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Politics and investment climate in Nigeria


Nimi Wariboko<br />Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics<br />Boston University, USA

The paper was presented at One Nigeria Summit by Professor Nimi Wariboko of Boston University, September 16, 2017

My assigned topic “An unfavorable investment climate compounded by ethnic jingoism and secessionism.” The organizers of this summit assume that Nigeria’s current unfavorable investment climate is being compounded by ethnic jingoism and secessionism. Permit me to playfully challenge their Solomonic wisdom in crafting such a topic with “Oxford-educated Nigerian man” English. Ethnic jingoism! First of all, there is no jingoism in the crude sense of extreme ethnic passion that have materialized in the threat or actual use of force. In the current agitation in the south-east the Nigerian state still has the monopoly of force. There is also no secession. Jingoism and secession are still possibilities and they can be prevented. I hope this is one of the goals of this summit.

Let us turn to the unfavorable investment climate. It is not that unfavorable climate is compounded; it is not that unfavorable climate is made worse by ethnic tensions and antagonisms. It is, rather, the other way around. Unfavorable economic circumstances are adding fuel to the already bad interethnic relations. The most unfavorable investment climate, the perpetual obstacle to the proverbial, imaginary endless flow of investment capital into the Nigerian geo-political space, is the ruling class that deploys state power to extract public resources in myriad ways that expropriate and impoverish the masses. Public policies that are averse to making the Nigerian people both the agents and beneficiaries of economic development constitute the condition of impossibility of investors’ paradise in the country.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is becoming clear to you that I am not only questioning the presuppositions of the topic assigned to me, but I am also stealthily preparing to pivot to different topic, which I think will serve our purpose better. My good friend Pastor Emmanuel Asiwe is a brilliant man, but I would like to disagree with him on the premises of the topic he assigned to me. No doubt, his premises have objective and subjective foundations. First, I believe he thinks that the failure of Nigerian economic development has an economic source. Second, he knows me an ex-investment banker and a current management consultant to corporations and governments even as I also wear the cap of a university professor of economic/social ethics. In his infinite wisdom, I am the person best suited to discuss the connection between investment climate and ethnic jingoism and succession.

I am afraid, his infinite wisdom did not adequately read my finite mind today. Economics is not the greatest obstacle to Nigerian economic development. Politics is the main cause of Nigeria’s economic failure. As an economic ethicist, I have an abiding interest in political theory such that my economic analysis is a form of political analysis.

Since independence in 1960 the Nigerian economy has been unable to meet the needs of Nigerians. Why? It is not because Nigerians do not understand economics, it is not because they are not entrepreneurially driven or innovative. It is because of a political system that has installed extractive institutions which make the capture of state power the main means of production in the society.

According to economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, economies like Nigeria have not developed due to the legacy of extractive institutions. In their book Why Nations Fail, they state that these are pernicious institutions “which concentrate power and wealth in the hands of those controlling the state, opening the way for unrest, strife, and civil war. Extractive institutions also directly contribute to the gradual failing of the state by neglecting investment in the most basic public services” (p. 376). Thus, for me the unfavorable investment climate that compounds ethnic antagonism is our collective failure to create “inclusive political institutions that can bred political stability and [support] inclusive economic institutions.” In turn, inclusive economic institutions will “increase the viability and durability of inclusive political institutions” (p. 413). This is a lesson Nigerians have not learned very well.

I am sure the usual supporters of governments of Jonathan or Buhari, will now say to me that the Nigerian economy has been growing for years, except for the recent recession. Of course, we have recorded impressive growth rates in the past and proudly beaten collective breasts for building Africa’s the biggest economy. But I will like to tell you that economic growth under regime of extractive institutions is not sustainable. Ask nineteenth-century Argentina what happened to its impressive growth that lasted for over 50 years under extractive institutions. In the twentieth century, Argentina exploded into political instability. As you consult with the Argentinians for historical wisdom, I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact that when America got its independence in 1776 Argentina was economically ahead of it. Today, Argentina does not even see the brake light of the United States in the global economic race. Not to put a fine point on this, Nigeria could be circling around its goal of economic development, dreaming of becoming a global economic superpower for next 200 years and not reach it.


Let us recapture the main point I have made. The problem of Nigeria is not ethnicity or the threats of secessionism, but the failure to create and sustain inclusive political and economic institutions. Elections under nearly twenty years of democracy have not changed this basic fact. Elections, politics, and participations in government are always informed, made attractive, and haunted by potential and actual participations in the underlying extractive institutions of politics.

Some have said we should turn to the constitution to fix the kind of problems I have just highlighted. Many have also advised all agitators for change or restructuring to turn to the constitution and its authorized channels of negotiation. There is a problem with this kind of thinking. The national constitution is not constructed to promote radical democratic politics that can extricate the country from the deadly grip of extractive regimes and inequities. The national constitution was constructed as a counterrevolutionary document to prevent or forestall change from the right or the left. It aims to foreclose military coups and secessionism on the right and revolution and radical egalitarianism on the left. The constitution is founded on violence. Its constituting violence and hence its constituting power were derived from military coups and the structural violence of the extractive elites. The constitution is also a constituted violence. It legitimates a state that is antagonistic to its people. It sanctifies a state that unleashes violence on its citizens with near divine impunity. This is the nature of the postcolonial state in Nigeria and its brutal character did not originate with Yar’Adua, Jonathan, or Buhari. The brutal, exploitative postcolonial state, which serves the narrow interest of the multi-ethnic ruling class, can only impose anti-people, anti-citizen document on its people as a constitution.

To use the words of French philosopher Jacques Rancière, the Nigerian constitution is a “police” document and not a document of “politics.” The constitution polices the people. It does not embody the logic of emancipatory democracy and the radical, universal equality of all citizens. Insofar as it is a document created by the ruling elites to dominate and distribute people to preassigned places, the government and the constitution itself are always threatened by the “part of no part,” the part that belongs to the whole but does not count. The police logic of our constitution creates a conflict between the parts that count in the social body and the part that does not and this latter part unsettles the whole because of the universal principle of equality, the equality of all speaking beings. Any time, the part of no part stands up to speak, to demand for equality the country is threatened.

We should not be afraid, and see genuine democratic politics as only starting when those not counted by the system try to establish the equality of all speaking beings, the equality of all citizens. We should see democratic politics as only beginning when the part of no part subjectivize the basic wrong done to them, that is, when they transform themselves from ordinary citizens to active political subjects who are determined to correct the wrong done to them. Politics starts when they, the part of no part, realize the sheer contingency of any social order, the absence of any foundation for counting parts in any community. In Rancière’s theory politics starts when the part of no part, the non-part which has identified itself as the whole (as the part that really owns the country) and wants to tear down the allocation of places and possibilities in the social body, dismantle the framework of perception, doing, and speaking, and set ablaze all the forms of inclusion and exclusion in the social body that work against their interest.


All these bring us to the core shortcoming of the various agitations in Nigeria, starting from the Niger Delta fighters and Boko Haram to IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra). These groups play into the police logic of the Nigerian state and its constitution. These groups and their politics do not speak for the whole people of Nigeria, for all the masses from north to south, east to west. They have not aimed to become the universal concrete of the whole nation, the part that represents the whole. Imagine what will happen to our political leaders and thieves if the leaders of these groups try to mobilize all the masses against hunger and poverty and against all extractive institutions in the country. What do you think will happen if these three groups transcend their religious or ethnic issues, as important as they are, and wage a revolutionary struggle against the ruling class that does not recognize religious and ethnic markers in their thiefdom?

Their failure to make this transition is one of the sad notes of contemporary Nigeria. None of these three groups has really identified itself as the part of no part, the non-part which stands for the whole. Each of them in its own peculiar way is still engaged in the politics as consensus, in the police logic of the postcolonial state and not vested in the politics as dissensus, not committed to the fight for egalitarian democracy for all citizens.

If they were to be involved in politics of dissensus then, “the disruption that they [want] is not simply a reordering of the relations of power between existing groups; dissensus is not an institutional overturning. It is an activity that cuts across forms of cultural and identity belonging and hierarchies between discourses and genres, working to introduce new subjects and heterogeneous objects into the field of perception” (Steven Corcoran, editor’s introduction to Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, page 2)

By way of reaching conclusion, let me state some of the reforms that those Nigerians afraid of the politics as dissensus can advocate to forestall revolutionary politics for now. Please do this for your immediate good. Indeed, poor economic development and “bad politics” are building up revolutionary pressures in Nigeria.

Devolve more power from the federal level to the states and the local governments. For instance, the federal government should get out of running secondary schools and universities. It should be limited to regulating tertiary education. Do I need to mention that the process of devolution of power must be accompanied by programs or ethos of transparency and accountability at all levels of government?

The federal government has no business running industries, crude oil and mineral productions. Let the local communities own their minerals and crude oil. The federal government should limit itself to taxing their profits. Land and what is under and on it should be owned by individuals and communities, not captured by the Land Use Decree and other nefarious decrees that expropriate and impoverish the people for the benefit of the prebendal elites.

Create a functioning tax system. Collect taxes to fund and maintain public infrastructure, national currency, defense and national security, and external relations. We need a very minimal federal center that will not function as means of production for the extractive elites.

The unit of recognition and participation in the Nigerian project should be citizens, individual citizens and not groups, ethnicities, or religious affiliations. Create a merit-based bureaucracy, which is based on individual merit and achievement and not quota system.


Separation of shrine and state, mosque and state, and church and state. In addition, government officials use public reasons (these are reasons that can be understood and justified by all rational citizens debating in the public square) for the making of public policies.

Develop an ethos for the respect of freedom, radical equality, and pluralism. Aggressively move toward dismantling extractive institutions and building inclusive political and economic institutions that are consistent with economic growth. Do I need to mention that the building of an inclusive institutions, the dismantling of the current extractive regime, will sound the death knell of corruption?

Public funding of election campaign. This is not only about government giving money to politicians to run their campaigns, but carefully developing the ethos of citizens funding the campaigns of their chosen candidates for electoral offices.

In the light of the above suggestions, what should be the focus of law-making or regulations in Nigeria? (i) Efficient governance of the political and economic systems, and (ii) Forestalling or preventing the collapse of the country. What we now have as law-making is geared toward the looting of the resources of the country by the few men and women.

I think the foregoing analyses and suggestions will help the various levels of government in Nigeria to create a favorable investment climate not only for capitalists, but also for the people to become the means and beneficiaries of their own development. Thank you.

Nimi Wariboko
Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics
Boston University, USA

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