Urban informality, particularly sprawling informal settlements, has become a defining feature of most global south cities as the rapid pace of urbanization present challenges for city planning agencies. This research provides deeper insights on how and why land ownership rights and tenure security in informal settlements are so controversial and remain unresolved for over 40 years since the creation of Abuja as the new capital city of Nigeria in 1978. The central question addressed in this thesis is this: How has the historical and current interplay of governance actors produced the complex dynamics around the informal settlements of Abuja?
A qualitative research methodology in the form of critical interpretivist approach involving interviews, focus group discussions, document analysis and participant observation is utilized for this study. The concept of governance provides the umbrella framework to holistically examine the past and present governance dynamics that are (re)defining the trajectory of Abuja’s informal settlements. The related concepts of critical junctures, path dependency, contentious politics, and a derived notion of an amenable state provide the conceptual framework to analyze the governance dynamics around Abuja informal settlements. An inductive thematic analysis through Atlas.ti qualitative data analysis software was used for data analysis.
Historically, this study shows how the creation of Abuja in 1976 with the FCT Act initiated the informalization of the indigenous communities. This informalization process was further compounded by key critical governance antecedents such as the 1978 Land Use Act; 1979 Abuja master plan and (unsuccessful) resettlements; unharmonized customary and statutory land allocations; and the past indiscriminate demolitions/displacement threats. Findings from this study shows how the complexities around Abuja informal settlements are collectively produced by both state and non-state actors. The study identified that the collective production of the complex dynamics around the settlements is also expressed in the alliance among the political representatives of the informal settlements dwellers (ISD) and some indigenous ISD as well as alliance between some state officials and developers in confiscating lands from vulnerable ISD. The business relationship between some state officials and developers in Abuja’s land businesses and the resistance practices of ISD against their displacement which often gets support from some state actors represents additional sources of the complex dynamics in governing these informal settlements.
This study contributes to the understanding of governance, urban informality, and the state from a global south perspective. The study also provides insights into why the challenges and contentions around informal settlements in many African cities, particularly around land rights and tenure security, have persisted for so long without any foreseeable resolutions.