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Rural Development and the Burden of Corruption: Need for a Silent Grassroots Revolution in Nigeria


As an educator and as an activist, this writer is deeply troubled by what is happening in Nigeria, particularly the uncivil politics at the civil and serene rural settings. He struggles to reconcile the reality on the ground with the unlimited promises of the political leaders: to face the challenges and make the country a better place for everyone. Yet Nigeria operates a brand of democracy that is devoid of the tenets of true democracy and true federalism. The citizens are neglect and abandoned and their opinions do not seem to matter in the scheme of things: public policy formulation and implementation. Under a true “representative democratic” system the people’s needs are being taken care of by the political leaders. Thus the elected officials are accountable to the people for their actions and the people are given an opportunity to appraise their performances/activities and pass judgment on them (Plano & Greenberg, 2002, p.2).


As Cummings & Wise (2006) have aptly noted, in a true democracy as government actions affect the people, the people’s evaluation or assessment of the government also affect the political leaders. This is not case with Nigeria’s weird brand of democracy where the “se-elected” or appointed political leaders, public officials and their cronies behave like ‘gods’ nobody should dare to question. For them, the “ultimate political power” belongs to them, not the people at the grassroots (Cummings & Wise, 2006, p.10) who supposedly ‘se-elected’ them. As a result, Nigeria’s problems remain perpetually unresolved thereby hampering community and national development.

To stimulate the economy, and for Nigeria to prosper, this writer believe that there should a silent revolution of hope, a revolution that eliminates bad leadership and corruption that has hampered rural development. This author also believes that a courageous, yet a silent grassroots revolution will enable the policymakers and political leaders to get their act together and to build a strong partnership with local leaders, business and investors to challenge them to create viable communities and drive innovations and our national economy. As it were, courage or “Boldness is a catalyst for grassroots revolution” (Thomason, 2008, p.5) – a revolution that eliminates the barriers to rural development, which will translate into national development. A recent Asian development Bank report has “argued that if emerging Asian’s income distribution had not worsened over the past 20 years, the region’s rapid growth would have lifted an extra 24m people out of extreme poverty” (see The Economist, October 13-19, 2012, p.6). Are the corrupt political leaders of Nigeria listening?


This paper examines the obstacles to the development of Nigeria’s rural communities’ where the majority of the estimated 156million of the citizens lives. Local government areas are known are the hub of national development and the neglect of this important segment of the population hinders national development. Therefore, the provision of the basic needs of the people at the rural will promote their well-being and the development of the entire nation. This is to say that the government should invest in the human capital development (education and health care), fundamental infrastructure and institutions and good governance and leadership to spur individual worker commitment, productivity and national development. The paper also seeks to discuss the issues bordering on security because without peace, security and political stability at the grassroots national development is difficult, if not impossible. Finally, this paper will attempt to offer to the policymakers some solutions ameliorate the problem facing the rural dwellers.

Research Methods

The materials for this paper were derived from the research and analysis of scholars, analysts and practitioners, government documents and recent newspaper and journal articles. This is to say that the primary method of study was an extensive review of available literature for an in-depth analysis of the problems facing rural areas. The sources of information were carefully evaluated and analyzed to determine their veracity. The local government areas are designed to provide social services to the grassroots to improve their standards of living or conditions.

Problem Statement

Over the years Nigeria has been whirling around in a vicious circle and thus neglecting the rural setting that greases the wheel to national development. The policymakers have been investing less on the infrastructure that is critical to building viable local government areas (Because of the paucity of data we lack the figures to quantify this claim-but the reality on the ground speaks volume). Yet the political leaders claim or think that Nigeria can be transformed into an industrialized society without investing in and developing the local communities where majority of the citizens abode. To develop therefore Nigeria should adopt and adapt the strategies recommended by developmental economists and are already tested by developed countries, without which Nigeria will remain an underdeveloped nation. It must be emphasized without equivocation that the country will develop only when the problems facing the rural dwellers are resolved.

Research Questions

This paper focuses on these questions: Can Nigeria develop as it should without developing the local government areas where majority of the dwell? Is the Are the three tiers of government making enough efforts to tackle the challenges facing the rural communities? Do the leaders collaborate with the citizens at the grassroots in policy formulation and implementation?

Definition of Terms

Community: The term, community, has more than one meaning, but we are going to use the definition appropriate for the present discourse. According to Tönnies (1887) community is a group of interacting people, living in some proximity. It is also defined as a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion (see also Briggs & Sullivan, 1997).

Community Development: This is a broad term that is applied to the practices and academic disciplines of civic leaders, activists, involved citizens and professionals to improve various aspects of local communities. It is also perceived as a set of values and practices which plays a special role in overcoming poverty and disadvantage, knitting society together at the grass roots and deepening democracy (Briggs & Sullivan, 1997).

Economic Growth: It is a process of transformation or a quantitative measure of the goods and services produced by an economy over a period, usually calculated as the percentage rate of increase in real gross domestic product (or real GDP) (Romer, 2007; Acemoglu, 2003).

Economic Development: This implies a lot more than economic growth. It is a qualitative measure of how economic the wealth of countries (or regions) has improved the economic, political, and social well-being of its inhabitants (Soubbotina, 2004).

Community Development: a Brief Overview

Community development has a long history. In Gemeinschaft und [and] Gesellschaft (1887), a German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies labored to distinguish between two types of human association or community: Gemeinschaft [often interpreted as “community”] and Gesellschaft [perceived as “society” or “association”]. In this classic work, Tönnies (1887) perceived Gemeinschaft to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity, owing to the presence of a “unity of will.” He noted that family and kinship “were the perfect expressions of Gemeinschaft” (Tönnies, 1887, p.22; Christensen & Levinson, 2003).

On the other hand, Gesellschaft (Tönnies, 1887) is perceived as a group “in which the individuals who make up that group are motivated to take part in the group purely by self-interest” (p.22). He, however, warned that “in the real world, no group was either” Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft only “but a mixture of the two” (Gemeinschaft und [and] Gesellschaft (Tönnies, 1887, p.22). But whatever form or shape the associations have taken it requires good governance and leadership to improve the living conditions of the people in rural communities (Christensen & Levinson, 2003).

When individuals in a community are experiencing harsh economic and social conditions what often sparks off is often a movement (or migration) of individuals from harsh rural communities to the adjoining urban communities. This often leads to various types of socio-economic and political problems including political instability, social crisis, rising unemployment and crime rates and shortage of social services, et cetera (Ferguson & Dicksen, 1999). To escape the social and economic storm brewing on the horizon, the leaders of Nigeria must acquire the knack of “driving innovation for future prosperity” (The Economist, September 29-October 5, 2012, p.23) by developing human resources that is the engine that successfully drives every organization to achieve its set objectives (Nadler, 1989; Cummings & Worley, 2005).

Community Development and the Burden of Corruption

How well a community performs economically, politically and socially depends, in many ways, on the creativity, innovative actions and vision of the leaders. The neglect of the rural areas were majority of the citizens live is a serious threat to the development of Nigeria. In the country the local communities that are supposed to be the engine of national development are in shambles partly because of corruption. The main objective of the local administrators (like their counterparts at the state and federal levels) is to take part in sharing public funds earmarked for community development. This has done a great damage to the local economy. Without anything to keep live going they people resort to eking out a living on whatever they could find; worse still some of them have criminally innovated to make a living, leading to the unending crisis in the country (The Economist, September 29-October 5, 2012, p.51).

The local government areas lack the basic necessities of live while the leaders are flaunting their stolen public funds with reckless abandon. Most of the leaders are without a moral purpose (Dike, 2009b) because they are dishonest as they have failed to take cognizant of the suffering of the masses. For instance, James Ibori, former governor of Delta state was recently given a-13 year jail sentence by a Southwark Crown Court in London for stealing public fund of over £50m (N12.5 billion). Everybody in Nigeria would be a millionaire if this amount stolen by one person was shared by the estimated population of 156 million. The case of James Ibori is a mmicrocosm of the problem facing states and local government administrations in Nigeria. How can the local government areas develop under this condition? The fact remains that national development is impossible without the development of regional, state, and local areas (The Guardian [London] April 17, 2012; BusinessDay, April 17, 2012).

As noted earlier, the price of corruption is huge in Nigeria. The economy has virtually collapsed and thus has prevented the country from moving forward. It has continued to widen the gap between the rich and poor (not that the rich made their wealth by being productive) and distorted equal opportunity for the citizen. Nigeria remains underdeveloped despite the abundant human and material resources at her disposal. Because the resources for community development are misused life is pressed out of almost everything; and poverty is written on the faces of most of the rural dwellers in the midst of Nigeria’s abundant oil wealth. As The Economist (October 13-19, 2012, p.6) has aptly noted, “Today’s disparities [growing inequality of opportunity as well as in income] and their likely trajectory are dangerous.”

Because they lack basic health care facilities many of them are dying of minor as well as major ailments’: high blood pressure, hypertension, typhoid, prostate cancer, diabetes, maternal child birth issues, and malnutrition. Community development is impossible without effective local government administration. The people have lost faith in the corrupt politicians; and because the government has abandoned its responsibilities the communities are financing a plethora of local projects with their meager resources: health clinics/community hospitals, roads, water, and rural electrification projects, et cetera. But community effort is not enough to pull the communities out of poverty.

Youth unemployment rate is skyrocketing. Although jobs are limited, majority of the youths (secondary and university graduates) are unemployed because they lack employability skills to secure paid employment and entrepreneurial skills that can enable them to become self-employed and thus create employment for others. The government can tackle the problem of dearth of job skills by establishing of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) facilities at strategic locations at the local council areas (Dike, 2009). Because of the myriad unresolved problems (and because the leaders have abdicated their responsibilities) Nigeria’s democratic governance is under pressure.

Resources for Development Purposes

Every community needs financial resources for development purposes. Local government administrators should device effective methods of raising funds (e.g., through property tax, business and personal tax, et cetera) for rural development purposes. The problem is that most of the local area administrators lack the competencies to plan and execute community development projects.

The federal government should, however, ensure that the monthly allocations to local government areas should be given to them directly, instead of channeling through the states where the funds are often intercepted. In addition, the federal government should provide annual grants to communities for development purposes and affordable loans to individuals and businesses to enable them invest in economically distressed communities.

There are unlimited business opportunities in rural communities but the problem, as mentioned before, is that the administrators’ lack with technical know-how to lure innovative-minded entrepreneurs into the economy. This is because their investment in the fundamental infrastructure and institutions will keep the economy humming and revive the economically distressed communities. The political leaders in collaboration with non-governmental organizations can turn a quiet rural community into a bustling city. Neglecting the rural communities is counterproductive because national development begins at the grassroots.

Rule of Law and Security

Effective and functional institutions (law and order) are among the important ingredients that empower the people and create a friendly business environment in every country (Datta & Nugent, 1998). They are the grease that keeps the economic and social wheel spinning smoothly. And for this to be possible everybody (and organization) in the country must operate within the confine of the rule of law in their daily activities (Datta & Nugent, 1998). Establishing the rule of law remains one of the most daunting tasks for any administration in Nigeria.

Since the government has abdicated its duties to protect the people it is incumbent on the citizens at the receiving end of the mess caused by corruption to carry out a well-coordinated silent grassroots revolution to change the mentality of the leaders managing the affairs of the nation. Every country worthy of its name must invest copiously in the people (them to enable develop their talents) to ensure that the society functions well. Good leadership and governance have prominent role to play in ensuring that the laws and rules in the country are effectively and fairly enforced (Datta & Nugent, 1998).

Since the government at every level has failed to enforce the law called there is a growing number of kidnappings with ransoms being paid. In some cases the victims are killed after the ransoms have been collected. Because of breakdown in law and order the Boko Haram -a Muslim extremist group that thinks that “Western education is sacrilegious” (The Economist, September 29-October 5, 2012, p.18) is wreaking havoc in the country by bombing government offices and churches and killing and maiming innocent civilians (Vanguard, 2012, April 1). In some areas civil servant do not any longer show up for work because of rising security problem (the people do not feel safe). Because the government has failed and insecurity has become very problematic, many Nigerians have resorted to the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality.

Insecurity and fear (fear of being kidnapped has spread to every part of the country) hampers economic development as it scares away investors from the economy. The government (federal, state, and local) is not doing enough, if anything, to protect the human and civil rights of the people. The “rule of law” that “provides the foundation for democratic constitutionalism” is lacking (Plano & Greenberg, 2002, p.27).

Some of the officials who are supposed to maintain law and order are creating chaos and disorder in the communities in order to remain in power. For instance, some them instigate agitation for creation of new autonomous communities with the sole purpose of having their cronies become the Ezes’ (the ruling lords in communities) at the helm of affairs in the new communities. This has created a lot of hatred and division in communities instead of unity and stability, which is among the preconditions for economic growth and nation development (World Bank, 2010; Easterly & Levin, 1997).

The community leaders do not seem to understand that without unity, political stability and an enduring community relationship (or what experts in human capital development call “social capital” -an integral part of “human capital”) community development becomes impossible (Coleman, 1988; Piazza-Georgi, 2002). The citizens of the local areas will remain perpetually poor and miserable. Long duration of malcontents may lead to “resistance movement against misrule” (The Economist, September 29-October 5, 2012, p.52) and grassroots revolution.

Concluding Remarks

Economic development is the tool to mitigate the discontents and the misery in the local communities. However, to design and implement pro-people and pro-development policies, local government administrators must have the technical skills to analyze available local social and economic data. (Data collection and analysis is a serious problem in government agencies in Nigeria; and it is much more problematic at the local government area). One cannot over emphasize the importance of reliable data; demographic data for instance will help policymakers to identify the needs of a community and the buying power and market size of a community. All these provide local entrepreneurs and investors with the necessary information about the economic health of an area. It also will help them to determine the magnitude of risk involved in investing in a particular community.

The country’s enormous human and natural resources have been mismanaged and misappropriated for decades by the political leaders to the detriment of the ordinary citizens. But the people must face the challenge and turn the nation’s economic prosperity to their favor by weeding off through silent grassroots revolution the many ‘rotten eggs and gadflies’ in the system. Without that there will be no real social, economic and political reforms or transformational change in the local communities in particular, and the country in general.


As it has been emphasized, local government politics is the bedrock of bribery and corruption that leads to the mismanagement of resources and hinders economic development at the grassroots. This leads to rising unemployment, poverty, and crime in the grassroots as people device ways and means (against the rule of law or not) to make ends meet. The government should ensure that any funds allocated for community development are properly utilized. Since the local communities are the engines of national development, they should be managed by “transforming leadership”-leadership that builds on man’s need for meaning, leadership that creates institutional purpose’ and can get things done.

The issues of rising insecurity, unemployment, decayed infrastructure and institutions are too important to be ignored because they have profound impact on the state of the economy and the living conditions of the citizens. Nigeria has been whirling around in a circle vicious for decades. To move forward, the government should design and implement sound monetary and fiscal policies to resuscitate the economy that is comatose. And to progress and thrive in a complex new global economy the political leaders (and one the followers) must provide the people with the tools (the infrastructure and institutions) and technical skills to produce standard products and services and allow the market forces to work. In other words, the policymaker must design effective institutions that will allow the market to function and deal with the complexities created by the country’s social, religious, tribal/ethnic diversity. Hopefully, with this the people in parts of the country will begin to rethink their entrenched belief of opinion that the central government is bias over one section/region and religious group over the other. And peace, unity and security and economic development may eventually blossom.

Although everyone has a part to play, but the burden falls on the shoulders of the top leadership who are traditionally responsible for leading the change process. The success and failure of any organizational change depends on the capability of the leadership and support of the stakeholders participating in the process. In other words, no change intervention in any modern society or organization will be successful without the full support of the stakeholders (Cummings & Worley, 2005). Nigeria’s political leaders need a new apprach to solving the country’s social and economic problems. As Van Velsor and Drath (2004) has aptly noted, leading a complex challenge requires a “new approach” (p.1-51). “Guiding change may be the ultimate test of a leader [as]-no business survives over a long term if it can’t reinvent itself” (Kotter 2007, p.96).

It is, therefore, incumbent upon the managers and leaders of nations and organizations to surround themselves with honest and committed team players to enable them “navigate their organizations successfully through a well-planned change process or transformation (Anderson & Anderson, 2001). In addition, this will help them to create a sustainable competitive advantage by developing and promoting to best people to manage the affairs of their entities (id, 2001).

It must be emphasized that the leaders will not achieve these objectives by looting the funds allocated for community development programs. They policymaker and the people should build a new mindset (or mental model) and learn harness the available resources to achieve a desired national objectives. The call for silent massive grassroots revolution will change the ways the political leaders, from the local chairman to the president conducts the affairs of the nation. And this will pave the way for a long awaited economic development and improvement in the living conditions of the citizens.

Nigerians have for long bottled-up their angers and frustration about lack of progress and innovation in the country despite the seemingly campaign and promises by successive administrations to turn the economic fortune of the country around. But the country’s corrupt-culture (Smith, 2008; Dike, 2001) is an obstacle to innovative ideas and any transformational minister that comes on board is eventually forced by the entrenched special interest group to quit. And any innovative strategy is doomed without a culture that tolerates innovative ideas (Capgemini Consulting, 2012). Nigeria will remain perpetually underdeveloped politically, socially and economically without broadening the level of opportunities for the citizens. The lack of this will have wider consequences including unstable political environment with a catalogue of human misery. However, without a silent massive grassroots revolution the political leaders may not change their mental models and work harder for rural development. As it has been noted rural development is the grease that lubricates the wheel of economic development and national economic prosperity.


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