Tolu Ogunlesi's blog

Enugu's journey to resilience

This is my first post that is not focused on Lagos, Nigeria's most populated city and its commercial hub. Today we travel hundreds of miles eastwards, to the city of Enugu, capital of Enugu State, and one of the 35 cities that made this year’s '100 Resilient Cities' (100RC) list. Read more.

Boko Haram's refugees

Before 2013, the term "urban refugees" in Nigeria would have referred to the victims of government demolitions of slums in Nigeria's busiest cities, like Lagos and Port Harcourt. Last year I visited Ijora Badia, in Lagos, where 9,000 persons were displaced by a government demolition project. Those refugee-by-demolition numbers, however, pale when compared to the number of persons displaced by the terrorist uprising that has ravaged Nigeria’s northeast region in recent years. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that half a million persons had been displaced within Nigeria by the crisis, which started in 2011 and has escalated since the end of 2013. Read more.

"Let them own their own homes!" — the Lagos housing challenge

I've written a fair bit about the housing problem in Lagos. A city of anything between 15 and 18 million persons, with a 48.6% poverty rate (2012), and an acute shortage of low-cost housing. There's of course no shortage of luxury housing. Victoria Island and Ikoyi are home to hundreds of empty luxury apartments; priced out of reach of all but the insanely wealthy. IT entrepreneur Jason Njoku has got an interesting post on the economics of housing prices in Lagos. Two years ago I wrote extensively on the Eko Atlantic City project being spearheaded by the state government, adding 9 square kilometers of reclaimed luxury territory ("the Manhattan of West Africa") to Lagos' Victoria Island. Any news of progress in terms of access to (relatively) low-cost housing is therefore much welcome. Which leads me to the focus of today's post. Read more.

Urban farms in Lagos – a feasible proposal?

I recently attended the launch of an exhibition at the Goethe Institute's Lagos office, on the "Post-Oil City", drawing on efforts from all around the world to create cities that have tamed the traditional hunger for fossil fuels. Some of them are brand new cities (like Masdar in Abu Dhabi), others are existing cities trying to make changes (Curitiba, Brazil, which in 1974 launched the world’s first BRT system). Read more.

Urban development and the well-being of the bottom millions

Lagos is on the cusp of a radical change in the way the city is organised. Not only is the first light rail being built in the city, thirty years after the idea was first mooted; the government has also recently announced that construction will soon start on the 4th Mainland Bridge, long overdue by many standards. A few years ago I listened to a talk by the designers of that bridge, and was fascinated by how they envisioned it to not only work as a conventional bridge but also a direct stimulant/supporter of economic activity. The design is of a two-level bridge, the upper one for vehicular movement, the lower one for a combination of a tram line, rows of shops and goods vendors, and a pedestrian lane; that idea informed by the realization that modernizing Lagos does not have to happen at the expense of the trademark hustle-and-bustle that gives the city its peculiar character and feel; the things that make Lagos Lagos. Read more.

Alaja the Tarkwa Bay boat operator

I recently stumbled on this series of interviews I did more than five years ago (April 2008) in Lagos, commissioned for a book project that ended up taking a different shape. I interviewed about seven "Lagosians" - a high school student, a boat pilot, an ex-private security guard and musicstar-wannabe, an itinerant shoe-cleaner, a policeman, a street trader, and a white collar worker. Read more.

Rapper 'Vocal Slender' thinks the Lagos government can make a difference in Olusosun rubbish dump

"Welcome to Lagos" was a 2010 BBC documentary that introduced Vocal Slender to the world. Vocal – real name Eric Obuh – was a rapper by night, and a scavenger, at the Olusosun rubbish dump, by day. Read more.

Makoko's floating school project — an uncertain future

Makoko is a slum settlement on the Lagos Lagoon. There are no reliable population figures, but estimates for the number of inhabitants range from 100,000 to 300,000. According to the NGO Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC), Makoko supplies forty percent of the dried fish sold in Lagos. The settlement is not a face of Lagos that the state government is proud of, and there have been attempts to pull it down and evict the inhabitants, as has been done elsewhere. The first time I visited Makoko, in November 2011, residents showed me (I was visiting with two foreign journalists) evidence of what the demolitioners had accomplished on a previous mission. Read more.

Inclusiveness is all about smashing barriers, not selling statistics

It just doesn't add up. Nigeria is one of the world's fastest growing economies (we've been in that exclusive club for years); Foreign Direct Investment ($8.9bn in 2011, a four-fold increase from a decade before) and Diaspora remittances ($21 billion in 2012) are growing impressively; crude oil prices are at record-high levels — but none of these is managing to make an impact on poverty rates. Read more.

What's the vision for the poor, in this mini-planet of slums?

It made international news headlines. An estimated forty thousand persons, rendered homeless in no time, when a demolition squad rolled into Ijora Badia community. It's the way of Lagos, it seems. The poor — who make up the 'informal economy' that reportedly constitutes about 70 percent of the city's population — are perpetually on the run, hounded by government policies that seem to exist for the purpose of making more land available for the minority well-off to play with. (Apparently the bulldozers' metal fist has been dangling above Ijora Badia since 1996/97.) Read more.