Urbanites and the ideology of home: Engaging with a sociocultural issue in Nigerian Cities

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2011 16 Pages

Ethnology / Cultural Anthropology


Urbanites and the ideology of home:

Engaging with a sociocultural issue in Nigerian Cities


The idea of population shift from countryside to city has cut across most explanations on urbanization. Defined in territorial terms, urbanization refers to the process of city and town formation (Marshall, 1998). It has to do with increase in points of human concentration. But when economic proviso is emphasized, the process involves structural shift in employment from agriculture to non-agriculture pursuits. It may then be convenient to represent urbanization as that which entails territorial reaction to structural change in economy (Sharma, 2003). Urbanization, in a general term, is associated with technology driven production, expanded spatial and economic interaction, division of labour, secondary and tertiary production activities, high density and diversity of population.

The history of urbanism in Nigeria dates back to the early medieval period and derives in part from the revival of trade which characterised the whole of the Old World during this period (Mabogunje, 1965: 413). The process, however, has continued to evolve all through the last three decades. For instance, the urban population in Nigeria, over the period 1980-1993, grew at an astonishing 5.5 percent a year, compared with 2.9 percent national growth rate during the same period (World Bank, 1996). But measuring urbanization in Nigeria could be problematic in view of the fact that it involves calculating the historical trend of the proportion of the population residing in rural areas and in urban centres. With this approach, it becomes normal to rely on census data to determine urbanization rate. In Nigeria, however, this constitutes a huge challenge since census figures are for most times controversial. This, notwithstanding, the visible strain on infrastructure can readily be a pointer to the increasing population of people living in Nigerian urban centres.

Cities and towns, unlike the countryside, are home to most industry, commerce, and services, and like in most other parts of the world, they are a sphere of cultural diversity – a melting pot of sorts for the country’s over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups. Nigerian cities are also arenas of innovation and locations for political and economic power. Moreover, considering the characteristic complexity and dynamism, the cities tend to be both a well contested space, and a space for most kinds of contests – political and economic.

Whereas urbanization, wholly, as a process of growth in the proportion of population living in urban areas or as industrialization may not really be of a major concern to anthropology, the sociocultural embodiments and attributes are very much a part of the discipline’s areas of attention. The pre-eminence of cities as centres of economic, commercial, political, and industrial activities have made them to continue to witness considerable in-migration of people from the country side, especially those looking for better living conditions. However, despite the social and demographic features that tend to dichotomise the rural and the urban spaces, the links between the countryside and the urban areas have been strengthened by improved transport and communication systems (Cross, 2001). The social and economic relations which, ensue from the interaction between the rural and the urban thus appear to have immense effects on people that traverse the spaces. For instance, while many urban dwellers would not give a thought to relocating from the cities, they yet continue to commit resources and relationships to the country. In view of the above, it may be important to ask what the factors are that lead people, who though live in the urban towns, to see their identity in more rural terms? In this chapter, I argue that both the urban and the rural in Nigeria are situated within specific historical and cultural contexts, and that continued link with the rural is mainly borne out of the identity question, which has for long taken a central place in discourse on Nigerian political economy.

Thus, this chapter focuses on urbanism as a way of life defined and expressed not in terms of an isolated urban space, but rather as that which is a product of urban-rural interaction. This, it achieves with the examination of the rural elements in the urban, wherein cities are explored as a spatial phenomenon that can no longer be treated as a separate process due to the thinning out of the borderline that separate them and the countryside. The chapter, equally, dwells on the various ways in which “home” is conceptualised by urbanites. Our analysis is based, mainly, on data which were collected by means of observation, sample survey and personal interviewing conducted in Ajegunle, Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Ethnographic Setting

Lagos is a sprawling city of about ten million inhabitants with an urbanization history dating to the earlier part of the 20th century A.D when it emerged as a trading post. The British take-over of Lagos in 1861 and the subsequent expansion of colonial rule over increasingly larger areas of the hinterland equally facilitated the influx of population into the city (Olukoju, 2005). As the former capital city of Nigeria, Lagos witnessed a huge flow of people from every part of the country. In actual fact, many civil servants and business men continued to live in the city even after the Federal capital has been moved to Abuja. The continual flow of people into Lagos can also be attributed to its status as a port city. As the industrial heart of Nigeria, Lagos received immigrants from every part of the country and has within a very short period grown into a gargantuan metropolis characterised by spatial demarcation, which is largely defined by social and economic categories. Locations in Lagos that can be regarded as planned areas or what are commonly called G.R.A. (Government Reserved Areas) or Estates include Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Garden City (VGC), Ikeja GRA, Dolphin Estate, FESTAC Town, Maryland, and Aja Estate among others. These are areas well laid-out with beautiful apartment and semi-detached houses. They contrast the “face me I face you” buildings of Sari Iganmu, Ijora Badia, Ilaje Bariga, Ebute-meta, Iwaya, Mushin, Ajegunle and other slums located in different parts of the city.

Ajegunle is a clear representative of the urban and the dynamics of urban-rural interface. The area falls under Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State and contains a highly diversified population, with the major ethnic groups including Igbo, Hausa, Urhobo, Ijaw, Ilaje-Yoruba, and other Yoruba dialect groups. Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area has a population of 1,435,295 (2006 population census) and Ajegunle is the most densely populated of this local government with a population of about 500,000.The history of Ajegunle is not quite known, though the settlement is believed to have developed to meet the housing needs of low income immigrants. The slum is bordered on the west by Apapa Wharf and Tincan, two of Nigeria's biggest sea ports from where over 70 per cent of imported goods come into the country. Ajegunle’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a concentration of all the many ethnic groups in Nigeria. The place is equally well known for producing talents in football, music and other forms of entertainment. Most of the population in the slum make their living from the popular Boundary Market and the Trinity Spare Parts Market. Popular segments of the slum include Tolu, Adeolu, Wilmer, Alakoto, and Cemetary. Though, Ajegunle when translated, mean land of wealth, the name of the community has often invoked thought about poverty and violence. In actual fact, as a concentration of human labour, especially migrant population, Ajegunle is characterised by new forms of anomie, violence and community breakdown (Gandy, 2006).

In Ajegunle, I attempt an explanation of why and how people in urban slums oscillate between the rural and urban categories as part of an effort to validate the urban-rural interface. We examine the way people in Ajegunle see themselves, in relation to the urban-rural transitional zone and the various social networks that reinforce their connectedness and commitment to their rural origin. Whereas the entire Ajegunle area constituted the study location, data for this study was collected in JMJ Quarters, a segment within the Tolu area of the slum. The sample was purely opportunistic as there was no specific standard for choosing respondents. As such, the findings can only be indicative and not definitive. A general household questionnaire was administered on forty-five adult respondents (perceived to be at least 30 years old) who were not necessarily heads of their respective households. Twenty informants were also personally interviewed. Despite the sample survey, the approach of the study was basically interactive, interpretative and qualitative.

The sample exhibited a relatively high level of ethnic diversity even though no standardised method was adopted in selecting respondents. For instance, nearly all the major ethnic groups are represented within the sample in the following order: Igbo – 10 respondents or 22.2%; Urhobo – 6 respondents or 13.3%; Ilaje – 8 respondents or 17.7%; Ijaw – 4 respondents or 8.9%; Yoruba dialect groups excluding Ilaje – 12 respondents or 26.7%; other ethnic groups – 5 respondents or 11.1%. The majority of the respondents come originally from rural areas (38 respondents or 84.4%). Only a few respondents are indigenes of urban townships (7 respondents or 15.6%). From the above data, we can sufficiently suggest that the population of Ajegunle is highly diversified.



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urbanites engaging nigerian cities




Title: Urbanites and the ideology of home: Engaging with a sociocultural issue in Nigerian Cities