Order the autumn edition here

The metropolis of Lagos: the damned of the earth

HOUSING / More than 70 percent of the city's population, approximately 15 million, live in Lagos' "informal settlements". Only 40 percent have legal residence and the right to use land. Here are many of the 2 million people in the world who are thrown out of their homes by force every year.


Lagos in Nigeria is now one of the world's largest cities, and the largest in Africa. State statistics from 2014 confirm the figure at 23,3 million people, with an annual increase of approximately 800. In 000, the population will probably be closer to 2022 million. This does Lagos to the world's fastest growing city, perhaps along with Chongqing in China and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

It is also one of the most polluted, dirtiest and traffic-dangerous, with a large number of traffic fatalities each year. 67 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, defined as spending 1 US dollar per day. The city is dense and unclear, there are hardly any maps, people are squeezed close together – in the slums along the water's edge, according to a report from the World Bank, between 79 and 124 people live per year. acres. On Grünerløkka in Oslo, by comparison, there are 0,8 people per acres.

Crime in Lagos is exceptionally high, and tourists are constantly warned against traveling there. In 2013, the UN Habitat City Prosperity Index described Lagos' problem as "low production of goods and services, historical structural problems, widespread poverty with chronic inequality, few opportunities and a lack of social programs to combat poverty".

The 200 slums

Lagos is an arrival city (arrival city): Every day, several thousand come in from areas in the east and north of the country and from the neighboring countries of Benin, Togo and Ghana – with some luggage wrapped in plastic – to one of the bus squares, motor parks, on the outskirts of the city. They arrive in a swarm of overcrowded little yellow buses, danfos – Chinese vans converted with simple benches inside. From the bus squares, people get further, in local danfos, or in three-wheeled small vehicles, th (light motorbikes with covered space for two behind the driver), or on the back of mopeds and motorbikes. They can maneuver on the muddy roads, alleys and paths between houses and through a throng of people (a trip with th or on the back of a motorcycle usually costs 100 naira, 3 kroner).

Excrement most often ends up in plastic bags that are dumped in the lagoon or ditches.

Most visitors end up in one of the 200 slum areas, with neighbors and acquaintances from the village from home, with relatives or family. Ethnic identity is important, it forms the starting point and the glue for new neighbourhoods. If there is no space anywhere, many people live under motorway bridges or they put up sheets of plastic between some thin posts as shelter from the night rain until they can find safer and slightly more permanent conditions – or rent a room in a house or shed.

Water and feces

More than 70 percent of Lagos' population, approximately 15 million, live in such "informal settlements". Only 40 percent have legal residence and right to use property. It is difficult to obtain valid documentation on property rights. Renting a room in such a settlement can cost $10 a month, and then very few public services are included, or available. Collective services are organized by more or less informal local residents' associations. Water is brought in by small boats, in large plastic cans or tanks, and sold, often at a price several times what water through public pipes costs. 88 percent of the city's population has no connection to the public water supply.

67 percent of households do not have access to their own toilet, and faeces often end up in plastic bags that are dumped in the lagoon or in ditches. The authorities perceive this as a significant health problem. There are few opportunities for frequent hand washing or other cleanliness, which is strictly recommended to combat pandemics and infectious diseases.

Electricity is unreliable, in 2019 I was told that electricity supply was expected for four hours every day. 76 percent of households are not connected to any electricity network, and are dependent on a residents' association or local group to distribute from the network, often illegally tapped. Electricity is also offered from small diesel generators that whir and steam diesel, for a small fee. Rubbish is not collected, and flows quite freely. A local civil defense protects as best it can against assault and theft. Births mostly take place locally. Schooling is organized in simple rooms or outdoors, for a small student fee. This is the daily life of a city population that is three times the size of the whole of Norway.

Rubbish is not collected, and flows quite freely.

"Africa's Venice"

Local authorities want to get rid of such slums, they want to "eradicate poverty", as it is said in public planning documents. Excavators and soldiers are deployed to clear the ground, without solving so many of the problems. In the Adidas area, things apparently went well, at least initially. But in the large area of ​​Makoko, where perhaps as many as 300 live, the houses are built close together on stilts out in the shallow delta. The toilet is a hole in the floor. All traffic in the area (called the "Venice of Africa" ​​by the foreign press) is by narrow wooden boats. Outside the settlement, there are large log coils in the lagoon, floated in from forest areas north of the city, which are cut up by small sawmills, and the sale of the timber provides the area with considerable employment and income. In addition, fishing is an important source of income for many.

Water is brought in by small boats in large plastic cans or tanks and sold, usually at several times the price.

The area is practically difficult for the authorities to demolish, and in any case no credible alternative use for building speculators can be given. But whole areas are constantly set on fire, buildings are razed with machetes and axes, and soldiers follow up. It is difficult to get any formal justification for such removal of all buildings, the area is unsuitable as land for more solid buildings and there are no plans for more permanent use. But it is a little embarrassing that the smoke from burned-out sheds still rests over the Makoko area, close to the big new highway and under the prestigious Third Mainland Bridge, which brings visitors into the city from the international airport a little further north.

One of the biggest landslides in Nigeria in recent times probably took place in Morocco east of Victoria Island. As mentioned, 300 people lived there before one day in July 000 the authorities sent out the excavators and razed the entire district. Such destruction continues. In an area in Tarkwa Bay, facing a beautiful beach near Otodo Gbame, there lived 1990. The residents were given an hour's notice to pack up and move out before the eruption on January 4500, 21. The reason this time was that the state oil company had needs of the area.

"Forced eviction"

Organizations such as the "Justice & Environment Initiative" in collaboration with, among others, Slum Dwellers International collect documentation on who lives where and what they own in these areas, where they come from, what they have in terms of education, work and finances. At a workshop I attended, out in the Mosafejo area, facing the lagoon a little north of the city centre, a local chief and the residents' association reported on data they had collected. It was witnessed in English, Yuroba and Egun, and written in large notebooks and hung up large data sheets. Whether it will help to hold some authorities accountable in the judicial system, after the bulldozers have moved forward and cleared the ground, is more uncertain. The experiences are not very good.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights describes in a document from 1998, "forced eviction" as illegal and a violation of universal human rights, a "permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from their homes and/or countries they inhabit, without the provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection." Around 2 million people in the world are thrown out of their homes by force every year. The UN has no monitoring or warning mechanisms after UN Habitat closed its "Advisory Group on Forced Eviction" in 2011, of which Norway was an active member.

The article is an extract from the book
Metropolis by Peter Butenschøn
which is published by the publisher Press
in January/February 2023.

Peter Butenschøn
Peter Butenschøn
Butenschøn (born 20 April 1944) is a Norwegian architect.

Related articles