by I. O. Oladapo

Nigeria covers an area of 372,674 square miles, which is about four times the size of Britain and larger than the combined areas of France and Italy. The vastness of the country ensures a great diversity not only of people, but also of climate, temperature, vegetation, language and even history and culture. This diversity is reflected in the political life of the country, which is divided into three largely autonomous regions under a Federal Constitution. The Federal Government sits in Lagos; its powers are defined, residual powers being vested in the regions.

The Northern Region is the largest single unit in the Federation of Nigeria and extends over three-quarters of the total area of the country. Its 18 million people form half of the Federation's population. Kaduna is the capital of the Region but Kano is by far the most famous town. For centuries it was one of the great markets of the desert, and now it has the largest airport in West Africa. Tin is found in large quantities in Jos.

The Eastern region is the most densely populated part of the country with an overall population of about 8 million. Enugu, the capital of the region, is situated near the Federation's main source of coal. This coal is used for running the railway and is also the principal domestic source of fuel for other industrial undertakings. Recently, oil has been found in commercial quantities in the delta area.

With a population of 6.35 million, the Western region is the smallest of the three regions. It is rich in agricultural products such as cocoa and palm produce. The capital, Ibadan, has been described as the largest village in Africa, but many modern buildings are transforming the face of this "village". The region has highly developed indigenous social and political systems, and is renowned for many excellent works of art. Natural vegetation consists of a narrow coastal strip of mangrove forest intersected by branches of the Niger delta and other rivers which are interlinked by innumerable creeks. This area is full of shallow water and swamps and it is only the mangrove trees which provide a cementing influence, as there is little solid soil. The mangrove is followed by a 50 to 100 mile wide belt of tropical rain-forest, which contains an abundance of oil-palms, mahoganies, irokos and other valuable timber. Centuries of shifting cultivation have seriously depleted the virgin forest and the bulk of the vegetation is now of secondary growth. North of the forest belt, as the elevation increases, the intensity of vegetation decreases from open wood land to savannah, interspersed with scrubby fire- resisting trees; this extends to the northern borders where semi-desert conditions prevail.

Studies of the growth and pattern of capital formation in Nigeria over the last decade have shown that about 50 per cent of all capital expenditure has been invested in civil engineering works, this being by far the largest share of any single sector of the economy. In the section designated civil engineering, building construction takes the lion's share-80 per cent of the investment - while other projects like roads, bridges, ports and railways only account for 20 per cent.

Apart from having the highest rate of expansion, the building industry indirectly influences the economy in many other ways. It provides employment for about a quarter of the registered labour force; it has necessitated improvements in transport facilities and has led directly to the establishment of local industries for the manufacture of cement, roofing materials, metal frames for windows and doors and terrazzo flooring.

There are some local materials whose use in structures has not been fully investigated. Although rocks exist in large quantities in some parts of the country, stone houses are not very common except in localities where stone is easily obtainable. In Ibadan and Abeokuta, stone is used for architectural effects in many modern residential buildings. The main obstacle preventing a wider use of the stone is transportation, which raises overall costs considerably. Timber is one of the main products of the country, but wooden houses are also a rarity, largely because of the climatic conditions. Very high temperatures, as well as the harmattan, cause serious warping of laminated timber. The high rainfall also leads to rapid deterioration and there is the possibility that termites would easily reduce the factor of safety to zero! Timber, however, is used as floorings, form-work and joinery, besides providing a flourishing trade in furniture.

(from Engineering, 4th May, 1962)