Against the odds: understanding why and how effective reform happens in Nigeria

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


A range of Nigerian and international actors have been trying to support and reform Nigerian public services without achieving long-term improvements (Lewis & Watts, 2015). Yet, service provision across Nigeria's states is not uniform. Some reforms have resulted in more inclusive public goods and services (Abah, 2012; Lewis & Watts, 2015).

The literature is rarely clear on how or why progress in public sector reform works when it does (Roll, 2014). Analytical tools are struggling with the detailed political analysis needed. This research examines instances of public sector effectiveness in different Nigerian states and the factors which enable them, while addressing blind spots in existing political analysis.

Research questions
What are the critical factors which have resulted in more effective public sector reform in different Nigerian states?
- How does the state level political arrangement relate to the national political settlement?
- What motivated and prompted the reform to emerge?
- What enabled the reform to be implemented?
- What structural and institutional changes has the reform made which resulted in more inclusive service provision?

Theoretical framework
Using Roll's (2014:24) definition of 'pockets of effectiveness' (POE) to identify effective reforms judges in terms of increasing access to the service and/or improving the quality. Existing studies of POE focus on economic outcomes (Pogoson & Roll, 2014); this research will focus on social outcomes.

One useful emerging framework is political settlements analysis, which examines the political processes negotiating how power and resources are distributed between elite groups (Hickey, 2013). The institutional approaches of Grindle (2012) and Mahoney & Thelen (2010) also offer valuable ways of understanding institutional change, emphasising the importance of actors' agency.

However, these frameworks are still being tested. Political settlements analysis does not usually explain how more local or international actors shape the settlement (Golooba-Mutebi & Hickey, 2013) and tends to overlook the role of ideas as well as interests (Lavers & Hickey, 2016). Applying the concept of political settlements to a federal system and cases of positive deviance helps develop this concept and furthers existing theory by identifying more variables influencing effective public sector reform.

The research is likely to be of interest to reform-minded government officials, organisations and international actors which are trying to support governance reform in Nigeria. Specifically, this research will work with PERL to engage international development policy makers and the Nigerian policy community.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000665/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2069722 Studentship ES/P000665/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Clare Cummings