One city, different realities: Infrastructure development and urban fragmentation in Nigeria
By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 22 July 2015
Every day on my way to work, when I cross Third Mainland Bridge and look to my right, I see the type of planning portrayed by conventional wisdom as progressive, reformist and modernist in its contribution towards attaining societal goals. In Lagos this is manifested in the high rate of construction activities observable in Osborne Foreshore, Banana Island, and Lekki axis.
These developments demand the reclamation of large expanse of land, raising environmental concerns. However, when on my way back home and on the other side of the bridge, I see ‘blighted areas‘ such as Makoko and Okobaba;  they remind me of what Oren Yiftachel referred to as the dark side of planning – where government actions or inaction leads to the marginalisation, oppression, and impoverishment of citizens.
The accumulation of wealth in places like Osborne Foreshore is in stark contrast to the endemic poverty prevalent in places like Makoko and Okobaba, hence resulting in a great divide. However, of greatest concern is the fact that government action and/or inaction is – whether knowingly or unknowingly – reinforcing, reproducing, deepening and institutionalising the divide.
My concern is premised on the belief that the government’s infrastructural development drive, which places emphasis on road infrastructure, is based on the hegemonic assumption that all citizens, in spit of their of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, will benefit equally.
An example is the 1.36 km cable-stayed Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge built at a cost of N29 billion of public funds (approx. £93 million/$145 million). Although lauded as a good initiative, more pertinent questions to me are, who are those benefiting from the presence of the bridge? Whose productivity, livelihood and wellbeing does it enhance? Whose position is it privileging?
I would posit that the government is, whether by design or accident, indirectly subsidising the means through which the elite/property class can ensure their livelihood and wellbeing at the expense of the poor/non-property class. Especially when such interventions are substantiated with discriminatory and exclusionary acts such as not allowing commercial means of transportation – the main means of mobility for majority of Lagosians – to use the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge.
Such practices have been revealed to be detrimental to sustainable development and akin to what David Harvey termed ‘the quiet redistributive mechanism’, which helps to maintain or widen the socio-economic gap.
My thoughts therefore are: if government can subsidise the wellbeing of the elite/property class, why same cannot be done for the poor, marginalised and non-property class? A good opportunity for such was when residences of Makoko submitted a regeneration plan for their area, which was rejected by the government on the basis that the community did not have legal title to the occupied land. 
I view this as a missed opportunity for local collaboration and partnership with these community-based organisations, especially those designated as ‘blighted areas.’ This could be used as the basis for developing an alternative model for urban development and slum/informal settlement upgrading in Lagos, hence setting a precedent which could have been gradually institutionalised through wider public learning.
This is given added significance in view of a statement by officials of the Lagos state government, in a 2008 Cities Alliance report, confirming the limited implementation, success and, sustainability ratings of the government’s approach towards slum upgrading.
I am of the opinion that if the government really wants to promote sustainable and inclusive development, it needs to take deliberate actions to ensure the poor and marginalised are not excluded from accessing opportunities for wealth creation.
Also of importance is seizing opportunities, such as the Makoko scenario, when they arise to expand the room for partnership and collaboration with poor and marginalised communities. This is because, as aptly pointed out by Agbola & Agunbiade, “marginal people are unlikely to have access to the resources that are required to overcome the restrictions imposed by marginal environments and thus enable them to live beyond the limits of subsistence”.
I believe that if the government does not take deliberate steps to address the great divide we are currently seeing, it will result in the continuous fragmentation of Lagos along the lines of socio-economic conditions and levels of infrastructural development.
 This is not peculiar to this case but is a general issues with most slum/informal settlements (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009). For the experience of Ijora Badia another blighted community refer to The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC), 2013, If you love your life, move out! Forced eviction in Badia East, Lagos State, Nigeria, London: Amnesty International.
Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.