The news media has been at fever pitch in recent weeks over the issue of ‘deportation’ of citizens out of Lagos State to Anambra State. The merits and demerits have been discussed though the real focus became ethnic – Yorubas versus Igbos.
There is an aspect to this issue that has been ignored and this provides just another indication of why we remain underdeveloped. That is, the role we citizens could have and can play in addressing the problem.
So, what was the problem?
The problem was not a dispute between Yorubas and Igbos, neither was it an indigene versus settlers issue per se. I believe the problem is the overpopulation of Lagos State. Due to our underdevelopment, our nation has for several years witnessed a huge surge in citizens to the large cities – Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano.
The challenge is these large cities have limited opportunities for an ever increasing national population. Nevertheless, many more citizens are relocating to these cities and this trend will continue for years to come. The result is that millions of citizens are homeless in these cities; many of them are income earners but can’t afford what is available and even what is available are usually not conducive for human living.
Even in developed countries, the major cities are usually the star attraction for citizens seeking opportunities to make a good living. So, what is different in our case?
Poor Infrastructure: A key element in cities such as Dubai, Shanghai, New York, Paris and London is the high level of infrastructural development that is constantly being improved. There is housing, electricity, water, sewage system, good road network with a good traffic system and most importantly, a good rail network. The good transportation system means people can live in neighbouring states and come into the city only for work.
Social Housing: Another key element of major developed cities is a growing number of social housing for low income earners. This helps to reduce the number of homeless people.
Opportunities: These big developed cities have an ever increasing number of opportunities in a wide range of sectors as companies, organisations, governments and individuals keep innovating. This means, jobs or income-generating opportunities increase as the population increases.
Without affordable housing, a well-developed & well-managed infrastructure and increasing opportunities, the major cities in Nigeria are at breaking point and the result is that all her citizens (from the wealthy to the poor) are unhappy with the quality of life and are considering other options.
The governments of these cities are said to being undertaking various initiatives to address the challenge but can they achieve success without significant input from citizenry? I don’t believe so.
So, what can citizens do to complement Government’s efforts?
Generation of ideas: We need to see an increase in citizens investing huge amount of time into researching solutions that can help address some of these challenges. Some may require the support of government, international donor agencies or religious organisations. Some ideas may be individually or private sector driven providing new income generating source for the initiator of the idea and the many citizens searching for jobs in these cities.
Social housing initiative: Unfortunately, we are a people who seek investments that turn out ridiculous return on investment (ROI). We prefer building luxury apartments so we can charge in dollars or its equivalent in naira but as we know, there are loads of empty luxury apartments in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki and Ikeja.
Initiatives can receive support from various sources (both local & international) and tax incentives from government to build houses for low income earners. With innovation in building materials, expensive materials like cement can be ignored but it is also possible to receive significant discount from the big cement companies for this initiative.
We must start developing a mindset that sees the ‘bottom billion’ (the large number of low income earners) as a key target market
Involvement of religious organisations: I believe it is time for the leadership of religious organisations to lead and support initiatives that addresses some of the daunting challenges the jobless and low income earner face in big cities. Focus must shift from huge, expensive-to- build-and- maintain cathedrals, large & expensive events and expensive educational institutions to social projects.
Areas such as housing, affordable medical & educational services can help alleviate the plight of most of the people in the major (& minor) cities. Of course, many of these people are their members.
Considering they are the biggest influencers in our nation, they can and must play a key role in encouraging citizens to innovate and generate solutions to our national challenges. They should also encourage members passionate about agriculture & technology to leave the major cities and return to communities where they can develop products for sale in the cities.
It is critical to reiterate the need for these organisations to become lead investors in social initiatives because just talking to their members would not be sufficient. They must match words with action.
I will also add that it is time members of religious organisations begin to mount pressure on their leadership to invest more of their resources (money, time and influence) in social initiatives.
The summary is this, in our effort to build a developed Nigeria, we must constantly ask ourselves what role can I play in turning the challenge in question into a solution and opportunity for many others?