The causes of our national maladies are essentially economic

From the lecture entitled ‘Socialism In The Service of Nigeria’ delivered by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chancellor of the University of Ife, at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, on 9th April, 1970.


THE thirty-months’ Civil war which has just ended had witnessed and produced many tragedies, including unproductive expenditure of vast sums of money, enormous destruction of property, considerable slowing down of progress, and incalculable sufferings and deprivations.

It is our fervent and declared aim to erase the physical and psychological effects of these tragedies as quickly as human ingenuity can contrive to repair the damage, to retrieve lost ground, and to promote concord and unity in place of bitterness and enmity.

Whether or not we succeed in achieving our aim depends wholly and solely on the thoroughness with which we are able to remove the basic causes of our national ills, and the extent to which we are resolved, from now on, to steer clear of those causes, and tread a new path of national sanity and rationality.

I have said it before, and I want to say it again, that the causes of our national maladies are essentially economic. It is important, therefore, for us to bear it in mind that if we failed to find the right solutions to our economic problems, we would not succeed in solving our political and social problems.

About 2,400 years ago, Plato, the master-mind, said in THE REPUBLIC as follows:

‘A State … arises out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants …

‘Then as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another, and when the helpers and partners are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State.

‘And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be

for their good.’

He then declared, rightly and unassailably in my view, that: ‘the true creator of a State is necessity which is the mother of our invention. The first and greatest of necessities is food … the second is dwelling, and the third clothing and that sort of thing.’

It is clear, therefore, that the sole justification of a State is the economic advantages which division of labour, and exchange can confer on the inhabitants of the State. Groups of families, or of individuals if you like, do not aggregate and unite in one community just for the love of one another. The compelling motivation is economic; and political arrangements are necessary only in order to lay a firm and stable base for economic growth and prosperity, and regulate economic relations and intercourse between the inhabitants of the State. Take away economic motivation, and the natural legitimacy or justification, as well as the automatic and self-sustaining cohesion of the State disappears.

It is imperative that we should keep this cardinal point vividly in our minds as we venture forward to re-create Nigeria. It is not in dispute that we had fought ‘to keep Nigeria one’ partly because of our strong patriotic sentiments for a united Nigeria. But whether we are conscious of it or not, it is also true that the overriding motivation for fighting ‘to keep Nigeria one’ is economic.

We all have a vision – never mind the degree of clarity in every individual case – of a country with enormous material and manpower resources, and a large, viable, and self-contained market, capable of being transformed into a modern economy. within a comparatively short time, and of enhancing the prosperity and social well-being of all its citizens without discrimination. We also have a vision of a potentially economic, and hence political, giant in Africa,

in every sense of the word. A diminution of the Nigerian territory would falsify our vision, dash our hopes, and specifically deprive us of the unlimited economic advantages derivable from a united Nigeria. Hence we felt ourselves compelled to fight – and to do so valiantly ‘to keep Nigeria one’. Similarly, the hope of an assured greater economic prosperity and social well-being in a united Nigeria, in contradistinction to the comparative niggardliness of a fragmented portion of the country, is the mainspring for the smoothness with which the process of reintegration is now taking place.

I would like to emphasise that, ifall these economic hopes were falsified, though dedicated leaders in the country for the time-being, by whipping up patriotic sentiments, would still no doubt succeed in keeping the country united, yet they would only do so at great cost to social progress, and to the well-being of the individual Nigerian citizens.

My case then is that, in order to keep Nigeria harmoniously united, and, at the same time, fulfil the natural, ultimate, supreme, and inalienable purpose of that unity, the present and future rulers of this country must place the most crucial emphasis on, and attach the utmost importance to, the advancement of the economic prosperity and social well-being of the entire people of Nigeria without exception or discrimination.