Structural Constraints to Socio-economic Development in Nigeria 

By Kayode Oladele 

      What is now known as Nigeria was initially consisted of a cluster of large and small independent nation-states which were at various trajectory of development.  Among such groups were kingdoms and empires like the Oyo, Benin, Calabar and the Sokoto caliphate, with lose control over Kano, Zaria and Ilorin.

      Commenting on the Nigeria nation-state, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, wrote as follows:  "It has been estimated that there are about 250 national or ethnic groups in the country ÔÇô each with its own distinct languageÔÇŽ'  In any case, there are ten principal national groups namely: Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Efik/Ibibio, Kanuri, Tiv, Ijaw, Edo, Urhobo, Nupe etc.  These ten and the other national groups, who are still to be identified separately, are diverse in their origins, and speak different languages.  In many respects, their cultural patterns, political institutions, social standards and customary usages differ very widely" (Awolowo: 1966).

      In 1914 following a series of gunboat diplomacy, imposition of protection treaties and violence, Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, sealed up the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorate of Nigeria, in line with the Selbourne Committee which was appointed in 1898 to consider the future administration of Nigeria.  Frederick Lugard, a British soldier, explorer of Africa and colonial administrator was born in Madras (now Chennai) in India, but was raised in Worcester, England. He was educated at Rosall School and Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

      In August 1897, after a series of colonial missions and postings within Africa, Lugard organized the West African Frontier Force and commanded it until the end of December 1899. After he handed over the command of the West African Frontier Force, he was made High Commissioner of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, a position he held until 1906. At that time, the portion of Northern Nigeria under effective control was small, and Lugard's task in organizing this vast territory was made more difficult by the refusal of the sultan of Sokoto and many other Fulani princes to fulfill their treaty obligations. He later resigned as High Commissioner; but after about a year following his resignation, he was appointed the Governor of Hong Kong, a position he held until March, 1912.

      In 1912, Lugard returned to Nigeria.  His main mission was to complete the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates into one entity. Although controversial in Lagos, where it was opposed by a large section of the political class and the media, the amalgamation did not arouse passion in the rest of the country. From 1914 to 1919, Lugard was made Governor - General of the combined Colony of Nigeria (Wikipedia- Frederick John Dealtry Lugard).

      Essentially the increasing pressure to amalgamate Northern and Southern Nigeria appeared to have been mainly motivated by two socio-economic factors.  (1) To relieve the British treasury of financial burden (2) Surpluses derived from the Southern Nigeria could be used to subsidize the North.

      In furtherance of the above objectives, Mr. L. Harcourt, the then Secretary of State for the colonies, while addressing the British parliament said:  "In Southern Nigeria, the revenue has increased by ┬ú867,000 and the expenditure by ┬ú661,000 and there is for the current year an estimated surplus of ┬ú120,000ÔÇŽ  Northern Nigeria has up to now been and still is a subsidized protectorate, but whereas in 1906, the Grant-in-AidÔÇŽwas ┬ú315,000, in this current year, after providing for such interest, the Grant-In-Aid, asked for is only ┬ú156,000 or less than half, and with the amalgamation ÔÇŽÔÇŽ  I hope that we may be able to set a short term to these Grants-in-Aid and at the same time relieve the Treasury from its liabilities and the protectorate from Treasury control (House of Commons Debates, 29 June, 1910, Vol. 18 Cols 1036-8).

The Federation of Nigeria

      Following Lugard's amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates, experiment, the British government successfully introduced a unitary form of administrative system in Nigeria. However, with the 1950 General Conference made up of 25 unofficial members drawn from the earlier regional conferences a new Constitution with a federal system for Nigeria, was enacted for the first time.

      Although the General Conference, which met in Ibadan, from 9 January 1950 to about the end of the month, did not expressly resolve that it agreed to a federal system; however, from its recommendations to the Secretary of state for the Colonies, it was clear that it favored a form of loose federal system as opposed to a ÔÇśfully centralized' system with all legislative and executive power concentrated at the centre.

The Colonial heritage

Reviewing the hundred years of British rule' in Nigeria, Mokwugo Okoye, one of the leading Nigeria Nationalists and critic of colonial rule, wrote in his book; "The storms of Nigeria" that:  ÔÇśNigeria boasted only one university college, one technical institute, 8 trade centres, 137 teacher training centres, 120 secondary and 9,493 primary schools (nearly all of them run by the Christian Churches), 290 Government scholars in British Universities as compared with 1,310 private students up to 1952.

       In the same period, there were only 161 hospitals and 95 doctors for 32 million people, although revenue had grown from ┬ú5 million in 1904 to ┬ú200 million in 1952, the benefit of which had of course gone mainly to the capitalist monopolies and rich city dwellers.  Up to 1952, Government expenditure was still over-weighted with civil service salaries, most of which were to allies in the upper segment known as the senior service.  Only 12 daily newspapers, 41 commercial cinemas, 146 post offices, 28,000 miles of Motor roads and 1903 miles of railway have been developed in the period; and little in the way of irrigation, rural electrification and automation, (M. Okoye 1981).

The colonial Deficit

      If the British colonial era is said to be a failure, different explanations are often given as factors responsible for the said failure.  Commentators such as Professor Claude Ake and Walter Rodney to mention just a few, in their writings link the colonial failure to the political economy of colonialism. Another reason that could be attributed to the impoverished state of Nigeria is the primitive production methods, the literacy rate and the poor standards of living including housing, nutrition and health care delivery. 

      Ironically a Federation of British Industries Mission which visited Nigeria in 1955 observed the same trend: the need for ÔÇśsome positive action to expand the credit structure' in the face of the rapidly expanding economy and buoyant revenue.  ÔÇśPower and communications' it noted, ÔÇśare the obstacles at present, but the real problems will be those arising from the lack of Nigerian industrial, technical and financial knowledge and experience'.

The Post-Independence Pitfall

      Like many other African countries in the 1960s, Nigeria on October 1, 1960 became a political independent nation-state.  The new political leaders that took over from the British colonialist continued to run the country along the path of colonial masters. 

      Decades after political independence was achieved the respective administrations that were in power either elected or imposed did not show any consistent and convincing commitment to any fundamental change in the society.  Thus it was ÔÇśbusiness as usual'.  Although economic reforms such as free enterprise, indigenization, nationalization, import substitution, later privatization, and commercialization free export zone were either introduced or implemented; rather sad, these policies neither changed production mode nor alter property ownership. 

      In other words the Nigerian economy remains basically and structurally a mixed one, which promoted and generated underdevelopment, poverty, ignorance and diseases more than ever in the history of the country.  Put differently, the series of development plans after political independence, namely the 1962 ÔÇô 68 National Development plan, 1970 ÔÇô 74 Second National Development plan, and the 1975 ÔÇô 1980 Third National Development plan, merely translated to further underdevelopment, unemployment, waste, primitive accumulation of public wealth due to lack of commitment, lethargic and lackluster approach to developmental projects by successive governments.

      Perhaps an attempt to recall, the first of the five national objectives, spelled out in the Second National Development plan of Nigeria, may give a better picture of the country ÔÇô a shattered dream almost 36 years after the plan was introduced. The objectives include inter alia: "To establish Nigeria firmly as: a united, strong and self-reliant nation; a great and dynamic economy; a just and egalitarian society; a land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens; a free and democratic society; (see Federal Republic of Nigeria, Second National Development plan, 1970 ÔÇô 74), (Federal Ministry of Information Lagos, 1970) page 32.

      At the surface of Nigeria's weak economy base are agents that make the country the great and huge importer of all goods - items such as frozen foods, drinks, cars, machineries, clothes, guns, bullets, books, telecommunication equipments, refine petroleum products (despite the fact that we are the world 6th producer of crude oil) etc.  Our economy today contains more service industries and fewer manufacturers than in previous decades. 

Contemporary Constraints and Anti-system Structural Players

      Today, structural constraints to socio-economic development and anti-system players manifest in different forms. Suffice it to say that Nigeria is still plagued by political instability, tension and conflict caused by  ethnic or religious bigotry, manipulation of census figures, corruption, abuse of office, subversion of rule of law, crime and  violence (private and state-sponsored) such as politically -motivated murders.

Dependent political economy

      One of the fundamental structural constraints causing political, economic and social instability in Nigeria is its dependent political economy. Unfortunately despite the hope and great expectation after the attainment of independence, hopelessness met our people. On 15th January 1966, the military struck, truncated the nascent democracy and ruled the country from then till 1979.  Under the military rule, a civil war that led to death of many of the country's illustrious men, women and children and pains many families still suffer till date was fought for almost three years. 

      There was a palace coup in 1975 and by 1976 a counter coup led to the death of the then head of state and several other high ranking military personnel.  Although civil rule was restored in 1979, political instability did not abate.  As political violence increased on heels of the 1983 presidential election, the military again, took over power forcefully on the eve of December 31, 1984 from the crises-ridden civilian administration of Shehu Shagari.

      Notwithstanding the emergence of the military dictatorship, political instability was still evident in the body polity as the military could not do anything to improve the country's poor socio-economic situation. In addition, issues such as ethnic or religious, census, income distribution, power allocation etc were also sources of tension and serious violence.  With the political instability, economic development was low, and real growth could not be achieved. 

Political manipulation of geographical demography

      Commenting on one of the most treacherous structural problems of our time, population manipulation (Northern politico-economic stratagem and existentialist conspiracy), Professor Itse Sagay, former Dean School of Law, University of Benin, Edo State stated that: "The 1991 census ÔÇŽ was conducted to maintain the carefully designed colonial programme.  Out of a total population of 88,504,477 the North was awarded 47,261,962 and the South 41,242,512.  Thus, the colonial margin is still being maintained.  The most absurd aspect of the announced figures is the attempts to equate Kano State with Lagos State".

      "Thus, Lagos State is given a figure of 5,685,781 and to march Kano is given a figure of 5,632,040.  Any honest observer knows that the Lagos population cannot be less than 15 million.  But by the legacy of colonial manipulation, the most populous state in the South must not be allowed to have a higher population than the most populated state in the North.   

Stressing further the Professor of law noted ÔÇśThat is not all.  Having kept the population of Lagos State to just over 5 million, the state is allocated only 20 local governments whilst Kano and Jigawa states (officially with a combined population slightly less than Lagos, are allocated a total 71 local government councils.  Again, whilst Lagos State has only 24 members in the House of Representatives; Kano and Jigawa (with a smaller combined population) have a total of 35 seats.'

      With greater worry and concern Professor Sagay, reasoned further that ÔÇśIt is clear that no bill can pass through the House without the concurrence of the Northern states', a situation which he described as "permanent power, installed by a combination of the colonial master, the Arewa political oligarchy and the Northern military organization".

      As if that was not enough, the Federal Government had just approved 140 million as the total population of people living in Nigeria out of which Lagos State and Kano State have a population of about Nine million people each with Kano State population slightly leading Lagos.

      In 1991, the figure released by the Census Bureau put the population of Lagos and Kano at par. Thereafter, Kano State was split into two. Thus, a combination of Kano State and its sister state, Jigawa have about 13 million people. To make matters worse, Kano State has 44 local governments while Lagos have only 20; meaning that Kano state has more representations at the National Assembly than Lagos State.

      Furthermore, Lagos State is in the belly of Ogun State as a result of which Ogun State has become a beneficiary of the economic and demographic explosion of Lagos leading to the expansion and developments of several Ogun State towns and cities. For example, Sango-Ota, Ifo, Alagbado, Agbara estate, Ijoko, Isheri, the new Gateway City, OPIC estates etc have become sprawling cities, each bigger than several Northern towns and cities. Yet, new population figure released for Ogun state indicates there is no significant change in Ogun state's demography fifteen years after the last count.

 Commenting on this bizarre census figure, a public commentator, Sina Oladeinde, in his article: "A census made in Nigeria", Tribune, 23rd January 2007 commented that: "The UNDP estimate puts the population of Lagos at about 25 million. Many people even think the UNDP's estimation is inaccurate, that Lagos judging by its daily growth in terms of the massive influx of people and structural development should be competing with other mega cities like Tokyo, Osaka and New York. But that would have demystified the overall essence of the Nigerian nationhood. It would have given a lie to the long term assumption that in Nigeria, there is usually a massive migration of people from the nature-friendly rain forest region of the South to the inclement desert encroachment of almost all the areas of the North".

Political economy of corruption

      What we are witnessing in Nigeria is a massive obstruction of fare access to government and power by a narrow group of people (the cargo cult of political class) who continue to take advantage of their past positions and networks within and outside the bureaucracy to create an unofficial, albeit, highly operational super structure that controls resources, power and authority. This group of people that works with any government in power be it democratic or dictatorship will do everything by any means possible to oppress and marginalize the civil society with a view to preventing them from having free access to power and economic resources. This way, they nurture corruption as a way of retaining continuous and total control.

      Until very recently, corruption in Nigeria enjoyed great legitimacy and completely undermined government's socio-economic development strategies and international image. Nonetheless, corruption continues to hamper government's policies and initiatives thereby causing institutional weakness. These weak institutions in turn are responsible for the entrenchment of massive poverty and reckless extortion which has become a feature of Nigerian federation today.

      Almost every Nigerian  now encounter extortion one way or another, be it at public hospitals, schools and universities, police stations, customs offices, government departments etc. Poverty may be the most pressing socio-economic problem but corruption is the most vicious constraint to nation-building and poverty alleviation.

      Equality and inequality are relative economic concepts but poverty is very absolute because it exists when people lack sufficient means to afford the basic necessities of life. Unfortunately, poverty is a by-product of corruption and corruption is a potent weapon against the well being of the poor as it can never reduce the socio-economic disparity between the rich and the poor. That is why a goal of every organized society is to eliminate corruption.

      Even though, corruption is a universal phenomenon, it has vicious consequences for Nigeria in particular because so much of the illegally obtained money ends up in third party countries. And because it enjoys institutional support, poverty reigns supreme as many Nigerians have been deprived of the basic necessities of life. The institutionalization of corruption is thus a serious structural constraint whose eradication, together with other systems that increase the risks of it, requires a resilient commitment on the part of the government.


      In conclusion, no meaningful social, political, cultural and economic progress can be made until the government addresses the issues of restructuring and repositioning Nigeria in the comity of nations. A new Nigeria is possible by honestly addressing the problem of means of production, distribution, control and management of our natural resources (including the Niger-Delta problem).

      However, the enactment of anti-graft laws and the establishment of anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to improve governance and reduce graft has laid a solid foundation for credible and successful structural reforms that can stimulate socio-economic development.  To this effect, the government must continue to create an environment in which corruption is combated, not condoned and endeavor to eradicate other structural constraints which impede the realization of its socio-economic programs. 


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Re: Structural Constraints to Socio-economic Development in Nigeria
Ceekay posted on 11-13-2007, 14:50:36 PM
A good insight into our socio-economic developmental slow-speed. Well put together. I hope many people would not see it as just academic and start seeing the components that make the Union as a workable-jangling-discord. It will take a lot of restraints and understanding from all the different, but common, parts.

Well done.
Re: Structural Constraints to Socio-economic Development in Nigeria
Chubrock posted on 11-15-2007, 14:17:44 PM
Another obsession with Northen Nigeria's population figure. Accept it my brother and focus your energy somewhere. Because thats not going to change.
Re: Structural Constraints to Socio-economic Development in Nigeria
Syke posted on 06-23-2010, 09:23:48 AM
recent political development in Nigeria from 2007 til date
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