Dr Taibat Lawanson is an Associate professor of Urban Planning at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She served in the process leading to Habitat III as a policy expert on institutions, capacity building and development. She shares her view on the prospects and challenges of the new urban agenda in Lagos

Looking at Lagos as one of the fastest growing megacities in the world, what do you think are the critical challenges affecting the city?

The major challenge is infrastructure, the city is currently designed to accommodate between 8 and 10 million but we have an estimated 21 million people so the infrastructure is over stretched and the government is struggling with it. There is also a problem of urban inequality; the gap between the rich and the poor is high so there is a high level of discontent and that has security implications. Another problem planners are facing is how to deal with informality, Lagos currently has about 200 slums and there is a challenge because the law does not recognize these organic indigenous settlements.

Considering the growth rate of Lagos with an estimated annual increase of 600,000 people, do you think Lagos will get to a point where it can no longer sustain its teeming population?

What is happening is that Lagos is swallowing up settlements at its fringes. Peri-urbanism is a dominant phenomenon. The Lagos government has prepared a number of master plans that address issues like densification – increasing the number of people per square meter and vertical development but all these are being priced out of the reach of an average person and so while those visions of development are good in themselves, they are not very workable because the infrastructure to support them is not available on one hand and where it is being done it is too expensive for the average person so the people are spreading and will keep spreading out until we don’t know what the boundary are between Lagos and Ogun state.

The Habitat III conference held in Quito in October what role do you think the new urban agenda play in Lagos?

The urban agenda document is not a politically binding document, it is an advisory document but has the potential of positivity. We have issues like the National Urban Policy with which countries can adopt for long term development. The National Urban Policy recognizes metropolitan governance that we don’t have here, such as the mayoral system in which the city will be governed and services provided as a whole rather than as decentralized which have financial and other implications. The Urban agenda also addresses the right to the city and identified as a preferred ideal. So if Lagos is able to identify with that document and use that document as a blueprint for its development agenda over the next 20 years given the challenges in the other sectors and the realities that our urbanization is dynamic, I think we will be better served especially because the social dimensions are categorical.

So what mechanism can local governments do in implementing them?

The first thing for me is the strengthening of the local governments. Currently, local government are mere appendages, however they are the closet level of government to the people so a lot of services provided by the state government ought to be provided by the local governments. We need to strengthen the quality of human resource in our local government and make them understand they have an important part to play in the urbanization process. The second thing is to provide them with the funds and other capacities to fulfil their mandates. We also need a strong electoral process at the local government level so they understand the importance of their work and we have people who are both willing and able to make a change.

Is there any ongoing project you can cite that has the potential of affecting urbanization in Lagos?

Something I have been observing of late has to do with waste. I think we have a problem with the waste management because we have not entrenched waste sorting as a process especially at the household level so we see a lots of potentially recyclable product that are being thrown out so I think we can look into that. I know there are some people that have started this waste to wealth like the Wecyclers, I think things like that can be scaled up and then essentially we should have a campaign about waste sorting at the household level because people are still doing lots of these things due to ignorance. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that with regards to community networks we have residence association, they are formidable groups within Lagos with regards to infrastructure and security so I think personally at the local government level and potentially at the state level there should be a higher level of engagement especially with regards to the provision of infrastructure. A lots of the residence association are community self-help networks to provide infrastructure so if government partners with them they are able to pull their resources and the government is able give them the technical support to provide better quality service. Finally I think we need to look into the possibility of renewable energy, we have a lot of sun here and we need to find a way to deploy that for off-grid. If certain of our power need particularly at the household level are being taken care off by solar energy and at the off grid is relatively cheaper and long term, things will be much better for us.

Do you think government can finance all these?

I don’t think it is the responsibility of government to finance lots of these things. What the government needs to do is to create an enabling environment for example like I said with the community network all governments needs to do is to support and strengthen what they are already doing and it doesn’t have to be financial. Access to finance is another thing especially for people who needs these alternative power for their livelihood but at the end of the day we are already paying so much for alternative power in the guise of generators and others. I think creative thinking is the essential thing, you can find a will if there is a way.

Some part of this interview first appeared in http://www.urb.im