The Nigerian Economic Development

A Case Against Liberal Democracy


“Development is not simply economic growth”, argues Alpha J. Marshall, a member of the SWL and convener of the More Action Less Talk (MALT) network.

He sets out the argument, in this article, noting that development is not a project, but a process – a process by which the people create and re-creates themselves by their life circumstances to achieve higher values of prosperity, according to their choice of values.

Development is a process in which the people are the end, the means, and the agents.

It is the people that should conceive the idea of development. there has never been an attempt to ask the people what they really want. development should start from the grass root.


There is no correlation between democracy and development, defined as economic growth. This is so because some nations have developed under liberal democratic conditions. For example, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, and South Korea. (these are countries that were roughly on the same level as Nigeria in the early ‘60s and ‘70s). More also, some other countries have achieved high rate of economic growth under dictatorship. For example China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE.

Anti-apartheid activist and author, Adrian Leftwich, notes that:

The conservative nature of liberal democracies actually has greater potentials for stalling the process of economic growth and development, unlike the conventional wisdom passed down by their ideologues. For example, it took the United States of America almost 200 years from its independence in 1776 to become a global economic power after World War II.

There is a “primacy of politics in development and economic growth. This is because, irrespective of the nature of a state, negotiations, consensus building, and compromise come into play in reaching decisions and state policy, which shape the country’s macroeconomics and impact the economic activities of the different classes and players involved in production and services delivery.

That is one of the reasons why we must dismiss the neoliberal “rolling back the state” argument as a false flag. What capitalists do with neoliberalism is to use the state to re-regulate the economy further in the interest of the elites, based on the global (the so-called Washington and post-Washington) consensus of their class to strengthen profit-making over the interest of the people and the planet.

In Nigeria, the different sections of the capitalist class apply this primacy of politics in ways that worsen outcomes, by playing primordial cards, such as ethnicity, regionalism, and religiosity. Virtually every government policy in the country is subject to political innuendos, and the making of compromises and negotiations to suit ethnic sentiments.

States political involvement in the national economy takes different shapes. These include central state-capitalist planning, as we have in China or Cuba, for example. More commonly, their involvement tends to be regulatory. They make laws and policies that give direction to the private sector for the purpose of economic growth.

The state loses legitimacy in the face of an utter lack of economic development, which the masses can identify with. So, governments’ intervention in the economy includes efforts at ensuring development along with growth, though the extent of their successes is another story.

However, it is important to note that either as centrally planned state capitalist states or as regulatory liberal states, the primary concern of these states, as instruments of the ruling class, is the expansion of capital. So, the primary beneficiaries of their interventions are the bosses, as the manifestation of capital.

In several underdeveloped countries, the ruling elites established developmental states in the period after World War II, using these to modernize their countries with industrialization projects.  They benefited from the rise in worldwide economic growth at the time, and a global consensus on the centrality of the state for aiding development, which saw the capitalists in many European countries establishing the welfare state.

But the turn to neoliberalism in the late 1970s undermined these projects. The new global capitalist consensus, foisted on the rest of the world by the imperialist countries, was one of export-oriented growth. But now, more than ever, economically backward countries like Nigeria require a radical, revolutionary and transformative process of development which cannot be gotten with the neoliberal model of development.

For over 60 years and counting, our country’s elites have wobbled and fumbled in terms of achieving the much-desired growth and development that could lift millions of poor working-class people out of poverty.

In fact, by 2018 we became the poverty capital of the world, overtaking India. Meanwhile, countries like Brazil, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the UA which used to be almost at par with us at independence, have left us behind on the human developmental index

The way forward:

After over 6 decades of nationhood and development activities in Nigeria, poverty still pervades the entire country.

Health, Educational, and social infrastructure have continued to degenerate. Insecurity, government corruption, and the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is short, brutish, and nasty are prevalent from Sokoto to Uyo and from Lagos to Maiduguri. It is a disaster. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. Even when economic growth is achieved through projects that don’t resolve this terrible situation of the masses’ lives will lead us nowhere, that will not be the same thing as development.

Development is not a project it is a process. It is a process by which the people create and recreate themselves by their life circumstances to achieve higher levels of prosperity and values.

Development is a process in which the people are the end, the means, and the agents.  Development has to be about the people and not artifacts. This is what must inform our choices going forward.

Thus, we will have to be concerned with not just economic development, but as well, ensuring social and cultural development, which is wielded as the popular will of the people, by the people for the people.

The Chinese built one of the most architectural masterpiece, ever constructed, called the Great Wall of China. The wall was built to keep away invaders and protect the people. History beckons that the Chinese were invaded three (3) times, despite the wall.

On closer observation, it was discovered that the invaders never climbed the wall because it was too high, but rather gained entrance by bribing the guards at the wall. The Chinese elites built the wall but the poor people, such as the guards who watched the wall did not see the project of their employers as their own project.  

Economic development

Starting with the material development of our society, which is the economy, we must say that the answer is not simply one of gathering a collection of powerful, professionally competent economic bureaucrats who supposedly have the capacity to manage the private sector of the market.

President Obasanjo did exactly that with Chukwuma Soludo as CBN Governor, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili as Minister of Finance, and Nasir El-Rufai as Minister of the FCT. But this did not benefit the masses because their competence was in promoting the interests of capitalists who live in Miatama, Asokoro, Ikoyi, Banana Island, and not the poor living in Kubwa, Karu, Maraba, Ajegunle, and Mushin.

And based on their ideological commitment to capitalist neoliberalism, it was not surprising that they helped foster imperialist domination over Nigeria, by pandering to the wishes of countries like America, Britain, France, and the international financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF, to promote a private sector that did not prioritize manufacturing.

We must ask ourselves, what are the reasons why our country is economically backward?

The orthodox explanation for the lack of development in Nigeria has been attributed to the following factors:

  1. Low level of investment (both domestic and foreign).
  2. Unequal terms of trade between Nigeria and the developed nations.
  3.  Lack of technical skills.
  4. Low productivity of workers (The civil Service)

These factors have, no doubt, contributed to Nigeria’s underdevelopment. But they are not the fundamental problems.

Claude Ake, a leading authority in Development, asserts that Nigeria’s under-development, is a result of her historical background, (Nigeria’s colonial Origin).

 Ake asserts that the colonial state, in general, was -:

  1. Statist: The colonial state exercised domination and control over the economy and social life. It was an absolutist state and also arbitrary. In the colonial state, the emphasis is on the achievement of compliance through coercion, rather than through the exercise of legitimate authority. It was governance by means of coercion, and what was required of the people was their conformity and not their consent. And part of that conformity was for the people to accept finished products manufactured by the countries of the colonial powers.
  2. The post-colonial states political elites: – After independence – (flag independence of course), the politicians shifted their focus from fighting the colonizers to competing among themselves for the control of state power as an avenue to accumulate private wealth. The politicians manipulated ethnicity to gain power, thus promoting politics of exclusivity.
  3. The integration of Nigeria into the global capitalist system: This factor created a relationship of structural dependence between Nigeria and the advanced capitalist economies, thus making Nigerian leaders to believe that economic development depends essentially on the inflow of foreign capital from developed nations in the forms of aids and loans.

Beyond liberal democracy

Liberal democracy has brought more of tears and agony for working people in Nigeria. Only a few people, who have plenty money, really have a say in how the country is run.

On one hand, our votes have hardly counted over the years, due to rigging, ballot box snatching, vote buying etc.

On the other hand, while we can even get to exercise the right to vote (even if it does not count), it is impossible for us to exercise the right to be voted for.

To run for elections, you have to have (or be supported by capitalists who have) millions or billions of naira, depending on which office you are running for.

And besides, while elections are just once every four years or so, decisions are made without our input by the ruling class, every month, every week, and indeed, every day.  

We, the working people, have to take our fate in our hands by overthrowing this elitist form of democracy and establishing a participatory and popular form of democracy, a working people’s democracy.  

The basis of the sort of democracy we envisage and should fight for is one where decisions taken in our communities and workplaces serve as the basis of power, with which we shape our lives, and not simply those taken by a few hundreds of people at the National Assembly and Aso Rock in Abuja.

We can and must run society ourselves. Popular democracy is democracy from below.  

Such democracy below will allow the people to participate actively in the process of decision-making beyond periodic electoral processes and help entrench self-reliance.

As we the people make and implement our own plans for our workplaces and communities, with delegates sent to the center whom we can easily remove if they do not represent us adequately, public officers will, at last, be the servants of the people and not our masters.

by Alpha J. Marshall



Previous articleThis Obedience They Hail
Next articleASUU’s Struggle Is Our Collective Struggle