If Lagos state were a country, it would have the fifth largest economy in Africa according to Wikipedia. The many ongoing projects within Lagos in a drive to consolidate its status as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria and the African continent through a number of innovative developments is welcomed. The Eko Atlantic –a massive multi-billion dollar land reclamation Public-Private sector project sited along bar-beach shoreline and envisioned as a 21st Century City to match Dubai-New York city standards, shall attract a daily flow of 150,000 commuters and accommodate 250,000 residents, with an average housing price per flat and 3 bedroom apartments fixed at US$853,750 and $1,010,000 respectively- is top of the list of innovative projects Lagos State government has embarked upon.
Lagos is the 7th largest city in the world and as of 2014, it’s population was put at 21 million people. Twenty two percent of the land area in the state is covered by lagoons and creeks thus; the city’s residential area is split between the Island and Mainland –home to 80% of Lagosians according to Lagos Bureau of Statistics. From ghetto residences and slum markets to government reserved areas and housing/industrial estates to Lagos Island trade and central business districts in Marina, through to the corporate business world of Victoria Island and the plush residential areas of Ikoyi, Lekki and environs, a business savvy first-timer driving through the city can quickly guess the cause for the heavy rural-urban drift into Lagos: the profitable potential for trade and commerce is enormous. The enthusiasm of Lagos Dream chasers made up of dwellers, rural migrants and foreign investors alike is premised not on comfort but on a bustling business environment that allows for sales of goods and services at higher prices to millions of customers and employment opportunities for job seekers… Lagos: the Centre of Excellence.
Confronted with a population growing ten times faster than that of New York and Los Angeles, the state govt. has already voiced concerns about the “grave implication” this development portends to “urban sustainability.” The Lagos development landscape however reveals a flaw in growth pattern -a flaw that is now causing an urban strain in the lives of its residents. Consider this: when rural-urban drifters enter the city, the mainland serves as a crucial base for them as it is often their first place of residence where they join Mainland settlers in pursuit of the Lagos Dream. In the absence of targeted policies that develops and expands business and social infrastructures on this crucial base, what we see is a bewildering ‘urban-urban drift’ –the daily back and forth exodus of mainland’s residents to the ‘prosperous’ Island.
Concentration of business growth on the Island has resulted in a reality where to and fro work every day, several workforce of SMEs and Multinationals get trapped in notorious traffic lasting hours at a stretch sometimes on major expressways. Continuous development of the Island without corresponding development on the Mainland to ease attendant traffic strains and create enabling environment to attract multinationals/large scale businesses closer to set-up in the heart of Lagos’ most populated urban centre, is like putting the cart before the proverbial horse and will only further widen the gulf between a Lagos dream for few and nightmare for many.
The recipe for a chaotic traffic experience is complete when we consider the amount of people coming for their own share of the city cake from the outskirts of Lagos and other states. Lack of an inclusive growth policy for the state is not only hamstringing state’s economy, it’s also affecting residents. Look at the results; avoidable loss of essential family bond time that fuels a better society, reduced people productivity through frequent traffic gridlocks, lesser opportunities to match the demands of an expanding population, excessive wear and tear on public facilities i.e. crowded BRT’s and living areas, narrow lane roads with heavy usages etc. makes development unsustainable, under utilised use of CSR to drive community development and spread a prosperity that is still far out of reach of many from the richest communities in Lekki to the poorest ones in Mushin.
There is a reason why the biggest cities across the world toe the line of high-rise buildings. A step in the right direction will be to formulate an urban sustainable policy that redefines the Mainland’s archaic appearance to fit the profile of a rising Lagos. For example, Ikorodu road has little socioeconomic benefits being littered with 19 century residential buildings or two storey office complexes and serving mainly as ‘passageway’ for workers. Our expressways should be lined by skyscrapers with parking floors built-in to accommodate new businesses, create employment opportunities for thousands of Lagosians and give housing soft landing to its ever expanding population. Of course there are no easy solutions for dealing with people’s resistance to change. That is why any such policy must find a way to give some form of ownership to people most affected by it –landlords in this instance. The same Public-Private partnership development model being employed to great success on the Island can also be deployed on the Mainland.
Reversing the current tide of uneven state development for an all inclusive 21st century city, is a goal for the common good of Lagosians and future sustainability of the State. Drastic measures are needed to prevent a future urban city crisis and progressive minded Lagosians most affected by this policy, in their own capacity, would be rendering the future of our Lagos an invaluable service by rising above the barriers of illiteracy and entitlement mentality. Going beyond flower planting, any meaningful development policy must create jobs with multiplier effect on people and communities. The Governor Ambode led state govt. should develop a a 21st Century city blueprint for the Mainland and engage landowners along our expressways and real estate private sector partner(s) to implement it. The possibility of a future in which prosperity is more evenly spread across the state with its domino effect in reduced traffic gridlocks, increased community development and higher Internally Generated Revenues, should give the State govt. impetus to take the initiative.
This partnership must give some form of ownership to landowners while the role and tenure of the Private sector partner(s) should be well defined with adequate time for them to recoup their investment. In the larger picture, the State Development and Property Cooperation should embark upon training and retraining of its staff in preparation to take over management and to develop among other skills, emergency plans and affordable housing mortgage scheme for millions of Lagosians in this new skyscraper city.
The new arrangement should give priority to adequate road setbacks for road expansion projects. Another Public-Private sector partnership deal can be leveraged for road expansion projects and if tolls will be taken, mandatorily, they must be electronic like what is obtainable on the Lekki-Epe expressway e-tag lane. As President Obama reminds us “there’s no sign of greater leadership than putting future generations first.” The Lagos of our Dreams exists in the future with effective water transport systems, light rails and without the socially-challenged black and yellow ninja ‘Danfoe’ bus drivers. We may not live these dreams in 5 or in 50 years but still; it is the collective hope in the hearts of Lagosians and our well wishers across the Globe whenever we walk to the polls seeking a govt. to give expression to bold, new ideas.
Finally, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the Lagos Dream as it is today seems at the top of the shelf, far from the reach of many. The elitist Eko Atlantic project is a legacy of Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a testament to the limitless possibilities of bold ideas and another feather to the Island’s prosperous cap. But there comes a time for radical departure from the old ways of thinking and doing things. That time is now. Your govt can bring the Lagos Dream closer to many through inclusive growth policies that bring transformation to both residents on the Mainland and Island communities. Indeed, the Lagos dream can be realisable for not just a few but for all who work hard for it and this depends largely upon opportunities and personal security of residents available in the state. This is the ideal we should strive to achieve as a state going forward. Futuristic plans as this is the only way to bequeath a 21st century Lagos to your children and ours.
God bless Lagos. God bless Nigeria.
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