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The Architecture of Fear

Tunde Agbola

I. Introduction

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1About a decade ago, on November 4, 1985, the Times International of London reported that crime was prevalent in Nigeria. Lives were no longer safe... the nation was being crippled by an insecurity problem posed by criminals. Prominent Nigerians, whose interests cut across all walks of life, had their lives terminated through gruesome murders. Announcements concerning stolen vehicles were a daily feature on the news. Now, more than ten years later, the situation has become more frightening. Not only is the incidence of violence becoming more frequent, the nature of the crimes, especially armed robbery and murder, have become more heinous. There is daily news of bolder and more sophisticated crimes. Lives and property no longer seem safe anywhere in the country. Both the rich and the poor suffer the same fate, and the whole society appears helpless in the face of urban violence. Everybody seems to live one day at a time in fear of tomorrow.

2Increasing societal sophistication and modernization of the country, the continuing bastardization of the Nigerian economy, widening social and economic inequality and the rising wave of unemployment, especially among young school leavers, have greatly accentuated the wave of violent urban crime in recent times. The implication of all these is that urban violence has spatial and temporal distribution which needs empirical confirmation.

3However, whatever the spatial or temporal distribution of crime, the immediate response of people to this social malaise is fear. Fear has been defined as an emotional reaction to danger (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1978). Fear increases with danger, which in turn increases with violence. The response to fear, is to begin to look for ways of mitigating the incidence of crime and providing protection from it. Cursory observation and daily news reports show that most crimes involving loss of life and property in Nigeria are committed within residential housing units. This is why people’s reactions to urban violence have been more noticeable in the design of residential buildings.

4Over the years, efforts at ensuring safety within residential units have been anchored on building design and construction strategies known as ‘target hardening’. This target hardening, coupled with urban planning and design strategies, falls under the most recent method of crime prevention known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The objective of this approach is to inhibit crime by creating a residential area that defends itself. It entails the incorporation of physical barriers into building design and construction with a view to increasing the time taken by potential intruders to force their way in, or to outrightly prevent them from gaining entrance. Strategies include using burglar proofing and fences, building high walls, providing natural and artificial surveillance devices and installing alarm systems.

5Looking around Nigerian cities, one will notice the general trend towards the construction of high walls around residential units, which have become so high that they obstruct the visual beauty of such buildings, sometimes concealing them altogether; erection of houses which are intricately shielded with burglary proofing; construction of massive gates and strong locks; installation of lighting facilities at every corner of the residential environment; and a host of other protective devices, all of which give credence to the assertion that city architecture in Nigeria today is governed by the fear of incursion by robbers. The cost of all these measures, whether social, environmental, and/or monetary, and the extent to which they have reduced crime, are ail issues worthy of empirical investigation.

The Problem

6Violence and crime are a huge threat to public safety. They cause great personal suffering, vast material damage, and place an enormous burden on the urban social network. Yet, as Vanderschueren (1996) observed, urban violence has increased worldwide in the last decade at a rate which has largely surpassed that of urbanization. Globally, every five years, 60 per cent of city inhabitants have been victims of one form of crime or the other and over half of these crimes have involved property. Violent crimes such as murder, infanticide, assault, rape, sexual abuse, acts of terrorism, buying and selling of women and children, etc., constitute another 25 to 30 per cent of urban crime. Other forms of urban violence that have been perpetrated in European and Latin American communities, the drug trade and anti-social behaviour (hooliganism) have singly, as well as collectively, increased in the cities, creating a pervasive feeling of insecurity.

7The city is a conducive setting for these types of urban violence and crime, because it provides the anonymity required for individual crime and the space for a specialized and organized underworld. Theft and hooliganism thus become a means of survival if there is a dearth of options, especially in cities which have undergone substantial growth, that has resulted in an unbalanced demographic structure.

8Theoretically, cities do not cause or produce crime or urban violence. According to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1994), the social discord created by huge contrasts in economic well-being, that is, abject poverty in close juxtaposition with great wealth, and the frustration produced by marginalization and the inability to do anything about it are perhaps the most significant motives for crime and urban violence. Other major causes include: lack of prospects and/or opportunities for upward social mobility; negative socialization; poor education; peer pressure and poor job prospects; absence of strong legal deterrents; general breakdown of family values; lack of social controls within the anonymity of cities, which tend to cancel out community influence in dealing with deviant behaviour; qualitative and quantitative insufficiency of social housing programmes and community amenities; the lack of respect for authority and law; the provocative and poorly protected urban environment, which lacks adequate surveillance or social control facilities; excessive violence in films and videos, and the pervasive influence of the mass media (Vanderschueren, 1996; Watchtower Bible Society, 1996). Some of these causes have helped to make Nigerian cities quite unsafe to residents and visitors alike. According to police records, between 1990 and 1994, there was a steady increase in the number of reported cases of murder in Lagos State, but there was no discernable pattern for theft. All over the country, however, citizens, especially urban residents, are facing different types of urban violence and crime (table 1.1). A cursory observation of table 1.1 shows that crimes involving vandalization or theft of property are the most common form of urban violence in Nigeria. In the table, burglary, house and store breaking and other forms of crime involving property (numbers 7 and 10), rank second only to larceny. These crimes against property have no spatial preference and are not area specific. They are perpetrated in rich and poor areas, planned and slum areas, campuses of higher learning, and in churches and mosques.

9The Nigerian government has made spirited efforts at curbing urban violence through established institutions. These include: the criminal justice system; increasing the size of the police force and providing it with better equipment; the promulgation of decree No 47 of 1970 which legalized the public execution of criminals and violent offenders; the erection of checkpoints on the highways to apprehend robbers; the setting-up of different task forces on trade malpractices to combat fraud; the establishment of police-community relations committees to inform the police about criminal activities and people of questionable character.

Table 1.1 National Comparative Crime Statistics 1990-1995

Table 1.1 National Comparative Crime Statistics 1990-1995

10Source: Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos (1996).

11Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the war against urban violence has been largely unsuccessful. Many intelligent people are discovering unique methods of carrying out criminal activities that make the training of law enforcement personnel inadequate. According to a report in the Nigerian Sunday Times on April 26, 1992, almost two decades after the promulgation of the death penalty decree, robbers still operate in full force and with renewed vigour.

12Similarly, the criminal justice system seems incapable of handling this increasing wave of urban violence in the country. According to data from the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS, 1996), only 43 per cent of all the cases reported in 1996 were prosecuted, while 51 per cent were pending (table 1.2). As an increasing percentage of judicial cases are delayed, many feel alienated and regard it as justice denied (see highlighted text, P. 7).

Table 1.2 National crime reports and prosecution

Table 1.2 National crime reports and prosecution

13Source: Federal Office of Statistics, Lagos, 1996.

The Crisis of the Criminal Justice System
The consensus among jurists today is that there is a crisis of criminal justice, particularly in the urban context. The criminal justice system deals with only IS per cent of reported crime, and perhaps two to three per cent of all crimes.
Only a quarter of criminals are actually charged.
Slow, expensive, overloaded by the number of cases, clothed in an inadequate language, even when not corrupt, the criminal justice system seems to have more of a symbolic function than a real one. In practice, petty crime (the vast majority of crime) remains largely unpunished. Unfortunately, this leads to bigger crimes.
This explains why in many countries local people have established formal or informal means of delivering justice.
These range from mob justice through ‘neighbourhood watch’ systems to different methods of conciliation and mediation at the neighbourhood level.
Source: Habitat Debate Vol. 2, No. 2, June 1996, p. 3.

14As confidence in the rule of law wanes, more Nigerian urban residents are organizing their own defence and that of their communities. Since the most common type of crime is that involving property, self-defence is noticeable on commercial and residential properties. In Lagos, as in most other major urban centres in Nigeria, residents have resorted to designing and re- designing their physical environment for greater security.

Research Aim and Objectives

15One of the goals of the 1994 International Conference on Urban Violence organized by IFRA was to focus attention on the issue of urban violence, determine its many consequences on women and children, and examine the various adjustment mechanisms of the society. This study is designed as a follow-up to this, with a special focus on coping mechanisms.

16The aim of this pilot study is to explore the various ways in which the increasing wave of urban violence in Nigerian cities has affected physical planning, urban design, and building construction practices. The city of Lagos is used as a case study. The objectives are to:

  1. Identify and discuss the different types of crime in the study area

  2. Examine the spatial and temporal distribution of crime

  3. Examine the relationship between the rates of crime and the socio-economic status of neighbourhoods

  4. Examine, over time, how planning, urban design, and building construction practices have been affected by violence in both spatial and temporal dimensions

  5. Determine factors influencing these crime prevention practices and their associated costs

  6. Identify other formal and informal methods of controlling residential crimes and their associated costs

  7. Suggest policy measures to mitigate urban violence through the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)


17The data used for this study were obtained from both primary and secondary sources. Secondary data were obtained from various sources such as extensive literature — published and unpublished materials, technical reports, theses, and dissertations. Police records, fire service records, records from private security agencies and population census maps provided very useful bases for the zoning of Lagos according to dominant neighbourhood characteristics for an in-depth primary survey. The base maps and the master plan of Lagos from the State Department of Physical Planning and Environment Services also provided useful secondary sources for the spatial characteristics of the metropolis.

18The primary data collection involved extensive fieldwork in the Lagos metropolis. An in-depth study of the residential characteristics of Lagos using extensive secondary data, showed that residential characteristics do not display distinct homogeneous patterns in many parts of the city. An intermix of residential characteristics is most common, with some clearly dominant types. Based on this background, Lagos was demarcated by dominant residential characteristics on a local government basis. Furthermore, not all the local government areas (LGAs) in Lagos were covered because of the need to widen the coverage of some specific locations, a decision informed by an intensive pilot field investigation, and also because of the number of questionnaires to be administered.

19Mushin and Oshodi/Isolo LGAs were, therefore, selected to represent the high density residential areas; Lagos Mainland and Shomolu LGAs were selected for the medium density residential areas; while Ikeja, Surulere and Lagos Island/Eti Osa LGAs were selected for the low density residential areas. In reality, this neat residential density demarcation does not exist. Many of the LGAs have all the residential characteristics represented in them. However, for ease of data collection and analysis, this system of demarcation was adopted as an average representation of the LGAs. Furthermore, it should be noted that the LGAs used were based on the prevailing local government demarcations existing during the fieldwork. Although new LGAs were announced during the period that the fieldwork was being carried out, the areas constituting the different LGAs were not yet clearly established and so could not be demarcated. This did not have any effect on the process of data collection or on the outcome of the research.

20Each LGA was further demarcated into its major residential districts. In each of these districts, some streets were selected at random from the Lagos street map. In each of these streets, all the residential buildings and building types were enumerated and listed. A ballot was then drawn to select one of these buildings randomly from the total number of buildings in a street for questionnaire administration. Out of a total of 1200 questionnaires administered, 1184 (98.7%) were properly completed and used for the analyses.

21Available information from secondary sources, especially the review of literature and an extensive reconnaissance survey of Lagos metropolis, has shown that residents of low density, high quality residential areas appear to have greater propensity to security consciousness. With this background information, a larger proportion of the questionnaires was allocated to areas classified as low density residential areas (table 1.3).

Table 1.3 Summary of questionnaire survey on urban violence in Lagos

Table 1.3 Summary of questionnaire survey on urban violence in Lagos

22Note: Figures in parentheses are column percentages.

23Source: Fieldwork, 1996.

24There are two sections in the questionnaire. The first section was completed by trained field assistants through observation. This section is very important because respondents did not want to volunteer information about their security arrangements to strangers. Field assistants completed this section by looking for recognizable and observable devices such as security lighting, type and height of wall or fence, burglary proofing, the number of security dogs, if any, closed circuit television, etc.

25The second section of the questionnaire was administered to the owner of the residential building, the spouse or children of the landlord or a tenant who had resided in the building for a period of at least five years. Some of the questions were designed to corroborate observations by field assistants.

26Apart from questions about the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, information was sought about their perceptions and reactions to urban violence in their houses, neighbourhoods and the city of Lagos. These included such things as the safety of their neighbourhoods, the safety measures taken to secure the house/neighbourhood, and the presence or absence of vigilante groups and landlord associations. Each respondent also indicated which part of Lagos he/she felt was the safest to live in and the most dangerous. Information was also elicited from the respondents about the success of the police in reducing the spate of urban violence in Lagos. Respondents were asked to recount and record at least one incident of urban violence in which the respondent was a victim, whether or not the incident was reported to the police, and if not, why not.

Field activities and limitations of data

27The actual fieldwork took place in December, 1996 and was completed just before some of the most daring incidents of urban violence — a spate of bomb blasts — started in Lagos.

28Prior to the commencement of the fieldwork, 10 field assistants were recruited and given training on how to recognize security devices and how to estimate the height of a fence and other objects, and the distance of a fence from a building, etc. This was necessary because the use of equipment such as measuring tapes was likely to heighten the fear of respondents.

29The ten field assistants consisted of eight undergraduate students of the University of Lagos and two postgraduate students of the University of Ibadan. These field assistants were supervised by two principal investigators — lecturers at the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan. As a result of the sensitive nature of their field activities, the field assistants were divided into five groups, each group consisting of a male and female member. The pairing was deemed necessary to reduce respondents’ suspicion of a survey team of male-only members. Each pair covered a residential district, sharing the streets amongst themselves. They jointly enumerated the number of buildings in each street and drew ballots to make a random selection of the houses to be included in the survey.

30The timing of the fieldwork was fortunate as the police crack-down on criminals in Lagos through Operation Sweep was rapidly gaining ground. Respondents were willing to express their minds, especially on the issue of police readiness to reduce urban violence. The police patrol teams of Operation Sweep were regularly seen in operation in several parts of Lagos by field assistants and supervisors. However, because of the prevailing tense atmosphere engendered by the police crack-down operation, some questions attracted suspicion. For example, respondents quickly claimed that they were employed when they were asked about their occupations. Some households also made certain unsubstantiated claims that they had security devices, apparently in an attempt to make it appear as if they were fortified, in case the interviewers eventually turned out to be thieves under the guise of researchers.

31On the other hand, some respondents were cautious about disclosing the security devices they possessed. A few of these respondents were rather irritable, especially in the highly affluent residential districts. Movement of the field assistants was restricted in many of these residences. Permission to administer the questionnaire in some houses in these areas was turned down. Many of the buildings were so highly fortified that field assistants were turned back by security guards at the gates. Even in the high and medium density residential areas, a few respondents were afraid to answer field assistants due to the fear that hoodlums in the neighbourhood might attack them later if they suspected that the information given was intended to be used against them by the dreaded Operation Sweep of the police.

32Some of these problems imposed limitations on the sincerity and accuracy of responses, especially when not all security devices could be physically observed by field assistants. However, the number of such unobservable security devices, especially those on doors and windows was limited, and therefore did not significantly influence the major findings and recommendations in this study.

Data Analysis

33The method of data analysis included simple descriptive statistics such as ratios, percentages, frequencies and cross tabulations. These procedures formed the bulk of the analysis. In addition, more rigorous evaluations, such as multiple regression and discriminant analyses, were carried out to enable inferences be drawn from the data, especially in relation to the crime rate and the fear of crime in Lagos.

34The incidence of crime in each household was used as a proxy for the crime rate at the neighbourhood level and thus as the independent variable in a stepwise multiple regression analysis. Similarly, multiple regression analysis was used to identify the factors affecting households’ response to crime in their neighbourhood in terms of whether they felt secure or not. A stepwise variable selection method of the discriminant analysis was used to identify the distinguishing characteristics of households that had (or had not) experienced crime; and households that felt secure in their neighbourhoods and those that did not. These analyses provide a useful basis to draw inferences about urban violence in Lagos.

35Maps, diagrams and crime maps of safe and dangerous areas were drawn up to illustrate the data.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1.1 National Comparative Crime Statistics 1990-1995
Fichier image/jpeg, 424k
Titre Table 1.2 National crime reports and prosecution
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Titre Table 1.3 Summary of questionnaire survey on urban violence in Lagos
Fichier image/jpeg, 175k

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1997

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