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The Journal of Modern African Studies / Volume 23 / Issue 01 / March 1985, pp 176-179

Cambridge University Press 1985

Problems of Socialism: the Nigerian challenge by EDDIE MADUNAGU London, Zed
Press, 1982. Pp. i+ 117. 4.95 paperback.
Imperialism and Underdevelopment in Nigeria: the dialectics of mass poverty by BADE
ONIMODE London, Zed Press, 1982. Pp. ii + 258. 14.95. 6.50 paperback.
Path to Nigerian Development edited by OKWUDIBA NNOLI Dakar, CODESRIA, 1981.
Pp. viii + 264. 6.50 paperback.
The three books under review here represent collectively a major contribution to the study of
Nigerian political economy - an area of analysis which has been curiously underdeveloped in
Nigeria heretofore. While each has its own point of view, as well as somewhat different
objectives and structures, there is a common perspective which can be traced through them
Eddie Madunagu, Bade Onimode, and Okwudiba Nnoli are united by speaking to a common
audience of politically conscious Nigerians. Their publications, especially the latter's, are
refreshingly free of the cramped, involuted style characteristic of work aimed at an
international academic audience. They avoid the trap into which many of their radical
colleagues have fallen of devoting too much of their attention to criticising western
approaches to development which are alternatives to their own. Equally, they are, as
indigenous scholars, imbued with a seriousness of purpose and depth of concern which
demand that more attention be paid to their views than to those of armchair ideologues safely
removed from the point of confrontation.
It is also possible to discern a common set of fundamental ideas to which, to a large extent,
they subscribe. These would be: (1) pre-colonial Nigerian societies were moving at different
rates along paths of development based on self-reliance and satisfaction of basic human
needs; (2) colonialism blocked Nigerian progress, destroyed existing productive capacities
and potentials, and distorted economic and social structures so that they became oriented
primarily around the production of surplus value for an external capitalist class; (3) the
colonial system of production engendered new internal capitalist social classes (a petty
bourgeoisie and a working class), as well as new psychological orientations (the 'colonial
mentality'), which would out-last colonialism; (4) these changes were, however, incomplete,
leaving behind stagnant remnants of past social and economic structures rather than
transforming them to a new and progressive capitalist mode of production; (5) the present
level of development of Nigerian society, following 'flag independence', is morally
unacceptable as it leaves mass basic human needs unmet, perpetuates foreign control, and
limits further development; and (6) both colonialism and dependent capitalism having failed,
only a socialist reorientation can lead to a breakout towards genuine development. Within this
familiar consensus, each book concentrates on a particular aspect of the problem.
Problems of Socialism: the Nigerian challenge is primarily concerned with post-colonial
politics, the failure of left-wing political movements in Nigeria, and recommendations for
new socialist initiatives. Defining socialism in the context of Nigeria as 'anti-imperialism' (p.
4), Eddie Madunagu argues that this is not presently on the agenda, but that clarifying the

conditions for a future socialist movement is. Of the three books under review, his is the most
political in aim and polemical in style.
Madunagu presents a convincing description of the reactionary character of the military
regimes of 196679, and of the anti-democratic nature of the 1979 electoral process. He
traces the history of the Nigerian trade-union movement, concluding that the factionalism,
elitism, and corruption of its leaders negated its capacity to act as a socialist vanguard.
Although somewhat more positive in his evaluation of student protest movements, he also
notes their limited continuity and elitist aspirations as limiting factors.
Turning to the politics of the Second Republic, the author effectively discredits the socialist
pretensions of Chief Awolowo's Unity Party of Nigeria, but strangely ignores the somewhat
stronger claims of the People's Redemption Party. In an appendix, he argues that the Nigerian
bourgeoisie is still ethnically divided and cannot produce national unity, so that a future civil
war is a strong possibility. The inability of even these three progressive books to incorporate,
or even attend to, the strong radical movement current in Northern Nigerian intellectual
circles, illustrated in the works of Bala Usman and Bala Mohammed, shows that this point
merits wider consideration.
Madunagu concludes his book with some recommendations for building a new socialist
movement in Nigeria, posited on the assumption that previous failures have primarily
resulted from a lack of consensus on strategy. The superficial nature of this critique, the lack
of originality of his suggestions, and his positive attitude towards the ' accidental vanguard'
role of pro-socialist military regimes in Africa (p. 103), leave some doubt as to the
contribution that Madunagu's ideas are likely to make towards his goal.
Imperialism and Under development in Nigeria: the dialectics of mass poverty is pitched at a
more scholarly audience, albeit politically committed and not detached because of the
author's judgement that
the liquidation of underdevelopment and dependency in Nigeria must be predicated on an antiimperialist struggle for the radical structural disengagement of the country from the exploitative orbit
of the international capitalist system (p. i).

Bade Onimode's anti-imperialism stems from a view of underdevelopment that emphasises

inequality of power and desire to dominate, rather than a more conventional Marxist view
that roots imperialism in economic relations and the need to exploit.
The most admirable feature of this book is the richness of the data which is assembled to
illustrate the debilitating consequences of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Nigeria. This
comprehensive picture of the mutually reinforcing effects of trade, investment, agricultural
and industrial strategies, banking practice and monetary policy, the monopoly structure of
foreign capital, technology transfer, economic planning, and political violence upon the
Nigerian political economy is, at the very least, a useful agenda for future research by
students convinced of its conclusions and hoping to add to their empirical basis.
Onimode's discussion of class and politics is less impressive, suffering from a lack of clear
connection between labels, theories, and facts; an assumed but undocumented belief in the
comprador nature of the Nigerian bourgeoisie; and a strongly commited but not
systematically explained view of politics. This, together with the general ' shotgun' approach
of the author, attacking every object of his ire with equal virulence and little concern as to

how solidly each target is struck, and a tendency to disregard logic and the rules of evidence
in reaching conclusions, would seem to limit his effectiveness to the already converted. Those
who already believe will find herein convincing reinforcement; those who disbelieve will
quickly discard the volume; and those who doubt will likely remain agnostic.
Path to Nigerian Development edited by Okwudiba Nnoli is a much sounder version of the
viewpoint espoused by Onimode. Indeed, the latter is the author of three chapters in this
collection, in which he presents the main ideas of his book in a more digestible form. It must
be admitted that Nnoli has not been well-served by his co-authors; chapters 3 and 7,
discussions of ideology, are particularly weak, while chapter 10 on the Nigerian
Government's indigenisation programme is outdated and adds nothing to several articles
already published on this topic. The editor does note in his introduction that a number of
scholars failed to participate as invited, and this is greatly to be regretted.
The real heart of this volume is to be found in Nnoli's own contributions, especially the
theoretical framework developed in the introduction and chapter 1, and the discussion of
colonialism in chapter 5, 'A Short History of Nigerian Development'. This is a far more
convincing indictment of the effects of colonialism in Nigeria than found in other works that
report the same findings. It is a worthy candidate for much wider use in anti-colonial
pedagogy in general, just as the book as a whole has succeeded in meeting the editor's aim of
providing ' an alternative set of reading materials for the students and staff of Nigerian
Nnoli's focus on the concept of alienation - both material and psychological - producing a
loss of self-respect and self-reliance, as the primary ill-effect of colonialism, one that both
reinforces and outlasts the particular economic and social structures that have been inherited
from that era, is the most significant aspect of his work. This perspective enables the author
to fit his data into a consistently logical explanatory framework, and provides him with a
constructive set of principles and policies to give some flesh to the socialist alternative he
proposes. Recognising that anti-imperialism is not automatically socialism, he gives a
reasoned basis for reaching the same conclusion that Onimode begins with as an assumption i.e. that development in Nigeria can only begin after disengagement from imperialism.
Nnoli is also more concerned than Onimode with the issue of the possibility of self-reliant
capitalist development in Nigeria, led by a genuine national bourgeoisie, and devotes much
space to showing the improbability of this possibility. Surprisingly, however, he is not
completely dismissive of this scenario:
although the national bourgeoisie is small in size it nonetheless exists, and contrary to
common assumptions has objective interests in ending foreign economic domination,
not in the interest of the underprivileged classes, but in pursuit of its own objective of
national capitalist exploitation and power (p. 215).
He fails, however, to pursue the implications of this admission.
In conclusion, the final point raised, the problematic nature of the role of the Nigerian
bourgeoisie, underlines a consistent shortcoming of Nigerian radical scholarship, as typified
by these three books. Nigeria's size, rate of economic growth, and major role in international
trade and politics, all point to the possibility of, at least, semi-peripheral capitalist
development a likelihood forecast in the work of Immanuel Wallerstein and indicated by the

research of Bjorn Beckman and others. Nevertheless, Nigeria's radical scholars like Onimode
and Bala Usman have persisted in applying a dependency model to Nigeria perhaps more
suited to the relatively small, economically stagnant, and politically powerless states of West
and East Africa, like Ghana and Kenya. This model leads to a focus of attention on
international exchanges and away from internal class conflicts, and to a reliance upon broadly
nationalist rather than purely proletarian ideology.
Nigerian radical political economy tends to be scarce in comparison to that found in other
areas of Africa, taking into consideration the high level of development of the political
science profession in Nigeria; and its theoretical horizons tend to be somewhat behind those
found in East Africa (e.g. Issa Shivji and Dan Nabudere) or in Southern Africa (e.g. Bernard
Magubane and Charles van Onselen) in terms of developing a class conscious, Marxist
strategy on analysis and change. One wonders if this is not a reflection of the greater
development of a class conscious, self-reliant, and effective national bourgeoisie in Nigeria
which, despite setbacks such as the present oil-based depression, is able to exercise a strong
pull on the interests, energies, and commitments of the Nigerian intellectual elite. It is to be
hoped that the books reviewed here represent the emergence of a strong countervailing
movement to this tendency to intellectual embourgeoisement.
DENNIS L. COHEN African Studies Center, Boston University, and Black Studies
Department, University of Massachusetts at Boston