Reading Nigeria’s Political History What to Read on Politics in Post-independence Nigeria

While not exhaustive, the texts in this reading list on Nigeria’s political history expand on how Nigerian politics arrived at what it is today.

For a long time, the political environment in Nigeria has featured severe contestations among the country’s diverse ethnic groups. This legacy of contestations has created a multi-layered and multi-faceted political structure that is peculiar to Nigeria. In Nigeria, politics is interspersed by ethnicity, making it a collective means to rights and ownership. The Nigerian federation remains sloppy, contested and conflict-infected; from independence in 1960, Nigeria has been struggling to survive not only in managing society but also in improving the socio-economic conditions of the people. Nigeria’s political landscape has been inundated with military interventions and unhealthy inter-ethnic competition. To a large extent, these incidents have shaped how we can understand the different forms and dynamics of politics in Nigeria today. They have also influenced democratic practices, the degree of peace and tranquillity and Nigeria’s development trajectory. Consequently, the texts in this reading list, while not exhaustive, attempt to expand on how Nigerian politics arrived at what it is today.

The transition to the Fourth Republic in 1999 served as a turning point in Nigeria’s politics. So far, it has been the longest period of democratic governance in Nigeria, and one that has seen Nigeria’s political landscape transition from an embryonic state towards maturity. Many, as the texts in this reading list suggest, have argued that the long periods of military dictatorship that preceded the Fourth Republic undermined democratic practices in Nigeria, hindering the country from achieving the dividends of democracy even after 1999. This argument has some merit, as not only did military rule truncate Nigeria’s political development, it also stunted the organic growth of Nigerian society. Some of the incidents that occurred under military rule in Nigeria, include the 1966 coup d’état and counter-coups that eventually led to the civil war, the uprooting of civil practices, the introduction of ill-suited policies, and the annulment of the June 12 general elections in 1993.

Despite the merits in blaming the military, this reading list suggests it is also possible to argue that the civilian-led Fourth Republic has also failed to improve the living standards of average Nigerians. Bridled with unemployment, inflation and corruption, Nigeria is presently one of the world’s most impoverished countries. It is further plagued with insecurity in the forms of terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery and violent conflicts. In the political sphere, election fraud and gross indiscipline are pervasive. Moreover, the presence of incompetent, unpatriotic and corrupt leaders has hindered the development of politics in Nigeria. It is fair to argue that the rise of ethnic idiosyncrasies and religious fundamentalism in the 1980s cemented the trajectory of politics in Nigeria leading up to the present dispensation.

Richard. L. Sklar
Nigerian Political Parties: Power In An Emergent African Nation
New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1963 (AVAILABLE HERE); and
A.A Ujo
Understanding Political Parties in Nigeria
Kaduna: Klamida Books, 2000 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Sklar’s Nigerian Political Parties is one of the most critical works on the emergence of political parties in Nigeria. It addresses the structure(s) and organization(s) of political parties in Nigeria, from their emergence during the colonial period to their post-colonial expansion. Political parties are important to politics in Nigeria, as they provide platforms for politicians and the electorate to come together to develop and mobilise political ideologies. The lasting importance of political parties in Nigeria makes Ujo’s Understanding Political Parties in Nigeria not only a useful companion to Sklar’s text, but also a vital contribution. Ujo helps us understand the formation Nigerian political parties beyond the First Republic (1963-1966). Building on Sklar’s work, Ujo traces the genealogy and affiliations of parties that emerged during and beyond the Second Republic (1979-1983).

Abdullahi Tanko Umaru
Democracy and Issues of Marginalization in Nigerian Politics
Nigerian Journal of Political Science, Vol 12 Nos. 1 & 2,
Ahmadu Bello University Press, 2008. (Available at the Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training, Zaria)

Nigeria has a large, multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. Mismanagement of this diversity, without a doubt, has limited Nigeria’s ability to foster harmonious development. Since independence, the political scene has been replete with ethnic rivalry, such as between the Hausa people and non-Hausa people located in Southern Kaduna, or in Plateau State between the Berom, Hausa and Fulani, and between the Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo of Delta State. The political scene has also featured religion-motivated conflicts such as the controversial shari’a debate, which has been going on since the 70s, and the 2000 shari’a crisis that occurred in many states of northern Nigeria. Beyond the foregoing context, Umaru assesses incidents of marginalization in Nigerian politics, focusing, for instance, on the disparities in infrastructural developments between northern and southern states.

Alkassum Abba & Abdullahi Mohammed
Democracy and Corruption in Nigeria, Selected Speeches, Papers and Campaign Documents of M. D. Yusufu 1997-2010

The 1990s were interesting times in Nigerian history. In 1993, under the leadership of General Ibrahim Babangida, the military annulled the presidential elections and arrested its winner, Moshood (MKO) Abiola. Not long after the ‘June 12’ annulment, were the rise of General Sanni Abacha, and the arrests and/or killings of activists such as Kudirat Abiola. Despite the tyranny and violence that pervaded this period, there were Nigerians who stood and challenged the system. One of such people is M.D. Yusufu, a then-presidential aspirant under the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).

In 1995, military government of General Abacha set up a transition programme designed to produce the next civilian leader. However, Abacha dominated the transition process, and positioned himself to become the civilian leader from 08 June 1998. Even though Abacha did not formally express his intentions, four out of five political parties had adopted him as their presidential candidate with the exception of GMD. This is because one of GMD’s aspirants refused to forfeit his candidature. M.D. Yusufu adopted legal and constitutional steps to challenge Abacha.  The book is a collection of speeches delivered by Yusufu from 1997, during the political debacle, to 2010.

H.N. Nwosu
Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and Amendment
Ibadan: Macmillan, 2008 (AVAILABLE HERE)

After about ten years of military rule, the elections of June 12, 1993 were highly anticipated. The then-military head, General Babangida, oversaw the elections, which were to produce a democratically elected president. However, the 1993 elections were among the most controversial elections in Nigeria’s history. After MKO emerged winner, the Babangida administration annulled the elections. However, given the outpour of support for MKO under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) from across the states, it was considered the most free and fair elections in the history of the country. The annulment ultimately led to a political crisis during which General Sani Abacha seized power.

There have been attempts by political scientists and historians to explain the events surrounding the annulment of the 1993 elections. Some believe that the military never intended to hand over power to MKO. Moreover, it is a widely held view that the military undermined MKO’s popularity.  Humphrey Nwosu, in his capacity as the Chairman of the National Election Commission (NEC), gives a first-hand assessment of the 1993 elections. His contribution helps us see through the most important institution involved in the June 12 elections.

Obafemi Awolowo
AWO: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Cambridge: University Press 1960 (AVAILABLE HERE);
Nnamdi Azikwe
My Odyssey: An Autobiography of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe
Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1970 (AVAILABLE HERE); and
Anthony Enahoro
Fugitive Offender:The Story of A Political Prisoner
London: Cassell,1965 (AVAILABLE at AREWA HOUSE, KADUNA)

What better way to understand a chain of events than from those who played an active role in engineering those events? Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and Chief Anthony Enahoro were every Nigerian politician’s forebears. They championed the decolonization process and challenged the status quo by demanding an end to colonial rule. They headed key positions and, with the exception of Enahoro, contested for the highest position in the country. There is no doubt that the objectivity of these autobiographies can be questioned for autobiographies can be self-serving and highly subjective. The works of Awolowo and Azikwe especially have been highly criticized for being contradictory. One such criticism could be of their ideological dissonance whereby each leader preached socialist principles but were themselves staunch capitalists. Nevertheless, these autobiographies shed light on the visions of these leaders, the foundations they built and their contributions to Nigerian politics complicated as they were.

Billy Dudley:
An Introduction to Nigerian Government and Politics
Indiana: University Press, 1982

A versatile political scientist and one of the co-authors of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria, Dudley examines Nigeria’s politics from different vantage points in An Introduction Government and Politics. In the book, he argues that, to a large extent, the social values of a people influence their political behaviour. An Introduction also includes some analysis of Nigeria’s 1979 elections. An interesting aspect of the book is that it conjures in the mind of the reader a political pattern that is apparent in Nigerian politics. When compared to the elections of 2019 on subjects such as curbing political party excesses and vote rigging, Dudley’s assessment of the 1979 elections shows that nothing significant has changed in the attitudes of the political elites or masses. This book creates a comprehensive understanding of the process of Nigerian politics; specifically, it enlightens readers on election culture, political tussle and power play in Nigeria.

Chinua Achebe
An Image of Africa and the Trouble with Nigeria
London: Penguin Books, 1983  (AVAILABLE HERE)

Achebe’s booklet addresses two major issues: the racism of Polish-British author, Joseph Conrad, and the problem of Nigeria. Though very brief, in ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, Achebe shares his views on the political atmosphere at the eve of the Second Republic. Furthermore, he makes a case against the founding fathers, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, who stood for the 1979 presidential elections. Achebe’s essay is useful to read against the autobiographies of these leaders.

Eghosa. E. Osaghe
Crippled Giant: Nigeria since Independence
John Archers, Ibadan, 1998 (AVAILABLE HERE)

In Crippled Giant, Osaghe questions the validity of Nigeria’s title as the ‘Giant of Africa’ by analysing Nigeria’s political development from 1960 to 1996. The book analyses major political events that have shaped Nigerian history such as the 1960 Tiv Riots, the 1962 census disturbances, and the 1964 Western Region crisis, all of which culminated in the 1966 coup d’état. The book discusses military interventions and how these events stunted the growth of democracy in Nigeria. As a historical inquisition of Nigerian political history, this text is particularly relevant for students and those new to Nigerian politics.

Larry Diamond
Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria: The Failure of the First Republic
New York: Syracuse University Press, 1988 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Little can be understood about Nigerian politics absent an exploration of Nigeria’s ethnic diversity. Diamond did this aspect justice by revealing how the major ethnic groups in Nigeria came to dominate their respective regions. He argues these groups compete for power through the economic and social consolidation of class dominance. In explaining the pervasive nature of conflicts in Nigeria’s politics, Diamond traces its genesis back to the 1940s linking it to struggles between Yoruba and Igbo petit bourgeoisie that ended up splitting the nationalist movement along ethnic lines. Till today, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-dimensional country. Ethnicity still plays a major role in the affairs and politics of the Nigerian society. Diamond provides insight into how these identities forge divides, which go on to continually influence Nigeria’s domestic politics. 

Olusegun Adeniyi
Power, Politics and Death: A front-row account of Nigeria under the late President Yar’adua
Lagos: Kachifo Limited, 2011 (Available at CESDERT, Zaria)

In Power, Politics and Death, Adebiyi offers a front-row account of Nigeria, under the late President, Umar Musa Yar’adua, who died in 2011. Adeniyi chronicles the power play and political controversies that occurred during the Yar’Adua administration. The death of President Yar’Adua 2011 marked a turning point in Nigerian political and democratic history. In uncovering this history, Adebiyi highlights the political culture prevalent in the Fourth Republic and the roles key personalities such as the then-first lady, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua, played. Adebiyi also highlights the political aspirations, struggles and unfulfilled dreams of late President Yar’Adua.

Tafawa Balewa
A selection of Speeches made by Alhaji the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Lagos: Nigerian National Press, 1964.

The collection consists of speeches by the first prime minister of Nigeria from 1960-1966, before his assassination. It provides insight into the psychology and politics of the First Republic and the general relationship between the then-ruling government and its opposition. The collection is quite relevant especially regarding how the events of the 1960s influenced Nigeria’s politics, growth and development.

Toyin Falola & Julius Ihonvbere
The Rise and Fall of Nigeria’s Second Republic, 1979-84
London: Zed Books Ltd, 1985 (AVAILABLE HERE)

The Second Republic was short-lived, lasting only four years. The Rise and Fall of Nigeria’s Second Republic delves into the 1979 constitution, and the rules governing political parties.  Falola and Ihonvbere further discuss how the pronounced intra-class contradictions and conflicts within the bourgeoisie had led to several alignments and re-alignments of class forces between the inception of the second republic in 1979 and the late 1983 elections. They also consider how these shifts affected the nature and conduct of the elections itself. The book gives a comprehensive description of the events during the second republic that led to the era’s abrupt end.

Kunle Amuwo
‘Transition as Democratic Regression’ in Nigeria During the Abacha Years (1993-1998): The Domestic and International Politics of Democratization
Ibadan: IFRA, 2001. (AVAILABLE HERE)

Amuwo examines the rise and fall of General Sani Abacha’s regime, providing a glimpse into the political climate Abacha’s regime created, and what dynamics between the military and civil society shaped and were shaped by the regime. Today, the Abacha regime is considered to have been one of the most corrupt in Nigeria’s history. Only this month, another offshore bank account containing looted funds was traced to the former Nigerian leader. Amuwo’s article, thus, is nothing if not timely.


While this is not an exhaustive list on Nigeria’s politics, these texts will set a path for the reader in understanding Nigeria’s politics. There is certainly a growing number of reasons to pay attention to Nigeria’s political history. The re-election of President Buhari earlier this year means looking forward to his appointment of cabinet members, and how the Buhari administration will advance its relationship with legislative leaders and the citizenry at large; as well as observing the administrations attempts at fulfilling its promises on security, economic development, employment and others.

There are many who believe Nigeria’s political landscape is at a new dawn. This belief has some merit as a result of both citizen- and government-led initiatives. One such citizen-led initiative has been the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ campaign, which sought to reduce the age limit for elective positions and was successful in May 2018. Not Too Young to Run created an opportunity for young Nigerians to participate in politics and this was evident during the 2019 elections. From the government, notable was the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day in 2018. This symbolic gesture from the Buhari administration makes it important to examine the original events of June 12 1993, and to understand why it holds meaning for Nigeria and Nigerians. It is hoped that these moves from both citizens and the government will create a culture of mending the past and forming a more representative and progressive society characterized by social justice, security, and political maturity