Prospects and Challenges of the New Urban Agenda in Lagos

Peter Adeyeye, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 3 October 2016

The current population of Lagos is double what the city was designed to accommodate, leaving city planners with the challenges of managing the effects of rapid urbanization. In the run-up to Habitat III in Quito in a couple of weeks,’s Lagos Community Manager sat down with Dr. Taibat Lawanson, an associate professor of urban planning at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She also served in the process leading to Habitat III as a policy expert on institutions, capacity building and development.

Looking at Lagos as one of the fastest growing megacities in the world, what do you think are the critical challenges affecting the city?

The major challenge is infrastructure. The city is currently designed to accommodate between eight and 10 million but we have an estimated 21 million people, so the infrastructure is over stretched and the government is struggling with it. There is also a problem of urban inequality; the gap between the rich and the poor is high so there is a high level of discontent and that has security implications. Another problem planners are facing is how to deal with informality. Lagos currently has about 200 slums and there is a challenge because the law does not recognize these organic indigenous settlements.

Considering the growth rate of Lagos with an estimated annual increase of 600,000 people, do you think Lagos will get to a point where it can no longer sustain its teeming population?

What is happening is that Lagos is swallowing up settlements at its fringes. Peri-urbanism is a dominant phenomenon. The Lagos government has prepared a number of master plans that address issues like densification – increasing the number of people per square meter and vertical development – but all these are being priced out of the reach of an average person. And so while those visions of development are good in themselves, they are not very workable because the infrastructure to support them is not available on one hand and where it is being done it is too expensive for the average person, so the people are spreading and will keep spreading out until we don’t know what the boundary are between Lagos and Ogun State.

In view of the Habitat III conference holding in October in Quito, what role do you think the New Urban Agenda will play in Lagos?

The urban agenda document is not a politically binding document. It is an advisory document but has positive potential. We have issues like the National Urban Policy with which countries can adopt for long-term development. The National Urban Policy recognizes metropolitan governance that we don’t have here, such as the mayoral system in which the city will be governed and services provided as a whole rather than as decentralized which have financial and other implications. The urban agenda also addresses the right to the city and identified as a preferred ideal. So if Lagos is able to identify with that document and use that document as a blueprint for its development agenda over the next 20 years given the challenges in the other sectors and the realities that our urbanization is dynamic, I think we will be better served especially because the social dimensions are categorical.

So what mechanism can local governments use in implementing them?

The first thing for me is the strengthening of the local governments. Currently, local government are mere appendages; however, they are the closet level of government to the people, so a lot of services provided by the state government ought to be provided by the local governments. We need to strengthen the quality of human resource in our local government and make them understand they have an important part to play in the urbanization process. The second thing is to provide them with the funds and other capacities to fulfil their mandates. We also need a strong electoral process at the local government level so they understand the importance of their work, and we have people who are both willing and able to make a change.

What are the challenges Lagos may face in implementing that?

I think the first is the willingness to commit and the second one is the willingness to partner: the recognition of a multi-level governance system that works, that sees those at the local government levels as partners in the process rather than foot soldiers to their own higher ideals. Then the central government must give them support in terms of capacity development and in terms of structural transformation.

Photo credit: Peter Adeyeye

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