The city bustles with abundant energy from dawn not to dusk but another dawn, the cycle never breaks in Lagos, and its residents love to describe it as the city that never sleeps. It is the city of Fela Anikulapo Kuti the Afro beat maestro, renowned for his scathing social commentary, it is also home to Aliko Dangote originally from Kano city, but he is very much at home in Lagos these days where he oversees his 20 Billion USD fortune. Without any doubt too Lagos also happens to be the music and film capital of Africa.
However, it’s appalling slums and housing deficit, ubiquitous traffic congestions, crime rate, ocean surges are some of the issues bedeviling the city. But all that is changing, Lagos is slowly but steadily evolving for the better.
The story of Lagos is tightly knitted with Nigeria’s, the economic downturn of the early 70s and 80s led to a massive migration in search of the golden fleece to urban areas like Lagos, this led to the complete overstretching of the city to what it is today, 21 million people crammed into a space of just 356,861 hectares.
By 1999, it had reached its point of elasticity the city named Lago de Curamo in 1472 by the Portuguese had reached the point where it had to reinvent itself or begin a fast decline.
In 2007, a lawyer and an official in the former government had come to power, in a matter of months his urban renewal strides had gripped the nation –the simple fact that the urban planning redressing the obsolescence of city spaces can be applied to Lagos, shocked residents and non-residents alike.
Within a short time garbage dumps were turned into gardens. An example is the ubiquitous traffic gridlock of places like Oshodi, this area was transformed with the demolishing of illegal structures and eviction of squatters.
Thus Eko Oni Baje, loosely translated in Yoruba to mean Lagos must not spoil or Lagos will not spoil became the mantra on the lips of every man woman and child. And the world took notice too, global brands and luxury franchises from Porsche, to Radison Blu and Ermenegildo Zegna all came flocking to Lagos.
In spite of all the strides of the current government its most ambitious project to date is the Eko Atlantic City; promoters of the city describe it as the new financial epicenter of West Africa. Some are even more daring they have called it the Manhattan or the Dubai of Africa, in reference to the gulf emirate of Dubai in the UAE that went from desert to bloom in less than two decades.
When the Eko Atlantic City is finally built it will comprise seven districts the ocean front, harbor lights, business district, Eko Drive, Marina Avenue and Downtown area. The Business District will spread across 1.3 million squares meters of land; other features will include banks, insurance companies and other multinationals in the oil and gas sector. It seeks to also be a convention city with an array of auditoriums and a purposely built convention centre. The Nigerian Stocks Exchange will also have a department there.
The task of building this city falls into the masonry hands of the South Energx Ltd under a Build–Operate–Transfer (BOT) model for a period of 35 years, before ownership is transferred to Lagos state. However, the Eko Atlantic vision comes with a price tag –a massive 6 Billion USD.
The funds for the city in itself is an innovation in funding cities and urban spaces in Nigeria, ringing the dream are funds from a consortium of banks -the banking behemoth First Bank, First City Monument Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank have heavily keyed into the dream, it is also expected that proceeds from the sale of lands will also help build the infrastructure in the city.
In spite of the vision to build a new city, Eko Atlantic city won’t still solve the city’s perennial housing problem, with a current population hovering above 20 million inhabitants, according to the United Nations this figure will hit 27 million inhabitants by the year 2020. These are enough to scare any city administrator into taking the right steps.
The governor is also being supported by a highly motivated workforce; Adenike Adekanbi is the General Manager for the agency Facility Management and Maintenance for her she agreed to serve because of the passion of the leadership team; “it was obvious that a better Lagos was the main focus and the challenge”.
There are other innovative individuals and groups who share his vision like the urban renewal enthusiast and architect Kunle Adeyemi whose floating school is one of the iconic features of the stilt slum Makoko, his school design floats on more than 200 plastic barrels and has been nominated as one the inspiring building designs of the year 2014 by the London Design Museum.
Also assisting Fashola’s dream is Otto Orondam who said he is tired of criticising the threatened future of the country and as such his intervention project Slum to School Africa is providing access to education and educational materials in Lagos slums, assisted by an army of volunteers they have assisted hundreds of slum kids to get an education.
Gov. Raji Fashola the man driving this new Lagos vision has been quoted as saying “There is no finish line in this journey, it is a continuous desire to make things better than we could ever imagine” The grinding and the bustle of the city continue to go on from dawn to dawn, city administrators and the residents continue to walk the talk that Lagos must outgrow it’s slumification and become a functional city. Eko oni baje o!
Alkasim Abdulkadir is a multi-media journalist, he has worked as a Producer for BBC Media Action and as a news contributor for CNN, Aljazeera, France 24 and Guardian UK. He is Contributing Editor at The Trent.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.