Saturday, March 07, 2009

Nigeria: Nigeria to tackle capital's traffic, overpopulation problems

Lagos, Nigeria is already struggling with overpopulation problems. There is widespread poverty, poor sanitation, pollution and perhaps the worst traffic in the world. And the worst may be yet to come. The United Nations projects that by the year 2015 the population will grow to 20 million, making it the third largest city in the world. But, city officials are surprisingly optimistic about the future. They say Lagos has nowhere to grow but up.

For many in Nigeria's largest city, traffic congestion has become a symbol of the country's inability to keep up with its rapidly growing population. Lagos' population currently is listed at over 14 million people but some local officials estimate there are as many as 18 million. But Opeyemi Bamidele the Lagos State Public Information Commissioner says overpopulation is not the problem.

"We do not believe that any nation can be overpopulated because part of our strength lies in our population, part of our strength lies in our diversity," he said."

Bamidele says what is needed is good governance, providing traditional government services, like picking up the trash and fixing roads, and development.

He says the recently developed bus rapid transit system or BRT, a dedicated main traffic lane for buses, is the beginning of a long-term solution.

But the city's most ambitious plan is to construct shopping and office complexes, to attract foreign investment and transform Lagos into a modern metropolis. The only thing that stands in the way of development is the people who live on this land. One such project is a three-story shopping mall being constructed in the busy market section of Victoria Island.

Lagos Finance Commissioner Rotimi Oyekan says the land owners, mostly market vendors, have been incorporated into development plans.

"We are providing them an opportunity to stay where they are in a new environment," he said. "Now that goes a long way, in saying yes, in every class we care. It's not just for the rich. It is also for the not so rich or the underprivileged."

Mustafa Atobajeun and more than 40 families own the property being developed on Victoria Island. They have been temporarily relocated to another part of the city. He says the government has promised they will have shops in the new building, collect rent from the tenants, and own the developed property in 30 years. But he says the government also promised to provide a place to sell their goods during the transition, but that has not happened and they are struggling to survive.

"I want to bring this to your notice that whatever the government has promised us, they should fulfill it to the letter," he said.

Finance Commissioner Oyekan says the government will fulfill its promises.

"In Lagos we believe in continuity. It is one of our cardinal principals," he said. "The people's faith in government must never be shaken and we hope to carry that into the future."

While this development plan sounds too good to be true to Atobajeun and other land owners, they see little choice but to go along. They say to survive Lagos must create some order from the chaos of this overcrowded city.

By: Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits