Prebendalism and Dysfunctionality in Nigeria

By Richard Joseph

In the summer of 1977, I tried to make sense of what was amiss in Nigeria. The outcome was an article, “Affluence and Underdevelopment: the Nigerian Experience”, published a year later. That same year, as the transition from military rule to the Second Republic was fully underway, I arrived at another understanding about a fundamental flaw in Nigerian politics, economy and society which I termed prebendalism. Thirty-three years later, an international group of scholars was convened by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State, for a conference in Lagos organized by Drs. Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare entitled, “Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: Critical Reinterpretations.” In early 2013, they published an edited volume of papers described by one commentator, Nicolas van de Walle, as “essential reading to anyone who wishes to understand why a country with so much potential remains mired in poverty.” [i]

Following the September 2011 conference, many commentaries appeared in the Nigerian print and online media. Bankole Oluwafemi in his blog told his fellow Nigerians: “you’re very familiar with this concept [prebendalism], you just might not know it.” Segun Ayobolu provided an apt explanation: “occupants of public office at all levels in the second republic felt that their positions entitled them to unbridled access to public resources with which they not only satisfied their own material needs but also serviced the needs or wants of subaltern clients… This kind of criminal diversion of public resources for selfish private ends starved the polity of funds for development, increased poverty and inequality, and intensified an unhealthy rivalry and competition for public office that triggered pervasive instability… Two and a half decades after, Professor Joseph’s postulations remain as valid as ever.”[ii]

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Corporate Social Responsibility and Latecomer Industrialization: Can Nigeria Do It?

By Richard Joseph, Kelly Spence, and Abimbola Agboluaje

President Barack Obama in his recent Africa tour echoed the words of Howard French when he referred to sub-Saharan Africa as a region “on the move”. Nigeria, crippled in realizing its immense economic promise, was not again on his itinerary. However, Nigeria has been included among the focus countries of the Obama Administration’s “Power Africa” initiative to increase electrification in the continent. This represents an opportunity on which its leaders should capitalize. The initial funding provided for Power Africa could leverage the much larger sums needed. Central to such efforts is collaboration between the government and private sectors, domestically and internationally. This article will appear in a published volume on Corporate Social Responsibility. It should be read in conjunction with Célestin Monga’s AfricaPlus essay, “Governance and Economic Growth in Africa: Rethinking the Conventional Paradigm” and Howard French’s  Atlantic article on Lagos State. 

The authors of this paper adapted the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the unique obstacles in Nigeria, and other African countries, to developing a manufacturing sector that is responsible in the sense of being productive, and not just extractive, and which also contributes to reducing governance and social welfare deficits. To accommodate the high rate of population growth, it is estimated that 7-10 million jobs must be produced annually in sub-Saharan Africa. Accomplishing this task will depend on the long-delayed industrialization of the continent. Pursuing this objective brings many of the known deficits to the fore: inadequate electricity, water and transportation infrastructures; deficient taxation systems; rent-seeking political behaviors; and what Monga calls incompetence in policy planning and implementation alongside corruption.

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Governance and Economic Growth in Africa: Rethinking the Conventional Paradigm

By Célestin Monga

Immediately upon President Obama’s arrival in Senegal on a three-country Africa tour, he voiced his familiar insistence on the importance of democracy and good governance and their contributions to economic development. Célestin Monga is one of a group of economists, seasoned in African affairs, who are not convinced. As the people of the continent contemplate how to sustain and deepen the recent economic advances, Monga’s critique of the dominant paradigm on governance and growth should prompt important reflection and debate.

I recently returned from an excellent conference on “Governance and Economic Growth” in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where this topic was debated by some of the best minds. Discussions with hundreds of high-level Congolese policymakers and international experts reinforced my thinking that a number of popular beliefs about economic governance in the African context are misguided. After discussing some of the theoretical issues involved, I will suggest what should really be the focus of governance and economic growth in low-income countries.

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