We construct three measures of political and economic institutions that cover a 150-year period (1862–2011) for Nigeria. To do so, we rely on a theoretical definition of the institutional measures, broken down into relevant components that assess the extent to which the Nigerian legal framework provides for specific rights and freedoms. We make use of preexisting (de jure) legislations, ordinances, and constitutions to assign scores to every relevant component. The newly constructed indicators (civil and political liberties, freehold property rights, and customary property rights) provide a platform for a comprehensive analysis of institutional change in Nigeria since 1862. We document the manner in which the evolution of these de jure institutional measures are shaped by Britain’s colonial objectives of gaining administrative control over the region to facilitate trade endeavors, the introduction of indirect rule, the amalgamation (unification) of the northern and southern parts of the country as well as postindependence military rule. We show that our measures of institutional quality are strongly correlated with existing and popular measures (for overlapping periods spanning at most 50 years). This finding bodes well for the reliability of our institutional indicators.

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