.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Nigeria: Case Study

The African nation of Nigeria has long been a case of interest for the study of political and economic development. This country is a great example of a post-colonial developing nation and its developmental history contains very important lessons about the political and economic retardation of the developing World.
With a population of 130 million people and a total area of almost 360 thousand square miles, Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and ranks amongst the ten largest in the World. Nigeria's population in West Africa, its size, and its oil-producing status have made it the hub of regional economic activity. Demographically, it dwarfs the other fifteen countries in West Africa with a population that is about 60 percent of the region's total. Also, Nigeria's gross domestic product (GDP) represents more than half the total for the entire subregion.
Nigeria was a British colony until 1960 and the colonial experience left a powerful imprint on the design of the African nation. Darren Kew and Peter Lewis summarize the comparative significance of Nigeria:

Nigeria offers, within a single case, characteristics that identify Africa.
These opposing forces are rooted in the constant struggle in Nigeria
between authoritarian and democratic governance, the push for develop-
ment and the persistence of underdevelopment, the burden of public
corruption and the pressure for accountability (Kesselman 515).

The reality of modern Nigeria represents a very common case in Africa; its boundaries have little to do with the borders of precolonial African nations, instead, these boundaries merely mark the point where British influence ended and France's began. The geographic design of the African colonies corresponded to the interests and convenience of their ruling powers and not according to any cohesive concept of race, ethnicity, demographics or natural geographic divisions. In addition, the British played off ethnic and social divisions to keep Nigerians from developing organized political resistance to colonial rule, and where resistance did develop, the colonizers did not hesitate to emply repressive tactics. The British ensured that ethnicity would be the primary element in political identification, mobilization, and competition. In the words of Kew and Lewis, "Nigeria, like all other African countries, has sought to create a viable nation-state out of the social incoherence created by its colonial borders" (Kesselman 516).
As a result of its colonial legacy, Nigerians have been unable to form a true national identity around which the citizenry could rally around and develop stable political and economic institutions. Since their independence in 1960, Nigerians have witnessed six succesful military coups, one violent Civil war, and the design of nine different constitutions. The modern republic of Nigeria has supposedly adopted a model of "federal democracy" as a strategy to ensure national unity; however, as a concequence of many years of colonial and military rule, a unitary system emerged: a system with an all-powerful central government surrounded by weak and economically insolvent states.
Political instability and undervelopment has been accompanied by economic instability and underdevelopment. Despite being endowed with vast amounts of natural resources (including huge oil reserves), the World Bank lists Nigeria among the poorest 20 percent of countries in the world and according to Kew and Lewis, "instead of independent growth, today Nigeria depends on unpredictable oil revenues" (Kesselman 525). It is a sort of 'old paradox' amongst oil producers in the developing world: rich endowments on oil reserves provide a potential solution to economic struggles, but they also allow for nations to become overdependent on the exports of a very volatile product. In addition to the overdependence, the large revenues from oil production allow States to increase their involvement in domestic production and in the economy in general. Nigeria is a case and point of these downfalls and the "State plays the central role in making decisions about the extraction, deployment and allocation of scarce economic resources." Because the central government controls access to most resources and economic opportunities, the state has become the major focus of competition among all groups in society (Kesselman 535).
As it would be expected. and predicted by Olson's theories, the government's role in the economy naturally leads to the many groups to engage in rent-seeking behavior. The ability to accumulate wealth is determined by the success that individuals can have in the arena of political competition. Gaining the favor of the State, or getting the government's coercive power on 'your side,' is more important than being a productive member of the economy. Individulas, following their competitive instincts and their rational self-interest, learn to operate in an economic context that awards political connivance, and often flat out trickery, and not productivity.
The authors previously mentioned elaborate in their article:

Nigeria exemplifies the harsh reality of authoritarian and unaccountable
governance. Corruption, fraud, mismanagement, and the restriction of
political liberties were tolerated in the past by populations numbed into
complacency by political repression and the daily struggles for economic
survival (Kesselman 567).

One crucial lesson Nigeria provides is that rich endowment of resources is not enough to ensure economic development. In the book Power and Prosperity, Mancur Olson theorizes that a nation must comform to two "general conditions" in order to reach a prosperous development. The first of the conditions is "the paradoxical condition of secure and well-defined individual rights." The second one is that there is no "predation of any kind" (Olson 195-196). However, the political and economic model of Nigeria makes it very hard for these conditions to be met. All property rights, in said nation, emanate and revolve around the State. The property rights of individuals are trumped by the supremacy of the government, which can appropiate or nationalize any number of resources at any time. Also, because a small group (without an encompassing interest in the economy's welfare) can gain access to government and manipulate to its benefit, the State is generally a predative force on the economy. It is no coincidence that despite a constant struggle to meet the basic needs of its citizens, many of the heads of state of the Nigerian nation have ended up in the lists of the wealthiest men in Africa.
Once a diagnosis is proposed for the possible causes of underdevelopment in Nigeria, a much more complicated question arises. How can the post-colonial African nations escape their persistant and seemingly inescapable retardation? If lack of development is a result of the models of governance and economic production imposed by 'alien' colonizing cultures, would the path to development have to be derived from a purely domestic process? In other words, can the nations and peoples from the developed world lend a helping hand in finding a new way for the African economies, or should they learn from the pitfalls of imposing a foreign system on nations that have not undergone their own progression of development? Should nations like Nigeria be left alone to work out their internal conflicts in hope that they can develop a better suited framework of political and economic interaction and then forge their way out of poverty?


Kesselman, Mark. et all. Introduction to Comparative Politics. Houghton Mifflin Company:
Boston 2004.

Olson, Mancur. Power and Prosperity. Basic Books: New York 2000.

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?