Once an epitome of slums, chaos and erosion, Lagos is now home to a new breed of entrepreneurs, creative netizens and socially responsive leaders. They’re dealing with the demons of development, placing their bets on the commercial magic of the city and fomenting plans to benefit from the spasms of a city in search of its soul and a smart future.
With roughly 20 million people, Lagos is Africa’s most congested city, and the gateway to the continent’s biggest economy. Arguably one of the reasons why Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, the city and its environs represent the most economically significant aspects of life in Nigeria. According to the UN, Lagos will be the world’s third largest city by 2025, with 25 million people, and will need to provide shelter for 77 million by the end of the century.
Its excruciating population, coastal location and complex political economy, makes it a perfect melting pot, a bazaar of pain and pleasure, an investor’s haven. For a city which welcomes a new arrival almost every minute, Lagos is literally a pressure cooker, an addiction, a habitat for struggling software gurus and literary Lilliputians, a testament to human resilience and surely, its proclivity for concocting fame, fortune, disaster, adventure and adversity.
“Lagos is without a doubt the engine of Nigeria’s economy,” says Niji Adelagun, CEO of IQ Systems Solutions. “The place has always been driven and defined by its constantly evolving demographics, ambition and the quest for identity.”
Lagos is largely responsible for the nation’s burgeoning “lifestyle economy”: the proliferation of leisure and entertainment establishments, art galleries, music dens like Fela Kuti’s Africa Shrine, and Freedom Park, once a colonial jail house and now an open space where art and literary cognoscenti converge for shows, recitals and festivals.
The gods of the marketplace also like Lagos. Its fabled open-air markets (in Badagry, Balogun, Oke-Arin, Oyingbo and Mile 12) continue to receive bargain hunters from as far as Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire, Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, Banjul in Gambia and Bamako in Mali. Telecoms operators Airtel, Etisalat, Glo, MTN and new entrant NTel all have their head offices in Lagos. The Lagos-based Nigerian Stock Exchange and the activities of financial institutions fuel commerce, manufacturing and job security nationwide.
Among the array of enterprising citizens in this space are Olaide Agboola and Obinna Onunkwo, two ex-bankers who quit their comfy jobs a few years ago to set up Purple Capital Partners Ltd, an investment, private equity and real estate firm. Still in their thirties, they are by no means the wealthiest or most prominent players in their field. They however represent an emerging class of risk taking, empire-building citizenry; a potent can-do spirit so abundant in Lagos.
The Purple Capital duo are helping to reshape the state’s retail, entertainment and lifestyle sectors: financing and developing a boutique hotel, bespoke residential apartments and malls across the state, in the process creating new jobs and rejuvenating the state’s agro-allied, construction, information technology, out-of-home advertising and logistics industries.
Partnering with Stanbic IBTC Bank and AXA Mansard Investments, their flagship project, the Maryland Mall, located in the Maryland district of the state will open later this year. Built at a cost of about $25 million, the development will possibly be the largest investment in retail infrastructure in Lagos by a private firm after Nigeria’s 2015 general elections.
Maryland Mall will have the largest outdoor LED screen in West Africa, cementing the mall’s status as a landmark with a remarkable outdoor character and atmosphere in tandem with world-renowned locations like Times Square in New York, and Piccadilly Circus in London.
Official government data shows that Nigeria attracted over $1.3 billion in investments into its formal retail sector over the last four years. Yet modern malls represent only around 3% of Nigeria’s retail space. As Lagosians welcome the stress-free shopping experience that modern markets represent, affinity to traditional African open-air markets, a cultural inertia to the glitz and glamour of shopping malls, remains strong.
Private, public sector partnerships, improved public administration of state resources and efficient tax administration has given Lagos a healthy balance sheet. It generates up to 67% of its income from within, with monthly revenues growing from $4 million in 1999 to more than $100 million presently.
The state has the best record for internally generated revenue and is also the largest debtor among Nigeria’s 36 states, with total domestic obligations of N268 billion (about $1.3 billion) as at December 2014, according to the Debt Management Office.
Citizens benefit from this deft management of public resources. A better lit, neater, better managed, safer and friendlier Lagos is emerging. Crime in Lagos in 2015 dropped with police recording 220 murders, 44 armed robbery and 25 kidnap cases. In 2012, state authorities set up Lagos Traffic Radio, Nigeria’s first radio station dedicated to traffic management.
The pervading poverty in the land however competes for space with an urban jungle of mansions, private jets, yacht clubs and an ever-growing presence of sleek automobiles. This contrasting visage is mostly visible in the Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki peninsula areas of the state.
In the foreseeable future, new urban landscapes will rise out of the bowels of the old city. A new airport, petroleum refinery and port will bring life to the Lekki Free Trade Zone in the east of Lagos. And the Eko Atlantic Economic City, a Dubai-style development on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, will become a reality – concrete evidence of the state’s mega-city status.
With a new marina and 10 million square meters of prime real estate, Lagos’ position as West Africa’s financial capital is secure.
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In a bid to jumpstart local innovation and boost the productivity of citizens, the Lagos State authorities plan to provide loans to artisans, young entrepreneurs and start-ups via an Employment Trust Fund worth N25 billion (about $125 million).
The city hosted its first marathon in 30 years last February and soon Spain’s Barcelona FC will open a youth academy in Lagos.
“These developments showcase a paradigm shift in the governance of the state. Investors and the entire world are taking note,” says Steve Ayorinde, the state’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy. He says Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s priorities include “expanding the waterways to move more people, working on completing the light rail projects, and engaging the youths through the arts, entertainment, tourism and sports”.
“Lagos has a vibe, you just can’t put your finger on it, imagine I’m still in heavy traffic at 10PM!” says Peju Adebajo, CEO of Lafarge Africa’s cement subsidiary. “It’s everything from the attitude of Lagosians to entrepreneurs, to the unpredictability of the place and the succession of improving governance also means that more and more goods and services are attracted to Lagos despite the high cost, so housing and infrastructure has to develop around it.”
LafargeHolcim, parent company of Lafarge Africa, is working with government agencies and real estate developers to roll out mass housing schemes on the outskirts of Lagos, which technically are in nearby Ogun State. The authorities in Ogun State are keen to leverage their proximity to Lagos, using the New York-New Jersey model as its reference.
“We can’t continue to do mass housing on a bespoke basis anymore, we need to build modern, structured communities; that’s the only way we will begin to plug the huge gap in the housing sector,” says Adebajo.