A Tale of Two Cities

By Gabriel Malek


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the heart of Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, rows of cramped, wood-paneled houses sandwich together as approximately 86,000 people fill the neighborhood of Makoko, which some people inappropriately call the Venice of Africa.

While the slum sits on the Lagos Lagoon, with canals connecting buildings like its Italian counterpart, the myriad shacks that tenuously rest above the water’s reach contrastingly epitomize economic deprivation. Makoko’s residents represent the poorest strata of Nigerian society, a society in which 60 percent of citizens, live in absolute poverty: equivalent to every person in France and Spain’s living on less than $1.25 a day.

Less than ten minutes away by car, however, cranes and construction vehicles work tirelessly on the development of “an investment opportunity of unprecedented scale,” Eko Atlantic City (EAC).

This planned metropolis being built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to Victoria island in the south of Lagos will contain numerous lavish high rises that, according to its developers, will serve as “the answer to Lagos’ housing shortage.” Yet, the luxurious, contemporary apartments and lofts depicted on the EAC website appear exorbitantly more expensive than what Makoko’s residents, the people who desperately need housing, can afford. The Nigerian government, although it is not funding the project, must shoulder the blame for this initiative. The government granted the land rights to private contractors to establish the project, and Nigerian forces, giving residents only 72 hours of notice, evicted 3,000 citizens in order to develop “prime waterfront.”  While attempting to propel Nigeria forward in the international arena, the country’s leaders have neglected its poorest citizens, ultimately rendering the nation more economically stratified.

Nigeria, currently the world’s 21st largest economy, has grown tremendously in recent decades due to Western interest in the country’s fossil fuels. 70 percent of government revenue stems from the nearly two million barrels of oil pumped daily, and although the nation’s economy has stagnated recently due to a global decline in oil prices, Nigeria still boasts heightened financial importance compared to its West African neighbors. The Nigerian government, currently led by Muhammadu Buhari, has done everything in its power to court Western investors, hoping that interest abroad will stimulate overall fiscal burgeoning throughout the nation. In neighborhoods such as Ikoyi and Lekki, business moguls cruise down paved streets in luxury cars and shop for products familiar to any posh Manhattan shopper. This opulence intended to entice foreign money comes at the expense of the average, working-class Nigerian outside of the oil industry or political elite. Although the economy is growing, the number of citizens benefiting remains static.

EAC is thus a marked miscalculation on behalf of the Nigerian government. The intended center point for stabilization in Lagos will likely serve international corporations more than the current inhabitants of the city. This neglect towards poor Nigerian citizens appears evident in the EAC’s foundational plans. Contractors intend the development to serve as “an entire new coastal city adjacent to Lagos,” rendering the project disconnected from those whom it would ideally aid. The EAC’s website further states that the venture “is a focal point for investors capitalizing on rich rich development growth.” The city thus serves as a haven for wealthy investors looking to live extravagantly as they reap the benefits of Nigeria’s emerging markets. The EAC hopes to appear autonomous in order to divert international attention away from the grim reality that those in Makoko and numerous other slums continuously face. In essence, the plan is merely a superficial aim at beautification.

Aside from housing, the EAC also promises shopping facilities and educational opportunities, but again, these features prove out of reach for a substantial number of residents in Lagos. Contractors tout a mall district akin to 5th Avenue or the Champs-Élysées, but for people who cannot consistently afford food and water, these amenities are useless. However, the EAC will not necessarily fail because the entire project caters to international interests. Even the school being built for the city does not address local educational concerns. The Eko Atlantic school intends to instruct 1,600 international students despite the fact that forty percent of Nigerian children aged six to 11 do not attend primary school according to Unicef due to a shortage of maintained schools caused by mismanagement of government funds. Thus, the EAC expressly represents the twisted priorities currently plaguing Nigerian development.

If Buhari and other Nigerian leaders truly do want their country to grow, they must acknowledge and fix problems internally before looking beyond the nation’s borders. An economically stable Nigeria will exist when both those who currently live in Makoko and international investors can enjoy the fruits of contemporary financial initiatives.


Gabriel Malek is a freshman in Timothy Dwight college. Contact him at gabriel.malek@yale.edu.