Academic journal article African Studies Review

Patron-Client Relationships and Low Education among Youth in Kano, Nigeria

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Patron-Client Relationships and Low Education among Youth in Kano, Nigeria

Article excerpt


Based on an analysis of original social network data collected from 407 households in an urban community in Northern Nigeria, this article evaluates whether patronage relationships between households have consequences for children's educational attainment. A "social resources" perspective suggests that patronage ties may serve as a form of social capital that activates upward social mobility for entire families, thereby yielding more than simple transitory returns on social connections. An alternative "social constraints" perspective suggests that patronage ties may have no effects (or negative effects) on the schooling of clients' children, since patron-clientage reflects prevailing social inequalities and exists for reasons other than the promotion of dynastic mobility among clients and their families. In the case study reported in this article, the latter pattern holds, and the results are interpreted with reference to the historical record, which shows that a latent function of patron-clientage is the preservation of intergenerational status immobility.


The provision of educational opportunity is one of the oldest development strategies for stimulating economic growth, reducing inequality, and promoting government stability (see Collier & Gunning 1999; Easterly 2001; Schultz 1999; Smelser & Lipset 1966). Nonetheless, in Africa, the expansion of education since 1960 has not generated convincing evidence that education is an autonomous engine of growth, or more recendy, that it substantially mitigates inequality (see Hannum & Buchmann 2005 for a review of studies such as Bills & Klenow 2000 and Krueger & Lindahl 2001). Accordingly, educational expansion is described less often as a transformative growth strategy and more often as an investment with variable returns that depend on institutional contexts. Basic primary education is now justified most frequendy as a universal human right (see die rationale for the Millennium Development Goals in Sachs et al. 2004 and Sachs 2005).

To resolve some of the uncertainty around the prospects of education to promote growth and alleviate poverty, a more comprehensive understanding is needed of the ways that historical patterns of social structure continue to shape inequalities of educational opportunity in developing countries. In this article we offer a case study of early schooling attainment in Northern Nigeria, focusing primarily on the implications of a system of traditional patron-clientage for patterns of educational attainment. Beyond modeling the effects of parental socioeconomic status characteristics on children's educational attainment, we utilize original social network data to estimate the associations between parental placement in a structure of patron-clientage and children's early school attainment in an urban community.

To foreshadow this main theme of our analysis, we offer here two abstract scenarios (which we will make concrete later) for a household head with dependent children who is also a client of a local patron. From a "social resources" perspective, the client may be able to enhance his family's status by utilizing his social connections to his patron. By promising loyalty and service, he may be able to obtain better employment prospects or business opportunities. And in times of need he may be able to request direct assistance from his patron. These returns on his social connections generate additional resources for the family, which then can be used to promote upward mobility. They may be used to pay school fees for his children or to replace their foregone household labor by hiring an apprentice.

From an alternative "social constraints" perspective, any such mobilityenhancing mechanisms would be unexpected. Instead, patron-clientage is best considered a ranking scheme for a prevailing status order that promotes stability amidst considerable inequality. Accordingly, even though patronage provides protection against predation from other elites, it does not enhance substantially the inflow of resources to clients. …

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