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Local Elections, State Capture, and Development in Nigeria

Is Manna from Heaven Devilish?

Local government councils elections in Nigeria are supposed to be held regularly in the 774 local government areas of Nigeria stipulated by the 1999 constitution. However, they are under the organisational lead of the state governments and have been conducted only irregularly since 1999. In June 2003, the governors even called for the outright cancellation of all local elections and the abolishment of the local government councils. Furthermore, local government council elections under the aegis of state independent electoral commissions often were fraudulent, delayed or cancelled.

A recent study considers the possibility of a local political resource curse in Nigeria. The main line of argument, or hypothesis, is as follows: Rising global oil prices lead to an increase in tax revenues, which are collected centrally, and then distributed to all state and local governments. This makes state capture and control over local governments more rewarding as larger rents are up for grabs. To exert firm control over local governments’ funds, state governments appoint caretaker committees in lieu of holding local elections. The lower accountability and responsiveness of appointed caretaker committees deprives local government areas of their development prospects.

The study collects unique data on local government council elections through an extensive media content analysis of Nigerian newspapers articles. These data are combined with monthly tax revenue disbursements by the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee for the post-autocratic period of 1999 to 2013. Exploiting the exogenous variation in the global oil price, the analysis uses an instrumental variable approach to identify the effect of conducting local council elections or appointing caretaker committees instead on economic development proxied by nighttime light emissions, and public goods provision.

The findings of the study support the presence of a political resource curse and suggest that holding local elections increases accountability and facilitates development.

Read the complete study:
Stephan Kyburz. 2017. Local Elections, State Capture, and Development in Nigeria: Is Manna from Heaven Devilish?