January 1, 2014 marked the centenary of the founding of Nigeria as a country. Competing interests, identities, and institutions have all played a central role in shaping the country’s developmental path from the precolonial through the colonial to the postcolonial era. In each of these historical periods, Nigeria’s material interests, identities, and institutions have in turn been shaped by the international environment in which its roughly 174 million people and over 250 ethno-linguistic groups have interacted among themselves and with the outside world in their quest for modernity. What makes Nigerian politics interesting is the constant changes in and interactions of these material interests, identities, and institutions – often arising from domestic, regional, and global pressures – and the myriad ways in which they have either been accommodated or rejected by the given political order.
The combination of these four mutually interacting variables – interests, identities, institutions, and the global context – provides a robust framework for analyzing the events that have shaped the political life of this fascinating country. We will situate Nigerian politics within the global context by answering the following set of questions: What are the global and domestic factors that have shaped Nigeria’s development path, from the precolonial through colonial and post-independence eras? How have these factors shaped the interests, identities, and institutions that, in turn, have shaped these development paths? We will also weave into the narrative the local and domestic political and economic threats Nigeria has faced as it navigates its way through the modern world. As the story moves along, we will evaluate the principles and values upheld by the Nigerian government in terms of whether they are considered legitimate by people in other countries, or are shunned as immoral or outmoded. The second set of questions that will be woven into the story concerns how Nigerian politicians and ordinary citizens have adopted domestic interests, identities, and institutions in response to the global challenges they face. The “interests” of Nigerian peoples can be assessed by asking the following questions: What are the major goals of politicians, businesses, civil associations, and ordinary citizens, and what strategies have they adopted to achieve them? The identities of Nigerians can be assessed by exploring the values, norms, ideological beliefs, and emotions that shape their worldviews most profoundly.