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Negotiating Development Prescriptions: The Case of Population Policy in Nigeria

Abstract

Countries of the global south must constantly respond to development prescriptions from donor organizations. In this paper, I develop a spectrum of response to these prescriptions that applies to key actors at the country level—national leaders, technocratic elites, and social groups—and ranges from acceptance to negotiation to rejection. The interplay of these responses in conjunction with the social, economic, and political context drives the overall response to, and impact of, development prescriptions. To illustrate this process I use the case of population policy in Nigeria, where a technocratic elite led by a charismatic minister of health accepted the policy largely on its own merits; national leaders negotiated the policy so it facilitated state-society relations, promoted nationalism, deflected blame for economic woes, and represented commitment to political restructuring; and the representatives of social groups rejected the policy. Donor pressure served as a backdrop to the whole process. Parsing country responses to development prescriptions in this manner explains why Nigeria, a country with pronatalist citizens and in which population was highly politicized, adopted a policy aiming to limit fertility. It also demonstrates that different actors within countries of the global south use development prescriptions as opportunities to achieve locally important goals. To make these arguments, I draw on rich primary data from key informants and Nigerian government documents. Ultimately, the rejection of the policy by women’s organizations and religious groups, combined with financial duress, political chaos, and continued high desired fertility, prevented the policy from strongly influencing contraceptive provision or fertility.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While population policies can address all aspects of population composition, I use the term to refer to an explicit policy with a goal to reduce fertility rates and ultimately population growth. Kenya and Ghana adopted population policies much earlier, in 1967 and 1969, respectively (Chimbwete et al. 2005; Locoh and Makdessi 1996). See Sullivan (2007) for a full discussion of the factors explaining differential timing in adoption of population policies across African countries.

  2. 2.

    The level of social development also began to play a role in redistribution algorithms in 1981, and the size and terrain of states were incorporated into these algorithms in 1990 (Suberu 2001).

  3. 3.

    These plans were the primary means through which Nigeria organized government economic and social responsibilities until the mid-1980s, and paralleled the planning processes of many sub-Saharan African nations at the time.

  4. 4.

    Foucault developed the theories of biopower and governmentality in reference to shifts in the locus of state power between the 16th and 18th centuries in Europe. Their applicability to the African case is, however, relevant given that the modern, liberal form of the state, which African countries inherited upon independence, still contains these elements.

  5. 5.

    Three of these technocratic elites participated in creating the 1988 policy; the remainder were people who came to work in the population field immediately after 1988 and were intimately familiar with the policy. All were located through a snowball sampling process carried out while in Nigeria and worked for the federal ministries, NGOs, and donors involved in creating and implementing the 1988 policy. All respondents were Nigerian, half were women, all had above-average levels of education, and many had obtained this education in Europe or the United States. I did not collect information on respondents’ religious or ethnic backgrounds.

  6. 6.

    The author has been able to locate the text of approximately two-thirds of African population policies; of those, no other comes from the Ministry of Health.

  7. 7.

    An exception is Adegbola (2008), who mentions Ransome-Kuti in the conclusion.

  8. 8.

    Section 5.3.1 reads, “The patriarchal family system in the country shall be recognised for stability of the home” (Federal Republic of Nigeria 1988).

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Acknowledgments

The fieldwork for this research was supported by the University of California, Berkeley Center for African Studies Rocca Scholarship in Advanced African Studies and the University of California, Berkeley Institute for Business and Economics Research. General support was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I am deeply indebted to my respondents in Abuja for their time and insights. I also gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful comments of the editor and reviewers at Population Research and Policy Review, as well as those of Phil Brenner, Neil Fligstein, Shannon Gleason, Gene Hammel, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Kate Haulman, Adrea Lawrence, Damon Mayrl, Benjamin Moodie, Aliya Saperstein, Susan Shepler, Sarah Staveteig, Ann Swidler, Bryan Sykes, Sarah Walchuk Thayer, Sarah Tom, Kenneth Wachter, Susan Watkins, Brenda Werth, and Danzhen You.

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Robinson, R.S. Negotiating Development Prescriptions: The Case of Population Policy in Nigeria. Popul Res Policy Rev 31, 267–296 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-011-9222-5

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Keywords

  • Population policy
  • Nigeria
  • Governmentality
  • Policy diffusion
  • Ransome-Kuti