LAGOS--Real estate speculators in Nigeria all operate in a similar fashion. They buy up vast acreage in landmark locations across the country and build attractive accommodations--from duplex apartments to bungalows. Where existing structures are unfit for human habitation, they are bulldozed to give way to swankier substitutes, offering potential buyers a slice of luxury living. The developments are meant for the superrich in a country where decent housing is hardly the birthright of every citizen.
Still, residents of the impoverished countryside--where even the most basic infrastructure remains an all but inaccessible dream--continue to flock to the nation's cities. The demand for urban accommodations in Nigeria rises by the day, while few of the new migrants can afford what is on the market--even housing developments financed by the government. At least 16 million housing units will have to be provided to address the shortage in urban shelters that Nigeria faces, even today, since the number of people entering the cities far outstrips the pace at which affordable housing is being constructed. Some 70 percent (56 million) of the country's urban population live in crude housing and slums, according to the United Nations Agency for Human Settlement.
Across Nigeria, these urban problems are only multiplying. Today, there are six cities in Nigeria with a population of 1 million or more. Another dozen cities contain 500,000 to 1 million. Most were little more than villages at the end of the 20th century. In a 1972 study of migration patterns in Nigeria, American researcher James A. McCain identified rural-urban migration as the "main factor" responsible for urban growth, involving as many as 250,000 persons per year. "This means that every year, about 0.5 percent of the rural population went to the towns," the research concluded. Two years earlier, the United Nations had put the country's annual growth rate at 2.7 percent, with the urban growth rate at more than 6 percent annually. Fast forward 40 years and the trend has only accelerated. Today, one out of every two Nigerians now lives in a city.
"People migrate to the places of opportunities," says Dr. Muyiwa Omobowale, a sociology lecturer at the University of Ibadan, in southwestern Nigeria. In recent history, cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt (population 1.6 million) and Abuja--a planned city built from the jungle beginning in 1980 and today boasting some 800,000 people--have attracted more and more migrants due to their perceived economic opportunities.
YEARS OF NEGLECT
Still, it is Lagos, once the nation's capital and still its commercial center, that lures more migrants from rural communities and towns than any other Nigerian city. With a population nudging 18 million (4 million more than in the last official census in 2006) the challenges for providing matching infrastructure and public utilities are overwhelming both the state and local governments. These tasks will not become easier in what is rapidly becoming Africa's largest city. With a projected population of 23 million by 2025, Lagos will be the world's third largest city, after Mumbai and Tokyo.
From 1993 (when Lagos lost its federal capital status to Abuja) until just before the turn of the millennium, development projects all but ceased in Lagos. As the population exploded, with millions of new arrivals from the countryside, the metropolis continued to hobble along on infrastructure put in place in the early years after Nigeria's independence in 1960. During a series of coups and counter-coups that kept the military junta in power for more than three decades, public administration floundered and with it, good governance and progress.
Nationwide, highways have failed and electricity is scarce; the infrastructure is rotting. Nigeria's total electricity needs are about 25,000 megawatts, but Nigerians currently make do with little more than 3,500. "Today, fewer than half of our citizens have access to electricity," noted President Goodluck Jonathan, addressing a gathering of potential financiers of the power sector from around the world in October. "Our mission, therefore, is for Nigeria to reach power reliability and sustainability within the shortest possible time, so as to catalyze the much needed development."
Previous attempts to pump up the power sector have...