Deferred Promise

Written by Dr Tatiana A. Thieme

This is part of a series of short reflections from the field following February’s trip to Zaria. 

On the campus of Ahmadu Bello University, a quiet and humble sculpture garden made up of students’ work lies behind the Fine Arts building. The garden is rather hidden behind a circle of trees and a small fence, so one must know it is there to happen upon it. Once you step inside, you walk through the labyrinth of sculptures in awe of the virtuosity and creativity that marks each piece, wishing dusk weren’t fast approaching. Most pieces provide social justice commentary and critique, with remarkable aesthetic detail. The profile of Jamaican Reggae artist Bob Marley is held up by thick dreadlocks that seem to melt into the ground like gigantic tree roots. A number of sculptures depict the Al-Majiri youth navigating the streets, bowl in hand, wearing third hand garments that seem 5 sizes too big for their slight frames. A piece titled ‘Jungle Justice’ depicts a male figure sat with arms tied back, tire over the neck, presumably on fire, head hanging back screaming in pain. Powerful female figures are portrayed in ways that combine strength and vulnerability, maternity and feminism. Other less representational sculptures play with abstraction and bricolage, using re-purposed metal, electronic and mechanical scrap such as engine parts, large gear bits, cogs and suspension springs. Discarded vehicle parts, trash turned into art.

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This sculpture garden holds a constellation of stories, skills, and aspirations, enmeshing local and distant imaginaries. Not far from there, on the other side of ABU’s campus, a concrete skeletal structure of a large conference centre sits in the middle of an open field. Though the space seems completely unused, its proportions reflect a proud presence for its own sake along with an in-built obsolescence. The structure holds a kind of deferred promise for events yet to take place. It has no past, only stately paralysis, and yet the walls are already showing signs of decay given the exposure to the elements and the passing of time.

On some days, a few labourers work on the site in slow motion. Sometimes even just one body is visible from the road, making a semblance of adjustments to the mammoth structure. The scene becomes a sort of site-specific performance of incremental progress that legitimises the building’s status as ‘in construction’. The sole labourer confirms that this is a place on its way to becoming a space of purpose. And yet for now, its use value seems like a distant asymptote, eliciting a number of speculative musings amongst pedestrians walking past, debating (even mocking) the hidden meanings behind the nodes of unfinished construction across the country, underpinned by the quiet persistence of hope. This scene is familiar to landscapes across Kaduna to Zaria, punctuated with the appearance of stalled construction projects including uninhabited dwellings that perform the intention to serve (or be imagined) as accommodation, but seem abandoned before even having been inhabited.

Image: The abandoned structure within ABU Zaria’s main campus. Apparently it is the skeletal structure of the school’s conference building that’s remained incomplete for a couple of years.

And yet, as we walk past the empty conference centre as night falls, the enormous structure seems replete with meaning, a sculpture in itself. Some might see it as a critique of the state of misallocated investments, quixotic plans of grandeur and future ambitions in the name of ‘modernity’ and ‘development’ that sit empty. To me, especially after a year working with my ABU colleagues and a week of evening walks across the campus, from the sculpture garden to the guest house, this unfinished structure puts in sharp relief the otherwise everyday efforts to make do, make work, and make space across the University and beyond its campus in settings, buildings, and corners that accommodate all manner of things. These different rhythms co-exist side by side, the unfinished and the on-going, both pointing to extraordinary possibility.

2-Day International Workshop on Development Frontiers on Crime, Livelihood & Urban Poverty in Nigeria

Written by Anwar Musah (February, 2019)

In early February, UCL Geographers Dr James Cheshire, Dr Tatiana Thieme and Dr Anwar Musah (Research Associate on the project), travelled to Northern Nigeria to meet with research partners and academics from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria. ABU hosted a series of workshops and meetings as part of a joint collaborative project with UCL, Development Frontiers in Crime, Livelihoods and Urban Poverty in Nigeria, funded by the UK Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) and Department for International Development (DFID). The ABU team is jointly-led by Professor Adamu Ahmed and Dr Faisal Umar (a former UCL Geography alumnus), and researchers Babagana Abdullah, Khadijat Yakubu, Mukthar Ahmed, Hauwa’u Bala, Muhammad Usman and Musa Ali Muhammad.

Image 1: This is the ABU-UCL team on the roof top of the Senate Building at Ahmadu Bello University (From right: Faisal Umar, Prof. Adamu Ahmed, Khadijah Yakubu, Tatiana Thieme, Mukthar Ahmed, Babagana Abdullah, James Cheshire, Anwar Musah)

This research builds on the comprehensive datasets gathered during Dr. Faisal Umar’s PhD (recent alumnus of UCL Geography and currently a lecturer at ABU), which involved a block environmental survey of 13,687 properties (and the streets on which they were located) and 3,293 responses to a crime victimisation survey. Over the past 12 month, the UCL-ABU team have been working together to conduct mixed methods research and coordinate fieldwork in the city of Kaduna to enhance the analysis drawn from the spatial patterns of crime victimisation, by investigating the complex relationship between local offenders, victims of crime, and community-based security providers. 113 interviews with three categories of community respondents were conducted (households, local business owners and members of the community-based security providers) in addition to multiple semi-structured interviews with eight property crime offenders so far (more interviews are planned for the month of March).

During the visit to ABU, a participatory workshop with key research participants from the Kaduna field sites was held aiming to share back and debate key findings, providing an inclusive space for the UCL-ABU team to engage in small break-out in-depth discussions about the data, and provide a platform for various participants to validate and thicken the findings, but also raise new questions for further research.

Image 2: This is the participatory workshop which was held on Monday 4th February, 2019. Research participants which included local residents and the informal security providers (wearing high visibility gear) from Kaduna field site of Unguwan Dosa were present. The UCL-ABU team were fully engaged with them to validate the findings that emerged from the data that was last collected in August 2018’s fieldwork.

Image 3: The lady speaking on the microphone was among those who expressed their grievance with regards to the conditions and criminal activities that occurs in the neighbourhood (Unguwan Dosa). She narrated her story to the audience on how she remarkably encountered and fended off an offender. She also gives credit to the remarkable efforts of the informal security providers for the protection and services they provide to the community.

Image 4:  The team takes a group photograph with informal security providers (name: Jarumai da Gora)

The ABU-UCL team also shared key findings and insights with a wider audience of academics from ABU, as well as policy makers and key stakeholders including 4 Divisional Police Officers (DPO) representing the commissioner, Kaduna State Police command, and the Chairman of Kaduna State civilian Joint Task Force (and some senior members of this organisation).

This event was a unique and impactful experience for all – researchers, academics, participants and key stakeholders each had a chance to share their ideas, and differences of opinion were exchanged with respect (and humour!). The panel discussion led to an open and meaningful discussion discussing next steps for the research project itself, both with regards to policy implications regarding crime prevention strategies and crime mapping, and academic scholarship. There was much enthusiasm amongst ABU colleagues for finding ways to include this kind of mixed-methods research design into the teaching curriculum at ABU, and there was a mutual commitment to building on this ABU-UCL research partnership for further UK/African research collaboration and joint outputs. The UCL team is hugely grateful to ABU’s welcome on this trip, and looking forward to writing up the research findings together for various audiences concerned: academic, policy, and local communities in Kaduna.