Congestion is reducing quality of life in Lagos and this may get worse

As predicted years ago by the United Nations, the population of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve is now over 20 million. But despite its huge population, it has a land area of only 738 km2, equaling a population density of 13,405/km2. Unlike Lagos, Gary, one of its sister cities in the United States, has just 621.7 persons per square kilometer.

The current rate of population growth in Lagos is fast becoming a significant burden to the well-being of its people. Poverty is spreading, sanitation is worsening and the city suffers a lot of pollution. Traffic congestion in the city is one of the worst in the world. But this is just starting; Africa’s population is estimated to double to 2.4 billion by 2050. If more than 10 percent of the continent’s current population is from Nigeria and more than 10 percent of Nigeria’s population is from Lagos, there is a fair idea of what the population of Lagos could be in the next three decades. Sadly, development over the years has not matched population growth, leaving a strain on the available infrastructure which is largely inadequate to serve the people living in the former Nigerian capital.

Although Lagos, which has a higher GDP than Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, attributes its high internally generated revenue (about $116 million monthly) to its large population; an out of control population will not enable quality living if resources are overstretched. It, therefore, came as no surprise to many Lagosians that the city was ranked as one of the least livable cities in the world, finding itself in the midst of war-torn cities like Damascus and Tripoli.

Albeit not the only port city in Nigeria, Lagos has the most preferable sea port for importers and hosts the head offices of most financial institutions and major corporations. It is also the centre of the Nigerian music and movie industry, and the only Nigerian state where the economy thrives without the federal government. People, therefore, troop into Lagos daily from within and outside Nigeria for several purposes, from business engagements to exhibitions, job search and even begging. Decongesting the city may be hard, as long as its status as the commercial nerve of Nigeria remains. But the number of people living in the city can be reduced gradually.

Cost of living in the city has done little or nothing to discourage people from trooping in. For those who cannot afford the ridiculously expensive houses in the city, the suburbs become a choice place of abode. Now occupied to its capacity, population in Lagos suburbs is spilling over to neighbouring state, Ogun. Many people working in Lagos who cannot afford the unreasonably high rent in the city or its congestion, live outside the state, usually in houses they own. While this would have solved the problem of congestion in Lagos, bad transport infrastructure has discouraged several others from living outside the city.

“I live at Mowe [Ogun State] and I work at Victoria Island,” Mr. Tinubu, a driver at a commercial bank told me. “I spend a total of six hours or more in traffic sometimes. Imagine the stress I go through everyday but I have no choice; I can’t afford a house close to where I work.”

Mr. Tinubu tells me that his colleague’s case is worse. “He comes from Ota [Ogun State] every day. He has a bus with which he carries passengers on the way. But besides the money he makes from that, I don’t envy him. He’s not living well at all.”

Mr. Tinubu and his friend’s situation would not be strange in Europe where a man went as far as Spain to live when he found out London where he worked would be too costly to live.

A recent research lays credence to Mr Cookey’s claim.  Cookey told BuzzFeed that the trip takes 5 ½ hours. An average Lagosian sometimes spends more time on the road daily.

The solution to the overpopulation of Lagos does not lie with Lagos alone; Nigeria has to remember its former capital.

“The sheer human traffic that daily throng Lagos for business certainly calls for additional allocation of resources to the state to absorb the pressure,” writes a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afe Babalola.

“Part of what the federal government should do to redress the issue is to pay priority attention to road construction and rehabilitation and other social amenities in Lagos,” he adds.

The government should also focus on improving the transportation network in and around Lagos, as this will encourage many who cannot afford the city to live in nearby towns. Imagine a high-speed rail network that links towns in Osun, Oyo and Ogun States to Lagos.

Andre Dzikus, Coordinator of the Urban Basic Services Branch (UBSB) of the UN-Habitat also offers solutions to congestion in Lagos.

“Better integration of land-use and transport planning can result in compact and walkable city forms reducing the need for travel. Policies to promote this should be adopted,” he said.

But Lagos is far from ending its congestion challenge. According to the World Bank, Africa will have an additional 300 million urban residents in the next two decades. By 2050, 60 percent of all Africans will live in an urban area. More people are going to move to Lagos, especially with the slow pace of urbanization in other parts of Nigeria.