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Trouble reads ‘Nigerian cities’ edited by Falola and Salm

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Professor Toyin Falola. PHOTO: UT College of Liberal Arts


This book of sixteen essays was published in 2004 by Africa World Press, Inc. According to the acknowledgements “Versions of the papers in this volume were originally presented at the African Urban Spaces: History and Culture conference held at the University of Texas at Austin from March 28 to April 30, 2003. The conference brought together scholars of African urban studies from throughout the world to discuss important issues in the field.”

The following are the sixteen essays and their authors: Nigerian Cities in Historical Perspectives by Ayodeji Olukoju, Early Urbanism in Northern Yorubaland by Aribidesi Usman, Yoruba Commercial Diaspora and Settlement Patterns in Pre-Colonial Kano by Rasheed Olaniyi, Railways and Urbanisation by Olasiji Oshin, Urban Food Supply and Vulnerability During the Second World War b China J. Korieh, The Growth of Anioma Cities by Egodi Uchendu, The Magistrate Court and the Enforcement of Township Regulations in Warri Province by Akin Alao, Urban Transport in Metropolitan Lagos by Ayodeji Olukoju, Markets and Street Trading in Lagos by Bayo A. Lawal, The “New” Lagos Town Council and Urban Administration, 1950 – 1953 by Hakeem Tijani, The Stranger Problem and Social Ferment in Lagos by David Aworawo, Health and Sanitation in Colonial Abeokuta by Rufus Akinyele, Gender and Urban Space Experience in Ibadan by Asiyanbola R. Abidemi, Urbanisation and Social Reforms by Michael M. Ogbeide, Ethnic Militias and Violence by Olayemi Akinwumi and The Environment and Economic Development by Kola Subair. In addition to these texts there is a well-crafted introduction by the editors Toyin Falola and Steven J. Salm. There is also a list of maps, tables and illustrations. Notes and references come after each chapter, followed by notes on authors and an index.

Pause for thought and complications. In writing any review three things need to happen. The review must review what the writer has written. The reviewer must review what the writer has left out and has not written. Lastly, the review must review his or her credentials and limitations in review what the writer has written.

A friend of many years and wide experience in the world of writing cautioned once that if one had nothing positive to say about the work of a colleague or friend, it is best to say nothing. Yet, as a reader, it is impossible to read and not say something about what you have read, good or bad, positive or negative. Every review is a recommendation to read this work, or not to bother with it. The third duty of the reviewer to review himself or herself is the least binding. A reader reads what the reader loves to read. Should the reader not find what she expects to read in what he is reading, she can express a desire to read what the writer had left out unwritten.

This, in no way, detracts from the quality of what the writer wrote in the first place. End of pause to complicate a review.Both editors of this volume being historians it is only natural that the bias of both the conference and the volume is historique. Cities develop in different histories and within different geographies. But once they develop cities need the same things: ease of transportation, meaning vehicular and human movement; a healthy environment; dependable water supply and what treatment; dependable power supply; dependable sewage disposal; and dependable waste treatment and waste disposal. Finally, cities need places of entertainment and relaxation.

There is at least one difference between Nigerian cities and cities in other parts of the world. Cities in other places and spaces are economically self-contained in that they provide employment for all who live within the city. In Nigeria those who live in the cities might earn their living in the cities working for government, working for banks and other private entities and educational institutions or they might earn their living farming subsistence and cash crops in the surrounding villages not far from the cities. This characteristic should make a difference to the study of Nigerian cities. “Farms in Yorubaland were of two types: Oko etile and Oko egan. The former was within trekking distance of the town while the latter was actually a farm settlement beyond the precincts of the city. The large population of farmers in the city accounted for the daily commuting of city dwellers to the oko etile and the existence of a floating population in the town”. Pp. 19 – 20.

Although some of the essays mention the problems of modern Nigerian cities, none deals with these problems in terms of the horror that exists in Nigerian cities today.
“Many of the problems that continue to plague Nigerian urban centers, such as population explosion, unregulated planning, slumming, epidemics and pollution, inflation, ethnic conflicts, religious fundamentalism, crime and other forms of violence, could be traced to the colonial milieu in which they first emerged.” P. 29.

“The failure of public utilities (water, telecommunications and electricity) and the upsurge of crime are possibly the most pressing and General of these problems. To be sure, some of these are self-inflicted, being the products of mismanaged affluence or poor law enforcement.” Pp. 36 – 37.

Two essays in particular must be singled out for containing the seed of present day problems of Nigerian cities. The first one by Akin Alao deals with the enforcement of township regulations in Warri Province. Enforcement of regulations fails because the process was more about maintaining law and order rather than in the cause of justice. Peace was needed for trade and so law and order rather than justice. Has the situation changed since those days of British colonial government?

The other article by Rufus Akinyele deals with “health and sanitation in Colonial Abeokuta.” Here we have attempts to force, to cajole the populace to do the right thing to no avail. “By 1940, the health officers had come to the conclusion that only a comprehensive town planning system could solve the problem of sanitation in Abeokuta.” P. 294.A decision to introduce water system to replace bucket system in 1938 was abandoned because of the cost.

The building lines regulation ordinance of 28th May 1936 was not easy to enforce. Attempts to “discourage the construction of trading shacks and stalls” failed. Routine inspection of bakeries failed. P. 300.The essays in NIGERIAN CITIES, as far as they go are good but they do not go far enough into the present. Something more needs to be written.


In this article:
Toyin Falola

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