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Colonial Legacies in State Building: Bureaucratic Embeddedness, Public Goods provision, and Public Opinion in Nigeria


This dissertation traces the changes in the ethnic composition of staff of the Nigerian Federal Civil Service. I use historical data to show that colonial hiring practices created inequalities in the level of representation various ethnic groups in Nigeria have in the civil service. I also show that this inequality has consequences for how public goods are provided to the public, and for how the public views the civil service. The dissertation is made up of three substantive chapters (which are standalone papers).

In the first chapter, I argue that while colonial investment plays a huge role in contemporary development and inequality, the indigenous groups’ capitalization of early colonial investment creates inequality and concentrates some economic opportunities in certain groups. The colonized were not just bystanders, they actively participated in the building of their new country, and their actions were consequential. Using data on the Nigerian civil service spanning a century, I argue and find that those who had early access to colonial, and missionary education were able to capture the early Nigerian civil service leveraging their educational qualifications while hiring almost exclusively from within their ethnic group to fill vacancies that emerged in the civil service when they gained the power to do so. Consequently, those groups that got into the civil service first still enjoy larger than proportional representation within the service today despite colonial, and post-colonial policies implemented to combat this phenomenon.

The second chapter explores the consequences of representation in the bureaucracy on public goods provision. I argue that geographic and demographic patterns in historical bureaucracies’ impact modern bureaucracies today. These legacies reflect on modern variations in “bureaucratic embeddedness” – how well particular ethnic groups (and sometimes regional groups) are represented in government agencies – which has consequences for the provision of public goods. I show that colonial leaders that built the bureaucratic state did not incorporate certain indigenous Nigerian groups into the civil service. Those groups that were first brought into the service by the British remain more likely to occupy service positions in the pre-independence, post-independence, and modern democratic periods. Strikingly, this historical legacy appears to only weakly influence allocation of public goods projects but has clear negative consequences for the completion of said projects. Groups that were historically (and thus presently) highly represented in the civil service see lower completion rates of projects allocated to them than those that were not included in the periods of state building. I attribute this to weak social sanctioning of bureaucrats from the groups and the agencies they belong to, lack of information on allocated projects by their group, and politicians’ unwillingness to hold bureaucrats accountable.

In the third chapter I ask: how do citizens who are highly represented in the bureaucracy view government performance? I suggest that those who are represented in the bureaucracy are less likely to be satisfied with government performance on major issues, they are also less likely to contact government officials or view them as corrupt. I theorize that this is because these individuals separate the implementation of government policy from the responsibility of bureaucrats when their group is highly represented. Individuals lack information on what the bureaucracy does and assign any blame in the workings of the state to elected officials rather that the bureaucrats who actually carry out politician's directives.

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