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IU Kokomo dean speaks on democracy at Nigerian universities

Nigeria may have achieved 10 consecutive years of democratic rule, but the decade hasn't been peaceful or prosperous for most Nigerians, said Robert Dibie, dean and professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Kokomo and an expert on the West African nation.

Robert Dibie

Robert Dibie speaks at Babcock University in Nigeria

"It takes longevity to build a democratic system," he said in an interview. "And the mindset of most Nigerian political leaders has been to accept 'militarism' instead of participatory or shared governance."

In a singular honor, Dibie was asked this spring to give keynote addresses at two Nigerian universities on "Ten Years of Democracy in Nigeria." He spoke at Osun State University and Babcock University.

Dibie said the celebration of 10 years of democracy is also an opportunity to examine the problems facing democracy and sustainable development in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Those include:

  • Questions about the legitimacy of regimes
  • Inadequate rule of law
  • Political conflicts
  • Corruption
  • Mismanagement of public resources
  • Lack of resources to implement effective health policies
  • Fragmented policies or agency mandates
  • Incoherent overall approaches
  • Lack of participation in the formulation of policy and lack of ownership of policies
  • Lack of appropriate monetary and fiscal policies

Dibie lived and studied in England after immirating from Nigeria, and he is the author or editor of several books about governance in sub-Saharan Africa, including Public Management and Sustainable Development in Nigeria, Non-Governmental Organizations and Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, and The Politics and Policies of Sub-Saharan Africa. He is the current editor of the Journal of International Politics and Development.

Nigeria, a country about twice the size of California with a population of 150 million, has had periods of elected government interrupted by military rule since gaining independence in 1960. Dibie said some of Nigeria's difficulties with regard to sustainable development relate to the centralization of political power, and with it, concentrated control of Nigeria's oil wealth and natural resources.

"What they are doing now is not what is in their constitution," he said in an interview. "You might call yourself democratic, but you are not fulfilling what your constitution says."

Dibie noted that Nigeria's problems aren't unique on the African continent. Citing a United Nations report, he said Africa's population is expected to approximately double by 2050. Forty-three percent of the population is under age 15, with the result that the continent produces almost 30 percent less food per person than in 1967. Poverty and low literacy rates exacerbate environmental degradation.

Dibie spoke in Nigeria a few weeks before Barack Obama, the first U.S. president of African ancestry, made his first visit as president to Africa. He said Nigerians hoped Obama would visit their country. But the U.S. president instead made a statement by choosing to visit Ghana, the country in sub-Saharan Africa that has made the most progress in implementing democracy and the rule of law and reducing corruption.

"If you do the right thing, the whole world will embrace you," Dibie said.

But he believes Nigeria, with its abundant resource wealth and its many intelligent and educated citizens, can make progress -- if it marshals the political will.

"It does take time," he said, "but Ghana and Botswana did it. South Africa has done a good job with reconciliation. If Nigerians have the political will, they can do it."