The Nigerian Neocolonial Jigsaw Puzzle

The Real African|| By Olusegun Morakinyo (
Irrespective of what the western imperialist and its Nigerian agents propagate, the Nigerian and African people will attain total liberation.[1]
To understand and make meaning of the present political cauldron of Nigeria today, one will be better served with an appreciation of the insights of Yusufu Bala Usman (1954 – 2005). Usman was a radical, erudite historian, public intellectual and pan-Africanist whose works provide a perspective of the background to the problems of Nigeria and its implications for African unity.

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Bala Usman, radical change agent in the warm embrace of history
Usman’s work not only allows an understanding of the history of the complex, ambiguous and contradictory role of the Nigerian government, in the African liberation struggle and the quest for continental pan-African political union, he significantly alerted Africans on the dangers of Nigeria’s ascription to the imperial desire of pan-Africanism.
During an illustrious career as an academic and public intellectual which spans over 35 years, Usman published, numerous scholarly and public articles, and books, of which the most popular are: ‘Religious Manipulation in Nigeria’, ‘Misrepresentation of Nigeria’, ‘Corruption in Nigeria’ and ‘For the Liberation of Nigeria’, from which this article takes its inspiration and the central pillar of its thesis.
As Usman himself noted in this book For the Liberation of Nigeria, although it seems absurd to talk of the liberation of Nigeria from ‘western imperialist domination’[2] in 1979, much less now in 2017, 57 years after Nigeria’s ‘independence’, but as he pointed out, ‘independence’ in 1960, ‘marked the end of a direct form of imperialist domination of Nigeria, but also heralded the beginning of an indirect mutated new form of colonialism – neocolonialism.
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Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Independence Declaration Speech
Thus as everywhere in Africa, while ‘flag independence’ signalled the end of colonialism it did not necessarily dismantle the colonial power dynamics and it, in fact, can be argued to be a perfection of coloniality of the socio-political economic structure of Africa.

As argued by Usman, this is because what ‘independence’ heralded is the enthroning of an African class of middle men and women as intermediaries of western capitalist interest, whose economic and political role can be compared gateman collecting toll. 

It is from this group who are masquerading neo-colonialism as independence that he argued Nigeria needs to be liberated from. For while the imperialist domination of Nigeria, masquerading as independence might be plastic in 1979 when Usman was calling for the liberation of Nigeria for the sake of pan-African unity, it has become solid as the present crisis of Nigeria socio-political economy attest. It is therefore not preposterous to suggest that Nigeria is the model of the neo-colonial state that Franz Fanon warned about and the ideal model of ‘post-colonial’ state, which can act as a bulwark against the pan-Africanism quest for sovereignty and self-determination that the imperialist desired.
While it can be argued that the African Liberation struggle did not end in a defeat, we have to contend that African nations are not sovereign. This is because no major decision on the political, economic, social-cultural direction of the ‘independent states’ is ever taken without direct, indirect or inculcated prodding of their ‘former’ colonial powers.
While this state of being tied to the apron string of the colonial countries is open and formal in the case of Francophone countries whose economies are directly tied to the economy of France through the CFA, however, it is hidden and disguised in the Anglophone countries, like Nigeria.
This is because while to all appearances it seems Nigeria is an independent economy, but as Usman pointed out and as the structure of its political economic reveals, it is nothing but a trading post of western imperial capital.[3] It is the ramifications of this continued imperialist domination of the Nigerian state for continental pan-African unity that Usman highlighted, which is the concern of this article.
This perspective of Nigeria as a bulwark against the pan-African quest for sovereignty and self – determination is shown in Usman’s analysis of Nigeria African foreign policies from independent in 1960 to 1979. According to him, it was the civil war of 1967-70 that made Nigeria at least in rhetoric, commit itself to militant pan-Africanism, after the indelible history of its collusion with imperialist forces to thwart Kwame Nkrumah’s plan for continental pan-African socio-political economic unity in the early 1960s.[4]

Usman maintains that Nigeria only acknowledged its pan-African responsibilities because of the nefarious roles of the imperialist political economic interests during the civil war.[5] 

Nonetheless, despite this ‘betrayal’ of its loyalty to the imperial capitalist force, it was unable to extricate itself from its web, given the umbilical cord of the ruling Nigerian elites[6] to the imperialist forces, whose fundamental existence – Raison d’Être is detrimentally opposed to pan-Africanism. It is this umbilical tie to imperial capital that makes it impossible for the Nigerian government in its current neo-colonial state to advance pan-Africanism even if its people wished.
This according to Usman is because, ‘genuine independence and self-reliance and opposition to imperialism on the continent’ directly threaten their – Nigerian elites – existence, since they are intermediaries of imperialist interests and cannot exist as a class without those interest prevailing’.[7] It is therefore difficult to fault Usman’s assertion that Nigeria’s rhetoric of commitment to continental pan-African unity, based on Africa’s sovereignty and self – determination is disingenuous and in fact injurious to advancing pan-Africanism envisaged as a return to the unencumbered sovereignty of Africa.
This is because although the shenanigans of the imperial capitalist forces during the civil war forced the ruling elites to rhetorically commit to pan-Africanism through various progressive declarations and initiatives. For example, apart from the laudable FESTAC,[8] which is still unmatched in raising global African cultural consciousness.
It affirmed that ‘the country is fortunate in having the resources potentials in men, material and money to lay a solid foundation for a socio-economic revolution in Black Africa’ and also asserted that ‘the uncompromising objective of rising economic prosperity in Nigeria is the economic independence of the nation and defeat of neo-colonialist forces in Africa’.[9] Although this initiatives and declarations are commendable and seem to be based on a sincere commitment to ‘upholding the dignity of the African, safeguarding his interests and protecting him from all forms of oppression and exploitation, and freeing the whole of Africa from the stain of degradation’.
[10] But as Usman pointed out ‘there were gross contradiction between the declared intentions and its practical accomplishments’,[11] because the radical political stance, in both its external and internal manifestations, came into conflict with the political structure and the enduring social and economic forces underlying the neo-colonial settlement, with which Nigeria emerged from colonial subjugation and which the coups and civil wars did not transform.[12]

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President of Nigeria’s Second Republic (1979–1983) – Alhaji Shehu Shagari
A clear appreciation of this reality is crucial because despite democratisation in Nigeria, during the brief 2nd republic (1979-1983) and the current democratic dispensation, this inherent subversion of pan-African continental political economic unity dictated by its foundational neo-colonial political economic structure has remained intact.
It had not only not been altered in any fundamental way and has, in fact, perfected its guise by camouflaging itself as a progressive force for African unity through its ‘hollowing’ out of pan-African ideas to camouflage its true nature as a reactionary imperialist neo-colonial force in Africa.[13]  Given this fact of Nigeria’s political economic reality, the position advanced in this article is that the liberation of Nigeria from Imperial capital domination by fellow Africans is a necessary step to the realisation of a continental pan-African social-political economic union for the benefit of Africa.
This is because as much as the potentials of its human and material resource, is globally acknowledged as immense for the ‘socio-economic revolution in Black Africa’, its crisis also equally portends ramifying problems for peace and security in Africa.
This concern with amplifying Usman’s call for the Liberation of Nigeria by fellow Africans, hinged on the ramifications of continued imperialist domination of Nigeria for a sovereign and truly independent African Union committed to the African people and not to the advancement of the entrenching of imperial capitalist domination of Africa.
The liberation of Nigeria, as a precursor to a continental pan-African union, is according to Usman, a crucial step in order to avert the risk of African socio-political economic union in the service of imperial capital and not the African people. Hence the critical question he asked of our quest for a continental African union are: Unity of what, with what and for what? The basis of unity of Africa is the fundamental question we must confront in our quest for continental union according to Usman because, not only have we all along been united without our active initiative, albeit participation by imperialist forces who controls our countries through integrative structures and institutions, like the World Bank and IMF for instance. But, more importantly, because unity achieved without the liberation of Nigeria from the imperial economic forces will be unity to entrench Imperial capital exploitation of Africa. Usman, therefore, argues that African socio-economic political unity within the current imperialist capitalist framework, which Nigeria project will only produce a facade of integration which in reality will be dis-integrative of the desired union.[14]
One significant contribution of Usman’s historical writing in the face of Nigeria’s current crisis is the debunking of the myths of conflicting ethnic groups – ‘tribes’ in the Niger-Benue confluence, who were forcefully pulled together to create the geopolitical area now known as Nigeria, for purely external interest, without cognisance of their local history. Despite the creation of Nigeria to serve the colonial interest, Usman showed that pre-colonial cultural political-economic integration and interactions which characterised the history of the area now known as Nigeria were what was exploited in the amalgamation of the different ethnic of the Niger-Benue confluence, by British colonialism in creating Nigeria.
Usman showed through in-depth research that rather than conflict among the various ethnic groups as a determinant of changes in the pre-colonial area now designated as Nigeria. It is, on the contrary, a process of socio-cultural economic and political integration and intergroup linkage that was actually the determinant of changes.[15] It was this process of organic integration and linkage among various population grouping that was destroyed by colonialism through its ‘indirect – divide and rule policy’ which Mahmood Mamdani aptly characterised as ‘Define and Rule’.[16] Mamdani, therefore, concurred with Usman that ‘tribe’ and closed ethnicity as the basis of socio-cultural identity and intergroup relations in Nigeria as in the rest of Africa is a creation of late colonialism.[17]
Nigeria today is unfortunately in the clutch of ethnic divisions and religious conflicts, with some interests for example ‘Igbo’ resuscitating the clamour for an independent state of Biafra and sections of the North, demanding the Igbo return to their desired state of Biafra. This in addition to the dangers posed by Boko Haram and the armed militants in the Delta, coupled with the proliferation of different pseudo ‘tribal’ ethnic associations, like the Yoruba Afenifere group, makes for a volatile situation. All these manufactured tensions and conflicts, which as Usman noted are results of manipulation of religion and ethnic identity by elites in their struggles for power makes the current situation Nigeria a ticking time bomb which should be of urgent concern to all Africans for the sake of peace, security and a truly liberated African continental union government.
This article is a brief exposition of the intellectual biography of Yusufu Bala Usman as a historian, public intellectual and pan-Africanist, through a critical engagement with his call for the liberation of Nigeria and how it is tied to the realisation of a truly pan-African socio-economic political unity. Although Usman seems to direct his call primarily to all Nigerians, however, his call has not only been ignored by Nigerians themselves, but by the rest of Africa. What I, therefore, advocate in this article is that it is urgent, reasonable and necessary for the rest of global Africa, to dedicate themselves to the liberation of Nigeria, in the same way, Africans mobilised for the liberation from apartheid in South Africa, because of their collective socio-economic survival.
This is not only because of the advantages of its human and material resources to Africa’s socio-economic revolution but more urgently because of the continental ramifications of its current socio-economic political situation, for security and peace in Africa and the actualization of a continental pan-African union. As Usman said, in calling out Nigeria’s faltering response to the liberation struggle in Southern Africa and Guinea Bissau, this responsibility to liberate Nigeria from its current neo-colonial incarnation by Africans is ‘not one of altruism. It is our very existence in Africa as a people that are at stake’[18].


[1] Yusufu Bala Usman, For the Liberation of Nigerian: Essays and Lectures 1969 – 1978, London, New Beacon Book, 1979, p. 18.
[2] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 9.
[3] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 164-171.
[4] Implemented by the ’Jaja Wachikus and Maitama Sule’s alignment with the Euro-American sanctioned’ ‘Monrovia position’. See Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 11, 144.
[5] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 11.
[6] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, pp. 12-13. Usman described them as ‘middle men’ who act as an intermediary between the imperial forces and the rest of African people, see endnote 2 on pp. 109 for a detailed description.
[7] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 13.
[8] FESTAC’77, Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, 15 January – 12 February 1977.
[9] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 165.
[10] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 165.
[11] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 150.
[12] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 12.
[13] For observations by Usman on the reality of the duplicity of Nigerian African foreign policy, Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 70 – 73.
[14] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 151-2.
[15] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p. 33
[16] See Mahmood Mamdani, Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity, Johannesburg, Wits University Press, 2013.
[17] Yusufu Bala Usman, The Transformation of Kastina: (1400-1883), The Emergence and Overthrow of the Saruta Systems and the Establishment of the Emirate, Zaria, ABU Press, 1981. (PhD thesis).
[18] Usman, For the Liberation of Nigeria, p 140. Emphasis added

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