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A Culture of Corruption

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

Daniel Jordan Smith
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Culture of Corruption
    Book Description:

    E-mails proposing an "urgent business relationship" help make fraud Nigeria's largest source of foreign revenue after oil. But scams are also a central part of Nigeria's domestic cultural landscape. Corruption is so widespread in Nigeria that its citizens call it simply "the Nigerian factor." Willing or unwilling participants in corruption at every turn, Nigerians are deeply ambivalent about it--resigning themselves to it, justifying it, or complaining about it. They are painfully aware of the damage corruption does to their country and see themselves as their own worst enemies, but they have been unable to stop it.A Culture of Corruptionis a profound and sympathetic attempt to understand the dilemmas average Nigerians face every day as they try to get ahead--or just survive--in a society riddled with corruption.

    Drawing on firsthand experience, Daniel Jordan Smith paints a vivid portrait of Nigerian corruption--of nationwide fuel shortages in Africa's oil-producing giant, Internet cafés where the young launch their e-mail scams, checkpoints where drivers must bribe police, bogus organizations that siphon development aid, and houses painted with the fraud-preventive words "not for sale." This is a country where "419"--the number of an antifraud statute--has become an inescapable part of the culture, and so universal as a metaphor for deception that even a betrayed lover can say, "He played me 419." It is impossible to comprehend Nigeria today--from vigilantism and resurgent ethnic nationalism to rising Pentecostalism and accusations of witchcraft and cannibalism--without understanding the role played by corruption and popular reactions to it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3722-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-27)

    By the time i arrived in Nigeria in 1989 as an employee of an international development organization, I was well aware of the country’s reputation for corruption. I had heard the common stories of immigration and customs officers who shake down arriving passengers at the airport, police looking for money who harass motorists, taxi drivers who collude with criminals to rob customers, and government officials who do nothing without a bribe. Further, I had read that the government-controlled oil industry was riddled with graft, and that beginning in the 1980s, Nigeria was believed to be a transit hub in the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 “Urgent Business Relationship”: Nigerian E-Mail Scams
    (pp. 28-52)

    Perhaps the most potent international symbol of Nigerian corruption is the notorious fraudulent e-mail scam. Prior to the creation of more sophisticated spam-blocking software, many people using e-mail in the English-speaking world received a regular deluge of messages from Nigerians purporting to be in a position to transfer millions of dollars into the bank accounts of willing foreign collaborators. The writers claim to be high government officials, senior military officers, oil industry executives, bank managers, politicians, and even widows of dead dictators. The scam letters are classic confidence tricks, wherein the writers attempt to lure the recipients into advancing money...

  8. CHAPTER 2 From Favoritism to 419: Corruption in Everyday Life
    (pp. 53-87)

    In June 1995, the U.S. television news magazine60 Minutesdid an exposé on Nigeria titled “Corruption, Inc.” Among the most memorable moments in the piece is a segment where reporter Mike Wallace reveals that he has been able to procure a Nigerian passport with the payment of a small bribe. To further demonstrate the ease with which official documents can be created for the pursuit of 419, he arranges to have a letter produced on government stationery that asserts he is a deputy director in the Federal Ministry of Finance and has been authorized to award a contract of...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Development Scams: Donors, Dollars, and NGO Entrepreneurs
    (pp. 88-111)

    One of the reigning jokes in contemporary Nigeria, told only partly facetiously, is that when students complete their education they have two options besides likely unemployment: founding a church or starting an NGO. Given Nigeria’s weak economy and the dearth of decent job opportunities, the humor about churches and NGOs is a collective commentary on the difficulties of poverty. It is also an allusion to the entrepreneurial creativity of Nigerians who seek advantage and advancement in circumstances of great constraint. Obviously only a small fraction of Nigeria’s population actually earns a living by establishing a church or starting an NGO....

  10. CHAPTER 4 “Fair Play Even among Robbers”: Democracy, Politics, and Corruption
    (pp. 112-137)

    Since independence in 1960, the military has ruled Nigeria for approximately thirty of the forty-five years of its postcolonial history. Beginning with the first successful coup in 1966, a primary justification for every putsch has been the venality of the previous government. Each new regime promises to clean up corruption, and seemingly inevitably, each administration eventually loses its legitimacy because of its own venality. Almost every successful coup in Nigeria has been initially welcomed by much of the public, as people hoped that the new government would exhibit greater sympathy for and ensure better accountability to the masses. Even as...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Rumors, Riots, and Diabolical Rituals
    (pp. 138-165)

    Nigerians’ discontents about corruption are intertwined with growing expectations for democracy and development, and with the experience of inequality that characterizes contemporary social transformations. While these discontents take many forms, they are nowhere more poignantly expressed than in people’s ambivalence about money (Barber 1982, 1995; Watts 1994). On the one hand, ordinary folks see themselves as necessarily engaged in the pursuit of money and readily admit the lengths they will go—the lengths they have to go—to try to get more money. On the other hand, people see the single-minded pursuit of money as patently amoral, a perversion of...

  12. CHAPTER 6 “They Became the Criminals They Were Supposed to Fight”: Crime, Corruption, and Vigilante Justice
    (pp. 166-190)

    Early one morning in July 2001, I was driving with a friend to a village near where I work in Abia State, just a few miles from the town of Umuahia. As we made our way down a sandy unpaved road, negotiating deep gullies created by recent rains, two vehicles carrying about fifteen men came up quickly from behind. The blue pickup truck in front flashed its lights, and the young man riding shotgun waved a weapon at me, beckoning us to pull aside. At first I thought it was the police. But as the two vehicles passed, and several...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Anticorruption Aspirations: Biafrans and Born-again Christians
    (pp. 191-220)

    Nigerians are bombarded every day with state propaganda about government efforts to combat corruption. Soon after the transition to democracy in 1999, with great fanfare, President Obasanjo created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission along with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, promising that these offices would put teeth into anticorruption efforts that were lacking in the late General Abacha’s hypocritical “Not in Our Character” campaign. Many Nigerians suspected that these new bureaucracies would go the way of their predecessors, providing lip service to the ideals of government accountability and transparency, but offering little in the way...

    (pp. 221-232)

    In this book’s opening vignette about the Texas oil executive who was conned using the facades and formalities of Nigeria’s state-controlled national petroleum corporation, I noted that the reactions of the audience to my friend AC’s incredible story included a mixture of lament, cynicism, and resignation, combined with a sense of admiration for the creativity and sheer audacity of the perpetrators. In concluding this book, it would be disingenuous to fail to remark on the degree of approbation that accompanies certain forms of 419 in Nigeria, particularly stories that suggest Nigerians have hoodwinked wealthy Westerners or their own national elites....

  15. Appendix
    (pp. 233-240)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 241-246)
  17. References
    (pp. 247-256)
  18. Index
    (pp. 257-263)