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Richard A. Joseph, director of The Program of African Studies at Northwestern University, is usually credited with first using the term prebendalism to describe patron-clientelism or neopatrimonialism in Nigeria.[1] Since then the term has commonly been used in scholarly literature and textbooks.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines a prebend as the "right of member of chapter to his share in the revenues of a cathedral."[2]

Joseph used the term to describe the sense of entitlement that many people in Nigeria feel they have to the revenues of the Nigerian state. Elected officials, government workers, and members of the ethnic and religious groups to which they belong feel they have a right to a share of government revenues.

Joseph wrote in 1996, "According to the theory of prebendalism, state offices are regarded as prebends that can be appropriated by officeholders, who use them to generate material benefits for themselves and their constituents and kin groups..."[3]

As a result of that kind of patron-client or identity politics, Nigeria has regularly been one of the lowest ranked nations for political transparency by Transparency International in its Corruption Perceptions Index.[4]

Other results include the corruption investigations into the activities of 31 out of 36 Nigerian governors,[5] the frequent comments in the Nigerian press about the problems of corruption (for example, Victor E. Dike's article in the Daily Champion of Lagos, "Nigeria: Governance and Nigeria's Ailing Economy"[6]) and the common defenses of prebendalism as necessary for justice and equality in government funding (for example Oliver O. Mbamara's editorial, "In Defense of Nigeria: Amidst the Feasting of Critics" at Africa Events.[7]

Prebendalism has also been used to describe the nature of state-derived rights over capital held by state officials in parts of India in the early 18th Century. Such rights were equally held to be of a patron-client nature and thus volatile. They were thus converted where possible into hereditary entitlements.[8]

Max Weber discussed the prebendalism of India in the early Middle Ages in his 1916 book The Religion of India:

The occidental seigneurie, like the oriental Indian, developed through the disintegration of the central authority of the patrimonial state power—the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire in the Occident, the disintegration of the Caliphs and the Maharadja or Great Moguls in India. In the Carolingian Empire, however, the new stratum developed on the basis of a rural subsistence economy. Through oath-bound vassalage, patterned after the war following, the stratum of lords was joined to the king and interposed itself between the freemen and the king. Feudal relations were also to be found in India, but they were not decisive for the formation either of a nobility or landlordism.
In India, as in the Orient generally, a characteristic seigniory developed rather out of tax farming and the military and tax prebends of a far more bureaucratic state. The oriental seigniory therefore remained in essence, a "prebend" and did not become a "fief"; not feudalization, but prebendalization of the patrimonial state occurred. The comparable, though undeveloped, occidental parallel is not the medieval fief but the purchase of offices and prebends during the papal seicento or during the days of the French Noblesse de Robe. [9]

Weber had previously discussed the prebendalism of China in the early Middle Ages in his 1915 book The Religion of China.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joseph, Richard A., Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic, Cambridge University Press, 1987
  2. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia,
  3. ^ Joseph, Richard, "Nigeria: Inside the Dismal Tunnel," Current History, May 1996
  4. ^ Corruption Perceptions Index 2006,
  5. ^ "Nigerian governors in graft probe" at
  6. ^ Dike, Victor E., "Nigeria: Governance and Nigeria's Ailing Economy," Daily Champion (Lagos),
  7. ^ Mbamara, Oliver O., "In Defense of Nigeria: Amidst the Feasting of Critics," Africa Events,
  8. ^ Seema Alavi, The 18th Century in India (New Delhi, 2002), p. 33
  9. ^ Max Weber, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism (Free Press, 1958), pp 70–71, as quoted by Immanuel Wallerstein in The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (University of California Press, 2011)
  10. ^ Max Weber, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism (Free Press, 1951)