Back to Africa Update

Nigerian Trade Unions; FGM, Ousmane Sembene & Film

By Bernard Ifekwe;John Duron

Vol. XXV1, Issue 1 (Winter 2019): Nigerian Trade Unions;  FGM, Ousmane Sembene and Film


Table of Contents

  •  Editorial:  Gloria Emeagwali


  •  Bernard Steiner Ifekwe: “Regionalism and the Nigerian Labour Movement, 1951-1966" 
  • John Duron: “Ousmane Sembène’s Moolade: An Artistic Approach to Promoting Social Justice




In his illuminating article on the labor movement in Nigeria,  Bernard Ifekwe focuses on  regional political parties, and their impact on trade unionism, on the eve of independence. He points out that the emergence of  the various parties,  such as the  National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and the Action Group (AG), eventually  led to the demise of the trade unions.   The politicization of  the labor movement was accompanied by hostility, divisiveness, ethnic chauvinism,  and the gradual loss of cohesiveness and solidarity, a trend that culminated in irreconcilable conflict. Steiner sheds light on individual union activists as well as regional politics,  in general.

On a different note, John Duron  focuses  on  Ousmane Sembene’s Moolade and the techniques used by the film maker to put an end to FGM. We are reminded of the current geographical spread of  the practice, and areas where it  is in decline, in the course of discussion.  It is interesting to note that February 1, 2019, marked the   first conviction  for FGM,  or genital cutting,  in Britain,  despite years of  activism and legal action  in that country.

We thank the contributors  for their illuminating contributions.

Chief Editor

Prof. Gloria Emeagwali



“Regionalism and the Nigerian Labor Movement, 1951-1966”

Bernard Steiner Ifekwe

University of Uyo, Nigeria



     This essay explores, in historical context, the role of regionalism, political parties and their leaders, in the trade union movement, 1 in the polarization of the trade unions of Nigeria along ethnic, ideological, and regional lines. Regionalism was a British constitutional arrangement which polarized the country into three regions, namely, the North, East and West, by 1951. These regional trends, to a large extent, began in 1947, according to Richard Sklar, who examined the roots of these problems based on the utterances of major political leaders in the country. Sklar states that the “theory of regionalized political parties” had begun in 1947, when a prominent nationalist, Bode Thomas, “proposed the inauguration of regional political parties” in order to “deal exclusively with matters affecting their respective zones.”2 This was already part of the program of the emergent nationalist leaders, namely, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC); Ahmadu Bello and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC); and Obafemi Awolowo and the Action Group (AG). As a result, they pulled all institutions, including the labour movement along regional lines.

            In this setting, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), drew her membership and leadership from many ethnic groups in the country. But with the effective regionalization of the country, unions suffered tremendously in terms of strategy, motivation and cohesion. Consequently, the thesis of this essay is that political influences interfered tremendously in the growth of the trade union movement. It elevated regionalism as part of the decolonization process, and affected Nigeria’s unity because of the parochial nature of political leadership within the trade union movement. These divergent developments polarized the country and the trade unions between 1951 and 1967.

Political Parties and Trade Unions in Colonial Nigeria

            The three major political leaders in colonial Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, and Obafemi Awolowo, dominated the political scene and expended their energies towards independence. While committed to this cause, they became regional leaders at a time the country needed a cohesive leadership to wrest concessions from the British colonial officials.3 Regionalism, introduced in the country by the British, pulled all forces in different directions, leading to a national crisis. According to Mokwugo Okoye, regionalism bred “mutual jealousy, fear, rivalry and over-estimation of oneself.”4 In this case, one ethnic nationality perceived itself as having all the paraphernalia of nationhood as against the interests of other ethnic nationalities-  thus, placing ethnic hegemony against national interests.      

Trade union leadership to a large extent became victims of these political problems because of inadequate educational training for its leaders, and their unbridled ambition to use trade union platforms for political gains. In 1945, Nigeria witnessed one of the most successful labour strikes, which threatened the British colonial system, and opened  a new dimension to Nigeria’s political independence. In the words of Wogu Ananaba:

The General strike of 1945 is one of the most important events in Nigerian labour history. With the exception of the Iva valley shooting incident of 1949, and the General Strike of 1964, no industrial dispute has so thoroughly shaken the foundations of the Nigerian nation as the tremendous event which began throughout the country at midnight on June 21, 1945. In Lagos, the strike lasted for 44 days, but in the provinces (now regions) it dragged on for as long as 52 days.5

            This strike attracted divergent views both for the workers and their leadership. According to James S. Coleman, it politicized “the labour movement” and “linked it to the nationalist movement.” Further:    

--- the strike  served as a dramatic opening of a new nationalist era. Finally, the strike shocked both Europeans and Africans into the realization that Nigerians, when organized, had great power, that they could defy the white bureaucracy, that they could virtually control strategic centers throughout the country, and that through force or the threat of force they could compel the government to grant concessions. One of the present leaders of the Northern Region informed me that the general strike of 1945 marked the beginning of racial and political consciousness in the north, although only a few northerners had participated in it.6


Against this background, the British accused the striking workers of having communist empathy most especially when a number of the striking leaders joined forces with Nigerian politicians. They noted the overt support of Nnamdi Azikiwe, a non-communist, who utilized his chains of newspapers to champion the labor cause and introduce a dynamic and militant approach to industrial issues.7 He  was seen as a supporter of the labor movement by the striking workers, and his popularity soared considerably, within their rank and file. Michael Imoudu, the strike leader, was viewed as a communist by the British colonialists, based on his militant labor leadership. After the 1945 strike, Imoudu accepted Azikiwe’s invitation to co-opt the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to be an affiliate of the NCNC. Being someone with an  eye on partisan politics, he accepted the invitation. Imoudu’s action provoked a major split within the TUC in Nigeria. Imoudu’s colleagues, mainly proponents of non - partisanship in the labour movement, rejected such overtures and challenged Imoudu’s decision. Despite their opposition, Imoudu jumped to the fray, and became an NCNC member. His reward was a nomination by that party to be a member of its 1947 delegation to London on constitutional affairs.8 From then, Imoudu’s action precipitated the nexus between the labor movement and political activities, particularly when the former became an economic wing of the nationalist struggle in Nigeria. 

            At this point, the inordinate ambition of the political elites to pursue ethnic and regional agendas towards decolonization equally affected the activities of Nigerian trade unions. It was quite obvious, in a post -1945 General strike setting, that labor leadership, as constituted, discovered that its survival strategy would be achieved through an effective collaboration with the politicians, because they were intellectuals with chains of newspapers to propagate their cause. Though fully aware of their potential in industrial issues, they needed to effectively coordinate with the political class to confront a more formidable opponent such as the British.9 That decision to ally with the politicians led to  an imbroglio such as the 1947 ethnic crisis when the Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba nations “resorted to tribal politics”10 and provoked “inter-ethnic hostility and tension”11 in the country.

            By 1951, when regionalism had come into effect in the country, the three regions adopted different approaches towards independence. At many constitutional conferences within Nigeria and abroad, the political elite remained resolute in their pursuit of regional developments, and resorted to incendiary statements and activities that beclouded national aspirations. Parochialism among them was reflected in their party slogans. The AG slogan was “West for the Westerners, East for the Easterners, North for the Northerners, and Nigeria for all of us.” The NPC motto was “One North, One people, irrespective of religion, rank or Tribe.”12 The NCNC, at formation, was an amalgam of many groups with a pan-Nigerian philosophy, making it a representative of various interests groups, with a nationalist outlook.13 However, the party slogans from its rivals, and their desire to propagate extreme regionalism, propelled the NCNC, unashamedly, to abandon its pan-Nigerian vision for regional politics.            The  three leaders opened a floodgate of incendiary statements that provoked disharmony in the country. Azikiwe was quoted to have said that:  

It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages … The martial prowess of the Ibo nation at all stages of human history has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of the preserver … The Ibo nation cannot shirk its responsibility from its manifest destiny.14        


In response to Azikiwe’s claim, Obafemi Awolowo was quoted to have said that “It seemed clear to me that (Azikiwe’s) policy was to corrode the self-respect of the Yoruba people as a group; to build up the Ibo as a master race”.15 On his part, Ahmadu Bello drew a line of non-co-operation with Azikiwe and Awolowo, his political rivals when he said that “We should set up on our own: we should cease to have anything more to do with the southern people, we should take our own way.”16

Under these acrimonious situations, the Nigerian trade union movement, which hitherto, had outstanding background of unity particularly during the 1945 General Strike, buckled under the weight of regionalism and ethnicity because of their affinity with politicians.  No meaningful effort along a pan-Nigerian perspective was pursued. For instance, in 1948, labor leaders, particularly the Yoruba, in defiance of the perceived domination of the Igbo in national affairs, removed Igbo union leaders particularly those in the Railway Workers Union, as well as the Amalgamated Union of UAC African Workers, and replaced them with Yoruba leaders..17 By 1951, regionalism engulfed all sectors of the Nigerian economy, thus creating a dangerous road to independence.


The Northernization Policy and Effects on the Trade Unions

            The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) which controlled the Northern Region floated a policy called Northernization in an apparent complete devolution of regional power. Propagated by the “One North, One People” philosophy, all institutions in the region were effectively controlled by the regional government. The  civil service in the region was quite critical in the implementation of this policy. Consequently the NPC built an effective public service, peopled with Northerners, and thus thwarted “the fears of Southern domination”, and the elevation “of Northern domination”18 in the region, irrespective of its implications for the emerging nation. The regional Premier, Ahmadu Bello, and other stakeholders, from 1949 believed that “without intensive training of under-educated Northerners at each level, there would be no effective Northernization for a generation”19 to come. Consequently, the policy rejected Southerners in all posts, but accepted expatriates in their civil service as “a transient phenomenon”, since “for the most part”, these expatriates were seen as “harmless and disinterested workers”.20 At that point, these expatriates were gradually withdrawing from the colonial administration due to impending independence.

            As earlier noted, the Northern region detested the idea of Southern civil servants in their employ because the:

… Southern Nigerians appointed to the civil service in the North tended to bring wives, children, and relations and settle there, taking leases of land, exploiting the services of Northern peasants in its cultivation, and using their official influence to infiltrate their brothers and cousins into jobs previously held by Northerners.21

            The North, being conscious of her deficiencies in human capital, and low educational output had by 1957, used the Institute of Administration at Zaria, to train administrative officers from the region and place them at strategic institutions within its public service after the completion of their program.22 This policy elevated regionalism to greater heights and affected all institutions in the region, including the trade union movement. The NPC co-opted these trade unions into the arms of the regional government, destroyed their national outlook, and created fractious bodies which perceived other Southern Nigerian employees, “particularly the Ibos of Eastern Nigeria”23 as threats to Northern interests.

            Against this background, this region co-opted the Civil Service Union (CSU), which, according to Wogu Ananaba’s account, was the earliest civil service organization launched in August 1912. It became a regional body called the Northern Civil Service Union (NCSU) in 1954.24 By 1956, the NCSU held its maiden annual conference in the region, where it called for “the northernization of the public service commission,” and identified specifically “the number of posts vacant in the various departments.” It urged “filling them with northerners without delay.”25

            In this atmosphere of hostility, the NPC administration retrenched many government employees of Southern Nigerian extraction working in the region. By 1958, one hundred clerks in various departments were dismissed. Similarly, six hundred daily paid workers, from the Department of Public Works, were sacked. Feeling satisfied over this exercise, the Regional Premier, Ahmadu Bello informed members of the Northern House of Assembly that since 1954, 2,148 Southerners had been dismissed from their public service.26 By the 1960s, this purge of Southern Nigerian employees took another dimension, particularly in the federal civil service in the region. When many Southern Nigerian employees went on leave, their Northern counterparts “with lower educational qualifications were placed in acting positions during their absence”,27 and refused to relinquish their acting positions. Further, the struggle for trade union domination in the.Northern region was extended to the private sector, particularly the Jos Tin Mines, by the regional government. The aim was to curb the influence of the NCNC and the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), an affiliate of the NCNC in industrial matters within the tin mines.

         With the dawn of party politics in the North, where the NPC dominated, NEPU had taken an opposition stand in the region, thereby denying this leading party a complete hold on the region. Led by a radical politician and grassroots leader, called Aminu Kano, his alliance with the NCNC against the NPC, in the region, was quite provocative to the NPC leaders who saw the development as anti-North, where they held sway.28 The NCNC electoral strength in the North was rooted in Jos Division, where many Igbo trade union leaders had played active roles in the control of the Plateau tin mines.29 There were a number of trade unions within the Jos tin mines and one called the Nigeria African Mineworkers Union (NAMU), dominated by Igbo officials, ensured NCNC electoral victory in Jos, much to the chagrin of the NPC. This apparent Igbo domination by union officials bred much consternation from the Hausa members of this union who accused their Igbo trade union colleagues of political partisanship towards the NCNC.30 Expatiating on this development, Billy Dudley writes that:

Jos central, in particular has been a stronghold of the opposition NEPU, the northern ally of the NCNC. In such a situation it was to be expected that the few educated Hausa leaders of the mineworkers should accuse the skilled Ibo leaders of the unions of using these organizations for political purposes.31


            As a result of these ethnic sentiments,  NAMU turned into a battle ground between Igbo and Hausa political interests in Jos, with the NPC claiming NAMU as one of its arms in tandem with the Northernization policy. The NPC which prided NAMU as being the “powerful trade union movement on the plateau”, however, regretted being “potentially subversive”, to regional interests, and being partisan to the NCNC. The NPC, thus described the NAMU as an electoral setback for the region because of the Igbo labour leaders’ domination of  the affairs of the NCNC in Jos.32 As a result of this thinking, the Northern regional government floated a rival body called the Northern Mine Workers’ Union (NMWU) with Isa Haruna as its President.

            Wogu Ananaba, a foremost trade unionist, who watched this unfolding drama, within NAMU, decried this overt Northern regional government interference and writes:

In promoting the Northern Mine Workers’ Union, the NPC had taken certain precautions. They saw to it that Alhaji Isa Haruna, a mine contractor and therefore an employer of labour, became President, while Alhaji Audu Danladi, a welfare officer of the Bisichi Tin Mining Company became Secretary. It goes without saying that, on many grounds, neither of these men ought to have been a member of the union, let alone becoming its principal officer. The fact that he was not an employee disqualified Alhaji Haurna for membership; by the same token Danladi did not qualify for membership being in a managerial position in the Bisichi Tin Mining Company. Clearly, therefore, the main consideration for their membership and the key positions they held was their NPC political soundness and their ability to get the union members to do the bidding of the party.33


Against this background, during Nigeria’s First Republic (1960-1966), when the NPC dominated the Northern Nigerian political arena, many trade unions in the region became part of the government structure. These included the Northern Teachers Association, Northern Civil Service Union, Northern PWD Workers’ Union, Northern Mine Workers’ Union and  the Northern Federation of Labour.34 This Federation led by another NPC official, Ibrahim Nock, was seen as a labour center for the region, replacing a Lagos based national labour center called, the United Labour Congress (ULC). By floating the NFL, the NPC ensured that the ULC in the North did not exist in the region anymore. Induced financially by the regional government to do its bidding, the members of the NFL, it was noted, became active on the Northernization policy, by travelling extensively within Northern cities, not only to draw support for the regional government but to propagate ethnic sentiments. It equally called upon Northern civil servants telling them that Southerners were trying to dominate the North and that unless workers staged war against the Southerners, there would  be “nothing good for Northerners”35 in their own region.

Regional Trade Union Activities in the Eastern and Western Parts of Nigeria


            Within the Eastern and Western regions of Nigeria, trade unions were infiltrated by the political elites, who, like their Northern counterparts, pursued regional interests within such platforms. Within both regions, endowed with human potentials and strong economies, the contest for domination in a wider Federal context brought extreme regionalism in the activities of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and their associates. The 1945 general strike contributed much to the ethnic configurations within these two regions.

The 1945 general strike in Nigeria led by the fiery labour leader, Michael Imoudu, revealed the political dimensions of Nigerian independence. When it ended, the animosity between the Igbo and Yoruba deepened and accelerated a decline in the growth of the trade union movement. The striking workers had called for a review of their wages and salaries which the colonial administration treated with levity -  and paid dearly for it. By the time the strike ended it exposed parts of “the injustices of colonial administration”,36 which were at the core of nationalist agitations. This strike demonstrated that Nigerian workers could threaten the colonial regime, which compelled the British officials to grant concessions to the rampaging workers.37 Those workers’ actions endeared them to the nationalist politicians particularly Nnamdi Azikiwe, who supported them with incisive commentaries in his chains of newspapers, thus promoting nationalism.

            Michael Imoudu, a frontline labour leader, in the 1945 strike, was neither Igbo nor Yoruba but got entangled in the Igbo-Yoruba feud. His militant approach to industrial relations attracted the attention of the political elites during the  anti-colonial struggle and he was harassed, detained, and even exiled by the British for his radical disposition.38 Imoudu was seen as a communist by the British and was treated as a pariah within the labour movement. The British frowned at Imoudu’s intermingling of political partisanship with the activities of the labour movement which he led.39 His stand on achieving labour interests through a radical platform, remained firm even at the twilight of his career until the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo banned him, alongside others, from trade union activities in 1977.40    

            In 1945, in a post-strike ceremony in Lagos, hosted by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Azikiwe eulogized Imoudu, and proclaimed him as Nigeria’s “Labour Leader No 1”,41 for his articulation and resourcefulness during that strike. Azikiwe’s action and Imoudu’s response brought a major crack within the labour hierarchy. For instance, in this Azikiwe’s ceremony, Imoudu demonstrated his penchant for partisan politics when he supported the affiliation of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), to the NCNC led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. There was much turbulence in Nigeria when the NCNC leadership rejected many aspects of the Richard’s constitution, and proposed a 1947 Pan-Nigerian delegation to London, to register protests to the Secretary of the Colonies. While undertaking the journey, the NCNC included Imoudu as one of its delegates in a purely political affair, thereby drawing this fiery labour leader to partisan politics. Imoudu’s inclusion, however, alienated him from the mainstream labour leaders in the TUC, particularly the Yoruba, who described his actions as antithetical to labour neutrality in political affairs. His traducers, mainly members of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), had dominated politics in Lagos and were gradually losing grip of national affairs to regionalism. The Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a cultural Yoruba group, had questioned Imoudu’s subterranean membership of the NCNC, and compelled the leadership of the TUC General Council, during a meeting, to disaffiliate from the NCNC. When the Council met and voted on this suggestion in 1947, the Council delegates rejected the suggestion, and voted overwhelmingly towards affiliation, thus guaranteeing its membership of the NCNC. This pro- NCNC action, however, had reverberating effects in colonial industrial relations in Nigeria.42 According to Ananaba:

In a desperate attempt to find a scapegoat, The Daily Service, the NYM official organ, blamed the Ibos in the TUC: it attacked the decision and poured venom on the Ibos. “Down with the Ibos in the TUC” “TUC in Distress”, and “They that have turned the world upside-down have come hitherto unto us…”.43

            In the light of the above, an acrimonious situation was created between the Igbo and Yoruba in trade union affairs. When this apparent disagreement appeared settled, another one erupted, credited to an innocuous statement made by an NCNC member, Charles Daddy Onyeama that the “Ibo domination of Nigeria is a matter of time.”44 The Yoruba reacted vehemently to this statement and removed many Igbo trade union leaders holding important positions in the Railway Workers Union, and the Amalgamated Union of UAC African Workers’ Union and replaced them with  Yoruba workers.45 From then, the Eastern and Western regional governments clashed severally on trade union matters. Further, they instituted policies that encouraged the emergence of regional trade union centers between 1951 and 1959. One cardinal area of misunderstanding concerned workers’ welfare programs particularly the proposed increase in minimum wage for workers credited to the AG in 1954. The AG posed as being friendly to the workers, when its leader, Obafemi Awolowo, at the floor of the Federal House of Representatives in 1954, proposed a minimum wage of five shillings for daily paid workers. His proposals were, however, rejected by the NCNC on account of its regional antagonism to the West. This struggle became protracted for both political parties even at the eve of Nigerian independence, compelling a Nigerian scholar to state that “regionalism and consequent entrenchment of the three political parties in each of the three regions led to the competition between the AG and the NCNC for workers’ support”.46 In other words, political interests had infiltrated into the activities of trade unions in the two regions.

            While these events shaped the political division between Awolowo and Azikiwe, other contending issues involving their supporters and ethnic compatriots divided union leadership and severed their relationships. In 1951 for instance, the Nigerian Union of Local Authority Staff, a national body, split, when the General Secretary, a Westerner, shunned the national convention of this union which he convened in Ibadan. Enraged by this development, the Northern and Eastern delegates of this union who had attended the botched meeting, severed their relationships and formed splinter groups. The Northern members in this setting formed the Northern Native Administration Staff Association while their Eastern counterparts formed the Nigerian Association of Local Government Employees respectively.47 Henceforward, trade union activities within the two regions moved in centripetal directions. Consequently, regional centers proliferated. They included: the Eastern Nigeria Development Pioneer Oil Mill, and the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation and the Allied Workers’ Union for the East. In the West, they included the Western Region Production Development Board, the African Workers’ Union and the Western Nigeria Development Corporation and Allied Industries Workers’ Union.48

            Political and trade union leadership was in cahoots in the founding and proliferation of regional trade union centers within the two regions. Each of them needed the other in the actualization of this venture. Wogu Ananaba who witnessed these developments, condemned their actions.49 Similarly, a foremost nationalist, Eyo Ita, took a swipe on the activities of his compatriots, particularly nationalist politicians, and submitted as follows that:

Their ambition to emancipate mother Africa evaporates [from their actions] … they are tribesmen, horrible tribesmen. They are not Africans, but Efiks and Ibos. They are not Nigerians but Yorubas, Hausa, and Ibibios and what-nots, very static in their loyalty.50       


The above, undoubtedly, was an epitaph to Pan-Nigerian political development.

The 1966 Disturbances in Nigeria and Influence on the Labour Movement

             It appeared that Nigeria was doomed to fail as a post-colonial state. In October 1960 when her independence was achieved, she was led and controlled by the same group of political elites, who had foisted regional and ethnic nationalisms against national aspirations during the colonial era.

            At independence, there were two major national centers, namely the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN), and the Nigerian Trade Union Congress (NTUC). Both were divided along political, personal and ideological lines. In this setting, tremendous efforts were made to emasculate political opposition and incorporate non – governmental groups such as trade unions in order to enforce a one-party system. Consequently, obnoxious policies were proposed which in most cases, were resisted by other political parties, ethnic nationalities, students, trade unions and others, which, however, failed and degenerated into civil strife and multiple disturbances. Some of them included the 1961 Census controversy, the Action Group crises, Awolowo’s trials and imprisonment, the 1960/64 Tiv riots, the 1964 General strike, the 1964 General  election crisis, the 1965 Western regional election crisis, among others.51 These crises precipitated the first military coup in January 1966.




            This essay has explored some implications of regionalism for the Nigerian labour movement, 1951 to 1966. These developments, strongly influenced by the leadership that bestrode the colonial landscape, drew the trade union movement out of its traditional role into the political sphere, thereby polarizing it along ethnic and regional lines. As indigenous political leaders, their activities, in most cases, had no national agenda, since they regarded their regional bases as platforms for the control of the soul of the country.


[1]This essay is an excerpt from the author’s M. A. Thesis entitled “Workers in Politics in Nigeria: A Case Study of the 1964 General Strike.”

2For details, see Richard Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties: Power in An Emergent African Nation, (Enugu: NOK Publishers, 1983), 103 fn 37.

3For details of these developments, see Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties, 87-140; Kole Omotoso, Just before Dawn (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1988), 114 – 150; Michael Growder, The Story of Nigeria, (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 206-258; Mokwugo Okoye, Storms on the Niger: A Story of Nigeria’s Struggle, (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1981), 166-179.

4Okoye, Storms on the Niger, 166.

5See Wogu Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, (Benin City; Ethiope Corporation, 1969), 44.

6James S. Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, (Benin City: Broburg and Wistrom, 1986), 259.

7See Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 56. For similar views see Ifeanyi Onyeonuru, “Globalization and Trade Union Resistance in Nigeria,” African Journal for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Vol. 17, No. 1, 200, “Globalization and Trade Union Resistance in Nigeria,” African Journal for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2004.

8Ibid, 89-92

9For details see Daniel A. Offiong, Organised Labour and Political Development in Nigeria (Calabar: Centaur Press, 1983), 112-134

10See Crowder, The Story of Nigeria, 228.

11See Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978), 24.

12See Uzodinma Nwala, “The Poverty of Ideology in Nigerian Development,” in Okwudiba Nnoli, (ed.) Path to Nigerian Development (Dakar: Codesria, 1981), 157.

13See Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties, 52-58.

14Cited in Remi Anifowose, Violence and Politics in Nigeria: The TIV and Yoruba Experience (Enugu: Nok Publishers, 1982), 37.

15Cited in Ibid

16Cited in C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, Radom Thoughts (New York: Harper and Row 1969), 1.

17See Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 92.

18See I. F. Nicolson, The Administration of Nigeria, 1900 to 1960: Men Methods, and Myths (Oxford: The Claredon Press, 1969), 292.



21Cited in Ibid

22John Paden, Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria, (Zaria: Huduhuda Publishing Company, 1986), 217

23See Billy Dudley, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria (London: Frank Cass, 1968), 239.

24See Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 10; 127.

25For details, see Paden, Ahmadu Bello, 217; Nicolson, The Administration of Nigeria, 293.

26See Offiong, Organised Labour, 137.

27See P. C. Lloyd, “The Ethnic Background of the Nigerian crisis”, in S. K. Panter – Brick (ed.), Nigerian Politics and Military Rule: Prelude to the Civil War, (London: Athlone Press, 1971), 8.

28For details, see, Alan Feinstein, African Revolutionary: The Life and Times of Nigeria’s Aminu Kano (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Press, 1987); Alkasum Abba, (ed) The Politics of Aminu Kano: Documents From the Independence Struggle 1950-1960, (Kaduna: Vanguard Printers and Publishers, 2006).

29For an exploration of this development see Bill Freund, Capital and Labour in the Nigerian Tin Mines, (Essex: Longman, 1981), 174-200.

30See Dudley, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria, 239.


32See Freund, Capital and Labour in the Nigerian Tin Mines, 185.

33See Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 128.

34Ibid 127.

35Cited in Ibid

36Ibid 44.

37Coleman, Nigeria, 259.

38For details, see for example, Baba Oluwide, Imoudu Biography: A Political History of Nigeria, 1939-1950, (Ibadan: Ororo Publications, 1993), Michael Omolewa, Gbolagade Adekanmbi, Larinde Akinleye, Kemi Adeola, M.B.M. Avoseh, Michael Imoudu: A Study in Adventures in the Nigerian Labour Movement (IIorin: Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies, 1992). 

39See loan Davies, African Trade Unions (Middlesex: Penguin, 1966), 38-50; Agwu Akpala, The Prospects of Small Trade Unions in Nigeria, (Enugu: Eastern Nigerian Printing Corporation, 1963), 2-39; Michael Imoudu reinforced his political partisanship in an interview in Lagos, March 3, 1994.

40See Federal Republic of Nigeria, Federal Military Government’s Views on the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Activities of Trade Unions, (Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information, 1977), 3-8.

41Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 89.

42Ibid 89-91.

43Ibid 92.

44Ibid 92. For further elucidation of this and its implications on the Nigerian political spectrum, see Emmanuel Agandele, The Educated Elite in the Nigerian Society (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1974), 123-124.

45Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 92.

46Offiong, Organised Labour, 144

47Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 91-92.

48Ibid 129-131.

49Ibid 128.

50Cited in Ayandele, The Educated Elite in the Nigerian Society, 95.

51The post-colonial crises in Nigeria have received considerable attention from contemporaneous scholars and publicists and participants’ accounts. Their analyses particularly paid close attention to the background to the 1966 disturbances. For details, see Omotoso, Just Before Dawn, 212-243; Crowder, The Story of Nigeria, 259-277; Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria, 228-252;  Robin Cohen, Labour and Politics in Nigeria, 1945-71, (London: Heineman, 1974), 164-168. Adewale Ademoyega, Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup, (Ibadan: Evans Brothers, 1981), 1-22; John de St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972); 39-47; Ola Balogun, The Tragic Years: Nigeria In Crisis, 1966-1970, (Benin City: Ethiope Publishing Corporation, 1980), 1-7; Ben Gbulie, Nigeria’s Five Majors: Coup d’etat of 15th January 1966, First Inside Account,  (Onitsha: Africana Educational Publishers, 1981); Obafemi Awolowo, Adventures In Power, Book One: My March Through Prison, (Ibadan: Macmillan, 1985); L. K. Jakande, The Trial of Obafemi Awolowo, (Ikeja: John West Publications, 1983).



 "Ousmane Sembène’s Moolade: An Artistic Approach to Promoting Social Justice"


John Duron*

Central Connecticut State University



Ousmane Sembène’s, Moolade, exposes the realities of four African women seeking protection from their “purification ceremony (Female Genital Cutting),” and garners a proactive response amongst individuals fighting for gender-based violence protection. Sembène’s films have become influential devices in exposing the realities of cultural power, and gender-based violence and oppression.

 Political activist artists like Ousmane Sembène, have utilized popular cultural and social change initiatives to promote freedom, civil dignity and pride.


Sembène’s Mooladé (2004) follows the journey of young African Muslim girls that refused to undergo a “purification” ceremony. The girls seek the invocation of  a protection spirit called “Moolaadé” from a woman who rejects the practice and is sympathetic to the girls’ requests. Sembène frames the film to highlight the influence of popular media, and cultural influence on challenging societal institutions/pressures. Sensitive to the controversial negative connotations linked to “FGM,” throughout the film, “cut,” “purification”, and “social convention,” are terms referring to the practice of female genital mutilation. Sembène refers to women who have undergone the procedure as those who have been “cut,” and not “mutilated”. According to A.O Scott, with the New York Times, Sembène when interviewed,  stated that the four actresses playing the role of village girls experienced a form of FGM themselves (Scott, 2004).

 Sembène focuses on the social importance of undergoing the practice of purification for women. Women who have undergone the practice are known as women who are “clean”, “pure”, and capable of marriage, unlike women who have not undergone the procedure who are deemed “unpurified” and  are shunned for refusing the procedure. Colle, the invoker of the Mooladé spirit, is persecuted for protecting women who refuse “purification.” However, throughout her tribulations, Colle remains committed to the protection of women and girls,  refusing the procedure.  On her own and under the radar, Colle initially only supports the girls. It  is not until later in the film that she begins to see support from other women from the village. A radio news announcement,made by an imam (religious prayer leader) makes the village aware that Islam does not require cutting for girls (Sembène, 2004). In favor of Colle, the radio announcement made by the imam, allows her to combat the social pressures and continue to protect the girls of the village. Colle also believes the announcement of the radio serves as a subtle invoking of the “Mooladé,

Aware that African women have often been  portrayed as weak, helpless, and uneducated individuals, Sembène focuses on disapproving the notion by stating the following in a Cinema Scope interview: “In Africa, we have a lot of strong women. I think that without that, we would have gone down the drain a long time ago. We have very, very strong women. They are the people who hold society together.” Sembène’s direction in Moolaadé highlights the dedication and passion of the four women in their determination to foster societal change.

Empowerment of Men in “Mooladé”

Shortly after the radio announcement is made, one of the four village women decides to keep the radio for announcements pushing for change. Caught listening to the banned device by the men of the village, the radio is taken away and burned. “Our men want to lock up our minds” says the owner of the radio. The burning of the radio serves as clear symbolism representing the men as wielding power over women and  keeping them as prisoners of oppression. The news and any sort of progressive announcements is forbidden including radios and television, thus  unlinking the village from the progressive world.

 Sembène strongly believed that post-independence Africa had been failed by men,  leaving the women to take on the transformation of African societies (Murphy & Williams, 1997). Sembène presents the men as the biggest obstacle to growth and progression.

After countless attacks and restrictions placed on Collé, she is encouraged to confront the men of the village: “Let’s put an end to female genital mutilations. This day will see the end of our ordeal.” The male griot of the village observes Collé being praised as the female griot:  “you are more valiant than men.”

 Because of the highly active and impactful movement, the Burkina Faso village becomes a new society,  free of “female genital mutilations.” A new generation, in Ibrahima, the King’s son, and Amsatou, do things differently. The final scenes of Mooladé show flames from the burning radios that cloud the egg at the top of the Mosque. This scene may represent the progressive victory over inhuman religious or cultural traditions in a post-colonial Africa.

In Moolaadé, Sembène sets a strong foundation,  exposing the realities of violent oppression, denouncing female genital cutting, and creating an educated awareness of the severity of the practice and the critical means for instituting mitigating initiatives, and total abolishment. Sembène, is notably victorious in fostering awareness of various social-cultural themes that may impact the empowerment of women in oppressed societies. (Murphy, 2000:225). 

Genital Cutting Today

United States

Many believe that FGM procedures are only practiced within impoverished ethnic communities located in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), female genital mutilation has been documented in over thirty countries in  North America, and South America. The rapid global spread of FGM practices, is linked to  increased migration of girls and women, now  living outside their country of origin, who have undergone FGM,  or who may be at risk of being subjected to the practice. According to an Aljazeera Correspondent, practices of FGM have been conducted also in indigenous communities. The Embera indigenous group, is one of the few groups  actively practicing FGM in Colombia, Panama, and Peru. The Embera  refer to the practice as “curacion” which translates to the “act of healing”. The idea is  that women and girls need to be healed from the desires of “sexual perversions”.

“While the rest of the world is moving forward on FGM, the United States is moving backwards,” said Shelby Quast, American director of the international campaign group for women’s and girls’ rights, Equality Now to  the Guardian,  on November 2018. Dr. Jumiana Nagarwala, was charged with performing FGM procedures on nine girls, ranging from 7-13 years old across Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota in a clinic located in Livonia, Michigan. The case was the first federal case to involve FGM and was dismissed by US district judge, Bernard Friedman, in Michigan, on Tuesday, November 20th. Judge Friedman ruled that Congress lacked authority, under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution, to adopt the 1996 law with the power to outlaw FGM within individual states. The prosecution believed that the doctor may have performed the procedure on as many as one hundred girls throughout her career. Four of the eight defendants, including three of the four mothers, were accused of subjecting their daughters to the procedure. All the defendants are members of a small Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community in Michigan.

Currently only twenty seven  states have  laws criminalizing FGM practices. Human rights advocators, activists, and campaigners accepted the ruling to be a “heavy blow” to the rights of women and girls and could ultimately turn the twenty three U.S. states that do not have anti-FGM laws into “destination states.” FGM will continue to affect tens of thousands of girls at risk of the abuse across the U.S. A study by the Center for Disease Prevention and Control estimated that 513,000 women and girls across the U.S. are at risk or have been subjected to FGM.


In 2016, Sahivo, an anti-FGM organization, facilitated a study revealing women have undergone the practice within Canadian borders. Jackie Marchildon, with the Canadian Global Citizen, stated that the study surveyed 385 women around the world,  primarily from the Dawoodi Bohra community in India and found that of those women, 18 (5%) lived in Canada and had all undergone FGM, and two had had the procedure in Canada itself. FGM was added to Canada’s Criminal Code in 1997 under Section 268 in the form of “aggravated assault.” Anyone involved in FGM can be charged,  including parents who willingly participate in or plan for the practice. It is also illegal to take children out of the country to have the practice performed, a concept known as “vacation cutting.” The Criminal Code indicates that any person who commits aggravated assault could face imprisonment for up to 14 years. Canada also announced a commitment of $650 million to sexual and reproductive health and rights in July 2017 to include funding for initiatives to respond to sexual and gender-based violence. According to Marchildon, putting an end to FGM using a Canadian approach is not easy. Marchildon emphasizes that substantial research is required to even draft a plan on how to manage, mitigate, and appropriately criminalize FGM practices.  She also stresses the need for  properly trained professionals, able to address and manage sensitive cases, in any environment, including classrooms, hospitals, and clinics: “professionals need to be trained to address it when it’s reported, teachers need to be trained to spot a child who may be at risk or who has already undergone it, medical professionals need to be prepped on how to sensitively care for someone who experienced FGM”(Marchildon, 2013).

Europe & Africa

FGM has been denounced and made illegal in the UK since 1985 and further legislation in 2003 and 2005 made it an offence to arrange the practice outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents. But there was yet to be a successful prosecution before Feb 1, 2019. According to the End FGM Network, FGM exists in Europe and has established an unfortunate presence. They estimate that 180,000 girls and women are at risk of FGM. However, research has shown that there are still many challenges in Europe that need to be addressed,  in order to develop adequate national and European policies on FGM (EFGMN). The  United Kingdom will pledge 50 million pounds, an equivalent to $64 million dollars, in aid money in efforts to mitigate and abolish FGM in Africa and Europe. The European government has also acknowledged that the 50 million pounds will be the biggest single investment, globally, when it comes to FGM by 2030.

Anne Quesney, ActionAid's senior womens’ rights advocacy adviser, called the UK aid money a "vital effort to provide much needed support to ending one of the most extreme forms of violence against women and girls". The aid package is intended to establish and fund various organizations and resource offices like the Saleema project in Sudan, aimed to show girls they can feel empowered if they choose not to undergo FGM procedures. The funding will also encourage shifts in attitudes of older generations in the community to help introduce progressive influences. Following the aid announcement, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said FGM could not be eliminated in the UK "without ending it globally". Anne Quesney, ActionAid's senior women's rights advocacy adviser also made the following statement:

"From our work in nine African countries, we have seen how this life-threatening practice not only impacts on girls' lives and health, it limits their futures… many girls never return to school and are forced into early marriage, for example…However, focusing on FGM alone is not enough... If we seriously want to eliminate violence against women and girls, we urgently need a holistic, well-resourced approach to tackling gender inequality more widely."- Anne Quesney, ActionAid's

According to Anne Gulland, a Global Health Security correspondent, a recent study of data from 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and  over 200,000 girls up to the age of 14,  reveals  a “huge and significant” drop in the number of girls undergoing the procedure. North African rates have dropped from 58%  in 1990 to just over 14% in 2015. And in West Africa, they fell from 73% in 1996 to 25% in  2017. However, in Yemen and Iraq, rates have actually increased, rising by 16 per cent between 1997 and 2013 (Gulland, 2018). Although Gulland reports a positive reflection among North African and West African  nations, it is still important to keep in mind that FGM procedures remain prevalent in other nations.

*John Duron is a graduate student  of International Studies at Central Connecticut State University



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