Constituents and parliamentarians: expectations of political accountability in contemporary Nigeria


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Okele, Gabriel Udo (2021). Constituents and parliamentarians: expectations of political accountability in contemporary Nigeria. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis challenges the stereotypical (mis-)representation of all exchanges between Nigerian politicians and their constituents as corruption or patron-client relationship. While it does not challenge the existence of corruption in Nigeria, it seeks to differentiate exchanges widely – though not always – seen as legitimate from those clearly associated with corruption or clientelism. In order to do so, this thesis explores local expectations and practices of accountability, which include expectations of politicians’ support for those in need. Based on fieldwork consisting of interviews, participant, and other observations as well as a survey, this thesis shows that politicians and constituents alike understand the expectation and provision of goods and services as politicians’ social responsibility. Politicians including MPs, provide such benefits where they can because they understand it as part of their contribution to the wellbeing of the voters. Thus, political parties and politicians do make electoral campaign promises based on this understanding. Constituents also perceive demands made of their politicians as reflecting legitimate expectations of privileged individuals, including political leaders. Most people do not understand any benefits received from a politician as deserving electoral reciprocity in the form of a vote for those who provided them. Constituents understand demands made of their political leaders as of right and use such pressure to remind politicians about the need to fulfil electoral promises and responsibilities. Therefore, the provision of such benefits does not necessarily affect electoral outcomes.

This thesis argues that political accountability should be understood beyond the transparency of public officials. While transparency remains an important measure of accountability, it can also be framed as the direct responsibility politicians have to support the wellbeing of the citizens irrespective of voting intentions. This thesis therefore contends that accountability which involves the retrospective scrutiny of public officials’ transparency and the prospective actions citizens take to ensure they fulfil their electoral promises are not necessarily in conflict.

This thesis provides a nuanced interpretation and understanding of political accountability by exploring the cultural foundation of practices and ideas of political accountability in Nigeria, without assuming that “culture” is a specificity of Nigeria, or African politics. Deconstructing stereotypical narrative of Nigerian politicians’ exchanges with constituents requires an approach that takes cultural practices into account without relying on “culture” as an explanatory value. Thus, the key to rethinking the ideas of political accountability in Nigeria requires `the understanding of not only the outcomes of the relationships between politicians and constituents but also how such actions are negotiated. Similarly, we need to consider the interpretation of the values of accountability relationships and exchanges between politicians and voters. The demands people make of their political leaders are not only considered as legitimate but also fluid in nature. In a wider context, the demands constituents make of politicians reflect the objective needs informed by their cultural values and expectations of those in positions of authority. Therefore, accountability relationships and outcomes are better understood when studied against local cultural practices. This thesis used a semi-ethnographic approach to explore everyday performances of politicians and constituents-drawing attention to what people perceive as legitimate expectations other than patronage. It unpacked how different elements of performance including the role of historical repertoires, recognition of seniority and status, show of respect, praise-singing, proverbs, caricatures, and figurative expressions and sometimes protests are used to make politicians do their jobs. This synthesized understanding helps us rethink the idea of redistributive politics more broadly beyond Nigeria to recognise practices embedded in historical and local culture of expectation.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia


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