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Before the start of the colonial period, reciprocal gift giving was a central aspect of statecraft in the Sokoto caliphate. The reorganization of government institutions during the early colonial period criminalized well-established practices even while undermining officials’ incomes and providing them with new means of improper enrichment. In this context, accusations of “corruption” were used as a way for British officials to condemn Nigerians, but only sometimes. During the earliest years of colonial rule, these malpractices could be characterized in this way, but more commonly officials’ crimes were disaggregated and called other things: embezzlement, peculation, slave dealing. The innovation was that the colonial government formulated the problem as one of official malfeasance, as a particular officeholder’s deviation from the norms of the office he was supposed to uphold. The legacy of this period was that the charge of corruption emerged as a political strategy and undergirded a new form of politics.

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