Why our environment has refused to emerge: The Lagos Phenomenon

By Gbenga Onabanjo

“The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment is to get everybody involved.”Richard Rogers

I found it most intriguing on my first flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, when the pilot gleefully announced upon commencing the descent to Cape Town International Airport that we were about to land in the most beautiful city in the world. That made me very curious and could not wait to see whether the pilot was only patronising his country, being a South African Airline.

Going round the city, I found the waterfront overlooking the lagoon very interesting and lively with lots of tourists exploring the eateries, night clubs and amusement parks. The beachfront was very pristine with lots of picnickers. Scores of sightseers were seen playing different types of water sports. The Table Mountain site was very ecclesiastical with shapes looking like the apostles in the Scripture.

I visited the Cape of Good Hope, where the two oceans—the Pacific and the Atlantic—meet. Quite breath-taking! The picturesque lakes and gorgeous farmlands were a great sight to behold. There were the famous wine-growing regions and vineyards in the outskirts of the city.

Every part of the city was very orderly, lined up with trees, sidewalks, clearly marked roads, adequate parking facilities and historic buildings dating back to the 18th century. The architecture was diverse—a rich blend of Dutch, Italian, French and contemporary architecture. My host was so glad to show off the beauty of Cape Town and I was truly thrilled.

Six months after my visit to Cape Town, I invited my host to Lagos and promised to reciprocate his kind gesture by taking him on a tour of Lagos. He asked to see the beaches, our entertainment hub, the highbrow neighbourhoods and the settlements of the indigenous Lagosians.

We went on a ride to Badagry through the LASU-Iba road. We toured the crowded Isale Eko to see the Brazilian quarters. We visited the National Theatre at Iganmu, which was a shadow of its old self. We equally visited Ikoyi and Victoria Island to see the highbrow neighbourhoods. Our tour ended at the Eko Atlantic City, which is just evolving.

After the tour, l asked him about his impression of the city. He said Lagos packed so much energy and looked ecstatic and boisterous, but wondered why every available house in a residential neighbourhood had a shop and every setback space along the highway corridor had a burgeoning market.

He felt a little uncomfortable with the open drains, not because they were open, but because of the filth and stench they contained.

He observed that vehicles were parked indiscriminately, and abandoned vehicles littered everywhere. People walked across the roads without the fear of being knocked down by motorists. He wondered why pedestrians refused to use the pedestrian bridges.

He noted that signals were not dedicated to pedestrians at traffic lights and felt sorry for pedestrians who scampered and ran across the roads and lights once there was a stop sign. He went on and on. These comments deflated me. Not that I was oblivious of the issues he raised, but it sank in coming from an African.

Since then, I have deliberately studied the environment and came up with my thoughts on why our environment has refused to emerge. These have been categorised under seven broad headlines, but they are however not exhaustive.

  • Inadequate physical and urban planning with poor implementation
  • Urbanisation ahead of development
  • Population explosion
  • Quality vs quantity
  • Weak monitoring and compliance mechanism
  • Lack of political will to enforce and maintain discipline on environmental issues
  • Not nurturing and appreciating nature

Each of these will be discussed in detail in the next part of this article.



January 2022