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The Quest For Political Power Through Violence

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1.1       Background of the Study                     

1.2       Significance of the Study

1.3       Statement of the Problem

1.4       Purpose of Study

1.5       Scope of Study

1.6       Research Methodologies

1.7       Explications of Terms


2.1       Heraclitus (540-480BC)

2.2       Plato (428-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322)

2.2       Nicholas of Cusa

2.3       Avicenna on Violence (980-1037)

2.4       Alfarabi

2.5       Thomas Hobbes

2.6       Jean Jacques Rousseau

2.7       John Locke

2.8       Niccolo Machiavelli on Violence

2.9       Hegel and Marx on Violence




3.1       The Human Condition

3.2       The Vita Activa

3.4       Violence; Homo Faber’s Code of Conduct

3.5       The Relationship between Power and Violence


4.1       Pre –Independence

4.2       The First Republic

4.3       The Second Republic

4.4       Third Republic


5.1       General Overview

5.2       Conclusion




 Man is a being driven by an insatiable quest for dynamism. He has since the evolution of societies been preoccupied with how to effect changes in the society to maximize his well-being, man therefore, has never at any point abdicated the pressing responsibility of searching for, or evolving models of governance that would make for a better understanding and organization of the society, and one of the reasons for this conviction is to foster a blissful life for humanity devoid of rancor, violence, crisis and conflict. Thomas Hobbes insists that men decided to live under a civil society for their self-preservation and contented life such that the unfortunate and miserable situation of anarchy and conflicts would be ameliorated if not completely eliminated. The philosopher also points out that the fear of uncertainty and insecurity of lives and property prompted the formation of civil society. Jean-Jacques Rousseau also talks of preservation whereby the human race must necessarily change its nature of existence if it must continue to live and avoid violence. It is against this backdrop of social progress that Hannah Arendt points out that the glorification of violence is not restricted to small minority and eternity.        

1.1       BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY                      

In Nigeria basically violence has taken the central field in the democracy which involves the untimely death of wanton of her citizens in the pursuit of political power. We imbibe the ideas of  Georges Sorel  in his Reflections on Violence, he believed that power had to be shifted from the deteriorated middle class to the working class, and that power must be acquired through only a general strike that, to be effective, must be violence[1]. Political conflict is an endemic feature of most of the world’s political systems. This is particularly true of the developing countries, including Nigeria, where political conflict, crises and even violence, became essential characteristics of the political process, especially after independence. It was perhaps Nigeria’s pride that she achieved her independence with a minimum of social disturbance and violence. Nigeria stumbled from crisis to crisis and near disintegration, as the country witnessed a marked increase in the bitterness of party, ethnic and region.

Consequently, Violence or the threat of violence is a universal phenomenon. Writing in the same vein, Charles Tilly remarks that Collective violence has flowed regularly from the political process… Men seeking to size, hold, or realign power the lever of power have continually engaged in collective violence as part of their struggle. Nigeria affords a good case for both the theoretical and empirical study of political violence. We believe that the sources and dynamics of violence in Nigeria are fundamentally comparable to those of civil violence in the other parts of the world. Nigeria rioters share with their counterparts throughout the world certain psychological characteristics; most of them feel frustrated in their pursuit of their political and economic goals and in seeking redress for grievances. In Nigeria, those who had power had no respect for the establish channels of political action, that is, the rules of the game, and political power in this country through violence leads to economic prowess and marginalization of citizens. As Arendt posited that: Power and violence are opposites, where the one rules absolutely, the order is absent. Violence appears where the power is in jeopardy, but left to its cause it ends in power’s disappearance[2]. Political violence has become a central part of political competition across much of Nigeria and it takes forms from assassination to armed clashes between gangs employed by rival politicians. This violence is most often carried out by gangs whose members are openly recruited and paid by politicians and party leaders to attack their sponsors’ rivals, intimidate members of the public, rig elections, and protect their patrons from similar attacks[3].

The 2011 general election marked another ugly milestone of political violence in the political history and culture in Nigeria. Comparatively, it is rather difficult to determine which the most violence afflicted general elections were since the return to civil rule in mid-1999.The 1999 general election was violent prone; so also was the 2003 and 2007 general elections and what was also apparent was that each general election took place under different dimension and circumstances with progression of record of casualties. The continually deteriorating economic conditions also continue to throw up new dynamics and nuances alter the pattern of political violence.

Hannah Arendt as a child experienced war and violence during her life as she wrote: these reflections were provoked by the events and debates of the last few century, which has become indeed, as Lenin predicted, a century of wars and resolutions, hence a century of that violence...[4] This currently believed to be their common denominator. There is, however, another factor in the present situation which, though predicted by nobody, is of at least equal importance. The technical development of implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal should conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their annual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare since times immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all of its glamour. The apocalyptic chess game between the superpower that is between those that move on the highest plane of civilization is being played according to the rule; if neither wins; it is the end of both.[5]


This trend in Nigeria politics poses some interesting questions for political inquiry. Nigeria affords a good case for both the theoretical and empirical study of political violence. We believe that the sources and dynamics of violence in Nigeria are fundamentally comparable to those of civil violence in other parts of the world. Though the ability to compromise by different actors in the Nigerian political system was very remarkable, especially after independence ,it was during this period that violence  or its potential use moved to the center of political action a weapon in the hands of the both the state and individual.

Therefore, the relevance of this study is seen as avenue to the political situation of Nigeria which has anchored on violence rising from shedding of bloods of her citizens and thereby by advocating for non-violence as a means in a achieving a positive political quest with the shedding of  blood or rioting which is paramount in the Nigeria political arena. Non-violence is without not a new idea in the existence of man, however, Nigerian political elites should be schooled on the use of non-violence as a track to contest for any political office of their choice rather than using violence to deduce the game of politicking thereby defranchaising some due to fear of injuries at the various electoral centers Hence, with the death of violence and by applying peaceful methods in the Nigeria electoral system and synthesizing the political ideologies of Nigeria, I think Nigeria  democracy shall be sustained and she will become a model looked upon and emulated by others.


Political class continue to arm the youths, employ them to commit heinous crimes, shed blood at every critical pint of life especially during election period; water the streets with blood of the youths themselves, innocent by-stands passersby. Politicians themselves are assassinated in broad day and in  cold; bodies, souls and destines are wantonly destroyed in the Manichean quest for political power even the conferences held to pontificate on the negative of political violence wee unfruitful due to lack of tangible deliberations and implementation to harness the menace. The political systems of Nigeria are caught in a spider web of violence and death.

Also, in definition of Marx Weber’s idea of a state C.W Mills succinctly defined politics as a struggle for power and the ultimate form of power is violence.[6] This closeness between power and violence seems to be in consonance the earlier ideology and postulations of the Chinese dictator Mao Tse-tung who believed that power grows from the emanation of barrel of gun.[7] The necessary consideration given to the relationship, these differences between power ad violence was thrown into light when the existential philosopher J. P Sartre whilst writing the preface to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth glorified violence, believing that it is only violence that pays.[8] The name which Nigeria accrued due to her growth in different diverges of economy is a paradox. The catalogues of mismanagement, which led to this paradox, constitute as it were, the afflictions under which Nigeria is going through. Since her independence in 1960, Nigeria is menaced with much problems ranging from political, economic, cultural, social and otherwise. The superstructure is in fact in dilemma .This sometimes makes wonder the authenticity and the real autonomy of the country some even led to the conclusion that we are not independent.[9]  The incessant wars against our fellow country men and women in the quest for political appointments through violence can only undermine our collective development as a people. With the ideologies of different philosophers aforementioned earlier and some individuals whose interest and specialty on political violence would be of valued help in analyzing the notion of violence and its relationship to political power will generate an enormous questions; what is the necessity of violence in the existence and maintenance of political power or can there be any political power without violence?.

The aforementioned questions are very prevalent in this our modern world with the contemporary penchant of world wars and revolutions in which violence is ultimately is the rising common denominator[10].With the advancement in technology man’s inhumanity to fellow man through violence by production of weapons of mass destruction has persistently been in outstanding pedigree has rendered man powerless and technological modernization which should serve as a helper to man has become his own instrument of destruction. However, violence has gathered an outstanding impetus when it comes to politics and politicking. Therefore, the quest for political power in this contemporary age is now full of violent actions thereby sending down morality to oblivion and enchanting the glories of violence to its apex level through the acceptance of Machiavellian principle of the end justifies the means.

Taken cognizance of Nigeria situation with facts born out of experience and genuinely vindicated by history that the quest for political power through violence is very much prevalent in Nigeria. Violence has persistently being attuned into the Nigeria system of politics in the garb of thuggery, riots, ethnic crisis, assassination, kidnapping, defranchizing people their electioneering rights which will eventually leads to untimely death of innocent people. It is our view that when political violence is used in conditions in which no other form of protest is permissible, and then it would wrong be to call it terrorism. Miller argues that violence may be permissible in dictatorships and other repressive regimes when it used to defend human rights, provoke liberal reforms, and achieve other desirable objective[11].A journey down to Nigeria’s political activities indicates that politics which is supposed the natural activities of man taking cognizance of Aristotelian definition as a political animal. Nigeria idea of politics is a game of do or die affair and what can be known as survival of the fittest. I should think that the aim of political power in every government as Arendt asserts is to enable men to live together, to promote happiness or to realize a classless society[12]. This meaning is no longer obtainable nowadays instead people have understood political power as the best avenue to make money hence resorting to all forms of violence in order to acquire it.

In this write-up, I am going to philosophically expose this quest for political power through violence especially in our country Nigeria toeing the foot step of Hannah Arendt to prove that power and violence are incompatible and that violence can destroy power but not create it[13]. Most Nigerian politicians see violence both as an offensive weapon and as a component of personal security as a necessary part of political campaign; they believed that they must maintain some capacity to unleash violence as a measure of self-defense.



Nigeria is a country where no particular system of politics can be said to be consistently practiced. It is a country where they might sets the pace for politicking[14] .As hitherto mentioned above; man is by nature a political animal. Hence politics is not restricted to special type of people neither is it a dirty game. Instead, it is those who indulge in it that are could be seen as dirty. Politics in Nigeria is what the leaders call it. Nigeria can therefore, not be said to have a system of politics other than inconsistence which culminates into a pyramid of corruption.[15] What we have in Nigeria as politics is a facilitation of imbroglios and camps of civilian armies; we have politicians a panoply of hotchpotch of individuals with contradicting interest ready to satisfy their individual characters through destructive manners[16].Therefore, the purpose of studying this topic titled the quest for political power through violence is to redress the above mentioned status quo in which politics is seen as a game of do or die.  To achieve this, the youths who are veritable tools of violence have to be re-orientated for they are gradually imbibing this method as the best option for survival.

Again, I wish to use this write-up to appeal to the consciences of those whose hands are not yet soiled in politics to keep it up. This destructive malady had been extenuated that there must be venomous activities as feature of Nigeria politics. Hence, for to be a successful” in Nigeria, one must be abysmally violent[17]. The fact that violence is seen as the order of the day in Nigerian politics should not make them to join them when they cannot beat them for violence has always been part and parcel of Nigeria political process which has lead credence to the people’s loss of lives and property.

1.5       SCOPE OF STUDY

      In this long easy, I want to pay much attention mainly on the ideas of Hannah Arendt’s violence to Nigerian situation even though they were not propounded for that. Of all the political works of Hannah Arendt, I am going to concentrate mainly on her major work on violence and other text/materials written by her and other scholars relevant to the purpose of this work.


The use of scientific method in any philosophical inquiry is so indispensible. Method is so crucial that it helps to validate our philosophical conviction. Of the different methods habitually used in scientific works, a combination of an expository-critical procedure was found most suitable as it enables us to faithfully explore the relevant themes in Hannah Arendt's thoughts and by basing on different emerging opinions of other authors as a way of deepening, supporting or even positive questioning. It allows us to arrive implicitly and explicitly at personal judgment about the author’s view. It will be a work of library and internet researches. The system I shall follow in quoting and more especially in deriving the detailed entries in every written source is mainly that of footnoting. Arendt’s ideas on violence are compared with the Nigerian situation, to sieve out what can serve as a better political worldview for Nigeria.


Definition of violence

Violence has become so strife in the world today that little or no attention is attracted wherever it transpires. Every aspect of human life in this world is affected by this canker worm such that, for some people, it has become an impasse. It becomes an ulcerous cancer to the society in both cultural, religious, economical, social, psychological, and more especially, political spheres that peaceful and harmonious co-existence among men seems to be an illusion for some people. Violence just like time is not easy concept to define. For Arendt, “violence is by nature instrumental; like all means, it always stands in need of guidance and justification through the end it pursues”[18].From the Latin word violentia meaning “impetuosity” is the term violence derived. It denotes excessive force or constraint. According to Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary, violence is……a behavior intended to hurt or kill; strong feeling that is uncontrolled.[19]Arendt advocated that violence can be justifiable, but it never will be legitimate. Its justification loses in plausibility the farther it intended and recedes into the future.[20]In other words, violence makes a beast of the perpetrator and a thing of the persecuted.

 Various Forms of Violence

 Generally speaking, violence can be classified into two broad forms: internal (covert) and external (overt) violence.

Internal violence refers to the disharmony or peacelessness which one suffers in his interior self. It is this type of violence that St. Paul succinctly alluded to in his turmoil and thus cried thus: the good things I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want-that is what I do.[21] This kind of violence is most observed in confused individuals and showcased externally in their relationship with their fellow man in the society. In the same vein, external violence refers to every kind of conflict or disharmony which apart from happening within the individual goes beyond the internal realm to have an external manifestation in man’s dealings with one another. Analogically, it could be regarded as a kind of volcanic eruption which after burning beneath the earth under a very high temperature explodes in the form of molten magma forming a mountain as a lasting impression, mangling whatever it comes in contact with. It is this kind of violence that is regarded as external violence.[22]

In reference to these forms of violence, Dom Helder Camara[23], in his book Spiral of violence, talks on three forms of violence which converge to form what he called the spiral of violence that gave his book its title. According to him, the first in this spiral of violence is institutional violence[24]. It refers to violent rules and policies institutions societies impose on their citizens which subjugate them to subhuman slavery condition. Hence, they are unjustly treated, humiliated and restricted such that all hope seems to be lost. It is this institutional violence, according to him, that prompts counter-violence[25], another form of violence. It manifests itself in the form of riots, terrorism, revolutions etc, to the subservience that institutional violence inflicts. Any attempt to respond to the heavy wind of this counter-violence gives rise to the third form of violence which he called repressive violence. It is usually a reaction against counter-violence by the perpetrators of institutional violence as a solution to counter violence through their agents such as thugs, police, ’EFCC’, or even another institutional violence such that the spiral continues. This third type of violence is the most awful because in bid to repress whatever constitutes a threat to their power, the powerful use any repressive means at the reach to achieve their aim. In this vicious progression of violence from covert (injustice) to overt (revolt) and then to tyrannical (repression), one sees the vicious rotation of violence to be endless, hence, rendering shattered a harmonious and peaceful co-existence[26].

Causes of Violence

Several factors can be said to be the causes of violence. Speaking about the causes of violence, Arendt opines:

To speak about the causes of violence in these terms must appear presumptuous at a moment when floods of foundation money are channeled into the various research projects of social scientists, when deluge of books on the subject has already appeared, when eminent natural scientists-biologists, psychologists, ethologists, and zoologists have joined in an all-out effort to solve the riddle of “aggressiveness” in human behavior, and even a brand new science, called “polemology”, has emerged. [27]

Despite the above, certain factors are still considered as being the primordial causes of violence. They include: egoism, injustice, aggression, racism, terrorism etc. we shall examine some of them in this write-up.


Egoism is seen as an exhibition of selfishness. This is the attitude of one considering his self interest as more important than the others. Indeed it is an undeniable fact that most violence we experience around the globe are caused by egoism. This is because as W.A Wallace says, “egoism creates in man a wall of exclusiveness to others. By this exclusiveness he becomes full of himself such that at times he looks at the other as an enemy who should even be eliminated. This phenomenon underscores the social conflicts and intolerance among people, hence violence is the result.”[28]


In each polis, there are supposed to be equanimity, order, love and justice. When such is missing, one can then say that there is injustice. As Ekwutosi asserts, where there is injustice there exists disorder, suspicion, acrimony and disaffection which in turn lead to violence.[29] No wonder that the modern scholars define violence as the fruit of institutionalize injustice. Many of the political violence that take place around the world especially in Nigeria are as a result of the people’s complain of injustice being meted upon them. Would we have to talk of the OGONI Crisis, The MASSOB Revolt to mention but a few. Hedler Camara further in his book The Spiral of Violence distinguishes three kinds of violence in society. The suffering of the common people in society as a result of the unjust structures of the society which deny them of the fundamental rights is identified as the first type. When the suffering becomes too much for the people to bear, they are likely to resort to revolt and demonstrations to demand for their rights; and this would give rise to the second kind of violence. When this happens, those in authority will try to show their might. They would try to repress the revolt by the use of force resulting to the third kind of violence. This violence according to him will continue to exist until what he refers to as the unjust structures are removed.


Terrorism has to do with the inducement of fear, through the use of threats and violence as methods of effecting change by dissatisfied entity. This is usually directed at government by ordinary citizens with the sole aim of creating fear, inducing the government to comply with their demand. This term terrorism as Earl Morgan highlights has been used to refer to a variety of similar and contradictory phenomenon such as guerrilla warfare or wars of national self determination. That is why there seem to be controversy over what could really be defined as violence since there are disagreements over two factors: the first is concerned with what constitutes terrorist activities and related phenomena such as guerilla movement or violent protest movements and the second lies with the difficulty of making a distinction between activities related to “legitimate” acts of national self- determination struggles and “illegal” acts of violence against the government. These controversies over what really is terrorism made the definition of terrorism very subjective because one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. What is labeled as terrorism is often manifested in various activities: bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, extortions, hijacking, arson and the like. Brian M. Jenkins defines terrorism as violence or the threat of violence calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm in a world, to terrorize and thereby to bring about some social or political change. Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic use of threat of violence to coerce changes in political behavior. It involves symbolic acts of violence, intended to communicate a political message to watching audiences.[30]


According to Encarta Dictionary which defines power as the capacity to do something, or control and influence over other people and their action. For Arendt, “power corresponds to the humanity, not just to act but in a correct way. Power, according to her does not belong individuals instead it belong to a group. One is not in power that is not empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name.” Hence, power has the natural capacity to impose one’s will on other human beings, and to inflict injury on them, if they refuse to adhere. Power is very important and central in politics. Everything about politics revolves around power and the essence of power is the effectiveness of command.


In his book, authority in government, B.C Nwankwo outlined six types of power:

(a)              Political power

(b)              Personal or private power

(c)              Expert or information power

(d)              Normative power

(e)              Economic power

(f)               Physical power

For the scope of our studies, let us concentrate only on political power.


Political power is seen as the ability to make and carry out binding decisions affecting the whole society or the public. Man is defined by Aristotle as a political animal (homo politikos). Therefore according to Awolowo, because man is a political animal, he, as Awolowo submits loves power: Now it would appear that all political philosophers agreed that all human desires, the desire for power is the strongest. In other words, of all the ten manifestations of the instincts of self, the most powerful is acquisition-the acquisition of power.[31]  Many benefits abound in acquisition of political power. Therefore in every spheres of life man finds himself, he seeks for power. While trying to bring out the extent man loves power, Awolowo observed that, Man loves power, in the family, village town and state, in the club, group, association and business, in the institution of learning, newspaper office and church. In all these spheres, he is always exalting in the use and abuse of power it is not surprising, therefore, that through all the stages of his evolution nothing has proven more pleasurable and delectable to man than the possession of power at state level- that is, at a level where he is invested, or vests himself with the ability to order his fellow countrymen to do his will, or punish them if they don’t.[32]

One does not acquire this political power in isolation. There are sources from which one can achieve political power. In Nigeria for instance the major source is political party. Here the members of the party make extra effort to see that their member is there. Through this means, they are sure that their manifestos will be implemented. Other sources of political power include:

(i)        Alliance

 It is an association of two or more nations united by a formal treaty for some common purpose. Most alliances are defensive in form, involving a pledge of mutual military assistance against an actual or potential common enemy. Alliance has existed throughout the history from ancient china and India to the modern nation often as responses to acts of aggression.

(ii)       Coalition

It is the temporary combination of groups or individuals formed to pursue specific objective through joint action. The term coalition is often used in connection with political parties. Coalition governments which are frequently found in multiparty countries such as France or Italy may be formed when no single party is strong enough to obtain an electoral majority.



(iii)     Social contract

It could be seen as the voluntary agreement among people defining the relationship of individual with one another and with government. By this process a distinct organized society is formed. Concern over the origin and conditions of political obligations was manifest even in the writings of philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.


[14] Akubue, D.T. Fulfilled Dreams of Martin Luther King JNR: A Challenge to Nigerian Democracy.

[19] Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, International Student’s


[21] The New Jerusalem Bible,( Reader’s Edition),Romans7:19,p.1315

[22] The bombing of the world trade center and the pentagon is an external violence, or the incident which took place at Awka and resulted into total demolition of the Anambra state government house and her Broadcasting station.

[23]Archbishop of Recife in Brazil and peoples’ peace prize award winner in 1974.


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