By Martins Ihembe
In his August 26th, 2017 Keynote address in honour of the late Professor AbdulRaufu Mustapha, Prof Ibrahim Gambari responded elaborately to the perceived difficulty in simultaneously democratising and developing, (See “Nigeria: Democracy, Development and Foreign Policy”, Intervention, 29/08/2017). Now, Martins Ihembe of the Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan is back to the issue, taking a categorical position that democracy cannot precede development. It is either the younger egghead did not read Gambari or does not agree with him. It all fits into Intervention’s ‘Democracy or Development First?’ series started earlier in the year, (See “In Nigeria, the Great Debate About Whether Democracy Comes Before Development and Vice-Versa Has Not Even Started…”, 07/02/2017) – Editor
Experts on democratization posit that a political society starts its journey to becoming a democracy by establishing an electoral democracy first, followed by polyarchy/liberal democracy, and then advanced democracy. They are all democratic but they differ in content. Electoral democracy is one that is on the borderline between democracy and authoritarianism. Hence the notion of hybrid regime. It is sometimes referred to as pseudo democracy. Polyarchy, as Robert Dhal calls it, or liberal democracy, adds to democracy the classical liberal political liberties of free speech, freedom of association and the rule of law. These features enhance democratic consolidation by preventing its erosion. Lastly, advanced democracy is one that has completed the democratic journey and cannot reverse to authoritarian regime or electoral democracy. These are found in the global north.
Where then can we place Nigeria in this trichomization? Having failed in terms of the desired deliverables of democracy in its 17 years of democratic experiment, with visible traces of autocratic tendencies on the part of the ruling elite, the country falls under electoral democracy. Unfortunately, both scholarly and policy concern has been focused more on the need for increased democracy in Nigeria than the all-important issue of state-building.This view is commonly referred to as the “sequentialist debate”. Exponents of the “Stateness First” like Francis Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria contend that “state-building and liberal constitutionalism must precede electoral democratization if democracy is to achieve stability and deepening”. In other words, central to attaining and sustaining democracy is the construction of a strong State. Failure to adhere to this sequence would eventually lead to Samuel Huntington’s notion of “premature democratization”. This is the story of Nigeria and most democratizing states in Africa that lack the Weberian legitimate monopoly of force in their territory, which is essential in providing social order,which in turn paves the way for economic development and democracy to thrive. Conversely, others like Mazzuca and Munck maintain that “state construction can be confronted in the course of democratization or through democracy”. This seems to be the pathway taken by Nigeria which started with the attainment of political independence. Their line of argument stem from the widespread belief that today, it’s almost inconceivable to have a developmental sequence than the one which starts with electoral competition largely because the pursuit of liberal democracy has become the zeitgeist of the late 20th century.
However, as persuasive as these contentions are, empirical evidence shows that the former path happened to be the Western sequence. Before the Industrial revolution, bellicose strategy was adopted in state formation by despotic European monarchs. Democracy was not the guiding idea at that in developing Europe. During the industrial revolution between 1780 and 1840, Europe had no democracy. Western Europe and its satellite colonies first established a sequence of state-building, liberal constitutionalism, before large scale electoral participation. It was later in the course of development that measures of limiting state powers like rule of law and democratic accountability were introduced. As I will explain momentarily, this was also the sequence in some East Asian countries.
The failure to build a strong state, limited by the rule of law and electoral accountability, all of which contribute to deepening democracy explain why Nigeria is still a basket case that privileges electoralism which profits political entrepreneurs at the expense of state-building.Yes, democracy might have triumphed in some ideological sense as vociferously acclaimed in The End of History thesis, it is not sufficient to say liberal democracy is the one and only way for democratizing countries like Nigeria to follow in order to attain political development.Based on this, Thomas Carothers, an avid liberal scholar posited that, “it is a mistake to assume that democratization – especially open national elections – is always a good idea. When tried in countries that poorly prepared for it, democratization can and often does result in bad outcomes”. The Nigeria situation is a representation of this assertion. If the “Democracy first” sequence was the surefire way to attaining political development and stamping out poverty, India, with an impressive democracy would have accomplished this given it long democratic history. Rather, the country is extremely corrupt (79 least corrupt nation according to the 2016 transparency international (TI) report, trailing behind Nigeria which conveniently occupies the 136th spot), and cannot deliver democratic deliverables because it doesn’t have a strong state. This also applies to South Africa (45); and Brazil (40) which seems to be facing the risk of democratic breakdown.
China, which is not a democracy in the Western sense has done so well. In spite of its sheer problems of human rights deficit, China has been able to achieve one of the world’s remarkable economic transformation in human history. This has seen it lift over 400 million people out of poverty (See Weiwie’s China Wave: Rise of A Civilizational State), a figure that accounted for the bulk of global reduction in poverty. Take China out of the equation and you will be left with an abysmal result in this regard. China was able to achieved this because of its strong state system that is driven by Confucian tradition, which it establish long before it started modernizing, and a merit base bureaucracy. Conscious of this impressive achievement, Fukuyama remarked in 2011 that “U.S. democracy has little to teach China”. Interestingly, despite China’s phenomenal economic rise using it development model, “China has learnt so much from the West and will continue to do so for its own benefit…;” said Weiwei. There is a lot of wisdom in this which poorly governed countries like Nigeria where the Lincolnian idea of democracy has failed to work should learn.
Countries like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan first started out like China, building state first along Confucian tradition, before establishing democracy. The Western argument against does not see the China option as a viable alternative worth emulating by countries in search of development. This is to suggest that the Western liberal democratic model is the most preferred option as though it doesn’t have loopholes. The Western model itself is in deep trouble as seen in protracted financial crisis in the global north in spite of its nuanced strengths, excessive money in politics and the role special interests in the electoral process – America and Nigeria. Obviously, it is on account of these unpleasant developments in America that Joseph Stiglitz concluded that the U.S. market driven economic model only works for the top 1 percent than the bottom 99 percent. This shows that even liberal minded scholars are dissatisfied with the current structure of liberal democracy in the West.
Coming back to Nigeria, it’s no news that the country has been detained in the state of premature democratization for the past 17 years without any possibility of attaining political development should the country maintain the status quo. As I noted before, this is so because Nigeria does not have a strong and impersonal state. The state is neopatrimonial in nature. Like America, its democracy is one that works for the elite. No doubt about it, democracy is good because it engenders the existence of some basic freedoms that are central to the pursuit of happiness and development. But this will make no meaningful impact if the state, to which the institution of democracy is grafted is not strong enough to provide the foundation for democracy to flourish. Bearing in mind the Western and East Asian development sequence, I am of the opinion that Nigeria does not need free-wheeling democracy at the moment. Seventeen years of its practice has only kept the country perpetually in electoral mood at the expense of pursuing developmental courses. The country needs a strong state, after which it can take measures of limiting political power by instituting liberal democratic institutions.