John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Lagos a Success Story?

by John Campbell
July 9, 2012

An aerial view shows the central business district in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos, April 7, 2009. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


In a celebration of Lagos and African urbanization, the Financial Times ran a piece by Xan Rice highlighting Nigeria’s commercial capital’s size, its economic importance, and its government’s energy in addressing concrete urban problems.

The UN estimated the city’s population at 11.2 million in 2011. The New York Times estimates that it is now at least twenty-one million, surpassing Cairo as Africa’s largest city. It is clear that whatever the size, and however the city is defined, Lagos is the center of one of the largest urban areas in the world. With a population of perhaps 1.4 million as recently as 1970, its growth has been stupendous. Rice estimates that Lagos generates about a quarter of Nigeria’s total gross domestic product. The center of Nigeria’s modern economy, Lagos has many millionaires, but Rice estimates that two thirds of the population are slum dwellers.

Lagos is fortunate in that one energetic governor, Babatunde Fashola, succeeded another, Bola Tinubu. Tax revenue now exceeds $92m per month, up from $3.7m per month in 1999. Fashola says that tax rates have not increased—but clearly enforcement has. Tax collection, in a system that recalls tax farming in the New Testament or under Louis XIV, is apparently performed by a private company with links to Tinubu. The company retains 10 percent of all revenue collected over a certain threshold (at present, $43m per month). With the revenue, Fashola has launched genuinely impressive transportation and sanitation initiatives that range from construction of a city rail network, bus lanes, and filling potholes to more efficient trash collection.

The energy and other initiatives implemented by the city government are in stark contrast to the poor governance and paralysis that characterizes most of the rest of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the city continues to grow explosively. If jobs in the modern economy are to be found, it will require substantial new investment in education. Nationwide, there has been remarkably little for a generation, with the exception of the rapid expansion of the university system—itself underfunded. But, Lagos illustrates what is possible when the government enters into a social contract with its citizens whereby in return for taxes, it provides services.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Daniel Mamba

    All our praises to Lagos. But there is still more to do in terms of structural corruption, clientelism and revenue distribution.

    DRC is coming in line soon, after the removal of the Kagame led imposture Government of Kabila. Stay tuned!
    Daniel Mamba

  • Posted by David Stephen

    Lagos aside population also has traffic issues, the government is working hard to ease it. There are also suggestions for this, as presented in the document:

    Lagos: Short term traffic solutions for the long term

  • Posted by Franklin Nnebe

    Lagos shows what Nigeria can be if it invests its oil revenues in infrastructure rather than exporting it all out in the form of corruption. After all it is legacy federal infrastructure (as limited as it is in Lagos) that set the stage for creating a Nigerian mega urban economy that provides much of the tax revenue which the State government realizes today. And Bola Tinubu and Fashola stand out by recognizing that for that tax revenue to continue to grow, they must provide urban infrastructure and services that will serve to continue attract investment into Lagos and help businesses to grow there.

    Interestingly, other smart state governors are recognizing the importance of creating functional cities in a Nigeria whose landscape is dotted with way too many dysfunctional cities. For example, the Rivers state government is investing in infrastructure in Port Harcourt to create an eastern mega-city that should vie with Lagos for economic power in the decades ahead. Similarly, cities like Benin City, Uyo. Calabar have all received infrastructure upgrades from visonary and energetic state governors.

  • Posted by John P. Causey, IV

    Fantastic article with a much needed positive spin!

  • Posted by Bankole Oluwafemi

    Nice article providing a top down perspective. A bottom-up perspective of the energy in city of Lagos is portrayed by a Nigerian conceptual artist here:

  • Posted by Lawrence Obi

    as Lagos is becoming interesting site in the world, still i am not sure of any protection from foreign invasion, we need to secure Lagos more than any city in Nigeria, as Lagos will be the first place to strike if there is foreign invasion.

    there should be both internal and external security, we should get ready 24/7 anti rocket and anti aircraft, both on sea, land and aerial targets. we shouldn’t wait till we lost 11m people and then start preparing to prevent reoccurred or retaliation.

    we should have heavy military base and military equipment in Lagos. my own contribution is on security..

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