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A Socioeconomic History of Electrification in Southern Nigeria, 1898-1972

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Adebayo, Adewumi Damilola 


While the history of electrification has been studied for nearly forty years, beginning with Thomas Hughes’ Network of Power, studies on sub-Saharan Africa have been very few. This dissertation investigates the socioeconomic history of electrification in Southern Nigeria from 1898 to 1972. Using a variety of largely new qualitative and quantitative sources, this dissertation investigates the evolution and impact of electrification in Southern Nigeria from its inception in 1898, through independence (1960), the Civil War (1967-1970), and to the eve of the OPEC-led international oil boom in the early 1970s.

In six substantive chapters, it makes three main contributions to the history of colonial infrastructure and the global historiography of electrification. First, it argues that the desire to improve the efficiency of resource extraction, as well as the need to promote socioeconomic development and colonial modernity in Southern Nigerian cities were simultaneous motives of investments in electrification since the 1890s. Second, it contributes to the global historiography by showing that the social processes initiated by the consumption of electricity in Western societies (which resulted in a new ‘techno-culture’) had parallels in Nigeria.

Third, the dissertation argues that the combination of motives and the social processes initiated by electricity consumption were the result of Southern Nigerians’ participation in electricity production and consumption since the 1890s. Nigerians’ participation in production was achieved through their influence in the legislative processes, their activities in the colonial service, and, most importantly, through direct investments by Native Authorities. Regarding consumption, the desire of everyday urban dwellers for electricity can be explained through the lens of Ọ̀làjú, a Yoruba idea of ‘modernity’, while their capacity to afford electricity (dating back to the 1930s, which is as far as data is available) can be explained through government’s energy tariff policies and rising wages.





Austin, Gareth


Electricity, Energy, Technology, Colonialism, Development, Modernity, Agency, Investment, Nationalism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge-Africa Scholarship (Cambridge Trust) Melvin Kranzberg Dissertation Fellowship (Society for the History of Technology) IEEE Life Members’ Fellowship in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology