NIGERIA is 60- despite all that she has been through as a nation. For some, it is a time to hit the street in colorful dresses for a carnival to exhibit what many a critic have described as our proclivity for flamboyance. To others, it is a time to get on our knees, thank The Almighty for bringing us this far as a united nation and, thereafter, reflect on our tortuous journey to adulthood.
How have we fared? Have we disappointed our forefathers? Are we more purposeful as we were at Independence? Are our youths happy? Are the elders smiling? What is the state of our infrastructure? Are we proud of our democracy? Is the world leaving us behind? How long will our teething problems last? When will our security challenges abate? When are we going to fully recover from the terrible effects of COVID-19 that has dealt our world a lethal blow? These are some of the many questions on my mind as I reflected on Nigeria’s Diamond Anniversary.
It all began here at the old Race Course, Tafawa Balewa Square on that rainy October 1, 1960 morning. Lagos served as the cradle of our sovereignty and the capital of Nigeria as a protectorate, then a republic (from 1914 to 1991). The unique topography of Lagos – its islands, sandbars and lagoons; our heterogeneous nature as a town that is the melting pot of cultures – has positioned our state for its leadership role in the economic, political, social and cultural development of our great country. What originated as a fishing village on an island has metamorphosed into a thriving seaport and megacity.
Lagos is no longer the nation’s political capital, but it is undoubtedly its business and financial engine-room. Indeed, it is West Africa’s commercial nerve centre. Lagos contributes 30% of Nigeria’s GDP and holds no less than 80% of the country’s industrial capacity. This is quite remarkable, considering the fact that Lagos is home to 10% of Nigeria’s 200 million+ population on a landmass representing less than 1% of our great Nation.
Realizing early that long-term investment in critical infrastructure is an intrinsic part of economic development, Lagos pioneered many key projects, such as the early rail transit system, which yielded a corresponding growth in urbanization along the line of the railway on which towns, such as Ebute-Metta, Yaba, Surulere, Ijora, Ikeja and Agege, sprouted. We witnessed the population boom of the 1970s as a result of the growth in the oil industry. This signaled a paradigm shift in our history – a period which opened up our coastal city with the influx of thousands of people seeking greener pastures and jobs in the oil industry as well as the construction of a social housing programme. It was the crystallization of an idea that would go on to define the very essence of life in the sprawling metropolis – the hot chase for “The Lagos Dream”.
As far back as the 80s, with rising unemployment statistics, we had understood the need to maximize the opportunities inherent in a city-state such as ours by diversifying the abundant economic potential and harnessing human capital for better growth. The road to actualizing this was a dedicated will to develop alternate industries in agriculture, technology, hospitality and entertainment, among others, as well as in the informal sector. Our founding vision of a megacity in which there are opportunities for all, regardless of race and colour, remains strong.
Today, a population of over 21 million residents is evidence of the unprecedented rate at which Africa’s largest city is growing. Our urban footprints in the last 60 years provide a window into the urbanization of Lagos, illustrating a story of the social, economic, environmental and political factors that have reciprocally shaped our city. Research suggests that these changes may be nothing compared to what we will witness in the next 60 years. Maintaining the current growth and migration rates, Lagos could become the world’s largest metropolis, home to 85 or 100 million people.