Editor's note: Bayo Olupohunda, the Legit.ng columnist, writes on the growing and hard-to-ignore issue of overpopulation in Lagos. To prevent a series of disasters, the Lagos state government must start taking urgent and weighty steps. But what steps?
"Lagos is currently experiencing rapid urbanisation and thus requires hard-thinking solutions to develop befitting infrastructure to cater for the increasing population … The challenges that come with the profile of the state as one of the world's fastest-growing cosmopolitan city-states are as many as the opportunities that abound in it," Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said at the inauguration of his cabinet on October 19.
Lagos is bursting at the seams. From Badagry to Ikorodu, Epe, Agege, Ikeja, Alimosho, to Lagos Island and Mainland — the city is groaning under the weight of a massive and unprecedented urban population explosion. The exodus into Lagos from all parts of Nigeria and even beyond has made the city one of the fastest-growing mega-cities in the world.
At bus stations, on the streets, in the markets and open spaces, one can see a city on the chokehold of a burgeoning population. The sudden but predicted explosion is threatening to grind the city’s infrastructure to a halt. The signs are visible already — intractable traffic gridlock, breakdown of law and order due to social exclusion, amenities crises are the signs of a population apocalypse long predicted.
City administrators in Lagos are at a loss on how to arrest the slide into chaos. For example, all the projections and infrastructure upgrades put in place less than a decade ago have become grossly inadequate.
But Lagos has had it coming.
That Lagos would be the scene of modern urban chaos has long been predicted. Although the state is the smallest in the country, with an area of 356,861 hectares of which 75,755 hectares are wetlands, its population has always threatened to blow — making it the subject of global population discourse. Lagos's population alone is estimated to be over five percent of the national estimate. According to statistics, in 2006, the population of Lagos state was 17.5 million (based on the parallel count conducted by the state during the National Census).
This was less than one year before Babatunde Fashola became the governor. Fashola had at the time expanded some of the city’s infrastructure to cope with the realities of an emerging mega-city. Today, the upgrades of the public transportation system through the BRT, road network and waterways have been swallowed up by the population monster.
A good example is the carrying capacity of the BRT which has since been overwhelmed partly due to the depletion of its fleet resulting from recklessness and poor maintenance culture. With a growth rate of 3.2%, Lagos today has an estimated population of over 25 million people. The UN recently estimated that at its present growth rate, Lagos state will be third largest mega-city in the world by this year after Tokyo and Bombay. Given that in 2014, Lagos population was put at 21 million, it had surpassed Cairo in size in 2012 to become the largest city in Africa. This was a leap from just the 11.2 million in the 2011 estimates by the United Nations.
Current demographic trend analysis revealed that the state population growth rate of 8% has resulted in its capturing of 36.8% of Nigeria’s urban population, according to the Word Bank estimate at 49.8 million people of the national million populations. The implication is that, whereas country population growth is 4-5% and global 2%, Lagos population is growing ten times faster than New York and Los Angeles, with grave implication for urban sustainability.
A recent CNN report also has identified Lagos as "a key driver behind Nigeria’s predicted population of 397 million in 2050," and said the city’s current population would double in 2050: "The population boom will impact the whole country, but nowhere will it be more profound than in Lagos," the report had added.
Though Lagos is one of the world’s fastest growing mega-cities (being the third largest city in the world), but with fewer infrastructures than any other large cities of its kind. Lagos has particularly been the center of rural-urban migration for years. But the rapid urbanization of Lagos without commensurate expansion in amenities has left about 66% of its population living in slums.
According to the 2015 Global Risk report, which dwelt on the "Risks of Rapid and Unplanned Urbanization in Developing Countries," it is estimated that by 2050, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 54% today. While the many benefits of organized and efficient cities are well understood, Lagos needs to recognize that this rapid, often unplanned urbanization that the city faces today brings risks of profound social instability, risks to critical infrastructure, potential water crises and the potential for devastating spread of diseases.
These risks can only be further exacerbated as this unprecedented transition to Lagos continues. In Lagos, recent security and infrastructure challenges are the direct result of the population crisis. How effectively these risks can be addressed by the state government will increasingly be determined by how the state is governed. The increased concentration of people, physical assets, infrastructure and economic activities in Lagos mean that the risks materializing at the city level will have far greater potential to disrupt society than ever before.
Urbanization is by no means bad per se. Studies have shown that it brings important benefits for economic, cultural and societal development such as has happened in a melting pot like Lagos. A well-managed Lagos is both efficient and effective, enabling economies of scale and network effects. Furthermore, the proximity and diversity of people as seen in Lagos can spark innovation and create employment, as exchanging of ideas breeds new ideas.
But these utopian concepts are threatened by some of the factors that have driven population explosion in recent years. For example, one of the main factors is rural-urban migration, driven by the prospect of greater employment opportunities and the hope of a better life.
But rapidly increasing population density can create severe problems, especially if planning efforts are not sufficient to cope with the influx of new inhabitants. The result may, in extreme cases, be widespread poverty. Estimates suggest that 40% of the world’s urban expansion is taking place in slums, exacerbating socio-economic disparities and creating unsanitary conditions that facilitate the spread of disease. In Lagos, about 66% of residents are living in many of the city’s slums.
The quality of a city’s infrastructure is central to the residents’ quality of life, social inclusion and economic opportunities. It also determines the city’s resilience to a number of global risks, in particular environmental, social and health-related risks, but also economic risks such as unemployment. The availability and quality of infrastructure are at the core of many of the challenges faced by a rapidly urbanized Lagos. As being presently witnessed in Lagos, rapid and unplanned urbanization can also quickly lead to urban violence such as crimes.
The task before the Ambode administration is a huge one. There is the urgent need to begin an expansion of the city’s infrastructure to cope with the ever-increasing population. I have written earlier that the pressure on road networks is due to inadequate investment waterways and poor road networks. That one of the world’s largest megacities is solely dependent on road transport is an anomaly. The state must continue to seek innovative ways to solve the challenges of over-population.
Follow Bayo Olupohunda, a renowned Nigerian educator, columnist, and Legit.ng Lagos editor, on Twitter@bayoolupohunda.
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