Fred Onyeoziri, Analytical Orientation and Political Science Scholarship in Nigeria

Professor Tunji Olaopa


Tunji Olaopa


The older generations of political science scholars are already going to the place of the elders. And that is either for good or for ill. On the one hand, most of them definitely reached the zenith of their career and age, and paid their dues to scholarship and the career they chose and were committed to. On the other hand, the deaths of some of them, seem to leave a long generational gap in political science scholarship that appears to be getting wider. At 82, Prof. Frederick Eze Chikeziye Onyeoziri lived to a good old age, and yet his academic shoes are pretty big to be filled by just any scholar. Prof. Onyeoziri was a substantive part of my political science academic formation at the University of Ibadan. There was no way anyone offering the discipline of political science in the 1980s and 1990s could ever escape the empirical thrust of his teaching of political theory, or even his masterly handling of comparative politics and methodology.

Putting Prof. Onyeoziri in charge of comparative politics and methodology is essentially making him very fundamental to how all aspiring students of political science would have to take his straightforward and excellent teaching seriously in order to master how to think and become a student of politics. Methodology is very key to the transformation of political knowledge into substantive researches that key into the predicaments of societies and how they can be structured. With the combination of political theory and methodology in his academic care, Onyeoziri becomes very crucial in inserting students of political science into a subfield that is hardly taken seriously even by political scientists—the methodological framework that allows political scientists to question the assumptions underlying their approaches to politics.

The analytic orientation that Onyeoziri brought into the teaching of political methodology has a long trajectory that featured in the emergence of political science as a scientific discipline that pursues the objective of intervening between facts and values. The analytic orientation redirected the focus of studying and researching political phenomena—from the state to political institutions—away from moral philosophy and public administration into a value-free analysis of causes and effects that seeks for objectivity and scientific precision. To be a political scientist is therefore to learn how to think methodologically and scientifically. Thus, it was in Onyeoziri’sclass (and one or two other revered teachers) that I came into contact with the methodology of comparative politics, and inevitably the defining and definitive analysis of ArendLijphart on consociationalism and consensus democracy. Lijphart argues for the intervention of comparative method in the fundamental but highly limited quantitative and statistical analyses beloved by political scientists. Of course, the comparative method comes with lots of methodological difficulties. But then, Lijphart’s contention is that one cannot ever hope to achieve a balanced political analysis when one is not complementing the other.

Professor Fred Onyeoziri

With Lijphart’s idea of consociationalism, the comparative method becomes even more significant in the understanding of a plural and postcolonial state like Nigeria. And Prof. Onyeoziri guarded us all in mining this comparative methodology, especially when he took my class’ introductory course on Nigerian politics and government,where he deployed the then newly published unfinished text by late Prof. Billy Dudley under the same title as the teaching guide. With this course, I become all the more familiar with the challenges and advantages of the mixed methods—I was able to imbibe the analytic and empirical methodology complemented by historical and institutional details. One huge lesson from this is that in the final analysis, political science and all its methodological dynamics, theoretical sophistication and abstract inferencesdevolve significantly towards the analysis of governments and societies. And this is where Onyeoziri contributed the most to my maturation as a public administrator and institutional reformer. I was tutored in the analytical dynamics of articulating government functions and processes, and the methodological means by which policies could be outlined in ways that draw from comparative instances across the globe.

It is from this perspective of the connection between the field of political science, its methodological approaches and the understanding of government that we should equally situate Prof. Fred Onyeoziri and his lasting legacies in scholarship. We can say that it became almost inevitable that for a political scientist like him in the context of Nigeria’s postcolonial status, he would be drawn irrevocably to the national question and the challenges of national integration in Nigeria. From the Biafran War to Nigeria’s lopsided federalism, and from the theoretical exploration of consociational possibilities in Nigeria to the political dynamics of citizenship, Fred Onyeoziri demonstrated an acute understanding of the Nigerian state from theoretical and practical standpoints. Prof. Onyeoziri learnt consociationalism well. There must be a way to interject in Nigeria’s postcolonial cleavages some measure of analytic reflection that allows for a democratic and institutional framework of accommodation and elite relationship that crosscut across ethnic, religious and linguistic divides. Consociational democracy, at least in a country like Nigeria, must be founded on the structural integrity of federalism that allows the federating units to relate across their segmental cleavages. Federalism allows the state to deploy the comparative advantages of the federating unit as a collective mean by which to allocate resources that betters the quality of life of the citizens.

And in this regard, his classic textbook — “The Citizen and the State”—becomes a crucial reference material for understanding how a postcolonial state could relate with its citizens within a context where elite cooperation and accommodationist dynamics are lacking. Apart from a magisterial outline of the theoretical issues involved in the understanding of the concepts of the state and the citizen, Prof. Onyeoziri lamented the absenceof a framework of civic virtues that ought to underlie the idea of civic patriotism that will draw the disparate ethnic constituents of the postcolonial Nigerian state together into an integrated whole. While recognizing the disruptive capacity of ethnic nationalities to undermine the civic nationalism of a state like Nigeria, Onyeoziri insisted that there is a need for a new political theory that will not be hampered by the traditional suspicion of ethnic nationalities as forces of instability. The national question remains the way it is because Nigeria’s ethnic constituents have always been regarded as centrifugal forces that are constituted to undermine the political stability of the state.

On the contrary, such a new theory must commence from the foundational platform of respect and recognition backstopped by the provision of infrastructural development and opportunities around which civic patriotism can be built. Within the new political theory, Onyeoziri argued, the state must make it unnecessary for the ethnic nationalities to remain the foundation of the good life which membership in the state ought to confer on all its constituents. This is the reason why Onyeoziri pitched his theoretical tent with Lijphart’s idea of consociational democracy and its accommodationist framework that seeks for elite cooperation in consolidating an ideology of national progress that will make them gamble on development for the sake of Nigerians. Elite nationalism often serves as the framework that allow the political class in any state to rally round an understanding of development that will undermine the virulent potentials of primordial sentiments from damaging the fabric of civic nationalism.

Prof. Onyeoziri was not just a political theorist who sits comfortably within the secluded space of the ivory tower and speaks detachedly about the Nigerian state and her postcolonial predicament. He took on the challenge of understanding the Nigerian state from the perspective of situating himself right within the raucous space of not only the public sphere as a public intellectual, but also within the political space as a politician armed with the understanding that theories confer on practice. From the platform provided by the Guardian newspaper, Prof. Onyeoziri communicated his informed perspectives about the state of the Nigerian state to Nigerians. And he brought that informed perspectives also down into the murky waters of partisan politics by joining the People’s Democratic Party.

Professor Frederick Onyeoziri represents the figure of a committed intellectual and academic—a political scientist whose analytic orientation in political theorizing enabled him to inject his empirical analyses into the understanding of realpolitik. We have now lost him, but his intellectual stature indicts not only the anti-intellectual dynamics that cocoon Nigerian politics off from enabling intellectual inputs. His political involvement also castigates the detachment of Nigerian intellectuals and scholars from the realm of politics. From his full and robust involvement in the public and political sphere, we can deduce an argument for a political science scholarship that is fully inserted into the concrete manifestation of political phenomena, rather than cowering in the rarified space of abstractness.

This brings to the fore for me the crucial significance of the political science scholarship of Fred Onyeoziri—the relationship between political science scholarship and policy-engaged research and analysis that could galvanise deep thinking about Nigeria’s policy architecture in ways that also harness talents and expertise within the town-and-gown contexts and communities of practices andservice. Prof. Fred Onyeoziri’s scholarship represents a policy-research nexus whose imperative the post-2023 Nigerian state and policy analysis will ignore to its peril. It is within its framework that the requisite collective intelligence, policy creativity and knowledge-experience dynamics can be cumulated to get the basic of good governance right in transforming the lives of Nigerians. And Prof Onyeoziri contributed his quota. Political science scholarship in Nigeria has a lot to learn and relearn from him.

Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State.