Welcome to Modernity in Crisis
Next month, the Nigeria Urban Summit is scheduled to hold, with “Towards Habitable and competitive cities in Nigeria” as theme. The gathering hopes to mainstream cities into Nigeria’s national develop-ment planning. But, it will be holding in the full glare of huge displace-ments of citizens, some of which have spent whole lifetimes in the settlements from which they were sacked. The Summit’s chair, Prince Abimbola Onibokun, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, says the rationale for the demolition depends on which side the managers of the city look: the city’s or the inhabitants’. He is of the view that the policy makers in Nigeria seemed to be more concerned with the city’s prosperity than the citizens’.
Slum renewal is really needed, nevertheless. Unsanitary alleys and streets, shanties, and unsightly housing are some reasons that governments are worried. A recent flood at Kuramo Beach settlement in Lagos left about five people dead. Proponents of demolitions say tragedies like that could rarely be seen in better organised environ-ments, neither could communicable diseases spread as easily as they would in clustered, densely crowded neighbourhoods of flimsy shacks.
The articles in this edition of West Africa Insight speaks to these issues and possible solutions to them. There will be need to strengthen mortgage financing to open up access to more standard homes. But the ‘purchasing power’ in an entirely poor continent remains an issue. Then there is the challenge of governmental concerns about the will to pay. Most services like waste disposal, electricity and water in the new districts are priced out of reach of the common people.
Protests are rife against the demolition. Groups are carrying out advocacies against the governments’ plans but, all over, the authori-ties are not listening. Petition websites, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook causes are falling on deaf ears. So governments continue to lose legitimacy in the eyes of many of the urban poor. They are form-ing groups like the Slum Union of Ghana which has the objective of “Lobbying the government to end forced evictions and fulfill their responsibilities to slum communities,” according to its President, Mr President Philip Kumah.
But how this dichotomy between people and government will pan out in the future is still a matter for conjecture. Will it lead to armed insurrection or more violent crimes? Will the attendant destitution serve as raw materials for kidnappers and extreme groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram? How will it affect the steps being taken towards meeting MDG goals in education, maternal mortality, extreme hunger, etc? It is hoped that the Nigeria Urban Summit and other discourses around West African cities will set agenda in these directions.
–Odoh Diego Okenyodo