Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ruminations on underdevelopment

If we understand the concept of development as a state of individual and collective wellbeing, with individuals and society existing within sustainable means and mechanisms, then we can present an argument thus; that the pre-colonial peoples occupying the territories of what is presently the geographical delineation known as Nigeria, were at various levels of development prior to the abrupt intrusion of Europe, into the respective political and economic affairs of these sometimes large and often times small social formations domiciled within the region (Okoh, 2005: 191-192).

Among the major groups that had commenced defined developmental trajectories, were the Sokoto Caliphate, exercising loose control over the Zaria and Kano areas, the Yorubas to the western parts, the Igbo Republican societies, the Edos, Tivs, Jukuns, Nupe, Efik and Ibibio, Urhobo, and a plethora of other decentralized state like formations. There is as yet an authoritative computation on the precise number of ethnic groups domiciled in Nigeria, but many of these societies existed as individual and independent formations, centuries before modernization hit Africa, and in many respects, they were widely varied, and differed in culture, language, social norms, political and economic institutions etc.

With each of these formations existing within the parameters of their respective autonomy, they were destined on a collision course with the European explorers who initially promoted mercantilist relations. This dovetailed into the “trade in humans” which was an unfortunate episode in the history of Africa’s relations with the world, (Rodney, 1972:108-131). However, it was the imperialist conquest of Africa that proved to be the total deconstruction of the prevailing status quo that the various indigenous people existed within. According to Ikelegbe (2004:1), “it is necessary to demonstrate the achievements and contributions of Nigerian pre-colonial states in the device and utilization of different machineries to govern and sustain their states.” Ikelegbe also identified the presence of both centralized and decentralized authorities, applying sanctions and rewards within the acceptable framework of their unique cultures and values (Ikelegbe, 2007:141-147).

In terms of the practice and maintenance of an effective economic system, these formations making up pre-colonial Nigeria were actively engaged in productive economic activities based on householding, reciprocal and redistributive roles (Zwingina, 1992:31). Zwingina views the household to be the main unit of production, with it also doubling as the immediate unit of consumption. Accordingly, “while the fruits of land and labour belonged first to each individual , reciprocal privileges and duties within the family prescribed a mutual sharing that discouraged personal differences in material prosperity” (July, 1976:111). Untainted by colonial political and economic ideologies, these pre-colonial formations thrived in their unique economies, with a significant volume of surplus left over for the purpose of exchange. This unique exchange was based on the reciprocal needs of the various households, and oftentimes with other social formations, or for expropriation by a centralized formation (Zwingina, 1992: 31; Aderibigbe, 1962: 194).

July, (1976), douses the temptation to categorise pre-colonial African farming economies as subsistence in nature when he pointed that:The societies of pre-colonial Africa were geared to a subsistence agriculture, but traditional African economies were not in any literal sense subsistence economies, for they were quite capable of accumulating and utilizing small but measurable quantities of surplus wealth. The ancient farming communities of Africa organized their land occupation without reference to private ownership, but the principle of private ownership was understood and practiced full well (July, 1976: 117). The inference made from the above is that the social formations in pre-colonial Africa (including the ones domiciled within the boundaries of modern Nigeria) were at various levels of growth and development from the economic point of view. This inference is given more credence when we take into consideration that “the British administration in Nigeria between 1860 and 1960 was made relatively easy by the fact that it met with a philosophy of economic growth on which the modern system was built on” (Ekundare, 1973:383-384). However, while the desire for personal profit was powerful, accumulation in Europe was fuelled by economic principles; in Africa, it was social (July, 1976:117).

More so, the political structure on which the colonial administration was built upon, i.e. the indirect rule system, made effective use of the existing political institutions, proving extremely successful in many cases and only suffering limited friction in areas where the evolution of the socio-economic and political structure had reached levels of sophistication, arguably exceeding the practice in Europe at the time (Edigin and Osarhiemen, 1996 :45).