Caught in a trap: Issues in Nigerian democracy, development


Issues In Nigerian Democracy, Development (May University Press Limited, Lagos; 2016) takes a panoramic view of the Nigerian socio-economic and political landscape. It attempts a deconstruction of the notions of politics and of economics, which underpin public policy and practice. These attempts are made in two parts spread across forty-seven chapters under themes dealing with varied issues, which, in the first part, include among others leadership, democracy, power and power politics, the configurations of political interests and the patterns as well as implications of the constellations of these interests.

The author engages with the challenges of development in the second part of the book detailing his thoughts on issues of vision and growth, the imperative of education as well as exigencies of innovation and its inevitability as a catalyst for growth and development. Also capturing the analytical focus of the author are the issues of poverty eradication and unemployment, economic diversification, entrepreneurship and the prospects for Nigeria’s global competitiveness.

The diversity of the areas covered by the book is indicative of the broad dimensions of the author’s concern with the multiplicity of the malaise currently besieging the Nigerian state, especially its political economy. He correctly places the leadership question upfront and in the epicentre of his analysis. He sees leadership as ‘a complex ethical relationship’ between leaders and the led, one which ought necessarily to be underpinned by trust and good faith. Unfortunately, the ‘illusion of omnipotence’ i.e. the assumption by leaders that they possess unlimited power enables the embarrassing, oftentimes dysfunctional, mismatch between policy and outcome. African leaders over promise and underachieve.

African leaders, true African leaders, must, in the author’s opinion, be realistic, transparent and accountable. He bemoans the genre of leadership in Africa and ascribes the failure of governance to them. He substantiates his argument with the point that Africa lags painfully behind on all the major indices of human development. He canvasses for courageous and committed leadership, guided by truth, discipline, and transparency. He calls for leadership that is inspirational, propelling citizens’ confidence and action towards growth and development.

But citizens’ action is predicated on the extent of the prevalence of the ethos of democracy and the pursuit of political inclusiveness. The author’s analysis of the shades of democracy is brief, almost too brief in fact. Anyone craving for more details will therefore need to consult other academic materials on the subject. However, the author elaborates fairly well his thoughts on the Nigerian situation, positing, “There is currently a growing concern in Nigeria about the mismatch between democracy and development”.

Of further interest perhaps is the author’s depiction not only of the stunted, malnourished nature of Nigeria’s political system, but even more serious the wanton display of infantile political predilection by the political elite. How else can one describe the boxing contexts that take place every now and again on the floor of the supposedly hallowed chambers of our state and national parliaments?

The author also takes a swipe at the country’s political party system. This is a particularly strong point although he comes short of fruitfully and maximally exploring the several key aspects of this aspect of our political praxis. For instance, the obsession with the notions of party supremacy as well as the culture of imposition of political appointees is discussed. However, the point could have been developed further by pointing out, inter-alia, that as the statutorily recognised machinery for capturing the reins of power, political parties themselves ought to rise to the higher calling of serving as veritable breeding grounds and ‘colleges’ for the production of qualitative, visionary and law-respecting leaders. But alas the reverse in several cases appears to be the norm. Banausocracy, i.e. government by the uncultured and vulgar elements of society, now prevails.

The author passes a critical test of political economy when he attempts to link democracy and the economy. His point of departure is the perennial contestation over the value of the naira and the petroleum subsidization policy. The author’s points are well taken, particularly his call for caution over the simultaneous adoption of currency devaluation and the removal of subsidy. However, it must be stated that the issues are more profound and ramified that the position assumed in the book. At stake is the character of the structure of the Nigerian economy especially the system of production, distribution and consumption. These in turn must be placed within the wider context of the contemporary global economy, bearing in mind also such dynamics as economic power and globalized competition. All these constitute exogenous constraints which in themselves impact domestic policy options and strategies.

The author’s capacity for deploying useful analogies serves his communicative function very well throughout the book. Farmers and Hunters in Governance, Chapter 7 of the work, compared and contrasted the sniper, ad hoc activity of the hunter with the skillful, innovative, futuristic mindset of the farmer. Public officeholders in contemporary Nigeria are likened to the former while what is needed for long term, sustainable growth and development is the mindset of the latter.

His illustration of governance failure with the inability of governors of oil rich states of the Niger Delta region to pay civil servants’ salaries is apt. It signposts clearly not only that there are high levels of corruption and profligacy in government, but also that there are manifest inability to be proactive, creative and resourceful.

The author correctly identified the power politics among nations in the international arena as a critical context and determinant of national development. From this arena, the prospects and/or fortunes of nations, Nigeria’s inclusive, cannot therefore be divorced from the capacity to use economic resources and influence meaningfully.

The author clearly and correctly commented on Nigeria’s waning power and influence not only in the region but also globally, attributing same to its dwindling economic fortunes, especially the fall in the international price of oil. That point, as sound as it is, is however not a sufficient one in itself. The mangers of the state have also failed to harness and develop the country’s other frontiers and indices of power – population, military, industry, the diverse element of soft power including media, culture, tourism etc. Nor has the state been able to arrest and/or mitigate the fallouts associated with such dysfunctionalities like the country’s negative image abroad in terms of corruption, terrorism, kidnapping, 419, drug trafficking, election rigging and violence, etc. Efforts at rebranding the country have had suboptimal results. Perhaps because of the DNA of disorderliness?

The scholar also elaborated on the notion of national security, linking same to the prevalence of poverty, unemployment and the general low living standards of the populace. His prescription for national security therefore is: improve the lot of the citizenry.

The author spared a few words for the Buhari administration particularly on issues that border on quality of leadership and of appointments of state officials to drive the policies of his administration. In this connection he opines that the President ought to screen for leadership traits which are devoid of the greediness which now plagues the current crop of leadership in Nigeria. He also canvassed for leadership which is enamored of youth development, nurturing the youth for leadership roles. Unfortunately however, the president appeared, in the opinion of the author, to have succumbed to the typical Nigerian disease of using the exercise as an opportunity for providing jobs for the boys.

Nonetheless, the author does not believe that the all was lost. In other words the ‘boys’ could still perform, rising to the billings of true statesmen and women and charting a course for the country out of the present doldrums. All these so long as they are able and willing to adopt the appropriate mindsets, develop the vision for growth and development and most importantly pursue, adopt, apply and activate complex innovations to all those processes that are germane to socio-economic and political transformations, growth and development of the country.

On a final note the author accessed the global development framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is noted here that the framework itself has been succeeded by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). However the take home point remains that government must up its ante. A critical and objective post-MDG review is necessary to ensure a consolidation of past gains while reviewing areas of poor or even negative performance.

On the whole these are the major themes around which the thoughts and analysis of the author are built and across which other subthemes were developed.The book’s main contribution to knowledge lies mainly in the non-technicist manner in which it intervenes in the discourse on the Nigeria social formation. Devoid of any technical jargons it is still able to dissect the problems, isolate the critical variables around which contestations turn, evaluate policies and strategies and ultimately take an informed stand on designated issues.

In the final analysis this is a commendable effort and one expects to see a continuation of a very robust debate around the issues which have been raised therein by the author in the near future.

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