Unravelling Failing Democracies

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In this book titled, “Nigeria: Democracy Without Development” Omano Edigheji lends his voice to the global conversation on failing democracies. Yinka Olatunbosun writes some excerpts from the review by Hussaini Abdul

Worldwide, democracy has been under significant critical interrogation – both in the advanced and new democracies. From the US Capitol hill siege to the EndSARS movement, there is a question on the integrity of democratic systems. The interrogations are informed by increasing right-wing populism, inequality and poverty, slow economic growth and shrinking civic space. No time has democracy been this interrogated since the end of the Second World War than it is now.

Dr. Edigheji has through his new book, Nigeria: Democracy without Development, How to Fix Itjoined this global conversation albeit from a different perspective. Having established that democracies have failed globally, he examines thepeculiarities of Nigerian state in the democratic discourse.

Using institutional and development lenses, his book addresses the important problematique of the paradoxical relationship between democracy and development in Nigeria. It examines what the author considered the root causes of democratic failures in Nigeria and argues that Nigeria lacks the internal organisational structure and ideological orientation to promote inclusive sustainable development. While recognising the importance of the normative values of democracy including rule of law and civil liberties, the author argued, passionately that they are not sufficient conditions for human development, which should be the essence of democracy. Therefore, democracy is failing in Nigeria because it has continually dashed the hope and developmental aspirations of the people. In the words of the author, the twenty years of democracy in Nigeria has been “marked by increased poverty, inequality, unemployment, underemployment, insecurity, ethno-religious divisions, increased corruption and continued dependence on oil as a major source of government revenue and foreign exchange.”

The failure of democracy to guarantee positive development outcomes is attributed to poor political leadership and weak institutions driven by the absence of developmental elites and state capture through non-merit-based recruitment of both political leaders and civil servants. Fixing these development challenges will therefore require responding to the challenges of weak leadership and weak institutions.

The book is structured into five chapters, excluding the preface, which introduces the book, and the postscript where the author shared his dream for Nigeria. Politics in the country is thus believed to be devoid of loyalty, honesty, integrity, ideology, principles and intellectualism. To buttress these points, the author examined some of the negative attributes of the system – including godfatherism, lack of internal party democracy, corruption, ethno-religious divisions and mobilisation. Others include neglect of the health sector, poor governance and lack of comprehensive development vision and conflict and insecurity that pervade the country. Chapter four analyses the institutional deficits of Nigerian democracy. Using the examples of South-east Asia and Nordic countries, the author observed that the state institutions have become a structural liability to democracy. The years of corruption, quota system and lack of merit in public service recruitment and leadership recruitment has perverted the system, increased the cost of governance, corruption and undermined job-security and professionalism. As a result of these anomalies and decay, the system is unable to attract its best and brightest. The author however puts out that developmentalism is largely driven by technocratic public policy and requires a bureaucracy that is competent, professional, disciplined and efficient.

In the last chapter, the author provides strong recommendations on how to build a shared prosperous future through a democratic developmental state. Some of the key recommendations include diversifying the economy through industrialisation and manufacturing, building the political, technical and organisational capacities of the state and enhancing bureaucratic efficiency.

The striking point of this book is the attempt to boldly call out the ruling class for the escalating crisis of democracy while drumming for a reorientation toward developmental nationalism. For a country that has been badly divided through years of divisive politics, where nationalism has become an anathema under the weight of globalism and internecine contentions, this is quite a timely intervention.

Nevertheless, this is an important piece of work for a strata of Nigerians – politicians, academics, policymakers, journalists, civil society organizations and students. It is a lucidly-written piece of work, passionately presented and neatly produced. The intersperse of history and quantitative data makes this work compelling for all students of the Nigerian political economy.