradiction between being the head of a direct command military structure, as against the consensus building style of leadership necessary in a democratic dispensation.


And Chirac? Of the 40 million registered voters, 85 per cent of France’s electorate voted. In Nigeria, the low voter turn-out was a manifestation of distrust for the system. Unlike Obasanjo, Chirac can go into retirement knowing no one can indict him for an election that was the worst in his nation’s history, thus exposing it to ridicule and contempt. Moreover, his successor would be elected, not “selected”. Unfortunately, Obasanjo shortsightedly decided to forego a positive historical legacy, in exchange for the ephemeral goal of getting his own way in “a do-or-die” battle. I believe his victory is pyrrhic and his legacy is a bitterly divided polity in greater and more desperate need for enlightened, altruistic leadership than when he emerged in 1999 from prison to presidency.


AU:      Do you think Musa Yar’Adua will do better than Obasanjo?

TN:      That’s   an interesting word in this context… I’m referring to the word “better”. After all I’ve highlighted here, it’s not difficult to be better than the present government. Here in Nigeria there’s this saying: “The morning shows the day”. I used to admire Yar’ Adua, because I thought he was efficient, focused and incorruptible. Recently, I’ve begun to reassess Yar’Adua and re-adjust my views in the light of what I’ve learnt about him.


Yar’Adua was a former member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) now defunct, but one of the few radical parties in Nigerian politics. He has been in politics since the late 1980s.  A graduate of the Natural Sciences and former teacher, Yar’Adua had high ethical standards. He was the first governor to declare his assets and has promised to do so at the end of his tenure. Katsina State has undergone profound transformation in education, health, roads, agriculture and water supply. His is a record of prudence and accountability. After eight years he is leaving his state with a surplus of N6.5 billion (N135.00 equals $1US) from a near empty treasury and a back-log of debts in 1999.


But Yar’ Adua fell far short of most people’s expectations in his handling of the gubernatorial primaries in his state, Katsina, which led to a petition from the House of Representatives Speaker, Bello Masari. He accused Yar’ Adua of manipulating the party’s state machinery, and deciding the results of the ward congresses even before Election Day. Ward congresses did not hold in 15 out of 34 local government councils in Katsina. And where they held, were neither free nor fair. The detailed petition stated that in the wards where no election occurred, results had been returned. Sounds familiar? I was later informed that Yar’Adua was merely following a presidential script meant to destroy Speaker Masari’s gubernatorial ambitions in the state, in revenge for his aborting the Obasanjo third term bid in the House of Representatives.


The emergence of candidates through fraudulent or non-existent primaries was a pointer to the conduct of the General Elections. Any government which emerges through flawed and manipulated primaries and elections cannot be legitimate. He is also accused of partisanship in executing and distributing projects and amenities within the state’s three emirates, i.e. Katsina, Funtua and Daura. While Katsina and Funtua were favored, the same was not the case with Daura, the home and political base of Muhammadu Buhari, an opposition presidential candidate. During the elections, INEC displayed similar partisanship in distributing sufficient voting materials to Katsina and Funtua, while starving Daura of theirs. This resulted in violence, arson and the loss of lives in the state.


Recently, while speaking to a delegation of politicians who had come to congratualate him in Abuja, Yar’ Adua said, and I quote: “We contested the presidential elections under the rule of law and constitution of the Federal Government of Nigeria.  We agreed to play the game under the rules of the game with the constitution as our guide. If anyone is aggrieved, the best option is to seek redress through the way approved by the constitution.  Whatever we do, we must have respect for the constitution”.


It is obvious Yar’Adua is in denial. Beginning with the allegations made by Masari on Yar’Adua’s questionable handling of his party’s governorship primaries in his state, where the rule of law was observed in the breach, right through to national elections, disparaged as the worst in Nigeria’s political history; this president-elect must be living on the moon or talking tongue in cheek to actually say that Nigeria’s constitution and the rule of law were respected. 

Nigeria needs a selfless and visionary President.  

 Ms Therese Nweke can be contacted at: Theresenweke@yahoo.com

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