Organized interest groups played a crucial role in national politics, especially under military regimes when other forms of direct political participation were prohibited.
These associations were the most established interest groups in the country and included the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the Nigerian Economic Society, and the Nigerian Political Science Association. Many of these associations were mainly concerned with matters relating to the professional interests of their members. In pursuing professional concerns, however, they articulated and demanded important political actions. Between 1983 and 1985, for example, the NMA called a strike of medical doctors to demand an improvement in health care delivery. Its leaders were detained and the union banned until 1986. The NBA has been at the forefront of the movement for the observance of the rule of law and human rights in Nigeria. Most other associations held annual conferences at which positions were taken on national issues. The most distinguishing characteristics of professional associations were their elitist and urban base, and the nonviolent pursuit of their interests.
The central trade union in the country was the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), which was formed in 1975 as the umbrella trade union and recognized by Decree Number 44 of 1976 as the sole representative of all trade unions in the country. The NLC had a national executive and secretariat, as well as state councils in all states. It had more than 100 affiliated unions. Although most labor matters were channeled through the NLC, the affiliate unions had engaged individually in union activities, such as strikes and lockouts. In the 1980s, the NLC was torn apart by leadership struggles, ideological differences, and ethnoregional conflicts. The NLC nearly broke up in 1988 after disagreements over elections of its leadership, resulting in the federal government's appointing an administrator for several months. The NLC organized a nationwide workers' strike in 1986 to demand the retention of government subsidies on petroleum products and continued to articulate workers' demands on matters such as minimum wages and improved welfare conditions. Several other trade unions were also active. A few, such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities, were proscribed for alleged antigovernment activities.
The press was a specialized interest group in Nigeria. As the fourth estate or the "societal watchdog," it was the most vocal and effective interest group in the country, especially because other interest groups channeled their demands and support through the press. The media could act as a watchdog because of the large number of newspapers and radio and television stations, and because of the wide degree of press freedom.
In the 19__s, Nigeria had more than thirty national and provincial newspapers, more than twenty general magazines and journals, and more than twenty television and radio stations. Although the radio and television stations were owned by the federal and state governments, most of the newspapers and magazines were privately owned and were, in general, seen as instruments of partisan political interests. Thus, the latter could afford to be critical of the government. At some points, newspapers and magazines have been proscribed, as happened to Newbreed in 1977, the Tribune in 1984, and Newswatch in 1988. Individual journalists have been harassed and intimidated by government security agents. In 1971 Minere Amakiri, a Nigerian Observer correspondent, was detained and his hair shaved. Since then, numerous editors and reporters have been detained.
The organized interest groups representing the press included the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Newspaper Proprietors Association, and the Nigerian Guild of Editors. These associations mainly pursued the professional interests of their members but also played active roles on broader social issues.
Since 1962, when students prevented the government from signing the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact, they have played an active role in influencing government actions. From the 1970s on, they have engaged in violent protests and riots that have sometimes resulted in fatalities. The grounds for these riots have ranged from narrow concerns, such as unacceptable dining facilities and boarding conditions, to broader national issues, such as the removal of government subsidies on petroleum products, the SAP, and repressive government. Since 1977 no year has passed without one university or other institution of higher learning being closed because of violent student protests. The most dramatic were the 1978 "Ali must go" riots, in which all universities in the country protested a rise in the costs of university education; and the 1989 anti-SAP riots, which claimed many lives.
Student activities were coordinated nationally by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which has operated underground since its proscription in 1986. Every institution of higher learning had a student union. Until 1986, when the Justice Mohammad panel recommended voluntary membership as a way to check student protests, membership in student unions was compulsory. There were several other student associations, such as voluntary groups and religious associations, which also articulated students' interests.
Nigeria had several women's organizations, most of them professional and social clubs. The umbrella organization, recognized as the voice of women on national issues, was the National Council of Women's Societies (NCWS). Many of the women's groups were affiliated with the NCWS, which tended to be elitist in organization, membership, and orientation. Another major women's association was Women in Nigeria, composed primarily of university women and inclined toward Western feminist views. Conservative Nigerian Muslim women in the late 1970s began to indicate discontent with the liberal trends of these two organizations and in the mid-1980s created the Federation of Muslim Women's Associations of Nigeria, which had about 400 member bodies throughout the country. In the 1980s, women from lower social strata in the towns, represented mainly by the market women's associations, became militant and organized mass protests and demonstrations in several states. Their major grievances ranged from narrow concerns such as allocation of market stalls to broader issues such as increased school fees.
Other Interest Groups
Other notable interest groups included social clubs and fraternities, old boys' and alumni associations, and various voluntary associations. On the whole, the activities of interest groups and the roles they played in national politics depended on how narrow or broad the group's interests were, the resources available to it, its ties with those in authority, its affiliation with other groups, and the ideological character of its membership. The major interest groups were elitist, but other groups were also active at times.
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