Image Source: @lookslikelagos on Instagram by @coinedbyeko
The ever-lively city of Lagos can best be described as Nigeria’s (and arguably, Africa’s land of opportunities). Believe me, in some parts of Nigeria, some people believe you could pick gold on Lagos streets. Turns out it is not entirely untrue, except that the gold in Lagos is enshrouded in toil and really hard work.
I have lived in this amazing city all my life and a majority of my friend have as well. For most of us, it would seem like we wouldn’t know how to live elsewhere. You see, Lagos wires its inhabitants in some way that no other city in the world does. A Lagosian, a true one, can live anywhere in the world no matter the demands. The challenge will be living in a place that is not as fast-paced.
Things started getting really crazy in this beloved state for the past few years. Yes, Lagos has always had the reputation of being the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. Howbeit, that nerve centre is presently highly inflamed.
Lagos has become overcrowded. Insecurity and crime are on the rise, congestion of traffic and humans is at unprecedented highs and the cost of living is nearly unbearable.
A recent study by Zipjet placed Lagos third among the most stressful cities in the world to live in only after Baghdad and Kabul. The study examined the overall mental health of cities, and then considered all of the major stress-inducing factors, including unemployment, debt per capita, traffic, public transport, security, pollution and density. I don’t think there is any city in the world that exhibits more road rage than Lagos.
Lagos is not all gloom and struggles though. All of the above have not hijacked the appeal of this historic land of opportunities. You know why? The city welcomes all. Lagos is probably the most inclusive and least tribalistic city in Nigeria (my view). You can find people of all tribes, race, religion, social status, political leanings and opinions in Lagos.
Indeed, no state in Nigeria is as inclusive as Lagos. Back in 2010, Lagos became the first Nigerian state to pass the Special People’s Law, a law to protect and enforce the rights of People Living with Disabilities within the state. All over the state, you can find buildings, public infrastructure and public buses with provisions for People Living with Disabilities.
Also in Lagos, it is commonplace to find women working jobs that are typically associated with men. There are female commercial bus drivers (Danfo), female commercial tricycle and motorcycle riders, and lots of female entrepreneurs and managers. There are probably more women in top management in Lagos alone than there are in all other Nigerian States combined (my guesstimation).
Yaba in Lagos has been touted as the Silicon Valley of Nigeria, maybe even Africa. This undoubtedly places Lagos as the tech-capital of Nigeria.
Having said this, am I satisfied with the Lagos I live in today? Oh no! I am far from satisfied. I can’t be satisfied until my commute to work that should ordinarily take 30 minutes but takes anything from one to three hours depending on the day and time, becomes normal. When it becomes a state that is indeed inclusive in the holistic sense of the word not selectively. Until there are enough green spaces and relaxation spots within the city. Until there are sufficient safe spaces for children and people living with disabilities. Until it is safe to walk on any Lagos street any time of the day without fear of being robbed or attacked. Until every child in the state has access to education. Until young people truly have a variety of employment options to truly pursue their career aspirations. Until every citizen rich or poor can easily access basic social amenities. Then and only then will it be the Lagos I am satisfied with.
The UN has separated October 31st every year for the celebration of cities around the world. The general theme for the celebration is Better Cities, Better Life. And the particular theme for this year is Innovative Governance, Open Cities.
I think it is safe to say that over the past ten to sixteen years, Lagos has enjoyed the leadership of forward-thinking governors. Lagos is advancing and I hope it continues. It is my hope that the pace increases. The current Lagos governor is possibly the most innovative state leader in Nigeria, who is constantly pioneering innovation in Nigeria in relation to other states.
However, the theme for this year’s World Cities Day has two parts; Innovative Governance and Open Cities. While the government is doing fairly well with innovation, I am afraid a lot more has to be done in making the city open. Openness of a city means keeping public spaces public and accessible to the citizens. Development in Lagos has seen a lot of privatization taking place. We need a lot of open and safe spaces in the state. We need a lot of green relaxation spots to be abundantly spread across town and freely accessible to the public like the Ndubusi Kanu Park.
An open city is one where the majority of a city’s resources and wealth aren’t controlled by a minority of its citizens. It is a city where there is an equitable distribution of wealth. While the middle class in Lagos is growing, a lot more needs to be done to increase the percentage of those in this strata. Legislations that subtly put in place mechanisms for the upper class to keep enjoying the resources of the state at the expense of others need to be revisited so that a lot more people can be lifted out of poverty for a more inclusive and developed state.
Openness for me will mean there is no mainland-Island dichotomy in Lagos. That the city is fully inclusive and synchronized. That the city is designed to be a fully functional entity and not semi-functional with privileges for select portions at the expense of others. Lagos must belong to the people and not some individuals.
On this day, I celebrate my city. I celebrate my Lagos.