Book Review: Nigeria Democracy Without Development: How To Fix It! By Omano Edigheji

Review by Dr. Ayokunu Adedokun, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and International Development, Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Since gaining independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, Nigeria has struggled to develop a fertile ground for democratic governance. However, on May 29, 1999, Nigeria became the world’s fourth largest democracy. In spite of 16 years of brutal military rule that preceded it, the country remains Africa’s most radical democratic experiment. Six national electoral exercise has been conducted since the transition to democracy in 1999. Four elected presidents have emerged and governed in succession. Universal voting rights have been extended to all citizens regardless of ethnic origin, religion, gender or class. The country features more than 100 political parties. Despite complaints of fraud by political opposition in each election, local and international election observers have regarded each of Nigeria’s general elections as relatively free and fair. More importantly, Nigerian political elites and Western donors have generally treated the new democratic rules of the game as “the only game in town.” There is also more foreign investments now compared to the military era. For example, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and 26th globally, according to a recent report by the IMF World Economic Outlook. Taking together, the Nigerian democratic experience seems to have come a long away.

But is it true? Has democracy led to development in Nigeria? The award-winning international political economist, Dr. Omano Edigheji, in his brilliant new book, ‘Nigeria Democracy Without Development: How To Fix It’, argues powerfully and analytically that Nigerian democratic experiment is marred by monumental flaws, notwithstanding the modest progress it has achieved. The book offers much interesting detail and finely reasoned conjecture about the paradoxical relationship between democracy and development in Nigeria. To begin with, the book has five chapters. The contents have unique storyline, well structured and skillfully written in a compeling way. In this review, I will organize the main ideas of the book into three parts: the paradox of democracy without development in Nigeria, explanations of democracy without development in Nigeria, and pathways to democracy with development in Nigeria.

The Paradox of Democracy Without Development in Nigeria!

First and foremost, the book critically and succinctly demonstrates that despite the implementation of Western liberal democracy and donor’s good governance reforms, the country continues to face massive developmental challenges in major areas, including human capital deficits and extreme poverty. For example, the book points out that while Nigeria has made some progress in socio-economic terms in recent years, its human capital development remains weak due to under-investment in health, education and infrastructure. The country’s HDI value for 2020 was 0.539 which put the country in the low human development category. Notwithstanding being the largest economy in Africa, Edigheji shows that the most significant challenges for reducing poverty in Africa is found in Nigeria: More than 40 percent of Nigerians (83 million people) live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day, while another 25 percent (53 million) are vulnerable. Yet, the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $26.6 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level. The high level of unemployment is another major concern identified in the book. For example, Nigeria’s unemployment rate (33%) is the second-highest in the world. Youth unemployment is higher than for older workers. With unemployment highest among the youth, the risks of violent conflict and civil unrests are especially high. Despite anti-corruption campaigns, Edigheji compellingly narrates that Nigeria is still perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  According to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria ranked 149 out of 180 countries in 2020, ranking the second lowest in West Africa, after Guinea-Bissau. Drawing heavily on different datasets and conversations with different stakeholders in the country, Edigheji claims that Nigeria is in big trouble because bandits, separatists, and Islamist insurgents increasingly threaten the government’s  grip on power. Mass kidnappings, killings, maiming, and other forms of insecurity are on the rise nationwide, even in more stable parts of the country.  By and large, the book empirically demonstrates that the democratic experiment of the last 20 years has had negative results on Nigerians. Nigeria’s corrupt political elites (with a few exceptions) are largely the beneficiaries of the democratic experiment, not the masses.

Explanations of Democracy Without Development in Nigeria!

So, what factors explain persistent negative relationship between democracy and development in Nigeria? Here, Edigheji truly pushes the boundaries of knowledge in explaining why democracy has failed to produce inclusive development in Nigeria. He employs both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. He meticulously sifts through the vast academic literature and economic data as well as in-depth interviews. Going beyond the conventional argument that the prospects of democracy and development  in a post-colonial country  are invariably linked to its level of economic development, political culture and social make-up, the book analyses the root causes of Nigeria’s democratic failures through an institutional analysis framework. Edigheji focuses on both structural and agent-based factors of the state. More specifically, he convincingly offers two principal explanations that account for democracy without development in Nigeria: poor leadership and weak institutions. Now, let’s quickly look at these two factors one after the other.  

First, Edigheji argues that the lack of ideology of development nationalism and the preponderance of politics without principles among the Nigerian political elites account for democracy without development in the country. By definition, the ideology of development nationalism is not only about national identity, consciousness or a feeling of belonging to a particular nation. Instead, it is premised on the need to catch up and to overcome underdevelopment, dependence on foreign countries and poverty. It is “a commitment to make one’s country progress and prosper, including the development of the capacities of its people to fulfil their potential and serve as drivers of the desired development (49)”. But the ideology of development nationalism, Edigheji argues, can only be promoted by developmentalist or patriotic elites. Developmentalist elites are central to democracy with development because “..they do not engage in the politics of self-enrichment that will undermine the collective national interest… Instead, they make necessary sacrifices to achieve their collective goals (50-51)”.  Developmentalist elites have a shared vision for national development, including massive investment in public goods provision such as education, healthcare and infrastructure, or national policies, including  international trade and monetary policy. Within the context of Nigeria, Edigheji empirically shows that the political elites in the 20 years of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic are not developmentalist but rent-seeking and predatory. Here, the key thrust of the book emerges: “…Nigeria’s social, economic and political crises are primarily attributed to the absence of both a coalition of developmentalist elites and a broad Developmentalist Coalition (DC) in the groups that took state power since 1999… (47)”.

Second, Edigheji argues that another crucial variable that contributes to democracy without development in Nigeria is the capture of the state through a non-merit-based recruitment and promotion of civil servants. The book points out that while rule of law, political and civil liberties that constitute the focus of electoral democracy are necessary, they are not sufficient conditions for the enhancement of human dignity and inclusive development. Of course, the analysis in the book does not suggest that democracy impedes development. Rather, the book poignantly argues that rather than focus exclusively on the nature of the political regime and the manner in which political office holders are elected, the focus of enquiries should be expanded to include the administrative structures of the state. The Civil Service is the key administrative structure  of the state and it occupies an essential position in the political system of nations. Efficient and effective management of the Civil Service are central to sustainable and equitable economic development of a nation. The experiences of the Four Asian Tigers (i.e. Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) and the 5 Tiger Cub Economies (i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) have underscored the critical contributions of merit-based recruitment and promotion in the Civil Service in fostering rapid economic development. In the 1960s and 1970s, the book shows that Nigeria had one of the best and most meritocratic Civil Services in Africa. Most employees were career civil servants and they progressed based on qualifications, performance and seniority. However, Nigeria has one of the worst Civil Services in Africa today. Recruitment and promotion in the Civil Service have become politicised and ethnicised, especially since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Because recruitment is based on patronage, the best and brightest Nigerians are no longer in the Civil Service. Non-merit based recruitment and promotion bring about inefficiency in the public service, low-levels of economic development and higher corruption.

Those in administrative leadership positions, such as permanent secretaries are prematurely retired when a new administration comes to power. As such, senior bureaucrats are unable to take a long-term view of social and economic development. Edigheji points out that non-merit-based systems and non-career public services contribute to institutionalization of corruption in the systems and underdevelopment.

Pathways to Democracy with Development in Nigeria!

Having identified the causes and consequences of democracy without development in Nigeria, what then is the way forward? For Nigeria to overcome its myriad of developmental and institutional deficits, Edigheji argues for a democratic developmental state. The term developmental state was coined during much of the 1980s and 90s to describe countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Viet Nam, which have experienced rapid economic growth through state-led interventions. The state plays a key role in the narrative of developmental states. For Nigeria to achieve a democratic development, Edigheji makes a case for three key elements. First, Nigerian politics needs to be driven by developmentalist elites whose politics is anchored on the people and political parties based on ideology. Second, for Nigeria to prosper and progress, the political elites need to transform the structure of the economy by promoting human capital development, infrastructural development, and industrialization as well as combat the challenges of climate change. Lastly, drawing from the seminal work of Acemoglu and Robinson (2012), ‘Why Nations Fail’, Edigheji argues that the achievement of the above recommendations will be dependent on inclusive political and economic institutions.

Notwithstanding that this is an excellent book, some questions remained to be fully answered, especially on the suitability of the developmental state model as a panacea for Nigeria democracy without development. The first question centres on understanding the processes that produced developmental states: How did developmental states achieve their successes in economic development? What worked, what didn’t, and why? The second question centres on the possibilities and the lessons of developmental states that can be utilised by Nigeria: Would developmental state model work in Nigeria? If yes, how? The explanations of factors that produced developmental states from a comparative perspective as well as the possibilities of developmental state model within the context of Nigeria could have strengthened the recommendation section of the book.

But overall, this is a carefully researched and clearly written book that not only makes a compelling argument for why democracy has failed to produce inclusive development in Nigeria, but also offers perceptive insights into what the country needs to do to overcome its developmental and institutional deficits. Moreover, given that the latest report of the World Income Inequality Database (WIID) highlights growing income inequality for developed, developing, and transition countries – especially democratic countries, this means that the analysis in the book has global implications. Very illuminating book and enjoyable to read. ‘Nigeria Democracy Without Development: How To Fix It’ is a valuable book to students, scholars, policymakers, politicians and development practitioners that want to comprehend the political dynamics of Nigeria. It is also an important contribution to the literature on the challenges of democracy and development in the global south.