It is high time the government stopped seeing slum dwellers as an eyesore that must be uprooted for a vision of a mega urban city that the majority of the current residents cannot afford to live in. An inclusive city is needed for the future sustainability of Nigeria’s economic hub that benefits everyone.


In Nigeria’s current election cycle, the election of the president has dominated public discourse and diverted attention away from the March 9 election of public representatives at the state government level – the public office holders who will have the most significant impact on the lives and livelihood of the majority of Nigerians.

Lagos is the most populous state in Nigeria and in Africa, with an estimated population of 21 million people. This is 2.5 times the population of New York (8.8 million) and five times the population of Johannesburg (4.4 million). Earlier this month, the outgoing governor of Lagos State presented the 2019 budget to the State House of Assembly. The proposed 2019 budget is $2.4 billion, while the 2018 budgets of Johannesburg and New York were $4.4 billion and $89 billion respectively. This shows the grand challenge of tackling social issues in Lagos with very limited financial capital to do so.

Lagos is largely dubbed as the city of the future and many foreign media have been lauding new public-private partnership projects such as the Eko Atlantic City (10 million square metres of land reclaimed from the ocean) currently being constructed with new urban designs and self-energy generation.

However, this story of the development in Lagos largely ignores the prevailing story of housing inequality in Lagos.

A review of the Lagos Master Plan for development 2012-2025 at the heart of the electoral promises of the current ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), acknowledges the myriad challenges facing an overpopulated city like Lagos, including on issues such as housing. In the government’s own analysis in the Master Plan, an estimated 15 million (70 per cent) of the population of Lagos live in slum housing. A 2016 World Bank Report confirms that two of three people in Lagos live in slum dwelling.

The depth of the government’s misguided initiative in tackling the housing problem in Lagos extends to the forced mass evictions that took place in 2017 from various waterfront communities in Lagos. According to Amnesty International, over 30,000 people were forcibly evicted from settlements in Lagos in defiance of court orders, while 11 people were unlawfully killed…


Despite this, housing is not on the priority list of the manifesto of the two main candidates in the forthcoming elections in Lagos. It is not mentioned or addressed at all in the manifesto of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while the APC mentions housing as a supporting economic sector of the five main pillars it aims to address. The essential aim is to continue the current government’s housing scheme that is insufficient at best.

The housing scheme introduced by the outgoing government of Lagos is the Rent-to-Own programme. This programem is described as “a system whereby prospective home owners make a 5% down payment, take possession and pay up the remaining balance as rent towards the ownership of the property over a period of 10 years.” The cheapest home available under this scheme (a one bedroom house) costs around $5,500. While that may sound affordable, this initiative ignores the reality in Lagos where majority of the residents are part of the 88 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty.

According to the World Bank, it costs $50,000, compared with $36,000 in South Africa and $26,000 in India to construct a three-bedroom house in Nigeria in a location with access to public amenities, yet the average annual income per person in Lagos is $8,000.

The depth of the government’s misguided initiative in tackling the housing problem in Lagos extends to the forced mass evictions that took place in 2017 from various waterfront communities in Lagos. According to Amnesty International, over 30,000 people were forcibly evicted from settlements in Lagos in defiance of court orders, while 11 people were unlawfully killed and at least 17 people went missing after violent evictions by security forces and unidentified armed men. These evicted residents were not consulted, compensated or provided alternative housing. Despite the court ruling that this eviction was unconstitutional, compensation and resettlement of the displaced residents are yet to occur. Notwithstanding the government’s claims that these evictions were as a result of environmental concerns, these evictions have largely occurred because of the government’s desire to create access to land for private developers to construct luxury housing developments that the majority of the residents of Lagos cannot afford.

A better pro-poor policy on housing is needed in Lagos. Given the budget constraints in Lagos, current initiatives such as the construction of affordable housing for 10,000 residents, the rent-to-own programme or creating affordable mortgage schemes as currently being done and prescribed in the APC’s manifesto, are not the solutions to the housing problem in Lagos.


Since Nigeria transitioned into a democratic state 20 years ago, successive governments in Lagos have failed to prioritise the needs of the majority of its residents. Prioritising public-private partnerships on luxury housing developments such as the Eko Atlantic City project shows the lack of respect the Lagos state government has for the dignity of the majority of the people it governs.

A better pro-poor policy on housing is needed in Lagos. Given the budget constraints in Lagos, current initiatives such as the construction of affordable housing for 10,000 residents, the rent-to-own programme or creating affordable mortgage schemes as currently being done and prescribed in the APC’s manifesto, are not the solutions to the housing problem in Lagos. These initiatives do not benefit the 15 million people living in slum housing in Lagos.

For the long term sustainability of Lagos, particularly in meeting the challenges of overpopulation, as more people from within Nigeria continue to relocate to Lagos to seek economic opportunities, investing in the poorest neighbourhoods in Lagos should be a primary concern for the incoming government of Lagos. Improving slum housing through the provision of public infrastructure such as upgrading sanitation through the provision of public toilets and access to clean drinking water can be a starting point to deal with these housing challenges.

A rethink of the Lagos Master Plan is also necessary. The government needs to put the welfare of the majority of the residents of Lagos at the heart of the plan and begin to recognise the inherent dignity in each human being. Majority of the workers that make Lagos work, including care workers, drivers, security personnel, cleaners, construction workers and various handyworkers, often retreat to live in these slum locations. Without them, Lagos cannot function. It is high time the government stopped seeing slum dwellers as an eyesore that must be uprooted for a vision of a mega urban city that the majority of the current residents cannot afford to live in. An inclusive city is needed for the future sustainability of Nigeria’s economic hub that benefits everyone.

Fola Adeleke is a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics.