Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Margaret Soderberg


The nation of Nigeria, located in sub-Saharan West Africa, was considered one of the former European colonies possessing the potentials after its independence in 1960 to develop itself as both a viable political as well as economic system. The attributes so often identified with such successful developmental efforts of nations in the past--abundant human and natural resources--were the positive factors political scientists and economists considered as being of primary importance if the full potentials of Nigeria were to be realized.

However, the road towards the economic and political development of Nigeria has not been an easy one due to several mitigating factors, including the colonial heritage of that nation, the prevalence of ethnic divisions within its economic and political institutions, and the misallocation of resources and priorities in the developmental schemes since independence. The height of the ethnic divisions culminated in the attempted secession of the Eastern state in 1965 which was followed by five years of civil war with the result that although the physical boundaries of the nation were preserved, the military felt it necessary to intervene in the political process with the result that it has been military men who have directed the subsequent development efforts within Nigeria since 1970.

The concern of this paper is in evaluating the military regimes of the 1970s within Nigeria as agents of development, to try and to determine if in effect economic and political development has taken place throughout the decade, keeping in mind the close correlations between the two areas of development as espoused by several social scientists, most prominently Seymour Lipset. The primary orientation of the paper is towards the economic development plans of the 1970s and how effectively they have been at improving the Nigerian economic system with an emphasis on economic development as merely opposed to economic growth. Thus what data was studied was that concerned with the creation of the economic infrastructures considered so essential as conduits of economic development as well as the other infrastructures such as education, transportation, and communications, which also serve as promoters of both economic as well as political development.

The conclusions reached upon researching the economic data and the implementation of the three economic development programs since Nigerian independence were that while significant economic development has occurred, particularly during the 1970s, serious problems remain. The overestimation of petroleum as a sole financer of the economic development schemes of the nation initially caused tremendous overspending by the governments, and agricultural production has steadily declined to the point where Nigeria must now import one billion dollars worth of basic foodstuffs annually, yet only thirty percent of its arable land is presently under cultivation. Shortages in highly-skilled manpower prevails as does a lack of administrative and managerial personnel. The transportation infrastructure needs extensive updating and suffers from a combination of maladies including a lack of capital investments as well as poor management.

It does appear that the military regime which seized power in a bloodless coup in 1975 was more in tune with the real needs and capabilities of the Nigerian economic system and the last five years have seen a more realistic approach towards economic planning. Industrialization is taking place and more investments are being steered towards agriculture and education, although a disproportionate share of the annual budgets are devoted towards military spending. Inflation rates have been cut in half and because of Nigeria's vast oil deposits, the nation remains in a fairly good position in the international trading arena.

The political development of the nation also appears to have taken place with the scheduled return to a civilian government with the election in September, 1979. While many social scientists have adopted a jaundiced view of past promises by military men to return to the barracks, survey data does indicate that since 1967 there has been a conscious effort by the military to incorporate civilians into top-level administrative and decision making positions, and in fact, military men occupy only the very top level political positions at the federal level and the governorships at the state levels. Whether the transfer to a civilian government occurs smoothly will probably depend more on the continued prevalence of ethnicity in both economic as well as political institutions than on any preference by the military to remain in power. The potentialities of the Nigerian nation remain very considerable, but whether true economic and political development has occurred in the 1970s, and how effective the military has been as the agents of those developmental efforts, will be easier to evaluate if and when a civilian government has had its own opportunity to pursue further developmental schemes in the ensuing years following the September elections.