page contents
USA Real Estate Blog

The Once and Future Lagos

0 1


Lagos, Nigeria. Image via City Journal

City Journal just ran a very interesting piece on Lagos by Armin Rosen. Lagos is by some estimates Africa’s largest city and is well known as a creative capital. I don’t know anything personally about the city, but found Rosen’s description balanced and fascinating. Here are some excerpts:

Poverty, confusion, and moral fluidity haven’t stopped Lagos from achieving global prominence. Maybe an all-pervading looseness has even been a source of the city’s growth, since it has expanded with a velocity that prudent planning would avoid. Lagos is now West Africa’s economic and cultural hub, as well as perhaps the continent’s largest city, depending on which population figures one accepts. By most accounts, Lagos has twice as many people as London, along with a GDP greater than all but six African states. In its successes and failures, the city offers a cautionary preview of where an urbanizing developing world is hurtling.

The project seeks to expand the congested Victoria Island area, while creating a glittering showcase of world-class high-end real estate, thus helping to reverse Lagos’s reputation for disorder. But the initiative reflects a certain myopia: the landfill destroyed Bar Beach, once a popular public space in a city with no large parks and few major squares or monumental avenues. It’s not obvious whether the existing infrastructure can support such a large development so far off the mainland; as it is, Victoria and Lagos Islands are accessible only through a gauntlet of traffic choke points. The development is also aimed at a tiny upper sliver of an overwhelmingly poor city. “The plan is to create a Dubai and just ignore people who can’t afford to live in the proverbial Dubai, which describes most of the population,” says Olaolu Ogunmodede, a researcher at the Lagos-based Center for Public Policy Alternatives and an editor at The Republic, of the Lagos state government’s approach. (The city is organized as a state within the Nigerian federal system.)

In nearby Ikoyi and Victoria Island, affluent Lagosians have little reason to venture too far, either—they live in gated estates, with their own security, garbage collection, electricity, and private bus services. One gets frequent reminders of how segmented Lagos is, how cordoned off its parts are from one another. Cut down a side street in Ikeja, and you’re suddenly in a squalid parallel world, where generators scream beside narrow mud streets, lined with freelancing numbers-runners and peddlers hawking broken clocks. The alley ends, and the modern downtown resumes again. From the Third Mainland Bridge, travelers can see the plush villas of Banana Island and Lekki glimmer in the distance at night, while the vast lagoon-side Makoko slum, less than 500 yards west of the six-mile-long causeway and home to an estimated 250,000 people, is invisible in the darkness. Makoko has become a transit point for timber from farther down the coast, creating yet another vibrant hyper-local poverty economy. You can smell the tang of burning garbage and wood from the bridge whenever traffic slows.

Cheta Nwaze, a researcher at SBM intelligence, offers more insight into the city’s divisions. Nwaze and another SBM analyst, Ikemesit Effiong, meet me at Seven Eagles Spur, a diner-style restaurant inside Ikeja’s City Mall, decorated in images of southwestern American desert highways and chiefs in feather headdresses. Nwaze informs me that, a decade ago, the land that the mall now occupies was a slum. Residents were removed with a minimum of due process or public deliberation—still the standard procedure for any big-ticket Lagos development project. The mall has a KFC and a Nike store, and our lunch bill comes out to 9,100 naira, or $25. The people who had lived on the site of the future mall probably never imagined such a thing. “You give someone 9,100 naira and tell them to kill someone, and they will do it,” Nwaze says, only half-joking.

Lagos is booming. Credible estimates put the population at 17 million or 18 million, but the city defies understanding of its true scope. “Most Nigerians can’t be accessed even by the government,” Effiong notes. This relative lack of data could turn out to have broader significance, since the world is sure to look more like Lagos in the coming decades. An estimated 54.5 percent of the global population now lives in cities, but urbanization is less complete in the developing world. Slightly more than half of Asia’s population, and nearly 60 percent of Africa’s, still lives in rural areas. The number of cities with 500,000 inhabitants or more is expected to grow by 80 percent in Africa alone between now and 2030, and the ten cities that the UN projects to cross the 10 million–inhabitant “megacity” threshold by 2030 are all in developing countries. By 2030, some 730 million people, or 8.9 percent of the people on earth, will live in these megacities, up from the current total of 500 million, or 6.8 percent. Success has made Lagos an unnerving glimpse into the near future.

This constant flux can make for a verdant creative environment. Jumia and iRoko, West Africa’s leading e-commerce and entertainment streaming services, respectively, are regionally important companies founded in Lagos during the past decade. Music and movies produced in the city dominate West Africa and beyond—it was a Lagosian, Wizkid, who appeared alongside the Canadian pop star Drake in his 2016 megahit “One Dance.” As Edet Okun, an assistant curator at Lagos’s Nimbus gallery explains, the city has also fueled a burgeoning art market. “The money is here, and you have a high concentration of people,” Okun says, guiding me through a collection that includes traditional Ife bronzes, as well as striking monochromatic abstract works from Nigerian artist Olu Okekeanye.

Attracting Nigerians of every description, Lagos offers hope for a country often defined by its religious, regional, and ethnic cleavages. It is the exception to Nigeria’s fault lines, “probably the one place in the country where, regardless of where you came from, you can feel like you belong,” one Nigerian told me. For some Lagosians, the rationalized marketplace of the city is also the only way of escaping a dead-end village economy, in which labor is a social or familial obligation, rather than a source of money and freedom. “A lot of these many odd jobs that people do for free in rural areas, people pay for in Lagos,” says Ray Ekpu, cofounder of the magazine Newswatch. Ekpu moved to Lagos from Nigeria’s southeast in 1980 and has seen the worst of the city: he was imprisoned six times during military rule, and a close colleague at Newswatch died in a mail-bomb attack in 1986 that many suspected was linked with the magazine’s work. “People come searching for the bright lights,” Ekpu observes. “They think they can find a good life here. Some of it is true. Some of it is a myth. They think if they can get here, they can find something to do.” That Lagosian myth—of opportunity and an escape from Nigeria’s various social and political ills—has an intense hold over the country.

Infrastructural lapses aside, Lagos uneasily embodies one of civilization’s fundamental divides: the split between the city and the provinces, between a flagging periphery and the center toward which that periphery gravitates. The numbers reflect an astounding imbalance. Lagos contributes more to Nigeria’s GDP than any other state, and twice as much as the second highest-ranked state. Only 214 Nigerians pay 20 million naira ($56,000) or more in taxes each year; all live in Lagos, which collects some 39 percent of Nigeria’s internally generated revenue. Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode has claimed that 60 percent of the country’s industrial and commercial business takes place in his city.

You might also like

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!