Democracy and Sustainable Development in Nigeria

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2008

35 Pages, Grade: none












Accountable and Transparent Governance
Curbing Endemic Corruption

Halting the Wave of Crisis
Improving the Standard of Education
Stabilizing Population Growth

Technology Adoption
Local Industrialization and Production
Harmonization of Tariffs

Improving the Basic Infrastructure

Engendering Development
Civil Society Participation
Monitoring and Evaluation




In contemporary time, democracy has turned out to be the most supported political tool for development and social change, which has attained near global acclaim and admiration by many world leaders. Although it is contestable, the reasons for this vary. First, democracy has gained acceptability as a form of government based on equity and justice. Secondly, it purports to uphold the rule of law, and as well, guarantee the preservation of human rights.

As it is assumed that effective strategies adopted and properly implemented by a nation have the tendency to accelerate progress in the development of the said nation, this work examined some strategies for sustainable development in Nigeria. It highlighted existing strategies for development in the country, examined progress and challenges in implementing the strategies, and further identified measures which when adopted and implemented, will likely change the social, economic, and political condition of the country for economic growth and sustainable development.


Democratic revolutions have swept over the past two decades. Democracy has come to assume a new aura of significance in contemporary world affairs. This clarion call was made for the nations of the world to embrace it, given that it is perceived to enhance development. Given that it is not universally accepted and practiced, democracy has faced a lot of ideological contradictions, with criticisms. Inspite of its widespread, there still exist difficulties in adopting and translating its holistic values into the framework of sustainable development in most parts of the world. This could be attributed to many factors, which include poor development of democratic institutions, ideological confusion and misconceptions, as well as other factors.

Obviously, there has been misconception about this phenomenon “democracy” in most African nations. This ideology has been criticized by many Africans, and its relationship with development in the Continent has been a problematic one. After more than three decades since most African countries began to gain independence, there still exists a vacuum in the Continent, with regard to development. While some countries of Africa (Botswana, among others) have witnessed commendable success in the practice of democracy, the overall scenario is one of dismal failure.

Democracy has many forms, and its practices and outcomes vary from nation to nation. Nigeria, like other countries of the world, is not left out of this sweeping wave of democratic awareness and enlargement. It is noteworthy that it is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still struggling to develop. After more than fifty years of independence from the British colony, the scenario in the country remains disappointing. Democracy is totally misinterpreted, and it is wrongly practiced in the country. A good number of explanations have been devised to account for this dwindling state of affairs. These include: mismanagement of public fund, poor macroeconomic policies, public malfeasance, inadequate skilled manpower, as well as poor political will.

Democracy ought to guarantee regular free and fair elections; freedom of expression and association; accountability of the State’s administrative organs, universal suffrage; equal rights and participation of the local citizens in the formulation of and implementation of development plans, and as well, guarantee security to the entire populace. Most importantly, democracy should be able to enhance the provision and equal distribution of resources and basic human needs, and as well, enable a fragile State to manage its divides peacefully.

This work seeks to establish a working relationship between democracy and sustainable development in the context of national development, with particular reference to Nigeria. The researcher examines some strategies adopted by Nigeria for development from 1960 till date, charts progress and challenges, and proposes strategies for achieving sustainable development in the country. The primary objective of this work is to provide guidance to policy-makers, planners, and development practitioners in Nigeria. It also has relevance to policy-makers of other developing countries.

This work has been divided into seven parts. The first part provides a general introduction to the study and the second part examines the relationship between democracy and development. Whereas part three focuses on the conceptual underpinnings of sustainable development, part four examines a brief historical background of Nigeria. Part five highlights Nigeria’s development strategies from 1960 till date and part six focuses on the proposed strategies for sustainable development in Nigeria. Finally, part seven draws a conclusion to the study.


Democracy is a system of government that gives preference to and strengthens citizens’ decision-making, and thereby, promotes equal participation of local citizens in securing and building their nation for the collective good of all, while upholding the principles of justice, peace and the rule of law. Here, citizens, who are also members of the civil society, are to be recognized as active participants in deliberating issues that affect their lives with government officials, both at the community, state and federal levels, and not merely recognized as passive observers.

Obviously, the term ‘democracy’ has a long standing history with opposing or contradictory connotations and denotations in its usage. In this section, I review some literatures on the conceptual underpinnings of the subject of democracy. The term democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, and developed earlier by the Athenians. Although it was understood earlier to mean the ‘self-government’ (autonomy of the community or polis), it faced a lot of criticism as a result of its restricted form of autonomy, which gives preference to male citizens (see Thomas Harrison Reed, 1999:16; Sanford Lakoff, 1996:37). Thomas states that “…the right to participate in the government was limited to much less than the whole adult male population…” (1919:16).

Developing a working definition of the term as “the expression of the universal human quest for autonomy,” Sanford argues that democracy signified “rule by the people” from earliest period, which upholds the belief in autonomy or self-determination for individuals and groups which they belong (1996:1-11). Hence, he pinpoints that “democracy offers the radically different promise that freedom need not be sacrificed for order because the constitution guaranteeing both is supported not by force alone, but also by the express and regular consent of the governed,” (1996:2).

In his writing, George Orwel notes that the word, ‘democracy’ had become a tool of propaganda. According to him, “…the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way” (1946:62). In other words, there was conflict over the definition of the term, given that there was no agreed or accepted definition for it. This actually prompted the idea of defining the term by way of measuring it.

Adopting the etymological approach, some scholars emphasize that the phrase “rule by the people” is highly ambiguous and open to diverse criticisms (see Hadenius, 1992; Held, 1987; Lively, 1975). On the other hand, David Beetham, seeks to isolate the three core ideas or principles that embodied the historical conception of democracy as “rule of the people” and equates it with “popular control” and “political equality,” (1993:6). This same approach was adopted by Hadenius who arrives at a conception known as ‘political democracy,’ “which holds that public policy is to be governed by the freely expressed will of the people , whereby all individuals are to be treated as equals” (1992:7-9).

The above principle informed Michael Saward’s observation that states that the most ready way to justify democracy is to start from an assertion that all people are equal in some important respect since it follows from this, that all should be treated equally in certain specific political respects,” (1994:8). Questions tend to arise as to what are the principles of democracy? And how is democracy measured? Quite often than not, different writers tend to isolate some core principles of democracy from main democratic discourse. Perhaps, the dynamic nature of each principle requires thorough scrutiny with vivid explanations.

Sartori, G. writes that there are hosts of characteristics or properties eligible for selection, not only majority rule and participation, but also equality, freedom, consensus, coercion, competition, pluralism, constitutional rule, and more (1987:184). Modern democracy offers better alternatives to the cynical propagandist usages of the term. By this, I do not mean that modern democracy does not have its flaws. Really, there still exists confusion over the ideology. David Held (2006:1) defines democracy as “…a political community in which there is some forms of political equality among the people.” He defines it in terms of political equality; although there have been drastic changes in the definition over the years. This is a bit problematic, given that virtually every government claims to be democratic politically, whereas socially, economically, and otherwise, it is quite the contrary.

Contributing to the discussion, Michael Saward (1994:6) notes that the properties of democracy can only be derived and enlisted after the term has been defined adequately. He opines that “it is illogical to define democracy by induction from the practice of any one political unit or any one subset of political units.” For a government to be defined as being democratic, such government has to ensure that the fundamental human rights of its individual citizens are respected and protected collectively. In addition, such government has to ensure that the views of its teeming population are reflected in government policies and programmes.

Geraint Parry and George Moyser argue that “in any attempt to measure the extent of democracy, the degree of popular political participation must constitute one of the indices.” They pinpoint that a regime cannot qualify as democratic, if the people exercised no part in rule (1994:44). I strongly agree with them, because those who are ruled have to exercise their full rights by participating in the governance of their nation –this qualifies the government as being democratic.

On the contrary, the liberalists contend that citizen participation is not a paramount indicator of democracy, given that several other elements have been incorporated –bureaucratic control, freedoms of different kind, the independence of the judiciary, elites’ competition, representation. Robert Dahl (1971:1-9) suggests that it is possible for each element to exist in the absence of the other.

Voting has been taken as an indicator of democratic participation, given that it plays crucial role in the realist theory. It is also a political activity performed by the vast majority of the population. However, this does not guarantee that it is a prime indicator for democracy. Quite often, there is increasing participation in elections without corresponding political choice; especially in the less developed countries. Undecided voters face the challenge of voting the wrong candidates into office. Several reasons exist why voting should not be taken as an indicator for democracy. Below are some of the reasons:

- Electoral Fraud: Ballot boxes containing the voting turnout are often manipulated by the political class. In some cases, the incumbent political group struggles to ensure their candidates win. Often times, they achieve their aim by buying off the security officers and electoral officers, who ought to safeguard the ballot boxes, and this has led to a lot of disputed elections –the outcome is usually disastrous (see cases like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.).
- As a result of poverty, many prospective voters are brainwashed with a little token (usually money, gifts, promises of future employment) to vote for candidates who are not their original choices. When initial promises are not fulfilled, these result to violent conflicts, sit-ins, as well as disruption of the economy.
- Unregistered voters: Ill-equipped electoral facilities, coupled with insufficient voting registrars hinder the complete registration of legal voters. This is the major reason why a great size of the population ends up not being registered to participate during the elections.


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Democracy and Sustainable Development in Nigeria
University of Jaume I
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Democracy, Development, Sustainable Development, Economic Development
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Akudo Chinedu Ojoh (Author), 2008, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Nigeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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