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Urban Research in Nigeria

Adepoju Onibokun
Adetoye Faniran

Chapter Four

Urban research environment and funding in Nigeria

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4.1 Introduction

1As shown in chapter three, urban research in Nigeria is undertaken essentially by academics in universities and other institutions of higher learning. Appendices I-V contain lists of organizations, NGOs, firms and institutions in Nigeria with research, academic and professional interest in the urban sector. The research environment can, therefore, best be defined in relation to what is happening in these places. When these institutions were well funded and properly managed, e.g., mid-70s to mid-80s, research blossomed, both in quantity and in quality ; when they were underfunded, as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, research suffered woefully.

2The funding in question could be from internal (government) or external (foreign donors) sources. Sometimes, funding from both sources was available, thus expanding the scope of research, including that by non-governmental institutions and organizations (NGOs) (see appendix I). However, in certain other cases, as in the oil-boom years of the mid to late 1970s, the local sources ‘drove away’ external sources. Government policy, as in the recent experience of increasing political instability, has also been known to discourage foreign funding, including that for research. In both cases, the country in general, and research in particular, have been the worse off. This is because government funding usually has limited impact, as can be illustrated by the way the available funds are disbursed to universities. More often than not, and in an attempt to spread it evenly amongst the staff, the amount allocated is too small to achieve reasonable results. By contrast, foreign funding is usually based on the merit of the research proposal and tends to be more generous. The low exchange rate of the naira has, in recent times, had a disastrous impact.

3Urban research in the Nigerian environment can be classified, for the purpose of analysis, into three categories :

  • University/research institute-based research
  • NGOs and private sector research
  • Public sector commissioned studies

4.2 University-based Research

4With at least 35 universities, 20 research institutes and many more polytechnics/colleges of technology, where research of various types is currently taking place (see appendices I & II), much should be expected. The research undertaken in the institutions falls into two main categories.

5In the first category are studies undertaken by students for the award of various degrees including : undergraduate essays, master's theses/dissertations and doctoral theses. Virtually all universities in the country have post-graduate programmes in several disciplines ; the number varying with the age of the university and the available facilities and qualified personnel. The first generation universities : Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello (Zaria), Nigeria (Nsukka), Obafemi Awolowo (Ife), and Lagos rank among the most active in research as well as in having post-graduate programmes. These institutions have produced the numerous theses reviewed in the last chapter and listed in Appendix VI as well as many others which have been left out for lack of space. Examples of those left out are final year original (first degree) essays and projects, many of which have made substantive contributions to knowledge.

6This category of research is usually very narrow in scope as the students are often constrained by limited resources. In most cases, the students have to source funds from their parents and relations. Such funds have remained very meagre and have shrunk in value, in the last decade, due to high rates of inflation and the declining income of most families in Nigeria. The drastic decline in the buying power of the naira since the introduction of the structural adjustment programme (SAP), referred to earlier, has also taken its toll. Our investigations revealed that only in very rare cases do doctoral students in Nigeria receive grants from donor agencies to carry out their research. The increasingly poorer circumstances under which students in Nigeria now study and carry out research has adversely affected the quality of urban research output. While university-based (students) research output has been steadily increasing in volume due to a gradual increase in the number of universities having post-graduate programmes in urban planning, the quality of output has been declining steadily due to the declining quality of the research environment.

7The second category of university-based research work is undertaken by the academic and sometimes the non-academic staff of universities and research institutes. This type of research has contributed significantly to knowledge and policy in the country, as shown by books/monographs and, especially, the journal articles and conference papers documented in Appendix VI. In some cases, the university-based research is undertaken at the departmental level by a combination of departments, faculties/colleges, or at the level of the entire institution. This kind of research effort has remained minimal due to limited resources.

8The mode of operation of these types of research, including that in the urban sector, has been described in a recent publication (see Onibokun, 1994). The following is a brief analysis of the situation of university-based academic research in the last two decades in Nigeria.

9First, the number of urban scholars increased steadily between 1970 and 1990 as a result of the motivation provided by scholarships offered to Nigerians by institutions of higher learning and by donor agencies in Europe and North America. The increased number of universities having post-graduate programmes in urban sector related disciplines in Nigeria also boosted the number of competent scholars and professionals in Nigeria. However, the resources available to these scholars to carry out the needed research have been declining steadily to a point where, in recent years, there were no funds available for most of them to carry out any meaningful research.

10Second, while there has been an increase over the years in the quantity of urban research output, the adverse research environment has led to a steady decrease in quality. The scarce resources have limited the scope of urban research — most of the research output in the last two decades has been micro in scale, focusing on the immediate geographical area of the different researchers. Micro research efforts were also encouraged by the 'publish or perish' syndrome prevailing in the universities, and such efforts often result in conference papers, journal articles and technical reports — sources not easily accessible.

11The poor funding situation is best illustrated by the experience of the University of Ibadan — the premier and most reputable university in Nigeria. In the 1989/90 academic session, only a meagre sum of N2,152,000 (or $97,818) was available for the whole university for research from the public funding system (the Senate Grant). This amount was to be divided in the ratio of 55 per cent for individual researchers, 30 per cent for the department/faculty, 5 per cent for organized research (involving several departments and faculties) and 10 per cent for 'University Mission Research'.

12The operation of the University of Ibadan Senate Research Project allocated a maximum of N5,000.00 (<$230.00 at the official rate, but $62.5 at the parallel rate) for individual research, and N40-N60,000.00 (about $1,820.00-$2,727.00 official, $500.00-$750.00 parallel rate) to departmental research.

13The gravity of the situation can be appreciated by the fact that between the 1981/1982 and the 1987/88 sessions, no research grant was received. Moreover, and specifically in the realm of urban research, only two (individual) grants were made to the urban sector, worth N5,600.00 (c.$254.00/$70.00). The situation was likely to have been worse in most of the other universities, thus giving a very bleak financial picture for university-based research generally and urban research in particular.

14Finance is not the only factor which has hindered urban research in the universities. Research equipment — computer facilities, libraries, vehicles, laboratories, etc. — declined to a stage of obsolescence. The latest report by the National Universities Commission (NUC) declared virtually all equipment in the University of Ibadan obsolete and/or out of order. The situation in other universities was similar to that of Ibadan, if not worse.

15With reference to research institutes, there is no urban research institute in Nigeria. However, there are research institutes with interest in the urban sector. Among such research institutes, specific mention must be made of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER). The Institute has conducted a sizeable number of studies on the urban sector, through their Physical, Social, and Economic Development Departments. It has always had a reasonable access to funds for research since it was set up by the Federal Government to carry out policy-oriented research. It has a well equipped social science library and its equipment for research is generally adequate. However, the Institute has lost many of its senior and experienced researchers due to increasing dissatisfaction with the working environment.

16The universities and research institutes have not been silent over their plight. Both at the individual and corporate levels, efforts have been made to obtain external funding and equipment for research. Although the most common practice is for individual staff members to approach donor agencies for funding, the universities and research institutes have reached out at the corporate level. The best known, and perhaps the most popular of these arrangements is the links programme. Under this arrangement, universities enter into linkage agreements with overseas institutions to achieve specific objectives.

17Although donor agencies such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are also known to have funded research in universities (see below), the extent of their impact is difficult to establish. However, if the experience of CASSAD is anything to go by, this source holds a lot of promise for research in the sub-region.

18Also, as research in the universities and research institutes is determined more by the area of expertise of the researchers and less by commercial or financial expectation, it would be beneficial to shift emphasis from the so-called consulting experts to the universities and research institutes. Donor agencies would, therefore, be well advised to join the 'linkage' programme, in addition to the current role in funding research.

4.3 NGOs and Private Sector Research

19Another category of research is undertaken by NGOs and the private sector interested in the urban sector (see appendix V). This type of research is usually action/policy oriented and has resulted in reports and monographs, many of which are listed in appendix VI.

20Private sector research usually consists of commissioned studies that examine the feasibility of projects. Access to the reports of such studies is usually very restricted, therefore, many of the studies could not be found and are not included in the bibliography (appendix VI).

21NGOs in the human settlement sector are a new phenomenon in Nigeria. Until only five years ago, there was none with the interest or capability to carry out research. The early nineteen-nineties witnessed the birth of two prominent NGOs — Nigerian Environment Study/Action Team (NEST) and Centre for African Settlement Studies and Development (CASSAD). The former is an action-oriented NGO with advocacy and research roles on the environment in general. It has successfully carried out some research on the topic. The latter (i.e., CASSAD) is one of the three foremost urban sector research focused NGOs in Africa (the other two being Mazingira Institute in Nairobi and ENDA in Dakar). CASSAD has carried out a number of policy-oriented studies using funding generated from donor agencies, particularly IDRC, the Ford Foundation, the Friedreich Ebert Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Within a space of four years CASSAD has succeeded in publishing over 15 reports on the urban sector, carried out six major research projects on an annual urban research budget of over two million naira. CASSAD is also a founding member of two major networks on urban research : The African Network for Urban Research (ARNUM) and the Global Urban Research Initiative (GURI). The former involves a network of 12 urban research institutes in Africa, while the latter involves a network of over 25 institutes in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These networks may lead to greater focus on the urban sector in Nigeria.

22There has been a dramatic increase in the number of NGOs in Nigeria. However, the capability of most of them for urban research is uncertain.

4.4 The Public Sector Commissioned Studies

23A third and final category of research reviewed here is that conducted by consultants commissioned by government and government parastatals on urban development projects. The output is usually in form of technical reports, e.g., master plans for towns and cities, and policy reports on housing, urban infrastructure, and urban policy.

24Public sector commissioned studies on the urban sector increased during the oil boom era, which gave rise to a series of sector studies prepared by private consultancy firms, mostly foreigners, leading to the production of master plans and strategic studies for development. Many of these studies were tied to loans sought by government for urban related projects. The World Bank, the National Planning Commission and some state governments carried out human settlement related review studies, particularly on urban infrastructure and housing needs. Most of the reports stemming from public sector commissioned studies are not available in public libraries and are kept confidential and are not accessible to the public. They end up having little or no impact on policy. The number of such commissioned studies declined gradually from the late eighties till the present as a result of the growing unattractiveness of Nigeria to foreign investment and external loans. The establishment of the Urban Management Programme (UMP) by UNDP, World Bank and Habitat and the growing influence of HABITAT II on public policy in Nigeria may lead to an improved environment for public sector urban studies in the immediate future.

4.5 Urban Research and Donor Agencies

25Nigeria has, until very recently, been one of the major beneficiaries of international aid agencies. However, the focus and emphasis of these donor agencies, hitherto, have been on rural and agricultural development. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ford Foundation, UNDP, the Bilateral Agencies, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation, just to mention a few, have a significant presence in Nigeria, but urban sector research has hitherto been accorded very low priority. Our research revealed that only 0.1 per cent (or $.7 million) of all the externally financed development assistance to Nigeria between 1988 and 1992 went to the human settlement sector (see Onibokun, 1994). Another study revealed that since 1984, no single urban sector project was executed by UNDP in Nigeria. This position is changing significantly as a result of the acceptance by the agencies of the increasing importance and the undeniable roles cities play in national economic development.

26In the face of the mounting problems besetting urban centres, a number of multilateral and bilateral agencies spread across the globe have re-awakened interest in urban research activities. The Ford Foundation, the Friedreich Ebert Foundation, IDRC and HABITAT have, of late, increased their interest in the urban sector.

27However, the succour being provided by donor agencies is proving to be short-lived. This is because many of them are withdrawing as a result of the political situation in the country. The question may, therefore, be posed as to whether the conditions conducive to urban research are present anywhere in Nigeria, and how long these conditions will last. Another question is : what can be done to ameliorate the rather harsh research environment ?



Onibokun, A.G. 1994. Urban research in Anglophone West Africa. Towards an agenda for the 1990s. In : Urban Research in the Developing World, Vol. 2, Africa. Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, pp. 233-272.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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