Rapid urbanization has been perhaps the most dramatic of the social phenomena that marked the end of the colonial era in Africa. From a situation in 1950 in which the total urban population was no more than 28 million, the figure had by 1984 jumped to well over 125 million, representing a sharply increasing proportion of the total population (World Bank, 1986a). Yet, after an initial period when urbanization was welcomed as a positive tendency in the modernization of the continent (Friedmann, 1961) there is today some ambivalence as to the contributions of urban centers to the overall development of the continent. There are those (Santos, 1971; Bardinet, 1977) who argue that urban centers have failed to serve as a major force in the economic transformation of African countries but have, instead, highlighted their economic dependency and the negative social consequences that go with this. Others (Collier and Lai, 1980; Mabogunje, 1983) argue that much of the limited development that has been achieved in these countries has been due in no small measure to non-farm activities of these urban centers. Cities and towns are therefore apprehended not as the cause but only as the scene of social and economic problems, their role being to draw attention to endemic poverty and social degradation which otherwise remain buried and unobtrusive in the rural areas. When it comes to the role of urban planning and policies in resolving these problems, the pervading impression is of the failure of governments in most African countries to make any appreciable impact on the situation, a fact which has in turn provoked serious debates as to the nature of the post-colonial state in Africa (Hyden, 1983). Nigeria, a nation deeply scarred by colonialism and years of civil war, took the decision in 1991 to build a new capital city at the country’s center.

In an 1983 interview, the Minister of the Federal Capital Development Authority, AL haji Iro Dan Musa claimed that the government wanted a capital city which “belonged to all Nigerians” best achieved by “starting afresh in Abuja”[i]. Abuja is Africa’s first modernist capital and follows in the tradition of other planned cities across the world, from Brasilia (Brazil), to Washington D.C. (USA) to Chandigarh (India). In contrast to Lagos the former capital of Nigeria, Abuja has been carefully planned to project a particular aesthetic to a global audience, inclusive of manicured lawns, un-congested roads, and buildings infused with a nouveau African-centeredness. In Abuja, the Nigerian government intended to build an African utopia, one which would represent a unified, independent Nigeria for the country’s fractured, unequal social groups. Yet despite grand, utopian plans for a new and modern capital, in planning and building Abuja an all too familiar pattern of exclusion and disparity has emerged.

Colonial legacies

Lagos, Abuja’s predecessor, was under colonial rule violently divided between areas for rulers and those for subjects; a division which served to enforce control over the Nigerian population by their colonial officers. And yet these same tactics of divide and rule are deployed in present day Nigeria, utilized by the Nigerian elite to distance themselves from the urban working poor, creating stark spatial divisions between the included and excluded in contemporary Nigerian society.  Indeed it was the continuation of social and spatial stratification and a deepening of inequality, difference and division in Lagos, which paved the way to the forming of a new capital in a fresh, “neutral territory” [iii].

Indeed despite the contrast between realities and intentions, the creation and design of Abuja was intended to allow Nigeria to rid itself of its colonial past and of “undoing everything the colonials had done wrong in Lagos” [iv]. Although the territory was equidistant from all edges of the country in theory establishing its location as “neutral”, in reality it was located in the northern part of the country which is heavily influenced by Islamic culture.

Rights and access to the city

Physical and economic exclusion are however an ever-present reality in Abuja; the average citizen simply cannot afford the privileges of inner city living due to unaffordable rents and a lack of access to affordable transport, and is thus physically separated from the inner spaces of the city. The majority of the city’s wealthy residents live in the center where there are paved roads with street lamps, regular power supply, adequate water supply, infrastructure and amenities. While more than 70% of Abuja’s working population live in dilapidated satellite towns, owing to their inability to pay the high cost of accommodation in the city center [ii].

Everyday exclusion is not unique to Abuja, yet the city does serve as a microcosm of a fraughtly contested politics of exclusion which affects the entire nation. A politics which manifests in a number of forms across everyday life in the city.

“Illegal” developments and the master plan 

From its very inception the key challenge in governing Abuja, has been to deal with the illegal development of residential and/or commercial properties near the center of the city. Illegal developments in the city center violate planning control laws and for the most part are slated for demolition. Indeed in 2003 El-Rufai – the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory reiterated his desire to rid the city of illegal developments, and deliver a city defined by controlled growth and the promotion of foreign investment [v].  El-Rufai’s tenure led to the demolition of more than 200 buildings in the FCT and thousands in the satellite towns [vi]. This strict enforcement of policy left many poor families stranded and unable to regain a foothold in the city, and further served to violently demonstrate which population groups had the right to lay claim to Abuja’s built environment, and which did not.   

The original master plan for Abuja states that the development authority must “develop a housing policy and program tailored to the needs of the Capital’s population” [vii]. In reality affordable housing in Abuja is only accessible to the middle to upper classes. The location of luxury homes close to the National Assembly and away from ordinary city neighborhoods is demonstrative of the master plan’s advocacy of residential segregation by income. Indeed, one could claim that the master plan aims to craft an environment of cyclical exploitation by using the urban poor for cheap labor to run and service the city (janitorial, drivers, sanitation etc.) and yet physically keeping them at distance, unable to benefit from nor participate in the city.

Exclusion and division also form a central part of state planning policy at Abuja’s peripheries. For example, several satellite towns around Abuja were built specifically to house the employees of various multinational companies including Shell, and Julius Berger. Despite the fact that the conditions in these towns are poor, only the employees of these companies are provided housing while those without employment must deal with “self-help” initiatives.

Informal trading

The criminalization of informal trading represents another form of the exclusion of working Nigerians from accessing the city. In most Nigerian cities street trading is the most common form of commercial activity.  In the unplanned use of public spaces, parks, streets and other prominent sections of the city, street traders redefine the limits of urban space. Street trading can be perceived as a characteristic example of informality and yet is absent in the context of Abuja’s master plan.

Every Friday near the National Mosque in the Abuja central area there is an informal “Friday market” established by the local Muslim community.  Merchants sell many items that are necessary for Muslims and any other Nigerian at an inexpensive price.  They lay their items on the sidewalk because there are no market stalls for this kind of activity.  According to the master plan, sidewalks (average 7’-12’), provide ample space for commercial activities to take place.  However, the zoning restrictions prohibit non-stationary commercial activities in the Federal Capital Territory. Thus, in mid-2012 illegal traders stationed around Banex Plaza in the heart of Abuja were forced by city-government to withdraw from the area and make way for access and smooth business operations for formalized commercial activity. While, informal street commerce remains an important part of the Nigerian urban productivity it simply does not feature in the structural or institutional plans for the Capital City.

Street activity in the Kubwa satellite town. Ifeoma Ebo, all rights reserved. Urban mobility while restrictions in urban mobility also serve to exclude Abuja’s population from accessing and benefitting from the city. In the existing city transportation layout, the street grid and transportation networks create a physical barrier to the city. The Murtala Mohammed and Nnamdi Azikiwe boulevards, outer “ring roads” surrounding the city which were used as a planning tool to control urban growth, create a 4 lane barrier for residents of satellite towns who are attempting to enter the central city on foot. In effect, the transportation layout coupled with rigid enforcement of policy allows the FCTA to be selective in how and when the urban poor can enter the city.

In this manner in early 2012, the Federal Capital Territory Administration banned commercial motorcyclists and mini bus operations in Abuja. This suspension particularly affected transportation routes that enter the nation’s capital. This action was coupled with an introduction of a new public transportation system in the form of high capacity buses to replace the minibuses. The new transportation policy was implemented without clear citizen consultation and has been known to be unreliable and unaffordable for those that it is intended to serve. Inevitably, the ban posed a hardship on commuters from the satellite towns as they have to pay exorbitant transportation fees to get to work in the central city.

Roundabout off the Nnamdi Azikiwe ring road which surrounds Abuja city center. Ifeoma Ebo, all rights reserved.

The case of Abuja poses an interesting point of departure to examine the challenges of urbanization in contemporary Nigeria. On the one hand, existing Nigerian cities are heavily overpopulated, with inadequate urban infrastructure and an absence of forward thinking, inclusive urban strategies by city-governments. In spite of the challenges of urbanization, Nigerian cities also stage and are produced by thriving informal economies which reflect the cultural and social diversity of its citizens in everyday urban life.

However, in attempting to compete with ‘global’ western cities, in planning and governing Abuja, Nigeria has effectively lost a part of its soul; in effect excluding the very people that it was conceived to represent. Modernist design and rigid development controls have created and preserved Abuja’s world class appearance, but simultaneously generated barriers of access for the majority of the population. While the strict enforcement of policy maintains a safe and controlled environment, it also creates hardships for the urban poor whose everyday lives and social practices necessarily contravene such policies. New models for design and development are necessary that address urban polarization and promote inclusive, cohesive Nigerian cities.

Colonial Nigeria

The locations of some settlements particularly in the Northern and Western parts of Nigeria, were essentially influenced by the factors of defence, religion or trade. For instance, the walls around some traditional cities like Zaria and Kano served the purpose of defence with gates provided in strategic locations to facilitate trade and communication. Rugged and hilly topographic site also attracted settlers mainly has strategic defence sites essentially to prevent against external attacks from local invaders then, such sites can be found at Koton Karfi and Okene in Kwara State; Toro and Billiri in Bauchi State; Abeokuta in Ogun State; and Idanre in Ondo State, all in Nigeria, West Africa (Omole, and Akinbamijo, 2012).The traditional settlement development patterns gradually gave way to the colonial planning approach with the annexation of Lagos as a British Colony under the Treaty of

Cession in 1861, and the consequent4 promulgation in Lagos of the 1863 Town

Improvement Ordinance to control physical development and urban sanitation in then Lagos Colony.

Lagos Colony, Nigeria

Lord Luggard’s Land Promulgation Act of 1900 in respect to title to land in Northern

Nigeria and the introduction of indirect rule served as the pivots for change in land administration and settlement development in Nigeria. For instance, under the policy of indirect rule, urban settlements were administered by the native rulers who are obas (kings), chiefs and family-heads while European Quarters and Government Reservation Areas established in pursuant of the Cantonment Proclamation of 1904, were administered by the Colonialist. Different planning standards were specified for the various segments of the city and provisions of infrastructure were concentrated in the European or Government Reservation Areas which were essentially meant to habour the Colonial Administrators, their foreign aids, and very few well-placed Nigeria Top Civil Servants (Olujimi, 1993). This marked the beginning of the awareness of urban planning in Nigeria (NITP, 1991). .The colonial planning efforts in Nigeria were structured to improve the economies of the colonizing powers. In the scheme of things, what mattered was how the colonial economy could benefit the colonizers and only little attention was paid to the colonized indigenous population and the environment. When the African population was taken into consideration, it was mostly employed as a tool in achieving the main reason for the colonization: the domination and exploitation of the local population by the colonizing power. This scenario was quite visible in the Nigerian economy and its landscape as far as the production of cash crops was concerned. Urban and regional planning is the process by which government institutions attempt to control and/or design change in the development of the physical environment.

Africa in 1913–Lagos, Nigeria, 100 years ago

The pattern and development process that characterized major cities in Nigeria was as a reflection of the colonial training inculcated into the earlier planners who were largely trained in the United Kingdom based on British town planning laws and practices. This has been practiced under various names such as town planning; city planning; community planning; Land use planning, and physical planning. The stage of this planning is the “physical environment,” which is taken to mean land and all its uses, along with everything that has tangible existence on or beneath the land surface. Planning also includes the manner and style by which buildings are laid out in a city, and the design of public places. This form the bedrock that necessitates the need to examine the influence of the colonialist on planning administration and practice in Nigeria.

Colonial Planning Administration and Educational Training

In Africa, the influence of colonial planning education has been very strong with some diversity as a result of divergent colonial influences in the past. In Nigeria and other former British colonies, there are combinations of a land-use control approach which were reflections from6 French and Portuguese architectural design. This usually expresses itself in the teaching of planning as “top-down”, control-oriented master planning to produce urban environments in the Le Corbuserian tradition. In African countries, as in other parts of the world, planning is frequently governed by rigid and outdated national planning legislations aimed at the control of land uses; and planning schools were often compelled to produce students who simply know how to operate the legislations. These form the mode of development that characterized most cities in Africa, due to poor funding and implementation of planning proposals. The urge for the sustenance and ensuring sustainable development of the environment necessitated the need for a proactive planning education that will provide the students with a sound and broad based education in urban and regional planning with particular reference to the Nigerian situation. This is with a view to equipping the students adequately for careers in professional practice not only as generalists, but also as experts in specific areas of planning. Planning education is thus aimed at preparing students for careers in planning research and in other planning related activities. Consequently, they are first introduced to the multi-disciplinary perspectives of urban and regional planning and thereafter are exposed to areas of specialization and research. Practical training in professional planning firms and governments planning establishment is an essential prerequisite training in planning education in Nigeria.7 The origin of modern physical planning administration in Nigeria could be said to be similar to that of Britain, where it emerged in response to poor living conditions of factory workers during the early stage of Industrial Revolution (Sanni, 1999; Duruzoechi, 1999). The poor state of sanitation in Lagos and the colonial administrators’ concern for the people living in such environment prompted the promulgation of the Town Improvement Ordinance of 1863 with a view to controlling development and urban sanitation in Lagos. This ordinance could be regarded as the first planning related legislation in Nigeria. It later metamorphosed into the Township Ordinance of 1917 which extended the area of influence of the 1863 Ordinance to cover the whole of the country (Olujimi, 1993; Agbola, 2007). The Township Ordinance of 1917 was the first institutionalized statutory instrument that promoted spatial orderliness of land use patterns of Nigerian cities and this represent a watershed in the evolution of town and country planning in the nation (NITP, 1991). The operation of the township Ordinance was made the responsibility of the administrative and Public Work Department (PWD). The Township Ordinance among other provisions emphasized the guidelines for the Government Reservation Areas (GRAs), which were specifically meant to harbor the colonial masters and very few well-placed Nigerian civil servants. This necessitated the need for earliest urban planners to learn the regulations and guidelines for physical layout of towns.

In 1925, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Lagos. In order to check the8 widespread of the plague by means of ensuring a planned environment that would provide a safe and healthy living conditions; the colonial government enacted the 1928 Lagos Town Planning Ordinance. The ordinance made provision for the establishment of the Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB), an agency that was solely established to carry out slum clearance in Lagos Island and the preparation of layout schemes in Surulere, Ikoyi and Apapa in Lagos (Olujimi, 2011).The guidelines were adopted in the designing of towns such as Aba, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Jos, Minna and Kaduna, which still exist till date. However, prior to 1962, the indigenous and early Nigerian Town Planners were trained exclusively in overseas countries. The majority of them were first-degree holders, mainly architects, who later obtained postgraduate qualifications in planning at postgraduate diploma or master’s degree levels either in Britain or the United State of America, and later Canada and Australia joined the list of countries of earliest trainers of Nigerian Town Planners. With the arrival of some of these foreign trained Planners, series of efforts were mounted on government and spirited individuals on the need for the institutionalization of planning education in Nigeria. Series of meetings were held by these pioneering Town Planners at Ibadan and Lagos on the need to establish a functional Association for town planners in Nigeria. By September, 1966, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) was established with thirty (30) pioneering members from different parts of Nigeria. Late Tpl (Chief) M. O. Onafowokan was elected as the first pioneering President of the Institute in 1968. He served in that capacity till 1974

(Adeleye, 2008).


Despite the enactment of the Lagos Town Planning Ordinance of 1928 in Nigeria by the Colonial Administration, the introduction of town planning as a course of study in Nigerian educational institutions did not start until 34 years later. This was in 1962, when the Technical College, Ibadan mounted a 3-year Sub-Professional Diploma course in Town Planning course among other courses. The establishment of the Association facilitated the re-naming of the originally named Technical College, Ibadan that was established in 1958 as The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and the training of the Sub Professional Diploma holders in town planning through a program aimed at the Intermediate Examination level of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in Britain under the auspices of the

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (Vagale, 1974). Later in 1972, Yaba College of

Technology and Kaduna Polytechnic mounted 2-years Ordinary National Diploma (OND) programs in town planning among other programs (Olujimi, 1999). However, the 1977 Technical Education Policy of Obasanjo led military administration gave a boost to the training of middle level technical manpower. Under the policy, about 12 more Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology were established and Higher National Diploma (HND) programs were introduced in the Colleges of

Technology and Polytechnics offering town planning among other courses. The10 implication was that, more town planning technicians were trained. Some of the technicians were further re-trained to the

Higher National Diploma level so as to enhance their performance in the field.

The town planning program in the Polytechnic Ibadan was unique, when compared with other institutions in Nigeria prior to 1980. The involvement of UNDP in the training programme brought about the uniqueness. These among others were reflected inform of staff exchange programme for the department of town planning. UNDP experts were posted to the Department as lecturers; some

Nigerian staff of the Department were sent abroad for further training. Through the UNDP support programme, the departmental library was adequately stocked with relevant foreign books and journals on town planning and teaching equipment and funds were made available for the provision of consumable items. With these facilities on ground, a full Professional Diploma Programme in town planning was introduced in the department in 1972 under the guidance of Prof. L. R. Vagale, the Director of the UNDP project in the Polytechnic, Ibadan. The Full Professional Diploma programme was specifically designed to admit diplomats of the 3-yearsSubProfessional Town Planning programme of the polytechnic. They were then required to spend 3 years for their Full Professional Diploma Certificate. The programme was accredited by the NITP in 1975, thus giving the diplomats the opportunity to register with the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. The Full Professional Diploma in Town Planning programme was later established11 in Yaba College of Technology and Kaduna Polytechnic in 1993. To-date, the two additional polytechnics (College of Technology, Enugu; and Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo) are running full Professional Diploma programme in Town Planning but its certificate has now been re-named as “Postgraduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning.

Road layouts: Nigerian cities

To better understand aspects of colonial influence we start with an example, which compares

Bamako to Accra. Both locations only emerge as cities in the late 19th century, Bamako under French rule and Accra under British. Their populations are similar in the early 20th century: Bamako at 16,000 in 1920 and Accra at 18,574 in 1911. 16 Accra retains that modest population difference with Accra at roughly 2.3 m and Bamako at 1.8 m today. While Accra is a coastal city, Bamako is on a major river with the initial city on just one side (like a coast line). Bamako had its first (apparently implemented) road plan in 1894 (Njoh, 2007, p. 92) replacing spontaneously prior developed roads with a street network on a classic gridiron with streets intersecting perpendicularly (Njoh, 2001, p. 23). Bamako’s urban land was under state control by 1907 with the \Plan d’une cite administrative – UN quartier de Bamako”, with the state supreme in land allocations and assignment of set plots (Bertrand, 2004).

Accra proceeded under the usual British dual mandate without a comprehensive plan until The Town and Country Planning Ordinance of 1945 (Ahmed

Ibadan, Nigeria- A city that is developing at snail speed

and Dinye, 2011) when, according to Grant and Yankson (2002), \zoning and building codes were strictly enforced to maintain an orderly European character and ambience”, especially in the European Central Business District (Ahmed and Dinye, 2011) (Grant and Paul, 2003). For Bamako we see the 1963 road layout from tracings of road maps and the road layout today from OpenStreetMaps. For Accra we see the roads for 1966 17 as well as today. Inspection suggests several takeaways. First in both cities, roads that were in place 50 years ago generally remain in place today {physical persistence. Second Bamako presents as having large sections of intense dense, grid like road structures where sections are interconnected by mostly long lineal roads. And 1963 fringe roads that appear to meander to the north east have in some cases been replaced by grid like structures.

New sections of the city generally are on a rectangular grid structure. In contrast is Accra.

Accra shows much less grid like structure with fewer lineal connecting roads between developments even in the colonial parts of the city.

Post-colonial Nigeria

A Brief History of Nigeria’s Urban System

The contemporary history of Nigeria can ultimately be divided into three periods: the pre-colonial period (before 1854), the colonial period (1854–1960), and the postcolonial period (1960 to date). During the pre-colonial period, the majority of Nigeria’s population was scattered throughout the country, with nomadic tribes grazing the land and practicing a predominantly subsistence lifestyle. Early settlements during this time began to appear in the Northern region, comprising the great Hausa Kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire (Ayedun et al. 2011). These settlements were located along the Trans-Saharan trade route connecting North Africa and West Africa, eventually growing into large trading posts and serving as commercial hubs to facilitate the trade of goods and services (Oduwaye 2015). Kano, Katsina, and Zaria are examples of important trading posts that still exist today.

Kano, Nigeria.

As a result of Yoruba colonization, additional trading settlements began to sprout up in the southwest, further enriching Nigeria’s complex system of trading economies (Bloch et al. 2015a). Former Yoruba trading posts include: Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, and Ife. The arrival of the colonial period, around the middle of the nineteenth century, disrupted Nigeria’s existing settlement hierarchy (Mabogunje 1968). With resource extraction as the main objective, colonial powers began to explore the region, leading to discoveries of hides and ground nuts in the north and coal in the east (Oduwaye 2015). This was followed by the establishment of new settlements throughout the country, to serve as administrative headquarters and colonial outposts (Ikwuyatum 2016). While private enterprise and industrial production led to the growth of cities in the south, those in the east and west tended to rely more on government investment (Smythe 1960). To facilitate the extraction of goods, the British constructed a complex network of roads and railways, connecting these outposts to the important port cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt for the purpose of processing and exporting raw materials (Mabogunje 1968; Okwuashi et al. 2008). Settlements—new and old—that were favorably located along these transportation corridors, emerged as vital industrial, administrative, and port cities (O’Connor 1983); many of which have become pivotal cities in the twenty-first century—Enugu, Jos, Kaduna, Lagos, and Port Harcourt are notable examples.

It was not until the post-colonial period, however, that Nigeria’s urban transition really began to take off. Much of this dramatic surge in urban population can be attributed to frequent political restructuring and an oil boom, both of which resulted in the widespread establishment of new urban centers and infrastructure investment throughout the country (Oduwaye 2015). With the arrival of new sectors, including banking, construction and tourism during the 1970s and 1980s, and the onset of globalization during the 1990s, urbanization continued to accelerate (Aliyu and Amdu 2017). According to Ikwuyatum (2016), it was the Yoruba people, with a preference for living in close proximity, that were the first to embrace urbanization.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria

This helps to explain the higher concentration of urban settlements in the south-western region of the country; an area primarily inhabited by the Yoruba.

What is interesting to note is that although the national urban system has become more widespread over time, economic development has not necessarily followed. The States An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Nigeria’s Rapid Urban… 281that have demonstrated the highest levels of GDP per capita in 2010, more closely resemble the pre-colonial and colonial urban structures as opposed to the post-colonial one. This raises questions as to the relationship between urbanization and economic development in Nigeria; a topic explored in detail in Fox et al. (2017).

Nigeria’s Urbanization Curve

Despite a tumultuous economy, Nigeria’s urbanization has continued to forge ahead, with the most substantial increases in urban population projected to come. Nigeria’s urbanization curve, depicted in

Over the course of this period, Nigeria will have gone from a country in which 15.4% of its population inhabited urban areas in 1960, to one in which 67.1% are expected to inhabit urban areas by 2050. This structural transformation of society, in which more than 288 million inhabitants become urban, denotes one of the most dramatic urban transformations the world has seen; certainly, the most substantial in Africa.

Colonial and post-colonial urban systems and 2010 GDP per capita by State. Notes: Red points reflect
the colonial urban system (1950), and blue points reflect the post-colonial urban system (2010). Source:
Settlement data is from OECD (2017), accessed on 4 April 2017. GDP data is from Bloch et al. (2015b); GDP
data was originally published by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics

Pace and Scale of Nigeria’s Urban Transition

Perhaps the most dramatic feature of Nigeria’s urban transition is the increase in the absolute number of urban dwellers and the speed at which it has unfolded. The speed of the urban transition can be measured in a number of ways: the annual rate at which the urban population is growing, the annual amount by which the level of urbanization is rising, the annual rate by which the level of urbanization is rising, and urban-rural growth differentials (United Nations 1974). The former provides a measure of urban growth, which refers to the rate of increase in the absolute number of urban dwellers, whereas the latter measures calculate urbanization, which is the difference between rural growth rates and urban growth rates (Davis 1965; Brockerhoff 2000).

What is immediately noticeable about Nigeria’s urban transition in the post-colonial period is the significant population growth experienced in both urban and rural areas. Between 1960 and 2010, urban areas added approximately 62.5 million inhabitants to their population, while rural areas experienced an increase of approximately 52 million.

Urban and rural population trends, 1960–2050

Year    Total population    Rural population       Urban population          Urbanization level
              (thousands)            (thousands)                  (thousands)                        (%)

1960          45,212                   38,245                             6,967                           15.4
1970          56,132                   46,163                             9,969                           17.8
1980          73,698                   57,507                           16,191                           22.0
1990          95,617                   67,238                           28,379                           29.7
2000        122,877                   80,066                           42,810                           34.8
2010        159,708                   90,267                           69,441                           43.5
2020        210,159                 101,448                         108,711                           51.7
2030        273,120                 113,880                         159,241                           58.3
2040        350,720                 129,896                         220,824                           63.0
2050        440,355                 144,875                         295,480                           67.1
Source: United Nations (2014)

Despite the annual rate of urban growth being higher than that of rural growth during the initial stage of the urban transition (1960–1980), rural growth rates were comparatively higher than in subsequent periods, which appears to have had an abating effect on the rate of urbanization (as can be seen by the urban-rural annual growth differentials). However, by the 1980s, this began to change. Dramatic increases in urban growth rates coincided with simultaneous decreases in rural growth rates, accelerating the overall urbanization process. The annual rate of urban growth reached a record high of 5.9% during the 1980s, with an urban-rural annual growth differential of 4.3%, signifying the pinnacle of Nigeria’s rapid ascent. The subsequent decades were characterized by a rather steady decline in the rate of rural population growth, with rates of urban population growth remaining high. Nigeria has since experienced a period of accelerated urbanization and urban growth that has lasted more than three decades. If the United Nations projections are accurate, Nigeria will continue to experience relatively accelerated speeds of urbanization and urban growth for another two decades, before eventually slowing. By 2030 it is expected that the urban transition will return to similar levels as experienced before takeoff, marking the beginning of the terminal stage of Nigeria’s urban transition with approximately 60% of its population inhabiting urban areas.

The Components of Urban Growth

The aforementioned overview illustrates the origins of urban settlements and the overarching trends behind the urban transition in Nigeria. It falls short, however, of capturing the detailed complexity underpinning Nigeria’s rapid urban transformation. These rather vague accounts are frequent among the urban studies discourse, with few studies attempting to examine the determinants behind the urban transition. Instead, most take for granted that the urbanization process is already underway (Preston 1979; Dyson 2011). The few studies that do attempt to examine the drivers have often done so in isolation. Economists have a tendency to explain the growth of cities through rural to urban migration as a response to changing labor markets; demographers turn to natural population increase as a result of changes in mortality and fertility rates; and those from the political studies discourse tend to view reclassification of rural areas as urban as an artifact of governance reform (Farrell 2017). There is thus a need for a more nuanced understanding of the urban transition (Beall et al. 2010). There are, however, some recent studies that have made a concerted effort to offer a more detailed explanation of the urban transition at the country level; Brazil (see Martine and McGranahan 2010), Ghana (see Songsore 2009), and the Philippines (see Porio 2009) to name a few. In an attempt to refute the stalled urbanization hypothesis in Nigeria (see Potts 2012a), a recent paper by Fox et al. (2017) provided a more holistic account of Nigeria’s urban transition; underscoring the significance of demographic factors in explaining the growth of Nigeria’s cities. This has helped make sense of Nigeria’s persistent urbanization despite continuous economic stagnation. Building on this, the remainder of this section empirically examines the components of urban growth and computes their individual contributions to Nigeria’s urban transformation between 1960 and 2010.

Natural Population Increase in Urban Areas

Natural population increase is best understood through the demographic transition model proposed by Thompson (1929). This model is used to depict changes in birth and death rates as a country develops over time. In the first stage of the demographic transition, birth rates and death rates are high and population growth is stagnated; in the second stage of the transition, there is a decline in death rates while birth rates remain high resulting in rapid population growth; and in the final stage of the transition, birth rates adjust to the decline in death rates and population growth becomes limited (Todaro and Smith 2012). Nigeria, as the most populous country in Africa, is considered to be in the accelerated stage of its demographic transition.

In accordance with the demographic transition, as of 1960, Nigeria was experiencing high birth rates accompanied by high death rates, resulting in a rate of natural increase of approximately 20 per 1000 persons. Since then, the widespread provision of basic services and improved access to public health services have led to death rates being nearly halved; however, birth rates still remain high. This has resulted in a rate of natural increase of approximately 27 per 1000 persons; a 35% increase. Although this high rate of natural increase represents a deviation from historical accounts of the demographic transition, such a large window of high birth rates and low death rates is not particularly uncommon among countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Kessides 2007; Agunwamba et al. 2009).

Declines in fertility rates can be brought about through a number of economic, social, and biological factors: cost of living, education, age at marriage, access to contraceptives, type of religion, family pressure, child mortality, reproductive life span, and so on (Ghatak 1995; Todaro and Smith 2012). In the case of Nigeria, previous studies have attributed its high fertility rates to a desire for children, tendency towards polygamous relationships, a preference for children of a particular sex, ignorance to the implications of larger families, and reluctance towards family planning (Akpotu 2008; Feyisetan and Bankole 2002; Agunwamba et al. 2009). With many of these factors closely related to ethnicity and religion, fertility patterns in Nigeria tend to vary by region. In the north, which is home to the 12 (out of 36) states governed under Sharia

Law, polygamous relationships remain pervasive. As of 2014, the northern states of

Bauchi and Katsina both had average fertility rates above 8 births per woman, notably higher than the country average of 5.5 births per woman (National Bureau of Statistics


The sector specific model of the demographic transition depicts urban-rural differentials in mortality and fertility rates. It illustrates that as death rates fall below birth rates in urban areas, urban growth will occur as a result of natural population increase (de Vries 1990). Better access to basic services and health facilities secures that mortality rates are almost always lower in urban areas. Evidence of this can be seen in Nigeria’s Demographic Health Survey, which shows that under-5 mortality in urban areas was 100 per 1000 live births, whereas in rural areas, it was 167 (National Population Commission 2013).

Births, deaths, and natural increase per 1000 persons, 1960–2010

Year         Birth rate (per 1000)       Death rate (per 1000)        Rate of natural increase (per 1000)

1960                  46.34                              26.38                                             19.96

1970                  46.32                              22.81                                             23.51

1980                  46.95                              19.41                                             27.54

1990                  44.26                              18.58                                             25.68

2000                  43.15                              17.89                                             25.26

2010                  41.34                              14.31                                             27.03

Source: World Bank (2017), accessed 1 October 2017

Despite urban areas usually being associated with a steady fertility decline, in the case of Nigeria, urban fertility has remained comparatively high; 4.7 children per woman in urban areas compared with 6.2 in rural areas (National Population Commission 2013). Urban natural increase in the context of

Nigeria thus needs to be understood against the backdrop of comparatively higher life expectancy in urban areas coupled with slow fertility decline.

Rural to Urban Migration

Rural to urban migration has traditionally been understood through the Lewis Dual Sector Model (Lewis 1954) and the Harris-Todaro Model (Harris and Todaro 1970). Both models assert that the decision to migrate is a response to employment opportunities, reflected by rural-urban income gaps. These models distinguish themselves in that the Lewis Dual Sector Model argues that migration will persist until a wage equilibrium between rural and urban areas stabilizes; whereas, the Harris-Todaro Model posits that institutionally determined wages are the attractor of rural migrants, and migration will continue even when high levels of urban unemployment persists. When it comes to rural to urban migration in Africa, urban pull factors such as higher wages in urban areas, reveal only half the story. This was made clear in a landmark article by Fay and Opal (2000), which draws attention to the concept of urbanization without growth. Unlike historical accounts that demonstrated a positive linear relationship between urbanization and economic growth, the experiences of

African countries have been much more varied. This triggered a noticeable shift in dialog, from early explanations of migration premised on urban pull factors, to a more open discussion acknowledging rural push factors. An overview of the rural push literature demonstrates that rural to urban migration could be warranted under a variety of other circumstances: Malthusian theory consisting of pressure on natural resources, natural or man-made disasters, rural poverty, and surplus labor due to the Bgreen revolution, ^ and wars and conflict (Preston 1979; Bairoch 1988; Oberai 1993; Gollin et al. 2002; Fay and Opal 2000).

In the case of Nigeria, rural to urban migration has been on the rise since independence. A recent governmental survey noted employment as the top explanatory factor behind migration in Nigeria (National Population Commission 2010). Figure 3 illustrates the structural transformation of Nigeria’s society in the form of changing employment markets between 1970 and 2010. During this time, the share of agricultural employment fell drastically by 19%, with the service industry experiencing a substantial growth of 21%. Growing employment opportunities in the service industry, which is predominantly found in urban areas, serves as a strong pull factor attracting migrants in search of higher wages (Ogun 2010). During this time, the share of employment opportunities in heavy industry experienced a modest boost of 4%, with a subsequent decline of 5% in the manufacturing sector.

Another explanation for Nigeria’s accelerating rural to urban migration is rural push factors, resulting from growing unemployment in certain regions of the country. According to the World Bank (2016), the effects of Nigeria’s unemployment have been felt the hardest in the northern parts of the country where the majority of the population is engaged in agricultural activities. Increasing insecurity in the northeast, due to the emergence of Boko Haram, has also been linked to the intensification of rural to urban migration in recent years (The Economist 2015).

It should be noted that migration is a multidimensional and dynamic process. It can take the form of either internal or international migration streams. In terms of internal migration, this can occur as rural to rural, rural to urban, urban to rural and urban to urban (Oyeniyi 2013). It also occurs in the form of one-way, temporary, circular, and stepwise migration patterns. Temporary migration has long been a critical element of income distribution for rural households, with migrants usually moving to urban areas on a seasonal basis, while maintaining permanent ties to rural areas (Awumbila 2017). Potts (2012b) recently noted that circular migration has been on the rise in many African countries, with the average duration of stay decreasing over time. Should this be the case, then it is likely that much of it is occurring between census counts, and outside of the purview of official statistics. Stepwise migration usually involves migrants first moving to nearby villages and towns before moving on to larger cities, but it can also serve as a springboard to international migration (Bakewell and Jonsson 2011). When it comes to international migration, however, Nigeria’s rate of net-migration is rather low compared with other countries in the region, registering − 0.35/1000 persons as of the latest survey (United Nations 2013). The dearth of reliable data on migration in Nigeria makes it difficult to piece together a comprehensive narrative.

Reclassification of Rural Areas as Urban

Reclassification of rural areas as urban, which is generally considered an administrative form of urbanization, is most often used to promote more balanced economic development and to bring infrastructure and amenities to neglected regions (Kulcsar and Brown 2011). Reclassification can occur in a number of ways: the expansion of existing city boundaries to include neighboring settlements, the annexation of adjacent settlements, the creation of entirely new cities, rural areas that grow beyond a size threshold and are reclassified as urban, and the occasional changing of the definition as to what constitutes urban and rural areas (United Nations 2001; Montgomery et al.

2004). Reclassification is considered a significant accelerator of urban growth, because when newly classified settlements are added to the urban population, they experience an immediate bump in the overall urban population count. Despite the significance of this component of urban growth, the process of reclassification is generally overlooked within the literature.

Nigeria went from a system of 109 urban settlements in 1960, to 536 in 2010. The most substantial increase was experienced in the last two decades, with 112 new urban settlements added between 1990 and 2000, and 144 added between 2000 and 2010. Prior to independence, Nigeria was composed of four major regions (Northern Region, Western Region, Eastern Region, and mid-Western Region). However, resulting from a military decree in 1967 under the administrative authority of General Yakubu Gowon, these regions were dissolved and replaced by 12 states. It was thought that decentralization would promote more balanced development and enable the spread of further amenities and opportunities (Adetoye 2016). This process of political restructuring became a common theme in the post-colonial period, leading to the addition of seven new states in 1976, two new states in 1987, nine more states and one Federal Capital Territory (Abuja FCT) in 1991, and six more states in 1996, bringing the total as it stands today to 36 states and 1 Federal Capital Territory (Moriconi-Ebrard et al. 2016). This political restructuring was recognized as a major accelerator of urbanization, as each of the new states was equipped with state capitals accompanied by a massive influx of infrastructure investment. According to Ayeni (1982), the growth of state capitals was further compounded by a substantial increase in the number of rural-urban migrants in search of employment opportunities.

The most prominent example of reclassification due to political restructuring was that of Abuja. Following a similar rationale as Brasilia, Abuja was constructed from scratch as a purpose-built city; serving as the political capital of the country. Between 2000 and 2010, it grew at a rate of nearly 140% and was considered the world’s fastest growing city; and as of the most recent census, it had a population of 1.8 million inhabitants (United Nations 2014). Other instances of reclassification include spatial expansion and annexation of neighboring settlements. Lagos, for example, nearly tripled in size between 1984 and 2010 (Angel 2018). In the process, it grew into neighboring Ogun State, absorbing adjacent settlements such as Ifo and Obafemi Owode along the way (Wang and Maduako 2018). Another less recognized form of reclassification in Nigeria has been the growth of rural settlements beyond the population threshold of 20,000 inhabitants, qualifying them as urban settlements. Given that

Nigeria has undergone significant population growth in recent years, this has become the most prevalent source of reclassification.

Abuja City, Nigeria.
Plan For Abuja City Come 2030 by Makzeze: 3:42pm On Mar 04, 2016


When managed, urbanization has the ability to contribute to the social and economic development of a country. However, with the unprecedented pace and scale of the urban transition in many developing countries currently outstripping the capacity of local governments to provide the necessary housing, infrastructure, and amenities to cope with a growing urban population, such outcomes are not guaranteed. It is thus important that policymakers gain greater insights into the dynamics underpinning the urban transition. Only then will they be able to establish effective policies and provide more targeted interventions for managing the urban transition in a more strategic manner.

This paper has examined Nigeria’s urban transition between 1960 and 2010, taking stock of past experiences, identifying trends and speculating on future growth trajectories. In doing so, it has found that Nigeria is in the accelerated stage of its urban transition, with urban natural increase as the dominant component of urban growth.

Despite this being the case, the Nigerian government appears to favor policies directed towards restricting rural to urban migration in order to alleviate the pressures posed by its rapid urban transition. Not only is this policy mismatch unlikely to achieve its intended goal of alleviating the pressures of rapid urban growth but it is also likely to work against the forces of economic development, while causing unnecessary harm to those who rely on migration as a livelihood strategy (Chen and Zlotnik 1994; Turok and McGranahan 2013).

Beyond Nigeria, the findings of this paper have wider theoretical and policy relevance. From a theoretical perspective, this paper has advocated for the need to go beyond a uniform understanding of the urban transition to a more nuanced one, accounting for the different stages of the urban transition and the varying combinations of the components of urban growth. A notion that has implications for how we interpret and respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by rapid urban growth and rapid urbanization. Furthermore, it has highlighted a need to evaluate existing policies against the backdrop of the contemporary urban narrative. Several studies in recent years have noted that urban natural population increase is taking on a growing share of the overall urban increment in developing countries, accounting for approximately 60%, while rural to urban migration and reclassification account for the remaining 40% (Chen and Valente 1998; Farrell 2017); albeit, this varies significantly by country. Meanwhile, the United Nations (2013) have reported that 118 countries in less developed regions have policies oriented towards reducing rural to urban migration. Not only does this speak to the concern of persisting legacies of urban bias but it also speaks to the vast number of misguided policy interventions, a lacuna this paper has attempted to address. Stemming from all this, this paper urges those working at the crossroads of urban and economic development to rethink conventional theories and policies to better reflect country-specific circumstances and the changing conditions of the contemporary urban narrative.

Although this paper has primarily focused on Nigeria’s urban transition, it does raise a number of thought-provoking questions that would be of interest to a wider audience. Does a higher contribution of urban natural increase (as opposed to rural to urban migration or reclassification) explain persistent urbanization in the absence of per capita GDP growth, as was experienced in Nigeria at specific points in time? Is there a preferred growth trajectory among countries? It is hoped that future research will continue to push the boundaries, further shedding light on these unresolved questions.


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[ii] “Pushing Out the Poor: Forced Evictions Under the Abuja Master Plan”; Social and Economic rights Action Center (SERAC); November 2006)

[iii] Elleh, Nnamdi; African Architecture: Evolution and Transformation; Copyright 1997 by McGraw Hill

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[v] El-Rufai, M. Repositioning the Federal Capital Territory.  Presentation to the Presidential Retreat on Public Sector Reforms and the Public Private Partnership; 2005 Federal Capital Administration

[vi] “No regrets over Abuja demolitions – El Rufai” by Sonie Danie ; February 7, 2013: Vanguard

[vii] The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA); The Master Plan for Abuja, the New Federal Capital of Nigeria; Copyright 1979 by the Federal Capital Development Authority


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