The Dividends of Democracy: An Exploration into Nigeria's Political Economy at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."
Frederick Douglass, 1857[i]

Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow,
Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . . (Bob Marley & The Wailers, Guiltiness)


The title of this paper was originally: “Nigeria: Globalization, Democratization and Development.” The title has to be modified in light of my firsthand experience with Nigeria’s political economy. As a returned immigrant scholar in Nigeria in the summer of 2001, I felt like both an insider and outsider. I observed much and recorded much of such observations. I spoke with many, and empathized with their plight in a Nigeria where economic crisis was a perpetual reality, where the ability to feed oneself and one’s family depends not on how hard you work, but on how well-connected you are, where graduating from college, even with an advanced degree, . However, I had an exit option that many of my subjects did not have. I could return to work to earn “hard currency” that gave me options that many of the people that I encountered did not have. I study Nigeria’s political economy for a living, and thus differ from many other immigrants who have an exit option. In the first place, I am a dis/relocated Nigerian who lives and works in New York City, USA. I am also a woman, a mother of two boys that accompanied me on my research trip. All three of my sisters, my mother, and approximately 99% of my huge extended family continue to live and work in Nigeria. I also had the additional benefit of seeing things from the perspective of my children. For my teenage son who was en route to his first year in college after the summer ended, this was a return to a Nigeria where he spent every summer for the first ten years of his life. Now eighteen, when we prepared to leave New York, he looked forward to going to Nigeria but also had forgotten much of what the experience was like, except that there was lots of family. He wondered how much of what he remembered would remain the same. As a young adult, he also was privy to many long conversations and arguments on Nigerian politics that I have had over the years with my fellow compatriots, some exiled, some marooned, yet others volubly and palpably glad to have “escaped” from “dead-end” Nigeria to a land where the possibilities were seemingly endless. He was familiar with dark musings about official and garden-variety armed robbery. He had heard discussions of the “Maradona” and “evil genius” of Nigerian politics, the military “president”, Babangida. He knew about the Abacha dictatorship and attempts to perpetuate both the former and latter regimes. He constantly heard about SAP. He heard complaints of people who claimed to be perpetually besieged by innumerable family members and friends that wanted financial assistance, stipends, even sponsorship for American citizenship. He knew about Nigerian drug couriers that are arrested at the various US airports for transporting heroin into the country. He also knew from reports that we heard for the six months or so before leaving that armed robbery was on the rise. This was not just a matter of hearsay, one family member had been shot in the leg while waiting for the gate to his house to be open. Just before we left, we heard that other family members were attacked by armed robbers and their house was cleaned out. One of his concerns was whether it was really safe to go to Nigeria. He took his cue from me, and decided that if it was okay by me to go, it must really be okay.
My six year old son also considered this to be a return trip. After all, he claimed, he had been in Nigeria when he was five months old. The three of us boarded the South Africa Airways plane sort of on a fact-finding mission. Each of us had different questions, but all were desirous of finding out what Nigeria was about at this point in time.
For me, the defining issue quickly became “the dividends of democracy”. Remember I’d gone to Nigeria to research the interaction between globalization and political and economic development. To properly answer the questions that were uppermost in my mind, I had to take the pulse of Nigeria’s politics and its economy. I had to determine the extent to which the global affects the local and vice versa. Indeed, turning on the television for the talk shows on politics and reading the newspapers, engaging friends and family and research subjects in discussions on current events yielded much fruit on all the concerns that were uppermost in my mind.
The news media was ubiquitous in its constant declamation on the dividends of democracy. According to various and sundry experts, these dividends were few and far between. Inflation was sky-high. The cost of living was prohibitive. Roads were bad. Access to health care was an intractable problem for most. Potable water, reliable electricity supply, even reliable assurance that one’s meager income would be regularly replenished by a paycheck as and when due was at best, an elusive proposition. Add to this the insecurity of life and limb due to the predatory activities of highly educated, but unemployed and underemployed university students or graduates, some of whom had turned to armed robbery in their desperation, some to be able to keep up with the high flying Joneses who threw money around like so much garbage or sand, and the universities that still remained more closed than they were open, the university professors who had been driven to pursue multiple means of guaranteeing their livelihood, while at the same time holding on to their day job, but performing associated tasks as though teaching and research were the less important parts of their employment. Bear in mind that the cost of loans was also prohibitively high, that urban life was hyper-crowded and chaotic, and you would begin to scratch the surface of the problems that frustrate ordinary Nigerians. When people are asked what their experience of democracy has been, they unequivocally answer that they are yet to enjoy its dividends. Were the dividends accessible, they argue, the roads would be good, all the lacks would be satisfied or fulfilled, the coming elections in 2003 would not cause anxiety about violence, dislocations, etc.
Yet, this would be an incomplete story if it is focused solely on the deprivations. The whole notion of “keeping up with the Joneses” implies that there are Joneses to keep up with, that there are some who are doing better than most, some for whom the dividends of democracy have arrived. They are the comfortable, the affluent, the creme de la creme of Nigerian society. They have either newly “arrived” nouveau riche, or they are comfortable, and have been for a few generations. Their forebears may actually have benefited from the dividends of colonialism, nationalism, past democracy, authoritarianism, or dictatorship. For these, if there is a paycheck, it is regular, guaranteed, substantial, and supported by various perquisites of office. Some of these Nigerians are the “big boys” and “big girls” that populate the new tabloids. They deal in contracts, they are power brokers. They can, like Terry Waya, throw a birthday bash to end all birthday bashes in London, England,[ii] invite over one hundred of their closest friends whose names are among the “Who’s Who” in Nigerian politics and in the business world. That the party was the event of the moment was clear while I was in Nigeria because it was covered extensively by tabloids such as the National Encomium, Ovation, and City People. It was also covered by all major news media. It even attracted the attention of President Obasanjo who was extremely critical of the high profile nature of this private celebration that seemed to have been given an official stamp due to the presence of so many of those that he dubbed the “Owambe” governors. One could see the President’s point. Many ordinary people were groaning under the weight of economic devastation and Nigeria was pushing the powers that be within the international financial system for debt forgiveness, or at least, debt relief. For many who were already cynical about giving any kind of breaks to a country that is thickly populated by “money miss roads” such as Waya, Nigeria needed no breaks, only a dose of good old common sense. In the parlance of International Political Economists, what Nigeria needs is not debt relief but technocrats with the skill to identify what the right policy mix is, and the will to implement such policies in the face of opposition by reactionary vested interests. The measures involved would probably involve purging the decision-making and policy circles of the influence of these rent seeking elites. Venal elites like Waya who have run amok would probably lose their automatic access to the corridors of powers. His foreign benefactors would be shut out/down, his “good friends” who consider him to be the man to know when you want to get things done would close up shop and get real jobs. One does not need a degree in rocket science to know that this is impossible. Many current and pending politicians are beholden to Waya and his godfathers, and they said as much in their speeches at his birthday party.
For critics/advisers/analysts who call for an injection of good sense into economic policy making, the problem and solution are clear. When you are an indebted country in the contemporary global system, your options are the following: renegotiate your debt, but be prepared to fulfill certain conditions. Do not:
· have an overvalued currency
· give any subsidies
· have extravagant social policies like full and free education at all levels, healthcare for all
· have budget deficits
· have big government
· have protectionist policies.

Instead, do
· devalue your currency
· maintain policies of fiscal and budgetary probity by balancing your budget
· operate according to rules of comparative advantage by producing and exporting the primary commodities that your advantage dictate
· cut back the size of the state by privatizing what were formerly state owned enterprises, concentrate on primary rather than tertiary education
· open your markets to imports to stimulate economic efficiency
· make your domestic economy attractive to foreign investors by removing barriers to entry like too many rules, slow decision making on pressing commercial issues, poor governance, protection of domestic producers who are not as efficient as their foreign counterparts/competitors
· establish good institutions that guarantee the rule of law, protect property rights
· decentralize government to bring it closer to the people.

For the international financial institutions and their Washington Consensus perspective, if these measures, however painful are put into place, the dividends of democracy would grow and the population would gain in the long run.

The scholars/analysts forget one basic fact -- that pain is hard to bear. Further, they forget that pain that goes on for too long is bound to yield multiple bitter fruits. Finally, they forget that the dividends of democracy can be identified by both scholars and ordinary people alike. If people find that they are unable to identify them, they become at best, restive. At worst, explosions can be expected. However, there are also serious discussions about the dividends of democracy in Nigeria that go beyond the quantifiable bread and butter issues. People want transparency in governance. They want fairness, justice, the rule of law, and institutions that protect and defend their rights. Although they want jobs, they also want a government that protects and defends their interests prior to doing likewise for multinational corporations under the impetus of creating a favorable atmosphere for foreign investment. They want a sovereign government that does not sell the heritage of future generations off for a mere “mess of pottage” as in the defense relationship with a powerful country where the said country “trains” soldiers in peacekeeping operations in return for spending about $1 million annually. Many Nigerians realize that what they must look forward to are the rules of “trickle down economics” if they are fully subscribed to the ideals of the market system as presented by the scholars/analysts that advice that market based democracy is the way to go. They reject such analysis, and act in a manner that is true to their interest in a universe where they have limited power. For each set of actors, the desirable action is different. This is why we have such an unmanageable system in Nigeria today. This paper takes this as a starting point in exploring the excitement and enigma of Nigeria at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Demands for the dividends of democracy do not emerge in a vacuum. For this reason, people feel duped when there are no dividends to be found. The politicians that won the last elections themselves set up the baseline expectations that while the Nigerian economy was in the doldrums when they took over, they would make quantifiable and progressive changes in the economic situation in Nigeria. While it is to be expected that politicians would want to sweep the pronouncements that made the expectations rational under the rug, people who believed them were quite unwilling to be duped. Therefore, through the press, they demand some reckoning. This is one reason why one of the chieftains of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was questioned by a journalist in the following vein in September 2000:

When the new administration took over power in 1999, the rate of interest for prime borrowers was between 12 and 15 per cent, it is now 30 and 35 per cent; the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 2.4 per cent, it is now negative; the naira then could be exchanged at the rate of N88 to 1 US Dollar, it is now N134 to 1 USD; inflation rate stood at 13 per cent then, it is now 26 per cent; unemployment rate then was....[iii]

Of course, the journalist was cut off by the uncomfortable politician. Nigeria is not the only place where politicians prefer such statements to be remembered only when they want to take credit for a thriving economy. Naturally, the embarrassed political chieftain responded true to type when he said the following: "... you cannot base the performance and achievement of the present government on mere numbers...."[iv]
The exchange attracted the attention of Dr. Enodien, a management consultant who is resident in Lagos. He wrote a commentary in one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers that once again brought up the question of the dividends of democracy. The aforementioned politician was seen as acting absurdly when he pointed to achievements and strides made in the area of opening up the political arena. The attribution of this much needed development to the benevolence of the government was considered unacceptable. People naturally expect the increased freedom of speech, its benefits may not be readily subject to quantification, but the expectation that such a benefit of democracy would devolve to Nigerians under today’s democratic dispensation does not preclude the expectation that the politicians would keep promises made about economic growth and visible improvements in people’s lives. The commentator asked the right question. He asked a question that is central to all the discussion about the dividends of democracy when he asserted: “But people would welcome answers from whoever is in a position to shed light on this discourse because if the performance evaluation of this or indeed any government cannot be based on a periodic scrutiny of the generated socio-economic indicators, on what basis then should its achievements be evaluated?”[v]
Reading the commentary further also gives an indication of the source of the generalized frustration that most Nigerians feel. Most ordinary people are becoming disillusioned precisely because they see with the evidence of their own senses that politicians are living “high on the hog” while they take a “may the devil take the hindmost” stance toward ordinary Nigerians whose hopes and aspirations, particularly as they relate to the enjoyment of the positive dividends of democracy are yet to be realized. Every ordinary Nigerian was disgusted when the first task that Nigerian legislators undertook was to ensure that their nests were feathered abundantly by increasing their salaries, allowances, and other perquisites of office. There is a perception that the politicians in general were totally oblivious of, and had deliberately shielded themselves from the suffering of the people. There is an additional perception that the government wants to use statistical data in a fraudulent manner that for this analyst, indicative of “the apparent abandonment of modern management technique had been responsible for the stunted development of Nigeria in the past.”
Most Nigerians have a longer memory than the politicians give them credit for. They remember that military regimes of the past act like today’s politicians, who also happen to be liberally sprinkled with old military officers, when they justify their violent take-over of government by telling the people that they undertook this extreme measure for reasons of national interest, to guarantee national survival, to clean up a polluted political arena from the corrupt legacy of the old regime, and to end the country’s economic woes. Even when people were inclined to question the military, there was a lack of the freedoms that are guaranteed and integral to democracies. Questioning the government under military rule could well be taken as tantamount to mounting a frontal attack on the state.
Dr. Enodien is partly right. The military “got away with their unverifiable claims only because some gullible Nigerians and military apologists deliberately endorsed the claims of the military without any recourse to facts and figures. . . . it is because the time-honoured and universally accepted system of evaluating the social, economic and political performance at any point in time was lacking, that the military rulers had the false sense of legitimacy. It is also because we did not use statistical data to support their claims that enabled the military not only to prolong their stay in office but also thrived under the illusion that they were performing well because they did not have to defend their achievements or lack of it by reference to authentic statistical data.” Another story in the Guardian, this time an interview by Adeleke Adeseri with “Ayodele Olowofoyeku, the financial secretary of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Osun State” reveals the persistence of the messiah complex by personalities who cast their participation in politics in the mold of rescuing the country from imminent ruin. “Olowofoyeku is the son of Chief Babatunji Olowofoyeku (SAN), former Attorney General of the Western Region in the First Republic and the first chairman of Ilesa Central Local Council.”[vi]

Q: WHAT is the deacon doing in politics?[vii]

A: Over the years, I noticed that most of us just sit down and complain about the political situation in our home towns, and the country in general. I came to realise that nobody really has a right to complain. If you know you can make a difference, offer yourself for service. Well, it is more like I was made a deacon couple of months back but I have become a born again Christian about fours [sic] years ago. My desperation to go into politics was more of divine call than anything else in the sense that I had a personal revelation that I should go and sit down and begin to look at it. Being a deacon in the church does not have anything to do with my personal ambition; it is more to see the triumph of Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Osun State.

While Olowofoyeku also explains his participation in terms of being the most qualified candidate for the job because he had practical experience, the instances that he enumerated concerned fund raising and organizing media promotion for political candidates. His statement above also clearly draws on another tendency in Nigerian politics -- people who consider themselves to be “born again” Christians present themselves as responding to their calling by a higher authority. They expect people to trust them because of their proclaimed moral superiority to others. President Obasanjo himself has used the same arguments. The form that Christianity has taken in contemporary Nigeria is that it manifests elements of multi-level salesmanship and proselytization. Many want the automatic acceptance of the goods they purvey, and ease their way into people’s consciousness and or pockets by claiming to be the bearers of one messianic message or another. Divine callings proliferate, as do revelations from a higher authority that a given individual should lead and/or prosper. Those that compete with such an individual then seem to be saboteurs against none other than the highest authority, the Almighty God. Ambition then fuses very nicely with the desires of the almighty.
To return to Enodien’s article, he fails to acknowledge that quiescence is not analogous to the recognition of authority, or the conferment of legitimacy. Most people were scared to death. Democracy is assumed to make a difference. The people are supposed to have dialogues, conversations, and other sundry communication with their government. This is precisely why the press feels entitled to ask the questions on every Nigerian mind. When politicians refuse to answer such questions because they feel that the people ought to be grateful for the ability to speak freely, they completely miss the boat on the essence of democracy and good governance. The right to speak may very well be meaningless when considered in light of not so visible restraints on the freedom of expression. Further, the politicians themselves set the baseline expectations by which they are now judged.
If we immediately juxtapose the commentary with another Olowofoyeku answer, one sees a clear example of the kind of pronouncements that make the electorate expect that the election of one politician or another would bring an experience of life more abundant to all. Ayodele Olowofoyeku aspired to be a 2003 governorship candidate in Osun State in the same issue of the Guardian, I quote extensively from the interview below: The first question asked is about the level of rancor and political conflict among politicians.[viii]

Q: If you become the chief executive, how will you prevent such wrangling?

A: You see, people are bound to have their intentions, action plans and other things. I believe in governance that will be responsive to the people. I believe that, as a governor, democracy is all about working for the people. And there is bound to be conflict, definitely, but I know that majority of the conflicts arise from the fact that lot of people feel marginalised and feel cheated because quite a number of people that have become governor seem to have forgotten that they are representatives of the people. It seems they think that because they are in governance, governance is their own ideals, and their own ideals alone. When you feel the pulse of your state, you know what the people want; what direction to take and not just to feel the impulse of few people. Democracy is about numbers, but you find out that after the election, after the election of a particular official into power, governance now becomes by few people. If only other people's ideals are sought I am sure that there will be less conflict and I know that if I come into governance, [sic] that will be approached from the time to time.[ix]

One of the ways in which one can see the influence of globalization on Nigerian politics is to consider a few paragraphs of an article that addresses the conflictual situation between former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim and Governor Sam Egwu in Ebonyi State. The Senate President and Governor are in a different faction of the People’s Democratic Party, each faction from a different zone in the state. The two men clashed over the allocation of offices, a disagreement that disintegrated to the alleged use of thugs by the Governor to intimidate the supporters of the Senate President’s faction. According to a news report by Thisday Online, the crux of the problem is the following:

In many states, dominant factions of the party perfected plans to register only their loyalists as card-carrying party members. Remember that it is only cardcarrying party members that will vote in delegates at ward congresses. A11 other levels of elections for nominations are by elected delegates. An attempt by the Ebonyi dominant faction of the PDP to play this joker ran into stormy waters owing to the vigilance of the state's Abuja group. The governor sent an army of supporters who stormed the PDP Hq in Abuja, inflicted injuries on party officials on duty and hijacked the party registration materials.[x]

The situation was serious enough that the Senate President needed police protection in order to visit his own state -- Ebonyi. Four people were killed by the police in the melee that accompanied his visit. In making a recommendation for more circumspect behavior and an increased amount of civility among the country’s politicians, the former Special Assistant to President Shehu Shagari, and current Director of the Lagos Business School, and the Chairman of the Information Technology firm, Leapfrog Venture Partners, Dr. Pat Utomi is right. There is no excuse for thuggery and the intimidation of opponents in Nigerian politics. These are some of the things that wreaked havoc with Nigerian politics in the past, even under the Shagari administration. However, in order to make his point, Utomi draws parallels between Nigeria and the US. For him, politicians

need to discover is that if they work together, and put down this petty devil called pride, they will be the greater, not the lesser for it. If they have consciences and a sense of history they should, forthwith, cease and desist from acts that take civility away from public life. Perhaps they can learn from contemporary experience in which Bill Clinton became governor, lost the next election, reclaimed the gubernatorial chair at another election, and went on to become president of the United States. All things tend to work together unto good.” I could say 'there we go again' in the manner candidate Ronald Reagan taunted the incumbent President Jimmy Carter back in 1980. But that would be a cheap shot and the future being threatened by such gross disorderly conduct is far too important to subject to cheap shots.[xi]

Utomi’s commentary points to the pervasive reach and influence of globalization on Nigeria’s politics. The personalities that are held up as examples are former presidents of the United States of America. The language used contains contemporary American slangs. However, the article follows an enduring stream in Nigerian political analysis. Nationalist politicians during the colonial era did not call for an end to colonial rule in a manner that self-confidently declared that Nigerians were deserving of being treated as citizens, and not as subjects of Britain. What differs today is that the instantaneous nature of global communication has guaranteed that all of us feel as though we are right on the scene when news is made. Thus, it is to be expected that there will be more comparisons of Nigeria to those countries that are believed to be leaders in the world today.[xii] My critique of the Utomi piece is that while he is absolutely right to condemn political violence and lack of decorum in politics, we do not necessarily need to draw upon the experience of the United States to understand that political violence is “beyond the pale.” At this point in our existence as Nigerians, we can find enough rationale that is based on indigenous philosophies that eschew violence and combat to the death when we make political or social commentary.
The Enodien article brings up another point. Under a democratic system of government, the people should be able to evaluate the performance of the government on the basis of quantifiable variables that give an indication of the changes in their life chances. This can be done in a somewhat limited way by considering the socio-economic indicators. The press is also entitled to bring the concerns of the public to the fore and to insist on public answers. To demand this is to engage in furthering the cause of democracy. It is in essence, to foster increased political openness and to also provide the public with much needed information, facts and figures that enable them to assess for themselves, the extent to which the circumstances of the country’s economic health have changed.[xiii]
The Olowofoyeku article also speaks to the issue of the nature of democracy. In answering a question about the chaotic nature of politics in Osun state as follows, Olowofoyeku rightly indicates that divergent perspectives do not necessarily point to a lack of democracy, instead, politicians ought to cultivate a greater degree of tolerance for such divergence, and a willingness to negotiate mutually acceptable solutions. Another article in the same issue of Guardian speaks to the nature of democracy thus:

This is a democracy and politicians are servants, not lords. The thriving of competing ideas and contending personalities is at the heart of the democratic process being a preferred way of governance. All is not lost in Ebonyi. We all make mistakes. Once the people and not egos move to centre stage, reconciliation and concord will follow. To persist as things are now is to beguile the nobility of the human spirit. In Ebonyi as elsewhere in the country, the weak traditions of democratic culture enthrones an "onhye ka ibe ya" – who is the greater man syndrome.[xiv]
Q: Before we go to Osun State, let us look at the South-west generally. Would you say things are normal?
A: Well, I think with the way things are really going on now, I will say that democracy is at work. Well, what I found out really is that democracy does not offer complete solution because we all have different character; we all have ideals. And we all believe that there are different solutions to the same problem. The beauty of democracy is that we all have divergent opinions and at the end of the day we come to agree on a very common solution. So, definitely, all the factionalisation you see, there is [sic] bound to be divergent opinions; it is an evidence that democracy is at work.
Q: What is you chance of winning the gubernatorial election in Osun State as the present governor and likewise his deputy may contest for the same post?
One thing to realise really is that democracy in Yorubland [sic] is not about name, it is about the character of the individual concerned. Definitely, I know that my own selling point is going to be my character, not the governmental machinery I have to use and all that. I know that we are going to have primary elections and the primary elections are going to be fair. So, at the end of the day, we are going to face each other in the primary elections. So, if I win, I know that, definitely, the deputy governor will be reliable and I know that the governor himself will support me and if either one of them wins I have always supported them and I will continue to support them as I did in the past.

The importance of the answers above cannot be overstated. Democracy does not imply the existence of a zombie-like homogeneity in all perspectives, ideas and opinions. For it to work well, all participants have to agree to give up short run gains for long-term benefits. The next question shows that the economic questions are linked inextricably with the social and political.

Q: Specifically, let us look at Osun State, there are problems on ground, but let us look at the social problems first.
A: What I noticed basically is what I have always called capital fight [sic]. We need foreign investors to come into the State. But besides the foreign capital itself, when you look at the whole scenario, it means that you need to keep the capital you have in that state, situate the state for development and also get some form of external capital. But what happens in Osun State is that the only income, apart from federal allocated revenue that comes monthly, is from taxation. We (Osun State) don't really have any other source of revenue that comes in monthly. And then the revenue for the state, the larger percentage of it, is being used to pay the salary of workers. And the funny thing about the peculiar situation in Osun State is that a larger percentage of Osun State indigenes live outside Osun State. Unless we develop a system where Osun State revenue stays in the state and foreign capital or external capital still comes to Osun State, we will not be able to improve. The plight of the people and the level of poverty will keep on increasing day by day.
Q: You must have plans to uplift Osun State, can we have some of the plans?
A: Basically, they are free health services, free education, rural integration and employment for all. But what I intend to do is to break down those four cardinal programmes. You will notice that we have not been able to achieve much in all these areas because of funding as of now. But definitely, we will improve the situation in all these four cardinal programmes. Then, another issue really is the fact that I do not believe that I have all knowledge and wisdom because it is impossible for one man to know all. I, if I get elected, will take into consideration that there are professionals and knowledgeable people in all the different aspects of life and all the different parts of the state. So, what I intend to do is to put together a very formidable team of the best intellectuals in all areas of governance and take their advice.

It is clear from the questions and answers above that both the journalist and future gubernatorial candidate are aware of the proliferation of social and economic problems and their seeming intractability. Olowofoyeku enumerates some of the economic problems – poverty, capital flight, dearth of foreign capital investment, inadequacy of revenue, and the tensions between indigeneity and residence in the generation and allocation of revenue. Like all astute politicians, he promises to give his prompt attention to these problems and to solve them as soon as he gets into office. Most Nigerians tend to look at these promises as mere ploys to get votes. They have heard it all in the past, including the promise of free education and health care, rural integration, and full employment. However, when people call for the dividends of democracy, they are expressing a hope that democratic government would prove to be more honest and accountable than the regimes of the past. It is a hope also that the pains of past mismanagement efficiency and brutality have taught politicians a lesson in commitment. Olowofoyeku is right. Technocratic recruitment is crucial. It is necessary to assemble a team of skilled and experienced bureaucrats that would identify the problems, proffer solutions and implement policies as promised. However, while technocrats may be necessary, they are not sufficient as a solution to Nigeria’s problems and cannot guarantee that Nigerians will access and enjoy the dividends of democracy.
Using the case of Ebonyi State, another article by Pat Utomi describes the situation graphically:
What is stoking the fire of madness in the states? To my mind the very first culprit is the failure of our politicians to discover the key to longevity in public life--creatively giving sacrificial service to the people. Nigerians are so easy to please and so undemanding on their leaders. Even with so much more money available to the states, many saw very little real improvements in the quality of life of citizens, except, of course, public office holders who have been buying up property abroad.
Had many of those now seeing enemies in every imaginable potential challenger spent their first two years in office in passionate quest for creative ways of growing the quality of life of the people, there would be nothing to fear. The usual excuse of 'no money' is the biggest advertisement for the inadequacy of many of our public office holders. Yes, money is very important but it pales in significance to the creative and committed mind with a passion for service to the citizen. Those who only modestly pursue such tracks no doubt will find that if it is their interest to seek re-election, they will not have much to worry about regarding challengers.
Instead, those who have given little service have staked our gubernatorial seats as birthright and disposed themselves to accumulating from the public treasury so they can match all-comers naira for naira in the quest to buy the voters conscience in a monetised process of electioneering. What about the Sam Egwu and Anyim Pius Anyim confrontation. What sadness? Sam and Anyim are big men in many senses, their physical size, what used to be large hearts, strong profession of faith etc. Somehow they have allowed pride and pretty prejudice to reduce them in Lilliputian proportions to being seen as small men. The quest to apportion blame is fruitless. Both need to recognise that they have done disservice to their own people who are the biggest losers from their inability to see profit for the people, in their working in harmony to promote the common good.[xv]

Many of the people that I interviewed also expressed a deep-seated anxiety about the level of political conflict in Nigeria. Again, the media was not only aware of such anxiety, but it explored the variety of dimensions of conflict manifested in Nigeria’s burgeoning democracy. As with Osun State, so with Ebonyi, where a conflict of gladiator-like proportions was observed.[xvi] Again, Pat Utomi described the situation as follows:

THE state of siege is palpable. Most states are now war zones. What's amiss? Governors who were off on ego trips and Owambe parties are running scared in the onset of 2003 paranoia. Any gathering of which they are not a part is seen as threats that must be disrupted by any extra legal means available. Also a problem in the heartlands of Nigeria is a zero-sum mentality in which political competition is increasingly do or die. Most tragic of the genre is the Anyim-Egwu face-off. Are we inviting a step back into a history whose end seemed to have come some time past?[xvii]

The relevance of Bob Marley’s song, “Guiltyness” cannot be overstated. “Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sorrow, Woe to the downpressor, they reap the bread of sad tomorrow. . .” This is a song that the political elite in today’s Nigeria should heed, particularly as Nigeria celebrates the successful negotiations of a debt relief arrangement with the Paris Club.[xviii] Such celebration may be misguided since the Paris Club and its colleagues in the international debt regime (that is: the international institutional structure created to manage debt) have a way of giving with one hand and taking with the other, and the offer of debt relief is only conditional upon the fulfillment of conditionalities that tend to favor only the creditors. How this differs from SAP remains puzzling to all but the inner circle of international finance cognoscenti.
I am sure many of Nigeria’s politicians are also familiar with the lyrics of Fela Anikulapo’s songs. People are calling for positive dividends of democracy. There is just so much that they can bear. The politicians also should remember that they promised that these dividends were at hand, but they got into office and began to practice all manner of chicanery. If they “downpress” the common people, they will surely “reap the bread of sorrow” as well as “the bread of sad tomorrow.” Democratization is a process, but it can only move forward with a great deal of commitment on the part of all concerned. Nigeria’s political class thus far has not carried its weight. It is the duty of the citizens in a democratic polity to continue to “put their feet to the fire” by demanding that the business of accountable government is given the priority of place, rather than the politics of violence, thuggery and “man pass man.”
It is exciting to embark on the journey toward democratization, particularly in a country like Nigeria where there have been so many years of authoritarianism and military dictatorship. The people that hanker after the dividends of democracy are on the right track. If authoritarianism and dictatorship are responsible for leading Nigeria down the road to ruin, democratization is expected to have the opposite, positive effect. In addition, the appetite for positive dividends of democracy is whetted by cold and calculating politicians who in an effort to gain access to the helm of the state, declare their undying devotion to serving the interests of the people, only to gain power and become oblivious unfeeling gluttons who feed fat at the trough that the public resources of Nigeria have become. This is probably why Jean Francois Bayart characterized African politics as “The Politics of the Belly,”[xix] and why Chinua Achebe identified the villain in Nigerian politics as the leadership.[xx] I see the point in Bayart and Achebe’s diagnosis. They are indeed wise men. I however hasten to caution that the problem is not just the problem of leadership, or of mere gluttony, or even that of the horse that Nigerians have beaten almost to death, “The Nigerian Character.” Rather, Nigeria’s problem is a structural one. It is a problem that arises from the manner in which the country interacts with the global political and economic systems. This is a problem that was present from the very beginning of Nigeria’s engagement with the global system – an engagement that was marked by trade, the slave trade, “the legitimate trade,” voyages of “exploration” and “discovery” of places and peoples that were aware of their own existence by various adventurers, a mad scramble, brutal “pacification” amalgamation, colonization, nationalism, independence, and now, the development of a full-fledged neo-colony where “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Look carefully at Nigeria. You’ll find that its politics much resembles that of its African neighbors, majority of Latin American and Asian countries as well as countries in the Caribbean. If one attributes the problem of these countries to the failure of leadership, what in essence we are saying is that our problems stem from a lack of character, that somehow, our collective nature differs from those of people in countries that have developed. I submit that this is a mistake. The problem is structural because the earlier developers ran amok and perpetrated exploitation of massive proportions to stoke and power the engines of their development. When they left Nigeria, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, they left neo-colonies where the color of the leadership changed, but the nature of governance remained the same. In many neo-colonies, the façade of democracy rapidly fell apart. Dictatorship, authoritarianism, and massive, colonial-type exploitation ensued. This is because the only people that can take power in political transitions tended to be those that past rulers can live with. So it was with Nigeria. The country is still paying the price today of being condemned to concentrate on its comparative advantage by
1. selling primary commodities (which may be minerals, unrefined gemstones, or agricultural commodities,)
2. depending on one or a few of such commodities for its foreign exchange and income,
3. having incremental to no economic growth because economic growth seems to be perpetually elusive,
4. having an over-centralized system of government which means that there is always a bitter struggle for political power, because this remains the best way to make money,
5. having increasing levels of social strife that may be manifested as:
a. a class war of poor against the rich
b. banditry and armed robbery
c. pervasiveness of a sex-trade industry
d. widespread corruption
e. anomie and hopelessness for those who remain oppressed like Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”[xxi]

Will there be no change in Nigeria? No. Rather, Nigeria must manipulate its comparative advantage in order to grab the benefits offered by the constantly changing global economy. This is not a task that can be achieved only with good leadership. It is not a problem that will be solved by transforming “The Nigerian Character,” whatever it is. Rather, it is a problem that will only be solved through careful, deliberate planning. The components of this planning would sound elementary and simple to most sophisticated people. I recommend that the people be given the dividends of democracy – good education, political stability, economic growth, excellent social services, etc. Are these things that will be accomplished very soon? No. Should people demand them? Yes. I also submit that the people are not stupid. If they see that the leadership does not treat public resources like a free gravy train, they would be more willing to make the sacrifices that belt-tightening entails.
What concrete things can Nigeria, Nigerians, and friends of Nigeria do? In the first place, the development of a state that takes charge of economic planning in a manner that resembles the South Korean example before it became a “Tiger” must be encouraged. However, South Korea at the time was not a democracy. Should democracy then be sacrificed at the altar of economic development? The challenge that Nigeria faces is that it is no longer acceptable to answer this question in the affirmative. Thus, the government of Nigeria must of necessity engage in strategic economic planning which may mean that some investors may need to be repelled, while others are attracted, depending on the objectives of national interest. There is also the need to combine internal and external investment as engines of economic growth, therefore, there must be as much energy devoted to making the environment attractive to domestic capital, as is lavished upon foreign investors. This does not mean that all Nigerians will automatically be better off. The majority will still be poor in the long run. Is this a cost we are willing to bear? The state must understand that it is accountable to the people, and thus, it must stop acting with impunity. It must take on the responsibility for ensuring the welfare of ordinary Nigerians, particularly in defending them against unscrupulous multinational investors who care nothing about the environment and the people, for example, the oil companies in the Niger Delta. People must have the security of having guraranteed civil and political liberties which means that groups and individuals that demand a national conference for example, are not treated like “voices in the wilderness.” When these calls are answered, they should not be answered in a cavalier manner that resembles Babangida administration-type open debate of the adoption of an IMF program. If there is no desire to belong to the polity, Nigerians will be working at cross purposes since no house divided against itself can stand. There must be the rule of law and equal protection of the laws as well as non-discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, or class. If this is combined with judicial independence and a unity of laws, or a unified legal system, there ought to be no cases as we’ve had in the North of Nigeria where women are condemned to death by stoning. Of course, there ought to be checks and balances against abuse of authority, fiscal probity, which means that public funds will not be treated as the private reserves of those in government. There also ought to be selfless leadership. Given the state of Nigeria today, this is a long shot. It is important for the government to ensure that we have secure property rights in Nigeria. However, this effort should not only be focused at guarantees for individuals, but for communities. Unfortunately, having such security does not necessary guarantee that we have equitable distribution of wealth.
Nigerian Immigrants also can play a key role as investors, advisors, technical experts, and ought to keep in close touch with Nigerian politics, and maintain close social and economic ties. When we visit, we ought not to think of ourselves as outsiders, we ought not to have an arrogant attitude that assumes that the reason why the dividends of democracy are not realized is because all Nigerians are stupid. We should endeavor to make philanthropic outreach as individuals and organizations to assist wherever we see the need. Such philanthropy should be institutionalized rather than spontaneous and haphazard. Will the government of Nigeria welcome our intervention? Not necessarily. Should we give up? No. There is no reason why Nigerians abroad should not have the right to vote. We should all support the movement to make this a reality. Immigrants in the US can also play the part of informal ambassadors that campaign for pro-Nigeria US foreign policy.
Nigeria is lucky. It is endowed with a huge population, numerous valuable natural resources, fertile land, and not too many natural disasters. With determination and coordination, these goals can be achieved. The other side of this equation is the global political and economic system. The rules of the game in the system are stacked against the powerless. Nigeria, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the powerless. These rules also must change. However, powerful people are not in the habit of handing over the reins of power to the powerless. The powerless acting alone cannot do but so much. Thus, the powerless must unite and push or force a change in the rules. What rules?
Protectionism in countries like the United States against even the modest agricultural exports of countries like Nigeria.
Reduction of the debt overhang or the forgiveness of the debt of developing countries.
The preference for free, rather than fair trade.
The proliferation of small arms, land mines and other military materiel from developed countries to developing nations.
Interference in wars among neighbors in a manner that causes escalation.
Support for dictatorial regimes for strategic reasons.

What I described sounds utopian. To achieve a new global system that respects all these conditions, the current liberal international order which supports the maintenance of the status quo should be transformed. In addition, the world would have to become a place where swords are beaten into ploughshares, a place where we’ll all promise to “study war no more.” Because the world will not change so rapidly, whatever interventions are made on the domestic front will only yield modest gains.
There is also the possibility of unintended consequences, and through sheer luck and tenacity, Nigeria may yet be transformed into a leading country both politically and economically, and this should happen sooner rather than later. If this sounds like the ramblings of a dreamer, then we should all dare to dream!


Chinua Achebe The Trouble with Nigeria Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983.
Olusegun Adeniyi “The Owambe Hall of Shame”;
Adeleke Adeseri “Why Osun Needs A New Hand” Guardian (September 9, 2001).
Jean Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. New York: Longman, 1993.
Tunji Bello, “Pius Anyim's Hypocrisy” This Day (August 19, 2002)
Tunji Bello “Terry Waya's Self Advertisement” The New Republic
Frederick Douglass, "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author in The Frederick Douglass Papers. John W. Blassingame, ed. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 204.
Timtiniko Enodien “Pray, On What Then?” Guardian (Sunday Sept. 9 2001).
Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1968.
Omoh Gabriel, “IMF Team in Nigeria, Holds Talks on Debt Relief” Vanguard Online Posted to the Web: Thursday, August 11, 2005
“Issue Number 119: Jobs, People, Events”
“Nigeria” Paris Club News (July 29, 2005)“Nigeria to get $18bn Debt Relief” BBC News
Jerry Njoku “Understanding Anyim/Egwu Feud” ThisDay Online
Isa Sanusi “Debt Relief: FG to Pay Paris Club $6bn From Excess Crude Revenue” Daily Trust, (August 10, 2005) Posted to the web August 10, 2005
Akin Taiwo “The Unknown Quantity,” stories/200508100045.html
Pat Utomi “On Decorum In Public Life” Guardian (September 9, 2001)
“The Man Terry Waya”
“Terry Waya”
“Terry Waya Photo Archives”

[i] Frederick Douglass, "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. Edited by John W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 204. from
[ii] See “Terry Waya Photo Archives” and “The Man Terry Waya” for some photographs of the birthday bash. For more information on Terry Waya, also see “Terry Waya”, For some news analysis on the birthday bash, see Olusegun Adeniyi “The Owambe Hall of Shame”; Akin Taiwo “The Unknown Quantity,” In order to get a sense of Mr. Waya’s reach as a power broker, see Samuel Famakinwa and Nneoma Ukeje-Eloagu, “Obasanjo Rejects NITEL’S New Board,” Terry Waya was one of the new members of the Board. Others were Alhaji Bello Alkali, Mr. Adeleke Oyelade, Mr. Henry Oyailo Abebe, Mrs. Halita Aliyu and Muhammed Lawan Bello. A new Board was later approved, including Waya. According to Balancing Act News Update, “The Nigerian Federal government has approved the appointment of a new Board of Directors to replace the technical board of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). The new 14-member Board, which is headed by Mark Odu also has as member, Terry Waya, a London-based Nigerian businessman.. Others on the board are Ganiyu O. Adegbuji (Managing Director), Suleiman M. Sani (Executive Director, Domestic Network Communications, NITEL), Emmanuel C. Omeara (Executive Director, Long Distance Communications, NITEL), D.O. Daramola (Executive Director, Mobile Communications, NITEL).Also appointed to the Board are Bello Alkali, Adeleke Oyelade, Garba Muhammed Noma, Henry Oyailo Abebe, Halita Aliyu, Muhammed Lawan Bello and Hassan Usman Deputy Director (Bureau of Public Enterprises).The new Board is made up of mostly members of the dissolved technical board. See For an update on the Waya “phenomenon,”see Tunji Bello “Terry Waya's Self Advertisement” The New Republic
[iii] Timtiniko Enodien “Pray, On What Then?” Guardian (Sunday Sept. 9 2001).
[iv] ibid
[v] ibid
[vi] Adeleke Adeseri “Why Osun Needs A New Hand” Guardian (September 9, 2001).
[vii] Deacon here refers to Olowofoyeku in Adeleke Adeseri, “Why Osun ..” ibid.
[viii] Note that while the Olowofoyeku article is referred to here, it is not for the purposes of singling out one individual, but to point to the ubiquity of a trend.
[ix] ibid
[x] Jerry Njoku “Understanding Anyim/Egwu Feud” ThisDay Online; also see Tunji Bello, “Pius Anyim's Hypocrisy” This Day (August 19, 2002)
[xi] Pat Utomi “On Decorum In Public Life” Guardian (September 9, 2001)
[xii] ibid
[xiii] Timiniko Enodien, “Pray On …” op cit.
[xiv] Pat Utomi, “On Decorum …” op cit
[xv] ibid
[xvi] ibid
[xvii] ibid
[xviii] “Nigeria” Paris Club News (July 29, 2005); Isa Sanusi “Debt Relief: FG to Pay Paris Club $6bn From Excess Crude Revenue” Daily Trust (August 10, 2005) Posted to the web August 10, 2005; Omoh Gabriel, “IMF Team in Nigeria, Holds Talks on Debt Relief” Vanguard Online Posted to the Web: Thursday, August 11, 2005; “Nigeria to get $18bn debt relief” BBC News
[xix] Jean Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. New York: Longman, 1993.
[xx] Chinua Achebe The Trouble with Nigeria Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983.
[xxi] Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1968.


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