Beyond the Project: Transitioning Urban Growth in Lagos

Understanding the context is a crucial to informed planning and sustainable practice. Lookman Oshodi, who presided over the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Regeneration Plan, locates the origins of the project within the wider history of urbanisation in Lagos, providing further insight into the premise guiding its approach.

By Lookman Oshodi/Arctic Infrastructure


Over nearly a century, Makoko in Lagos has evolved from a simple fishing commune to the 40,000-strong populace it lodges today. Though still evaded by essential infrastructures and public services, these days its thriving community is served by an eclectic assembly of schools and churches, bars and barbershops, floating tuck shops and canteens – all woven together in a fluid tapestry skillfully navigated by handmade canoes and local know-how.


Makoko remains at the front burner of talks on urban development in Lagos. In what could at times be decried as ‘slum tourism’, it has attracted both local and international attention for its community’s creativity and resilience, as well as the need and manner of its development. With a firm resolution to face the community’s development challenges head on, in March 2013, the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) convened a working group to come up with the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Regeneration Plan. By January 2014 the Plan, which detailed the framework for the community’s revitalisation, was formally submitted to authorities at Lagos State,


1Although perhaps more compelling due to the sheer scale of their stilt-supported timber structures on the Lagoon, Makoko and Iwaya are not unique when it comes to official labels. They are among the 42 blighted communities flagged up in Lagos State in 1993. Like other ‘blighted communities’, both have expanded in response to the wider population growth of Lagos. Somewhere between 1995 and 1996, an unperceivable but crucial shift occurred: Lagos became a city/state of more than 10 million people, redefining its status as a mega city. Climbing numbers of residents without the proportional provision of affordable housing is a recipe for urban ills. In Lagos, ‘blighted communities’ have more than doubled to over 100 sites as of 2010.


The advent of democracy in 1999 marked a major effort to redefine the paradigm of urban development in Lagos. The resulting 10-point development agenda adopted in 2007 is essentially a roadmap for urban transformation centred on roads, transportation, power and water supply, environment and physical planning, health, education, empowerment, food security, shelter and employment.


2It is within this context that the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Regeneration Plan intervenes with a view to change the risk-laden, shaky status of the community to that of a prosperous, functional and livable community in Lagos. The Plan’s progressive streak is embodied by its premise that people-centered, community-led development initiatives are crucial to balance the mega-city aspirations (denoted by its ten point agenda) with the growing presence of low-income residents in the city.




Just as remaking Lagos into a model African mega city cannot be divorced from its pressing development agenda, the sustained success of both lies in the successful uplifting of many Makokos in Lagos. These are the dominating settlements of the city. Beyond the number of skyscrapers and inner-city parks, success will also be measured by degrees of conflict between the government and citizens, especially the low-income groups. Transitioning urban growth to bring about contemporary, resilient communities will only happen with careful negotiation and broad-based thinking.


The Regeneration Plan has the potential to dynamically affect various aspects of urban life and planning in the Lagos metropolis as a whole. If successful, it will affect the livability index of Lagos among world cities, help reduce poverty levels and bridge the inequality gap. Moreover, it will help promote engagement between the government and citizens, especially the low-income groups.
Impressively ambitious and comprehensive approach, the Plans’ key priorities are to strengthen the city’s resilience to climate change, expand the framework for land accessibility in the low-income communities, provide adequate and affordable housing, and promote Lagos as a major destination for tourists in Sub Saharan Africa.


This essay is part of a series called “Beyond the Project” under the Institute’s Society, Space & the Built-Environment programme. 

Photo Credit: Nsibidi Institute

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