African Studies Quarterly

Money Struggles and City Life: Devaluation in Ibadan and Other Urban Centers in Southern Nigeria, 1986-1996. Jane Guyer, LaRay Denzer and Adigun Agbaje (eds.). Portsmouth NH: Heineman, 2002. 269 pp.


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In the past decade, popular life in Africa has been explored in a number of monographs and edited volumes on African popular politics, culture and literature. In this book, editors and contributors further contribute to the understanding of everyday life in Africa by investigating popular economic life. Focusing on the city of Ibadan in particular and on southern Nigeria in general, the book’s main aim is to contribute to an archive of knowledge on the popular economy during the years of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) from 1986 to 1996. Questioning standard interpretations of unequivocal economic decline and chaos during this period, the book also endeavors to be of comparative interest to non-Nigerian scholars and to contribute to the debate of Nigerian scholars cut off from western theorizing during the years of structural adjustment.

The book is divided into four parts, each of which includes at least two case studies. The first two parts concentrate on the popular economy of Ibadan and its hinterland. The four contributions of the first part focus on the city as a regional center of politics, administration and trade. In an excellent analysis of power politics in Ibadan, Agbaje investigates the complex relationship between local political networks and the city’s inability to attract sustainable economic patronage by the federal government. Okafor discusses the negative impact of neoliberal local government reforms on public welfare, and Arimah convincingly argues that both the quality and quantity of housing available in the city has declined due to the currency devaluation associated with SAP. Isamah and Okunola’s chapter describes the increase of child breadwinners throughout the city.

The second part of the book examines the way in which different occupational groups in and near Ibadan have dealt with the changes brought about by SAP. Among others, Denzer’s study of the garment industry and Ikporukpo’s investigation of the motor mechanic trade point towards an increase in the use of imported used goods due to increasing import prices. While this phenomenon has been associated with a relative decline of these industries, Guyer convincingly suggests that a commercialization of local food production in the Ibadan hinterland has led to more recycling of domestic used tractors and a consequent growth of mechanized farming. Sridhar et al. argue that the increased need for domestic recycling has also led to the establishment of local reprocessing industries. Meanwhile, other professions were affected in different ways: Adesina describes how the decline of the formal banking system gave rise to an expansion of the underground foreign exchange market, while Obukhova outlines increasing professionalism and emergent institutionalization among newspaper vendors in the informal economy.

The final two parts of the book deal with culture and international links and examine popular views on wealth and economies of international resources respectively. In a well-researched chapter on money-magic and ritual killing, Enwerem links the social and political economy in Nigeria to magical beliefs and ambivalence about wealth and social difference. Examining the artistically uncompromising and realistic depiction of poverty in contemporary Nigerian videos, Haynes suggests that it is linked to an increasing fear of economic destitution. Finally, Okonkwo explains the financial rationale for increased investment by Igbo mirants in houses in their home villages, and Klein investigates the bitter private recriminations that can be associated with local artists’ access to the international market in artistic and cultural production. Klein’s chapter also illustrates the potential ethical limits of small-scale studies of popular life: while it is very successful in giving an intimate description of artists’ disputes over overseas contacts and money, its availability to the community of Erin-Osun will undoubtedly further complicate personal relationships.

Overall, the book gives an impressive insight into how people in different walks of life have continued to make a living and contribute to the growth and change of different economic sectors during a period when there was little in the way of a consciously formulated economic policy in Nigeria and macroeconomic indicators were either not available or inconclusive. Many chapters beautifully illustrate the adaptability and inventiveness of local responses to the effects of globalization and the increasing privatization of state resources by the military.

The inclusion of a number of maps and illustrations in addition to the often very useful tables would have improved the book’s readability further, but the number of good to excellent chapters makes this book a valuable contribution to the understanding of popular economic life in Africa. Apart from those directly interested in southern Nigeria and its popular economy, individual chapters will certainly appeal to those interested in the postcolonial politics, ‘informal sector’ and ‘development’ studies, as well as to many economic and political sociologists of Africa.

Insa Nolte
Centre of West African Studies
Birmingham UK