Congestion is reducing quality of life in Lagos and this may get worse

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As predicted years ago by the United Nations, the population of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve is now over 20 million. But despite its huge population, it has a land area of only 738 km2, equaling a population density of 13,405/km2. Unlike Lagos, Gary, one of its sister cities in the United States, has just 621.7 persons per square kilometer.

The current rate of population growth in Lagos is fast becoming a significant burden to the well-being of its people. Poverty is spreading, sanitation is worsening and the city suffers a lot of pollution. Traffic congestion in the city is one of the worst in the world. But this is just starting; Africa’s population is estimated to double to 2.4 billion by 2050. If more than 10 percent of the continent’s current population is from Nigeria and more than 10 percent of Nigeria’s population is from Lagos, there is a fair idea of what the population of Lagos could be in the next three decades. Sadly, development over the years has not matched population growth, leaving a strain on the available infrastructure which is largely inadequate to serve the people living in the former Nigerian capital.

Although Lagos, which has a higher GDP than Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, attributes its high internally generated revenue (about $116 million monthly) to its large population; an out of control population will not enable quality living if resources are overstretched. It, therefore, came as no surprise to many Lagosians that the city was ranked as one of the least livable cities in the world, finding itself in the midst of war-torn cities like Damascus and Tripoli.

Albeit not the only port city in Nigeria, Lagos has the most preferable sea port for importers and hosts the head offices of most financial institutions and major corporations. It is also the centre of the Nigerian music and movie industry, and the only Nigerian state where the economy thrives without the federal government. People, therefore, troop into Lagos daily from within and outside Nigeria for several purposes, from business engagements to exhibitions, job search and even begging. Decongesting the city may be hard, as long as its status as the commercial nerve of Nigeria remains. But the number of people living in the city can be reduced gradually.

Cost of living in the city has done little or nothing to discourage people from trooping in. For those who cannot afford the ridiculously expensive houses in the city, the suburbs become a choice place of abode. Now occupied to its capacity, population in Lagos suburbs is spilling over to neighbouring state, Ogun. Many people working in Lagos who cannot afford the unreasonably high rent in the city or its congestion, live outside the state, usually in houses they own. While this would have solved the problem of congestion in Lagos, bad transport infrastructure has discouraged several others from living outside the city.

“I live at Mowe [Ogun State] and I work at Victoria Island,” Mr. Tinubu, a driver at a commercial bank told me. “I spend a total of six hours or more in traffic sometimes. Imagine the stress I go through everyday but I have no choice; I can’t afford a house close to where I work.”

Mr. Tinubu tells me that his colleague’s case is worse. “He comes from Ota [Ogun State] every day. He has a bus with which he carries passengers on the way. But besides the money he makes from that, I don’t envy him. He’s not living well at all.”

Mr. Tinubu and his friend’s situation would not be strange in Europe where a man went as far as Spain to live when he found out London where he worked would be too costly to live.


A recent research lays credence to Mr Cookey’s claim.  Cookey told BuzzFeed that the trip takes 5 ½ hours. An average Lagosian sometimes spends more time on the road daily.

The solution to the overpopulation of Lagos does not lie with Lagos alone; Nigeria has to remember its former capital.

“The sheer human traffic that daily throng Lagos for business certainly calls for additional allocation of resources to the state to absorb the pressure,” writes a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afe Babalola.

“Part of what the federal government should do to redress the issue is to pay priority attention to road construction and rehabilitation and other social amenities in Lagos,” he adds.

The government should also focus on improving the transportation network in and around Lagos, as this will encourage many who cannot afford the city to live in nearby towns. Imagine a high-speed rail network that links towns in Osun, Oyo and Ogun States to Lagos.

Andre Dzikus, Coordinator of the Urban Basic Services Branch (UBSB) of the UN-Habitat also offers solutions to congestion in Lagos.

“Better integration of land-use and transport planning can result in compact and walkable city forms reducing the need for travel. Policies to promote this should be adopted,” he said.

But Lagos is far from ending its congestion challenge. According to the World Bank, Africa will have an additional 300 million urban residents in the next two decades. By 2050, 60 percent of all Africans will live in an urban area. More people are going to move to Lagos, especially with the slow pace of urbanization in other parts of Nigeria.


The Nerve Africa


Business way to the grave

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Igbo was spoken freely and the menu at most restaurants was dominated by Nsala and Oha soup (predominantly Igbo dishes). Even the names being called around were Chinedu, Chigozie and other Igbo names that I have never heard. This is not Enugu, nor is it Onitsha, it’s a spare parts market in Lagos where 89 percent of the dealers are Igbo.

As we drove into Otto market where imported Honda parts are retailed in cubicle-like shops that barely allowed their owners enough space to put a chair, we discussed how industrious people from Nigeria’s southeast are. But beneath this was a people who cared less about their environment once business is fine.

In his paper, The Igbo Entrepreneur in the political economy of Nigeria Professor of Sociology, Olutayo Olanrewaju writes that “the Igbo, when compared to the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are in the forefront of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the informal sector”. The investments of Ndigbo (Igbo word for Igbo people) transcends ethnic and religious lines. Statistics show that Igbos have more than N300 trillion investment in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

While we discussed the business acumen of the Igbo people with deep admiration, my scientific mind would not stop bringing up a question about death, and it wasn’t about business folding up.

Life expectancy in Nigeria is 52 years. All things being equal, an average Igbo man will live at least 52 years. Sadly, despite their hard work, the Igbo men in this market may not live that long and it’s their fault.

Power in Nigeria is very poor, with just 40 percent of people in the country having access to the available epileptic supply. Businesses therefore rely on generators. Every shop at market had at least a power generating set. “Na everybody get. Some shops get two sef. You may want to charge your phone. Even if you no use am during the day, we stay late and we have to on the generator to see when e dark,” said Stanley, an apprentice at Eze Ventures.

According to Stanley, the noise is sometimes deafening but people at the market are now used to it. Noise pollution can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance. At one time or the other, several traders at the market have experienced this, but few have traced it to noise pollution.

Uchenna is a friend of Stanley’s but he is not an apprentice. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics. He decided to open a shop at the market with a loan from his uncle after two years of unfruitful job search. He understands the health effects of most of the things that have become the market norms but like the other traders, he has to be present where he earns a living.

“I used to cover my ears with muffs to filter the noise a little because I know how it can affect me but do you honestly think anyone can keep that up for long?” Uchenna, who says he does not like his name shortened to Uche, told me.

I was happy that I had finally met someone who understands what I was trying to preach. My message was simple; ‘I love your entrepreneurial spirit, guys. In fact, I have a lot to learn from you business-wise, but why don’t you try out environmentally friendly means of getting power. These generators aren’t too good for your health.’ Maybe it came out the wrong way, but the owner of the last shop I visited before Uchenna had some bitter words for me. It’s good that I was quick to forget his name but his words still sting.

You people always think you know everything. You are here telling us to find alternative. If government give us light, we go dey use gen? I buy N1,500 fuel every day, you think say e sweet me? Instead of telling the government that they are not working, you lazy people will be looking for easy story to write for market. Your mates abroad dey tackle government, but all you journalists know here is to collect bribe from them and say power is better. Since you enter this market, you don see light?

He continued talking until a customer showed up to ask for Honda Flywheel for Civic 2008 model. “E dey jare, my brother,” he said, ignoring me.

I left thinking about everything he said, they were true. But I am not one of the “you people” he talked about.

The discussion with Uchenna has eroded every pain I felt from the previous interview. I had someone who understood the effects of noise pollution, and not only that, he knew they (dealers at the market) may all be dying from the effects of carbon monoxide pollution caused by excessive use of generators.

“I try my best to minimise the use of generators. If I need power just to illuminate my shop, I use rechargeable LED lights. They work just fine,” said Uchenna. “We read stories of people killed by carbon monoxide poisoning every day, but no one really thinks deeply about it here. I do.”

Uchenna said the concentration of carbon monoxide in the market could be in excess of 1000 parts per million (PPM). I agreed. Undiluted warm car exhaust without a catalytic converter gives off carbon monoxide with a concentration of 7,000 PPM. The concentration of CO from genertaors could be worse. Note that it only takes continuous exposure to CO concentration of 6400 PPM for a man to die. explains what Parts Per Million (PPM) means using an example:100 PPM CO means that for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of CO. In addition to measuring the current level of CO concentration, another measurement used is the Time-Weighted Average (TWA). This measures your average exposure to CO over time, and is also measured in PPM. For example, if you were exposed to a large dose of CO in the begining of the day, but none afterwards, your TWA for the day would be low, since for most of the day you had no exposure. If, however, you are continually exposed to 20 PPM CO throughout the day, your TWA for the day will be 20 PPM.

While we agreed that the health effects may happen only in the long term as none of the traders gets holed up in a CO-polluted room, Uchenna added that exhaust from a wood fire used in making akara (bean cake) and boiled corn by some women who sold at the market, adds to the pollution.

My discussion with Uchenna ended with a call for action but while he loves the idea, he doubts if he would be able to take up the burden.

“If I could advise them to reduce the use of generators, it will be nice. More so, we do not sell products that need to be tested with electricity. They can all use lights like mine if it’s just to illuminate their shops,” Uchenna said.

“Business is good at Otto spare parts market,” the traders told me but they must be careful about how their activities affect them and the environment for their sakes and the future of their businesses.


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It’s 6:17am in Lagos, Nigeria. The hustling and bustling starts this early. Obalende is already busy with human and vehicular traffic. The ‘businessmen’ are also out early to get their share from the big pay they believe comes with suit and tie. The ‘businessmen’ are calling out to passersby to patronise them; the puff puff sellers, the bread sellers, orange sellers, and yes, I saw roadside pharmacies too, with drugs displayed on boxes. I wonder if these guys in suits&ties actually buy drugs here.What are these men saying ‘Fisebililahi’ selling? I can also see a guy with a message hung around his neck; ‘I am deaf and dumb’. They all are businessmen; they chose the right time to come out. Most of them will leave the streets at 9 or 10, to come back at 3 or 4 when their customers will be returning home. There is only one thing in their minds, both the businessmen and the guys in suits&ties, it’s survival!