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Social Justice & Sustainable Development in Nigeria



Being a Keynote Address delivered at the 29th Annual National Conference of the Social Studies Association of Nigeria Held  at the Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin on the 25th November, 2013

The Provost of this great College,

Dean, School of Education of the College

All Heads of Departments here present,

National Executive Members of the Social Studies Associationof Nigeria,

Distinguished Members of the Society,

 Gentlemen of the Print and Electronic Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen.


Let me begin my presentation with the expression of my profound  gratitude to the Almighty God for  keeping us alive, protecting us, and  giving us another opportunity to come together to deliberate on the subject that is dear to our heart as  social studies educationists and very topical to our nation at its present state of development. It is by His Grace that we exist.

I want to congratulate the Society for the consistent participation, usually at very personal sacrifice of time and resources, in the annual conferences. This year, it is really a sacrifice because many things suggest the cancellation of the conference but the intervention of God and the sacrifice of committed people makes this conference to hold. The regular publication of the Society’s journal, the excellent construction of the website, the registration of the society with Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja also deserve our commendation as they help to advertise the potentials of the Society. Congratulations.

It is also important that I express my gratitude to this Society for granting me the privilege of given this keynote address. I thank God Almighty for making it possible for me to prepare and present  the address.


Wikipedia defines Social justiceas justice exercised within a society, particularly as it is applied to and among the various social classes of a society. A socially just society is one based upon the principles of equality and solidarity; which pedagogy also maintains that a socially just society both understands and values human rights, as well as recognizing the dignity of every human being. The Constitution of the International Labour Organization affirms that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.

African countries, particularly Nigeria, with their multiplicity of ethnic and tribal identities, and their entrenched alliance and allegiance to the tribe or ethnic group, might not appear easily amenable to the principles of equality and solidarity and may not fully value human rights or recognise the dignity of every human being, due mainly to the enormity of the interests to negotiate amongst the various ethnic groups. However, it is precisely in such situation that the ‘utilitarian ideal’ is most appropriate.Social justice issues occur globally, nationally, regionally, locally, and within groups. These issues are a result of unequal wealth and resource distribution, unfair treatment of individuals with differing traits (race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, etc), and laws that support segregation.

Though it is a factthat social injustice might exist in other nations at various levels, the situation in Nigeria is apparently different from what might be obtainable in any side of the world; ranging from the nation’s economy and resource management, to her political and leadership profile, education and human development- the sounds of the themes of justice and equity are long dead.  Over the years, there has been structural violence inflicted by the Nigerian government which touch the very foundation of living of average Nigerians, unsustainable and tough economic policies that makes survival in the country difficult, public lies and unfriendly national responses to issues which anger human discretion-and these among many other immoral actions by the government have forced reprisal responses from Nigerians against the failing leadership.

Several commentaries have been passed by individuals, national and international organizations about the possible causes of the peaking crime and violence in Nigeria, but none seem as strong as “social injustice” as the major cause among others, in spite of the complexities and confusion surrounding this pressing issue. Even though, social injustice might exist in other societies at various levels, the situation in Nigeria is apparently different from what might be obtainable in any side of the world; ranging from the nation’s economy and resource management, to her political and leadership profile, education and human development- the sounds of the themes of justice and equity are long dead.  “The environment of extreme poverty, ignorance and diseases where might is right according to Aregbesola (2012), where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is increasing at a geometric proportion; where law serves the interest of the few and where the most people are hopeless, can only but encourage such sundry acts of terrorism capable of regressing man into the Hobbesian state of nature where there is war against all and the life of man is solitary, nasty, brutish and short”.

According to Pat Utomi, (nd?) the level of social injustice currently prevailing in Nigeria is reaching alarming heights and we are beginning to feel the effect in the level of discontent amongst the citizenry as demonstrated by various uprising against the state such as the Boko Haram incidence, the Niger Delta Militancy, OPC and Bakassi vigilantes and what have you.Utomi went further to state that, when one considers that Nigeria has a population of about 140 million people and a police force of 370,000 policemen it does not take a lot of thinking to come to the conclusion that Nigeria is severely under policed particularly when the United Nation prescribes a ratio of 1 police man to 400 citizens. But the sad aspect of this situation is that even as we are grossly under policed, the federal government tolerates a situation where 100,000 police men are detailed to guard privileged Nigerians who are connected to those in political power circles. So in actual fact there are only 270,000 police men catering for the security demands of 140 million Nigerians. One may need to ask the question that, of what importance is the security of the average citizen to the federal government?

When we have 100, 000 police men guarding fewer than 100,000 ‘big men’, we should not be surprised that our security forces were caught unawares by the boko haram incidence.When we read in the papers that robbers spent three hours robbing a bank without any resistance, we should understand that the reason behind this is that our police men are otherwise engaged in providing security for our ‘big men’ leading to citizens taking to self policing as a reaction to the current state of insecurity existing in Nigeria.These social injustices are becoming so glaringly obvious to the common man on the street and this has led to a large spectrum of our population to lose faith in Nigeria and this is something that the federal government has to address if it does not want Nigeria to become a failed state( Utomi)

While it is common knowledge that most of us live on less than a dollar a day, we are made to understand thatour law makers, those in the National Assemblies are the highest paid people in the whole world. In a radio programme I listened to about three weeks ago. I heard that a Senator in Nigeria is eaning N498,630 daily while a member of the house of Representative is earning N347,945 a day. The questions we need to ask are how many laws are they passing each month?What is the relevance of the National Assembly to Nigeria given its productivity?  ASUU has been on strike for the past three months over bridge of 2009 agreement by the Federal government and part of the agreement is poor pay. It is these people that produce over 250,000 university graduates every year and our public universities have not seen the type of money that has been committed to our legislature. How university lecturers are meant to feel when they provide such a vital service and are so poorly remunerated while our legislators individually walk away with millions of naira each year even where their productivity is very low? You need to see them (the legislators) at their residences when they come home for festivals like Id-el- Kabir and Christmas. They always come home with big “Ghana Must Go” bags full of new notes while lecturers are getting migre salaries. This is injustice.

Lack of justice in Nigeria manifests itself in many other  areas like difficulty in getting admission to federal universities, lack of employment for many has essentially increased the threat and danger of crime and violence- assessing the fact that quality education is very expensive to get, admission into federal universities is very tough and the hardship that follows passing through the school is thoroughly exhausting-yet graduates pass out of school in thousands annually without job, even as millions are living in poverty, small scale businesses close down by the day primarily because of high cost spent on generating electricity by the business owners.The leadership of Nigeria has practically denied the masses basic needs to survive especially in this modern age and also gradually normalized ‘pain’ on the populace, the masses are angered and the broad consequence is that, they have to survive through any means available to them, violence and crime are potential options in this situation. Many social issues and controversies in Nigeria if subjected to moral debates, it would not be difficult for anyone to conclude that the federal government is immoral, denying the people who own and deserve public resources their rights which has led to increased crime and violence in the nation.

Ethnic integration and the benefits it confers on Nigeria

Ethnic integration according to Shilgba (2013)is not the absence of recognition that ethnic groups exist. It is not a denial that a people have come from different ethnic groups with distinctive cultures. Rather, it is a conscious effort not to exploit those differences. It is a refusal by national opinion leaders and the political class to keep projecting ethnic differences on the screen of national consciousness.  It is this diagnosis that has revealed to the pondering mind the existence of a severe social gangrene in Nigeria called zoning. The zoning principle that has been accepted by the Nigerian political class according to him is a major cause of tension and violence in the land. It is more exclusive than it is inclusive; it tears apart more than it brings together.  All ethnic discriminatory considerations that relate to employment, admission to national or state institutions of learning, and political contests must not only be discouraged but criminalized if we will achieve ethnic integration.

The benefits of ethnic integration are legion, but the most recognized is that it reduces national tension. And that is what Nigeria needs at this time. It is the best service our politicians can provide us at this defining moment of our national history. Furthermore, ethnic integration enhances mutual economic benefits and a sharing of economic prosperity among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. We cannot achieve common prosperity so long as we place economic barriers before our brethren from other parts of Nigeria. We need to preach boldly against the evils of economic exclusion as well even as we have not been oblivious of political exclusion for the most part. There are certain businesses in Nigeria that are difficult to engage in if one belongs to certain ethnic groups.Shilgba 92013) pointed out that the Nollywood industry, for instance, is dominated by a certain ethnic group in Nigeria and he also said that he understands that this situation is not for want of effort or interest by other brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups in Nigeria, especially given the wild unemployment scourge in the land. Such perceptions do not encourage ethnic integration. He claimed that theTiv people are the dominant producers of oranges in Nigeria. But while they allow Nigerians from other ethnic groups to gain access to their orange orchards even in the countryside, they are not allowed to derive the optimal benefits because they don’t control prices. They have therefore become slaves for the rest of Nigeria in this regard. He also claimed that the Tiv people are known for the production of yams and other crops such as soya beans, melon, tomatoes, etc.,  from which they derive only marginal benefits because they do not control the prices.

Ethnic Conflict

Ethnic conflict started in Nigeria since 1960 during the transition from the British to the Nigerian rule which was programmed and supervised by the British who gave the North under Northern People’s Congress (NPC) as undue political advantage over the East and the West political zones. According to Uka (nd  ), the North was carved out to be bigger than East and West put together. Hence, after the 1959 election, Sir AbubakarTafawaBelewa, an Hausa-Fulani Muslim emerged the Prime Minister from the North (NPC), while Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe (NCNC), an Ibo man and a Christian from the East, became the first Ceremonial President in Nigeria and Chief ObafemiAwolowo (AG), a Yoruba man and a Christian from the West settled for the post of the Leader of Opposition. All this arrangement was orchestrated by the British to serve their political interest.

By this political arrangement, it became obvious that our erstwhile colonial master left us with politics of ethnic and religious conflict that has plagued the nation since its inception. This can be proved through our adoption of a formal federal parliamentary system of government with the dawn of Lyttleton Constitution in 1954.

Nigerian Federalism

Federalism is a system of government in which governmental powers that exist in a country are shared between a central government that represents the whole country and government of component regions or states. This arrangement makes it possible for each to be legally and constitutionally independent and autonomous but subject to the central government in all matters pertaining to its External Affairs.

            One of the potent reasons for the adoption of the federal system of government was to allay the fears of domination by any one of the major ethnic groups, be it Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba. Since its inception, there has been rivalry among these ethnic groups. The major issue that brings about this rivalry is the quest for leadership of the country at the centre. At the centre, the wining ethnic political party wields all the political power almost always to its advantage. As a result of this, none of the three ethnic groups wants to concede the leadership of the country to the other because they know that whoever gets the political power first, will have all other things added unto them.

            As a result of this, the political party that emerges to contest for political power relies heavily on mobilizing primordial ethnic/religious sentiments to capture power at the centre. This fact made is made evident with reference to the Northern Peoples Congress which emerged from a Northern cultural group known as JamiyyarMultanenArewa which concentrated its base amongst the Housa-Fulani. The Western Egbe-Omo-Oduduwa cultural group later metamorphosed into Awolowo’s Action Group (A.G). it mobilized its support among the Yoruba. The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens under the leadership of Dr. NnamdiAzikwe consolidated its base within the core Igbos in the East. Thus politics in the First Republic was not only based on ethnic and religious tendencies, but was dominated by powerful ethnic personalities. This situation gave birth to the emergence of an unstable national political culture.


Ethnic Minorities

The fallout from the mega tribes jockeying for power was the emergence of ethnic minority groups who were marginalised in the struggle for state-power. They too started to form their groups. And so in the first Republic 1960-1966, the United Middle Belt Congress (UNBC) emerged under the dynamic leadership of J. S. Tarka. There was also the Bornu Youth Movement led by Ibrahim Imam; the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) was under the able leadership of Aminu Kano.

Healthy Environment

Nigeria like most other African countries is presently experiencing the problems of severe environmentaldegradation and uncontrolled depletion of its naturalresources (Amechi, 2009). It should be noted that while environmentaldegradation and attendant human rights violationsassociated with oil production activities in Nigeria usuallytend to grab worldwide attention, it does not imply thatother industrial sectors in Nigeria do not have their shareof environmental degradation as witnessed by thenumerous complaints of communities living around their


For example,according to Anago (2002), the host community of the Kaduna industrial complex have been complaining about the unhygienic state of River Kaduna, their only source of portable water, caused by the discharge of industrial effluent and toxic water into the river by the cluster of textile mills in the complex. Also, the Punch of 24th June, 2010 reported of residents complaining about noise detailing theenvironmental degrading activities of stone-mining

companies in Mpampe, a satellite town in Bwari Area Councilof the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The cause of these environmental problemsis not due to lack of regulatory frameworks as Nigeriaboasts a developed legal, policy and institutionalframeworks for the protection of its environment andnatural resources. Rather, the problem of environmentaldegradation is not unconnected with the lack of politicalwill to enforce environmental regulations in Nigeria.

This unwillingness may be induced either by corruption, economic benefits derived from the activities of the degrading industries in form of revenues and employment opportunities, or the need to attract foreign investment to boost socio-economicdevelopment. Whatever may be the reason for not enforcing environmental regulations in Nigeria, the regulatory lacunae has been exploited by most industries to degrade or continue the degradation of the environment with adverse consequences on the health and overall well-being of Nigerian citizens including their enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment( Lee, 2002).

 In most instances of the State failing to implement or enforce the provisions of environmental regulationsagainst polluters, and the polluters failing to adopt good environmental standards in their operations, the only option left to the aggrieved citizens whose rights including their right to a healthy environment have been affected by environmental degradation, is to approachthe court for appropriate judicial remedy (Perry, 2000),  Environmental litigation is not only vital for inducingthe State to implement or enforce the provisions of environmental regulations, but also, constitutes a very important strategy for holding polluters including transnational companies (TNCs) accountable for the adverse environmental consequences of their activities

The Right to Education

The right to education is a universal entitlement to education, recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a human right that includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally by the progressive introduction of free higher education. The right to education also includes a responsibility to provide basic education for individuals who have not completed primary education. In addition to these access to education provisions, the right to education encompasses the obligation to rule out discrimination at all levels of the educational system, to set minimum standards and to improve quality of education.

Towards a conclusion and a call to do justice

As the blame game on whose shoulder to place the fault for Nigeria’s social injustice that is rampant in the country continues. A number of people have fingered some important people in the society. Many blamed the people at the elms of affairs of the country for not doing enough in ensuring that there is social justice. They said social justice is very important to unite the country together and as such it should be taken seriously but the greedy and selfish individuals who will pursue personal interest at the expense of the masses are many in the Nigerian government and parastatals.  The case of the law makers is worse. They are not concerned about the welfare of others but their own.

As Social Studies educationists, we should be agents of  liberation from oppression. If we are to work toward social justice, we need to engage in the work involved in celebrating difference and diversity. That is, we should honor, respect, or recognize others. We must move beyond tolerating or accepting those who are different from ourselves to a position of cultural humility that requires us to question our own background and experiences to work in partnership with others. When working from this perspective, we, as social studies educationists, must be engaged in ongoing self-assessment and awareness of how power differences affect our ability to be genuinely helpful. This process is an essential element of social justice work.

Celebrating diversity means working as an ally and advocating for marginalized and oppressed groups. We are allies to others when we can recognize and use the sources of our privilege to advance the rights of those who do not share our own identities or backgrounds. We need to ask ourselves how we can use the knowledge we have of unjust practices toward individuals and groups in society to work toward changes to improve their situation. Our knowledge and experience can be used to join with others and create new movements to reduce poverty, improve access to healthcare, support families, and eliminate discrimination on the basis of our social identities.


(a)    The government must as a long term solution address social inequality, obscene consumption pattern of the elite that infuriates the poor, the weak and the powerless with a view to lifting the masses from the morass of poverty, ignorance and diseases through substantial justice.

(b)   What is expected from the judiciary is justice

(c)    The judiciary is to remain impartial bearing in mind that it is only under an atmosphere of justice and order that the country can grow.

(d)   The Federal Government will do well to heed the advice of well meaning Nigerians to begin to pay greater attention to the welfare of the average Nigerian and begin to take action that creates a level playing ground and provides for social justice in Nigeria.

(e)     We need to begin to prioritize how we spend our resources. Things that matter most should not be at the mercy of things that matter least.

(f)     Before we spend 4 billion naira in furnishing the ministry of Foreign Affairs inAbuja  we need to make sure that we have furnished the needs of our intellectuals who man our ivory towers and produce the work force that Nigerian needs to compete in a knowledge worker age.

(g)    Before we spend 2 billion fuelling generators in the presidential villa, we have to make sure we are paying the salaries of primary school teachers who have been owed salaries for months in many states and those that are receiving half salaries.



Amechi, E.P.(2009). Poverty, Socio-Political Factors and Degradation of the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Need for a Holistic Approach to the Protection of the Environment and Realisation of the Right to Environment’, Law, Environment and Development Journal 5(2) 107, 110.

Anago, I. (2002). Environmental Impact Assessment as a Tool for Sustainable Development: The Nigerian Experience 8 (paper prepared for FIG XXII International Congress, Washington D.C., USA, 19-26 April 2002), available at http:/ /


Aregbesola, R. ( 2012) Social Injustice, Cause Of Bomb Blasts, Insurrection In Nigeria –

Lee, J.(2002). The Underlying Legal Theory to Support a Well- Defined Human Right to a Healthy Environment as a Principle of Customary International Law’, 25 Columbia JEnvtl L 283, 289-290 (2002).


Pat Utomi( nd) Nigeria Needs Social Justice

Perry, A.J. (2000)  ‘Sustainable Gateways to Environmental Justice’, in C. Pugh ed, Sustainable Cities in Developing Countries 15-16 .London: Earthscan.


Residents Contend with Noise, Dust’, The Punch, 24 June 2010 at 38 (detailing the environmental degrading activities of stone-mining companies in Mpampe, a satellite town in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja)

Social Justice Issues