The Pride of Africa’s Mega City

Drive, trek or move out!

Cities that inhabit 10 million or more inhabitants are described as mega cities. The largest of them are Tokyo in Japan, Jakarta in Indonesia, Delhi in India, Seoul in South Korea and Shanghai, China.

As the novel corona virus (2019-nCov) poses a major test of China’s capability to govern large cities, I’m concerned about Africa’s most populous city and its capacity to manage its aspired mega city status on which the city prides itself.

Cities are powerful engines that bring people together and help meet individual and collective needs. But when needs are not met, it is logical for citizens to evaluate their purpose of investing thier lives in such a place.

Residents of Lagos wake up daily to contend with accessibility and mobility hurdles. The inadequacy (or lack of it in some areas) of public transportation alternatives, road infrastructure and parking space to accommodate vehicles is an issue that weighs down on the aspiring mega city’s population.

Many residents of Lagos adopted coping mechanisms, such as riding okada and the three-wheeled rickshaw popularly known as keke napep, to get by in the densely populated traffic-prone city.

For the purpose of this essay I’ll designate such alternative commercial transportation providers with the acronym ACToPs.

Earlier this month the government of Lagos state began enforcing a law that restricted (and banned) in many areas the use of ACToPs. This action inflicts suffering on thousands of its middle-class and low-class residents who relied on these means of transportation.

I expected a mass action against the government in protest of the enforcement but to my dismay, after initial sporadic rallies in parts of the state, business returned to normal.

To give some perspective, Lagos state during the previous regime was known for vocal opposition to the Nigerian Federal government. The Occupy Nigeria movement of 2012 was birthed and driven by Lagosians. In my view, the activism spirit in this city has dwindled rather quickly. I worry that people are seething in their hardship to make it through an accumulation of daily stress the city serves.

People, Planet and Profit is what sustainable cities of the world like Zurich and Stockholm consider in development as the Sustainable Cities Index has shown.

Conversely, major cities across Africa and Asia are represented in the bottom-ten sustainable cities ranking. Elevated levels of congestion and inability to meet accessibility are factors that contribute to the poor performance of these countries.

Lagos is one of the bottom-ten sustainable cities. What makes her stand out from other countries in that category, however, is the anticipation and flamboyance of the government at the prospect of becoming Africa’s model mega city.

I’m often tempted to ask government officials I meet “What exactly is Lagos state proudly modelling to Africa?”. Is it the ease of doing business or access to public transport?

Going by the standards of sustainable cities, mega or not, Lagos is unprepared. Take for instance the car dependence model which the world moves away from. Lagos appears to be encouraging greater use of private cars. The influx of cars on roads was an immediate effect of the ban and restriction of the ACToPs.

It is not difficult to see why ACToPs were accepted by residents. The government fails to provide transportation alternatives for the twenty-two million people chasing opportunities in the upbeat metropolitan city. Lagos traffic can be stiff. It can be as tight as trying to push a finger through a mass of stiff dread-locked hair.

However, the ever pliant keke and okada can be relied on in some situations. They can get you to a business meeting if you find yourself stuck in a tight traffic.

Regulating the reckless ACToPs seems daunting or perhaps impossible to some but the daredevils must have saved thousands of jobs and money too, for people who could have missed thier flight.

Lagos is the city where the strong survive. And now, residents are surviving with three options they have.

Option one is to drive your own car. Residents without cars must now buy one.

Option two is to trek. As taxi-hailing services experience a surge due to high demand, riders have to take long walks of up to seven and more kilometers to reach thier destination.

The third option fulfills the secret wish of many Lagosians by birth or naturalization. The wish to have itinerant northerners (many undertake ACToP jobs) sent back to their home states. Though subtle, the hidden motivation is to have those who cannot drive or trek, simply leave the city. Move out!

Tokyo is currently the largest mega city in the world with 37.4 million inhabitants. In 2100, the baton passes from China to Lagos when her population hits 88 million. This situation warrants some fear when you think about how Lagos manages the basic needs of its population.

Take for instance, the construction of roads or the underground which can take decades before they are finalized. It is improbable that the development of infrastructure will keep up with the pace of population growth.

I would argue that, as a model, population should not be the paramount criteria that defines a city as a mega city. For cities like Lagos to develop into a truly model mega city, the city must understand what it takes to be sustainable in the first place.

Sustainable cities are places that continue to challenge themselves to meet the needs of their people for today and tomorrow.

Accommodating the operations of ACToPs in Lagos is just one solution. There are a few others. A mega city must encourage innovation and focus to align reforms with improvement of mobility and connectivity. Economic opportunities for all classes must be protected, crime rates checked concurrently.

No city in Africa can offer Lagos systematic experiences on governing a mega city, as Nigeria’s context is incomparable geographically and culturally.

A long road is ahead of Lagos. But the city can explore its own ways to first understand sustainability before its emergence as a mega city.

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