In a very recent book I co-authored – Urbanisation and Crime in Nigeria (Palgrave Macmillan 2019 with Ojo, Adegbola), we made a bold assertion that Nigeria is presently at an accelerated stage of its urban transition, with more than half of its total population now residing in urban centres. Between 2018 and 2050, it is projected that 189 million more people would have been added to Nigeria’s urban population. Approximately seven in 10 Nigerians will live in cities by 2050 in search of what we described as the Nigerian urban dream – the pursuit of a better life.

Apparently, fewer Nigerian cities have profited marginally from rapid urbanisation, and Lagos has emerged as the dominant engines of economic growth; the main hub of enterprise, creativity and diffusion of innovation particularly for tech start-ups. Nevertheless, the implications of the rapid urbanization in the city are profound for the urban dwellers, both formal and informal economies in the city and the sustainability of development. In the metropolitan Lagos, rapid urbanisation is happening in an unmanaged manner in the midst of highly decaying social and public infrastructure. This has massive implications for the provision of employment opportunities, food, housing, urban mobility, water supply, social services, waste disposal services and environmental management which are integral components of urban governance. These challenges are further compounded by poverty and inequality, weakening social capital base and increasing levels of social disorganization. Despite the systemic weaknesses that characterised Lagos, the city is under huge pressure to deliver the goods of the urban dream for an ever-increasing and impatient Lagosians and thousands of migrants who troop into the city daily to make it their permanent abode.

This significant position of Lagos in the scheme of national development is well researched and documented. Over the years Lagos has emerged as a major hub for the headquarters of national, continental and global brands in energy, financial services and the complex business and professional services that support them. Although, it is pivotal to stress that the age-long urbanization challenges that besiege Lagos predate the emergence of its current Chief Executive Officer (Babajide Sanwo-Olu), the urgency of pressure to generate fresh and sustainable solutions (short and long term) to these challenges equally places a burden on the incumbent to think fast and act boldly. We need not to remind ourselves that Lagos presently occupies a major position on the list of the world’s 10 largest cities in terms of population density, it sprawls across nearly 1,000sq km, with stark reality of inequality- vastly wealthy in parts and largely chaotic and impoverished at the other end. For those who are privileged enough to travel by air into the city state, a bird view of Lagos would reveal that a considerable percentage of Lagosians live in informal settlements, or what at best qualifies as slum by every standard definition of the term. The trunk A, B and C roads constructed to enhance the socio-economic development of the city state are choked with uncontrolled traffic which diminishes the productive capacity of the urban workers and inadvertently affects the quality of life of the commuters who spend several hours in transit daily. In the face of these daunting challenges, it suffices to state unequivocally that the CEO of Lagos cannot afford to think like a regular Nigerian Governor superintending over an average state in the country for peculiar reasons. Firstly, Lagos is obviously the only state in Nigeria which can best be described as a city state. With the exception of fringe settlements such as: Badagry, Ojo, Epe and Ikorodu, the remaining 16 Local Government Areas have merged over the year to form what is presently described as metropolitan Lagos. For instance, isolating, Alimosho LGA from the rest, it compares favourably with the entire Ekiti state in terms of population size. Furthermore, by a stretch of comparison, according to the NBS report, the Internally Generated Revenue of Lagos state surpassed what is generated from 11 major states in Nigeria and the FCT in the year 2018. Secondly, the primacy of Lagos as the commercial capital of West Africa and its ranking as the seventh largest economy in Africa confer a huge responsibility on the city’s Chief Executive Officer to take the lead in redefining urban governance in Nigeria. It is against this background that the writer seeks to draw the attention of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and other relevant stakeholders to radical ideas that require urgent incubation with a view to revolutionizing urban planning and policy, promoting liveability and propelling Lagos into the enviable status of a 21st century megacity in intent, character and functionality. These ideas include:

Redistribution of commercial spaces in Lagos metropolis

A cursory glance through the list of challenges confronting urban dwellers in Lagos shows that urban mobility occupies the premier position. From social media to the pages of Newspapers and electronic media, Lagosians complain about the commuting challenges they face on a daily basis moving from home to work and vice versa.  In the recent time, I have personally heard from friends who told me they spend four to six hours in traffic daily. That is a huge loss of productive hours and a major impediment to the wellbeing of such urban workers. The interesting thing about the unpalatable experience is that commuting for work in Lagos is unidirectional. A greater percentage of the traffic flow in Lagos is towards the Lagos Island, Victoria Island and the commercial centres in the Lekki axis. Conversely, the third mainland bridge and other important roads connecting  Ketu, Ojota, Palmgrove, Surulere, Constain, Ogudu, Iyanaoworo, Iyana-Ipaja-Oshodi express, Obalende and CMS etc are often deserted while other carriage is busy and over stretched  when commuters go to work and return in the evening. Therefore, the solution to these challenges is not farfetched at all. The Governor of Lagos state must as a matter of urgency work with the state house of assembly to begin to think about the decentralization of the major land uses drawing such frenetic traffic to important locations on a daily basis. For, instance, the government must access the array of merchandizing going on in the popular Balogun Market in the heart of Lagos Island and decentralize the market into other Local Government Areas within the metropolitan Lagos. The same action can be extended to the headquarters of banks and allied services within the axis. By taking heed to this radical idea, we would have identified increasingly uncontained urban sprawl in metropolitan Lagos as a key threat to the city’s future economic performance and environmental sustainability. The redistribution of commercial spaces within Lagos will ensure that strong and relatively dense city centres are multi-polar and best placed to encourage through the processes of agglomeration, the collaboration and knowledge-sharing that drives productivity and growth in private sector firms within the city. Furthermore, at a time that the campaign for clean energy has taken the centre stage in global environmental discourse, Lagos will also set the pace in Nigeria through this idea by producing fewer carbon emissions as less travel is needed to connect workers to firms, and such new centres would be cheaper for governments to govern effectively, and support more efficient service delivery practices. This is a tough suggestion but it’s a radical solution that must be accorded some long term attention.

Encourage organised private sector investment in modern transport system

A city performs optimally according to the efficiency of the road system and the alternative means of transportation available within the city.  However, the palpable condition of public transport in Lagos is that the carriage system has been left in the hands of unorganized private sector players such as the National Union of Road Transport workers who ply the road with their ubiquitous rickety yellow buses which can hardly meet the daily demand of the city dwellers in an efficient, effective and modern standards of commuting. The challenges imposed by these players are further compounded by their utter disregard for traffic rules, order and decorum on the roads within city. However, the joke is on the city managers and the governor if they pay lip service to this idea and think a city of a population hovering around 20 million will take the leap into modernity with this outdated approach to public transport system. Sequel to the earlier suggestion on the redistribution of the commercial land uses, the governor must prioritize mass transit system in terms of intercity rail system and tramps. There lies the authentic solution to the lingering mobility challenges in Lagos. This cannot be delayed further and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should show the bold commitment in pursuit of this idea. A city state that boasts of N34billion monthly IGR according to the state’s official record cannot continue to offer pedestrian excuses on why the rail project has not kicked off in the city as we have read in notable report. More importantly, this should be achieved through public and private partnership devoid of corruption. The state is extremely capable and has the potential to draw investors within and outside Nigeria to realize this dream in good time.

Strengthen partnership with the adjoining states

Development challenges confronting the city of Lagos particularly in terms of mobility and housing require that the government think through internal and external solutions as well as partnership with the adjoining states such as Ogun and Oyo. Accurate information on the amount and location of land use and land cover changes is necessary to develop and implement a sustainable-urban planning. An authoritative research on urban growth dynamics of Lagos Metropolis in the recent time shows that about 50% of urban land expansion happened beyond the administrative boundary of Lagos State during the period of 2000–2015. The study predicts that more than 75% of future urban growth will occur across the border of Lagos State, in the neighbouring Ogun State by 2050. The study suggests that the implications of these results is that a strong and consistent collaboration between the Lagos and Ogun states is crucial to establish an effective regional planning framework and ensure a proper planned growth of the metropolitan region. Thus, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should take the lead on this and marshal the plan that will deliver these fundamentals. Truth be told, it is very difficult to envisage a conducive and prosperous Lagos without forging a symbiotic relationship with the Ogun state government in the face of daunting urban challenges presently confronting the city.

Lead the cause of regional integration in South-West

The Lagos state occupies a very strategic position in the scheme of national development and this confers a gracious advantage on the Governor to lead on perennial issues of regional integration in the South West. Five of the six governors in the region belong to the same party while the only opposition governor has shown himself to be more progressive in thinking and action. Thus this season offers a peculiar opportunity for the six governors to collaborate and act on the integration plan for the region. This partnership is pivotal and one wonders why previous governors in the region have reduced the idea to mere political rhetorics over the years. The governor of Lagos has mentioned on notable occasion that a serious challenge facing his administration is population explosion; although, this is an imperfect argument which can be out rightly challenged. Population explosion is not really the problem; it is the inability to manage such population increase as an asset and not a liability that is the problem. The good news is that most Lagosians do not necessarily desire to live in Lagos and would rather prefer to work in Lagos and live in adjoining states if there is an efficient transport system to realize this objective. This is where Governor Sanwo-Olu taking the lead in regional integration becomes pivotal. Regional integration is something that works seamlessly in Europe and elsewhere. Books have been written and the lived experiences are available for us to copy and adapt to suit our own realities. In one of my trips to Europe, I took a train from Munich to Vienna that lasted for about four hours covering a distance of more than 400 kilometres. In other words in most European countries, where many citizens work is different from where  they live in terms of countries and cities, and they commute efficiently without any form of discomfort as we see in Lagos. Therefore, Governor Sanwo-Olu should work with other Governors in the South West to facilitate this experience by investing in rail infrastructure that would span the whole of South West. This will practically decongest Lagos as urban workers  can now work in Lagos and live in Sagamu, Remo, Ibadan, Ikire, Gbongan, Ife and even as far as Akure once there are light rails that can cover this journey in less than three hours!

Support big data solution in urban governance

Urban governance plays a critical role in shaping the physical and social character of urban centres as it influences the quantity and quality of local services and efficiency of delivery; and affects residents’ ability to access government and engage in decision-making, influencing government accountability and responsiveness to citizen demands. Thus, as traditional policies and approaches to urban governance fail to keep pace with emerging development realities in Lagos, it becomes pivotal to rethink urban governance and consider the application of big data in the management of the city. Big data has emerged as a powerful technology trend affecting many aspects of life. In the public policy realm, the collection and processing of personal data has already transformed intelligence and surveillance practices. Given the above-average connectivity and data penetration in Lagos, the city lies at the heart of the trend towards data-driven approaches in addressing urban challenges. With a growing population of over 20 million by the year 2020, there is an increased pressure to explore data-driven solutions in the urban context. This holds particularly true for Lagos metropolis, where failed infrastructure represents a major impediment to sustainable development. Lagos presents a potential prototype to demonstrate how government can work, but can Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu take the lead in redefining urban governance in Nigeria?

Oluwole Ojewale is a scholar in urban affairs and a global development professional with vast project experiences on accountable governance, security and community resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa. He tweets @woleojewale

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