Lagos, the economic center of Nigeria, is beginning to pay the price for the country’s volatile, yet ravenous, growth. In the past 10 years alone, the country’s economy has experienced massive swings in both directions—growing wildly in some periods, while falling dramatically in others. During boom times, the banks, telecommunications, and oil companies all clamor to take advantage of the flow of money and find their space in the city. To make matters worse, real estate prices in Lagos are tied to the oil industry, rising significantly when oil prices spike and vice versa.
Despite the tremors, the city of Lagos has attracted migrants from inland Nigeria as well as bordering countries. Once they arrive in the city, the resulting inflow of people are often forced into squalid, shantytown living conditions. One of them, named Festac Town, was a symbol of modernity in the 1970s when it was built (in fact, it was the outgrowth of an Arts and Culture Festival held in 1977). Nowadays, the district provides neither electricity nor running water to its residents. As with many other neighborhoods in the city, its streets are often flooded due to the almost non-existent water management.
Only a select few are able to live in the city’s wealthy districts. Some of these areas, such as Nicon Town, were built directly on the ground of evicted shantytowns, and are encircled by high fences and walls to keep their residents protected (or isolated) from their immediate surroundings.
The inhabitants of these shantytowns are the perfect target for property developers who are constantly scheming to win any piece of land. The struggle is uneven: the people living there have no idea of their rights. Even if they try to resist real estate agents’ harassment by writing on their homes’ walls “This house is not for sale,” they remain easy targets for eviction. House by house, block by block, the city of Lagos “develops” like a cancer, while paying no attention to the living conditions of its 16+ million inhabitants.
There are some efforts to balance or manage the city’s anarchic growth. For example, the SERAC (Social Economic Right Action Center) does what it can to support the inhabitants of these marginal districts while putting pressure on the Nigerian state to find a sustainable solution for these many thousands of people. But as the country itself appears victim to uncontrolled development and a vicious boom-bust economic mentality, such endeavors face an uphill battle.
Author’s note: This work was produced within the framework of Amnesty International’s project “Dignity—Human rights and poverty.”
Michaël Zumstein is a member of the LensCulture Network, an initiative we launched with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are excited to watch it grow and evolve.