A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria

By Daniel Jordan Smith; (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); 296 pages; $39.95. Amazon.com

Reviewed by Hai H. Do

A Culture of Corruption takes the reader into the everyday world of the citizens of Africa’s most populous state as they encounter a society plagued by corruption.  From police checkpoints that demand bribes from motorists in exchange for safe passage to Internet cafés where thousands of young Nigerians craft notorious email scam letters to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) created to siphon international donor dollars into individual hands, Smith offers a detailed portrait of the social organization of corruption.  He examines not only the mechanisms and contexts that explain corruption (patron-clientism, for example), but also how the intense Nigerian discontent with corruption propels contemporary events and stimulates the collective cultural imagination.  The book offers an interesting and sympathetic attempt at understanding the daily dilemmas confronted by average Nigerians as they struggle to get ahead—or just survive—in a state riddled with corruption.

Smith’s discussion of the Bakassi Boys, a vigilante gang originally formed to combat violent street criminals, is of particular note.  In its early phase, the gang engaged in what became known as “instant justice”: the apprehension and brutal public execution of alleged criminals, a practice typically supported by the local population.  Over time, however, the gang degenerated into the very criminals they were supposed to be fighting.  Smith explores why the population initially supported the Bakassi Boys, citing environmental reasons such as the insecurity of the state, police corruption, social class, and the belief that gang members were supernatural heroes fighting for justice.  On the invitation of local politicians seeking to reduce crime rates, the Bakassi Boys expanded their operations to other cities.  The group began to lose its popularity when it began abusing its power and killing critics of politicians, leading to accusations that the gang had been co-opted by corrupt state officials.  The federal government eventually cracked down on the activities of the Bakassi Boys, but the idea of violent vigilantism remains popular in Nigeria today.

This Week in the Niger Delta: August 16 – 22, 2010

  • Citing the connection between education and economic development in the Delta, the Nigerian Federal Government announced plans to provide professional development training to 150 teachers in the region.1
  • In an attempt to curb kidnapping and other crime, Abia State has offered repentant perpetrators an amnesty similar to the one offered by the Federal Government in 2009. Only those who step forward to be registered will be offered the amnesty deal, raising concerns that they may be arrested once they do. Governor Theodore Orji urged the security services to honor the agreement and not detain any willing participants.2
  • Royal Dutch Shell claimed to be intensifying efforts to clean up an oil spill on Bonny Island that has persisted since August 2nd. Fishing and commuter vessels have been unable to operate, dealing a crippling blow to the island’s economy and inhabitants. Although Shell claims to be working as quickly as it can, it has been sharply criticized by the community and environmental groups for the small scale and slow pace of its efforts.3 Continue reading

This Week in the Niger Delta: August 9 – 15, 2010

  • Members of the Kokodiagbene community of Delta State protested against the state government and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDCC) for persistently neglecting their development needs. Community leaders called existing programs aimed at delivering a stable water supply to the local population inadequate and asked for new solutions.1 Similar complaints have been ignored by Chevron and the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) in the past, and it remains to be seen what impact the new action will have on the community.
  • The Nigerian Federal Government has begun a process that would employ new techniques to monitor environmental degradation and marine contamination on its southern coast. Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Sam Ode spoke at an event in favor of the plan, stressing the role that environmental degradation plays in regional militancy.2 Elsewhere in the Delta, The Federal Government signed a Joint Venture Agreement with Titan Projects Nigeria Limited and the Rivers State government to clean up oil waste.3 Continue reading

Niger Delta

Author: Tomas Malina

Map of the Niger Delta

Strategically located along the Gulf of Guinea and atop enormous high quality oil reserves, the three Nigerian states of Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers – commonly referred to as the Niger Delta – have been plagued with armed groups and insurgents for decades. Although its tremendous resource wealth should make the Delta one of Western Africa’s most prosperous regions, decades of neglect by the Nigerian government, widespread corruption, and the environmental damage caused by the MNCs operating in the region has alienated and marginalized the local population and allowed armed groups to proliferate.1 Compensation paid out by the MNCs for appropriated and polluted land has led to inter-communal and inter-ethnic violence, most notably between the Ijaws and the Itsekiris in the Warri area of Delta State.2 Since the discovery of oil in the Delta, this type of ethnic conflict has been driven primarily by the desire to control resources along disputed community borders. Continue reading