by Ugochukwu Ikeakor
Lagos stands as the commercial nerve center of Nigeria. With a growing population, the Lagos State Government estimates the population of Lagos at 17.5 million, although some estimates put the number at over 21 million as at 2016.
The increasing population of Lagos is made possible by various reasons ranging from migration in search of better economic opportunities away from the harsh realities in the rural communities, migration to avoid growing internal conflict in some conflict prone states across Nigeria, among other reasons.
While there are several extremely wealthy Nigerians resident in the decent parts of Lagos, a much larger percentage of Lagosians form the bulk of the urban poor. Rasheed Shittu, the Lagos coordinator and manager of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI), a human rights organization that works with urban poor dwellers in Lagos, estimates that 65% of Lagosians are urban poor dwellers who live in slums and informal settlements.
Lagos has been dubbed the “mega city of slums “with millions living and working in and around the lagoons with no access or in close proximity to clean water, hospitals, roads, electricity or water disposal. There are over a dozen slums in Lagos. Ago Egun, Akoporamei, Borgia, Bayekuli, Bisho Kodiji, Sogunro, Itun Agani, Igbo Ologun, Oreta, Oridumibare, Ofin, Otodo Gbame are some of the slums and informal settlements in Lagos. Otodo Gbame was demolished illegally by the Lagos government in 2017.
The economic burden of Nigeria rest on Lagos as millions troop into the city in search of few economic opportunities. Majority of the urban poor dwellers work as domestic staff, private security guards, drivers and some in few offices that can employ them. Based on their inability to afford a decent accommodation in upscale environments where their offices are located, they are forced to dwell in slums and informal settlements close to the communities where they can access economic opportunities. The poor who live within these communities create their own hub –schools, markets that are needed for them to live.
This reality creates a parallel which in turn divides Lagos into a land for the extreme rich and extreme poor. This unholy arrangement fueled by economic inequality has made it common to see palatial mansions that are situated opposite a slum or an informal settlement.
According to Samuel Akinlorabu (Profiling Coordinator) of Nigeria Slum and Informal Settlement Federation, this parallel that exists between the rich and the poor in Lagos keeps widening and has further tilted development plans to the advantage of the rich and to the utter neglect of the poor. He maintained that Lagos state government under Akinwumi Ambode, in his quest to create a “smart mega city” has embarked on measures over the last few years that has contributed in widening the parallel of inequality within Lagos. Two key examples cited are – the destruction of informal settlements in Otodo Gbame and Badia East where a larger part of the urban poor dwells.
One of the slum evictee asked “if government cannot make our life better why make it worse?”
Slums are a physical manifestation of poor governance and a practical response to the lack of affordable housing in the formal sector. They exist for a reason.
This parallel of inequality between the rich and poor continues to increase and Lagos state population is estimated to double in 2050. According to Aro Joseph Kayode (GIS Analyst at JEI) the population explosion in Lagos will be more within the urban poor and will have more adverse effect on the urban poor. More poor people will be struggling for scarce resources that are at the disposal of the rich. Joseph further stated that inequality level since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 continues to spike. Instead of the number of the poor to level the number of the rich in Lagos, the gulf between the two continues to grow. Lagos has a deficit of 10 million homes and the more government destroy slums, the more they create other informal settlements across Lagos.
Destroying Slums and informal settlements to make way for fancy residential areas with no occupants cannot be the best approach in fixing the inequality gap that exists in Lagos, as gentrification is not development. Development must be tailored towards the people and not destroying their livelihood.
The cost of development is very costly in Lagos. Over the last few years it has led to the widening of the gulf between the rich and poor. To fix the inequality level in Lagos State, it is expected that the government works with relevant stakeholders to uplift the condition of slum dwellers, provide economic opportunities and key social services to them.
A smart mega city cannot be all about creating a city that pushes the poor away and makes living a painful experience for them. Development that pushes the poor to nowhere but to live on broken structures is inhumane.
It is crucial for the administrators of Lagos to transform its existing slums, create prosperity within these communities and promote a better way of living for them. As Prof. Collier rightly noted in his keynote speech at the Lagos @ 50 conference in May 2017, there is a need for “a smart mega city built on mutual trust and shared objectives.” Hopefully, Gov. Ambode still remembers those wise words from Prof Collier as he attempts to build a smart mega city where the urban poor can find a place to rest their head.
- Ugochukwu Ikeakor (Writer and Communication Strategist) is on Twitter: @AustinYugo