Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 90–113 | Cite as

The tension between despotic and infrastructural power: The military and the political class in Nigeria, 1985–1993

  • John Lucas
Development Theory


In his extended study,The Sources of Social Power, Michael Mann suggests a distinction between despotic and infrastuctural power. Despotic power refers to the repressive capacities of a state, while infrastructural power refers to its ability to penetrate society and actually implement its decisions. This article uses the example of relations between the military and politicians in Nigeria from 1985 to 1993 to argue that weak states experience a conflict between despotic and infrastructural power. Whereas leaders cultivate alliances with powerful social groups to realize their infrastructural power, the exercise of despotic power can undermine such patterns of collaboration. In Nigeria, the military relied on a number of despotic strategies to extend their control over the political class as part of a promised transition to democracy: a large number of politicians were banned, two government created political parties were imposed, and elections that yielded outcomes threatening to military interests were annulled. While the military was successful in repressing the politicians, they were unable to restructure them in ways that would further the institutional power of the state. This persistent reliance on despotic strategies led to a long-term decline in the integrity and infrastructural capacity of the state.


Political Party Comparative International Development Democratic Transition Military Regime Political Class 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer 1999

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  • John Lucas

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