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1.0            Machiavellianism: An Exposition………………….…1

1.1            The Life History of Niccolo Machiavelli……………..2

1.2            His Political Ideology………………………..…..7

1.3     Background to His Political Theory………….12                


2.0     Literature Review…………………….…17

2.1     Immorality: An Essential feature of Machiavelli’s Politics……….17

2.2     Some Philosophers’ Views on Morality and Politics………..22

2.2.1  Aristotle……………………………………………………………23

2.2.2  Augustine………………………………………………………….25

2.2.3  Aquinas……………………………………………………………28



3.0     The Nigerian Situation……………………….…32

3.1     The Political History of Nigeria…………………33

3.2     Machiavelli’s Influence on the Nigerian Society.………………….37

3.2.1  Politics……………………………………………………………...37

3.2.2 Economy………………………………………….....40

3.2.3 Religion………………………………………………..…43



4.0  Machiavellianism and Nigerian Government……47

4.1    Critical Analysis of Machiavellianism and Nigerian Government….47

4.2    Effects of Machiavellianism in Nigeria………………..54


5.0    Evaluation and Conclusion…………………….57




Niccolo Machiavelli appears to have generated more controversy than any of his contemporaries. So much notoriety has gathered around his name that the charge of being a Machiavellian still remains a serious accusation in current political debate. Political thinkers from time immemorial had propounded one theory after another, all geared toward the betterment and upliftment of humanity. One salient feature of all these theories is that the propounders have the same objective mentally but their ideological and methodological approaches are what alienated one from the other.


In the case of Machiavelli, he posited a complex relationship between morality and politics, and associated the office of a ruler with the ability to know and act within the political world as it is and with the beastly abilities to dispense violence and practice deception. Besides, the hallmark of Machiavellianism lies in the fact that evil means can be used to achieve good end. Hence, when one has a good intention personal to him, what matters is not the process through which this goal is achieved but the emphasis lies on the fact of being able to attain the selfish interest. However, my concern is to x-ray philosophically the principle of Machiavelli and how its influences have held the contemporary Nigerian society to ransom.  



The high level of moral decadence that has permeated every facet of Nigerian society has instigated me toward embarking on this topic. The dangers of Machiavellianism constitute one of the most problematic threats to the moral basis of political life of every nation in general and Nigeria in particular.


My primary purpose is to x-ray how Machiavellian principle has penetrated our political and other dimensions of life right from the moment Nigeria got her independence to this present time. Thus, by x-raying this principle, I intend to place it side by side with Nigerian situation and how it has permeated the political, economic and the religious scenario of our country. In addition, I shall critically appraise Machiavellian principle and how reliable it has been in solving human precarious political predicament and whether his ideology has any hope for Nigerian society.


The entire work is arranged into five chapters. It employs the following methods: expository, analytical, comparative, review, critical and evaluative methods. However, the method that appears to dominate the work is the critical method. Chapter one deals with the explanation and analysis of Machiavellianism, the political ideology and background to the political theory of Machiavelli. In chapter two, the views of some philosophers are discussed together with Machiavelli’s idea of morality. Chapter three exposes Nigerian situation and Machiavelli’s influence on her. Chapter four analyzes critically Machiavellianism and Nigerian government together with the effects of Machiavellianism in Nigeria. While chapter five, which is the last chapter, contains the evaluation and conclusion. 







Machiavelli’s views have been frequently interpreted as meaning that wickedness is more effective than goodness. This distortion of his views has been regarded as the essence of Machiavelli’s teaching, as identical with what later centuries called Machiavellianism[1]. Historically, Machiavelli’s philosophy came to be identified with Machiavellianism (also spelt Machiavellism), the doctrine that the reason of the state recognizes no moral superior and that, in its pursuit, everything is permitted. Although, Machiavelli himself did not use the phrase “reason of State”[2], his principles have been and continue to be invoked in its defence.


In the mid 15th and early 16th centuries the Italian city was besieged with corruption of different kinds- bribery, nepotism, embezzlement, squander mania and so on. There seemed no end to the ever increasing travails that engulfed the whole Italian city. So systematically corrupt was the nation that nothing seemed to be working, hence there was stalemate everywhere both politically and otherwise. The economy was paralysed and the ruling party was ill prepared to ameliorate the situation. Even the elite class was egoistically inclined to the detriment of the country. In fact, suffice it to say that nobody was altruistic enough to salvage the situation. Thus Omoregbe clearly articulated this Italian condition when he noted that:

Italy was not only politically weak and divided country but a very corrupt society as well[3]


It was in such a decadent society that Niccolo Machiavelli was born.


Nccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469 of an old citizen family. It was in that year that Lorenzo the magnificent came into power through subversion of the traditional civil liberty of Florence. The Machiavellis have for generations held public office, his father being a jurist and a minor official. Hence, through his family, Machiavelli was closer to most events occurring in Florence than most of his contemporaries. No wonder then that at the early age of twenty-five, he became secretary of the second chancery through which he became so popular that he came to be known among his contemporaries as the Florentine secretary.


By virtue of this position, Machiavelli was placed in charge of diplomatic correspondence of his bureau and served as a Florentine’s representative on nearly thirty foreign missions. Consequently, in his capacity as a diplomat, he dealt mostly with the various principalities into which Italy was divided which gave him an insight into the politics of Europe and of Italy in particular. This exposition no doubt precipitated and galvanized his political instinct through his meditations on them and therein derived inspiration for his future thought. Expressing this view in New Catholic Encyclopedia, F. Scaccia has it that:                                                    

He establishes his sciences… according to historico empirical observation of political phenomena… integrated scientifically by deriving useful practical application from it…[4]


This phenomenal observation had a tremendous influence in his two most significant books- The Discourses and The Prince.


These two works laid bare Machiavelli’s apparent inconsistency due to their opposing views regarding system of governance. Thus in The Discourses, he extolled free republic and maintained that in respect of prudence and constancy, the people have the advantage and are more steady and judge better as opposed to The Prince. Being modelled against the footprints of the Roman Republics, free republic according to Machiavelli is superior to the absolute monarchy of the prince. This is so because in the free republic there is freedom of expression devoid of oppression, conformity to law and order with conviction as opposed to coercion and people are equally represented in the government. Moreso, they have freedom to rule themselves and are less influenced by external forces of corrupt judgement with the common good duly respected as against the prince. Hence from all indications, Machiavelli desired free and democratic state. Omoregbe held the same view when he insisted that:

               …It is clear that Machiavelli is actually a democrat at heart

                who believes  that the best form of government under normal       

                circumstances is democracy [5]



Nevertheless in The Prince, Machiavelli completely deviated from the above thesis by embracing its antithesis and it is to this antithesis that this paper shall concentrate. Therein, he reiterated upon the need for an absolute monarch- the Prince. He holds that although in human history, men acknowledge and praise honest princes who keep their power by law, but that the successful princes are really the crafty ones who adopt force. Consequently, he recognized no higher laws as Aquinas had propounded but urged a thoroughly circular approach to politics and values acting in cunning rather than moral conviction. To further buttress this notion, he cited that:

The success of Alexander VI was because he was the greatest deceiver ever[6]


It is not surprising therefore to note that the evolution of the term “Machiavellianism” came as a result of the notoriety of Machiavelli’s political thought as succinctly expressed in The Prince. Thus, of the two books, it was The Prince that brought him into limelight and as a radical political thinker. In line with this Omoregbe vehemently noted that:

The Prince…made Machiavelli famous (or rather notorious) because it was in this book that he boldly expressed his immoral views which have come to be known as Machiavellianism[7] 

In a similar perspective, Copleston minced no words in affirming of Machiavelli that:

He is chiefly known of course for his amoral advice to the prince, for his Machiavellianism[8]

Machiavelli therefore strongly believed that men ought either to be well treated or crushed and because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, they cannot, of more serious injuries. Therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man should be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge. His political ideology culminated into a matrix which many politicians, especially contemporary ones are pragmatically pursuing with unrestrained alacrity.



Machiavelli, no doubt will be regarded politically as a maverick of his epoch because he absolutely deviated from the trends of political thought prevalent then. He thus became the first political theorist to portray the state as a complete political structure analyzable on its own merits. His concept of politics can be termed power politics and hence for him, the power of the supreme control of the people is the basic element in politics, every other aspect of needs must conform accordingly to this basis. Politics for him is something pragmatic and experimentative and therefore he can be referred to as a political empiricist since for him what matters is reality and not ideal. Towing his line of thought, Omoregbe vividly believes that Machiavelli:

… Is not interested in abstraction about what we ought to do or how we ought to act. He is interested in how men actually act and get things done, how great and successful men in history achieve their aims.[9] 

He conveniently admired strength of character and power to achieve one’s end and the ability to win power and keep it. He considered the prince entitled to consolidate and preserve power at all cost. Through his empirical observation of political sequences in history, he concluded that human nature is fundamentally egoistic, fickle and wicked. Man is ruthless in seeking what he regards as useful to him but he is never satisfied and as such what matters in politics is success no matter the means. He held that such good qualities as being honest, faithful, religious and showing integrity are not necessary for the ruler to acquire them in actual fact but it is very necessary that he should appear to have them. He therefore stated in The Prince that:

A prince therefore who desires to maintain himself must learn not to be always good, but to be so or not as necessity may require… It is well that when the act accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when the result is good… it will always absolve him from blame…[10]

By this stance, Machiavelli inevitably upholds the principle that the end justifies the means. A successful ruler then, is one who is able to maintain himself in power by any means, fair or foul. He outlined the ultimate goal of politics as the grabbing and retaining of political power. Any means used to bring this about is okay but the crux of the matter is that one must be sure to succeed. Once you succeed in seizing and retaining power, all men will hail you and any means employed will be justified. Besides, a ruler should be very prudent and swift, shrewd, practical in his actions. If occasion warrants the use of brutality, he should not hesitate to apply it. By this position, he incontestably dabbed into the Thrasymachusan theory of might is right which, as Omoregbe portrays it, holds that:

In every state, the stronger establish themselves in power and their interests become justice. They make laws to protect their interests which automatically become what is  just and what is right within the state as long as they are in power.[11] 

Sequel to this, Nietzsche sounds the same opinion in his book, A Geneology of Morals. Hence, writing of Nietzsche, Omoregbe further insisted that:

It is not surprising that for Nietzsche, the superman, the ideal man, is a strong man who ruthlessly seeks power, since the world… a manifestation of the will to power.[12]

However, Machiavelli’s chief point was that the ruler chooses only those means that could guarantee that the end be in fact achieved. The ruler should therefore extricate anything that would make him despicable so as to win the favour of the people. Such things as greediness, infringement on others’ rights, appearing fickle, frivolous, cowardly irresolute and so on, should be avoided. He should rather evince courage, fortitude and greatness. He believes that the prince;

When settling disputes between his subjects, he should be so regarded that no one ever dreams of trying to deceive or trick him.[13]

This, Machiavelli believes, assures the prince of his place and power. For him, it is praiseworthy to be feared as regards the ruler than respected and therefore the ruler must strive to make his position clear. In order to realize his objective Nwoke surmised that the ruler:

…has to adopt the way of the beast and better still has to adopt the fox to know the snare and the lion to frighten the wolves.[14]

This hanky panky disposition would propel the subjects to fear the ruler’s reputation since his mind cannot easily be read at any given moment. Thus, his intentions should not be publicized always. It is his interest that counts and whatever he considered good is good and vice versa. No other power can counter him as far as he is in power. He promulgates laws for the citizens but is not bound by it since the ruler is above the morality and the law of the land from his own perspective. The only standard for measuring the ruler’s action is success in maintaining himself and ensuring the stability of the state. He consequently insisted in The Prince that:

…where the very safety of the country depends upon the   resolution to be taken, no consideration of justice or injustice, humanity or cruelty, nor of glory or shame, should be allowed to prevail. But putting other considerations aside, the question should be, what course will save the life and liberty of the country.[15] 

This follows therefore that Machiavelli’s political thought especially as manifested in The Prince is tyrannical both in its structure and execution.



It is popularly said that there is no smoke without fire. Similarly, every effect has a cause. These two dicta clearly point to the fact that something must have prompted Machiavelli into propounding his amoral thoughts. To begin with, the Italy of Machiavelli’s time was a corrupt and chaotic nation. Consequently, Stumpf opined that:

This fact of human corruption was therefore the starting point of Machiavelli’s political thought.[16] 

Equally Omoregbe in his own contribution opined that:

…Machiavelli does not believe that tyranny or despotism is the best form of government. But he believes it is the best form of government in a corrupt society such as the Italian society of his time.[17]

He was therefore particularly struck by the conventional social decadence of Italy in his days and as a nationalist, he was deeply concerned about the political situation of the nation. His priority should never be seen as a channel to self glorification but is deeply rooted in the best possible way to liberate the Italian city from the dungeon of anarchy spreading its ugly tentacle in all governmental parastatals. As a patriotic citizen, he saw his country retrogressively being trampled upon by other surrounding nations and immediately concluded that a redeemer of no mean status is a ‘conditio sine qua non’ to salvage the nation from such unfathomable pit. Machiavelli, as Huchins puts it, believes however, that it was necessary that Italy should be reduced to such extremities:

…so that left as without life waits for him who shall heal her wounds and put an end to the ravaging and plundering of Lombardy, to the swindling and taxing of the kingdom and Tuscany and cleanse those sores that have for long festered[18]

However, it is appalling to note that Machiavelli deemed it fit for Italy to be reduced to such extremity, to such a deplorable condition she was in, so as to necessitate a revolution and most importantly, to discover the virtue of an Italian spirit having endured every kind of desolation. Therefore, since the leaders have endeavoured to make change impossible by subjecting Italy to such a despotic situation, they have ipso facto made revolution inevitable. From Machiavelli’s viewpoint, only a monarchic legislator- i.e. the prince, is efficacious enough to shoulder this onerous task of masterminding that revolution. He had this deep and ingrained conviction that to resurrect the already degenerated Italy, only a ruthless tyrant is eligible for the task, ruthless in all ramifications. In this dispensation, Stumpf notifies that as for Machiavelli:

A basically corrupt society requires a strong government. Preferably in the hands of a single person since it happens rarely or not at all that a republic or kingdom is well ordered or reformed ‘if this is not done by one man…. there should be one man alone who settles the method and on whose mind any such organization depends.’ In short, there is need for an absolute legislator.[19] 

Copleston made the same recommendation when he pointedly noted that:

In a corrupt and decadent society in which man’s natural badness and egoism have more or less free scope, where uprightness, devotion to the common good, and the religious spirit is either dead or submerged by license, lawlessness and faithlessness, it is only an absolute legislator who is able to hold together the centrifugal forces and create a strong and unified society.[20]

An absolute legislator is therefore indispensable in the reformation of a state. By this opinion, Machiavelli was harbouring fundamentally, the contemporary Italian state cum political imbroglio plaguing the nation during his time. Thus, the offshoot of his politics lies primarily in the peculiarity of the Italian nation as that submerged in immense atrocities of every kind. Hence, given such a condition of decay in Italy when he was writing The Prince in 1513, the kind of popular government exemplified in the Roman Republic could not successfully be established and that implies the impracticability of democracy. Consequently for him, as Omoregbe unmistakingly reiterated:

To rule such a society successfully, a ruler has to be ruthless, sometimes brutal and cruel and at the same time crafty as portrayed in The Prince.[21] 

Perhaps, that was why Sciacca insisted that:

It was necessary to keep in mind the Italy of Machiavelli’s time; it was a country divided and overrun by foreign armies and on the point of loosing its freedom.[22] 

Therefore, there is no doubt then that such a situation helped to augment Machiavelli’s vaulting conviction that only the shrewdest and most crafty individuals could survive in the precarious act of governing such a beleaguered society and it was against this backdrop that his political theory, and indeed The Prince was modelled.


[1] F. Gilbert, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Edited by Paul Edwards) Macmillan Publishers, 1967, Vol.5, P.120.

[2] R. Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1995, P.455

[3] J. Omoregbe, A simplified History of Western Philosophy: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Lagos 1991 P.192.

[4]  F. Scaccia , “Niccolo Machiavelli” art in MCDonald,W.J, New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol.9 1967. P.32

[5] J. Omoregbe  Op. Cit, P.193

[6] N. Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. G Bull. Middlesex: Penguin Books 1981, PP. 100-101

[7] J. Omoregbe, Op. Cit., P.187

[8] F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy Vol 3 Late medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part II, The Revival of Platonism to Suurez, New York: Image Books, 1963, P.133

[9] J, Omoregbe, Op. Cit, P. 189

[10] N. Machiavelli, Op. Cit., P. 101

[11] J. Omoregbe, Knowing Philosophy, Lagos:Joja Educational Research and Publishers, 1990, P. 88

[12] J. Omoregbe, A simplified History of Western Philosophy, Modern Philosophy, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and    Publisher,1991, P.170

[13] N. Machiavelli, Loc.Cit. PP. 100-101

[14] M. Nwoko, Basic World Political Theories, Ibadan: Claveriarum Press, 1988. P.60

[15] N. Machiavelli, Op. Cit., P. 103

[16] E. Stumpf, Philosophy: History and Problems, New York: McGraw Hill Inc., 5th Edition, 1994, P.211

[17] J. Omoregbe, Op.Cit., P. 192

[18] N. Machiavelli, The Prince, edited by Robert Huchins in The Great Books of the Western World: William Bentom Publishers 1982, P. 36

[19] E. Stumpf, Op. Cit., P.211

[20] F. Copleston, Op. Cit., P.131

[21] J. Omoregbe, Op. Cit., P.192

[22] F. Sciacca, Op. Cit., P. 211

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