Halimat Somotan / "Making Lagos a Worthy Capital": Slum Clearance and the Politics of Decolonization in Lagos, Nigeria 1951-60

Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 12:00 pm

Meet the Mellon Fellows: Halimat Somotan

“Making Lagos a Worthy Capital”: Slum Clearance and the Politics of Decolonization in Lagos, Nigeria 1951-60

The battle for decolonization in Nigeria largely mirrored those that occurred across Africa and the Caribbean in the 1950s: anti-colonial nationalists’ campaigns for independence and PanAfrican connections, competition among politicians for power, and women’s mobilizations for inclusion in the political process. However, a less commonly told story is urban inhabitants’ contention against policies that threatened residents’ livelihood.

In Lagos, the capital of colonial Nigeria, the city dwellers were not only focused on nationalist debates but they also concentrated on protecting their livelihood. Lagosians’ resistance to slum clearance of Central Lagos exemplifies how residents experienced and shaped the course of decolonization as a movement against displacement. As Nigeria prepared for its independence from British colonial rule in 1960, European planners and Nigerian politicians launched a slum clearance in Central Lagos that they hoped would change the city’s international image from a slum to a “worthy capital.”

This talk examines the coalition between landlords and tenants to halt the demolition of Central Lagos. It will present how Central Lagosians published newspaper articles and petitions to disprove the notion that their area was a slum and organized demonstrations. Popular responses to slum clearance illustrate ordinary Lagosians’ political and intellectual movements to protect their properties and urban belonging.


J.T. Roane, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies, Arizona State University; National Endowment for the Humanities/Mellon Foundation Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Rudo Mudiwa, a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton, is a scholar of African gender and sexuality, with a focus on contemporary culture and politics in Zimbabwe, her country of origin. Mudiwa holds a Ph.D. in communication and culture from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in political science and communication from Wesleyan College.

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Virtual, Via Zoom