(Re)Inventing Development: China, Infrastructure, Sustainability and Special Economic Zones in Nigeria – Africa – article

(Re)Inventing Development: China, Infrastructure, Sustainability and Special Economic Zones in Nigeria

Omolade Adunbi | Africa


This article interrogates the introduction of special economic zones (SEZs) in Nigeria with an emphasis on the establishment of the Lekki free trade zone (FTZ) in May 2006 by the Lagos State government in partnership with a Chinese consortium, and of the Ogun-Guandong FTZ in Igbesa, Ogun State by the Ogun State government. The aim of the Lekki FTZ, Ogun-Guandong FTZ and other SEZs is to transform Lagos and Ogun states into the manufacturing hub of West Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. These economic zones in Nigeria encompass oil and gas, manufacturing, retail, real estate, and other ancillary companies. Based on interviews and participant observations, this article investigates how differing notions of land ownership circulate within communities affected by the FTZs. I ask how it is that indigenous populations, who fear displacement from their living spaces and socio-economic livelihoods, have begun to utilize claims to ancestral land ownership as symbolic expressions of cultural meanings and belonging that run counter to the property regimes associated with the FTZ project. How does the production of such cultural meanings intersect with the claims and counter-claims of indigeneity, communal ownership, and belonging to a space with a rich history that predates the postcolonial state and the inheritors of state power in Lagos? How is it that FTZs, framed as infrastructure projects designed to make life better for the people, end up displacing populations? In drawing out the connections between large-scale development and displacement, this article examines how communities employ both the tangible and intangible past to show how contestations over land ownership are reshaping new forms of community history and culture.


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