Category: Governments

Lagos: The city of dreams is spilling over

Nigeria is facing a crippling population boom and at the centre of it is its famed mega-city, Lagos state. Nobody knows exactly how many people live in Lagos, but they all agree on one thing – Nigeria’s biggest city is growing at a terrifying rate. Cities grow mainly through rural-urban migration. That is true of Lagos. What was a town of around 300,000 people in 1950 had become a metropolitan area with a population of more than 17 million by 2006 (census data). The UN puts the population of Lagos at 14 million but state authorities think it’s nearer 21 million.

The state government reckons the population is growing by about 500,000 every year as rural Nigerians are drawn by the hope of a better life to one of Africa’s few mega-cities. Every week, tens of thousands of people arrive in Lagos, heading to neighbourhoods where friends and relatives have come before – many end up in the slums. The University of Toronto’s Global Cities Institute projects that by the end of the century, Lagos will grow to 88 million, making it the world’s largest city.

It has also been estimated that by 2050, Nigeria will have twice the population it has today, more than half will live in cities, and about 60% of them will be under 25 and the biggest factor to the rural-urban migration is poverty and unemployment that’s prevalent among the country’s youth population.

In an overcrowded neighbourhood in Agege, Lagos, Jerry Osafele, 34, is a construction worker. Jerry is from a rural village in Delta State, and he’s left his mother and 4-year-old child at home and come here to try to make money. Jerry Osafele is just one of many rural Nigerians drawn to Lagos.

“I came here to help my family live a good life,” he says. “This work is hard, but I am the breadwinner”.

There are few good jobs and housing is in high demand, but at least there are opportunities. The sad story is, these opportunities are most times elusive and even when you get them, the cost of living and commuting in Lagos makes it difficult to save up enough money. Many people here are like Jerry. Some are living in worse conditions.

It’s always the allure of a better life, the drive of ‘making it’ that draws people to the mega-city. Lagos is popularly referred to as a city that never sleeps. Indeed, commercial activities take place in many parts of this city 24 hours every day, with an international airport and a busy seaport. Lagos is the dream city for millions of Nigerians, and its population soars as people from all over the country flock to it in search of greener pastures, sometimes real, sometimes elusive.

With a population density of 4000 to 20000 (people per sq km), Lagos is an accident in motion. 60% of the people living in Lagos dwell in slums and only 45% of the population are skilled workers.

Nigerians know they are by far the most populous country in Africa, and they are proud of it. At the centre of this misplaced sense of pride is Lagos state. ‘Lagosians’ as they like to be called, are proud of the population of their megacity. You will see them carelessly throwing the descriptor into conversations like a buzz word. This is a sign that Nigerians do not understand the terrible ramifications of population explosion. California is the most populated state in America with a population of over 39 million people, but the population per square mile does not make California overpopulated because the resources and the land area can accommodate the population.

This is not the case for Lagos state.

While speaking at the 51st Session of Commission on Population and Development in New York, in 2018, Chairman of National Population Commission, Eze Duruiheoma (SAN) pointed out that Nigeria’s urban population growth has not been accompanied by a “commensurate increase in social amenities and infrastructure.” More generally, economic growth has not kept up with population growth. Hence, the enormous slums outside city centres. In effect, Nigeria has no population policy that would limit births, and Nigerians have traditionally valued large families. Yet the country’s rapid population growth, especially in urban areas, poses difficult economic, social, and public health challenges. A huge, rapidly growing population is not necessarily a source of national strength.

In the urban areas of the Lagos metropolis, the average population density is over 20,000 people per sq km. Current demographic trend analysis reveals that Lagos’ population growth rate of 8% has resulted in its harbouring 36.8% (an estimated 49.8 million) of Nigeria’s 150 million urban population (World Bank, 1996). (unofficial figures of Nigeria’s population in 2020 stands at over 190 million people).

The implication is that whereas Nigeria’s population growth is approximately 4-5% and stands globally at 2%, Lagos’ population is growing, comparably, ten times faster than that of New York and Los Angeles (USA), with grave implications for urban sustainability.

A graphic illustration of this development is the emergence of slum and squatter settlements in Lagos. With the increasing population of the city, the living condition in the areas of Isale Eko degenerated as the ratio of persons per habitable room rose to between 5.8 and 22 (Akpotor 2001, p. 95). The result was the emergence of Ije Slum in Obalende area of the island.

Maroko settlement also degenerated into a slum.

The situation in some other non-urban and unplanned areas such as Ajegunle, Iwaya and Iponri that had been engulfed by the expanding metropolis also worsened. Many more emerged to the extent that the Lagos Metropolitan Master Plan prepared in 1980, identified 42 such areas, (The Guardian October 18, 1999, p. 35; The Punch October 3, 2001, p. 37; Vanguard December 31, 2002, pp.32-34.) all of which according to Rasna Waran, are ‘most obvious manifestations of poverty’ (The Punch July 16, 2004, p.16) and decay. Painting a graphic picture of a slum, Socio-Economic Rights Initiative (SRI), a nongovernmental organization in Lagos notes: The houses are drab, dirty and reeking with unclean and decaying refuse. Water is scarce and must therefore be rationed; excreta disposal is inadequate with litters of human waste being a common sight in a neighbourhood…[there] are also inadequate drainage facilities with wastewater forming mini puddles within the compound where mosquitoes and insect vectors exercise their reproductive potentials. The degree of environmental pollution emanating from such a high level of squalor can be imagined by realizing that epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery are frequent occurrences. (Vanguard, September 18, 2006, p. 42).

“As the city population swells by up to eight per cent every year, the slums and their associated problems are growing. The government estimates that Lagos will have expanded to 25 million residents by 2015.” (New Humanitarian, 2006). This projection was made in 2006.

These effects are presently felt most especially in; energy consumption, carbon emissions, air pollution and human congestion. The increase in air pollution has remained a problem in Nigeria, as other sources such as automobiles and diesel-fired electricity generators contribute to the choking air in cities such as Abuja and Lagos, which are plagued by daily smog shrouding the skyline of the central city. Studies carried out by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) show a moderate-to-high concentration of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, organic acids and hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, the majority of which come from automotive engines and industries. The population explosion in Lagos since the 1960s and during the 1970s oil boom put tremendous pressure on city government resources, which could not keep up to manage traffic adequately, same is now being seen in Abuja, the national capital.

Despite having a population estimated at 21 million, Lagos does not have a subway or intracity rail service, leaving residents dependent on automobiles for transportation. Lagos is also struggling with a lot of negative challenges such as endemic poverty, growth of slums (mentioned earlier in this paper) with life-threatening conditions, housing shortages and overcrowding due to increasing population growth, severe environmental degradation, high crime rate and ethnic tension (Vanguard December 5, 2002, p. 35; Ihonvbere June 2002, pp.1-27; Momoh and Soteolu June 2001, pp.1-9). For many in Nigeria’s largest city, traffic congestion has become a symbol of the country’s inability to keep up with its rapidly growing population.

Lagos is crowded, chaotic and crumbling and with future projections by population experts and researchers, the worst may be yet to come. The overall effects of growth in numbers on the living standards, resource use and the environment will continue to change the Nigerian landscape for a very long period of time if nothing is done to checkmate the rapid population growth. But, city officials are surprisingly optimistic about the future.

Private investors with foreign exchange dollars are buying up land and converting them to big office and apartment buildings. Luxurious skyscrapers on the coastline now sit or are where demolished slums and the livelihood of many who are now jobless, used to be. They all say Lagos has nowhere to grow but up. In reality, It’s actually plummeting under the weight of its own infrastructure failures.

People in search of a better life looking to make ends meet will not stop trooping into Lagos, no matter how many stories of the city’s dystopian centrifuge they hear. If the current crop of leaders do not treat this overwhelming population explosion as a matter of national urgency, this city of dreams, and projected smart city of the future, may become a nightmare of unfathomable proportions before its full potential can be actualised.

Overambitious and underserved: what FESTAC 77 must teach us

Forty-three years ago, Nigeria and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) collaborated to host the second edition of the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. The year was 1977, and Nigeria played host to a celebration of pan-African proportions, receiving over 17,000 participants across all of Africa’s countries and the black diaspora. As a host country, Nigeria luxuriating in its newfound oil wealth, under the administration of a savvy military-led president, Olusegun Obasanjo, left no stone unturned.

An estate named after the festival of arts and culture(FESTAC) was created with 10,773 housing units to accommodate the attendees. A multipurpose theatre along with exhibition halls, conference halls, and cinema halls were built. At its time, FESTAC 77 was the largest black gathering ever held.  

There were other nonphysical changes that also took place. FESTAC 77’s objective was “to provide a forum for the focusing of attention on the enormous richness and diversity of African contributions to world culture and the opportunity for recounting the achievements of their ancestors”. In Nigeria, the festival led to the creation of the Nigerian National Arts Theatre, the National Council for Arts and Culture and the formation of Nigeria’s first cultural policy which are all institutions and policies that remain in place to date.

Simply put, the stakes were immense. According to Uchenna Ikonne, FESTAC 77 was a strong indicator of Nigeria’s growing position in global culture. It was also a way for the country “to demonstrate the worthiness of its nickname, the “giant of Africa.” In 1977 Nigeria had managed to emerge from nearly fifteen years of schizophrenic political leadership under the military, featuring multiple coups, and civil war. The oil boom that lasted a decade saw Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves spike dramatically upwards, washing the country in wealth. It was the rare avenue where political social and economic forces aligned in the pursuit and execution of a united vision. FESTAC 77 was at once specific and universal. It fit into the values of Pan Africanism which was deeply connected to the larger movements of Negritude in Francophone Africa and the Black Power movement in the United States of America. Nigeria turned itself into one of the earliest centrifugal homes in the reach for global black consciousness.

It was not all perfect. Criticisms were levied, much of which concerned the $400 million budget deemed to be excessive. Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti also declined to be in attendance, calling the endeavour a joke. The aftermath of FESTAC 77 was also a big disappointment. Nigeria fell into poverty not long after, and government participation in cultural development went down. In Ikonne’s words, “The National Arts theatre-the pride of modern Nigeria-fell into disuse and disrepair…FESTAC 77 is remembered largely for rampant graft, cynicism, brutality and destruction – that is in the rare instances that it is remembered at all.”

For all of its glories and faults, FESTAC 77 remains an important historical marker. For a brief shining moment, Nigeria showed the world what it was capable of culturally. Unfortunately, conceptually, FESTAC 77 aimed too high too quickly, and it failed to follow up on many of its promises. However, viewing the resurgence and increasing dominance of African cultural expression, it is important to assess the past and take some lessons away for the future.

Today, the atmosphere seems ripe for another alignment of socioeconomic and political forces in the pursuit of African cultural excellence. Across Nigeria, but particularly Lagos, there has been a rapid transformation in the creative arts and larger cultural sector. In just two decades, since democracy allowed for a less conservative media, achievements in the sector have scaled to inspire new avenues for the celebration of African arts and culture. 

Lagos is now home to West Africa’s first International Art Fair (Art X Lagos) its second-largest photo festival (LagosPhoto), numerous world-class film festivals (AFRIFF, Lights Camera, Africa), a biennale, publications catering to vast cultural preferences (The NATIVE, Genevive) the largest book festival in the sub-saharan region (Ake Festival) and a boon in the tourism industry, funded by visiting young Nigerians from the diaspora eager to explore their own country.

Much of this has been accomplished by private individuals and organizations. But sometimes, the government has also offered support. Funded initiatives like the World Bank and federal government GEM scheme and the more recent creative industry finance initiative give entrepreneurs in the arts access to finance and resources to develop their businesses. Under former Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode, there were deliberate efforts to support the efforts of the private sector in turning Lagos into the uncontested centre of the African cultural renaissance.

Ultimately, Nigeria has made serious strides, and will continue to do so. However, it is not quite ready for an event on the scale of FESTAC 77. The country simply still lacks the institutional and infrastructural support to ensure that an event of such a scale is not followed up by bloated expenditures and lingering regret.

 If FESTAC 77 led the creation of state organizations devoted to culture, we must understand that the job of making Lagos a sustainable nexus of African soft power lies in the hands of many players, spread across many industries. It is not enough just for fairs and festivals and galleries and recording contracts to flourish, we must also re-examine the political and social systems that can improve or hinder these efforts.  Dr. Tunji Azeez, Department of Theatre Arts and Music, Lagos State University, told Guardian Arts, “Our museums are not funded to attract people. So, there are so many opportunities that can bring in more money than oil is currently doing if only the government is serious about investing in the future.”

Since the publication of Nigeria’s cultural policy, it has not been revised to better suit the needs of a world that has embraced globalization and the internet. The law must also be embraced to favour us, in order to negotiate equal terms for African artists making the leap to global consciousness. It is a common point of discomfort that intellectual property rights are not established well enough to protect Nigerians in the culture space. There is also the problem of data collection, to help in making better policy decisions.

Limited avenues for communication between the government and private individuals and organizations interested in cultural development, also engender a landscape where  many efforts to support arts and culture are low risk and designed for the appearance of progress rather than actual progress. The most recent example is the commitment of $500 million dollars to revive NTA,  a national television network with an outdated purpose.

However, the time is approaching fast and the signs are there. For inspiration, we can look to Ghana where $1.9 billion dollars of revenue from its year of return initiative, as a model. Such amalgamations of music, arts and tourism may not resurrect the glory of historical events like FESTAC 77, but they will be profitable in the long run. They will also be a timely and effective face-lift for Nigeria’s global perception, within the context of the renewed interest in black culture globally. We’re already witnessing this happen in real-time with the rise of Afropop as a mainstream sound.

Corporate investment can be another anchor and accelerator for long-term sustainability in the arts and culture sector. Toye Sokunbi, founder of new media platform, ARTISH who has extensive experience in corporate partnerships for art exhibitions and music festivals believes the private investment is the next frontier for cultural expansion at scale. “In the last decade or so, there hasn’t been a bigger spender in the media like big corporations. TV shows like Big Brother Nigeria and Project Fame have literally created instant celebrities out of nowhere with that kind of investment.” he says.

According to Sokunbi, the same goes for big budget music concerts and festivals. “From big events of the old days like Star Mega Jam, Kennis Music Easter Fiesta to more modern events like NATIVELAND, Flytime Music Festival or any big concert you see in December with a famous international act. Private funding has provided an avenue for an entire ecosystem of creators and platform owners to experiment, try new things and re-invest” he added.

Dr Azeez, believes another way the country can continue to establish dominance as Africa’s cultural centre is through regulatory laws. “Right now, Nigeria is a dumping ground for all manner of content from Europe, America and Asia. Without a rejig of our policies, we cannot tap from our arts, culture and entertainment industries.” he says.

His sentiments on supporting local creators reflects some of the criticism for Beyonce’s recently released Black is King, film project. Though it  shined a seminal light on a diverse collection of creatives from fashion to cinematography to production (most of whom are Lagos based), the magnanimity of Beyonce’s brand also obscured the works of those she collaborated with.

In this regard to support local content creators, many have been optimistic about the entry of American streaming giant, Netflix, into Nollywood. Since the media tech company began operations in Nigeria, it has produced its first original African series and inked multiple distribution deals with Nigerian production companies. However, government intervention is still required in this landscape for Nigerian filmmakers to reap the full benefits of such a major player on the landscape. For context, Netflix African Originals’ team led by Dorothy Ghettuba is currently stationed in Amsterdam. This is a far-cry from how the company established presence in France earlier this year  with national policy-backed initiatives to support the French film and TV industries, through scholarships, funding and programs targeted at filmmakers from disadvantaged communities.

If Nigeria will host ambitious festivals in the near future,  the  ecosystem for such endeavours to thrive, must also receive equal attention. The ministry of culture was merged with the ministry of information in 2015, which should allow for a smoother mix of information and communication technology with culture. Yet the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos  is odorous and run by uniformed officers who regularly demand bribes. Lagos is also estimated to run on nine hours of power a day, a problem that’s only compounded for tourism when you add state-wide rising insecurity. To compare once again, Ghana has a world class airport, better roads and constant electricity.

Unfashionable work is necessary for growth and development in the cultural sector.  Perhaps, in the future, when the state is strong enough, we can then create another juggernaut festival. 

Stories are more important for reaching consumers than mediums or platforms

How does any organisation get an audience to perform an action, adopt a mantra, or adopt a point of view? They tell a story. Our ability to encounter a narrative and adopt it as our own is one of the cardinal traits that organisations act on when they convince us to adopt ideas, products, and services. Psychologist Thomas Suddendorf describes this ability as ‘scenario building’. 

“Humans are avid scenario builders, we tell stories, picture future situations, imagine others’ experiences, contemplate potential explanations, plan how to teach and reflect on moral dilemmas.”

It has been long recognised that our collective need for scenario building must be fed through storytelling. A study by Stanford professor and author of Made to Stick, Chip Heath found that 63% can remember stories, but only 5% of people sampled remember a single statistic.

The quality of an organisation’s storytelling determines whether it can galvanize an audience to action. An average story might gain an audience’s attention. A good story convinces an audience to see merit in our argument. An excellent story converts the listener to an evangelist, propagating the story on behalf of the organisation, defending the merits of the story to dissenters, and improving on the story each time it is retold. But to successfully tell a story, you must find the best medium by which to disseminate your subject matter to a mass audience. It is on this issue that universal assent on the merits of storytelling fractures. 

Chinua Achebe offers an excellent treatise on the pre-industrial consensus on mediums for information dissemination in his book Things Fall Apart. He writes, “A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their homes. When we gather in the moonlight village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it from his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” 

When social groups were small and governed by the need for survival, communal gatherings sufficed for information. Religion and culture ensured that stories were propagated, and incentives existed to not deviate from the story and the actions it was designed to inspire. But the industrial revolution accelerated a shift that had begun with the Gutenberg Press in the 15th Century. The significant improvements in housing, healthcare and transportation led to mass migration and population growth that made communal gatherings in its most traditional sense impossible. Work and consumer culture rather than ethnicity, religion and cultural affiliations became the primary reason people gathered and engaged each other in large groups. Eager to maintain this workforce or carve out a lion share of the consumer market, organizations began to seek other ways to reach audiences and connect them to each other through storytelling. 

Without the traditional bonds that ensured stories continued to be propagated from parent to child and within families, organisations were incentivized to develop media that could create individual connections with each person, but tell the same story. Mediums like newsprint, radio, theatre, television, and now the internet were invented as increasingly complex solutions to reach wider audiences to solve the fundamental problem of passing a story across to multiple audiences while preserving its narrative integrity. 

Brukeme Dickson, senior manager, consulting at RED For Africa has developed a theory, honed from half a decade of handling communication and activation projects for a diverse roster, about how organisations must engage audiences in today’s world. She believes that zeitgeists are one way of defining the intricate links between the development of a new form of mass media and the shift in ideologies and storytelling dictated by the organisation who monopolized the new form of mass media. We are now at a point where mass media is saturated and there are so many monopolies all pushing conflicting narratives to an overwhelmed audience that organisations can no longer depend solely on mediums to channel their storytelling. She believes we must return to the idea that Achebe postulated in Things Fall Apart.

“Rather than sharing multiple narratives across multiple media platforms, they (brands) must unify their message and adapt it to each new platform, ensuring that it doesn’t matter where their message is encountered, the experience remains universal.”

Bank PHB was for some the first Nigerian bank to really cotton on to the idea that storytelling can distinguish a brand and unify its audience. The Bank’s ads in the mid-2000s sold a futuristic vision of Nigeria that aligned with the hope Nigerians felt just 6 years after finally exiting a crushing military dictatorship. While its ads were stellar and some of its banking was progressive, it was apparent from the bank’s practices that it was not committed to making any of the storytelling dreams it sold to its customers come true. 

Since then, other organisations including a number of Nigeria’s first generation banks have successful built storytelling brands based on this blueprint. They all have active associated media brands who create immersive content that mirrors the lives, challenges and financial choices of Nigeria’s millennial and Gen-Z positions and creates goodwill for the banks. Recently they have begun to take this gospel offline through branded events that draw in hundreds of thousands of guests each year, each guest engaging with branded products and abundant, but non-intrusive, interactions with the bank’s services. 

By ditching traditional advertising for immersive online and offline experiences, millions of people voluntarily engage with the products and services of these banks, promote their brands through word of mouth testimonials, and convert skeptical users to raving fans. 

Media companies have been the true pioneers of the idea of immersive storytelling as a marketing tool. As a pioneer helping governments adapt their political manifestos for virtual audiences across West Africa, Adebola Williams, CEO of RED For Africa suggests that a powerful story must be “persuasive while being non-intrusive”. Working as a communications consultant for three successive presidential campaigns, Williams has guided campaign teams through the tricky but rewarding process of harnessing products and services that young people already voluntarily engage and repurposing them to deliver compelling messages about prospective government reforms. Their understanding of the media, advertising, content creation, distribution, data and analytics industries allow them to create layered audience-focused offerings that deliver sustainable results. 

How brands can recalibrate to maximize storytelling

1). Reduce your dependence on mass media tools 

A recurring problem with brands and organisations who seek to stand out in a saturated market is that they enter the market because they either create or monopolize a mass media tool, rather than building a brand story that is worthy of amplification. The social media app industry is a prime example of organisations who enter an industry and gain influence because of their savvy with a mass media tool. For as long as that tool has a monopoly, those brands thrive, but once that monopoly is lost, those brands wane. This has been the story of social media apps like Path, MySpace, Hi-5, all of whom gained audiences because of novelty but could not sustain those audiences when competition came. 

In contrast, Twitter has weathered copycat apps, hostile takeovers and many successive news media pronouncements of decline, because the brand’s technological innovations work to improve its core brand story, which is virtually connecting people across the world with similar worldviews. 

2). Clearly define your brand story

A clearly defined brand story is easy to interpret, no matter the medium. When brands and organisations struggle to communicate their brand identity or message across platforms, it is because there is not enough clarity on what the brand ethos and mission is in the first place. A clearly defined brand ethos will help decide which mass media channels will dilute its message and offer a poor user experience, help dictate when and how brands can piggyback off popular events to increase their reach and help align their messaging with collaborators who share similar views.

“A brand’s story typically determines the motivation for the business, especially customers’ sentiments, perception, and how they choose to engage with the organisation,” said Amaechi Okobi, Access Bank’s head of corporate communications.

“Brands have to pay closer attention to the audiences they target, identify the niche media through which they can be reached, and understand the likely impact of the message passed. A good story is like finely arranged dominoes – one wrong placement can undo all the hard work.”

3). Limit your audience

Very little has fundamentally changed about human beings, in spite of our technological innovations and our fancy gadgets. We remain creatures of habit, driven by our emotions and seeking out ‘building scenarios’. Smart organisations let that, not the rapid pace of technological advancement, guide their consumer acquisition campaigns. We return to familiar paths. 

This seems counterintuitive considering we are in a world where reaching millions of people has never been cheaper or easier. But every organisation eventually realises that their message will not resonate with everyone and even if it was possible, it is impossible to serve everyone when you reach them. By limiting the target audience and reworking delivery to appeal to that core audience, organisations double down on their storytelling narrative, invest more aggressively in the mediums that best resonate with those audiences and pivot quickly when they sense resistance or miscommunication.

According to the book ‘How To Win Elections In Africa’, maintaining a laser focus on young people across the continent enables political campaigns to identify critical commonalities, craft messages that speak to audiences that share the same ideals but different borders, and get them to take action.

“Young people with the capacity to build movements, capture the attention of the masses and direct mainstream action should be given the resources to create the kind of large scale political change that truly changes the establishments.

“The youth have actual capacity to, like Nigeria and Ghana, change election outcomes… it is possible to create country-to-country youth-led national movements that are actively involved in the processes of political and social engineering that handicap corrupt governments and tip the balance of power to the hands of citizens, who will now learn to develop that power in ways that remake their nations and ignite their capacity to transform themselves.”

Simply put, a focused audience is easier to reach, easier to engage and easier to convert. And experiments to gauge impact are easier with focused audiences and convincing them to take action is easier. 

Looking ahead

Crafting the best and most effective story is way beyond what platforms are employed to disseminate it. The best storytelling – one that keeps audiences glued and coming back — are ones that de-emphasize the primacy of tools, effectively differentiates a brand, and micro-targets the intended audience. Striking the right balance among these key factors is a sure way to reach the right customers and keep them locked-in far into the future of a business.