In transiting to Africa’s model Megacity... Where is Lagos for everyday people?

A modern city is a centre of opportunities for all – rich and poor – to reach their highest potentials, that is governed in an inclusive, collaborative and sustainable manner. Prof. Taibat Lawanson from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Dr. Ademola Omoegun from the Department of Architecture, University of Lagos aimed at understanding how affected people cope with the effects of government interventions for replacing informality with formal structures and how Lagos fares in embracing creative and innovative strategies of inclusive development initiated and implemented by the affected people.

Informality pervades everyday life in most African cities, especially for the poor. These range from housing in informal settlements to employment in the informal economy, as well as urban adaptive practices embedded in informal social networks. Informality is essentially a reflection of self-help strategies by urban citizens to fill the gap, given the challenges of rapid urbanisation and severely limited capacity of governments to respond. In fact, AbdouMaliq Simone, one of the foremost thinkers on African urbanism states that roughly 75% of basic needs are provided informally in African cities, with processes of informalization expanding across discrete sectors and domains of urban life[1].

However, urban informality is often frowned upon. It has been variously labelled as illegal, immoral and dysfunctional. This is primarily because the indigenous cultural practices[2] leveraged upon in informal systems are antithetical to the modernist practices that many African city governments seek to adopt.  This is particularly evident in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and arguably Africa’s fastest growing city, whose growth has largely occurred via informality.


Co Creating Inclusive Lagos - Heinrich Böll Stiftung Abuja Office

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The vision of the Lagos State Government is to transform Lagos into Africa’s model megacity, and a global economic and financial hub[3]. To this end, a series of development projects aimed at strategically positioning Lagos to attract more investment opportunities[4] have resulted in growing tensions between the city government and many of her citizens, especially those living with informality. It is estimated that about 50-75% of the workforce of Lagos earn a living from the informal economy[5], while about 70%[6] of the 23 million population[7] reside in about 200 informal communities (slums and squatter settlements)[8].

Negotiating space in the city: Reflections on evictions and constricting public spaces

An estimated 30,000 residents of informal waterfront communities in Lagos were forcibly evicted in 2016 to make way for modernist infrastructure and luxury estates, namely Periwinkle Estate (Otodo Gbame), Imperial International Business City (Ebute Ikate) and Ilubinrin Luxury Estate (Ilubinrin)[9]. Some 300,000 residents of other informal communities are still at direct risk, following a blanket eviction notice given by the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode[10] in October 2016. Local markets and other informal economic centers have also suffered forced evictions in recent times, many of which are being replaced with strip malls and ‘ultra-modern shopping centres’; priced out of the reach of the average Lagosian. Examples include Tejuosho and Oshodi Markets, as well as various mechanic villages in Surulere and other parts of the city centre.

Many considerations underlie the adoption of these urban displacement policies. These include hygiene, public health and safety[11], and more recently, the ‘image’ of the city[12].It is believed that a more ‘formal’ and orderly city is indicative of good management, and will potentially increase the likelihood of attracting foreign investment, and therefore serves as motivation for city authorities to embark on sanitation and ‘cleansing’ efforts.  The spread of global capitalism has also escalated tensions as neoliberal urban development fundamentally depends on public space, hitherto utilized by local informal actors.

Lagos State Government’s aspiration to achieve the ‘megacity status’ has worsened the conditions of informal economic workers as it has led to the aggressive prioritization of perceived orderliness and the promotion of the aesthetic value of public space in the state. The Lagos State Ministry of Environment[13]categorizes street trading alongside open defecation, urination in open places and dumping of refuse in drains as examples of environmental abuse and uncivilized dispositions, punishable with goods forfeiture, fines of up to $33 (N5,000) and imprisonment for up to six months for first time offenders. Informal economic activities are prohibited by the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Law of 2000, the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Markets (Prohibition) Law of 2003, Lagos State Waste Management Authority Law of 2007 and the Lagos State Road Traffic Law of 2013, while the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI Brigade) is a special taskforce of the Ministry of Environment with the direct mandate to enforce these laws and eradicate informal activities in public space.[14] The 2016 Lagos state environmental law further criminalizes informal practices especially regarding access to water and waste management services, which many residents are unable to access within the formal service sector.  Informal settlements are also considered illegal and the havens for miscreants, street urchins, kidnappers, touts, street traders and hawkers, according to Stephen Ayorinde, the Lagos state commissioner for information and strategy[15].

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the most vulnerable informal structures are those located on waterfront, prime land and/or within the city centre, while those in the outlying areas are not so vulnerable. This points directly to the use of forced displacements to achieve gentrification of public space, wherein the urban poor (informal economic activities and informal settlements) are removed from centrally located areas in favour of middle-class locals and tourists[16] to bring about a re-orientation of the city towards a population of elites and investors [17]. The evictions of Maroko, Ijora Badia, Ilubinrin, OtodoGbame and Ikate Elegushi are reflective of this push. Evictions generally have significant negative impacts on the urban poor which at times could be dire. For example, many children were unable to return to school post-Otodo gbame eviction. A particularly sobering case is that of a lady who we met in Badia East during the field visits of the HBS workshop on ‘Co-Creating Inclusive Lagos: A vision of a City for All’ held in July 2017, who became mentally incapacitated following the death of her new-born triplets’ consequent to the 2012 evictions. These cases among others highlight the fact that consequences of evictions go beyond loss of physical dwellings and livelihoods, to issues of social identity, mental health and citizen wellbeing. It also highlighted the importance of citizen advocacy in supporting victims of eviction exercises, and framing the discourse on gentrification as being more than just the (re)configuration of space.

The Surulere Mechanic village which was demolished, despite the Mechanics association having legal land rights, is also a case in point. A similar scenario is that of the Oshodi market demolitions in which thousands of traders were forcibly displaced in 2009[18]. According to the Lagos state Government, this was in a bid to reclaim the hitherto ‘shameful representation of the city which was desperately in need of a transformation’. The transformation of Oshodi was hinged on the regeneration of a key transportation asset by means of trader resettlement, environmental sanitation, enhanced traffic flow, amongst other measures[19]. However, in recent times, the redevelopment of Oshodi has consisted of the construction of a 10 lane expressway from the International airport, and large-scale shopping malls and multi-storey terminals, in partnership with private business investors, without attention to trader resettlement and other micro scale improvements. There is no evidence that any of the displaced traders of Mosafejo and Owonifari Markets had received compensation or being resettled. Interestingly, the new Tejuosho Ultra-Modern market which was (re)constructed using a similar model is still largely empty, with many traders unable to afford the exorbitant shop costs.

A situation where local forms of organization are considered inferior and often replaced with ‘imported’ practices also prevails. Rather than integrating informal workers into formal urban processes, the government is pursuing an agenda to entrench neo-liberal structures as has been seen in the waste management sector where over 30,000 informal waste-pickers were rendered redundant through the concession of the landfill sites to private sector operators. The ‘shopping malls’ as a replacement for local markets is yet another example.

Gentrifying the City: Reflections on city visioning and (re)development strategies  

The prevailing trend in urban development globally is that in which urban public spaces are increasingly being privatized, and treated as commodities with their exchange value taking precedence over their use value, spurring urban managers to undertake major urban redevelopment and beautification projects in a bid to promote the global image of their cities, and attract foreign investment and tourists[20]. The most dominant form of this in Lagos is the increased privatization of markets, beaches and other public spaces such as the fortressed enclaves of the rich.

While one may claim that the city government’s modernist vision is justifiable, after all a city like Lagos deserves large scale improvement in her infrastructure and general urban form, it is also necessary to point out that rather than city redevelopment, what Lagos is currently going through is the process of gentrification, which is a class-oriented process involving exclusionary displacement, where low-income people are denied access to a place they might have lived in or worked or shopped[21]. It is also a process that is being pushed oftentimes to satisfy neo-liberal business interests and create an illusion that is far removed from the reality and capacity of local citizens who are constrained to live in informality.

In the emerging Lagos that is being developed, redeveloped and redesigned as a modern megacity, a few questions come to mind: How can everyday Lagosians survive and thrive in a city where they have no place and they can ill afford? Where is the Lagos for everyday people? What needs to be done to create a city for all?

Creating a Lagos for everyday people                

Going forward, rather than the commonly held view that the Informality in Lagos is dysfunctional, it is more realistic to recognize it as the determination of urban Africans to find their own ways[22], and to leverage on the resilience and innovative enterprise of informal actors, as such economies and activities themselves might act as a platform for the creation of an authentic and sustainable localised urbanism[23], as has occurred in other cities and countries such as ours. The integration of informal waste workers in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the National street trading policy in India, and the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project Durban, South Africa are key examples[24] These cases represent important reference points in the developing world context, and more crucially prove that the better inclusion of informal activities is achievable if necessary steps are taken by all concerned, and Lagos cannot be an exception.

Akin to this line of thought, the 2016 Quito Declaration[25] mandates cities to better recognise the contribution of the informal economy by improving the livelihoods of the working poor in the informal economy by increasing their access to productive resources and services as well as by enhancing their voice and representation (clause #59) and regulating access to public spaces and streets by informal local markets and commerce (clause #100). The New Urban Agenda also commits to encouraging the development of policies to improve the supply of low-income housing, prevent segregation and arbitrary forced evictions and displacements with special attention to slum and informal settlements upgrading (clause #107). It is therefore imperative for Lagos to recognise Informality as a dominant reality, learn from local informal processes and systems, and integrate such into her policies and programmes.

In fact, in her transition into Africa’s model megacity, LAGOS needs to rethink her approach towards informality!


[1] Simone, A. 2004. For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham: Duke University Press.

[2] Peil, M. (1991) Lagos: The City Is the People. London: Belhaven.;Immerwahr. D (2007) The politics of architecture and urbanism in postcolonial Lagos, 1960–1986. Journal of African Cultural Studies Vol. 19 , Iss. 2,2007

[3] Lagos State Government. 2013. Lagos State Development Plan 2012-2025. Lagos: Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget.

[4] Olajide, O. (2015). Understanding the Complexity of Factors which Influence Livelihoods of the Urban Poor in Lagos’ Informal Settlements.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne.

[5] Lagos State Government. 2013. Lagos State Development Plan 2012-2025. Lagos: Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget.

[6] (Adelekan.A (2009) Vulnerability of Poor Urban Coastal Communities to Climate Change in Lagos. Paper presented at 5th Urban Research Symposium Marseille 2009

[7] Lagos State Government. 2013. Lagos State Development Plan 2012-2025. Lagos: Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget.

[8] Gandy, M (2006) Planning, Anti-planning and the Infrastructure Crisis Facing Metropolitan Lagos. Urban Studies, Vol. 43, No. 2, 371–396, February 2006

[11] Yeoh, B. and Kong, L. 1994. Reading Landscape Meanings: State Constructions and Lived Experiences in Singapore’s Chinatown. Habitat International 18(4), pp. 17-35; Bromley, R. (1998), Informal commerce: Expansion and exclusion in the historic centre of the Latin American city, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 22(2), 245-26

[12] (Donovan, M. 2008. Informal cities and the contestation of public space: The Case of Bogota’s Street Vendors, 1988-2003. Urban Studies 45(1) pp. 29-51.; Brown, A. Msoka, C. and Dankoco, I. 2014. A refugee in my own country: Evictions or property rights in the urban informal economy? Urban Studies, pp. 1-16.

[13] Lagos State Ministry of Environment (2011), Transcript of Press Conference with Commissioner of Environment, Mr Tunji Bello, November 27, 201

[14] Lawanson T (2014) Illegal Urban Entrepreneurship? The Case of Street Vendors in Lagos, Nigeria, (2014) Journal of Architecture and Environment, Institute Tecknologi (ITS) Sepuluh Nopember, Surabaya,  Indonesia.  13(1) 33-48. April 2014

[16] Bromley, R., &  Mackie, P. (2009), Displacement and the new spaces for informal trade in the Latin American city centre, Urban Studies, 46 (7), 1485-1506.

[17] Crossa, V. 2009. Resisting the Entrepreneurial City: Street vendors’ Struggle in Mexico City’s Historic Centre. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 33(1), pp. 43-63.

[18] Omoegun. A (2015) Street Trader Displacements and the Relevance of the Right to the City Concept in a Rapidly Urbanising African City: Lagos, Nigeria Unpublished Phd School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University

[19] Lagos State Government. 2010. Lee Kuan Yew World City prize 2010; Report from Lagos State.

[20](Madanipour, A. 1999. Why are the design and development of public spaces significant for cities. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 26, pp. 879-891; Benjamin, S. 2000. Governance, economic settings and poverty in Bangalore. Environment and Urbanization 12(1), pp. 35-36; Middleton, A. 2003. Informal traders and planners in the regeneration of historic city centres: the case of Quito, Ecuador. Progress in Planning 59(2), pp. 71-123.); Brown, A. Msoka, C. and Dankoco, I. 2014. A refugee in my own country: Evictions or property rights in the urban informal economy? Urban Studies, pp. 1-16; Njaya, T. 2014. Challenges of negotiating sectoral governance of Street Vending Sector in Harare Metropolitan, Zimbabwe. Asian Journal of Economic Modelling 2(2), pp. 69-84.

[21] Shaw, K. 2008. A Response to ‘The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32(1), pp. 192-194.

[22] Simone, A. 2005. Urban Processes and Change, in: Simone, A. and Abouhani, A. eds. Urban Africa: Changing Contours of Survival in the City. London: Zed Books, pp. 1-26

[23] Simone, A. 2004. For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham: Duke University Press.

[24] Dobson, R., Skinner, C. and Nicholson, J. 2009. Working in Warwick: Including street traders in urban plans. Durban: School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Sinha, S. and Roever, S. 2011. India’s National Policy on Urban Street Vendors. Cambridge: Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organising (WEIGO) Policy Brief (Urban Policies), No 2; Bénit-Gbaffou, C. 2015. In quest for sustainable models of street trading management Lessons for Johannesburg after Operation Clean Sweep. Johannesburg: CUBES, University of the Witwatersrand.