“Get to the bridge and I will help you to cross”: Merit, Personal Connections and Money in Access to Nigerian Higher Education

Chris Willott


This article examines the methods students use to gain access to a university in Nigeria’s elite federal sector. It explains the relationships between three “currencies” – merit, personal connections and money – that are utilised by students to achieve their goals. I argue that influences representing the official rules – merit – and those representing semi-official or unofficial processes – personal connections and money – intersect in ways that reveal the complexity of the relationship between state and society in contemporary Nigeria. This analysis reveals that in this case the hybrid interpretation of the neopatrimonial state, which views official and unofficial norms as existing in parallel and suffusing one another, has more analytical value than its counterpart, the wholesale state privatisation thesis.

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