Lagos, Koolhaas and partisan politics in Nigeria1



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Lagos, Koolhaas and partisan politics in Nigeria1

Laurent Fourchard, Fondation nationale des sciences politiques,

Centre d’etudes d’Afrique Noire, Université de Bordeaux
Introduction
On 20th of April 2007, in Ikeja in the northern suburb of Lagos, Bola Tinubu, outgoing governor of Lagos state and its most powerful leader addresses a 5000 strong militant crowd of his party (the Action Congress, AC) five days after his candidate, Tunde Fashola had been elected as governor of Lagos state. The results of the elections, proclaimed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicated that the party in power, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had won 28 of the 36 states in the country, and Lagos was the only state in Southwestern Nigeria in the hands of the opposition. Governor Bola Tinubu warmly thanked the militants for the victory against the presidential party. After that, he expressed some grievances against the them, saying: “I am not happy with you. I gave for this electoral campaign, five millions Naira and Lagosians did not come to vote en mass for the party”. And the militants complained in return: “five millions Naira ! But it did not reach the grassroots!”2

This story speaks about some of the features of Nigerian partisan politics: the centrality of patron/client relationships; the role political parties came to play in that relationship; and a long history of opposition between Lagos state leaders and the Federal government. These features, albeit largely neglected in the recent literature, have also been central, to explain the way Lagos has been planned and routinely managed especially in the post-colonial period. I argue here that the partisan politics of local patrons, association and union leaders and political party leaders have shaped the way Lagos has been planned and not planned since the end of the colonial period. This argument goes against the vision of Lagos portrayed by Rem Koolhaas and his team, the Harvard Project on the City (Koolhaas and al, 2000).3

Since its first publications on Lagos, Rem Koolhaas has been commented on, quoted, criticized and lauded. Koolhaas refers to Lagos as an ‘icon of West African urbanity [that] inverts every essential characteristic of the so-called modern city’ (quoted in Enwezor, 2003: 113). Instead Lagos is the ‘paradigm and the extreme and pathological form of the West African city’ (Koolhaas and al, 2000). Despite the lack all the basic amenities and public services Lagos continues to function as a city because it is conceived as a series of self-regulatory systems which has freed itself from the constraint of colonisation and post independence town planning. Lagos illustrates the large-scale efficacy of systems and agents considered marginal, informal, or illegal: it is a celebration of informality which cannot be reduced to disorder as it generates economic dynamism and reveals the capacity of Lagosians to develop their own infrastructures This argument challenges ‘traditional’ urban studies which have concentrated on public regulations and services and consequently caught the attention of many scholars especially those beyond the usual groups of specialists of the African continent. Actually, for Koolhaas, the continued functionality of Lagos and other megacities of the South as cause for revising existing theories about the functioning of urban systems (Rao, 2006: 226-7). The Harvard Project of the City suggests that rather than viewing the conditions of dysfunctionality as African ways of becoming modern, it is possible to argue that ‘Lagos represents a developed, extreme paradigmatic case-study of a city at the forefront of globalizing modernity’ (Koolhaas and al, 2000: 653).

In rehabilitating informality at work in Lagos, Koolhaas however has not avoided the risk of essentialising the (West) African city. The author rests on the supposition that poor cities do not seem to have achieved the features considered ‘urban’ in the West (Robinson, 2006: 91). Rather he promotes an essentialist vision of the ‘African city’ trapped within a category of ontological difference (Gandy, 2006: 390). In this process, the experience of the city is de-historicised (Fourchard 2007a; Gandy, 2005, 2006). Matthew Gandy is probably the author who has most undermined this vision of Lagos. Against the paucity of empirical data and the emphasis on the exceptional character of Lagos suggested by Koolhaas’s team, Gandy has favoured an analysis which frames the experience of Lagos within a wider geopolitical arena of economic instability, petro-capitalist development and regional internecine strife. His historical perspective is developed in order to reveal how structural factors operating through both the colonial and post-colonial periods have mitigated against any effective resolution to the city’s worsening infrastructure crisis (Gandy, 2006).

This article would like to complete this first approach in exploring an argument which is often missing in analysing contemporary Lagos: the centrality of partisan politics in shaping the form of the city. The Koolhaas team’s vision of self regulatory systems is mainly based on an analysis of the so-called informal economy that underestimates the strength of power relations at street level and which does not pay attention to political parties / societal connections. I argue instead that the multiple and complex relationships of a set of powerful local actors with state institutions and political parties have been a central feature of the way Lagos has been thought, planned and not planned for decades.

A first section looks at the literature on informality and its connections to ‘state decline’ analysis in Africa and Nigeria. A second one looks at Lagos as a place of conflict between the Federal government and the major opposition party from the 1950s to date. The third section analyses the present day dispute over the number of local governments in Lagos state as a concrete illustration of this opposition. The last section presents some findings of an empirical study carried out in 2002, on markets and motor parks in Lagos and Ibadan, another millionaire city, 80 km north of Lagos.4 Results show similar trends in Lagos and Ibadan dominated by more taxation by the local state on markets while the politicisation of motor parks has become central in the electoral game of the 4th Republic (1999 to date) and in the political economy of Lagos and many other Nigerian cities.


A Informality and ‘state decline’ in Africa and Nigeria
The Koolhaas team’s interpretation of Lagos as a globalised modern city, a ‘mega city which works’ has attracted more interest within the academic community interested by cities worldwide than in Nigeria itself where his essay has been poorly debated in the main universities of the country (see however, Konu, 2002). For some scholars, this interpretation gives the possibility to get away from urban planning trapped in an almost entirely negative contemplation of Lagos’s deficiencies and failures (Haynes, 2007: 132): instead it brought a more positive vision of African cities (de Boeck, 2006) and of the capacity of people to create parallel infrastructure systems in transportation and trading (Larkin, 2004: 310). Others have criticized the architect for his ignorance of the suffering of the poor (Packer, 2006), for overestimating the flexibility of such a system (Thrift, 2005: 138) or alternatively for not explaining what exactly this modernity means (Hofmeyer and Pauwels, 2002). James Ferguson recently considered that his analysis is imbedded in a burst of ‘new thinking’ about urban poverty which sees in the informal economy not a pool of unemployed or underemployed workers, but a promising site of economic growth and dynamism which creates jobs: ‘informalities that not long ago were automatically identified as symptoms, problems or monstruosities are today increasingly likely to be reinterpreted as assets, capacities, or opportunities’ (Ferguson, 2007: 74-5). Admittedly this trend is part of a well known optimism in which international agencies expect the informal sector to absorb additional labour due to the economic crisis and the reduction of number of workers within the formal sector (Rakodi, 1997: 62).

The expansion of that informal sector has sometimes been linked to economic decline, the privatisation of state assets, the reduction of the size of public enterprises and the widespread crisis of state capitalism especially after the cold war. In Africa especially, the implementation of structural adjustment reforms in the 1980s and the 1990s have led, according to some authors, to a general informalisation of the urban economy (Chen, 2001; Hansen and Vaa, 2004; Zelela, 1999). It has, however, been argued that the distinctions between formality and informality were so blurred that a rigid delimitation was useless. Economists have noted the inconsistencies of the formal-informal dualism and the weakness of most criteria that discriminate between the two categories (Rakowski, 1994, Sindzingre, 2006; Chen, 2006). Jane Guyer also notes that the ‘neoliberal moment’ has not necessarily decreased formalisation so much as extended it piecemeal. Every NGO has to be registered; every multinational requires an export licence, every international financial institution links to national government bodies and financial institutions, to the bank and eventually to their customers (Guyer, 2004: 187). A trend of study has thus largely revaluated the role of politics in the making of informality in Africa, especially concerning vendors and traders. On the one hand, the relationships between urban vendors and local authorities report crackdowns, evictions and harassment by agents of local authorities and associations have been formed to survive and prosper despite the state’s continuous controlling measures (Lindell, 2008; Simone, 2004; Tripp 1997). On the other hand, the expansion of informality may also involve a large degree of political networking. Vendors may make links with political parties in order to gain support for their position, they may mobilize their members for local patrons and get organised to defend their interests within the local government (Grest, 1995; Hansen, 2004; Heilbrunn, 1997; Skinner and Valodia, 2003). As mentioned by Janet Roitman (2007) political activism and civil disobedience can bring regulated and unregulated traders together and reveal an ‘economic citizenship at work’.

Despite this body of work, the informal economy in Africa remains often associated with manifestation of the so called ‘state decline’ or ‘state weakness’. This is well illustrated by the infrastructure crisis in Lagos. According to Koku Konu (2002: 240), Lagos has changed from a well-planned city to a chaotic city in the last two decades while Rem Koolhaas (2002: 183) considers that Lagos has escaped the organisation of the 1970s planners. More generally, there is a strong emphasis in the literature on the effect of the economic crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, of the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) and IMF solutions in many African countries including Nigeria (Wall, 2001; Osaghae, 1998). Accordingly, this period has largely accelerated the decline of infrastructures throughout Nigeria. While the effect of the economic crisis should not been underestimated - especially on the increase in the percentage of poor people in Nigeria - this focus tends however to underestimate other time-periods during which economic growth was important (1945-81 and 2000-08) and which gave a subsequent increase of the national budget in Nigeria.

In this framework, some scholars have insisted on the dramatic erosion of the state in Africa since the 1990s. This erosion has opened up a space for numerous actors, such as informal traders, warlords, militia groups, local associations which have led to the end of the postcolonial state (Young, 2004) or to the rise of many weak states in the continent (Reno, 2004). More specific analysis on Nigeria also portrayed state decline, the incapacity of the state to control its entire territory, the development of numerous forms of collective violence throughout the country and the risk for Nigeria to become a country without state (Clapham, Herbst and Mill, 2006; Bach, 2006). Eventually, the development of state failure and weak state analyses in the last fifteen years have also looked at the poor performance of the state in delivering public goods, especially in Africa. Interestingly, more recent analyses have now integrated an urban dimension in looking at the relationship between cities and state formation or cities and state fragility.5

These last analyses do not avoid the trap of isolating the state from the society while many authors have for long now challenged the conventional dichotomies of state versus society, legal versus illegal, or scientific planning versus private self interest in various states of the South. Actually, many institutions in Africa operate in the twilight between state and society, between public and private and what characterised them is their movement in and out of a capacity to exercice public authority (Lund 2007: 6). Instead of looking at violence in Nigeria as the manifestation of state decline it is worth to analyse it as part of a political order in which state and non state actors (ministers, governors, godfathers, political party and union leaders) have been playing a decisive role (Fourchard, 2007b). It is also obvious that oil money is redistributed through the immense state machine (36 states and the 776 local governments) and through an impressive network of clients. At the core of the system therefore lay the patron/client relationships. As elsewhere in Africa, patrons are at the head of social networks and connect their clients with government officials and political leaders (Bayart, 1993: 217). This set of patron/client relationships or political clientelism is not specifically African, it is at the core of political systems of countries as diverse as Japan, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina (Kitschelt and Wilkinson, 2007; Stokes, 2005; Scheiner, 2006). It is not the place here to review national variations of clientelist systems, however, two specific points should be mentioned.

First, it is difficult to assess fundamental differences of clientelism between the cities and the country in Africa and Nigeria. In Italy and Austria increasing urbanisation helped increased the antagonism toward the clientelist system while continued urbanisation may also undercut the Japanese clientelist system (Scheiner, 2006: 89). In Africa, Mahmood Mamdani (1996) considers that colonial rule created a clear opposition between a tribal, despotic and largely clientelist rural power and an emergent and democratic civil society based in towns and cities. Such opposition tends however to undervalue the importance of urban-rural links in the making of African politics and to underestimate the force of clientelist relationships in towns and cities. It is thus not clear that the urbanisation trend in Africa undermines the clientelist system.

Second the importance of the patron/client paradigm is notoriously hard to measure, especially at the level of the party and the party systems (Hagopian, 2007: 587). If there is no quantitative survey done in Nigeria on the percentage of voters receiving goods from political party in exchange of votes, the patron/client paradigm seems to be prevalent both in Lagos and throughout Nigeria. It has been so at least since the colonial period and has been extended both by military and civilian regimes alike (Diamond, Kirk-Greene, Oyediran, 1997; Joseph 1987; Lewis 1996; Osaghae, 1998). Excellent monographs on the early colonial and early independence periods in Lagos have also considered this paradigm as central in shaping Lagos society (Baker, 1974; Barnes, 1991; Mann 2007). I thus consider after Bayart (1993) and Hibou (2004), that patron-client relationships and outsourcing of state functions to various political, religious and associational entrepreneurs (vigilante groups, market associations, union leaders and so on) are part of an ongoing process of state formation rather than the manifestation of state decline in Nigeria.6 Lagos is a privilege site for understanding this process through an analysis of state / ‘informal’ actor relationships as well as through the confrontation between its two major state powers.

B Planning and partisan politics in Lagos


Lagos throughout the 20th century has effectively been the seat of two rival powers. On the one hand, it was the seat of the colonial and Federal government (1914-91) which was either dominated by a coalition of eastern and northern political parties during civilian regimes (1954-60, 1960-66, 1979-83) or by a northern clique during military regimes (1966-79, 1983-99). On the other hand, the dominant party in the Western region (the Action Group and its leader Obafemi Awolowo (1909-87) has most of the time been in the opposition to the Federal government. The party controlled the Lagos Town Council during the late colonial period and the First Republic (1954-66), one of its members, the ‘awoist’ Lateef Jakande was elected Governor of Lagos state during the Second Republic under a new political banner (Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN) (1979-83) while another ‘awoist’, Bola Tinubu was elected twice governor of Lagos State in the 4th Republic (1999-2007) as a leader of a political party (Alliance for Democracy, AD) which is an off-shoot of the AG and UPN. Babatunde Fashola, the last Lagos governor elected in 2007, belongs to the same political family and was elected under the banner of the Action Congress (AC), an off-shoot of the AD. There is a thus a historical antagonism between Lagos based politicians and the Federal government and this has been particularly obvious in the contestation over the allocation of public resources by the Federal government. Among the various contentious issues, two had direct consequences on the planning of Lagos: the fight over the location of the capital and over the status of Lagos, and the permanent opposition between the Region (and Lagos state) and the Federal government concerning the main planning operations of the metropolis.
From Federal capital to a state capital

The location of the capital became a hotly debated issue in the early 1950s, in the framework of the negotiation of independence between the Colonial Office and nationalist parties. Intense debates were then preparing the future of the Nigerian constitution and the federal character of the state in which large internal power was given to three new powerful regions (Northern, Eastern and Western regions) (Adebayo, 1987). . The British administration, Northern and Eastern parties wanted Lagos to be the capital of Nigeria but dissociated to the Western Region. The reason was mainly financial: the port and the growing industrialisation of Lagos provided large resources for the state. To abandon Lagos to the Western Region included the risk of reinforcing the financial power of its dominant political party, the Action Group. The Action Group wanted to keep Lagos within the Western Region for the opposite reason and suggested to build a new capital in a central and neutral place. The Colonial Office eventually decided to keep Lagos as the capital directly administrated by the Federal government, a decision perceived by Obafemi Awolowo as a fiscal and economic suicide for the Western region. More than ten years later, the creation of Lagos state (1967) was also the result of a political opposition between the Federal government and the western Region. It has been interpreted in earlier studies as a response to the demand of Lagos politicians to have their own state (Parker, 1974: 59-60; Peil, 1991: 49-52). It should be mentioned however that Lagos state has been created with eleven other states the day before the secession of the Biafra war (27 May 1967). This represents the will of the Federal government to cut off the Western region from the sea, to dampen the autonomist sentiments of Yoruba leaders (Suberu, 2001: 88) and to once again minimise the influence of AG in that region. After the Civil war, the national reconciliation policy largely agitated for a politically neutral capital and decided the president Murthala Mohammed to build a new capital in Abuja at the centre of the country (1976) (Benna, 1989: 250-1). Abuja was selected because it was at the confluence of the three regional political forces while Lagos was still perceived by Northern politicians as an AG constituency (Abumere, 1989: 260-1). 80% of the national budget was now coming from the Niger delta petrodollars. The city port once deemed central for nationalist leaders was gradually becoming marginal for the new oil state. It took however fifteen years to build Abuja (1976-1991), and another ten years to move all ministries (1991-2000). This new national context radically modified the pace of public investments in Lagos, gradually but inevitably changing the federal capital into a state capital.


Planning and political conflicts

As the Federal government and AG became strongly opposed on the function, status and the administrative borders of Lagos city council and Lagos state, conflicts soon arose concerning the planning operations of the metropolis. In the mid 1950s, the necessity to have a modern capital with larger roads and without shacks in its central area proved to be a central argument for the government and its local body, the Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB), the main planning instrument of the colonial government since the 1920s (Marris, 1962: 84). The scheme was, however, difficult to implement and was delayed because of the opposition of the residents and of the Lagos Town council dominated by AG which presented itself as advocate of the people to be displaced. The government accused AG of ‘playing politics with epidemics’ while AG accused the government of having selected the central area of Lagos Island for his slum removal which was its stronger political constituency.7 Both accusations were probably true: Lagos Island, the most densely area of the city, was hit by severe and recurrent plagues since the 19th century while its two electoral wards were the only ones to have elected without discontinuity AG councillors from 1950 to 1965 (Marris, 1962; Baker, 1974: 156-157).

The divergent view on the planning operations came to be reinforced at independence. In 1962, a UN team of experts came to Nigeria to evaluate key problems in metropolitan Lagos: traffic congestion, shortage of housing, lack of housing finance, large size of slum areas and insanitary conditions of most of the houses, lack of human resources and absence of a metropolitan government were considered to be more important problems to deal with urgently (Abrams and al., 1980). The Federal and the Lagos state military governments followed none of the UN team’s recommendations except one: the building of road infrastructures which was mainly a response to the priority given to the development of individual cars over any other means of public transportation. Similarly instead of a housing policy, the practice of slum removals tended to become increasingly common: between 1973 and 1996, thirty six major forced migrations took place in Nigeria, two third of them in Lagos (Simone, 2004: 191-2).. In 1980, the same United Nation team came back to Lagos to conclude that problems identified in 1962 were identical but worse (Adams and al, 1980).

The poor performances of successive military governments appear to be more pronounced compared to Lagos state government during the Second Republic (1979-1983): in ten years, the military governors of Lagos state were only able to complete one waterworks to serve Festac town, a luxury residential quarter (4 million gallons of water a day) while in four years, the civilian government succeeded to build ten waterworks in different poor and middle class areas of Lagos (21 million gallons a day) (Olukoju, 2003: 69). Similarly, the number of primary schools built by Jakande is higher than all schools built by former military governors (Olowu, 1990: 76-77). The Governor also contested the policy of building more roads which led to more congestion instead of thinking to a mass transport system for the metropolis (Lagos State, 1981: 34). The 1981 project of a metro line as well as the Lagos master plan of 1980 were both ambitious projects for the metropolis but they were abandoned after the return of the military to power in 1983 (Gandy, 2006: 382; Fourchard and Goddard, 2002).



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