Printer Friendly

Assessing grassroots politics and community development in Nigeria.

The crises of political authority and economic production confronting African states since the 1980s have shifted both the attention of multilateral agencies and scholars of African development to the activities and performance of civil society at the local level.(1) Yet, with only few exceptions, analysts still fail to provide an in-depth and comprehensive discussion of the relevance of these local organizations and institutions to the deepening economic and political crises of the African nation state. The immediate consequence of this limited perspective is a failure to comprehend fully the complex role of local actors in the development process.

This paper argues that political and economic interests at the grassroots level have fostered innovative responses to development programmes in local communities while, paradoxically, contributing to the political de-legitimization of the African state. These local initiatives have promoted development in ways which consolidate the existing political structure; in African states, the activities of 'civil society' at the local (and other levels) is intimately connected to the institutions of the state. Three major themes in contemporary Nigerian grassroots politics will illustrate these dynamic and paradoxical process. These are the politics of institutional transformation and communal relations, the relevance of indigenous institutions (e.g. chieftaincy) to local development and politics, and the role of indigenous entrepreneurship and civic organizations in community development. With a few notable exceptions,(2) social scientists have scarcely discussed the interconnections between these issues and local development. A comprehensive discussion of these themes within an integrated grassroots matrix, underscores the importance of dynamic socio-cultural and political factors in local development. An assessment of these issues will emphasize the importance of sub-national environments where communities feel, breathe and express themselves and thus, where development programmes are relevant. While this paper emphasises the seemingly intractable problems of communal conflicts, it will also contend that the integration of antecedent and new structures will nevertheless provide the basis on which 'civil society' can be built and strengthened.

Conceptualizing local politics and community development in Nigeria

The post-colonial nation state project entailed a process of political mobilization and participation which required both the reconstruction and interpenetration of antecedent institutions and the development of modern structures. Rajni Kothari observed, over two decades ago, that the key challenge confronting the contemporary Asian and African states, lies in the effective reconciliation of a wide array of indigenous and modern forces into a viable system of compromise and accommodation.(3) The crises of political legitimacy and economic production prevalent in African states is therefore intimately linked to the ambiguous nature of the public space and the absence of unifying national structures and doctrines. Political and social developments at the grassroots must thus be analyzed in the context of a post-colonial state that is sustained by an elite behaviour that rests on a tenuous interaction between 'traditional' structures and practices, and new social forms arising out of the colonial origins of the modern state. The main concern of the political class has been to protect their political and economic interests, consequently, government structures at the local level have hardly been used as effective institutions of governance, but rather as means for allocating patronage and as instruments of political domination in local communities.(4) Politics in Nigeria has therefore consistently emphasized the extractive nature of the state and the accumulative base of ethno-regional commercial and bureaucratic classes. For over three decades both the African political class and development practitioners have failed to realise that the long term efficacy of new socio-political institutions depends on an imaginative integration of these modern structures with pre-existing institutions and practices at the grassroots level.

This paper will therefore not emphasize the neo-liberal discussions of state/society relations in which options of 'exit' and 'disengagement' have dominated the political science scholarship of Africa in recent years. Instead, I will analyse the politics of community development in Nigeria within the context of the history of state and society in the twentieth century. This historical and comprehensive approach will provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of important contemporary African political problems, such as the crisis of political legitimacy at the grassroots level, and its implication for state viability and community development. An adequate discussion of state formation and the construction of 'civil society' requires an historical understanding of the contemporary African society. As Elizabeth Perry noted, it is 'only when "history meets politics" will we be in a position to take full advantage of our research laboratory to develop a convincing theory of political change'.(5) Moreover, while an historical based analysis of these contemporary socio-political issues may not in themselves provide solutions to current problems confronting the African state, they can at least ensure that relevant questions are properly posed.(6)

Discussions of state and society relations in Africa, and the relevance of 'associational life' to participatory politics, are not original to the new political science analysis of Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. With a few notable exceptions,(7) the political scientists that have adopted this paradigm are generally ahistorical with a narrow conceptual focus. Major works in African social history and earlier studies by political scientists which explored the political importance of local organizations in colonial and post-colonial Africa,(8) have for the most part been ignored by these recent studies. While rooted in historical analysis of specific African regions, these earlier studies show the viability and adaptability of African political and social formations, and explored the interaction between African societies and state institutions in the colonial and the immediate post-colonial period. Moreover, analysis of state-civil society relations in Africa have generally failed to realize that 'civil society' need not be pre-occupied with development programmes, but often express conflicting interpretations of local and regional issues.

The new pre-occupation with 'civil society' in general simplifies the complex nature of 'associational life' in Africa. Rather than use the vague term 'civil society', which reifies an eighteenth century liberal concept, I have adopted Migdal's descriptive term 'structures of society' precisely because it implies a fluid expression of movements, organizations and doctrines within the context of the modern state. A historical analysis of the interaction of state institutions, indigenous social forms and economic interests will clearly show points of congruence and the apparent disequilibrium between societal structures and values on the one hand, and the formal institutions of a super-imposed state on the other.(9)

A major challenge confronting local governance and community development programmes in Nigeria, lies in the recognition that a variety of social forces - expressed in chieftaincy institutions, social welfare groups, and local entrepreneurship - provides the normative and utilitarian attributes in which communities' values are based. Reconstructed traditions, myths and histories grow out of the living memories and beliefs of communities.(10) They are not frozen in time but operate in the context of the prevailing class structure, ambiguous communal identities and a rapidly changing political economy.(11) Democratic institutions and traditions in Africa, therefore need to be nurtured within the framework of existing values and institutions. In the specific case of Nigeria, entrenched ethno-regional interests, which dominate political life at the national and state levels, have failed to sustain state structures at the local level. This fragile federal structure is firmly rooted in both the colonial origins of the Nigerian state, and the political and economic interests of ethnic-based political classes in the post-colonial period. The following case studies will not only illustrate where contemporary state policies and programmes meet history and social forces, but will also highlight their implications for state consolidation and the viability of structures of society.

Government initiatives in local development

Policies and programmes undertaken by various state and federal governments to address the country's seemingly intractable socio-economic problems have generally intensified internal contradictions in Nigeria's complex communities. These policies have had severe implications for social relations - especially class and ethnic - since independence. Its most profound manifestation is in the consolidation of the political and economic interests of regional-based commercial and bureaucratic elites. This in turn has undermined the effectiveness of uniform community development programmes initiated by subsequent civilian and military regimes. Since these policies were formulated and implemented within the socio-political context of fragile federal structures and assertive communities, they have had far reaching implications for both communal and class relations. The complex interaction between state and society explains how local forces confront, accommodate and even shape state policies in the pursuit of conflicting communal and class interests.(12)

This essay will examine the incongruence between local governance and community development in the cases of the 1976 Local Government Guidelines and the 1978 Land Use Decree initiated by the Mohammed/Obasanjo military administration which replaced the government of General Gowon in 1975. The most apparent consequences of these policies can be seen in their impact on the nature of communal identities in most states on the federation where its implementation has transformed community relations and political alignment at the grassroots level. These communal expressions were rooted in historical conflicts and the contemporary nature of political alignment.

The 1976 Local Government Guidelines was the military administration's initial response to the crisis of political authority and governance at the grassroots level. Its objective was to lay the foundations for a responsible local government prior to creating new institutions at the national level. While in principle extolling the virtue of local autonomy and the ideal of participatory democracy, the policy, which in theory continues to define the basis of local administration, subjected local government authorities to the stringent control of state military (and later civilian) governments.(13) Government domination was ensured through the excessive power of the state governor and the control of the state executive committee over local authority finance. The 1976 Guidelines thus strengthened the center at the expense of local political expressions. The nature of military rule further promoted the objectives of a centralized authoritarian federal structure; in reality it rejected a truly federal system based on the promotion of local conditions and important issues of autonomy and identity. The trend throughout Nigeria's second experiment with a competitive electoral system (and also in the earlier parliamentary years in the 1950s and 1960s) was for state governments to dominate local communities by dissolving duly-elected local authorities and replacing them with partisan management committees. Almost two decades after the formulation of this policy it is clear that local government structures have operated as instruments of political domination, sustained by a corrupt and inefficient patronage system.(14) The crisis of local governance that persists throughout the country is not unconnected to the massive gap that exists between formal governmental structures and community values and practices. The moral values that defines the essence of diverse local communities are often in conflict with seemingly amoral bureaucratic structures.(15) Corporate structures of government remain largely incongruent with local forms of governance.(16)

The contradiction between state initiatives and structures of society as expressed in class, regional and communal interests also featured prominently in the only national land tenure policy undertaken by a Nigerian federal government. Rationalizing the conflicting claims of class interests and historical traditions over the interpretation of individual ownership and communal rights over land, remains a contentious issue throughout Nigeria. Formulating a uniform land policy is one thing, implementing it within the context of contending communal land tenure practices and modern economy is another. Furthermore, this complex problem was compounded by a legacy of scandals concerning multiple ownership of valuable urban land since the late colonial period.

With economic development, uniformity and equity as its stated objectives, the 1978 Land Use Decree vested all communal lands in the state governors. The major assumption of this policy was based on the notion that the holders of state power would provide the initiatives necessary for the economic transformation in their respective states. The political class, without effective legal constraints, would thus act judiciously as custodians of the country's most important natural resource. Indeed while the document promulgating the decree was shrouded in what Paul Francis referred to as 'a rhetoric of equality, justice, and universal rights for the masses of Nigerians',(17) its real outcome was consequently an expression of expropriation for particular class interests. At least with particular reference to its implications for communal relations and local development, two specific issues are easily discernible. First, although one of the objectives of the decree was to undermine the growing problem of speculation in urban areas, the experience of the following decade clearly suggest that speculation and multiple ownership remain a serious problem. In fact in spite of the decree's legal requirements, fraudulent and dubious sales of land, especially in urban areas, have increased since its inception in 1978. Second, both tenants and landowners in rural communities cynically responded to the decree, as they recognised the federal and state government's inability to enforce the decree at the grassroots. Thus peasants and landowners alike generally continue to observe the customary system which to them still provides a more reliable and secure method of land tenure in the long and short term.(18) Francis notes that this outcome suggests: 'that the persistence of traditional practice in the face of state directives is not due to irrational inertia but rather, to perceive mutual advantage, the need for security, and a rational assessment of long term interests'.(19)

In those sections of the country where holders of state power were able to exert direct influence (especially in urban areas), the decree degenerated into a legal guarantee as state officials effectively barred the poor from statutory rights of occupancy. The main beneficiaries were politicians, military officers, senior bureaucrats and wealthy land speculators who now combine new legal channels with informal networks through which they exclusively control land matters. By marginalizing local communities in the formulation and implementation of land policies, state governments ignored the real aspirations of local people. In a study of two Northern states, Kano and Bauchi, Peter Koehn notes that senior state officials:

applied land application procedures and requirements in the interest of public servants, private Nigerian businessmen, representatives of multinational firms. Poor rural and urban residents were effectively barred from all types of statutory rights of occupancy. These outcomes have been ensured primarily by restricting access and selectively controlling entry to the state land-allocation process.(20)

The most blatant example of the use of the decree to further class interests was the infamous and highly publicized case of Maroko, a prime water front area in Victoria Island, Lagos, inhabited by petty traders and domestic servants. After many years of intense controversy, the Lagos State Military Government of Colonel Raji Rasaki forcefully acquired this section of Lagos Island in 1990. The losers in this tragic tale were the impoverished squatters who were given no compensation for their destroyed property. The winners were wealthy land speculators, senior bureaucrats, military administrators and their political allies. Even traditional rulers (especially those in southern states where they retained some 'traditional' influence over communal land) felt the adverse effects of this landmark military decree, as it immediately undermined both their economic and political power at the local level.(21) At best traditional rulers would retain some influence by sharing power with businessmen, lawyers, surveyors and senior bureaucrats in the newly constituted and largely ineffective Land Allocation Advisory Committees.

As well noted by earlier instrumentalist analyses that have emphasized the communal bases of political struggles, the implementation of both the 1976 local government and the 1978 land reforms witnessed an intense competition for social services, as well as for the advancement of the communities' prestige and status. Clearly, the issue of political mobilization and legitimation and the contestation for land by individuals and classes both in rural and urban areas are not only tied to contemporary political struggles, but are inevitably connected to historical interpretations of local traditions and customs. With specific reference to land, the military imposed national land tenure system is yet to address the confusion over land ownership and economic development. In those areas where state power is most effective, the political class has used the decree as an instrument of expropriation, while in remote sections of the country where kinship ties remain dominant, customary land tenure practices persist.

Local government reform objectives of building democratic institutions and promoting economic development have often degenerated into serious communal tensions and conflicts. The political tensions and confrontations not only express contemporary power relations among classes and communities, but also conflicting interpretations of history and tradition by competing communal interests. Oyo State, the second largest in the federation provides a typical example of the interconnections between state policies (especially in local government reforms) and communal struggles at the grassroots level. In the state, the local government reform policy undertaken by an elected government in 1980 (a product of the 1976 Local Government Guidelines), gave rise to serious communal struggles during the country's second experiment with electoral politics. In the Oranmiyan Local Government Area of the state, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) government's reform policy instantly led to the re-emergence of historical tension between the Ife and Modakeke people. The bitter political violence that subsequently brought the conflict to a head in 1980 was mainly shaped by historical issues, the prevailing nature of party political alignment and by contemporary socio-political factors in the region.(22) This recurring conflict is a good example of how conflicting interpretations of history and traditions shape collective political action in the modern era. The long-standing feud has its origins in the warfare and political strife that engulfed Yorubaland (especially northern Yoruba towns) in the Nineteenth Century, the nature of the indirect rule system in colonial Oyo Province, and the impact of partisan politics in the immediate post-colonial period. In the case of Ibadan, the state capital, local chiefs and politicians mobilized fringe civic groups against the government's plans to re-organize the city's ailing and ineffective local authority. In this particular case as well as in other major towns of the state, local politicians embraced re-constructed mythological and traditional symbol in order to advance their objectives in both local and state politics. In a successful opposition to the local government reform policy of Governor Bola Ige's government, Ibadan politicians and chiefs presented the government's policy as the final death knoll to the social and economic advancement of the city and indigenes. Electoral political trends in Ibadan during this period in part suggests that the government's local government reform programme encouraged the development of a shifting communal political action, usually along ethnic and sub-ethic lines. As evidence from Yoruba states in general, and these two cities in particular have shown, historical legacies and contemporary conflicts of interest combined to define the nature of political alignment and re-alignment in the region.

This process of factionalism is even more severe at the state level, where regional political elites have advanced their interest through local movements and organizations. These grassroots organizations and movements provide a medium of interaction between the political class and diverse local communities. The lack of effective forms of local government structures in the post-colonial period have forced various local, state and federal governments to embrace these organizations as intermediaries of local communities. In numerous cases, the leaderships of these associations were willing emissaries of state and federal administrators. In other instances, where their political objectives conflicted with that of the state governments, they have effectively opposed government policies. Some notable examples clearly demonstrate occasional confrontations between regional and local power-brokers and the military regime of General Babangida. From 1986-1989, regional organizations such as the Committee of Northern Elders (a transient and informal group that professed to represent the interest of the North), the Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba (a Yoruba solidarity group), Ohe n'Eze-Igbo (for the peoples and kings of Igboland), and the Eastern Solidarity Group, have all, at various instances, posed strong regional opposition to the 'nationalist' policies and programmes of the Babangida administration. Issues of serious political disagreement between the organizations and the regime range from the recurring controversy over state and local government creation, revenue allocation, to the bitter debate over the application of Sharia law in the North. Despite Babangida administration's attempt to reduce their significance, organizations such as these, maintained their relevance in the federal government's abortive transition programme to civilian rule.(23) In fact, both the Babangida regime's constitutional proposal for local government reforms and integrated rural development programme, which sought to shift power away from the state capitals to local bureaucracies by directly funding local government councils and local boards of the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), both show the intense class and communal struggles within the context of Nigeria's federal politics. Even before Babangida was forced out of power in August 1993, the contradictions of an authoritarian regime devolving power to fragile local authorities was already apparent. The regime's local government and community development policies reflected all the old problems: lack of effective coordination between federal, state and local government institutions, inadequate funding of development projects and widespread corruption in the newly created local bureaucracies, all remain severe problems.(24)

Central to any discussion of 'associational life' in Africa is the role of contending communities as real and potential competitors for limited resources and status. These issues are not only expressed in economic terms but also in the historical interpretations of 'traditional' authority and influence among competing communities. After three decades of independence, the political class has failed to build viable civic structures capable of promoting unifying national ideological themes. Community-based civic organizations, rural communities and various social classes have assumed both adversarial and conciliatory positions with potential competitors and state structures. In Nigeria therefore, while these social forces are potential agencies of economic development, they have also featured prominently in contentious policies and issues confronting the state such as the debate over the 'national question', the intractable controversy over Sharia law in the north, the political struggles over the creation of new states and local government authorities, and the conflict over revenue allocation. Since the period of decolonization, alternative modern structures lacking firm roots in local communities, have proven ineffective in the political mobilization of local communities.

'Traditional rulership' and local development

Since the period of decolonization, chieftaincy has featured prominently in a carefully constructed federal structure, in which regional, communal, and religious factors have played critical roles. In so far as Nigerian state structures function in the context of entrenched social movements and ideologies, chieftaincy as dominant indigenous institutions at the grassroots has retained significant relevance in people's lives. The inability of the state either to co-opt fully or to eclipse chieftaincy structures has enhanced the status of these traditional rulers and local chiefs.

The crisis of the nation state has encouraged the resilience of indigenous political institutions at the grassroots level. Chiefly rulers draw their legitimacy from cherished traditions and strong kinship ties that define the essence of local communities. In many cases, the effectiveness of community-based doctrines is further strengthened by the utilitarian functions of these local leaders. Within this federal structure, chiefly rulers (especially traditional rulers in major urban centres) collectively reinforce privileged political classes that draw their support from a communal and ethnic base.(25) This system has essentially undermined the viability of the state by preserving conflicting local and regional interests. This fragile political arrangement reflects the failure of state institutions even in the highly interventionist, pre-structural adjustment era. At least as a symbolic expression of indigenous values, the legitimacy of individual rulers depends on their ability to anchor themselves to the social realities of local people. This argument is reinforced by a national pattern in which these leaders articulate the aspirations of a vocal and powerful minority and endeavour to mobilize the support of local elites at home and abroad for specific community development programmes.(26) Moreover, traditional rulers and chiefs have seized the initiative by providing leadership on a wide range of issues confronting their communities. In an observational study of the daily functions of the Timi of Ede, Oba Awolesi (traditional ruler of a major Yoruba town), S.A. Osunwale for example, concludes that the Timi performed both the age-old traditional obligations of his predecessors while grappling with the modern demands of development and social change.(27) While it is apparent that traditional rulers perform less critical social and economic functions in metropolitan areas, local chiefs remain major actors in the rural areas where kinship, lineage, clan and community ties, still dominate the basis of social relations.

With the persistent failure of various governments to build effective structures and a viable political doctrine at the grassroots level, holders of state power (whether military administrators, politicians or senior bureaucrats) have had to engage these local leaders in an attempt to mobilize mass support. In order to reconcile government policies with the complex social realities of diverse communities, holders of state power have often sought to gain the support of chiefs and traditional rulers who profess to represent communal aspirations. Yet despite their ambiguous role in Nigeria's diverse communities, two contrasting ideological perspectives have dominated both the scholarly and popular discussions of chieftaincy institutions and local development in Nigeria. First, a powerful pro-chieftaincy lobby from key regions of the federation has generally argued that the widespread failure of government programmes at the grassroots is attributable to the under-utilization of chiefly rulers and village heads in local government administration. Proponents of this perspective also evoked the importance of local culture and values as critical requisite for community development and political stability.(28) Second, a small but occasionally vocal anti-chieftaincy lobby, consisting mainly of radical intellectuals, contends that chieftaincy institutions are not only vestiges of an oppressive past, but are also anachronistic and dysfunctional in a rapidly changing and complex country. They further argued that the manipulation of primordial values and narrow communal objectives by traditional leaders, have not only intensified the divisions between these diverse communities, but also pits local against national interests.(29) It is clearly the case that a central problem of the Nigerian state lies in the inability of government agencies to effectively mobilize local communities for political and socio-economic development. It is this major void created by the ineffectiveness of state structures that has further enhanced the status of these local leaders as vital instruments of social cohesion and community advancement.

The paradox of traditional chieftaincy in post-colonial Nigeria therefore lies in an institution that, although firmly rooted in kinship and community structures, still lacks access to formal political authority. Despite their marginal role in government institutions, chiefly rulers as important actors in local affairs maintain a central role in the power relations among diverse communal groups. Given the current nature of power relations, the persistent pleas to insulate local rulers as 'Fathers of their People', from the damaging effects of political struggles is rather unrealistic; holders of state power and influential traditional rulers continue to nurture a firm alliance within major political blocs throughout the country. These political ties, with their inevitable partisan consequences have placed considerable strain on the institution of chieftaincy. Thus, since the period of decolonization, a paradoxical pattern has developed in the relations between these communal leaders and holders of state power. Despite their marginalized role in modern political and bureaucratic structures, their influence at the grassroots level continue to reinforce the power base of dominant regional classes. To be sure, this influence is both an expression of their cultural worth and a consequence of their critical role in beleaguered communities ravaged by poverty, exploitation and lack of basic infrastructure. It is therefore the direct consequence of a dysfunctional and fragmented Nigerian state and society that has prevented the integration of modern bureaucratic structures and local forms of leadership. This lack of effective accommodation has had serious implications for development projects especially in rural communities.

Yet despite their prominent role at the grassroots, it is relevant to note the contradictory questions implicit in traditional rulership that draws its legitimacy from conflicting interpretations of the past, and a modern state committed to the rationalization of indigenous Social formations. Ian Shapiro's reflective discussion of democratic transition in post Apartheid South Africa exemplifies the contradiction between the struggle for egalitarian democracy and traditional rule at the local level. He notes '. . . arguments for the protection of "traditional" institutions and practices from the operation of democratic politics should always be looked on with suspicion by democrats. Too often they are mere rationalizations for the maintenance of oppressive social relations.'(30) Yet despite this apparent problem, any meaningful debate on the role of chiefly rulers must attempt to reconcile the conflicting tensions between these leaders and state agencies at the grassroots level. At least in the case of Nigeria, this problem is further complicated by the role of major traditional rulers in a complex and informal network system that has entrenched the status and privilege of regional bureaucratic and commercial classes, while simultaneously projecting the significance of local values and aspirations. This pre-occupation with power relations at both regional and local levels have had negative consequences for real development in local communities.

Civic organisations, indigenous entrepreneurship and community development

Unlike the previous issues discussed earlier in which structures of society consistently engage in power struggles under the leadership of local and regional political elites, community based organizations, adapting local values to modern conditions have often performed a more circumscribed role in the development of both rural and urban communities. The fluid interaction between these local structures and a rapidly changing political economy is best expressed in the performance of indigenous entrepreneurship and social welfare organizations. Drawing from modernization theory, earlier studies in African entrepreneurship have generally argued that the apparent deficiencies in indigenous enterprises in the immediate post-colonial period are rooted in prevailing political and socio-cultural conditions.(31) These works generally argue that the conflicting values of African kinship structures and the rational forces of economic liberalization has fundamentally undermined the growth of modern industrial enterprises in Nigeria. Indigenous enterprises, in order to survive on the long term, must thus check the damaging impact of African 'traditional' society. This problem, they contend, can only be curtailed by the rapid advancement of western education, the construction of effective bureaucratic structures and the development of rational economic values. Economic historians, for example A. G. Hopkins, have, however, questioned the fundamental premise of this assumption by analysing the complex and ambiguous expression of commercial enterprises and agricultural production in colonial Nigeria. He contends that the manifestations of entrepreneurship during this period was based on a tradition of indigenous innovation and adaptability to rapidly changing economic conditions.(32) More recently, Tom Forrest further questions the hasty assumptions of modernization theorists by adopting a detailed and historical-analysis that effectively captures a select number of indigenous enterprises drawn from key sections of the country since independence. He argues that the long term viability of these enterprises can best be explained by their flexible embrace of a multiplicity of economic and social strategies. These strategies are specifically expressed in how they respond to major state policies (such as the indigenization decrees of 1972-1977), the shifting nature of trade and commerce and, the diversification of foreign involvement in Nigerian industry.(33)

The economic crisis of the 1980s and 1990s has encouraged a renewed emphasis on the roles of these indigenous enterprises in local development. A few notable cases drawn from only one region of the country will demonstrate this remarkable spirit of indigenous entrepreneurship in an era of deepening economic crisis. The Igbo towns of Nnewi, Onitsha and Aba provide good examples of how communal ties and innovation can encourage indigenous entrepreneurship and local development. The surge in this industry occurred at a critical period when import restrictions and the foreign exchange crisis followed the decline in oil revenue in the 1980s.(34) Although a rural community, Nnewi for example, has emerged as a leading centre in the production and trade in motor vehicle spare parts. Throughout the 1980s Nnewi experienced rapid industrialization, with approximately twenty medium to large scale industries established, and indigenes controlling no less than ninety per cent of the Nigerian motor parts trade.(35) Indeed, its prominence in this industry is felt not only in Nigeria, but in other African countries.(36) Forrest defines three major characteristics of the 'silent industrialization' in Nnewi: (a) apprenticeship in the motor parts manufacturing industry is generally drawn from people with limited formal education who maintained strong ties to the local community; (b) basic infrastructure and equipment such as tarred roads, land, water bore-holes, transformers and generators were acquired through a mutually benefiting network based on a deep sense of community values; and (c) local industrialists shifted the acquisition of technical resources away from Britain and Europe to the Far East (specifically Taiwan) in the 1980s.(37)

Similarly, Onitsha and Aba are now pivotal to Nigeria's passenger and haulage transportation network. Initially major trading towns in motor vehicle spare parts, these two Igbo towns are the nerve centre of a lucrative but unstable transportation business. Similar to the case of Nnewi, requirements for survival and ultimate success in this enterprise includes industry and perseverance, as well as strong kinship and local ties. A major regional news magazine captures the local dimension of this demanding business venture with this humorous, but apt statement:

most of the brains behind these successful transport outfits, are from the same local government areas in Anambra state . . . . No degree or diploma is needed; graduates and the faint hearted keep off. Requisite qualification: street acquired training and experience.(38)

The communal spirit of local entrepreneurship therefore reflects a value of wealth sharing based on a pragmatic adaptation of local customs to modern economic conditions.(39) Contrary to earlier industrial planning in the 1970s, that emphasized the economic significance of grand projects, funded by the oil boom of 1973-1977, the modest success of medium and large scale indigenous enterprises with strong communal ties, and adaptability to the changing global economy, have now gained currency as growth engines of local development.(40)

Social welfare organizations have generated even more attention as a medium of community development in the 1980s and 1990s. Attention has thus shifted to a new liberal concept where civic organizations are expected to reflect a progressive adaptability to contemporary social and political conditions. Organizations that were referred to as progressive unions in the 1950's and the 1960s have come under a new label, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the 1980s and the 1990s. It is assumed that, with a strong sense of civic commitment, these organizations will harness scarce resources for local development. The success of development programmes is often predicated on the commitment of an indigenous elite at home and abroad to mobilize scarce resources for specific community development initiatives.(41) The ability of these local leaders to influence community development depends, on the influence they exert on state bureaucratic and political structures. By engaging state agencies in community development programmes, some of these organizations have become the main 'growth machines' of development in local communities. In many Nigerian towns and villages they continue to advance community interest by lobbying state officials for basic social services.(42) The long term credibility of regional politicians and military rulers is intimately connected to their ability to influence the provision of basic infrastructure in their various hometowns.

But beyond their modest success as providers of basic social programmes, these organizations exhibit profound limitations in major sectors of the local economy. This is most apparent in their modest achievements in productive projects such as agricultural schemes and industrialization, employment of the local work force and the provision of educational and public health services for local communities.(43) This apparent drawback is attributable to the perennial lack of resources and professional expertise that consistently plagued community development programmes in developing countries. Moreover, the performance of these civic organizations is further hampered by a corrupt patronage system of economic and political rewards. It is in light of this disturbing development that Enemuo and Oyediran observed that:

The major operational defect of the unions is their extreme individualism. They seem to be involved in an undeclared competition, with each trying to out-do the others in the rate of project initiations and execution . . . . Moreover, deep religious cleavages, intractable leadership tussles have chilled communal cooperative spirits, thereby making the unions ineffective vehicles of grassroots mobilization and development.(44)

Thus, despite their critical roles as reflections of local aspirations, civic groups lack both the material and human resources to effectively tackle the serious economic and social problems confronting local communities. Moreover as community-based organizations, these social welfare groups reflect important historical and socio-cultural factors which continue to shape the nature and character of contemporary political action. In some notable cases, political conflicts have complicated the struggle for development at the local level. Local and regional politicians have too often derived influence by appropriating the support of these grassroots organizations. Civic organizations are therefore no substitute for effective government agencies; rather they should compliment efficient state institutions in the advancement of community development. The new liberal pre-occupation with NGOs as the main growth engines of community development is thus, a clear indication of the severity of the crises of local governance in Nigeria.


An ahistorical analysis of state/society relations in Africa can only provide a limited and narrow insight into the performance and activities of structures of society in contemporary Nigeria. This paper contends that a historical analysis based on a comprehensive assessment of major political, social and economic themes at the grassroots level in the colonial and post-colonial period, provides a deeper understanding of the complex nature of local politics and community development in Nigeria. This approach also provides a dialectical understanding of the origins, structures, nature, and limitations of grassroots organizations and movements in community development. Such an approach underscores the fact that community development issues are not only contingent on the principles of economic liberalization but on more complex political and social considerations.

The Nigerian case studies discussed in this paper demonstrate how these structures of society paradoxically express constructive social and political action on the one hand while on the other, intensifying the process of factionalism in a fragile nation state. Thus, while they continue to perform crucial socio-economic functions at the grassroots level, these organizations and movements, as key actors in an entrenched ethno-regional power structure, have contributed to the political crisis that have bedeviled the country since the period of decolonization. The question is therefore not whether these organizations possess dynamic and innovative qualities. The critical issue is whether the Nigerian political class can provide a viable system where local communities can harness the productive resources of these institutions within the context of a decentralized political structure. Such fluid political environment is likely in the long term to challenge authoritarian state control, extractive and corrupt bureaucracies, and the damaging consequences of communalism.(45)

1. Anne Gordon Drabek (ed.), 'Development Alternatives: The challenge of NGOs', World Development, 15 (Supplement, 1987), pp. vii-xv.

2. See for example Gavin Williams, State and Society in Nigeria (Afrografic, Idanre, 1980), and Sara Berry, Fathers Work for their Sons: Accumulation, mobility, and class formation in an extended Yoruba community (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1985), See chs. 4 and 5.

3. Rajni Kothari, 'Tradition and Modernity Revisited', Government and Opposition, 3 (1968), pp. 273-98. See also his Footsteps into the Future: Diagnosis of the present world and a design for an alternative (Free Press, New York, 1974), pp. 118-48.

4. Jane Guyer, 'Representation without Taxation: An essay on democracy in rural Nigeria, 1952-1990', Boston University, African Studies Center Working Papers, 1992.

5. Elizabeth Perry, 'State and Society in Contemporary China', World Politics, 41 (1989), p. 590.

6. A. G. Hopkins, 'African Entrepreneurship: The relevance of history to development economics', Geneve Afrique, 26 (1988), pp. 8-23.

7. See for example Joel Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States: State society relations and state capabilities in the Third World (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1988).

8. Notable among these major works are Thomas Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (Muller, London, 1956); Richard Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an emergent African nation (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1963); and Martin Kilson, Political Change in a West African State: A study of the modernization process in Sierra Leone (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1966).

9. Some important scholarly works have underscored the tension between state institutions and grassroots structures in post-colonial African politics. In his pioneering and masterly critique of modernization theory, C. S. Whitaker, used the term dysrhythmic to show the dynamic interaction between modern and traditional structures in the process of social change. The term incongruence and disequilibrium was used in a recent article by Goran Hyden and Donald Williams to show the intense pressure between state agencies and structures of society; see C. S. Whitaker, The Politics of Tradition, Continuity and Change in Northern Nigeria, 1946-1966 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1970); and also Goran Hyden and Donald Williams, 'A Community Model of African Politics: Illustrations from Nigeria and Tanzania', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 36 (1994), pp. 68-96.

10. Terence Ranger, 'The Invention of Tradition Revisited: The Case of Africa', in Terence Ranger and Olufemi Vaughan (eds.), Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth Century Africa: Essays in honour of A. H. M. Kirk-Greene (Macmillan, London, 1993), pp. 62-111.

11. For a detailed analysis see J. D. Y. Peel, Ijesha and Nigerians: The incorporation of a Yoruba kingdom, 1890s-1970s (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983).

12. Michael Bratton, 'Beyond the State: Civil society and associational life in Africa', World Politics, 41 (1989), pp. 409-11.

13. For a detailed account of the objectives of this document see Guidelines for Local Government Reform (Federal Government Printer, Lagos, 1976).

14. Olayiwola Olurode, 'Grassroots Politics, Political Factions, and Conflict in Nigeria: The case of Iwo, 1976-1983', Rural Africana, 25-26 (1986), pp. 113-24.

15. Peter Ekeh, 'Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A theoretical statement', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 17 (1975), p. 101; see also his 'Social Anthropology and Two Contrasting Uses of Tribalism in Africa', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32 (1990).

16. Daniel Bach, 'Managing a Plural Society: The boomerang effects of Nigerian federalism', Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 27 (1989), p. 228.

17. Paul Francis, 'For the Use and Common Benefit of all Nigerians: Consequences of the 1978 land nationalisation', Africa, 54 (1984), p. 12.

18. Francis, 'For the Use and Common Benefit of all Nigerians', p. 12-17.

19. Francis, 'For the Use and Common Benefit of all Nigerians', p. 23.

20. Peter Koehn, 'State Land Allocation and Class Formation in Nigeria', The Journal of Modern African Studies, 21 (1983), p. 481.

21. David M. Jemibewon, A Combatant in Government, (Heinemann, Ibadan, 1979), pp. 141-43.

22. See Oyeleye Oyediran, 'Modakeke in Ife: Historical background to an aspect of contemporary Ife politics', Odu: A Journal of West African Studies, 10 (1974), pp. 63-78. See also Olufemi Vaughan, 'Communalism, Legitimation and Party Politics: The case of the Yoruba', International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 7 (1994), p. 430.

23. It is useful to note that all the major political parties during Nigeria's second experiment with electoral politics were firmly anchored to informal organizations that not only represented ethno-regional interests, but maintained much continuity with the preceding era of parliamentary democracy. See Richard Joseph, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987).

24. Abdul Raufu Mustapha, 'Structural Adjustment and Agrarian Change in Nigeria', in Adebayo Olukoshi (ed.), The Politics of Structural Adjustment in Nigeria (James Currey, London, 1993), pp. 122-23.

25. Olufemi Vaughan, 'Chieftaincy Politics and Social Relations in Nigeria', Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 29 (1991), p. 311.

26. For a detailed and critical analysis of this development, see Berry, Fathers Work for theft Sons.

27. S. A. Osunwale, 'Three Days at the Court of the Timi Agbale, the Traditional Ruler of Ede', paper presented at the National Conference on the Role of Traditional Rulers in the Governance of Nigeria, held at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, 1984.

28. See for example, Saburi Biobaku, 'Political Leadership and National Development: Traditional leaders in contemporary Nigeria', paper presented at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), 1984.

29. See for example, Ekong E. Ekong, 'Traditional Rulership in Contemporary Nigerian Governmental System and the Dilemma of Relevance', in Oladimeji Aborisade (ed.), Local Government and Traditional Rulers in Nigeria (University of Ife Press, Ile-Ife, 1985), and Adedokun Jagun, 'Traditional Rulers and the Concept of Democracy and Local Government: A paradigm of harmony and conflict', in Aborisade, Local Government and Traditional Rulers; see also Nigerian Analyst (1984).

30. Ian Shapiro, 'Letter from South Africa', Dissent (1994), p. 181.

31. It is useful to note that Kilby's important work is in keeping with the perspective of most development economists in that era. He attributes the inefficiency of indigenous entrepreneurs in the 1950s and 1960s to the familiar obligations of the African extended family. His 'qualitative observation' that Igbos make more efficient bakers than their Yoruba and Hausa counterparts reinforces a stereotypical cultural reductionist perspective. Tom Forrest's comparative analysis of regional enterprises is a good critique of this widely held perspective. Peter Kilby, African Enterprise: The Nigerian bread industry (Stanford University Press, Hoover Institution Studies: 8, 1965), especially chs. 8 and 9. See also, Tom Forrest, The Advance of African Capital: The growth of Nigerian private enterprise (University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1994).

32. Hopkins, 'African Entrepreneurship', pp. 10-12.

33. Forrest, The Advance of African Capital.

34. Tom Forrest, 'The Advance of African Capital: The growth of Nigerian private enterprise', paper for workshop on Alternative Development Strategies in Africa, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, 1989, p. 31.

35. Forrest, 'The Advance of African Capital', p. 28.

36. The products of this local economy can be found in many countries in the sub-Continent. See proceedings of the Conference of the Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, 12-15 December 1988.

37. Forrest, 'The Advance of African Capital', p. 29.

38. These Eastern states are not unique as various studies on NGOs and local development in other regions have shown, that the strong ties of these organizations provide a foundation for community development in Nigeria. See Nigerian Business (1991), pp. 18-24, and The National Seminar on Integrated Rural Development Policy in Nigeria (Abuja, 17-21 September 1990).

39. Barbara P. Thomas, 'Development Through Harambee: Who wins and who loses? Rural self-help projects in Kenya', World Development, 15 (1987).

40. For a good discussion of local enterprises and community development in Nigeria see S. I. Owualah, 'The Role of Small Enterprises in the Economic Development of Nigeria', Management in Nigeria (1987), pp. 30-39, and Okey Ndibe, 'Hi-Tech Hijack: The miracle of Aba', The African Guardian (1988), pp. 15-21.

41. Berry, Fathers Work for their Sons.

42. Interview with the Chairman of the Egbeda Local Government Council, Mr. Oyelese, Ibadan, August 1992.

43. F. C. Enemuo and Oyeleye Oyediran, 'Community Development Associations as Agents of Rural Transformation: A case study of town unions in Anambra State', paper presented at the National Seminar in Integrated Rural Development Policy in Nigeria, Abuja, 1990, p. 15.

44. Enemuo and Oyediran, 'Community Development Associations as Agents of Rural Transformation', p. 17.

45. Barry Munslow and Basil Davidson, 'The Crisis of the Nation State in Africa', Review of African Political Economy, 49 (1990), pp. 9-21.

Olufemi Vaughan is Assistant Professor of African Studies and History at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is grateful to Toyin Falola, Julius Ihonvbere and Gavin Williams for useful suggestions and comments on an earlier version of this paper.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Vaughan, Olufemi
Publication:African Affairs
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Previous Article:The South African general election, April 1994: results, analysis and implications.
Next Article:International monitoring of the transition to democracy in South Africa, 1992-1994.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters