The western world only grudgingly conceded the status of rational being to Africans, even in post slave trade era. Colonization of the African continent was partly justified in the western world by its advanced theory that the Africans were savages, with no culture, religion, history, or civilization. The critical point here is that since the humanity of the Africans is being questioned, it then implies that the ability of the African to possess an ideology is disputed. Based on this assumption, some African elite having been exposed to the conflicting ideologies of the different countries where they had studied. Thus having been influenced by such ideologies, directly or indirectly, in varying degrees, they are in a state of confusion of whether or not Africa has an ideology.

It is within the aforementioned context, that Nigeria’s ideological problems which precipitated into heated debate on ideology should be considered, and appreciated. Incidentally most Nigerian socio-political thinkers are unanimous in stressing the importance of a clearly and workable ideology, that will bail Nigeria out of her current socio-economic quagmire,

 The crux of our ideological problem is whether we should commit our country to any specific ideology, say capitalism, socialism or welfarism.

Before we examine the existence of African ideology, it will be pertinent to know the meaning of ideology.


The term Ideology is a highly emotive concept in contemporary socio-political discourse. Since the introduction of this term by the French philosopher, A.L.C Destutt de Tracy, the subject of ideology has been controversial and diverse. The controversy partly derives from a disagreement over the definition of “ideology” itself. The New Encyclopedia Britannica defines ideology as:

A form of social or political philosophy in which practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones, it is a system of ideas that aspires both to explain the world and to change it.

Another definition of ideology which Nzimiro affirms in his article sees it:

As a system of ideas concerning phenomena especially those of social life; the manner of thinking characteristic of a class or an individual.

This definition of Nzimiro is very close to that giving by Azikiwe, who sees it as:

A systematic body of concept especially about human life or culture, it includes a way of life and the thinking characteristic of an individual or a group of individuals on a particular aspect of social relations.

The above three definitions underscore the fact that there is no unanimity as to the meaning of this highly emotive concept.

Kwasi Wiredu in his work “Philosophy and an African Culture” made a distinction of ideology in the good sense, and in the debase sense. Ideology in the good sense for him refers to, “a set of ideas about what form, the good society must take”. In this sense every society requires an ideology, while the debase sense is understood, “as a ready-made set of ideas, meant to be adopted by government as the exclusive basis for the political organization of society. In this sense, ideology is for Wiredu “a set of dogmas to be imposed by the government with force if necessary.”

Wiredu was of the view that the reason for calling attention to the distinction between the two sense of ideology, is to dispel some of the confusions involved in the controversy, on the question of ideology in Africa, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s. This controversy according to wiredu has been at cross-purposes. As he rightly points out;

It may reasonably be presumed that those, at any rate some of those, who would have no truck with ‘ideology’, interpret the term in the second sense. Meanwhile because of the existence of the first sense, the proponent of ideology can point to absurdity of the suggestion that society can be expected to move in the right direction without people having any coherent ideas as to its ideal destiny.

It should be clear however, from the distinction made above that, to oppose ideology in the debase sense, is not necessary to reject it in the good sense. The westerner’s tried to reduce the Africans as not being rational, and for Wiredu “one of the ways by which a human being can be prevented from realizing himself as a rational being, is by being prevented from trying to think for him self, or even more terrible being rendered unable to think for himself, and this is the kind of condition which ideology in the degenerated sense encourages.

Azikiwe armed with the conviction that no cultural group can exist without an ideology, came to the conclusion that Nigeria (indeed Africa) has an ideology.

No racial or linguistic or cultural groups exist without an ideology. Nigeria is a nation which comprises homogenous racial, but heterogeneous linguistic and cultural groups. Therefore Nigeria has an ideology.

Having ascertained that Africa has an ideology, we now turn to this pristine African ideology.


Azikiwe disagreed with those who were contemplating whether or not Nigeria has an ideology rooted in its past. He argued that no human society can thrive without an ideology of its own rooted in its past. And so Nigeria should not be an exception. Ideological problems could be seen as a result of self alienation from Africa’s root.

Azikiwe identifies this pristine Nigerian (indeed African) economic ideology as proto-welfarism. According to him, this proto-welfarism is welfarism in its “purest form”. He further explains that, “Its objective is to guarantee to every Nigerian an element of economic security, animated by the good will and humanitarianism of each kindred, through the family as a unit of the clan”. This proto-welfarism as portrayed by Azikiwe is believed to promote the idea of material prosperity for Nigerians according to the resources of each individual. And being motivated by the philosophy of live and let live, the proto-welfarism encourages the system of mutual aid and care on the basis of familihood. It enjoins everyone to care for the welfare of each individual.

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Proto-welfarism places the responsibility of finding solutions to the socio-economic problems of the society mainly on the elders, who are known as the trustees of the traditional African societies. They are the custodian of the law, and they made it their point of duty to safeguard, and maintain the welfare of each member of their society. The proto-welfarism of Azikiwe as noted by Igwe Agbafor is simply a term which Azikiwe used to designate the principle of communalism, which was the hallmark of African traditional life before European colonization, and the subsequent disruption of Africans economic and social life.

However, due to African colonial experience, and diverse foreign cultural influences, the proto-welfarist ideology was rendered inadequate in meeting the challenges of modern organization of state and business, since it was formulated for a small socio-political unit. Armed with the conviction that no human society is culturally naked, and that a suitable socio-political philosophy for a people must be strongly rooted in their culture, Azikiwe then opted for the reorientation of the pristine African ideology. In his words: “No human society, primitive or sophisticated is culturally naked. Therefore, what Nigeria needs is ideological reorientation and not an ideological imposition”


The drastic changes in the socio-economic relation within African societies are as a result of the process of acculturation which came in the wake of European colonization. The Berlin Conference of 1885 gave the official endorsement to colonization of Africa. Africa was divided among the European for the purpose of exploitation, subjugation and domination. Europe becomes the “masters” of African nation and “owners” of everything in Africa which is of any value. During this period of European contact with Africa, Africa helped to develop Western Europe in the same proportion as Western Europe helped to underdeveloped Africa. With the attainment of independence by most African countries, the problem of finding the suitable political ideology became the preoccupation of African thinkers.

However, most African socio-political philosophers seem to agree that the path which would liberate Africa is the adoption of an adequate and effective socio-political ideology. But most of them disagree on the choice of ideology which can effectively pull Africa out of her quagmire. Hence, while people like Nkrumah espouse “Marxian socialism”, Nyerere, Kaunda and others put forward “African socialism”. Furthermore, while some thinkers argue for reform capitalism or welfarism, other like Azikiwe and E.K Ogundowole insist that neither, capitalism, socialism, nor welfarism can liberate Africa, from her present quagmire. These African thinkers that advocate a socio-political ideology which is neither pro-capitalism, pro-socialism, nor pro-welfarism per se are of the conviction that, no “imported” or “ready-made” ideology would be adequate for Africa development because the experiences, and the thinking which gave rise to it, arose from a different socio-cultural and political milieu. The reasoning of this group can be said to be persuasive, since every philosophy is a product of a certain culture.

It is an undeniable fact that a suitable socio-political philosophy of a people must be strongly rooted in their culture. So in the light of reason and experience, Azikiwe undertook an analysis of the major political system.


Capitalism can be said to be part of Azikiwe’s neo-welfarism, in the sense that what Azikiwe judged to be the positive aspect of it, is among the constituent elements of neo-welfarism. His chief concern with capitalism is to analyze it as a major contemporary, socio-economic doctrine with a view of sifting its good aspect. He defined it as;

The economic system under which the ownership of the means of production is concentrated in the hands of a class, consisting of only a minor section of society, and under which there is a property less class for whom the sale of their labour-power, as a commodity, is the only source of livelihood.

Capitalism is said to be the oldest economic doctrine when compared with socialism and welfarism. According to James Forman; it is only capitalism among its rival economic doctrine that evolved naturally and peacefully as a normal economic doctrine. It was not forced on man, and it was not claimed through violent means but “simply grew as a way of doing business, and ultimately a way of living”.

There are also according to Azikiwe, three main features of capitalism. Firstly, the capital goods may be owned either by individual or a group of people, who form limited liability companies. The essential point here is that ownership of the means of production, distribution or exchange is by private individuals. Another essential feature of capitalism identified by Azikiwe is the profit motive for investment. What he means by this is that individuals are free to invest their capital any where and on any thing without state control, apart from ordinary legal processes. Their main reason for investing is to make profit. Lastly, price determination of manufactured goods is through the forces of demand and supply. He states that manufactured goods under a capitalist economy are sold at a price which is fixed by the factors of supply and demand, in addition to the costs of producing, distributing and managing the goods sold, including labour. Thus, the price of manufactured goods is sold depending on what the buyer is willing to pay for the goods supplied, and the seller’s consideration of the cost of production, as well as the gain he hopes to make.


One of the arguments in favour of capitalism as portrayed by Azikiwe is that it helps to diffuse power, though more or less awkwardly in the society by placing wealth in the hands of property owners than in a single authority like the state. The reason for the diffusion is to avoid the confiscation of individual liberty by the state.

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The advocates of capitalism contend that it has the advantage of creating an atmosphere of free competition, and this acts as an incentive to efficiency. This leads to better products, lower prices, better services and higher standard of living. They also argued that, since profit motive is inherent in human nature, that capitalism is more in keeping with human nature, it has equally been argued very vehemently by Galbraith that, capitalism with its progressive efficiency would lead to the emergency of an affluent society which would undoubtedly, secure to all who needed it the minimum income for decent living and comfort.


Opponent of capitalism on the other hand, argue that it is an unjust system which encourages the exploitation of man by his fellow man; the capitalist employers live parasitically on the sweat of their workers. In his criticism of capitalism, Marx is of the view that capitalism depends on the progressive reduction of workers living standard, in his words,

In manufacture, the enrichment of the collective workers, and therefore of capital, in the matter of social productivity, is dependent upon the impoverishment of the workers in the matters of their individual powers of production.

Mazrui lamenting on capitalism in Africa said that, “the resources of Africa were indeed being incorporated into the world capitalism, but the people of Africa were not being transformed into effective capitalist, Africans were on the whole, object in a game of capitalism rather than subject. They were basically pawn in a bourgeoisie chess-game, almost never players in that game”

Another criticism against capitalism is that human beings are selfish, inordinately ambitious, vicious and vindictive, and by allowing such an ethical being to live in a society which encourages individualism, it accentuates man’s weakness and gives full play to dishonest motivation. In order to avoid this situation, the state should intervene in the economic life of the people. Finally capitalism renders intelligent planning impossible. Azikiwe notes Laidler lamentation that, the phenomenon of poverty and unemployment in the United States was not due to lack of resources but, due to woeful failure to inaugurate a planned economy, for the interest of the community rather than the profit of the few.


Azikiwe, finding capitalism unsatisfactory turns to socialism, which is for him,

An economic system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange together with the administration of social services are concentrated in the hands of the state and dispense from each according to his ability and to each according to his ability.

Socialism is a system of society which abhor private property and private ownership of any means of production. It is altruistic in content in that it desires expansion of state activity, not for aggrandizement but in order to assure freedom and justice to the individual.

Furthermore, Azikiwe emphasizes the universality of the principle of socialism, and frowns at any culture or personal limitation of the concept. He was impressed by Julius Nyerere “as one of the few African leaders who understood the intrinsic value of socialism that can be adapted to the African way of life” and who did not by that give it a restrictive meaning.


The proponents of socialism argue that it promotes public welfare by extending its activities to all undertakings, with the objective of promoting equality and social welfare. It encourages fair distribution of wealth, and equally supports public ownership of productive and distributive ventures as well as demand for scientific planning. And because socialism regards the state as a fraternal cooperative common wealth, it seeks to remedy injustice and wastefulness created by capitalism. It seeks to eliminate injustice by eliminating social inequality which is the root of poverty.


Critics of socialism argue that the collective ownership of property is contrary to human nature, and that is why force is been employed in commanding its change. They also argue that the state is not efficient in business management, and this is due to the bureaucratic nature of its administrative machinery. Another weakness of socialism as noted by Azikiwe is the multiplicity of its school of thought, which results to different brands of socialism. This multiplicity affects the effectiveness of socialism which made even socialist not to maintain stability in socialism, so as to win the confidence of the people.

The final argument against socialism as noted by Azikiwe is that it tends toward totalitarianism. Since its demand for altruism is not in the overall nature of man, it can only be affected by force. The attempt to inculcate the minimum discipline required to make man altruistic is of the kind that leads to totalitarianism. And as a principle of political organization, totalitarianism implies dictatorship.


Another important socio-political doctrine which influenced Azikiwe’s formulation of the Neo-welfarist philosophy is welfarism. He explains it as,

A social system where the state assumes primary responsibility for the individual and social welfare of it citizen. It is the complexes of policies, attitudes and believes which animate the state to provide its inhabitants with minimum standard in education, health, housing, pension, etc. where individual means are inadequate.

The major thrust of welfarism is its demand on the state to care enough for the economic, social and political well-being of the citizens. Thus a states welfare scheme often includes the establishment of national insurance against unemployment, industrial accident, ill-health, old age and destitution.


Welfarism is a moral outgrowth on capitalism which requires the government to save the people from deplorable standard of living, which capitalism led them into. The government through progressively graduated taxation tries to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. The welfarist aims at bringing the greatest good to the greatest number by providing essential services to its citizen virtually free of charge.

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Welfarism is essentially attractive because, it promotes the principle of mutual aid on a humanistic basis.


Welfarism as a social philosophy has its own shortcomings. It has an inherent problem arising from its provision of essential services, free of charge. Once it becomes known that these services are free, Azikiwe points out, there is bound to be mad rush of people to take advantage of these free services. And experience according to Azikiwe has shown that “any social service that is free is bound to be inundated with drop-outs, idles, adventurers, apart from the genuine sector of the population concerned.

Finally, experience in Europe and America according to Azikiwe, has shown that despite many welfare services to alleviate the “stings of capitalism”, poverty, ignorance, ill-health and destitution still prevail. This fact made him to conclude that. “There is need for a more positive action to liquidate these factors which make life a bane to the greatest number of our people. Thus we are back to square one.


Eclectic pragmatism is a coinage which aptly describes Azikiwe’s philosophical method; it follows through the principles of eclecticism and pragmatism. He describes eclecticism as;

A term used in philosophy to identify a composite system of thought which incorporates ideas selected from other systems. It does not modify but blends opposite views. According to an authority its essence is the refusal to follow blindly one set of formulae and conventions with a determination to recognize and select from all other sources those elements which are good or true, either in the abstract, or in the concrete, so far as they are practicable and useful.

This system according to Azikiwe does not attempt to reconcile or combine irreconcilables; rather it leaves the contradiction unresolved but blends incompatibles to make them practicable for utilitarian purposes. He extols the merit of the eclectic approach as lying in the fact that any person or group of persons can add, subtract, multiply or divide any idea and adapt it to their situation or historical circumstances.

Pragmatism in the other hand is a theory of truth. Truth according to William James is made by successful experience. In line with this proposition, Azikiwe asserts that pragmatism is a philosophical theory of dealing with things which are real. By emphasizing practicability and workability, Pragmatism appealed to Azikiwe in his quest to construct a system of philosophy which works to the advantage of the many, and not that which speculate to the disadvantage of the many when accessed by its practical results, politically, socially and economically.

Eclectic-pragmatism for Azikiwe is the most suitable method for dealing especially with the multi-faceted reality of economic and political matters. It is a method which attempts to harmonize apparently opposing views, not by resolving the contradictions, but by selecting and blending what is useful and practicable in each for the purpose of attaining the desired goals. It is a method which also recognizes that the various systems of thought contain some truth, but not the whole truth, and that better picture of the world and human experience will be achieved, if the truths in the various systems are sifted and blended. Thus, eclectic pragmatism seems to be the most suitable method for dealing with African problems in view of the variegated and traumatic experience which precipitated them.

Having critically examined the major political systems, Azikiwe finds each of them wanting. But none of them in his view is totally bad without some good elements. With the assumption that what Nigeria needs is an ideological re-orientation and not ideological imposition, Azikiwe through the eclectic-pragmatic method, proposes a harmonization of the good elements of capitalism, socialism and welfarism. The outcome of this eclectic harmonization of opposite is what he calls Neo-welfarism.

F. Okafor, “Issues in African Philosophy Reexamined” In International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. xxxiii, No. 1 Issue, No. 129 (March 1993), p. 92.

N. Azikiwe, Ideology for Nigeria: Capitalism, Socialism, or Welfarism? Lagos: Macmillan Publishers, 1980, p. x.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. xi.

The New Encyclopedia Britannica (vol. 9) Chicago: William Benton publishers.1943, p. 194.

I. Nzimiro, “History of Evolution of Ideology”, In New Nigeria, Kaduna: April 19, 1977. p.11.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 3.

K. Wiredu, philosophy and an African culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, p. 62.

K. Wiredu, Ibid., p. 53.

K. Wiredu, Ibid., p. 53.

K. Wiredu, Ibid., p. 54.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 1.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., P. x

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., P. 8

A. Igwe, Zik: The Philosopher of Our Time, Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1992. p. 191

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 121.

J. Omoregbe, Knowing Philosophy, Maryland: Joja Press Limited, 1990. p. 30.

W. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Washington D.C: Howard University Press, 1972, p. 87.

A. Igwe, Ibid., p. vii-viii.

A. Igwe, Ibid., P. Viii. See also J. Omoregbe, Ibid., p. 30. Omoregbe is of the view that philosophy generally reflects the socio-political situation of its time and place.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 11.

J. Forman, Quoted in A. Igwe, Ibid., p. 156.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 12.

G. Sabine and T. Thorson, A History of Political Theory, New Delhi: Oxford and IBH publishers, 1973, p. 713.

A. Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1986, p. 223.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 6.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 68.

G. Sabina and T. Thorson, Ibid., p. 836.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 6.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 87.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 111.

S. Stumpf, Philosophy: History and problem, McGraw-Hill, 1994, P. 390.

N. Azikiwe, Ibid., p. 116.

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