• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Lagos: A city bursting at the seams

Lagos-Traffic

FUNKE ADETUTU

Lagos State Government once had plans to raze Ajegunle, which were not carried out. Today, the influx of people has spawned more slums in some parts of the metropolis, writes FUNKE ADETUTU

Balding, with a torso as round as a pot and naked except for a pair of shorts, Ikenna Agwu is fast asleep. In order to reach the mucky yard where he pitches his tent, I’m forced to pick my way through the half-crumbled concrete platform of an unfinished building, about three storeys high. Goat excrements litter much of the bare floor, while a harried-looking woman is busy hanging her laundry on a sagging clothesline.
Ikenna wakes noisily, swings his torso upright and tries to clear the place where he’d been sleeping. He’s a commercial motorbike rider, popularly called ‘Okada’ and speaks rather fluently, much like someone who’s known the questions he’s being asked in advance.
The unfinished building where Ikenna manages to find shelter, he laments, is about to be knocked down because “The state government believes it’s a death trap.”
Even here at Lekki, there is a congregation of motorbike riders, Suya sellers, prostitutes, among others, forming a mini-slum that many fear may soon become another Ajegunle, the biggest, toughest inner-city slum in Lagos.
Government once had a plan to raze Ajegunle so as to get residents resettled in other localities. But alas, that plan dwindled into oblivion. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and if Lagos hasn’t yet overtaken Cairo as the continent’s biggest city, an expert predicts that in the near future, it will.
“Government officials were here yesterday afternoon,” says Ikenna. “They’re going to destroy some houses by the roadside. I had to flee to this place where I had to put iron sheets together for a place to lay my head. Government wants to make Lagos like London or America, but has refused to make provision for us.”

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Ikenna and other homeless folks like himself currently reside on a virgin land close to the Aniola Oniru market, Lekki. However, some residents are afraid that the area may turn out to be some kind of hideout for criminals; hence, they sleeping with the proverbial one eye open.
“We have nowhere else to go,” says Abubakar Saheed, an ‘Okada’ rider, who was a fruit-seller for five years before he managed to buy a bike which he now uses for transport business. “At the moment, I am making money from riding this Okada. This is what I use to toil for my daily bread,” he says, pointing at a Jingeng motorbike parked close to his shack.
Saheed later leads me through a sandy alley barely two metres wide, lined with a collage of shacks made of timber and rusty metal sheets, inside of which hundreds of people sleep at night. They are squeezed into tiny rooms, bursting out in daytime to trade, and generally hustling for a living.
We come out at the edge of one of the beaches, whose bank is overrun by a thick, grey mulch of rubbish made up of plastic, paper and cloth. Grubby, white cattle egrets pick it clean in the shade of trees that seem no less intensely green for having their roots embedded in the dirt. Down the beach is a hut built of wood stretching out onto the water to long-drop latrines.
The rate at which Nigeria’s population has increased, and continues to do so, is staggering. In 1950, 10 years before the country gained independence from Britain, 34 million people lived here. But the United Nations believes there are now almost 150 million Nigerians, such that it has become the world’s eighth most populous country, bigger than Russia or Japan.
Between now and the middle of the century, only India will add more people to the world’s population. If one wants to witness firsthand what it means to live in the midst of a population explosion- the kind of generational leap in size that occurred in London in the 19th century and New York in the 20th, Lagos is the ideal place. But the mind-boggling question is, where do all the extra people go?

According to a UN report, for the first time in history, more people worldwide live in towns and cities than in the countryside. In the next four decades, the world population is expected to rise from six to nine billion people. All of that increase, the UN predicts, will be urban; the rural population will shrink.
It is not only the developing-world megacities like Mumbai, Dhaka, Calcutta, Karachi, Kinshasa, Cairo or Lagos, that are experiencing similar problems and probing for solutions. There are hundreds of vast cities which are barely noticed. For instance, China has close to 100 cities with more than a million inhabitants; India has 40. Statistics show that Nigeria herself has seven more million-plus cities after Lagos. “They are being built by capitalism, corruption and class warfare rather than by planners; by forces deeper and older than market forces, family forces,” observes Lekan Adio, a lecturer of Geography and Regional Planning.

However, as Lekki increasingly becomes the focus for some of the displaced people at Maroko and new immigrants into the area, some residents fear this may pose a threat to the current administration’s mega city dream.
“It would seem the Lagos State government is overwhelmed by the huge influx of people making their way into the state daily, hoping that something would be done to help them,” says Joseph Abolade, an education consultant. According to him, the report which states that government is asking people to return to their villages cannot be discounted.
Bose Adigun, a native of Saki in Oyo State, says she would like to return to her village, noting, “What do I return with? There is no house, nothing.”
Abolade observes that there is a psychological side to the story. “Once a person has come to Lagos, the expectation is that he will go back a richer person, a more contented person, a person to whom people can now look up to and say ‘what have you brought back for us form Lagos?’ Therefore, many of them will find it difficult to go back because of the shame. So they will rather stay here and continue to suffer,” he says.
For some critics, what Lagos may want to see happen is for the other states to take their social responsibility especially housing, infrastructure, job creation more seriously. For instance, the state has employed people to sweep the roads, serve as vigilantes, among others. But this is not the case in some other states. And as long as those problems persist, so long will Lagos continue to draw more people to live therein.
“I think it has to be something they will do among the states, a kind of diplomatic relationship and synergy. Maybe when they hold governors’ meetings they can discuss about these issues. It may look like a form of interference or even a form of an arrogant display of achievements. For instance, if Fashola was to go to a meeting and say to Alao-Akala of Oyo State, ‘your people keep on worrying me in Lagos, so what are you going to do about this?’ Akala may get angry and to compound matters they are not in the same political party. Hence, it is a very delicate issue and the problem will persist,” Abolade adds.