Published On: Fri, Nov 29th, 2019

Urban governance in Nigeria: Can Governor Sanwo-Olu take the lead in redefining it?

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By Oluwole Ojewale

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. 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. 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. 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.
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
It comes with the job, I guess. While admitting that the electoral body has improved in many ways since 1999, it still has some challenges – mostly exogenous and surmountable challenges.

Okey Ikechukwu is a Public Affairs Analyst.

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