Theses Doctoral

“In the Wider Interests of Nigeria”: Lagos and the Making of Federal Nigeria, 1941-76

Somotan, Titilola

From the 1940s, the colonial administration enacted policies such as ‘slum clearance’ and the construction of housing estates to remodel Lagos into its vision of a modern capital city and a center that would unite all Nigerians. The federal government of Nigeria continued this project after independence in 1960 until 1976 when the third independent military government decided to build a new capital city in Abuja, Northern Nigeria because it claimed that Lagos was too congested and lacked land for expansion. This dissertation goes beyond the narrative of Lagos as a “failed” federal capital to show how Lagosians across class, ethnic, and gender backgrounds shaped urban planning and administrative projects during Nigeria’s transition from colonial to independent rule. It studies the intellectual views and political campaigns that interest groups from women traders, landlords, tenants, to indigenous Lagosians adopted to change how town officials and planners implemented rent control, public land acquisition, sanitation, and slum clearance.

Contrary to the histories of urban planning that center on politicians’ and planners’ agendas or cast city dwellers as opponents of planning policies, this study argues that Lagosians’ competing interests influenced how they interacted with and sought to alter municipal laws. Letters to the newspaper editors, court records, songs, novels, petitions, and official correspondences and minutes reveal how Lagosians protested, accommodated, and created alternative proposals. For example, even though landlords and tenants’ associations contested rent control, both groups shared a similar goal to amend rather than abolish the slum clearance of Central Lagos during the 1950s. However, the consensus for the demolition projects marginalized the needs of Central Lagosians, who wanted the slum clearance’s cancellation.

A social history of Lagosians’ involvement in the transformation of the city’s laws and spaces provides a different perspective to the scholarship on decolonization in Africa, which has tended to characterize cities as the centers of nationalist mobilizations. This dissertation illustrates citizens’ dedication to relying upon municipal institutions for public amenities rather than on informal networks, patron-client relationships, and associational groups, which have been the focus of many studies on urban livelihood in postcolonial Africa.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2025-07-09.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Diouf, Mamadou
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2020