Water History

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 215–229 | Cite as

Forbidden waters: colonial intervention and the evolution of water supply in Benin City, Nigeria



The history of pipe-borne water supply in urban areas of Nigeria, such as Benin City, illustrates how critical decisions affecting land tenure, residential segregation, and public investment in water supply laid the foundations for present-day inequality. In cities across the world, millions lack access to potable water. Networked infrastructure does not change at the same pace as political leaders or discourse around development. Colonial government decisions made under prevailing ideologies impact present day-water systems. The purpose of this paper is to show how such choices marked the start of disparate and inadequate investments in piped water needed to serve a growing city. This is attempted through an exploration of two critical periods in the city’s history that affected subsequent public water provision—the introduction of piped water along the Ogba River leading to water rate protests that ended in 1939 and the commissioning of a new waterworks along the Ikpoba River in 1987. The colonial legacy of unequal distribution of services continued throughout the postcolonial period and into the present day, in which universal provision of basic services has not been achieved.


Africa Colonialism Nigeria Urban history Water supply 



The author is very thankful to Heather Hoag and two anonymous referees for their very helpful comments that have greatly improved this work. In addition, the author is thankful to the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa and Graduate Division for financial support to carry out this research as part of my doctoral dissertation. The author is especially grateful to Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisien, who generously gave his time and collection of historical books on Edo culture and the history of Benin City. All errors and omissions are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Austin E. Knowlton School of ArchitectureThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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