1960 -2002


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1960 -2002: Development and the democratic imperative in Nigeria



Political power belongs to the people and the people exercise their power under a democratic system to make it meaningful. I subscribe therefore to the view that "Democracy is a government of the people by the people for the people". This is generally known as participatory or representative democracy.

There are well set out institutions, norms and values that enthrone and sustain a true democracy. To abort this system under any circumstances is to enthrone a dictatorship in its place and the possibility of anarchy as a consequence of that misadventure. In other words, democracy is about the sanctity that superintends the social contract between the elected representatives and the electorate. It is characterised by checks and balances and involves a process of feedback and recall which together guarantee utmost accountability. Democracy by itself is not a self-fulfilling system for it contains certain innate limitations, which must be addressed for democracy to have a meaningful and positive impact on human society. As a matter of fact the test of every institution, policy or programme is whether it enhances or threatens human dignity and indeed human life itself.

Policies, which treat people as only economic units, or policies that reduce people to a possible state of depending on welfare do not do justice to the dignity of the human person. A true democracy must, therefore do justice to the dignity of the human person. This is one of the primary ways in which social cohesion that is a vital ingredient of sustainable democracy can be assured.

It is important that we clearly define our perception of democracy for the following reasons:

a) To make sure that we are operating on the right track

b) To enable us identify from the very start the essential ingredient inherent in the system of democracy that are in turn vital for effecting planned development in the broadest sense

c) To remind ourselves that democracy and development are inseparable attributes of any human society today

d) To warn ourselves that there is no alternative to a democratic system of government, because it enhances social organization, economic empowerment and human life gene


The Report of the Political Bureau (March 1987), established by the government of General Babangida reportedly to sensitize Nigerians, states that –

"Development is concrete experience of both quantitative and qualitative transformation of life conditions of a people".


The "right to development" was first discussed by the UN in 1977, In Resolution 4 (XXXIII) of 21 February, 1977, the Commission on Human Rights recommended that the Economic and Social Council invite the Secretary-General, in cooperation with UNESCO, and the other competent specialized agencies to undertake a study on the subject:

"The international dimensions of the right to development as a human right in relation with other human rights based on international cooperation, including the right to peace, taking into account the requirements of the New International Economic Order and the fundamental human needs,"

The Secretary-General’s report outlined a number of issues relating to the international dimensions of the right to development, and indicated the extent to which respect for human rights was fundamental to the process of development in its broadest and most meaningful sense. It considered the ethical aspects of the right to development and indicated in its analysis of legal norms relevant to the right that there was a very substantial body of principles based on the Charter of the UN and the International Bill of Human Rights, and reinforced by a range of conventions, declarations and resolutions, which demonstrated the existence of a human right to development in international law. The report concludes "The right to development is like other human rights not to be considered as a static concept but as an evolving one. Changing perceptions of the development process and the emergence of strong recognition of the need to achieve a new international order in social, economic, political and cultural terms have added an extra dimension to the significance of the right to development"

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) based in Geneva had also emphasized the right to development. At the New Delhi Conference on the Rule of Law and the Administration of Justice (January 1959) , the ICJ adopted a definition of the Rule of Law which contemplates a linkage between Rule of Law, human rights and development, that is to say –

"The principles, institutions and procedures, not always identical, but broadly similar, which the experience and traditions of lawyers in different countries of the world, often having themselves varying political structures and economic backgrounds have shown to be important to protect the individual from arbitrary government and to enable him to enjoy the dignity of man."

Against the background of this definition, it was stressed by participants at the Conference from the new States in Africa and Asia that adequate levels of living are essential for full enjoyment of individual freedoms and rights. Accordingly, the Conference emphasized that the Rule of Law makes for the establishment of social, economic and cultural conditions, which permit men to live in dignity and to fulfill their legitimate aspirations.


Development planning in Nigeria is usually traced back to the Ten – Year Plan of Development and Welfare; which came into operation in 1946 during the colonial times. It covered all aspects of government activity in the country. 1Up to 1954, the formulation and implementation of the plan were centralized. However, following the introduction of the federal system of government in the country in October 1954, the plan as originally conceived came to premature end. Thereafter, from 1955 each of the Regional Governments in the former East, West and North as well as the Southern Cameroun and the Federal Government in Lagos launched new plans. The country, thus, had virtually five development programmes with varying goals. These were the attributes of the 1955 – 60 Economic Development Plan that was in 1958 revised and extended to 1962.

The First National Development Plan, that is, the federated Development Plan of 1962 – 68 was interrupted by the traumatic Nigeria – Biafra War (1967 – 70) during which period Nigeria operated a war economy. In anticipation of the many economic and social questions that would necessarily follow the end of that civil war, the Federal Ministry of Economic Development and the Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research organised the Ibadan Conference on Reconstruction and Development (March 24 – 29, 1969) which largely prepared the ground for the post-war rehabilitation, reconstruction and development planning effort.2

Thus, the Second National Development Plan (1970 – 74) launched shortly after the end of the Civil War contains the policy framework for, and programme of, the reconstruction of the war damaged areas as well as the reconstruction and development of the rest of the country.3

Following certain events of considerable national importance occurring within a few months of the launching of the Third National Development Plan,4it was reviewed in October 1975. These events included the change of government by the military coup of July 1975, the creation of States in February 1976 and the decline in the level of oil production in the course of the 1975-76 financial year.5 The new military government had embarked upon a re-appraisal of the nation’s priorities, great emphasis being placed on plan projects in the areas of water supply, housing, agriculture and co-operatives and health.6 It decided in February 1976, to create seven new States and to move the Federal Capital out of Lagos to Abuja. The original plan, therefore, had to be reviewed so as to accommodate the essential requirements of the new States and the new Federal Capital, especially infra-structural and residential blocks, increased water and electrical supplies, etc., at the new State capitals and divisional headquarters. At the time, the original plan was being prepared, there was a good market for the nation’s petroleum and finance was not considered a possible constraint to plan implementation. But soon after the launching of the Plan the oil industry began to suffer substantial decline in production and posted price.7

As was pointed out in Chapter One of the Fourth Plan document, the Plan was "...intended to further the process of establishing a solid base for the long run economic and social development of Nigeria It therefore emphasizes key sectors such as agriculture, particularly food production, manufacturing, education and manpower development and infra-structural facilities. Social services, particularly housing, water supply and health are also emphasized as a means of effecting immediate improvement in the quality of life in our urban and rural areas."8

The Third Plan had raised great expectations of the generality of the people partly because of its share magnitude (N43.3 billion) and partly because of the unusually favourable financial circumstances in which the country found itself on the eve of the Third Plan period. But from the very beginning, it encountered certain difficulties some of which had been noted above. In this respect, we may recall, too, the abortive coup in February 1976 which led to the imposition of curfew and such other security controls which for a while imposed restrictions on personal movements, and to that extent helped to hinder the smooth take-off of the Third Plan. There were other difficulties such as the notorious port congestion associated with the "Cement Armada", and the serious shortages of materials and skilled manpower9 in virtually all the public services of the Federation. These difficulties notwithstanding, significant achievements were recorded during the Third Plan period, and thereafter the rolling plan method was introduced.

The three year rolling plan, which is part of the twenty year Perspective Planning adopted (1989) replaced the five year National Development Plan. In his 1990 budget of N39.7 billion,10 President Babangida, among other things, presented the First National Rolling Plan 1990-1992. In the light of the prevailing economic circumstances (internally and globally), its fundamental objective was to "strengthen the foundation of true national development which the Structural Adjustment Programme had tried to construct over the past three years".11 The over-all plan size for the three year period was about N142 billion12, consisting of N92 billion ( or 65%) for the public sector and N50 billion (or 35%) for the private sector.

First, the Plan sought to address the pressing problems of exchange rate, instability, strong inflationary pressures, inadequate gainful employment, sluggish performance of key productive sectors, inter-governmental fiscal imbalances and the menace of anti-social behaviours such as armed robbery and drug abuse. In particular, it maintained the focus of our national efforts on agriculture and rural development as well as diversi agriculture and rural development as well as diversification of the export base.

Secondly, the Plan aimed at the maintenance of infra-structural facilities in both urban and rural areas to give needed support to the directly productive sectors, but erected increasingly on user charges and cost recovery principles.

Thirdly, the focus was on the set of measures that could reduce the pains of structural adjustment for vulnerable social groups. Prominent in this connection were expanded programmes in primary health care delivery, urban mass transportation, rehabilitation and improvement of educational facilities, innovative schemes for employment and self-employment of youths and family planning.

In his Press briefing on the National Rolling Plan (1990-1992) and the 1990 Budget, the newly appointed Minister of Budget and Planning then, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, further elaborated on why the military administration abandoned the erstwhile system of fixed five year development plans and adopted in its place, two phases of national plans, namely, the Perspective Plan which would cover three years at a time, subject to review every year to evaluate performance and ascertain whether the economy is on course.13

The economic crisis that faced the nation from 1983, according to the Minister, revealed that fixed five year plans were not the best suited to cope with the attendant problems of economic management and adjustment under conditions characterised by numerous uncertainties, fairly rapid changes as well as pressing issues that called for urgent solutions. In reaction to these realities the Government had declared an Economic Emergency in 1985 followed by the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme for the period July 1986-88. During this period, although the Fourth Plan continued to provide a reference point for programme formulation as most of the programmes in it spilled over massively beyond its terminal date, greater reliance had to be placed on fiscal and monetary policy instruments to cope with the emergent situation. After re-affirming the objectives of the National Rolling Plan (1990-92), in line with the President's pronouncements, the Minister explained that the Plan’s strategy was "to rely on market forces for achieving allocation and distribution efficiency" wherefore "State intervention will continue to de-emphasize bureaucratic controls and make greater use of fiscal and monetary policy instruments to correct noticeable malfunctioning of the market in the light of given national objectives". In addition, public investment would be directed at priority areas where they can serve the greatest public good and complement the efforts of the private sector in meeting the needs of the society.


Now, considering the matter of development from a broad perspective, we may recall that the International Conference on Human Rights held in Teheran, Iran, in 1968, had adopted Resolution XVII in which it was pointed out that "the enjoyment of economic and social rights is inherently linked with any meaningful enjoyment of civil and political rights and that there is a profound inter-connection between the realization of human rights and economic development.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the state of Nigeria at the time of the Teheran Conference in 1968. First, the country was barely eight years old as an independent sovereign African State. Secondly, it was deeply engaged in fratricidal costly War and Thirdly, it was groaning under the beginnings of protracted military dictatorship. In effect, its democratisation was put on hold as it were, while the structures for social and conomic development were being wasted away by the destructions of the war which broke out in 1967. It is, indeed, a matter for deep regret that some twenty-nine ears, following the end of the Nigerian civil war and the restoration of democratic civilian administration in May 1999, the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo still had cause to lament that –

"As I surveyed the canvas of our national life, I saw little more than confusion, greed, corruption in High and low places, selfishness, pervasive lawlessness and cynicism. The very state itself to which we are all required to be loyal, had become a state full of malice and meanness. Public officials appeared to have forgotten what selfless service meant. Private citizens felt a profound distrust of if not hatred for the state."

Indeed , the Head of State stopped short of proclaiming that Nigeria at the threshold of the Third Millenium had relapsed into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is "brutish, nasty and short". In other words, from the very inception of Nigeria’s sovereign statehood, there were clear signs that the country’s march to "democracy and development" was definitely going to be an uphill task.

An important factor in the full realization of human rights is popular participation in development. Thus, in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development proclaimed on 11 December, 1969, the UN General Assembly emphasized that all peoples and all human beings have the right to live in dignity and freedom and to enjoy the fruits of social progress and, on their part, to contribute to it. The Declaration called for the adoption of measures to ensure the effective participation as appropriate, of all the elements of society in the preparation and execution of national plans and programmes of economic and social development.


Taking into consideration the fragile nature of our nascent democracy and perhaps the skewed nature of our federation in structure and in concept, I believe that the greatest challenges of development in our nation are the twin issues of democratisation and national unity. Let no person make any mistake about this’ the challenges of national unity is very critical to our national progress. The very substance and essence of national unity is that short of national unity, our country stands to disintegrate and when there is no country there cannot be democracy or development. Moreover in a situation of cosmetic unity, it becomes impossible to achieve a nation state, national consciousness or patriotism. These you can agree with me are essential ingredients for setting national goals and the determined pursuit of these goals for the purpose of achieving them in the National interest. The realisation of these goals constitutes national development.

Let me say for sure that in nurturing a federation like ours for development, it is no gain saying that the rule of the game must be anchored on justice, fairness, and equity. To actualise these virtues, the rule of law becomes imperative, the promotion and enjoyment of fundamental freedoms becomes indispensable and accountability transparency and due process must be the guiding principle in the conduct of public affairs. Ladies and gentlemen, you can agree with me that no other form of governance that can guarantee these virtues except democratic governance. In May 1999, the 4th republic was born in Nigeria with the echos of a presidential system of democracy. By this feat our challenges for development is no longer the actualisation of democratic system of governance but the sustenance of democracy and the quick pursuit of democratisation. May I remind us that democratization has to do not only with the creation of the basic institutions of democracy but also creating the right environment for the institutions to function. It also means that all actors in the system must be democratised. Let me reiterate the basic features of our presidential system of democracy, which includes the following:

Three Arms Of Government

The three pillars of a presidential system of government are the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. For the purposes of checks and balances, powers must be separated among the three. While we have achieved the creation of the three arms we are yet challenged with the reality of separation of powers amongst the three arms. I need not say more here because we all know that the face-off between the Legislature and the Executive is indeed the struggle to achieve separation of power. However, I must note that except the three arms are not only allowed but also supported to develop simultaneously, the virtues of checks and balances will be lost. Not only this, it must also be noted that the government can not make progress if there is no working understanding among the three arms. This understanding must be anchored on constitutional responsibilities and independence.

B Rule Of Law

The doctrine of rule of law insists on the supremacy of law over every institution and persons, equality of every person before the law. In other words, the law should be a no respecter of persons. The basic characteristic of law in this regard includes:

1. The law must be certain and proactive. By this, every citizen knows in advance his standing before the law, plans his life and activities in accordance with the law. And strives under the certainty and protection of the law.

Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Here the law assumes that every citizen is equal not only as a free citizen but in knowledge and status. In this regard, the application of law must be such that the process must be understood by the citizen. It is not just enough that you have good intention, or that you are acting within the limits of your duty, it must be done in a way that those affected by your action must be convinced that you are acting rightly etc.

May I note that the assurance of protection under the law is key to individual liberty and enterprise. It more so compels accountability, transparency and due process.

C. Fundamental Freedoms

These include freedom of speech, association, religion, family life, political participation, etc.

May I only say that it is in the atmosphere of these freedoms that citizens can aspire to their optimum without which there cannot be development. Truly, the goal of democracy, rule of law, and good governance is sustained development in human and physical entities.



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