WHEN, in 2001, in the middle of his first term, then President Olusegun Obasanjo told a UN sponsored forum on living conditions in cities that “Lagos qualifies as an urban jungle which should not be inhabited by any sane person,” he took flak from a cross section of Nigerians who took umbrage at what they saw as a gratuitous put-down of Nigeria’s most vibrant city.
Some of the former president’s critics even went as far as holding him personally responsible for whatever strains Lagos was ex- periencing, insisting that he did next to nothing to raise Lagos’ profile as Commissioner for Works and Housing in 1975.
That spat 20 years ago comes to mind as we contemplate the just released The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) report which categorised Lagos as the second least livable city in the world, only one spot above Damas- cus, the capital of Syria, a country that, it is worth bearing in mind, has been at war for the better part of a decade. According to the London-based magazine whose annual Global Liveability Index ranks 140 cities worldwide according to five categories (stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure), Auckland, a city of 1.7 million in New Zealand, is the most livable city in the world, a position that used to be occupied by Vienna, Austria.
Lagos shares its place in the basement with cities such as Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea). Dhaka (Bangladesh), Algiers (Algeria), and Tripoli (Libya). Although the report admits that cities worldwide have struggled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (ironically, Auckland’s rise to the top is partly occasioned by the fact that New Zealand, having shut its border early, managed to keep businesses open), and while it may be true that the pandemic has exacted a severe toll on the city, there is no gainsaying that the criticisms predate the pandemic.
Historically, Lagos has never been a city for the faint of heart, with its slow traffic, garbage stacked miles high, and the low inventory of decent accommodation. It is also one of the most unequal places in the world, the splendour of Banana Island being easily cancelled out by the squalor of Shomolu-Bariga. However, there have been noticeable changes in recent times, although there is still a lot that needs to be done.
Lagos remains an investment destination and thousands of people enter the city daily with the hope of settling or making a living there because, as the country’s undoubted commercial nerve centre, it remains perhaps the only place in Nigeria where a young person’s dreams can come true literally overnight.
All of this makes the EIU ranking particularly hard to swallow. It rankles because, if anything, Lagos’ continued inability to measure up to global standards is not inevitable. What the Lagos State government needs to do is to critically examine the factors cited for the city’s low ranking and address them squarely. In this regard, Lagos being a city of approximately 20 million people, there should be a shift away from automobiles as the mode of transportation for the majority of residents.
With targeted investments and initiatives that privilege the mass of the people, the quality of life in the city can be brought up to the same level as that of the leaders in the EIU ranking. While this cannot happen overnight, we are convinced that, mobilising the indomitable spirit of its famed residents, it is achievable. Needless to say, Lagos must be granted the special status which the state government has clamoured for over time.
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