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Cultivating participatory democracy at the grassroots: A case study in Middle Belt Nigeria

Laura Mullen Dobson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


For democracy to take hold in Nigeria, Nigerian citizens must gain the confidence and ability to effectively articulate their needs in the political arena. They must develop the skills necessary to participate in policymaking that impacts their lives and they must learn to expect and to effectively demand from their elected leaders accountable and transparent behaviors. Many scholars agree that non-governmental organizations are among the actors best placed to foster these abilities at the grassroots level. I explored the extent to which four Christian development NGOs implementing holistic, participatory development programs in Middle Belt Nigeria help cultivate a democratic culture at the grassroots. Doing so required two steps: assessing the NGO's organizational capacities and determining their impact on democratization. I acquired the necessary data by conducting 120 interviews in Hausa with community development participants (in fifty percent of the communities in which the four organizations work); by conducting interviews in English with all of the NGOs' leaders and community development officers; by studying written records in the NGOs' archives; and by spending a substantial amount of time observing the various day-to-day activities of the NGOs, including the community development officers' activities in their communities. I also observed and participated in staff meetings and strategic planning, monitoring, and evaluation exercises. I studied the activities of four holistic, community-based development organizations based in the Hausa-speaking Middle Belt. In two years I visited, observed and conducted interviews in over 135 villages in nine states in Hausa speaking parts of the Middle Belt and the North with twenty-five community development officers—that is one hundred percent of the development organizations' field staff that have been working in their assigned area for more than two years.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Dobson, Laura Mullen, "Cultivating participatory democracy at the grassroots: A case study in Middle Belt Nigeria" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3163662.