(cancelled) PhD Seminar - "The standpipe is broken again!” - Power and water supply infrastructure in Nigeria

The repeated malfunction of water supply infrastructure is the most critical challenge hindering sustainable water access and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) in most sub-Saharan African countries. However, the governance of these water infrastructure systems (dams, public standpipes, and wells) habitually ignores the central role of power relations at all water access nodes and at moments of systemic political change despite the United Nations’ assertion that power is primarily responsible for water scarcity. A governing approach that ignores power relations is apolitical, and thus presents interesting conceptual, theoretical, and practical problems. With Nigeria as a case study, I seek to understand some of these problems by asking the question: what are the effects of changing relations of power in the development of water supply infrastructure and access in Nigeria?

Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu’s philosophical/sociological understandings of power relations inspired the theoretical and methodological foundations of this research and informed the collection and analysis of archival materials, in-depth interviews, reports, and ethnographic observations. The analytical focus is the intersection of Nigeria’s sociopolitical history (1914 -2018) and water supply infrastructure development. Specifically, I examine (i) the underlying ideological formations and formulations upon which water governance and water policies in Nigeria are constructed, and (ii) the discursive and non-discursive strategies and techniques used at intersecting nodes of infrastructure (dis)organisation (from the dam to standpipe, well to groundwater).

The study finds that ideas and practices that shape and reproduce the current state of water access and infrastructure systems in Nigeria, however inherently inequitable or impartial, are complex, contextual, conditional and, it appears, unintentional, but are embodied by both decision-makers and everyday water users. The study also presents pathways for securing sustainable water access in Nigeria in the future. These pathways include: (politically) an amendment of the constitutional provision that entrusts the federal, state, and local government with concurrent responsibility for water supply is expedient; (for policy) a careful reconsideration of the continued use of the public standpipe as a water supply infrastructure strategy; and (academically) new diagnostic analytical concepts for use in future power/water supply infrastructure research.

*This seminar can be attended in person in the Frank Fenner Seminar Room or online via Zoom.


About the Speaker

Gboyega is a PhD student at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University. He tutors and works as a research officer at the School.

Gboyega worked as a Project Officer with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) – Newcastle, on the Tomago Wetland Rehabilitation Project. He completed a BSc (Hons) in Geography in 2004 and a PgDiploma in Social Work at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 2009. He also obtained a Master of Engineering Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia in 2011. He is an alumnus of the Institute of development studies at the University of Sussex.

Gboyega has a keen interest in politics and has served in several leadership roles both in Nigeria and Australia. He is a former President of the ANU African Students Association.