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 Corruption is 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.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the 2008 Margaret Mead Award
Daniel Jordan Smith is associate professor of anthropology at Brown University. He has worked in Nigeria since the late 1980s, first as a public health adviser with a nongovernmental organization and later as an anthropologist.
"By all measurements Nigeria, richly endowed with natural and human resources and the United States' fifth largest source of imported oil, should be one of the most prosperous of the world's developing countries. Instead it is one of the poorest. No one has done a better job than Daniel Jordan Smith of showing how and why the cancer of corruption has hobbled the giant of Africa. A Culture of Corruption is an absorbing cultural study by an anthropologist who deeply cares about the society into which he has married."—Walter Carrington, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
"This is a path-breaking study of a challenging topic for African studies, anthropology, development economics, and social sciences in general. If any country in Africa should be able to join the world's newly industrialized countries, it should be Nigeria in view of its size and its oil wealth. The common explanation of its constant failure to do so is corruption. The great merit of this book is to show that corruption has many faces in everyday life. The term is all too often used as a blanket notion. Smith shows how misleading this is by studying it as a daily reality with manifold expressions. The book fills an urgent need. We must better understand the reasons why Africa's giant is stagnating if we want to be able to say something about the continent's present-day crisis."—Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam
"Nigeria is known globally as a center for scams of a variety and audacity that are astounding to those who trust that their own societies and economies run according to 'the rules.' In A Culture of Corruption, Daniel Jordan Smith draws on many years of living in Nigeria as an NGO representative and anthropologist to cast a very wide net around Nigerian corruption, to include contemporary official and unofficial malfeasance of all kinds. His exposition is graphic, detailed, and broadly supported. He doesn't flinch before quite terrifying case material. There is no other work that covers the same ground so clearly and in such a nuanced and observant manner."—Jane I. Guyer, Johns Hopkins University