Cities

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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.

Rethinking transportation in Lagos

Lagos is in a transportation crisis. A city of close to 15 million persons, Lagos is larger than London, but without a train system corresponding to the London Tube. A combination of bad roads, too many cars and trucks, and frequent accidents means that the city is often gridlocked. Everyone who can afford a car buys one, since what passes for public transportation is largely inhospitable — a network of tens of thousands of mini-buses known locally as danfos. In the last few years the government has introduced a bus system that takes advantage of dedicated lanes, but its capacity is a far cry from what is needed. In any case it still has to depend on the overburdened road network. The motorcycle taxis (okadas) that once dominated and defined the metropolis, providing an opportunity for time-challenged travellers to weave through traffic jams, have recently come under the government's hammer. Without radical and intelligent solutions the situation is bound to worsen, as Lagos is Africa's fastest growing city, and the World Bank estimates that there will be more than 20 million people in it by 2020. What is clear is that Lagos cannot hope to make a dent on its traffic situation without forms of mass transportation that can convey large numbers of people outside of the road network. The solutions will lie on land — rail lines — and in the water. Read more.