Prebendalism as an Albatross to Democratic Practice and National Development in Nigeria: A Critical Discourse

By Okeke, Barrister V. O. S.; Ugwuanyi et al. | IUP Journal of International Relations, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Prebendalism as an Albatross to Democratic Practice and National Development in Nigeria: A Critical Discourse


Okeke, Barrister V. O. S., Ugwuanyi, Ikechukwu, Bartholomew, IUP Journal of International Relations


Introduction

Government belongs to the people and should be for the people and by the people. This is the democratic ideal that is borne out of the innate desire in man for good governance, societal stability and development.1 To realize this democratic ideal, however, electing people to participate in government should be freely and fairly done to allow the true choice of the electorate to emerge. Very imperative too is that those elected must see the offices that they occupy as positions to be utilized to protect and advance the interests and wellbeing of the generality of the citizens of the polity.2 This is very necessary as representative democracy, as opposed to direct democracy, has become the practice in virtually all the democratic societies in the world.3 In essence, two major ways to guarantee that power actually belongs to the people are to ensure that the political representatives emerge from within the parameters of democratic electoral procedure and process, and that those elected use their offices to address the development needs of the citizens and that of the nation at large. This is necessary because, in an ideal democratic setting, political offices are a means to serve humanity and country, and where only the honest and transparent that are elected in a free and fair election can have the opportunity to get into.

Contrarily, in Nigeria, these democratic ideals have not been significantly realized because prebendalism has over the years characterized the nation's political activities and government administration. The term prebendalism is usually said to be used first by Richard Joseph, Director of the Program of African Studies at North Western University, USA, to describe patron-client or neo-patrimonialism in Nigeria.4 Fundamentally, prebendalism refers to the practice of utilizing official positions by public officeholders for selfish personal gains. Joseph5 conceptualized prebendalism as the pattern of political behavior which reflects as its justifying principle that the offices of the state may be competed for and then used for the personal benefit of the officeholders as well as that of their reference or support groups. Accordingly, he notes that in Nigeria state offices are primarily regarded as prebends that can be appropriated by officeholders who use them to generate material benefits for themselves and for other primordial groups. In this circumstance, the statutory purposes of political offices in Nigeria have become a matter of secondary concern. Indeed, Egbo,6 Eme and Anyadike7 and Dike8 contend strongly that political offices in Nigeria have rather become more of the primary means of gaining access to personal wealth and less for state service. Prebendalism can be perceived from two major perspectives. One, as a situation where public offices are regarded as prebends that can be appropriated by such officeholders and used as such to generate material benefit for themselves, their constituencies and kin groups. Two, as a form of political clientele in which public officers ascend to such public offices on the back of a powerbroker (political godfather) who must be rewarded in sundry ways, including using the trappings of such office. This ensures greater loyalty of the political officeholder to the political godfather at the expense of societal interest.9 From these two perspectives, prebendalism could be taken to entail the use of political offices for direct selfish personal gains or to indirectly benefit political masters or groups or even other primordial publics. It is necessary to note at this point that even though prebendalism prevails among the political and bureaucratic officeholders, our focus of analysis and discussion in this paper is essentially on the political officeholders, either elected or appointed.

An Overview of the Manifestations of Prebendalism in Nigeria

Mala10, in his study on the post-colonial politics of prebendalism in Nigeria, notes that prebendalism has become the dominant and defining characteristics of the Nigerian State. …

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