Lagos and Abuja – A Paradox of Urban Life in Nigeria

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Having lived in Lagos, South –West of Nigeria and former capital, for the greater part of my life, making a career move that took me to Abuja, Nigeria’s new capital city and one of the fastest growing cities in Africa was like taking a fish out of water.

I loved Lagos with all its hustling and bustling and had been accustomed to the daily timetable of wake up early; prepare for work; try to beat traffic; enjoy work; head back home; sometimes get stuck in traffic; eat and retire to bed; and start the routine again next day. That was the typical life of a ‘Lagosian’ as its inhabitants are called. This routine might be slightly different for those involved in personal business as against paid jobs. But the truth is, we all face the hazzles of coping with challenges of mobility.

Lagos alone accommodates over 15 million people (that is, almost the size of Ghana. The typical Lagos life is characterised with high economic activities. It is a perfect example of what can be regarded as ‘beehive of activities’. Both the formal and informal sector go about their economic activities on a daily basis. With several local markets where, groceries and the like are being sold, one sometimes wonders where the see of heads that throng the market come from. A typical example is the popular Oshodi market where shop owners, hawkers, motorists and pedestrians compete for space. Lagos being in the coastal area and hosting one of the busiest seaports (Apapa) in West Africa does not help matters.

A typical business executive stays on the Mainland and works on the Island. The challenge therefore is to look for ways to transport oneself from the place of abode to work – this could be a Herculean task, since the public transportation is not that efficient nor is it effective. This trend pushes many working class persons to acquire a personal car and this attitude has contributed to more traffic jams and air pollution (from poor exhaust of ailing cars). The influx of people from other parts of the country to the ‘centre of excellence’ as Lagos is being called has its toll on the infrastructure and other facilities and social amenities available. The progenitors of Lagos definitely did not envisage such population explosion 20 years down the line. If this was anticipated, perhaps better plans would have been put in place to accommodate more inhabitants.

Lagos in the early 60s & 70s used to be ‘paradise on earth’. It had the best buildings; lots of breath-taking sky-scrapers that adorned the busy street of Marina. Though they are still standing, most of them are the shadow of what they used to be. Some of such buildings now have elevators that have not been serviced for a long while, causing occupants to engage in compulsory exercises of ascending and descending the stairs. Lagos has street and traffic lights, but only a handful seems to be working.

Abuja on the other hand is more serene environmentally and in terms of a place to live – it is described as the one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Unlike Lagos, where you may have to add an additional 1-2 hours to the time of getting to a particular destination (due to the fear of the unknown e.g. traffic jams), the opposite is the case for Abuja. You can plan to attend a meeting and leave your office at 10 minutes to the time and still have 5 minutes to play with.

Abuja houses the political elite Nigeria has to parade. It is actually the seat of power, both politically and administratively. Over ninety per cent of the government ministries and parastatals are domiciled in Abuja.

Abuja has good road networks, pipe-borne water, street and traffic lights that work. Efforts are being made by the Minister in charge to ensure that the master plan is followed to the letter. This comes with lots of challenges since Abuja has now become attractive to both local and international visitors.

People sometimes do not feel the effect of the type of urban life they live. Sometimes we accept the life we are living and what we are experiencing as the norm; meanwhile, there could be another option that will be much better. My experience as an inhabitant of Lagos and Abuja has taught me a good lesson – things can always be better and you can enjoy life much better, with little or no stress.

The challenge now is not to let Abuja de-generate into what Lagos is today. Urbanization should be a blessing, not otherwise.

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