When Okafor Ofoegbu left his village in the Eastern part of Nigeria for Lagos, the country’s sprawling city and commercial capital, he did so with high optimism, thinking that the city was the answer to the many unanswered questions about life and living that forced him out of his place of birth.
It is believed that the city is a land of opportunities and Ofoegbu had no doubt about that, hence, he told himself that he must, on coming to the city, tap into these opportunities, position himself properly by getting something doing, earn income, build a house and set up a family.
But coming to the city was a great eye-opener for Ofoegbu because there and then it dawned on him that the grass is always greener from afar; that perception is always different from reality. This is Nigeria where cities are unplanned and so, life and living are not only difficult, but also stressful, tortuous and miserable.
In advanced economies of the world, when cities grow and urbanisation rises, they usually do so with economic growth and wellbeing, improved living standards for the people, and increased prospects for job and wealth creation.
But, in Africa, when cities grow and urbanisation follows, they come as liabilities chiefly because cities are not planned. Expectation is that, in about 15 years to come, unless something happens to check it, city population will double its current figure of about 65 percent of the continent’s total population.
Though misery is an off-shoot of many unfavourable human conditions, it is almost always linked to poverty and suffering. Of the many sorrows of life that include the anguish of death, the torture of poverty, the pain of alienation and betrayal by loved and cherished ones, Bertha M. Clay, an English writer, contends that none is as heart rending as the misery of long suffering.
In Nigeria misery is a native. It lives and thrives in many homes which is why there is protestation, in many quarters, that the recent ranking of Nigeria as the 6th most miserable country in the world is incorrect because, given the reality on ground, the country ought to have been ranked number 1.
Steve Hanke, an economist from John Hopkins University, United States, in the 2018 Misery Index report, ranked Nigeria among the top miserable countries of the world, citing unemployment, poor access to bank loans, among others.
But, both experience and findings have shown that poor human conditions, very common in unplanned cities, are major sources of misery in Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular. Nigerians, whether in the city or in the rural areas, live miserable lives.
Those in the cities, especially Lagos, seem to suffer more. Lagos is urbanising rapidly. This is not an economic asset which it is supposed to be because it is happening in a largely unplanned city.
It is estimated that about 60 percent of the urban city dwellers in Africa lives in slums and Nigeria has a large share of this percentage. Lagos, which is the country’s largest commercial city, has nine identified slum areas including Ijora Badia, Amukoko, Ajegunle, Okokomaiko, Orile, among others and over 70 percent of the city’s 20 million people live in these slum areas. Abuja, the federal capital city, also has a number of growing slum areas like Kuje, Kubwa, Nyanya and others.
Majority of the people in these urban slums live on dollar a day. Their sources of livelihood are mainly at the city centres where they serve as domestic servants to the very few rich who live there. Others are mid-income workers whose places of work are also at the city centres.
From these slums they commute to their various places of work and businesses at the city centre, spending quality hours on traffic, enduring stress, getting weak and sick, in some cases, and ultimately miserable even before getting to their work places.
Every morning, people from Okokomaiko, Ajegunle, Agege, etc are seen milling out and snaking their way to Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Lekki or Victoria Island where they work, and repeat the same process in the evening on their way back. The same thing happens in Abuja where every early morning residents from Nyanya, Kuje, Kubwa and even Suleja in the neighbouring Niger State file out like ants to their offices at the city centre and come back the same way in the evening.
All these are sources of stress, coupled with the fact that many of these residents have no access to electricity and clean water. They go home to either endure the cacophonous noises of generators or sweat their way into sleep for the night.
An official of the UN-Habitat, therefore, advises that governments at all levels should improve the city, bearing in mind that improving the city means improving the economy and the human person, thus creating chances of people getting more jobs.
Promoters of upcoming cities should, therefore, reflect modern city development that incorporates living, working and leisure.
Source: Chuka Uroko