Nigerian Political Modernity and Postcolonial Predicaments.
Toyin Falola's Nigerian Political Modernity and Postcolonial Predicaments examines the long history of Nigerian politics with the aim of explaining how the country's government came to be so dysfunctional in the present. Falola begins by analyzing the legacy of indirect rule in Nigeria, showing it to be a precursor to the fragmentation Nigeria has experienced (p. 176). Falola then discusses the effects of military rule, an overdependence on oil revenue to hold the country together, the weakness of Nigerian democracy, and the country's troubling contrasts of extreme wealth and poverty. He highlights the shortfalls of Nigerian nationalism, noting that it has been compromised by ethnic ties and the socioeconomic links forged by those ties.
Falolas thesis is compelling. He argues that underdevelopment, weakness in the country's democratic structures and in civil society, and ethnic division have compromised the Nigerian state and need to be overcome if the state is to succeed. To combat underdevelopment, genuine economic development that would equitably distribute the wealth Nigeria generates would need to take place and that can happen only through democracy and social activism. Falola makes clear that the electoral machinery of democracy is insufficient to produce a functioning Nigerian state; it needs to be accompanied by an actual democratizing effect that would come from economic development. For democracy to flourish, the country needs a strong civil society that can hold the country's political structures accountable. This would be the best means of undermining groups that thrive in a dysfunctional state, such as Boko Haram.
Falolas arguments about the weakness of civil society in Nigeria and elsewhere are compelling, building on work done by scholars such as Robert Fat-ton. However, the concrete specifics of solutions are in some ways wanting in Falola's study. Although Falola devotes two chapters to democracy building and social activism, he only tangentially comments on lessons that might be of use, such as the US civil rights movement. Instead, he devotes considerable time to the discussion of political turmoil in the Niger Delta. It might have been more useful to examine civil society actors in greater depth, considering which ones might be of use in the future or what those civil society actors might do to strengthen themselves.
Understanding who this book is intended for is difficult. For the academic specialist, the book draws on familiar scholarship from Mahmood Mamdani about the role of the British colonial state in fostering ethnic division through so-called indirect rule (p. 55). In thinking about the federalism that defines Nigeria's political system, Falola has introduced a very clear way to see the influence of indirect rule down to the present day and the ways that it contributes to Nigerian political dysfunction. For the nonspecialist, however, this book might be difficult to comprehend. While some chapters are devoted to narrative, particularly chapter 7, which focuses on Nigeria's decade of chaos following independence, most of the chapters presume a high degree of familiarity with Nigerian history that will limit its accessibility.
Structurally, a number of factors make it more complicated and opaque than it needed to be. Part of that opaqueness comes through in the book's second half, where the attention shifts away in part from Nigeria toward a broader discussion of trends in African politics and economics. There is nothing wrong with situating Nigeria within larger regional or continental trends, but it feels like an excuse for extensive discussions of Kwame Nkrumah's ideas about Pan-African unity (pp. 281-98). Repetition is another problem. Throughout the book, Falola repeats that Nigeria is dangerously overdependent on income from petroleum revenues. Although that is true, more data on corruption, mismanagement of funds, and general income inequality caused by an overdependence on petroleum revenue would have strengthened the author's argument. One of the book's stronger sections addresses the paradox that Nigeria, a major energy exporter, has serious and lasting difficulties providing electricity for its population. More material in that vein would have been effective, especially for the general audience who wants to develop a more comprehensive understanding of where Nigeria's institutions are wanting.
Nevertheless, Nigerian Politics and Postcolonial Predicaments represents a starting point for individuals who want to consider how the Nigerian state might better begin to function for the benefit of all of its citizens. Political scientists and activists would do well to consider Nigerian civil society development as integral to any reform activity in that country.
Ohio State University
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|Publication:||Journal of Global South Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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