The City And Its Bride: Slum Growth In Lagos


This is the first of a three-part series on the incentives and cost of slum clearance and displacement in Nigeria. This piece looks at the history of urbanisation and slum growth in Lagos.

Image:  Olalekan Jeyifous .  "A visual conversation on how slums are frequently viewed as unsightly eyesores."

Image: Olalekan Jeyifous.

"A visual conversation on how slums are frequently viewed as unsightly eyesores."


etween 1999 and 2000, countries pledged to “improv[ing] the living conditions of the world's most vulnerable and marginalised urban residents” and creating cities without slums. At the core was the need to ensure that no region or population segment is exempt from development, and therefore, disenfranchised. By 2050, slumsa - underserved and overcrowded tenements with no municipal services - were to become a thing of the past.

While this has led to a decline in the global slum population, notably in African countries, the paradox remains kneaded in uncontrolled urbanisation — in that the more cities develop, the more attractive they become. Particularly in high-growth cities with commercial advantages, people troop into ‘the big city’ in search of educational and/or employment opportunities; in lure of a land of milk and honey.

The problem, however, is two-tailed: one, that cities are not growing fast enough, at least in infrastructural terms, to accommodate the wave of migrants. Secondly, the migrants are often unable to afford the hight costs; therefore fuelling a pattern of overcrowded spaces and an outpouring of slums. In the case of Lagos, both ring true as the impending megacity grapples with a population of over 20 million people, overburdened infrastructure, a poor planner to population ratio, and a severing housing deficit.


For Better, For Worse

Call it magnanimous hospitality or border porosity, Lagos boasts of an hourly influx of 86 people. Perhaps for its economic dominance in Nigeria and West Africa and its extensive ports, Lagos has had a long history of cushioning intra- and inter-regional settlers - from the Aworis to the traders, fishermen and Lebanese ‘hustlers'; to the Afro-Brazilian returnees in the 19th century, Biafran refugees and expulsed Nigerians from Ghana in the 60s and 70s.

As the commercial and political centre during the colonial period, Lagos also grew rapidly, becoming a viable hub for trade. It thrived economically, particularly after the 1970s Oil boom which propelled a further influx into the city. Coupled with the fact that agriculture became less sexyb and other Nigerian states remained stagnant relative to Lagos, dual waves of migrants flooded the city to take advantage of its rapidly advancing infrastructure, and expansive welfare policy.

With prosperity came a change in its social culture1, a bubbling night life and a baby boom, which further skyrocketed the population. On another hand was patronage and kleptocratic politics, mismanagement, excessive fiscal spending, and high volumes of importation - most notable of which was the 1975 ‘cement armada’ collusion leading to an inflated budgets and importation of millions of tonnes of cement for construction in Nigeria.

The result of these bouts of endemic corruption would be a volatility in inflation, which transcended across the cost of building material; in turn, rapidly hiking real estate prices. By the time Nigeria dipped its foot in democracy in 1979, the military elites had sunk public (short-term) debt to $7.5 billion. Concomitantly, its neo-colonial market economy had prevailed, leaving the fattest bone for the wealthiest — not the patient — dog.


Till Capitalism Do Us ‘Part

Though Jakande embarked on low-cost housing projects during his 1979-1983 tenure as Governor of Lagos State, truly ‘affordable’ housing - at least for the urban poor - was near impossible, and housing prices were further offset by excessive demand. In 1982, however, when Oil crashed and interest rates spiked, economic crises loomed in Nigeria as employment, among other macroeconomic variables, declined. By 1985 and 1986, debt had reached $19.55 billion and $23.40 billion, respectively; rendering Nigeria incapable of paying her (trade) bills.

In the light of defaults and a failed Paris Club Agreement, Nigeria embarked on an IMF-backed Structural Adjustment Program (SAPs) in 1986 which mandated liberalist policies and rapid deregulation. Rather than alleviate poverty, this capitalist hangover threw Nigeria into a macroeconomic imbalance; inducing economic hardship2 and reducing access to finance, particularly for the poor.

Essentially, the financial deregulation gave the upper hand to the rich, as the poor lacked the capital base, savings and collateral assets needed to secure loans and/or property3; neither affording the interest rates offered nor the high rental costs resulting from an acute supply deficit in dwelling units4. As with jobs, this further paved the way for the informal markets to fill the exclusion gap, leading to a proliferation of slums in Nigeria.


Unveiling The Bride

In Lagos, urban spaces became more politicised5; effecting a widening housing gap, and an uprise in make-shift homes6 and informal settlements on illegally7 occupied land. While some may argue that the rise of slums is embedded in the poor maintenance culture of Nigerians and traditional approaches to urbanism8, one cannot ignore the role of the governments negligence9, apathy and antipathy10 allows for low-income houses deteriorate into slums.

Irrespective of the reason, the prevalence of slums in Lagos continues to be a nightmare for the technocratic administration obsessed with perfecting the art of a megacity and creating facsimiles of European towns. From an external view point, slum growth mirrors an unresponsive government, insecurity and informality; de-incentivising Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and deconstructing the image needed to harness its economic prowess.

The result, therefore, is a vicious cycle of inequality, for which each time Lagos walks down the development altar, it unveils urban slum growth. This, in addition to Lagos’ land frontier, an inpouring of in-migrants and immigrantsc and insufficient capacity, forges a love-hate relationship between the city and the urban poor. Migrants, who are often faced with a skills mismatch, work informal jobs - averting tax - and forming informal settlements; leaving the urbanising city of Lagos in a limbo.


a UNCHS categorises slums by the high rates of population per household, poorly built structures and physical impediments including shortages of safe water, sanitation, electricity and other basic social amenities. From a legal perspective, they are considered as ‘illegal’ due to a lack of security of land tenure and are often excluded from public goods provision.

b A concept known as Dutch Disease.

c According to the UN-Habitat, the Lagos population grew a 108.5 percent from 3.5 million in 1985 to 7.3 million in 2000. The population of Lagos is currently estimated at 17-21 million, though the LASG caps it at 23 million.


1 Nwanna C., (2012), Gentrification in Lagos State: Challenges and Prospects, British Journal of Arts and Social Sciences.

2 Folarin S., (2010), The Spatial Economy of Abjection: The Evacuation of Maroko Slum in Nigeria in Encountering the Nigerian State: Africa Connects, pp. 55-78. Palgrave Macmillan.

3 Agbola T. and Agunbiade E. M.,(2009), ‘Urbanization, Slum Development and Security of Tenure: The Challenges of Meeting Millennium Development Goal 7 in Metropolitan Lagos, Nigeria’, pp. 77-106.

4 Ajanlekoko J. S., (2001), Sustainable Housing Development in Nigeria - The Financial and Infrastructural Implication.

5 Peil M., (1975: 309), The Common Man's Reaction to Nigerian Urban Government, African Affairs, Vol.74 (296).

Fourchard L., (2011), also explores this in 'Lagos, Koolhaas and Partisan Politics in Nigeria. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research', Vol. 35 (1).

6 Simon F. R., Adegoke A. K. and Adewale B.A., (2013), Slum Settlements Regeneration in Lagos Mega-city: an Overview of a Waterfront Makoko Community, International Journal of Education and Research, Vol. 1 (3).

7 Alagbe O., (2006), Combating the Challenges of Rise in Urban Slums in Cities in Developing World: A Case Study of Lagos State.

8 Immerwahra D., (2007), The politics of architecture and urbanism in postcolonial Lagos, 1960–1986 Journal of African Cultural Studies. Vol. 19 (2), pp. 165-186.

9 Alagbe O., (2006).

10 Agbola and Agunbiade, (2009).