Democracy And Underdevelopment In Nigeria A Brief Analysis

Historically, several reasons have been adduced for the inability of the Nigerian version of democracy to engender development in the Country. While Western democracy fostered development, Nigerian democracy imposed underdevelopment. Consequently, this analysis deploys the Theory of the Post-Colonial State to explain how clientelist relations between the Nigerian petit-bourgeoisie and the metropolitan ruling class impacted negatively on the effectiveness of Nigerian democracy to precipitate development. It proceeds from the assumption that the inordinate affiliation/attachment of Nigeria’s ruling petit-bourgeoisie to foreign monopoly capital endangers Nigerian democracy and diminishes its capacity to promote development. Accordingly, we hypothesize that democracy is not the problem of development in Nigeria; rather, the operators of democracy are the problem of democracy; and therefore, the problem of development in Nigeria. 

The Marxist notion of Democracy is ensconced in the assumption that Democracy is what the ruling class perceives it to be. This notion immediately creates the basis for the varied conceptualizations of the concept by the differing political conjunctures adopting Democracy as the ideological basis for the organization of government. Therefore, as the conceptualizations of Democracy are varied, so are the methods of application and outcomes arising from the application of the concept. Accordingly, we argue that the historical characterization of Democracy as an agent of underdevelopment in Nigeria appears misdirected, given the apparent disregard for the role of the human factor in the analysis of democratic governments. Consequently, the perverted structuralism which perceives democracy as acting on its own in the administration of democratic jurisdictions has become anachronistic.

Edward Said’s “Orientalism” (1978) is often credited with creating the earliest foundations for the Theory of the Post-Colonial State. Additionally, Frantz Fanon’s efforts to explore the intricate relationship between Imperialism and Nationalism particularly in the era of Decolonization is also considered as having critical impact on the development of the Theory of the Post-Colonial State. The Theory is concerned with the effects of Western imperialism and its attendant colonial rule between the 18th and 20th centuries. In essence, the Theory of the Post – Colonial State seeks to explain the effects of colonial rule on the political, economic, aesthetic, historical, religious and sundry aspects of the economies of the former colonies. The Theory could be useful in reviewing the question of democracy and underdevelopment in Nigeria, particularly in terms of Nigeria’s colonial and neo-colonial experiences.

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Globally, democracy is considered as the best form of government. This is in spite of the contrary views of the major philosophers of the Classical period like Plato who described it as the rule of the mob and therefore considered it dangerous to the wellbeing of society, or Socrates who despised its propensity for demagoguery which could sway the people to vote irrationally. Furthermore, the Age of Enlightenment heralded the advent of 18th Century Liberal Democratic Thought which glorified democracy through its characterization of the concept as guaranteeing development and political stability through representative democracy vis-à-vis periodic elections, multiparty politics, rule of law, the primacy of fundamental human rights etc. However, despite all the accolades accorded democracy, it is yet to prove its mettle in post-colonial Nigeria, not necessarily because it has not proved itself elsewhere, but simply because the dissimilar human attributes of the Nigerian political conjuncture has been a significant intervening variable in the viability of Nigerian democracy to promote development.

Democracy is perceived to have failed to engender development in Nigeria due to a host of man-made reasons. First, the structure of authoritarian liberalism bequeathed to Nigeria’s indigenous ruling bourgeoisie by the retreating colonialists at independence allowed for administrative banditry by the ruling class which could do anything it liked as long as its loyalty to the former colonizing power was not compromised. This meant that even though the spirit of the former colonizer was always watching the leaders of the independent former colony, it was not for the purpose of guiding democracy to evolve development. Rather, it was mainly to secure the colonial channels of resource appropriation which their Nigerian political protégés now supervise. Secondly, neoliberal reform policies of the post-colonial political leadership in Nigeria do not arise out of Nigeria’s existential challenges and therefore, cannot guarantee true and sustainable development. Instead, neo-liberal reforms are often intended to further imperil and impoverish the “developing” economies which adopt them, such that in most cases, these economies become worse than they were before implementing the reforms. Shining examples in this regard are the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the 1980s, the privatisation of the Country’s power sector, the devaluation of the Naira, limited public spending through the removal of fertilizer and petroleum subsidies, the so-called deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry which has now created a funny situation in which the Nigerian proletariat experiences untold hardship when the price of crude oil goes up in the international market, etc. To buttress this point, the privatisation of the telecoms sector under the Obasanjo administration of 1999-2007 was far more successful in terms of outputs and outcomes because the reform was indigenously inspired to address the challenge of rapid and effective communication for a developing economy like Nigeria. Accordingly, the toxic neo-colonial diplomacy of trade liberalization which weakens the capacity of the Nigerian ruling class to make choices in the international system also predisposes it to all manner of suggestions from former colonial masters seeking to destroy the Nigerian economy in the interest of foreign monopoly capital. Unfortunately, the Nigerian ruling class is duty-bound to implement these so-called reforms a sign of loyalty to the metropole and as a strategy for regime protection/survival. This singular undoing creates the difference between the democracy of the West which fosters development and the Nigerian democracy which fosters underdevelopment.

Furthermore, the roles of corruption, defective policy planning and implementation as well as incompetent management of resources which are all expected in a neoliberal economy constitute the human factors that impede development irrespective of the presence of democracy. At the level of partisan politics, the “illiberalism” of Nigerian political parties which often suffices in the lack of internal democracy vis-à-vis the handpicking/imposition of supposed party flag bearers by so-called party chieftains/financiers who see political parties as their personal estate is another reason for the failure of democracy to facilitate development in Nigeria. Lack of intraparty democracy would give rise to the factionalization of the ruling bourgeoisie, triggering an effective but malignant opposition to government, governance and development. Imposition means that a faction of the bourgeoisie could feel short-changed and slighted, and would do everything to impress its relevance on the political conjuncture. Accordingly, Nigeria’s underdevelopment in the democratic era is captured by the Theory of the Post-Colonial State to the extent that the handpicked party flag bearers – especially at the presidential/national level – would have been presented to the former colonial masters who would normally “screen” them to determine the impeccability of their loyalty to the cause of unhindered Western access to Nigerian resources. This is the basis of the Chatham House pilgrimages usually embarked upon by presidential candidates in Nigerian elections. Interestingly, Nigerian presidential hopefuls do not go to any other “House” apart from that of the former colonial master, and therefore, Nigeria does not belong to any other “commonwealth” apart from that which was established by the former colonial master. In some cases, the former colonialists or their allies are known to have demonstrated their endorsement by bankrolling the elections of the favoured presidential candidates so that when these candidates become President, their allegiance is not to the Nigerian state and people, but to the metropolitan ruling class and their monopoly capital. Consequently, partisan politics which is one of the major planks of Western democracy is seen to fail woefully in deepening democracy through free and fair elections which enliven uncensored popular participation to enhance political stability, so that development could be availed the necessary atmosphere to thrive. We therefore conclude that democracy is not the problem of development in Nigeria; rather, the operators of democracy are the problem of democracy; and therefore, the problem of development in Nigeria.

The ‘Alternative Viewpoint,’ penned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired), is a sophisticated weekly column that delves into the complex dimensions of socio-political issues. While it concentrates primarily on the African context, the column also casts a wider analytical net to encompass global affairs. Through incisive commentary and in-depth analysis, it aims to offer alternative perspectives that challenge mainstream narratives and provoke thoughtful discourse on critical matters.

Africa Today News, New York

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