Political Succession and Nation Building in Nigeria:Problems and Challenges


By Anyim Pius Anyim

A Lecture delivered by Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, GCON at University of Nigeria, Nsukka during the Faculty of Social Sciences’ Distinguished Annual Public Lecture held on 20/4/2021.



Permit me to commence this lecture by commending the organizers of this important annual public lecture.I feel very privileged and honoured to be here and to have this opportunity to share my thoughts with you at this august event. The topic I am requested to talk about is: Political Succession & Nation Building in Nigeria: Problems and Challenges”. For purposes of definition, the two key phrases in this topic are: “Political Succession” and “Nation Building”. I shall attempt to define these two terms to help bring my perspectives and approach into focus.


Webster dictionary defines the term ‘succession’ as the order in which or the condition under which one person after another succeeds to a property, dignity, title or throne.flowing from the above, I make bold to say that in every position of public interest or better still, in every organization where progression is inherent, succession from one person to another is inevitable. How the succession process is handled, to a very large extent, will determine how effective and sustainable the organization will be. Therefore, permit me to identify the following asthe key elements of succession:-There must be a legal framework detailing:-Qualification for the position-Selection process-Tenure-Task (duties and responsibilities)-Powers and limits thereto, etc. The sole aim of succession planning is to get the best man for the job. Once the wrong persons step into positions of authority, the organization is bound to experience retrogression. I shall canvass in this lecture that in the case of Nation Building, every institutional succession is as important as the other e.g :Succession from one President to another-Succession from one President of the Senate to another-Succession from one Chief Justice to another-Succession from one Vice Chancellor to another-Succession from one head of government parastatal to another-Succession from one President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to another-Succession from one President of National Union of Road Transport Workers to another, etcThe point I am making here is that every institution/organization contributes in a very important way to nation building and whenever there is succession turbulence in institutions of the nation, it affects the health of the nation.


Nation-building has been defined as the process of building a political entity which corresponds to a given territory based on some generally accepted rules, norms, principles, and a common citizenship.1It is also about building institutions along the line of equity, equality, fairness, a common sense of purpose, shared destiny, as well as a collective imagination of togetherness and inclusion.2In this sense, nation building is about building the tangible and intangible threads that hold a political entity together and which provides a platform for the economic, social and political advancement of the entity for the benefits of the people.3From the above, it could be seen that the task of nation building is not a one-off thing and since it is an organic project, succession at any nation’shelm of affairs is inevitable. Aswas defined by Alan Brier, political succession is:

Flowing from the above, I want to submit that the topic I am requested to discuss in this lecture i.e Political Succession and Nation Building in Nigeria: Problems and Challenges is in itself a challenge. Am I to discuss the political succession in Nigeria from civilian administration to military regime or from one military regime to another or from military regime to civilian administration or from one civilian administration to another or from PDP administration to APC administration? Let me say at this juncture that a country is not just a nation because it has political independence, its leaders must nurture programmes, policies and platforms that promotes the economic, social and political advancement of the entity for the benefits of its citizens. These programmes, polices and platforms constitutes the building blocks of the nation. The lack of continuity of the building blocks, the regular unlawful termination of governments and unnecessary policies and programes summersault are at the bane of nation building in Nigeria. In general, I want to state that military incursion into political administration in our country is the worst set back we have suffered in building the Nigerian nation. Political succession under the military in Nigeria was bloody, lawless, lacked process, lacked defined tenure, duties and responsibilities and above all, exercised limitless powers. Let me therefore use this opportunity to condemn in its entirety, any form of military intervention in the political administration of the nation. Let me also say in general terms that transition from civilian-to-civilian administration in Nigeria have also been rancorous, grossly violent, manipulative and in many cases, threw up the wrong outcomes where the wrong men for the jobs emerged. This has retarded our progress as a nation.

However, whatever the challenges have been, I make bold to say that we have hope. In view of the above, permit me to state that at the core of any discuss on political succession and nation building is the question of leadership. Bearing in mind that academics constitute a larger percentage of my audience, I shall bring some theoretical perspectives to the lecture. I will therefore present my thoughts along this line:

-the nature of rulership

-The evolution of nation states and transition from rulership to leadership,

-social progress as the foundation of nation building

-challenges of succession and nation building in Nigeria,

-causes of political succession challenges in Nigeria,

-consequences ofpoor leadership succession in Nigeria and finally the way forward


Rulership simply means a position in which one rules or has sovereignty or dominion over others. The concept of Rulership can be traced to the plan of God for mankind as encapsulated in the biblical passage of Genesis Chapter 1 vs. 28 (King James Version) where God gave man the mandate to:“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be faithful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’’. The important point to note here is that while God gave man the mandate to subdue, dominate and rule over all other creatures, man was not authorized to exercise rulership over his fellow man as that authority was reserved for God alone who made man in his own image and likeness. This position was reiterated by St. Augustine in Chapters 14and 19 of his book titled: De Civitate Dei Contra Pagnos (otherwise known as the City of God) wherein he stated as follows:“God wanted rational man, made to his own image, to have dominion only over non-rational beings. He wanted man to have dominion over the beasts and not over man’’.

From the above, the critical elements of rulership as dictated by God are as follows:

1.No man has the authority to rule over another as that role is reserved for God.

2.Whenever a man exercise rulership over another he is doing so on behalf of God. This is why rulers tries to deify themselves.

3.The language of rulership as mandated by God were “subdue”, “dominate”and then exercise “rulership”.We shall see in cause of this lecture that the social history of man was dotted with the struggle to dethrone the application of the rulership mandate (to subdue, dominate and then rule over other creatures)to man.Man’s quest to rule or dominate fellow men began to manifest as a punishment from God for the sins committed by Adam and Eve. This is evident in Genesis Chapter 3 vs 16 where God told Eve that ‘you will be under the man’s power as a symbolism that human beings would be subjected to the power of their fellow human beings.The disobedience to God’s will which prompted God to chase Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden, birthed an innate desire for self-preservation on the part of man and at the same time, the desire to acquire dominion over others. As noted by Nnabue,5the conflicting desire of man to preserve his liberty and at the same time assert dominion over other men was dictated by the impulse of self-preservation and this led to what Thomas Hobbes described as a ‘war of all against all’. This development made life ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short and gave rise to men seeking protection from fellow men against the aggression of other men’.

As mankind grew in number, the need for social existence became inevitable.In order to preserve the society, men resorted to a social contract as the only logical way to ensure lasting peace. In furtherance of this goal, they constituted themselves into a civil society by appointing a sovereign described by Thomas Hobbes as the Leviathan who will act for them in their corporate capacity. The challenge of this arrangement became the tendency of such sovereign to deify himself in place of God and to generally perpetuate his rulership. The implication therefore was that the sovereign tends to stay above or elevate his status over and above the principles that gave him authority; and himself and his family far and above other human beings under his rulership. This made the sovereign powerful, arrogant and unaccountable to the very persons who gave him authority. As men (sovereign) began to assert rulership and dominion over fellow men, there was no collective mechanism put in place by the people to ensure political or leadership succession from one individual to another. Rather, what was in place was succession on the basis of hereditary or inheritance by children or family members of the sovereign. This is typical with succession styles of monarchies and empires as seen throughout the course of history. The succession mechanism under the rulership era led to very few succession problems since there was a solitary succession framework that is usually followed after the death of the monarch.

With no collective leadership succession plan in place, the dark side of men began to show. This adversely affected nation building, constituted men into absolute sovereigns and gave rise to man’s endless quest for political power without purposeful political succession plans other than perpetuating their personal or family interests. The results therefore were instability, conquests, colonization, wars, slavery, etc as seen all through the annals of history.


The need to curtail the excessive powers of men (sovereign), make the sovereign accountable to the people and entrench fundamental freedoms and liberties, led to a movement of resistance and opposition to the authority of sovereigns as depicted throughout history. For instance, the Magna Carta which was originally issued in 1215 by King John of England was a direct response to appease dissent and opposition faced by the King of England at the time. The Magna Carta is considered as the foundation for individual rights and established,for the first time,a framework for the relationship between the sovereign or King and his subjects. It established the principle that everybody including the King was subject to the rule of law and documented liberties to be enjoyed by the people. It provided amongst others that:No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions or outlawed or exiled or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor proceed against with force except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land…Before the Magna Carta, there was already a push to attain an ideal nation state where the citizens are part of the political succession as exemplified by the introduction of democracy in Greece during the 9th BC. However, democracy as practiced during this period in Greece was flawed as it excluded women from participating in the democratic process.7By the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the formation of nation-states started in Europe and America. This process of profound

This situation of not having influence over the affairs of a State or office they once occupied gives them a sense of apprehension and leads to the enthronement of a successor who will do their bidding at any point in time against the collective interest of the State or office. This is the reason why god-fatherism still holds sway in virtually all facets of our nation.

One of the greatest problems posed by weak institutions is its inability to enforce accountability. Institutions such as the Judiciary, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), law enforcement and security agencies all play critical roles in political succession and nation building. However, political leaders have over time rendered these institutions weak, such that they are unable to effectively discharge their responsibilities and ensure that the rules of the game are followed, rule of law is upheld, leaders are held accountable and principles of separation of powers is observed.

As I noted earlier, Mr. Trump was unable to perpetuate himself in office despite all his efforts because the US has strong institutions which he was unable to manipulate to continue in office. The unwillingness of the political leaders to imbibe and uphold the fundamental pillars of nation building such as adherence to rule of law, fundamental rights, separation of powers, is at the root of the leadership crisis bedeviling Nigeria and as far as this continues to be a lacking trait in leadership, we shall continue to have challenges in our political succession and nation building processes. However, for the people to agree to stay as one and be committed to nation-building there must be fairness, equity, a sense of belonging and the governance process should be able to address the socio-economic needs of the people.


Political or leadership succession as practiced in Nigeria today has adverse effects on nation building. This is because it sets the stage for the following

:a. It breeds nepotism and encourages mediocrity in governance. In this regard, there is lack of commitment to the State.

  1. It weakens or destroys the institutional framework of the nation and truncates continuity of governance policies.
  2. Itleads to violation of laws, rules and procedure and breeds lawlessness.
  3. It leads to corruption, createsinstability and insecurity.

e.It erodes fundamental freedoms and liberties such as right toequal opportunity to participate in government, freedom of association, and the right of the people to freely choose their own leadership or government.

f.It discourages patriotism on the part of the citizensand stunts national growth.

g.It leads to failure of the state to meet its obligations to the citizens.


a.Building Strong Institutions

Institutions are the main drivers of nation building in any society. This is because institutions sustain the democratic process by promoting and maintaining an orderly procedure through which political succession is attained, power is transferred from one government or individual to another and dividends of democracy are delivered to the people. As noted by Gambari,12there are three important components to institution building: setting the rules; hiring persons with the technical expertise and moral competence to interpret the rules or implement the goals of the organisations; and ensuring that the institutions inspire public confidence by being transparent, fair and consistent. Institutions also play vital role in upholding the pillars of nation building and ensuing that persons who go against the rules are held accountable and punished. Hence, there is the absolute need to strengthen our institutions by mainstreaming the principles of rule of law and other democratic norms in their operations, beefing up their capacity, improving their independence, setting up internal or corporate governance structures and making them open, transparent and accountable to the people. If there is any lesson, we can learn from the last American presidential election is that strong institutions matter and is a fundamental pillar for nation building and ensuring sustainable political succession. We therefore must strengthen our institutions if we are to make any meaningful progress.

b.Eradication of Poverty and Ignorance

Poverty and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor have impeded sustainable nation-building in Nigeria. There cannot be sustainable push towards nation building without genuine efforts at eradicating poverty and ignorance. Poverty and ignorance do not only breed corruption,distrust, desperation for political office and many other vices that are inimical to nation building, they are also a major cause of serious conflict and insurgency such as the Boko Haram menace that are detrimental to a nation.

Hence, all actions necessary for the up-liftment of the socio-economic condition of the people including provision of social security, employment, education, shelter, food, health care services, etc should be put in place as this will reduce the urge for corruption. When people have means of livelihood and are well informed, they are more likely to be knowledgeable about governance processes and are able to hold leaders accountable. Further, when the people are certain that there are sustainable policies and programmes to cater for their socio-economic well-being and that of their family members, they will be less likely to be induced into corrupt practices while occupying leadership positions and this will ultimately reduce their tendency to imposea successor or manipulating the process just to ensure that the successor covers their track and protects their interest.In addition, the quest to assume leadership positions would no longer be for the purpose of accumulating wealth but rather for service to the people.

c.Growth of the middleclass

The middle class represents a fundamental component in any nation. They constitute a strong group of individuals made up of professionals, experts, civil society organisations, etc whose major role in nation building is to promote foresighted policies and to make government work well because their socio-economic fate is more closely tied to the quality of government in place.14The middle class in Nigeria are almost non-existent and where they exist, they are considerably weakened. What you have is

majorly the rich and the poor. The reason for the collapse of the middle class is that most professionals are interested in ‘making it quick’ by lobbying for government leadership positions rather than building sustainable careers in their chosen fields. They believe that attaining political leadership positions is the surest means to wealth and satisfaction and this leads to breach of the rules, inducement, corruption and resort to manipulations in order to attain leadership positions. Therefore, as part of our efforts towards nation building and enthroning a political succession model that we can all be proud of, we must build back the middle class by ensuring that all incentives that are needed for their growth and sustenance are in place. These include the passage of laws and the creation of the right environment that will enable them excel in their chosen careers and discourage the rush or crave for political leadership positions. Through this way, the middle class will be well positioned to contribute effectively to nation building by promoting and championing good governance polices, defending fundamental rights of citizens and be empowered to hold political leaders accountable.


The importance of an efficient, transparent, fair and equitable political or leadership succession process in any nation can never be over emphasized. As nation building is a continuous process, we must as a people continue to strengthening our justice and governance institutions and democratic ideals as fundamental elements of our political succession processes towards building a prosperous nation. As noted by the United Nations,weak institutions, poor governance culture, lack of awareness and docility on the part of the people are major contributors to under-development of any nation. We therefore must strive hard through collective engagement and sincerity of purpose to ensure that these debilitating factors that are inimical to nation building are eradicated from our political, economic and social space for the good of all Nigerians. Thank you.

Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, GCON