In Nigeria today as it has been for a long time now, living with waste as part of the natural environment has become a way of life. Though vastly improved from the situation of the late eighties/early nineties, it nevertheless remains true and was most recently brought to the fore by the documentary by BBC in which they depicted Lagos our “Centre of Excellence” as a vast slum. 

Immediately of course, patriotic Nigerians of all shades and colorations, including career civil servants such as Nigerian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr. Tafida up in arms against the lopsidedness of a report that failed to just as equally recognize the massive improvement made by Nigerian governments in general environmental sanitation. Describing Lagos as a slum is not only controversial but slippery.

In the United States, slum is often used to refer to marginalized neighborhoods, but in developing countries, it usually means a settlement built in or near a city by residents themselves, without official authorization or regulation. Such housing are typically substandard, and the infrastructure and services range from non-existent to improvised. This later definition is more in keeping with the Oxford dictionary definition. This defines a slum to be a section of a city that is very poor and where the houses are dirty and in bad condition. From the standpoint of BBC as an outsider from a country in which things not only work but one can proverbially eat from the sidewalk, whatever the agenda, their position becomes perhaps understandable.

But is the whole of Lagos like this? Can the whole of Lagos fit into that definition? Hell no (A drive to Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island or select parts of mainland will put paid to that). However, their error is not total. The problem with Lagos as with many other great cities of the developing world - I can name a few Mumbai(India), Nairobi(Kenya), Cape Town(South Africa), Bangkok(Thailand), Rio de Janeiro(Brazil), Medelin (Colombia), etc is that development is not general. For instance within the same axis that you find the high brow Lekki and Ikoyi estates of this world would you also find drab looking living habitations as the run down Jakande Estates and satellites of the same. (How often it is that I have passed through Bourdillion Avenue in Ikoyi or the “law school” area of the Island and thought to myself –if only all of Nigeria or at least all of its major cities was like this).

Not to mention the more obvious places like Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Iwaya, and Makoko . And in Nigeria this situation is replicated all over the country in places like the FCT, Ibadan and Port Harcourt. Accordingly the verdict passed by BBC albeit erroneously on Lagos could just as well go for many other cities or areas in Nigeria. It could perhaps also go for half of the other cities of the developing world. Thus consider these statistics.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) report of 2003:-
• Some 923,986,000 people, or 31.6 per cent of the world’s total urban population, live in slums; some 43 per cent of the urban population of all developing regions combined live in slums; some 78.2 per cent of the urban population in the least developed countries live in slums; some six per cent of the urban population in developed regions live in slum-like conditions.
• The total number of slum-dwellers in the world increased by about 36 per cent during the 1990s and in the next 30 years, the global number of slum-dwellers will increase to about two billion if no concerted action to address the challenge of slums is taken. Although (my word) sub-Saharan Africa had the highest rate of slum-dwellers with 72 per cent of the urban population living in slums, followed by South Central Asia with 59 per cent, east Asia with 36 per cent, western Asia with 33 per cent, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 32 per cent. In numbers alone, Asia accounts for some 60 per cent of the world’s urban slum residents. Asia has about 550 million people living in slums, followed by Africa with 187 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 128 million. While slums have largely disappeared in developed countries approximately 54 million urban dwellers in high-income countries live in slum-like conditions.
• Slums are also places in which the vibrant mixing of different cultures has frequently resulted in new forms of artistic expression, including some of the major musical and dance movements of the 20th Century, such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, reggae, funk, hip-hop, soukuss, break-dance, fado, flamenco and (Afro-beat-my words) .

Having said that though let it be noted that my aim for writing this article/paper is not as a defense piecefor Lagos or even Nigeria for that matter. Though an incorrigible patriot, the sole purpose of my writing here is to offer a solution. The first step towards a solution is to admit that there is a problem. Irrespective of the congestion problems that our cities face, Nigeria and the vast majority of Nigerians are dirty. Please note that I say this with respect to our people’s attitude towards the environment and not necessarily their personal hygiene. In that sense, I want to look at the solution from three angles. One-Law, two-entrepreneurial participation as a panacea to unemployment and environmental sustainability, and three- environmental reorientation.
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