Ethnic Politics, Political Corruption and Poverty: Perspectives on Contending Issues and Nigeria's Democratization Process

By Yagboyaju, Dewale Adewale | Ethnic Studies Review, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Politics, Political Corruption and Poverty: Perspectives on Contending Issues and Nigeria's Democratization Process


Yagboyaju, Dewale Adewale, Ethnic Studies Review


Introduction

It is common to interpret African politics in tribal or ethnic terms. In the case of Nigeria, the dominant political behaviour can be defined, on the one hand, in terms of "incessant pressures on the state and the consequent fragmentation or prebendalizing of state-power" (Joseph, 1991:5). On the other hand, such practices can also be related to "a certain articulation of the factors of class and ethnicity" (ibid). For a better understanding of the essentials of Nigerian politics and its dynamics, it is necessary to develop a clearer perspective on the relationship between the two social categories mentioned above and their effects on such issues as political corruption and poverty.

In order to do the necessary formulation that we pointed out in the foregoing, we need to know a bit about the history of Nigeria's birth. Designed by alien occupiers, through the amalgamation of diverse ethnic nationalities in 1914, Nigeria, as it is, cannot be called a nation-state. Although Nigerians are often encouraged to think of the country before their diverse ethnic origins, this seems to be an unattainable desire. Such a desire, if accomplished, will make Nigeria a unique African nation. However, behind the façade of ethnic politics in Nigeria, there are such other vested interests as class and personal considerations. Undoubtedly, all these combine to undermine the autonomy and functionality of the state in Nigeria. This, according to AbdulRazaq Olopoenia (1998:5), is so because "when the basis of social groups and their interest-group politics is ethnic fractionalization, a shared view of the imperative objectives of the power of the state will be difficult to establish".

Successive administrations in Nigeria have grappled with the challenge of overcoming the problems posed by this threat to democracy and development. Sadly, the net effect of the politics of ethnic fractionalization and its attendant consequences, especially political corruption, is the neglect of the mass of the Nigerian people. Hence, the country, which is ranked as a "developing nation" by the World Bank, United Nations (UN) and other international agencies, lacks the characteristics of a truly developing economy. I argued somewhere else that "despite the over $200 billion that the country has generated from the exportation of crude oil since the late 1950s, more than half of its citizens live in abject poverty" (D.A. Yagboyaju, 2005:69). The people lack access to clean water, electricity, health facilities, transportation, communications and are largely unemployed because of the inefficient and ineffective management of sensitive public institutions. Majority of Nigerians are, therefore, disenchanted, while some others have confronted the various illegitimate and illegal regimes that existed in the country's entire civil-military political cycle. And in response, the various administrations dealt either lightly or heavily with such expressions. While some cajoled, others harassed, intimidated or, even, crushed by maiming or eliminating the brains behind such opposition.

In the light of the foregoing, this paper seeks to examine the exploitation of ethnic politics by the political and power elites in Nigeria. Notably, it will critically analyze the seizure of the state by the privileged few who; in a civilian administration, should be the representatives of the people, and under military rule, claim to intervene in order to correct certain anomalies caused by an inept civilian administration. In essence, it will discuss the endemic nature of political corruption and diversion of developmental funds, which have contributed to the soaring level of hunger, unemployment and poverty that characterize contemporary Nigeria.

Having done with the introductory aspect of the paper, the rest of the work is divided into four parts. These are namely, Definitional and Conceptual Issues; Characterization of the State and Politics in Nigeria; Matters Arising in the Fourth Republic; and Concluding Remarks. …

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