Contrary Institutions

Why is it that institutional reform as touted by the international anti-corruption industry always fails in tackling the problem of corruption in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa? One major problem is that the reforms are based on the foundations of Western institutions without giving adequate thought or attentions to institutional activities or development in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa. We thus have to develop a new view of institutions in post-colonial nations like Nigeria.

Institutions that are not enforceable are mere declarations. Nigeria is saddled with mostly funded declarations in the name of institution. There are numerous instances of robust mutant forms of formal institutions found in the Nigerian society that may be characteristically overlooked or misunderstood by both indigenous and foreign corruption investigators and institutional reformers (Nane 2009). These institutions tend to deviate significantly from the expectations and forms found, say in Western Europe where they originate from, in their internal mechanism but appear conform to the same externally. Such institutions can be termed to be “contrary institutions”.

A contrary institution can be defined as “any institution which due to perverse or incomplete internal development delivers divergent or contrary outcomes to those it was originally intended”. When policemen engage in violent crime or rent / sell firearms to violent criminals the Nigerian Police Force becomes a contrary institution. A when national the respective legislators vote monies to alleviate poverty in given constituencies but the monies are pocketed with impunity by respective senators or representatives the ‘voting process’ is a contrary institutions.

A cluster of institutions established to serve the interest of the general public becomes contrary when it starts to serve the interests of a small group(s) of individuals. Or an array of institutions introduced into a sector to reduce corruption but actually increases the incidence of corruption significantly is contrary. Contrary institutions as dysfunctional entities can also adversely affect the functioning of properly developed enforceable institutions.

The prevalent existence of contrary institutions in Nigeria necessitates the proposition that the external mechanisms of institutions are procedural (i.e. systematic) but their internal mechanisms are volitional (i.e. praxeological). Procedures can be seen as impersonal mechanisms since they entail systems, methods, techniques, measures, practices etc. and their auxiliary paraphernalia. Volition is not so because it entails human action i.e. preferences, choice and decisions. Procedures are functions of volition i.e. procedure cannot exist or work without the human action agents. The goal of institutions is to make the volition of agents comply with standardised organisational procedures (Etzioni 1961 or goal-consistent ethical rules (Hodgson 2004; 2006).

Let us assume legitimacy has strong moral content since malfeasance cannot be morally justified. If the volition inputted by agents into institutions is legitimate the procedures can be also expected to be legitimate, except in cases where there is error (which can be duly correctable). An institution with internal legitimacy would invariable have external legitimacy and thus duly be enforceable, constantly and consistency. Conversely, if the volition inputted by agents into institutions is not legitimate the procedures cannot be legitimate either, no matter how well they are designed, structured or conducted. Institutions that lack internal legitimacy are not duly enforceable with constancy and consistency. This proposition gives credence to the necessity of morality in the understanding of corruption since it is based on the expectations of right actions (Dunsire 1988, Owusu 1996, Aluko 2002, Miller 2003, Hodgson & Jiang 2007, Rose-Ackerman 2007, Etzioni 2010). The internal mechanisms of institutions can be deemed to be dependent on the moral responsibility of agents (see Hodgson & Jiang 2007; Nane 2011). In Nigeria, the structural adjustment years saw severe economic conditions and uncertainty lead to the widespread compromise of the moral fibre of agents and hence the volitional component of institutions (Akande 2003; Owusu 1996).

The origin of contrary institutions in Nigeria like many recently post-independence nations is largely due to interaction between traditional indigenous institutions and colonial (and later global) institutions. In pre-colonial times societies, in what is now known as Nigeria, had robust enforceable institutions by which society was adequately organised (see Englebert 2000, Falola 2003; Falola & Heaton 2008). These institutions were customarily legitimate and the people embodied them without question. Trade, agriculture, marriage, religion, ceremonies, arbitration, property rights and the like were governed by legitimate d indigenous institutions (see Ayittey 1993). The arrival of the colonial power, Great Britain, ushered in by way of the transplantation and superimposition numerous European institutions that where intended to reorganise African society to meet the needs of their rule; indigenous institutions were largely left intact. This superimposition of alien institutions on colonial societies never really attained complete or even reasonable legitimacy even up to the time of independence in 1960 (Ekeh 1975). However, as long as these alien institutions satisfied the specific interests of the colonial power, they were deemed to suffice.

Rowley (2000) contends that colonial rulers in Africa deliberately kept colonial institutions to prevent colonial from building the capacity to kick them out. Rowley’s argument is however challenged by the suggestion that well-embedded direct rule was too costly for Britain. However, the institutional transplants of the colonial rulers created an intractable dilemma; local traditional institutions did not lose their legitimacy while colonial institutions acquired significant “visible” but inadequate legitimacy. In essence Nigerian society throughout the colonial era was operated with robust traditional institutions but colonial institutions barely sufficed. Put another way traditional institutions constituted the substance of governance while colonial institutions constituted the form. The internal mechanisms of Nigerian formal institutions were never developed sufficiently in the image or likeness of their progenitors in Europe hence the incidence of contrary institutions.

We can evidently see why current and past institutional reform fails woefully in Nigeria especially with regards to anti-corruption activities. A new institutional thinking is thus necessary to create the tools and approaches that will have both the capability and legitimacy to create the possibility of curing the problems of corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.

Culled from – Grimot Nane (2011), Do the Preferences of Corrupt Agents Evolve?, (A Paper prepared for the) 13th Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics, Nottingham, 6th – 9th July 2011

  1. Hamid Shagaya says:

    To get in touch with Meg Hillier, you can do so in the following ways

    Reference: UK-Nigerian Anti-Corruption Cooperation

    Write: House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

    Telephone: 020 7219 5325

    Fax: 020 7219 8768



  2. Hamid Shagaya says:


    Ms Meg Hillier MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Tel: 020 7219 5325


  3. Hamid Shagaya says:

    UK-Nigerian Anti-Corruption Cooperation

    All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria

    Monday 17 October 2011 17:30 to 18:30 (Europe/London)


    House of Commons, Committee Room 16


    Jonathan Benton, Detective Chief Inspector, Economic & Specialist Crime Command, Metropolitan Police
    Eric Guttschuss, Researcher on Nigeria, Human Rights Watch
    Oba Nsugbe QC, SAN, Head of Chambers, Pump Court Chambers
    Chair: Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the APPG on Nigeria

    Type: Research and other events

    This meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria will explore the practicalities of the UK and Nigeria’s anti-corruption cooperation, the successes of the relationship and unresolved challenges. With the two countries planning to double bilateral trade by 2014 and continuing to promote investment and technological co-operation while concerns relating to development and security in Nigeria deepen, effective efforts to tackle corruption and financial crime have become ever more crucial. While the UK has been working with Nigeria for a number of years on its anti-corruption efforts, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has in recent years received growing criticism.


  4. Bala Aliyu says:

    Grimot, I finally read the full paper. I do not understand why you did articulate the tensions that lead to corruption in Nigeria on this blog – you seem to have meticulously unearthed some of the mechanisms of corruption that pass most other authors on the subject by. It is not my place to dictate but I suggest you paste full links to your papers, the few I have read are really shedding new light on the problem. I still think reforms are insufficient to eradicate corruption in Nigeria, do you agree?


  5. Bala Aliyu says:

    @Bernard – thinking is ideas in action. Thinking is action. Thinking is the hardest thing for man to do. The whole purpose of this discussion is to generate ideas and if one good idea comes out of it it is a sufficient success. When ideas becoming self-persuasive and self-cogent you find people will embrace them and implement them or at least agitate for their implementation. Are democracy, religion, education, music, films not all “grammar”? When ideas are ripe action becomes inevitable.


  6. John Okoro says:

    @Ben, so you want to show your locality here? If this topic pass your level lef am.


  7. Ben says:

    You guys like grammar. Where is the action?


  8. Edwin Nana says:

    Is corruption in Nigeria curable? I doubt it very much. Corruption is a accepted way of life in Nigeria. People listen subserviently their religious leaders in Nigeria maybe they can solve the problem of corruption.


  9. Enasa says:

    Bernard, I think that general theories are applied to all regions in the world when it comes to human activity as long as the context is relevant. I think that you would agree with me since you appear to read much on the subject that this is a general theory of corruption in the context of post-colonial nations.


  10. Enasa says:

    John, I am entitled to my own opinion. My so-called ‘judgment’ is simply a call onto those who read and comment on this blog to contribute something to the discussion on biggest problem that faces the country known as Nigeria. NAS is less than a drop of water in the problem of Nigerian corruption. Let us not get personal, discussions please.


  11. Bernard says:

    Contrary institutions exist everywhere in the world so forgive me for being disagreeable to the fact that it is considered a Nigerian problem. It is easy to find theories that explain corruption in Nigeria but even though this one is better than most I have come across I think it should be a general theory of corruption whether it is weak or strong.


  12. John Okoro says:

    @Enasa – Nigerian society is in no way hypocritical about corruption but NAS is an extreme example the kettle calling the pot black. And we all know this. If NAS were a silent corruption organisation people would leave them alone. Please take this into consideration before judging those who comment on this blog. Moreover, the standard of this article is much higher than the previous three so it stands to reason that that responses would be fewer unless more intellectual types are attracted.


  13. Enasa says:

    Brilliant piece. I have been following this blog for almost a year and I like it a lot. It surprises me that people who comment on this blog are a lot more interested in the corruption in the national association of seadogs than corruption in Nigerian society. I thought it would be interesting to hear the opinions of commentators on the problems of institutions in Nigeria. My opinion is that the article does not explain the problem of informal institutions interfering with formal institutions in Nigeria so as to create ample opportunities for corruption. Maybe the the does do that in the article the culled this from but I cannot access it.


  14. Martin says:

    Wow, this series on corruption is quite enlightening. The ways and techniques of corruption are not as obvious or understandable as a lay man like myself would imagine. I would like to know of specific examples of how contrary institutions make corruption possible in Africa. Keep up the good work.


  15. Pat says:

    This is a nice write-up but a bit much on the intellectual side. Is the National Association of Seadogs a foreign fraternity like Cap n Skull or Bullingdon superimposed on males in Nigerian universities? I ask only because the image they portray of their association does not match the inner reality. I hope not all institutions are like this in our country but if they are, what can we do to change the system?


  16. Bala Aliyu says:

    Well, well, well. This article or part of an article has been a long time a looming. It is very interesting and gives me new insight into why corruption not only has worsened and persisted in Nigeria but why it is also resistant to reforms of all kinds. I wonder if institutional failures are main cause of corruption. Hunger is also important as you also demonstrated referring to the impact of the introduction of SAP. My question is if economic conditions are not good and institutions are contrary to their purpose, is there any real hope of curing corruption Nigeria?


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