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The Contemporary Politics of Development in Nigeria Essay

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Updated: May 26th, 2020



For the past two decades, the concept of neoliberalism has been a subject of intense debate in many political and economic arenas. Scholars argue that we live in a world shaped by the ideology of neoliberalism. The term ‘neo’ means new or recent, therefore by its own definition, neoliberalism is a reincarnation of liberalism; meaning that the ideology of liberalism has undergone a complete transformation; a cycle that all ideologies seem to undergo.

This process includes the following stages: formulation and growth of the ideology, succeeded by a decline and finally emerging as a new and redefined ideology. Though neoliberalism stems out of liberalism, the two concepts are not identical (Wolfson 2004: 34). Classical liberalism is an ideology that advocates for a free market economy, where the state has limited influence on the day to day business of its citizenry.


In an attempt to define and shed light on this phenomenon, neoliberalism can be termed as:

“A theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills with an institutional framework characterized by strong property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.

The state has to guarantee, fir example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defense, police and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care and social security) then they must be created, by state action if necessary.

But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state can not possibly possess enough information to second-guess market signals (prices) and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions (particularly in democracies) for their own benefit” (Harvey 2005: 2)

This definition views neoliberalism as a distinctive phenomenon, separate from liberalism. Neoliberalism is therefore, a political ideology which, strongly proposes that the legitimate function of the state is to ensure individual security, commercial liberty and to safeguard property rights. When these conditions are achieved, then the market is said to be free to transact and facilitate exchange of goods and services.

Political Development in Nigeria


Nigeria is a federal republic with similar institutional structures as those found in the United States. This country has a population of 158 million people and a marked gross domestic product of 384 billion dollars and an annual growth rate of 9.1as per the 2010 fiscal year. Nigeria is an economic giant in the African region with vast resources in agriculture and in the oil industry.

According to the report provided by the United Nation, on Human development index (HDI) in 2008, ranked Nigeria 159th out of the 177 countries. The table shows statistical data collected by the CIA World Factbook.

Life Expectancy (2008) Population below poverty line
Total fertility rate
Population living with HIV/AIDS
138,283,240 47.8 years 70% 5.4
68% 5.4%

Source: CIA World Factbook.

The data in the table above shows a number of failures in the overly neoliberal Nigeria. Though Nigeria is endowed with natural resources, a majority of the population still in deplorable conditions with poor sanitation, housing, no piped water and electricity. These conditions are further worsened by foreign oil companies that are exploiting the rich oil resource while leaving behind a devastating surrounding (Ihovbere 1994, p.24).

Poverty levels in Nigeria

Under neoliberalism, markets forces seem to be dominating the global economy. Despite the vast resources, Nigeria like any other third world is in an unequal global economy, with its development largely dependent on loans from multinational corporations, local banks and the political elite. The Neoliberal policies have been imposed on the African countries.

The international financial institutions (World Bank, IMF and WTO) ensure that there are neoliberal reforms attached to the funds that they loan the Africans. Economic disparities are further advanced by the neoliberal policies.

In his book Globalization Reducing Poverty and Inequality? Robert Wade claims that there has been a sizable gap in gross national products (GNPs) between the developed and the peripheral states (2004: 384). Wade also observes that claims of neoliberalism reducing poverty are not true, as the world economic inequalities seem to be rising everyday (2004: 400).

The 2005 Millennium Development goals for the African region, showed an increased number of Nigerians surviving on less than a dollar a day. The report also showed that a growing number of people were slum dwellers (2005: 364-393). The gross domestic product per capita in Nigeria is $ 1,721 (United Nations Development Programme, 2006). This figure perhaps represents data for the wealth few in the State.

More than a half of the Nigerians are still living below the poverty lines. The oil companies enjoy a business atmosphere uninterrupted by the state; as a result, there is a little concern over protection of the environment. Every year, there are over 300 oil spills in Nigeria and the oil companies seem less concerned. The locals around the oil fields have been left with barren lands that can not be used for subsistent farming (Okeagu 2006: 202).

This has resulted in an increased migration to the urban areas; leading to massive congestions of people with no jobs and housing (Davis, 2006, p.23). This whole process has a net effect of reducing the productivity of the state and creation of slums within business districts.

Neoliberalism promotes the ideology that the most efficient way to allocate resources is through the market, this is not the case in Nigeria, resource allocation only benefits a small cluster of wealthy individuals as the poverty gap between the poor and rich widens.

Wage regulation is another condition of this ideology, as uncontrolled wages might push the inflation even higher and that private sectors should be allowed to invest in public institutions and enterprises. These conditions, when applied in Nigeria, the beneficiaries are the few elites as poverty levels keep on rising (Okeagu 2006, p.108).

The free- market economy and security

The geo-politics of oil in Nigeria

Oil accounts for 95% of the total export of Nigeria and like all regions with rich oil reserves, the western countries always find a way to control countries with this resource. Though government has jurisdiction over all oil fields, it is the foreign companies that dictate the terms (Junger, 2007). The free-market ideology has put this resource in the hands of private investors and the political class of Nigeria who work with foreign companies to exploit the extraction process.

A militant group, called The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), unhappy with the way the foreign companies destroyed their environment, decided to wage war against them. In 2006, they took control of the Niger Delta. The MEND was vicious and had resoted to killing as a way of combating the foreigners (Junger, 2007). Neoliberalization claims that the state should use its institutions to safeguard and protect the citizens and their properties.

Since the militia started causing havoc, the state militarized the river states at the Delta. In 2006, a joint task force of the security forces attacked and killed 15 members of the MEND. This region had been restricted and considered dangerous to the community around that area. The insecurity also caused the production of oil to decline, leading to a decline of 2.6% in the growth rate of Nigeria. This is what prompted President Olusegun Obasanjo to order the security forces to pacify the region.

Ethnic Conflicts

In the last four decades, Niger Delta has experienced ethnic conflicts that are fueled by the desire to gain social recognition and the agitation to control the oil resource; thereby posing substantial challenges to economic development. These communities are grossly dependent on socio-economic activities, but they are marginalized, psychologically alienated and underdeveloped (Suberu, 1996, p.31).

The MEND and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) engaged in constant conflicts over resources and had proposed the creation of states based on ethnicity. In order to deal with these conflicts, the government decided to create institutions that would deal with that problem. These institutions included: the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) formed in 2000 and the Niger Delta Ministry (NDM) formed in 2009.

Even thought these institutions were formed to develop the region, there is still a presence of conflict in the region. The free market allocation of resources proposed by the neoliberal theory has only caused more harm to the Niger Delta, as there is no evidence of equitable distribution (Castree, 2005, p.45). In view of this, people will always defend resources that maintain their survival and development leading to violent conflicts (Dibua, 2006, p.67).

Neoliberalism vis-à-vis human rights

According to the tenets of neoliberalism, the state is supposed to guarantee the freedoms and liberties of all the citizens. The fundamental rights of the modern Nigeria were first entrenched in the constitution in 1960 and were further revisited in 1999, when the bill of rights was included. Bill was aimed at protecting the political and economic well-being of the Nigerian people (Kalu, 2001, p.243-267).

These rights have however been violated by both the government and its institutions. According to the report by Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and labour (2010), Nigeria experienced human rights violations that included: depriving the citizens the right to change their government. There was extrajudicial killing that was politically motivated and carried out by Nigerian security forces. According to the Amnesty International report (2009), security forces were responsible for exciting detainees in their custody.

Societal Abuse and Discrimination

Nigeria is currently by the federal law, which prohibits homosexual relations; homosexual offenses carry a sentence of up to 15 years in jail. Northern states of Nigeria are mostly comprised of a Muslim population and apply the Sharia law to its full extent. Individuals found engaging in homosexual activities are punished by stoning to death.

In 2008, members of a church were stoned to death by an angry mob because they were friendly to the to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups (LGBT). As a fundamental right, the government should protect citizens against these discriminations (Herskovits, 1980).

Another group that is also discriminated against is the group with persons living with HIV/AIDS. Some people regard this disease as an evidence of immoral behavior amongst people living with the virus. This group has further been discriminated against the work places, schools, hospitals and in other social faculties.

In 2008, the Bauchi State Agency embarked on a mission to pair up couples that were HIV positive. By March the following year (2009), about 100 couples had been paired up and married. The activity was aimed at reducing and preventing further spread of the HIV virus. This in itself is gross violation of Human freedoms of association.

Rights of Association

The law stipulates that all citizens are at liberty to form and join any trade unions of their choice. Though this true, the law has also formulated statutes of limitations. Trade unions have to meet the requirements of the law in order to the recognized. First, they must be registered by the government and must reach the thresh hold of 50 members in order to be considered for registration. These limitations were perhaps aimed at preventing the proliferation of small trade unions which are mostly formed by the lower income earners.

In 2009, there were about 8 million people registered by unions, this represented 65 percent of the entire professional staff, both public and private (Koehn, 1998). However these figures have been declining fewer members registered each year. Although the laws states that unions should carry out their activities without any outside interruption, it also fails to effectively define what legal activity is and what is not.

The Nigerian law also prohibits the right to strike; this is one of the fundamental rights of workers. The right to strike is universally accepted and it is to this effect that the International Labour Organization (ILO) ruled that this policy by the Nigerian government was contrary to the universal convention. This is to show that the government has failed to affect the ideals of the neoliberalism (Hushala, 2010)

Child labour has also been common in Nigeria although this is contrary to the law. The government agents have failed to protect the Nigerian children against unlawful exploitation. The National Agency for the prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) indicated that over 15 million underage children were involved in forced and child labour.

The law requires that underage children may be employed to perform small chores and receive wages at the end of the day. This had not been observed by the perpetrators of this crime. And so far, nothing has been done to curb this vice.

In 2010, the Nigerian parliament passed an Act that allowed workers to be compensated for work related injuries. These laws encompass all workers whether domestic or foreign (Ajulo, and Co. Castle of Law., 2008).


Contrary to popular belief that neoliberalism defines the modern society, the failure of the third world to successfully integrate it tenets in political and economic policies as witnessed in the case of Nigeria shows that this ideology has a long way to go as far as the developing economies are concerned.


Ajulo, K., and Co. Castle of Law., 2008. Constitutionalism and Fundamental human rights – Nigeria. Legal Directions. Web.

Castree, N., 2005. Nature. New York: Routledge.

Davis, M., 2006. Planet of Slums. New York: Verso.

Dibua, J., 2006. Modernization and problem of development in Africa. Vermont: Ashgate

Gramsci, A., 2007. Africa: The geo-politics of a modern democracy. New York: International Publishers.

Harvey, D., 1996. Valuing Nature: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Herskovits, J., 1980. . Foreign Affairs. Web.

Hushala, T. 2010. The politics of a dying Nation. New York: Syracuse University Press.

Ihovbere, J. O., 1994. Nigeria: the politics of adjustment and democracy. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Junger, S., 2007. . Vanity Fair. Web.

Kalu, K., 2001. Constitutionalism in Nigeria: A conceptual analysis of ethnicity and politics. The Nigerian Judicial Review, 8, pp. 53-84.

Koehn, P., 1998. Political Developments in Nigeria-A Review Essay. Africa Today 35(1).

Okeagu, J. E., 2006. The environment and social impact of petroleum and petroleum gas. New York. American Library.

Suberu, T., 1996. Ethnic minority conflicts and governance in Nigeria. Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited.

Wade, R., 2004. Is globalization reducing poverty and Inequality? The International Journal of Health Service, 34(3), 381-414.

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