Moving beyond the real estate impasse in Lagos

A new approach to housing is the only option for Lagos, a city of an estimated (and disputed) 12-20 million, of which 70% live in more than 200 informal settlements. Ifeoluwa Sowemimo argues that real estate challenges in the city of Lagos are linked with other macroeconomic factors, and the city-state needs to be more proactive in spatial policy, land reform, and infrastructure renewal if the city is to succeed. 

In Lagos the growth of informal settlements is intricately linked to the colonial administration of land. Spatial planning policies of colonial powers favoured the wealthy, and were designed to accommodate the preferences in living arrangements, economy, culture and lifestyle. Modern influences on the city were informed by an expected rise in incomes, and the infrastructure prioritised favoured highways for the future private-car owning households. But today that vision is far from current reality. The city is congested and growing at a rapid pace. 

The zoning arrangement of the colonial period still influences real estate of Lagos today. This can be illustrated by looking at the different densities across the city. The low-density residential areas of Ikoyi and Ikeja command the highest land price in Lagos. These neighborhoods were exclusive built for the colonial delegates, and has features of large European style plot layouts, building codes and architectural style, well serviced with connections to public utilities such as electricity, water, sewerage, and roads, and amenities such schools and malls.  

The medium density areas of Surulere, Illupeju, and Apapa, were designed and occupied by African civil servants, but poorly serviced compared with building codes and standards today.  The 200 slums in Lagos are located on all the left over land parcels previously reserved as buffer zones and green belts. These high density areas are characterised by poor building quality, inadequate infrastructures and no government services. There was no legal and material capacity to undertake town planning. Today these areas have become havens for private developers, who took advantage of the situation to embark on an unregulated provision of housing, which can be classified as informal. 

A building with multiple tenants in Ebute-Meta, a high density area of Lagos. Source: Panos Pictures /Felix Features

A building with multiple tenants in Ebute-Meta, a high density area of Lagos. Source: Panos Pictures /Felix Features

The zoning of land into mono-functional uses such as residential, industrial, and commercial has resulted in the exodus of people from one area to another during certain times. For example, during working hours, people move from residential areas to commercial or industrial areas. In Lagos, most of the formal commercial areas are located on the island, while most of the residential areas are located on the mainland. With only three bridges connecting the mainland and island, and an inefficient road based transport system, there is daily loss of productive hours to road traffic. This has contributed to locations such as Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria-Island becoming the choicest locations in the city, due to their location on the Island and their proximity to places of employment and livelihood.

Most of the infrastructural development projects embarked on by the authorities have been aimed at promoting and attracting formal real estate developments in the city. An example is the Lagos Mega City Project (LMCP). This project is tagged as a mass housing development of 10,000 housing units, and includes a light-rail network, construction of fourth bridge to link the Island and Mainland, construction of intra-city ring road, road expansion, and the Eko Atlantic City, which is a Public-Private Partnership waterfront project located on reclaimed land, that would accommodate 250,000 residents. 

Infrastructural projects aimed at attracting global investments to certain parts of the city has benefited the real estate markets and land speculation in those places, as their land values continue to appreciate. Such projects include: waterfront developments such as the Civic Centre, the proposed Marriott Hotel, the Civic Tower, Eko Hotels, Eko Atlantic Hotel. There is also a range of upmarket properties such as 1004 Housing Estate, Banana Island, Victoria Garden City, Lekki Phase One, Chevron Drive, Magodo Phase Two, and Ikeja GRA. 

These developments share the characteristics of top-end finishes, private service, gated and secured enclaves of the urban wealthy. These areas attract luxury malls, hotels, entertainment and leisure developments such as cinemas, bowling alleys, leisure and fitness centres, aimed at catering to the needs of the wealthy and keeping the urban poor as far away as possible. 

Plans for such private sector real estate development are ample. The increase in the number of property developers and development across the city is evidence of how the city-state is attracting commercial real estate development and Lagos’ integration with global economic forces. 

Given these trends and the powerful influence of zoning codes laid down by colonial administrations, what are the options for Lagos? The Land Decree of 1978 vested the control and allotment of all land in Lagos to the Governor of Lagos, excluding lands belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The government is unable to provide formal housing for the population, as State financed low-cost housing schemes have been aimed to cater to the accommodation requirements of Government Staff. The only solution is for the government to make available land, infrastructure and support the building of houses by the poor, for the poor. They have done the opposite.

City centre expansion along Eko Atlantic masterplan completed by Royal Haskoning DHV for Lagos State. Source: Royal Haskoning DHV

City centre expansion along Eko Atlantic masterplan completed by Royal Haskoning DHV for Lagos State. Source: Royal Haskoning DHV

Slum clearance in Lagos dates as far back as the late 1920s during the outbreak of the bubonic plague, where entire neighbourhoods were evacuated. It was estimated that 24 out of the 36 forced evictions that occurred in Nigeria between 1973 and 1995 was in Lagos. An example of such eviction was the Maroko eviction, which at that time was one of the largest slums in Nigeria with over 600,000 people evicted. Maroko was located close to neighbourhood of Ikoyi and Victoria-Island. The government justified by eviction based on the poor living conditions and promised better housing. Today the land previously occupied by the Maroko slum is known as Lekki Extension, where luxury condominiums are constructed, far from the financial reach of the previous inhabitants. 

An evicted woman stands in front of what used to be Badia East slum, cleared to make space for new middle class housing developments in the urban renewal zone financed by the World Bank. Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Flickr Page (CC)

An evicted woman stands in front of what used to be Badia East slum, cleared to make space for new middle class housing developments in the urban renewal zone financed by the World Bank. Source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Flickr Page (CC)

Several slum clearances occur in Lagos almost at an annual basis, most recently is the Ijora-Badia eviction. These clearances are known to create space for the development of more profitable and formal standard housing units, which are in sync with the aesthetic vision for Lagos as contained in its Development Plan 2012 - 2025

Lagos City-State as one of the fastest growing cities in the world has a vision of becoming Africa’s Model Mega City and Global, Economic and Financial Hub that is Safe, Secure, Functional and Productive. To achieve this laudable objective, there is need to direct investment towards economic development of Lagos.
— Lagos State Development Plan 2012 - 2025

All these violations have disrupted the aesthetic vision of spacious, uncluttered, efficient, ordered, green, grand and uniform views the authorities planned for the city. But this is the real Lagos, and unless governments will support the poor to build better quality houses, Lagos will only cater to the needs of the rich.  

About the author:

Ifeoluwa Sowemimo graduated in Economics at Babcock University and decided to enrol in the MSc Real Estate at the University of Glasgow. He hopes to be a successful valuer and multi national real estate developer in the near future. He likes to meet people of diverse background and share my experience with them. Ifeoluwa is proud of his city Lagos and loves to tell anyone who cares to listen about Lagos

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