In an article for Bloomberg, Judd Devremont and Todd Moss highlight the rapid urbanization of Africa, arguing that the success or failure of Africa in the global economy will depend on its cities. In Nigeria, this can be seen most clearly in Lagos.
At independence in 1960, Lagos had an estimated population of 763,000; today it is about 13 million. Together with Lagos state, the population reaches 21 million. While Lagos is by far the largest city in Nigeria, security concerns, rural poverty, and hopes for greater economic opportunity are driving people to cities all over the country. In the decade between 2007 and 2017, Nigeria’s urban dwellers increased from 41 percent of the population to about 50 percent. In 2019, there were 7 cities with a population of one million or more, 80 with a population ranging between one hundred thousand and one million, and 248 with a population between ten thousand and one hundred thousand.
But much of this urbanization is unplanned and chaotic. According to a World Bank report about African cities, “Africa’s cities feel crowded precisely because they are not dense with economic activity, infrastructure, or housing and commercial structures.” They lack “formal housing in reach of jobs, and without transport systems to connect people living farther away,” forcing residents to “forgo services and amenities to live in cramped quarters near their work.”
The realities of life in Nigerian cities are hard. In Lagos, about two of every three people live in a slum. Less than 10 percent of residents have access to piped water (for those that do, it is often riddled with sediment and unsafe to drink), forcing urban households to purchase water from vendors at up to three times the normal price charged by Lagos state. Only six percent of urban households have a flushing toilet that is connected to a sewage system.
But life goes on. For all its shortcomings, Lagos is the center of much of what is dynamic and vibrant about Nigeria, a point Judd and Todd stress about African cities in general. The informal economy provides employment incompletely captured by statistics. In Lagos, there are few beggars; everyone has a hustle. Vendors working the city’s ubiquitous traffic jams (“go slows”) sell everything from mops and buckets to juju materials to the complete works of Shakespeare.
Others provide services, such as washing the feet of market ladies several times a day. It is the home of Nollywood, a home-grown film industry that is widely influential in Africa and spreading around the world. It is the center of Nigerian telecommunications, and cell phone use is ubiquitous. The Nigerian Communications Commission stated that Internet users in Nigeria numbered 116 million in March 2019—well over half of the country’s estimated population.
The most modern of financial and other services are available to clients in the Lagos-Ibadan corridor, the capital Abuja, and sporadically elsewhere. Information technology and sophisticated financial services are starting to power the modern sectors of the economy, though not to the same extent as in South Africa or Kenya, though the economy of Lagos state is larger than that of Kenya. Hence, as Judd and Todd argue, they require attention for their enormous potential, both good and bad.
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