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Navigating Nigeria’s Nepotism: A Complex Landscape of Power, Politics, and Promise

Nepotism, the favouring of family members or close associates in appointments, presents a persistent challenge in Nigeria, with profound consequences for the nation’s socio-political landscape and economic development. This analysis delves into the heart of nepotism, its multifaceted implications, and recent developments that have brought this issue into sharper focus.

At its core, nepotism entails granting positions or opportunities to individuals based on their personal relationships rather than their qualifications or merits. This practice, widespread in Nigerian society, infiltrates the public and private sectors, perpetuating a system where loyalty often takes precedence over competence. The insidious effects of nepotism reverberate across the nation, influencing political appointments, economic opportunities, and public perceptions.

To quantify the extent of nepotism’s influence in Nigeria, a 2019 survey by Statista, unearthed alarming data. It revealed that nepotism and bribery were employed by nearly half of the applicants who secured positions within the Nigerian public sector.

However, nepotism has been with us right from independence. It is a by-product of our diversity. In response to historical imbalances and divisions, Nigeria introduced the Federal Character Principle (FCP) as a means to promote equitable representation and inclusion. The FCP, enshrined in the country’s constitution, seeks to ensure that government appointments reflect Nigeria’s diverse ethnic, religious, and geographic makeup. It emerged as a response to the outcry against ethnic disparities, particularly during the post-Civil War era in the 1970s.


In recent times, accusations of nepotism have been copiously levelled against former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Critics argued that certain key appointments favoured individuals from specific regions and ethnic backgrounds, undermining the spirit of the FCP. The allegations against Buhari ignited a national debate about the state of nepotism in Nigeria, highlighting the urgent need for transparent and merit-based appointments.

Buhari is gone but Nigeria is not out of the woods. Adding a layer of complexity to this issue, recent appointments by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, especially from a particular section of the country, have thrown the spotlight on nepotism once again. President Tinubu now faces allegations of nepotism and cronyism, the most recent case being that of his selection of Engr. Imam Kashim Imam for a significant role. The subsequent withdrawal of the appointment underscores the public’s concern about qualified leadership and accountability in Nigeria’s governance.

Historical Context

The Federal Character Principle (FCP) in Nigeria is essential to understand within its historical context. The nation’s colonial past led to significant ethnic imbalances in its institutions, making it crucial to adopt an inclusive approach in the post-independence era. The FCP emerged as a response to these imbalances, aiming to address disparities among ethnic, linguistic, and geographic groups and prevent any one group from dominating politics.

Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution emphasises the FCP’s role in ensuring that the government reflects Nigeria’s federal character, promoting national unity and the loyalty of all citizens. This constitutional provision underscores the importance of the principle within Nigeria’s governance.


A 2020 research article by Ifeanyi Abada and Frederick Onyia, delved into nepotism in Nigerian politics, revealing its deeply entrenched nature and widespread impact on society. The Nigerian saying, “One whose father is in heaven would not be destined for hell,” encapsulates the prevalence of nepotism, where personal connections and regional loyalties often override merit in political appointments.

Nepotism’s persistence in Nigerian politics can be attributed to inadequate legal and regulatory safeguards. Societies with robust legal structures and checks and balances tend to face fewer issues with nepotism. However, Nigeria’s weak regulatory frameworks and limited accountability mechanisms have allowed nepotism to persist in public offices.

The Federal Character Principle

The Federal Character Principle (FCP) is enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution and relies on the Federal Character Commission (FCC) for enforcement. The FCC plays a pivotal role in ensuring equitable recruitment and promotion policies, with former Governor Samuel Ortom highlighting the issues of lopsided appointments and nepotism that have divided Nigeria.

One significant application of the FCP is in public education, particularly in Unity Schools, which aim to promote national unity. The FCP’s role in granting students from diverse regions access to these schools is crucial for fostering national cohesion.


However, the Federal Character Commission has faced controversies, including allegations of corruption and mismanagement. A 2017 BusinessDay report called for reform within the commission to address these issues effectively.

Even at the highest levels of government, the FCP’s principles have been challenged. President Buhari’s appointments of the FCC’s secretary and chairman raised concerns as they seemed to contradict the FCP’s mandate. This underscores the imbalance of nepotism, as emphasised by Bishop Kukah.

Balancing representation with merit is a fundamental challenge in implementing the FCP. While equitable regional representation is essential, it should not compromise the need for qualified individuals in key positions. Striking this balance is vital for the FCP to be effective and just.

Muhammadu Buhari’s Alleged Nepotism

Nepotism has been a persistent issue in Nigeria since its independence, with growing concerns since 1999, especially after Muhammadu Buhari became President in 2015. Allegations of nepotism against Muhammadu Buhari have sparked debates and raised questions about their impact on Nigeria’s political landscape and governance.


In September 2021, Samuel Ortom, then governor of Benue State openly accused Buhari of promoting nepotism and sectionalism in his appointments. Ortom’s critique, emphasising the divisiveness of such practices, resonated widely. Bishop Matthew Kukah also expressed concerns about Buhari’s nepotistic appointments, questioning their fairness and impartiality, particularly in his Christmas speech in December 2020.

Kukah pointed out that Buhari’s “partisanship and commitment to reinforcing the foundations of northern hegemony” raised concerns about the appointments’ effects on national unity. Ortom’s emphasis on the divisive impact of nepotism reflects the profound nature of this issue, contributing to a palpable sense of inequality and affecting trust and unity among Nigerian citizens.

President Tinubu’s Turn (Emi lokan)

The issue of nepotism and cronyism extends beyond President Buhari’s administration and has found resonance in the domain of his political ally, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has been scrutinised for his actions and appointments.

Tinubu’s appointment of Engr. Imam Kashim Imam as Chairman of FERMA drew significant attention and controversy, not because he was not academically qualified but because of his lack of experience. It is important to note that Kashim is not Yoruba but may be the outcome of some ‘political arrangement’. However, this appointment was later withdrawn, sparking questions about the underlying reasons for this decision. The withdrawal carried notable importance, as it signalled an acknowledgement of public concerns related to nepotism and emphasised the necessity for transparent and impartial appointments to key government positions. Notably, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), responsible for maintaining Nigeria’s federal roads, plays a critical role in ensuring road infrastructure’s upkeep, which is essential for economic development and public safety.

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has raised allegations of nepotism regarding President Tinubu’s appointments. These allegations include favouritism and a perceived regional bias in key appointments, sparking debates about fairness and equitable representation.

A closer examination of President Tinubu’s appointments reveals a pattern that has been criticised as promoting sectional interests. The concentration of key positions in Lagos, his political stronghold, has led to accusations of bias and exclusion of other regions.

Comparing President Buhari’s and President Tinubu’s appointments highlights that nepotism allegations extend across the political spectrum. The criticism regarding the concentration of appointments, whether from the North or South, underscores the broader challenge of nepotism in Nigeria’s political landscape.

Nepotism Worldwide

Nepotism is a pervasive issue not limited to Nigeria; it’s a global phenomenon that has negative repercussions on societies worldwide. It’s closely linked to corruption, as it creates opportunities for favouring family and associates, leading to a lack of meritocracy in various sectors. This undermines institutional integrity, hinders development, and impacts the democratic principles of equal opportunity and representation.

The intricate relationship between nepotism and corruption is a universal concern. Legal norms are compromised, leading to a lack of impartiality and justice. This erosion of legal norms isn’t unique to Nigeria and affects societies worldwide. In regions where nepotism prevails, human rights and freedoms can be significantly restricted. This issue isn’t exclusive to Nigeria, as numerous nations grapple with the detrimental impact of nepotistic practices.

While Nigeria faces its unique challenges related to nepotism, it’s essential to recognize that this problem is part of a global landscape. The connection between nepotism and corruption remains a universal concern, impacting legal norms, democracy, human rights, and freedom in many societies worldwide. Addressing nepotism requires local and international efforts to uphold transparency, meritocracy, and the principles upon which democratic societies are built.

Consequences of Nepotism on Nigeria

Nepotism and cronyism are deeply ingrained in Nigerian politics, often determining one’s political destiny through the connections established. Political appointments in Nigeria are profoundly influenced by nepotism, prioritising personal relationships, family ties, and regional loyalties over qualifications. The misuse of public office for personal gain is a disconcerting consequence, which, coupled with the undue concentration of power, hinders economic development and stifles progress.

Nepotism in the public sector negatively impacts the country’s tax base, government expenditure, public institutions, and contract enforcement, leading to inefficiencies and misallocation of funds. The unchecked spread of nepotism and corruption carries a substantial cost to Nigeria, potentially costing billions, as highlighted in a 2016 PwC report, which underscores the urgency of addressing these issues and their potential to undermine economic growth and development.

Private sector nepotism, while concerning, influences a narrower set of stakeholders and is often subject to market forces and competition. A 2019 Statista survey reveals the extensive extent of nepotism in the Nigerian public sector, with approximately half of surveyed applicants acknowledging the use of nepotism or bribery to secure positions. These findings shed light on the magnitude of the issue and its implications for governance and public service.

The Federal Character Principle (FCP) is designed to achieve equitable representation in the federal civil service but has faced debates about its impact on productivity. The delicate balance between representation and merit is crucial. The potential for manipulation, corruption, and concentration of power within the mechanisms designed to rectify historical disparities is a concern that may undermine democratic principles and human rights.

In essence, nepotism in Nigeria has far-reaching consequences, affecting its economy, governance, and overall development. Addressing this issue necessitates balancing representation and merit while combating the corrosive influence of corruption and nepotism, as highlighted in both the PwC and Statista reports.

Solving the Nepotism challenge

Addressing the pervasive issue of nepotism in Nigeria necessitates a multi-pronged approach that not only tackles the symptoms but also the root causes. To combat nepotism effectively, several solutions need to be considered.

One key aspect of the solution lies in the prioritisation of merit-based appointments in both the public and private sectors. Appointments should be driven by qualifications, competence, and experience, rather than personal connections or regional affiliations. Leaders in positions of power must acknowledge the importance of expertise and ensure that the most qualified individuals are entrusted with key responsibilities.

Another vital component of addressing nepotism is the promotion of transparency and accountability in the recruitment and promotion processes. Implementing strict oversight mechanisms can help deter nepotistic practices. This approach would include scrutinising appointments, publicising recruitment criteria, and ensuring that decisions are made based on clearly defined standards, and accessible to all.

Reforms in existing anti-nepotism laws and policies are crucial. Strengthening and updating regulations to close potential loopholes can go a long way in curbing the influence of personal relationships in appointments. These reforms must be comprehensive, addressing issues in both the public and private sectors.

Civil society organisations play a pivotal role in advocating for fair practices and holding institutions accountable. These organisations can serve as watchdogs and pressure groups, working to ensure that nepotism is exposed and condemned. Their involvement can be instrumental in increasing awareness and fostering public discourse on the issue.

Leadership commitment is paramount to eradicating nepotism. Leaders, especially those in public office, must demonstrate their dedication to combating nepotism by their actions, rather than mere words. This includes adhering to the principles of the Federal Character Principle, ensuring fairness and equity in appointments, and setting an example of merit-based governance.

While addressing nepotism, it is crucial to strike a balance between representation and merit. The Federal Character Principle (FCP) seeks to ensure equitable representation, especially in the federal civil service. However, debates about its potential impact on productivity persist. This balance is delicate, and efforts must be made to maintain both representation and merit within the system. This involves applying the FCP judiciously to avoid misuse or the dominance of particular groups.

By implementing these solutions and maintaining a strong commitment to fair governance, Nigeria can strive to curb the scourge of nepotism and ensure that its citizens have equal access to opportunities based on merit and qualifications, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

Striving for Balance and Equity in Nigerian Governance

Nepotism in Nigeria is a multifaceted issue, sparking debates and divisions within the nation’s political landscape. Allegations of nepotism during President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, as well as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s actions, exemplify the complexity of this problem. Bishop Matthew Kukah and former Governor Samuel Ortom publicly criticised President Buhari’s appointments, emphasising the divisive impact of such practices on national unity.

Beyond politics, nepotism significantly affects Nigeria’s economic landscape. Issues like reduced tax revenue, misallocation of government funds, and compromised public institutions underscore the urgency of addressing this crisis. The 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report reveals the massive potential cost of corruption if unchecked, emphasising the need for prompt action.

While the Federal Character Principle (FCP) was established with good intentions to promote equitable representation, concerns about its impact on productivity persist. Achieving a balance between representation and merit-based appointments is pivotal for inclusive governance that caters to Nigeria’s diverse interests.

In this intricate landscape, Nigeria must adopt a balanced approach to governance, upholding principles of equitable representation while emphasising merit-based selections. Transparency, accountability, and reform are essential to creating a political and economic environment where opportunities are based on competence rather than favouritism. As Nigeria moves forward, it must navigate these complexities to create a society where every citizen can contribute to the nation’s progress, irrespective of personal connections or regional affiliations. While the journey may be challenging, the potential for a more equitable and prosperous Nigeria is a compelling goal as the nation strives to strike the right balance between representation and merit-based governance.

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