Rapid Urbanization and Urban Development: Implications for Housing in Lagos State.

Rapid Urbanization and Urban Development: Implications for Housing in Lagos State.

Urbanization has been a key force of economic development throughout Nigeria and the world. Rural-urban migration provides access to employment and business opportunities, good healthcare, education, communication, transportation, and security. Globally, 55.3% of the world’s 4.2 billion people lived in urban areas in 2018. By 2050, that percentage is projected to reach 68% according to a United Nations report.1 Nigeria’s urban population already makes up over 50% of its +200 million population; it is expected to add 189 million urban dwellers by 2050.

Rural migrants are flocking to urban centers. This is particularly the case in Lagos state, Nigeria’s economic and industrial hub. Its urbanization rate is about 5.8% per annum; it was ranked the 18th largest city in the world in 2018. However, the urban planning and development policies driving Lagos’s megacity aspirations are disconnected from the livelihood realities of the majority in the state. It is important that Lagos places a higher priority on housing in its overall development plan, as most of its population are poor, rural migrants and slum dwellers.

Lagos State: Case Study

Lagos has grown from a tiny fishing village in the late 15th century to a state of more than 22 million residents today and is the most populous city in Nigeria. It occupies 3,577 km2 making it the smallest state in the country by land mass. 21% of Lagos is wetlands consisting of creeks, lagoons and rivers.4 Its concentration of industry, commerce and administration of capital, labour and technology accounts for over 60% of Nigeria’s activities. It has experienced a much faster growth rate than any other urban center in the country. In 1985, it was ranked the 31st largest city in the world, with a population of 5.8 million; in 1990, the population increased to 7.7 million, making it the 22nd largest city in the world. The metro area population of Lagos was roughly 13.5 million as of 2018, making it the 18th largest city in the world.

Lagos has been a powerful generator of national economic growth, contributing over 30% of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP). The development goal of the state is to become ‘a model African megacity’ and a global economic and financial hub that is safe, secure, functional, and productive. However, the urban development policies and regulations driving this megacity aspiration are disconnected from the realities of the majority.

For the most part, people in Lagos are poor, rural migrants who live in informal and slum settlements with high infrastructure costs, habitat fragmentation, water and air pollution and reduction in overall quality of life.8 Urbanization tends to increase land values and subsequently rental costs which poor migrants, the majority of Lagos’s population, often cannot afford. These settlements are often targeted for demolition under the cloak of urban development, which in most cases comes with no compensation or alternative living arrangements10, leading to the displacement of the dwellers.

There is already a housing deficit of more than 17 million units.11 Meanwhile, Lagos Affordable Public Housing (LAPH), an ongoing private-public partnership, intends to construct 20,000 affordable housing units within five years (2017-2022). However, the scope of delivery is either not known or masked in a muddle. Given that many of these sub-par residential settlements require significant renewal investment, the shortage of decent affordable housing presents a good opportunity for prospective private sector players to improve the capacity of the construction sector to address these needs. The architectural design should drive affordable solutions and provide economies of scale through which large-scale production could be optimized. In addition, government intervention is needed in Lagos state to provide subsidized credit, cooperative housing and social support programs.

Lessons from Brazil and Egypt

 A close examination of Brazil and Egypt provides important insights about urban development process and policy with greater emphasis on housing. Both countries have large populations (approximately 211 million in Brazil and 100 million in Egypt in 2019), and both were long classified as “over-urbanized” countries. Brazil and Egypt had similar challenges with predominantly informal and slum settlements in the urban cores several decades ago. Nevertheless, the two countries have had success in implementing appropriate urban development frameworks, such as community-based and city-wide upgrading programs, private-public partnerships and an elaborate national housing policy.

Brazil, for instance, rebuilt its urban governance policy to accommodate the participation of all urban dwellers in decision-making processes, which played a decisive role in affirming the socio-political right to adequate housing. The ‘City Statute’, a 2001 federal law that governs urban development, explicitly requires the participation of residents in the urban planning process.14 In addition, Brazil’s social housing program, Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life) launched in 2009, in combination with the Growth Acceleration Program for Slum Upgrading effective from 2007, is a notable example of housing development in the country. These programs primarily target low-income groups and slum dwellers. At the same time, there are curative and preventive measures to develop the prevalent inadequate housing conditions in slums and minimize both the growth of existing ones and the emergence of new ones.15 A robust policy of initial subsidy grants and enhanced housing credits, benefiting from a steady economic growth and a well-focused social agenda for Brazil, culminated in the success of these initiatives.

The low prevalence of slums in Egypt reflects its long-term political commitment to slum upgrading, slum prevention and housing alternatives for the urban poor. The Egyptian government’s initiative of slum upgrading, which began in Hai El Salam, Ismailia in 1978, is a pioneer in international best practice. The strategy that was used in this context was to allow the slum dwellers to upgrade their houses incrementally.

In Lagos state, it is worth exploring this instance of self-redevelopment of a slum with minimal government interference, particularly in view of the limited resources available to the government. In Egypt, non-governmental initiatives for slum upgrading were also implemented in the 2000s through influential non-governmental organizations. They introduced valuable pilots for on-site redevelopment of homes for the slum dwellers as an alternative to the predominant approach of local governments resettling slum dwellers in new remote locations. As the region became more developed, the initial poor-quality homes were completely replaced by high-quality, well-designed dwellings over time.

How Lagos can integrate the complex realities of the majority into its development goal

Investment in upgrading programs: Implementing citywide, slum-upgrading programs that can improve the housing conditions and the quality of life in existing slums in Lagos is a first and crucial step for the state government to achieve urban modernity. Just like Egypt, Lagos state government should allow self-redevelopment of slums with financial support where needed and in so doing, offer the slum dwellers the prospect of contributing a significant share of domestic capital formation through self-built housing.

Comprehensive development plans: Secondly, urban development plans need to be modified around citizen participation, which could be adopted by the local government councils. The transparency in the planning process is central for promoting urban development in Lagos. For instance, in approaching affordable housing delivery in a large city like Lagos, multiple housing delivery outlets are required. This will be difficult to implement without the participation of urban dwellers.

Innovations: Everyone in urban centers is affected by the problem of urban slum growth. It, therefore, should be the responsibility of both the public and private sectors to create innovative methods, like mixed use and low-income housing, for decent affordable homes for the residents of the state, especially those within the low-income bracket. Also, policies enabling investment in quality housing, such as a real estate finance support scheme, should be considered by the state government in order to prevent the rise in slums and informal settlements in the future.


Urban areas are considered to have multifaceted roles in nations. They are at the center of a nation’s technical advancement and economic growth as seen in Lagos state. That is why populations will continue to move to urban settings. Thus, the Lagos state government and development agencies should focus on adapting to the trend of urbanization.

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