In a seminal 1987 study of Nigeria, the political scientist Richard Joseph argued that the country’s political culture was strongly influenced by the fact that holding public office provided officials with access to resources and that the theft of such resources went largely unpunished. Joseph called this system “prebendalism,” likening it to European feudal practices. The contributors to this volume use the prism of prebendalism to look at the permanent struggle in Nigeria over access to public resources, which structures the way Nigerians perceive citizenship, shapes the country’s complex and sometimes contentious ethnic dynamics, and contributes to growing social inequality. The problem is that although the dismal performance of the country’s economy has always been largely due to egregiously high levels of governmental malfeasance, the true extent of public corruption in Nigeria today is difficult to determine. Still, the mostly excellent essays in the book would have benefited from some attempt to empirically measure the practices the authors deplore.
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