The making of urban informal settlements: Critical junctures and path dependency in governing Abuja, Nigeria

Nuhu Adeiza Ismail*, Emmanuel Akwasi Adu-Ampong, Ana Aceska

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


History matters. Yet, explanations about the contemporary dynamics around informal settlements in global South cities are often divorced from their historical antecedents. We argue that a retrospective approach is important in analyzing and understanding the current dynamics around informal settlements. Applying the historical institutionalism approach and the concepts of critical junctures and path dependency, this paper develops an institutionalist approach to exploring the messy and complex dynamics of urban informal settlements in Abuja, Nigeria. Using interviews, focus group discussions, document analysis, and participant observations, we identify four key critical junctures: the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ACT of 1976; the Land Use ACT of 1978, the 1979 master plan of Abuja, and the attempted demolition of Mpape in 2012 and the resulting 5-year court case that ended in 2017. These critical junctures have created path dependencies that explain the contemporary state of the urban informal settlements in Abuja, particularly in relation to land rights and tenure (in)security. This study shows how inconsistencies in the formulation of policies and their implementation in the planning of cities are a result of historically embedded problems. Insights into such historical legacies are the first step to a comprehensive understanding and future planning of urban informal settlements.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104789
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Abuja
  • Critical junctures
  • Historical institutionalism
  • Path dependence
  • Tenure security
  • Urban informal settlements


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