In This Review

This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime
This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime
By Stephen Ellis
Oxford University Press, 2016, 256 pp.

Ellis, a British journalist and an accomplished historian of African affairs, passed away in 2015. This was his final work, and it characteristically combines mastery of the subject with elegant, lively writing. Despite its title, the book is not really about “organized crime,” at least in the usual sense of that term, which denotes large, well-structured, hierarchical organizations engaged in illicit business. Instead, Ellis analyzes the fraud, political corruption, and general criminality that has plagued Nigeria for the last century, most of which stems from small, flexible networks of individuals. Emblematic of this kind of activity are the Internet-based scams that Nigerians perfected in the early years of this century, in which a con artist would promise someone a large sum of money if only the target would provide a much smaller amount up-front. Ellis reveals that Nigerians were at the forefront of such gambits as far back as 1920. More substantively, he skewers the culture of self-enrichment and brazen corruption that has plagued Nigerian politics since the country gained its independence.