Charting a Resilient Path Forward for Lagos

In a basic sense, cities are made of bricks and mortar. Yet a city is nothing without the people who inhabit them, making these urban centers so much more than just their physical assets. Cities are comprised of a full set of systems, which add up to a complex socio-political ecology. In this way, they tend to take on human qualities. Cities can be compassionate, smart, accommodating, even hyperactive. This is where resilience is born.

Lagos joined the 100 Resilient Cities network in May 2016, though a framework was already planted for a national focus on resilience in Nigeria. My colleagues and I officially launched the Nigeria Resilient Cities Network (NRCN) later that year with a formal commitment to stakeholder engagement, peer learning, and the incorporation of resilience strategies in urban planning. We grounded our approach in the Jane Jacobs school of thought and a “4P” urban governance model: Public-Private People Partnerships. Our approach was to be organic and clearly prioritize the people who live and work in Nigeria’s urban areas.

My work continues today as Chief Resilience Officer for Lagos, a megacity of over 21 million inhabitants and the cultural and economic heart of Nigeria. Rapid urbanization in recent years has set the stage for explosive population growth. 34 million people are expected to call Lagos home by the year 2050, and projections show Lagos to be the first in the world with an urban population of 100 million. Expansion comes hand in hand with population growth: the city is growing well beyond the administrative boundaries of Lagos State. This has huge implications for resilience at the metropolitan scale. Now is the time to build up the infrastructure and housing stock needed for our future population; to put in place secure energy and transportation systems that will service an expanding urban corridor. Built on mangrove wetlands, Lagos furthermore must become comfortable with water and the growing risk of rising sea levels.

Nearly all of our resilience challenges disproportionately affect Lagosians operating in the informal sector or who find themselves among the urban poor. A critical element of Lagos State’s resilience will be better embracing informality and bridging the divide between the formal and the informal. Taking steps to integrate informal and unplanned residential, economic, and other areas into the formal planning and development processes, although not easy, will have huge benefits across Lagos and Nigeria. From a resident’s perspective, that divide is illusory; formal and informal are often seen as components of the same system. It is common, for example, for someone to rely on the informal danfo buses or okada motorcycles to complete the last mile of a journey begun on the BRT.

Lagosians instinctively understand resilience at a personal level, if not as a quality of systems. I am fond of using analogies to make the concept of urban resilience more accessible to everyday people. The Nigerian Nollywood industry offers a great example: self-starting and adaptive, within ten years the industry had moved from an informal business model to one that attracted external support and built out an online distribution model. Within twenty years, it transformed into a professional industry backed by international investment, championing copyright enforcement and featuring global distribution.

In Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, our resilience journey must similarly start with the resources we have and build upward. I am lucky to count on the support of the Lagos State Resilience Office (LASRO), a multi-disciplinary team of technical and administrative staff drawn from ten different Ministries within Lagos State Government and housed within the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget. We want to hear from all Lagosians about their greatest challenges and what kind of opportunities exist to make our megacity a true community. As Lagos grows bigger, let’s make sure it grows stronger too. We look forward to embarking on the journey together.