PHILOSOPHY AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: A CRITICAL REFLECTION ON THE NIGERIAN CHALLENGE ANDREW O. EFEMINI

ABSTRACT

Philosophy as an essentially critical and rational discipline has a lot to offer in any discussion of development both as a concept and human experience. Development is not the same as economic growth rather development is a value-laden concept which is human-centered. Development is about how human beings are faring in the complex interaction with the environment. The paper argues that development as a desirable human phenomenon is best realized by States that are guided by inclusive conception of justice similar to the ideas of John Rawls and unlike the utilitarian pursuit of pleasure and happiness for the majority. The point is further made that Nigeria is unable to serve as a vehicle for realizing our conception of development because of the failure of politics and the faulty state-building process which manifests in the problematic pseudo-democratic political arrangements. Finally the paper argues that Nigeria’s path to sustainable development must include a constitutional reform which guarantees legally justiciable social, political, and economic rights for all Nigerians. 

 

INTRODUCTION

There is a definite relationship between philosophy and national development. In other words, the question ‘is there a relationship between philosophy and national development’ cannot be equated in terms of philosophical status with questions like ‘is there human mind’ or ‘does God exist’ or ‘what is the essence of human life. However attempts to state or define the nature of relationship between philosophy and development will ordinarily generate some contentions and disputations the way ‘mind’ ‘God’ and ‘essence of human life’ issues will.

 

Our goal in this paper therefore is to provide working definitions for key concepts that are relevant to the topic and thereafter examine the role of the philosopher in driving the vehicle of development forward. The concepts that require elucidation are ‘philosophy’ ‘development’ and ‘national development.’

 

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom. This is the translation for philein (love) and sophia (wisdom). The Greeks understand by ‘love’ desire or quest and ‘wisdom’ for them means ‘knowledge.’ We can therefore infer that philosophy for the Greeks represents man’s desire for knowledge.

 

A few words about the nature of philosophical desire are important at this stage. When we desire to know the answer to 17+16, we are looking for a specific answer which is 33. This desire is not philosophical but mathematical. However, once we ask how we know that 17+16=33 or ‘what are numbers?’ philosophical challenges arise.

 

One difference between the philosophical and mathematical questions is that the answer to the philosophical question is indefinite whereas the answer to the mathematical question is definite. In addressing philosophical questions, there is no requirement for a definite common axiomatic response from those attempting to address those questions. It is logically plausible to argue for or against the existence of ‘mind’ ‘God’ ‘freedom’ etc.

 

On the other hand, if one replies that ‘4+3=5’ or that ‘17+16=26’ or that ‘15-4=2’ mathematicians would ask for a mental test for that person because they would all argue that the answers supplied differ from the expected answers. Mathematicians or even commonsense would supply ‘7’ ‘33’ and ‘11’ respectively for the problems.

 

One other point about the nature of philosophical desire needs to be made. Given the fact that philosophers seldom have consensus as a general result from their efforts, we can imagine that the desire of the philosopher would be unending and persistent. Each response to a philosophical question like a cancerous growth produces multiple more questions. We find ourselves struggling to address more and more issues as we grapple with immediate ones. We can at this stage, define philosophy as the unending quest or search for knowledge.

 

Philosophers ordinarily ask innocent and harmless questions but discover to their shock that addressing those questions will take eternity to resolve. Usually, questions that are not resolved to everybody’s satisfaction are fundamental and general in nature. The ability to ask basic, general, and fundamental questions is crucial for any person who intends to pursue a career in philosophy.

 

 In philosophy, we are interested in examining issues to see how they fit into our overall conception of reality. Reality here is conceived of as the totality of all that there is. This is partly why we say that the object of philosophical inquiry is all conceivable ideas. Socrates once cautioned that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ Following the Socratic Method, which is known as the ‘midwifery method’ we are encouraged to ask questions which help us search for deep answers inside us by exercising our rational ability.

 

We can infer that philosophy is a rational discipline which seeks to justify through argumentation rather than experimentation the positions that we take on issues. We try to offer reasons why we think one position is more justifiable than others. One’s reason(s) for holding a position is further subjected to questioning by others and the circle continues ad infinitum. According to Kwame A. Appiah (2003: xviii) “philosophy is one way to enrich your ability to examine the assumptions and ambitions that guide your life.”

 

For Anand Amaladass (2001:6):

                The philosopher is one who thinks reasonably, attempts to bring

clarity- that means order, and that means, again, the intellect, in

the world and in life. Historically seen, philosophy was a reasonable,

scientific activity, a teaching, and not poetry.

Amaladass (2001: 9) again insists that philosophy is:

                … a radical science, in the sense that it goes to the roots, deeper than

                other sciences. It will further analyze and question where the others

                are satisfied.

For our purpose in this paper we shall simply take philosophy to be that discipline that questions our basic beliefs and ideas about things in general with a view to ensure that we have rational justification for holding the beliefs. We shall apply this view of philosophy to the idea, concept, issues and problems of development.

 

WHAT IS DEVELOPMENT?

There is a tendency to equate development with economic growth. In this regard, a country or nation is said to be developing if its Gross National Product (GNP), Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita income are rising or increasing. We notice that scholars who belong to this school of thought emphasize the economic dimension of development. To access the development of a country, we are advised to look at the economic indices of the society.

 

It is important that we do not equate economic growth with development. As Claude Ake (1996: 125) puts it “development is not economic growth even though economic growth in large measure determines its possibility.” The point Ake is making is that economic growth is crucial and necessary for sustainable development but it is not enough or sufficient to bring it about. In other words, we must go beyond economic growth if we are serious about realizing development. Daniel A. Offiong (1980: 151) warns us against what he refers to as ‘growth without development.” This happens when:

                There is real growth in terms of conventional economic indicators, but

                its concomitant problem is the coexistence of a relatively well-off

                and dynamic sector and a sector of stagnant and even growing misery.

 The point being made is that the crisis of distribution of economic benefits to a society can produce destabilizing social consequences arising from wide gaps between the rich and the poor. The point is that economic growth can occur in a society in such a way that it leaves a majority of the people in poverty while an infinitesimal segment of the population live in affluence.

 

Ake (1992:9) restates his views on the relationship between development and economic growth thus:

                …growth, essential as it is for creating the resources that can provide people

                with better life, is not an assurance by itself of people–centered development.

The process of growth has to be oriented so as to raise the income and productivity

of the poor and to promote a sustainable use of the scare natural resources and

the environment.

The real fear expressed by critics of economic growth as yardstick for measuring development is the fact that it does not pay sufficient attention to poverty, social inequality, and the abandonment of a large segment of the population which are all compatible with economic growth.

 

What then is development? The first point to note is that development is a multi faceted concept. It is not a concept that yields a consensus for those struggling with its definition. However, we can all argue that development is about people. Consequently, we can reach a conclusion that will not be rigidly disputed which maintains that development is a people-centered concept. Without reference to human beings, development will simply be an abstract concept with little or no meaning. Development according to Ake is not a project which can be executed above the people. It is something the people must own and drive with their energies and resources. As Ake (1996: 125) puts it:

                Development is not a project but a process. Development is the process

                by which people create and recreate themselves and their life circumstances to realize higher levels of civilization in accordance with their own choices and                values.

The UNDP (1990: iii) in its report supports the argument that development is about the people when it insists “We are rediscovering the essential truth that people must be at the centre of all development. The purpose of development is to offer people more options.”

 

The real challenge which is philosophical has to do with our conception of how development ought to involve the people. If we all agree that any talk about development which is pursued at the expense of the people is contradictory in terms, the question is which people are we talking about? Everybody, a few people, the majority or what?

 

Can a society be said to be developing or developed if it produces happiness for the majority members or if it takes care of the interest of all members of a society? The point is that the concept of development is intimately connected with the concept of justice and more specifically social justice. In a serious discussion of development in any society, we must be interested in the following issues among others:

  1. The place and welfare of children
  2. The place and welfare of men and women
  3. The quality and access to education
  4. The quality and access to health care.
  5. The quality and access to housing
  6. The quality of leisure hours.

In a fundamental sense, development is about the quality of life available to the people. The emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. Development ultimately is about human welfare. It is a participatory concept and not ad hoc accidental non-sustainable, and piecemeal increase in consumables. Our next effort is to place development within the context of national development.

 

What is national development or when is a nation said to be developed? We appreciate the fact that human welfare and decent living conditions are the ultimate goals of development but we still need to grapple with the problem of defining the concept of national development. Why is United States regarded as developed and Nigeria not?

 

At the level of a nation, development has something to do with self reliance. In other words, genuine development must be pursued on the basis of principle of self reliance which is based on the people’s creative energy. The point is that a nation can only be truly described as developed if it takes charge or is responsible for mobilizing its people in terms of the decisions and the resources needed to realize their conception of development. It is the responsibility of a nation striving for development to create and recreate the conditions that will lead to better life for the people, especially the ordinary people who are the victims of bad politics.

 

Ake makes the point about self reliance when he argues in favor of endogenous development as against exogenous development. As he put it (1996: 6):

                A necessary element of successful development strategies is the willingness

of the developing society to accept unequivocally the responsibility for developing

itself. Without prejudice to the catalytic role of a supportive international

environment, there is nothing like exogenous development. All development

is endogenous.

Again we are stating a preference for endogenous development because we believe that it is more participatory and more sustainable. This point was made by Robert Bernasconi (1998: 23) who argues:

                … there are many reasons, both socio-economic and political, for

                supporting endogenous development. For example, it is liable to be

more effective both in the short term because it arises from understanding

of the local conditions that foreign agencies will never attain and in the long

term because it allows the population to retain their autonomy.

Endogenous development could generate commitment from the people once they realize that it is their future that is at stake. It is important that the people become both the means and the end of the development process.

 

The values identified so far with national development are incompatible with certain forms of policies. Policies that rest on external borrowings without marching policies to utilize those borrowed funds for sustained industrialization on self reliant long term goals, policies that promote economies that depend on foreign technology which result in capital flight, policies that tie national economies to the policies of international financial institutions and policies that seek for markets offshore without promoting local markets are not likely to lead to sustainable development.

 

PHILOSOPHY AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA

As students of philosophy, we should be able to raise fundamental questions about the obstacles and prospects of sustainable development in Nigeria. Can Nigeria overcome the challenges standing between her and a decent and prosperous living standard for her people? If the answer to the above is in the affirmative how do we achieve that? Two questions need to be addressed in order to pave way for examining the question of the prospects for development in Nigeria.

 

The first question is essentially empirical. We need to understand the reality of the             problem in Nigeria. Where are we and how are the people faring? This question has to be addressed given the backdrop of our earlier position that development is really about human beings and their well-being. The general consensus is that Nigeria is a developing country with enormous potentials but bogged down with deep seated challenges. We can list the following as the key elements of Nigeria’s reality:

  1. Massive unemployment due to the insignificant growth in industrialization and manufacturing. It is not unusual to find university graduates unemployed five to ten years after graduation. The situation is worse for non-university or tertiary institutions graduates. The massive scale of unemployment means that the society would have to cope with millions of restive, agitated, irritated, frustrated, suffering, abandoned, militant, alienated, psychologically traumatized, and deeply dehumanized citizens.

 

One consequence of the unemployment situation is that the unemployed rely on the employed for survival. This negatively affects saving capacity of the population with its bad consequences for investment. It is normal to see ten or more members of an extended family depend on one member of the extended family for support to survive the harsh reality of life in Nigeria. Millions of unproductive manpower results in dependency of grave proportion to the society and crimes that no longer exist in well ordered and organized societies.

               

  1. Over dependence on oil is another challenge which confronts Nigeria in a special way. The Nigerian economy which used to rely on agricultural products from the different regions now depends on oil for its survival. This has several political and economic consequences for Nigeria. In the first place, the fall of revenue from the other sectors implies a reduction in the total revenue available to the people and anger from the oil-bearing communities. The Niger Delta crisis is a manifestation of this crisis.

 

  1. Neglect and non-integration of rural communities into modern civilization. In Nigeria’s rural communities you find millions of people without formal education, with no access to basic amenities, unemployed and unemployable engaged in subsistence farming or agricultural activities yielding less than 50cents or 100naira a day. They are Nigeria’s wretched of the earth. We notice in these communities a reproduction of misery, suffering, and pre-modern mode of thought. People are born; they live and die in ways that are incompatible with advances made in the fields of science and technology by man. The existence of these communities is an indictment of the elite and raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the State in Nigeria.

 

The next question we need to address is the question of why Nigeria is finding it difficult to transform the living conditions of her people. What are the obstacles to sustainable development in Nigeria? The chief reason for Nigeria’s woes is politics. Bad political environment has made it difficult for Nigeria’s economy to grow and perform in a manner that will lead to new lease of life for the population.

 

Nigeria is particularly unfortunate because the failure of the state-building project of the colonial past still hunts the country. There was hardly a ‘state as state’ at the end of colonial rule and till date we have not overcome the faulty state building process imposed on us by colonialism. The British in creating Nigeria brought together ethnically diverse population with different metaphysical worldviews which as we have come to realize are irreconcilable. These metaphysical differences have been source of tension, conflicts, and violence in Nigeria. The struggle to enmesh the State in the struggle of these worldviews has resulted in deeper conflicts.

 

The philosopher has an enormous responsibility to interrogate these worldviews to see if we can find a basis for sharing common destiny in ways that respect the rights of individuals and all groups. This is important because as we can see religious differences have led to the practice of Sharia law, customary law, and English common law in various parts of the country. The fact that there are different economic and socio-political practices allowed by these laws is quite instructive.

 

Sharia law for example outlaws the consumption of alcohol and restricts its sale even for non-Moslems. It is understandable that one has the right to decide on whether to drink or not to drink but the restriction of access to alcohol for non-Moslems is problematic. It is imperative that mutual tolerance form part of our social habits in Nigeria. It is the duty of philosophers to examine the idea of tolerance and the limits of tolerance if any in the pursuit of any cooperative project.

 

What kind of State will best protect the interests of individuals in a pluralistic and multicultural setting? This question confronts Nigeria in a special way. In Nigeria we have centrifugal and strong agitations from ethnic, religious, professional, and other groups. These agitations have influenced and continue to influence economic and political policies of government. The existence of these agitations takes us back to the challenge posed by Socrates’ ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’

At this stage we must attempt to speculate on the overall vision that should guide the direction of development in Nigeria. The views of utilitarians and John Rawls will influence our discussion. Utilitarianism is the doctrine which supports the promotion of happiness rather than pain for the greatest number of people. In other words, by utilitarian standards, a society is just if it can be shown that the interest of the majority is being served.

It must be noted that utilitarian principles influence democratic practices in a fundamental way. The idea of voting rests in most cases on the assumption that majority wins an election and the pursuit of policies supported by the majority is quite legitimate. Do we then recommend utilitarianism as the principle that should guide us? Is majoritarianism a perfect doctrine? Are there no shortcomings that we can associate with utilitarianism?

In a pluralistic society like Nigeria, is there no obvious danger in implementing social and economic policies on the basis of utilitarian principle? What happens to the minority groups? Is majoritarianism not compatible with slavery and oppression of the minorities? These questions should be answered bearing in mind Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative which in its second formulation advocates that all men be treated as ends and no man as means. Kant’s argument is that unless we treat people as end-in-them-selves, we will be treating them as means to other people’s end which is compatible with slavery. We must therefore insist that all economic and social policies treat every Nigerian as end. This will entail pursuing policies that are inclusive rather than exclusive.

A major critic of utilitarianism is John Rawls. Rawls’ major attack against utilitarianism is the fact that utilitarianism is compatible with slavery of the minority. For Rawls any society where slavery is tolerated is inherently unjust and should not be reformed rather than tolerated. Rawls (1973: 3) puts it thus:

                Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.

                A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is

                untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged

                must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.

Unfortunately, the basic institutions of society in Nigeria are not only unjust but are a major source of conflicts and human sufferings. Basic institutions for Rawls include Political constitutions. A lesson is that Nigeria’s Constitution which is supposed to be the basis of our shared destiny should be reformed or abolished since we can point to several sections of the Constitution that are problematic, contentious, and outright unjust.

Presently Nigeria is governed under the 1999 Constitution which from facts is an imposed document by the military and their civilian collaborators. The opening section of this document presupposes the democratic participation of the people in the enactment of this vital document when it states “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Having firmly and solemnly resolved”. Jumai Audi  (2003, 105) while commenting on this section of the Constitution remarks that it is not true that the Constitution was put together by the people but rather it was a product of manipulation by the elite in power at the time.

The following are some examples of bitter disagreement as subsequent events have shown; the basic structure of the State (composition of local government and state creation), power and limit of authority of constituent units of the federating units, the role and place of religion in the public and private lives of Nigerians especially the females. The Constitution as a document which is supposed to define the basic institutions promotes discrimination in several ways. It has no clear position on citizenship rights and its fundamental principles of state policies are not enforceable. In this regards regard, nobody takes responsibility for the debased living conditions which Nigerians are passing through (hunger, unemployment, insecurity, poor health, poor infrastructure, etc.)

Our goal we should pursue as a nation is to ensure that each Nigerian’s basic rights are protected. We must uphold Rawls’ position that:

                Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the

welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies

that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by

others. (Rawls: 3)

As students of philosophy, we must reflect on the implications of these fundamental ideas for sustainable development in Nigeria.

 

What kind of State can best promote the idea and vision of development we have in mind? It can strongly be argued that democratic States are best placed to protect the people. This means there is a link between democracy and development. Democracy puts the people in charge of their own destiny and enables them to serve as the source of legitimacy of government. However, we must be aware that democracy is not a pure and class neutral concept. We can agree that democracy is peoples’ government but we need to struggle to ensure that democracy is not just about periodic elections but that it represents the empowerment of the people in the governance process. In the Nigerian situation, it must be directed towards emancipating and empowering the ordinary people and rural dwellers who are the real victims of Nigeria’s political economy.

 

The Way forward for Nigeria

In this section, we shall attempt to speculate on the appropriate path to realizing the conception of development and vision of society being advocated for Nigeria. We do this conscious of the criticism of philosophers as dreamers, and people whose ideas remain only in the realm of “Plato’s world of forms”. One inference from our presentation so far is the view that the main challenge before Nigeria is the creation of appropriate political environment for reengineering sustainable development. The implication of this inference is that establishing the appropriate political environment for development should attract everybody’s attention.  Claude Ake (1995, 72) offers a clear statement on the relationship between politics and the African development challenge in the following words:

                We have seen the African crisis broadly as a crisis of development

                and more specifically as an economic crisis, because of the compelling

                presence of its economic dimensions: the relentless falls in real incomes,

share of world investment and trade, commodity prices and food production;

                growing malnutrition, decaying cities and collapsing infrastructure. But the

                crisis       is, to my mind, primarily a crisis of politics, from which the economic

                crisis derives. 

 

Ake (1989: 54) again warns that:

                 We are never going to understand the current crisis in Africa much        less

                contain it as long as we continue to think of it as an economic crisis.

                What is before us now is primarily a political crisis; its economic consequences

                are serious as we know only too well, but they are nonetheless incidental.

                Not only is the crisis essentially political in character, it is also political in

                its origin.

Ake argues that development and economic policies are conceptualized and implemented not in a vacuum but within political context. There has to be government and a state to decide on what policies can bring about development.

 

A major Constitutional reform is recommended for Nigeria. The goal of the reform is to ensure that the Constitution that guides how Nigerians live is all inclusive, fair, truly federal, and establishes just Basic Institutions which promote the well being of all Nigerians. The Constitutional reform will essentially lead to the recreation of the Nigerian State which presently is deformed. It is difficult to imagine how the Nigerian State will be recreated without a Constitutional conference similar to what the United States had in 1787. That conference produced a revolutionary result when it abandoned the articles of confederation for a true federal Constitution that is now more than two hundred years old. The sort of power, which the constitutional conference should have, sometimes leads people to call for a Sovereign National Conference. It is not the name we call such a conference that is important. Rather the crucial thing is that the constitution that emerges from such conference should form the basis of the redefinition of how people live and relate to one another as citizens of the same country.

The new Constitution should guarantee Citizenship rights to all Nigerians. These rights should include political, social, and economic rights. There should be no room for tolerating discrimination against any Nigerian on the basis of indigene-settler controversy. Realizing the norm of non discrimination would require subjection of group rights to strict state control. Group rights should in no way interfere with rights of individuals guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus no Nigerian should be denied the right to vote or be voted for on the basis of being considered a non indigene.

Freedom of worship or to hold religious views again should be guaranteed by the Constitution. Guaranteeing rights associated with religious belief sometimes can be problematic because of the apparent conflicts or differences in what Rawls terms ‘metaphysical doctrines’. Managing religious pluralism has remained a major challenge even for advanced democracies as we have seen in strong agitations by Moslems in the United Kingdom for certain rights including Sharia. However, it does appear that states that strife to separate religion from the state would be more stable and would be in a position to promote basic rights of citizens than states where religious identity of groups dominate state politics. One only needs to look at the Middle East, North Africa, and part of Asia to see the consequences of non separation of religion from state.

In the case of Nigeria there is the need to distance the state from religion in certain regards. A situation where the presidency wears Moslem or Christian mask depending on who the President is can only lead to resentment by those whose religion or beliefs are outside the presidency. Religion it is said is a private affair and this should be so on paper and in reality. There should be no spending of public resources on religious matters. Billions of naira is spent on donations to religious groups, sending people to pilgrimage, and lobbying religious leaders during political campaigns. The emerging Constitution of Nigeria ought to make it clear that it is a crime not to separate religion from the State.

Besides the issue of norms and constitutional reform, the character and nature of politics in Nigeria ought to change. There is a need for a paradigm shift in terms of how we play politics. One of the evidence of the failure of the state building process in Nigeria is that our politics is essentially warfare-like. Democracy in Nigeria at best is deformed. Rigged elections, uninspiring leaders, lack of ideologically driven parties, and command structured political processes are some of the challenges facing the country’s democracy.

Resolving Nigeria’s political dilemma would require a comprehensive electoral reform driven by the principles of one man one vote. This should be taken together with the overriding goal of establishing a society where each individual is guaranteed basic economic and social rights. Reforming the electoral system should take into account the advances in technology to check abuse by the political elites. A situation where votes are manipulated through inflation and falsification of figures, multiple voting, destruction of voting materials, and outright announcement of fictitious results presuppose that there is no available technology to check these incidents. This claim is clearly false and we need to learn from the experiences of countries like China, South Africa, and of recent Ghana. Needless, to restate the point, that unless we fix our politics as a country, every national effort will be ad hoc and destined to fail. This has been the situation in Nigeria since 1914. Neither politics under colonialism nor politics post independence Nigeria has measured up to global standards. This in our view is the major reason for Nigeria’s continued underdevelopment.

Once politics is fixed, the economic challenges facing Nigeria will be far easier to address. Needless to offer speculative insight into the real policy options that will be open to a politically reformed Nigeria wishing to overcome underdevelopment. One thing that is certain is that that Nigeria cannot be managed on the basis of importation of fuel when it is in the national interest to refine fuel locally. It will be a Nigeria where every citizen’s right to work will become the main stay of government. Agricultural revolution, industrialization, and revolutionary health, education, and infrastructural reforms will follow once politics is fixed. A self–reliant philosophy of development is recommended for a politically reformed Nigeria.

 

CONCLUSION

Philosophy as a discipline must in addition to other challenges focus on the human living conditions. This task will entail asking what form of life is best suited for man and for man in a pluralistic society like Nigeria. Doing the above has led us to the position that development ought to be about human beings and the promotion of human welfare and well being. We are inclined to favor a commitment to justice as a fundamental way to drive the development agenda forward. The conception of justice advocated is one that protects all Nigerians. Rawls’ view that each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice which society as a whole cannot override is instructive. Finally, we advocate a democratic State through constitutional and electoral reform as preconditions for repositioning the Nigeria state. Such a state must seek to emancipate the rural dwellers and uplift the living conditions of the ordinary people.

 

REFERENCES

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