Preservation Of The Gidan-Gaado For Sustainable Urban Development


Culture has remained one of the most remarkable aspects of human existence. It has proven its indispensability by surviving the battering and bantering from both intangible and tangible concepts such as ‘globalization’ and ‘International Style’ respectively. It is a fact that, the cultural history of any people is a crucial factor in understanding the things they hold as the essence of their living. One of the best ways to preserve a people’s culture and history is to preserve their traditional built environment, because it is one significant arena within which this drama continuously unfolds. The Gidan-gaado (traditional extended family-house) is one of the actors taking the center-stage in contemporary urban areas, especially those urban areas of West Africa. It is within this expansive scenario that this study embarks upon the evaluation of perceptions of occupants of the Gidan-gaado , to highlight the reasons it remains formidably resilient. The study is approached from a transactional perspective, in which the ‘home’ and its environs are viewed as a quantity that defines, and is defined, by socio-cultural dispositions and psychological conditions. Mixed methods and case study strategies were utilized to evaluate the role of the Gidan-gaado in urban sustainability. Interviews and survey were used in the traditional urban core of Keffi town, one of the historic towns in Nigeria. Conclusions were drown on the dire need to preserve and sustain the traditional urban Gidan-gaado .

Keywords: Gidan-gaadoSustainabilityUrbanResidentialTraditionalCulture


The cultural history of any ‘group’ of people is a crucial factor in understanding the things they hold as the essence of their living. One of the best ways to preserve a people’s culture and history is to preserve their traditional built environment, which is, yet again crucial, to the achievement of sustainable and decent living.

Urban housing of developing countries is most susceptible to threats consequent of a number of reasons - rapid population growth, over-urbanization, rising slums etc. Rural-urban migration is the major factor leading to rapid sub-Saharan African urban growth, which in many cases, give rise to slums. Designers, planners, developers, etc., have been trying to proffer solutions, but the problems have persisted. One major reason for this persistence could be the lack of understanding of the urban ‘informality.’

Critiques of urban areas have often been from the perspective of ‘formal-informal’ duality. The formality/informality relationship in urban housing has been a subject of extensive debates. The debates often manifesting epistemologically, in either of four ways; conceived as a spatial categorization represented by the ‘slum’ vs ‘nonslum’, conceived as an organizational form, in terms of labour being ‘formal’ vs ‘informal’, materializing as government tool, deployed as an organizational device for determining forms of intervention, or conception of the duality as a negotiable value. Despite stereotyping of the ‘informal’ , including traditional settlements, in terms of their ‘illegitimate’ status within the urban milieu, current trends in urban housing show the implementation of experiences from the ‘informal’ sector, to create ‘hybrid’ urban settlement designs adaptable to the ‘desirable’ urban milieu. Hence, traditional urban architecture, largely driven by culture, is not anachronistic. Furthermore, the socio-cultural dispositions of a people define, largely, their physical environment, which is a culmination of their socio-cultural attitudes reflecting the physical and cultural character of their daily life – referred to as vernacular landscape.

Within this landscape, the most important unit is the family, and especially the extended family, which dominates the African society, which is a culmination of their socio-cultural attitudes, reflecting the physical and cultural character of their daily life. The extended family is very essential in that, traditionally, the social system requires utmost cooperation within members of the family. In fact even in some European countries, the extended family system is fast growing.

The traditional urban Gidaajen-gaado (family-house), has continued to be a sustainable crucible that accommodate very large percentage of the extended family in Northern Nigeria. A compound accommodates several related nuclear families living in different sections within the compound. The ‘ Gidan-gaado’ is a classical architectural embodiment of the religio- and socio-cultural dispositions of its dwellers. Hence being one of the most important indices in the drive to achieve sustainable urbanization, the continuous existence and maintenance of the ‘urban traditional extended family-house (Gidan-gaado) would be highly desirable.

The Gidan-gaado is of crucial urban importance because, even with the so-called ‘informal’ status, it has been accommodating a large chunk of the urban population in terms of housing. However, despite this importance, it has had to contend with negative affection, portrayed by the near-total neglect in the urban affairs. Notwithstanding that one of the ideals of sustainable urbanization is to grow an urban area with appropriate level of positive quality of life, but the status-quo has to be thoroughly explored, exposed, and exploited before the ideal is achieved. Hence, this study seeks to investigate the various roles the Gidaajen-gaado played in the context of sustainable urban development.

Brief Introduction to Keffi

Even though much literature on the history of Keffi town submitted that, the original name of the town, ’Kapi’ , means ‘stockade’ or ‘barrier’ (Sciortino, 2012), however, Galaadiman Kapi (2016) gave an elaborate history of the name’s origin in an interview with this researcher – it was the symbolical act of planting a tree by Abdu-Zanga, the first settler in 1802. He was a Nomad Fulani man from a village called ‘ Yan tumaaki’ , 47km from today Katsina LGC in Katsina State, Nigeria. An occasion was done as a sign of ‘ kafa gari’ meaning ‘establishment of the settlement.’ Henceforth ‘ Kapi’ meaning ‘Establishing’, became the town’s name. This is a historical town situated in current Nasarawa State, which is in the North-Central Nigeria, shown in Figure 01

Figure 1: Location of Keffi, Nasarawa State, Nigeria, Africa
Location of Keffi, Nasarawa State, Nigeria, Africa
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Abdu Zanga, a Muslim Fulani man, founded Kapi , and hence, Islam has remained the religion of strongest influence. That influence was not restricted only the religious realm, but extends to the socio-cultural dispositions of its inhabitants. It is worthy to note that, the strongest Islamic influence in the region was brought by Uthman Dan Fodio through the initiation of the ‘ Jihad’ of 1804-1815. The resultant ‘Sokoto Caliphate’ encompassed the current Northern Nigeria, portions of Yoruba lands in the west of Nigeria, large part of northern Cameroon, and a sizable part of today’s Niger Republic (, 2007). Consequently, the region came to be occupied mainly by the Hausa/Fulani, who are highly organized socially, culturally and politically (, 1996; SIM, 2017). Figure 02 shows the extent of the Sokoto Caliphate. This study is undertaken against this Islamic religious heritage background.

Figure 2: Extent of the Sokoto Caliphate as established under Uthman Ibn Fodio
Extent of the Sokoto Caliphate as established under Uthman Ibn Fodio
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Traditional Architecture

The cultural history of any ‘group’ of people is a crucial factor in understanding the things they hold as the essence of their living on earth. It is therefore equally crucial to preserve the components, elements, or domains, which constitute that essence. One of the best ways to preserve a people’s culture and history is to preserve their traditional built environment, which is, yet again crucial, to the achievement of sustainable and decent living. Traditional or vernacular built environment is generally organic which is quite harmonious and integrated with the cultural and behavioral value systems of the occupants (Al-Thahab et al, 2014) – an assertion that is evident in the sequence and hierarchy of traditional residential spaces. Traditional residential buildings or simply, domestic architecture, rather than traditional public buildings are the focus in this study because they accommodate more pristine socio-cultural and religious aspects of people’s life (Gopinath & Kulkarni, 2014). There is therefore, the need to study a people’s culture and its relation to their traditional houses, together with the ‘family’ as the most significant social unit. In Nigeria, where culture and tradition has had (Larkin, 2008), and still has, strong hold in all its manifestations, the extended family has continued to be a much-respected social unit of reference. Consequently, the abode of the extended family, the Gidan-gaado, is considered an indispensable realm where a person lives and grows to become a responsible member of the larger society.

The Family in Northern Nigeria

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be hospitable to his guest; and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should maintain his kinship ties; and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should speak well or remain silent.” [Al-Bukhari]

The extended family system has been the most wide spread in the traditional African society, and it sees that each family member contributes to the welfare of the system. This altruistic behavior towards kin of any type – siblings, children, grandchildren, family friends, etc., has endured as human nature (Becker, 1976). Sahlin (1972) in Tripcevich (2007) also showed that, the closer the kinship is, the more positive the reciprocity among members is; Figure 03 .

Figure 3: Sahlins’ reciprocity sectors or spheres of interaction
Sahlins’ reciprocity sectors or spheres of interaction
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This has been widespread irrespective of religion and ethnic background. The extended family is very essential in that, traditionally, the social system requires utmost cooperation within members of the family. Bingham (2012) captures this by reiterating that families who have been deciding to live under one-roof as a way to ‘survive and thrive’ in hard times, are becoming the norm; in the UK for example, an estimated 48.8million people lived as families back in 2001, and as at 2011, the number had increased to 50.7million (Macrory & others, 2012). A typical extended family constitutes the husband, his wives, children, relatives and in many cases, even unrelated children from other families.

Traditional or vernacular architecture has made suitable provision to accommodate this type of family – the ‘ Gidan-gaado,’ in which socio-cultural dispositions of the people influence the transactions within it. Hence being such an important factor that point to kinship preservation, the continuing conservation of the Gidan-gaado would be highly desirable.

The Gidan-gaado

The traditional ‘Gidan-gaado’ in the urban areas of Northern Nigeria has defied modern architecture in the sense that, it still exists. Equally important is the fact that, it has continued to accommodate increasing number of the extended family, very often without commensurate increase in its perimeter. Furthermore, the relationship of sociocultural and religious dispositions of the occupants with the spatial morphology of the Gidan-gaado is indeed crucial because most of the activities are transacted within the Gidan-gaado. Consequently, more members of the family perpetually occupy more of the space. This has affected the use of space and the socio-cultural activities.

Many families around the world have continued to project their lineage through conservation of their ‘Gidan-gaado’, which typically starts as a compound with a nuclear family. In time, the children, especially males, get married and earn allocation of their own section of the compound, although inheritance of the compound is not usually shared - the father usually constructs the houses.

The ‘Gidan-gaado, is a classical architectural embodiment of the religio- and socio-cultural dispositions of the people of this area. It is an indispensable cultural artifact par excellence (Muhammad-Oumar, 1992); a residential typology that is highly reflective of the history, culture and lifestyle of its people. The Gidan-gaado is a symbol of social identity and family recognition. Figure 04 is a typical ‘Gidan-gaado in Keffi.

Figure 4: A Typical Gidan-gaado in Keffi
A Typical Gidan-gaado in Keffi
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Concept of Sustainability

“…But waste not by excess, for Allaah loves not the wasters …”

Al-Qurãn, Sûratul Al-A’raf, verse 31

Depending on the context of study or discussion, and to some extent, a matter of choice, the word, ‘sustainability’ has been referred to as , ‘sustainable development’ (Jickling, 1994; Robinson, 2004), as ‘corporate sustainability’ (Mintzberg, 1983; Van Marrewijk, 2003; Anthony, 2016), as ‘corporate social responsibility’ (McGuire, Sundgren, & Schneeweis, 1988; Carroll, 1999; Golob et al., 2014), or as ‘sustainable design/construction’ in the case of architecture and construction (Kibert, 2016; Cortese, 2003; Brown, Hanson, Liverman, & Merideth, 1987). Hence, researchers a lot of times, use them inter-changeably.

Concept of sustainability became popular in the 1980s (Jickling, 1994); when former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was called on to head a Commission called, World Commission on Environment and Development. As a result of that, the most widely used definition of the word is the one given by the (Brundtland, 1985).

Sustainability is composed of three pillars (Kahriman-Ozturk et al., 2012; ‘Pillars of Sustainability’, 2014; and United Nations, 2015) as in Figure 5 , or major components as Opatha (2016) puts it – to have and live a life which is, socially equitable, environmentally sound, and economically viable.

Figure 5: Three pillars or major components of sustainability. SOURCE: (Jabber, 2017)
Three pillars or major components of sustainability. SOURCE: (Jabber, 2017)
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It is worthy of note that sustainability need to be applied to both human beings and non-humans because animals, insects, birds, etc., also have right to live sustainably for Allaah (632) says in Al-Qur'an 6:38; "There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you…". Based on this holistic view, Opatha (2016) proffered a broader definition of sustainability as, “deliberate constant endeavor to utilize human and other resources, and natural environment to meet of current human beings as well as non-human beings while maintaining and if possible, enhance human and other resources, and natural environment to meet needs of future human beings and non-human beings.”

Sustainability in Architecture

Earlier than Opatha (2016)’s three major components of sustainability, Zabihi & Habib (2012), looking from the architectural and construction perspective, presented four components – his three and, ‘prudent use of natural resources.’ Architecture plays a crucial role in sustainable development because built environment is one of the greatest influence on quality of life – comfort, security, health, etc. This is more so owing to the fact that 40% of global energy is used by buildings, in addition to 25% of global water, and also emit an approximate of 1/3 of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (United Nations Environment Programme, 2016).

Sustainability in Architecture

About 50% of the world’s population lived in urban areas as at 2011, and by 2030, this is expected to reach about 61% (Jiboye, 2011). By 2050, it would be about 66% (United Nations, 2014). This phenomenal increases would happen mainly in developing countries (United Nations, 2005; UNFPA, 2007; Lloyd-Jones & Rakodi, 2014) like Nigeria. African urban areas have been rapidly expanding, evident in the phenomenon of massive rural-urban migration. Adegun (2011) and other researchers showed that, in 1900, 1950, and 2000, urban population rose from 133m to 225m to 674m respectively. And as United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2007) puts it that, the growth of slums are happening within the poorest cities in the World, a situation that gives rise to extensive cultural disruptions and social instability. This is a consequence of what urbanization is – a process of human agglomeration in multi-functional settlement of relatively substantial size (Mabogunje, 1985).

The urbanization process in Nigeria has been typically very rapid (Smith, 1996; Antai & Moradi, 2010) and phenomenal (Ujoh et al., 2010), resulting in an urban population of 87,680,500 in 2015, which is 48.1 % of the total population, to a population of 95,764,092 in 2017, which is 49.9% of the total population (Worldometers, 2017). Table 1 shows historical population data of Nigeria, Table 2 shows population forecast, while Table 3 shows Comparison of Nigeria’s Urban and Rural Population.

Table 1 -
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Table 2 -
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Table 3 -
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Problem Statement

The urban traditional Gidaajen-gaado have had to contend with negative affection, portrayed by the near-total neglect in the urban affairs, and described by the sociologist Wacquant (2008) as “territories of urban relegation.” All the neighbourhoods in which the Gidaajen-gaado exist, which constitutes about 90% of the inner town core in the case of Keffi, are characterized by critically epileptic social services. Despite this despicable condition, the dwellers have remained resolute in propagating one of their symbols of socio-cultural dignity – the ‘ Gidan-gaado .’ Furthermore, this so called ‘informal settlement has been accommodating a large chunk of the urban population in terms of housing. And since the trend today is towards the institutionalization of sustainability, with regards to urbanization generally and housing in particular, there exist subtle layer of ignorance of the very important role which the Gidaajen-gaado have been playing and will continue to play, in sustainable urbanization. Although it is indisputable that one of the ideals of sustainable urbanization is to grow an urban area with appropriate level of positive quality of life, but the status-quo has to be thoroughly explored, exposed, and exploited before the ideal is achieved. Hence, this study seeks to investigate the various roles the Gidaajen-gaado play.

Research Questions

This research was conducted under the assumption that, Gidan-gaado is still relevant within the urban environment. This was in spite of the neglect the traditional neighbourhoods in Keffi have been suffering. Hence the research tried to determine the reasons Gidan-gaado’s existence continues to be relevant to the occupants.

The research also endeavoured to determine the contribution of the Gidan-gaado to achieving urban sustainability in Keffi.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the research was to prove the significance which the Gidan-gaado plays in the drive to achieve sustainable urbanization in Nigeria. This would be in line with the sustainable development goal number 11, which aim is to create cities that are inclusive and sustainable.

It would furthermore bring to the utmost attention of policy makers to Gidan-gaado’s urban role, and the need to pay more attention in terms of urban developmental programs

Research Methods

The study is to establish the role played by urban Gidan-gaado in the socio-cultural lives of its occupants, hence, their perceptions need to be taken. In this regard, the first methodology applied was extensive literature review carried out to establish an exploratory basis for the study. A survey was then conducted to elicit occupants’ perceptions pertaining the study’s aim.

Selection of Research Town

There were five broad criteria for selecting a town for the research. The first was for the town to have been established before colonial invasion. The second criteria was for the town to be within the Northern Nigeria. The third criteria was for the town to be predominantly Muslims in order to avoid issues of religious differences (Schwerdtfeger, 1982).

The Survey

Quantitative sampling method of ‘stratified sampling’ was used to get the sample population for administration of the survey questionnaires. The population sample was calculated using Raosoft Inc software (Hull & Keim, 2007; ELIAS, 2012; Maharajan & Krishnaveni, 2016). To get the sample size for Keffi, which has a population of 92,664 (‘Keffi’, 2009; Omale, 2016). Table 4 was used.

Table 4 -
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Reliability Test

The pilot survey for this research considered 10% of the main survey sample, which was 27 participants out of which males were 25 and females were 2. After the survey, the reliability of the survey was tested using SPSS, and Table 5 shows the Crombach’s Alpha to be 0.703, which is more than the recommended minimum for basic research (Nunnally, 1978; Kaplan and Saccuzzo, 1982) in (Peterson, 1994).

Table 5 -
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A structured interview was designed and conducted through purposeful sampling. The sampling was based on 3 basic types of Gidan-gaado identified, which are

  • Gidan-maalamai (house of scholars), where 5 occupants were interviewed

  • Gidan-sarauta (house of nobility), where 3 occupants were interviewed

  • Gidan-sanaa’a (house of traders) – traders, craftsmen, cobblers, etc. Here, 7 occupants were interviewed.

The difference in numbers of interviewees was informed by the fact that, there are more Gidan-sanaa’a than Gidan-maalamai. And Gidan-sarauta are the least in number. The interviews were analyzed using Nvivo 10 software.


Findings from Literature

The Gidan-gaado plays a very important role in the lives of its inhabitants who are an extended family, especially children (‘The Importance of Extended Family’, 2013). One of its impacts is, sustaining cultural identity which gives rise to self-esteem and social stability. (Chen, 2016), who calls this type of family, ‘multigenerational’, submitted several positive impacts of it, and consequently, the house accommodating it, such as:

  • Experiencing high level of emotional bonding and closeness across generations.

  • Grandparents providing important role models in the socialization of grandchildren.

  • Grandchildren learning how to care for their elders.

  • Spending time with children can bring purpose and meaning to the lives of older generations.

  • Benefits in terms of finance for members in the sense that, grandparents help care for young children who can then save money.

  • Provision of companionship, and helping to reduce financial stress.

  • Looking after, helping and supporting one another.

Earlier, Goody (1989) succinctly captured the phenomenon of the extended family and the Gidan-gaado, that, even new couples continued to be part of the extended family. And that tasks were cooperatively carried out. This value of the Gidan-gaado has been preserved. According to Jiboye & Ogunshakin (2010), Gidan-gaado has become a symbol of socio-cultural identity and communal recognition, especially in Nigeria – and this is despite noticeable widespread deplorable conditions of the Manyan-gidaaje.

Survey Results and Discussion

Keffi can be said to have retained its cultural heritage in the form of Gidan-gaado. This assertion is depicted in Figure 06 where 99% of the respondents own Gidaajen-gaado, as a family. Furthermore, the occupants may tend to have cultural attachment to their Gidan-gaado as a result of having relatives still living there – for those who have relocated to other houses outside.

Most of the respondents live or have lived in Gidan-gaado – 93% in Figure 07 . This further strengthens the very high frequency of ownership of Gidan-gaado. Consequently, Gidaajen-gaado still constitute a large provider of housing for Keffi population.

The Gidaajen-gaado in Keffi mostly accommodate up to three generations of families – grandparents, parents, and children. This account for a cumulative of 78.3% of the respondents with two generations having 39.5% and three generations having 38.8% as shown in Figure 08 . This results shows that most of the households are multi-generational families

The strong attachment to, and believe in Gidan-gaado is reflected in Figure 09 in which a cumulative 84.6% of the respondents agree that this type of house is relevant to the preservation of their religious and cultural values.

Most respondents here agreed that there are more benefits generally, when living in Gidaajen-gaado than outside them. To buttress this point, 63.2% of the respondents in Figure 010 agreed.

Figure 011 shows that, there is 63.5% respondents whose Gidaajen-gaado still retains elements of their physical traditions. But only 30.7% have a completely modernized Gidan-gaado. This implies the weak influence modern architecture has on traditional architecture of the people.

Figure 6: Ownership of Gidan-gaado
Ownership of Gidan-gaado
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Figure 7: Family generations in Gidan-gaado
Family generations in Gidan-gaado
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Figure 8: Living in Gidan-gaado
Living in Gidan-gaado
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Figure 9: Preservation of cultural values by Gidan-gaado
Preservation of cultural values by Gidan-gaado
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Figure 10: More benefits living in Gidan-gaado
More benefits living in Gidan-gaado
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Figure 11: Gidan-gaado retaining traditional look
Gidan-gaado retaining traditional look
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Analysis of the interviews yielded main and sub-themes that are significant in pointing to the reasons which have made Gidan-gaado so important within the urban Keffi. These themes were

  • Activities – marriages, birth ceremonies, trading, craftsmanship;

  • Importance – housing, religious and socio-cultural values, security;

  • Urbanization – sustainability, migration.


This study set out to establish the role played by the traditional Gidan-gaado, in the sustainability of socio-cultural dispositions of urban Keffi extended families. Using a sequential exploratory approach, the study firstly, carried out extensive literature review to establish an exploratory basis for the study. Secondly, a survey was conducted to elicit perceptions of occupants of the Gidan-gaado. Finally, it critically determined the role played by the Gidan-gaado.

The study established that, despite modernity and urban pressures, occupants still find Gidaajen-gaado to be indispensable in protecting their socio-cultural norms and values. Thus, the Gidan-gaado plays the role of socio-cultural preserver. Furthermore, the study found out that, it plays the role of maintaining the self-esteem of family members – hence it is an identity symbol.


This research acknowledges the support by the Galaadiman Keffi, Keffi Local Government Council, Arc. Yusuf O. Obas, Nigerian Institute of Architects (Nasarawa Chapter), Nasarawa Urban Developmennt Board, and others too numerous to mention here.


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Muhammad, U. F., & Abdullah, W. M. Z. W. (2018). Preservation Of The Gidan-Gaado For Sustainable Urban Development. In M. Imran Qureshi (Ed.), Technology & Society: A Multidisciplinary Pathway for Sustainable Development, vol 40. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1-16). Future Academy.