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Corruption provides a new optic onto the Nigerian state. Rather than a set of real-world institutions that approximate Western models, the Nigerian state should be seen as an ideological project of labeling the activities of particular actors as being those of “state” officials. The ideological project of “the state” makes the institution appear to be more than the sum of its parts, as not being political or nakedly extractive. To the extent that corruption discourse condemns practices for deviating from the norms of bureaucratic governance, it is a political performative. When bureaucratic structures themselves are problematic, corruption discourse is no simple tool of technocratic critique. It underpins the ideological process through which the Nigerian state functions at all. Condemning “corruption” implies a vision of a non-corrupt alternative, not degenerated, properly bureaucratic, fully modernized. It is a legitimating fiction, all the more powerful because it operates through its own denial.

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