Lagos: The megacity set to triple by 2050
Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion people.
On a continent where nearly two-thirds of the population are already
under 25, this vast new baby boom could do one of two things – either
provide a huge workforce to transform African economies and lift
millions out of poverty, or create an even bigger migration problem,
and lead many more young people into the hands of radical extremists.
The BBC is reporting this week from Kenya, Niger, Ethiopia and Nigeria
– which is set to become the world’s third most populous country in
the next 30 years, and where many rural people are now moving into
urban areas, especially the commercial capital, Lagos.
A thick layer of acrid, blue smoke hovers just above the waterfront
slums that skirt Lagos lagoon, filtering out sunrise and sunset.
This man-made mist that clings to the rusted shack rooftops comes from
the countless fish-smoking cabins that drive the slum economy.
There’s an uninterrupted view of the city’s dramatic sprawl of poverty
from the road bridges that carry daily commuters between the islands
and the mainland.
Fishing and sand-dredging boats drift to work, heading deep into the lagoon.
Many of the slums’ wooden huts are on stilts, others are just basic
shacks shoddily built on the unstable ground of trodden-down rubbish
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.
The UN says 14 million. The Lagos State government thinks it’s nearer
21 million, as rural Nigerians are drawn by the hope of a better life
to one of Africa’s few mega-cities.
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.
In an overcrowded neighbourhood on mainland Lagos, Muktar Abdulhamid,
36, is pressing shirts with a heavy, old-fashioned iron filled with
Abdulhamid is from a rural village in the northern state of Kano, and
he’s left his wife and one-year-old child at home and come here to try
to make money.
Muktar Abdulhamid: Just one of many rural Nigerians drawn to Lagos
“This isn’t what I intended to be doing. I want to do business – to
buy and sell,” he says. “It’s not easy to leave your wife, your child,
it’s lonely, but I have no choice – it’s for the future of the
There are few good jobs and housing is in high demand, but at least
there are opportunities.
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.
But Lagos State is planning tower blocks and transformation,
reclaiming land from the sea for ambitious new developments.
In a rush to transform the city, the waterfront slums are being
cleared, court rulings are being ignored, and luxury apartment blocks
are springing up.
Can Lagos persuade wealthy investors to buy into a futuristic vision,
while helping pull the poorest people out of poverty?
In about 30 years Nigeria will overtake the US to become the world’s
third most populated country behind China and India.
It vies with South Africa for the status of the continent’s biggest
economy, but it’s now in recession – beset by a drop in oil prices,
and having to fund the fight against both Boko Haram Islamists and
separatists targeting oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
Like everywhere else in Africa trying to break out of poverty, Nigeria
hopes fast population growth will bring it a “demographic dividend” –
a young workforce that can drive economic growth. If they can all be
put to work.
Already there’s migration north to Libya and on to Europe, and the
young who are left idle and without much hope are easily radicalised
by Boko Haram.
It’s going to take great management, smart politics and increasing
security and stability to turn rapid population growth into a positive
and avoid the potential for disaster.