Decongesting Nigerian Cities: Stemming Rural-Urban Drift in Today’s Nigeria

Production, economists aptly put, is creation of utility. But where are the factors of production in Nigeria mostly found? Simple. In the cities or not very far from the cities! Land, Labour, Capital and Entrepreneurship. Yes! The land for the cities is mostly skimmed from the surrounding areas, eventually creating a megalopolis like Lagos/Ogun states. This brings dreamers of the good life to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano, Benin, Ibadan, Calabar, Uyo, Ilorin, Yola, Jalingo, Sokoto, Abeokuta, Ikeja, Enugu, Makurdi, Umuahia, Owerri, Minna, Oshogbo, and the other state capitals in Nigeria. However, there are other non-state capitals like Warri, Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha, Eket, Ikot-Abasi, Bonny Island, Escravos, Forcados, and many others which are crowd-pulling towns because of the nature of economic activities going on there.

Agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the average Nigerian’s economy became abandoned for the glitterati of the cities and industrialised areas, choking them up per square meter. To compound problems generated by the massively skewed drift of people to the cities, private and public activities continue to be carried out there since it is closest to the one most important business and life-existence cost reducer in Nigeria: Power Supply! The cities and industrialised areas are the highest in likelihood to have electric power available more of the time than the rural and unindustrialised areas. But the so-called unindustrialised areas are actually, in more than 90 percent of cases, agriculturalised areas. So nowhere in Nigeria is unproductive. Or to put it statistically, Most of Nigeria is productive. Then, why the rush to the cities?

Apart from power, status symbolisation may be an underlying cause of these drifts. A resident in the city, is more likely to be socially upgraded in the rural areas in political/economic matters than a “villager” or “local champion” as it is sometimes coined in Nigeria. People, some of whom have visited their hometowns only once or twice, have won elections into the Nigerian parliament not to talk of being shortlisted for chieftaincy titles in the same hometown they visited just once (to receive the title) in their lifetime! There are many other factors which more or less have to do with the factors of production. So in they rush. From fishermen to farmers, husbands and housewives and even sometimes grannies! Yes grannies. Healthcare in the rural areas is not the quality you get in the cities. And even in the cities they are very scarce. The former farmers and fishermen first get a motorcycle, in some cases, and begin the “okada” business. Commercial motorcyclists jam-pack every nook and cranny of major areas earlier described in this article creating traffic congestion and more than 70 percent of road accidents in Nigeria. People including the former farmers and fishermen go into the market and buy the scarce foodstuff at high prices, occasioned by their abandonment of the means of creating man’s first need: Food.

Enough of the causes. Now for the remedies.

Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt have shown commitment to reorganise their environments. Fine. Yes, that is how to start the change. Follow the laid down town plans, remove structures from where they did not belong, excommunicate okadamen or peg their time of operations to 7.00pm, and many more. Good. But the lure of the city or developed areas. How do you wish people away from these places when there are no alternative cash points elsewhere in this vastly beautiful and promising country? Yes there were in the pre-oil money conscious days profitable activities in the rural areas. For instance all railway station towns were known on the map because farmers could load their produces on the trains in their towns to various customers elsewhere in the country or to the ports down south for export. So you have people settling in Kafanchan from closer farming settlements, even though Kaduna the state capital was not too far.

But we need more than breaking down structures defacing cities. We need to put up structures that will make people stay back in the towns and villages and only visit cities for visas, or parties or flights out of the country or within the country as the case may be. People should be able to live in Ise-Ekiti, Obubra, Bida, Isselle Uku, Ubiaja, Abonema, Ozoro, Eha-Amufu, Oyorokoto, Ayakoromo, Gbokolo, Adazi-Ani or Fadan Karshi and be happy!

We need a conglomerate, all-hands-on-deck approach to things here. Everyone must be involved from the government to the drifters themselves. All that glitters is not gold.

It is very rare, come to think of it, for gold to be found in the cities!

To start with, we must provide adequate and reliable power from any source as long as it is safe and not a potential hazard to people. Government has made tons of statements on this but our vision is either blurred or there is nothing or little going on about it. Until this setback is addressed, even the experts will not be able to charge their phones so as to be able to communicate with each other on where the next meeting will take place!

Someone made a statement, which was overheard by yours truly during the Census in 2006, about half of Lagosians being either homeless or half-housed! He may be right. It is not a suprise to see people sometimes living off their car booths! People live in Shagamu, Sango Otta, and even Ibadan and work in Lagos Island or Victoria Island. A person traveling on the hellish 280 km road between Benin City and Lagos, sometimes gets to Lagos Island via the Third Mainland Bridge almost the same time as one who is just 40 kilometres away from Sango-Otta! The reason is easy to explain. The traffic jams at over 20 points before one who lives in Sango Otta gets into the Island slows down any meaningful progress on the road. So to save his job and earn his keep, he gets his laundry neatly done, then packs it in one corner of his car and locks it up! A little case of toiletries also finds a place in one corner of the car booth. Off he goes till the weekend when the congestion is heavily reduced and more free-flowing before he returns to his real home to change his laundry for the next trip. While on the Island, some of these Lagosians, hang out in drinking bars and other late night pubs before going to “patch” with a pal or sometimes park near a petrol filling station and roll back the car seat to snore away the night! Wherever he lies is head, that’s his home! The average inhabitant of Lagos struggles hard daily to eke out a living. Yes it is same elsewhere in New York, Naples or London some will say. That is not in doubt. But those cities have got facilities to cater for the social welfare and security of the inhabitants. Rogues can more easily be pursued and caught than in the labyrinths of the Lagos megapolis.

But why are things like that? Good question. It is again simply because what should make people stay back in more hospitable climes in the rural areas have been concentrated in cities. Thus the labour required to grow food in this greenland called Nigeria is now, in most cases languishing away in the Lagos labour market. As noted in the previous article, since the farms have been left fallow in most rural areas, the available produce ferried into the cities in rickety mammy-wagons is not enough to go round. Some of these foodstuffs have lost some of their nutritional content because they have been mass-produced with fertilizers to increase yield. The status symbol of one who lives in the city is a silent but obvious factor determining the stay-put syndrome of many of the stranded in Lagos. They dare not go back “home” empty-handed! What will they tell the rural dwellers that they went to do in the city? To achieve “success” some resort to various mind-boggling crimes and petty crimes alike, trying to grab the proverbial Golden Fleece. Dreaming Jasons! Check out the number of cars streaming out of Lagos t

o the north, east and west of Nigeria in the last five days to the Christmas and New Year celebrations and the picture will be clearer for any observer to see. It is one of the longest vehicular chains of any kind anywhere on the face of the Globe. I remember British representative Lynda Chalker visiting Lagos in the mid-90’s and noting that the vehicles she managed to see from the air during a copter flight were more than the total number of vehicles in Great Britain!

The facilities provided by government for people in the 60’s and 70’s have now become scrambled for, and sometimes trampled upon by the searing crowd of Lagos. It is so addictive that some people prefer to ‘die’ there rather than return home to face the jests and leers of “villagers”! People drive on pedestrian walkways and ask you to get out of the way if you dare question the driving pattern. Thank God, LASTMA the state traffic management authority is gradually sanitising Lagos of this syndrome. Rooms meant for one or two people are crammed with 5 to 8 inhabitants who sometimes do day and night sleep time swaps. A pharmacy closes at 10pm and from thence it becomes a mini-hang out with music blaring from makeshift sound boxes, local gin aka ogogoro, cigarettes and quick snacks and even mobile phone airtime vending becomes the new pharmacy, dealing in stress-reducing “fun” for the habitual night-crawlers. There is also the noise pollution on city streets as hundreds of bus conductors holler out, sometimes with cracked voices and musical crescendo, various destinations in Lagos and its surrounding suburbs. Music blare out of giant home-made speakers placed right there on the walkways by audio and video CD’s vendors, choking up available space and reducing visibility for all manner of traffic. Obalende, CMS, Ikeja, Oshodi, Iyana-Ipaja, Mile 2, Oyingbo many other bus stops are nightmares at daytimes!

It is mostly in Lagos and other big cities in Nigeria that one can find an able-bodied, well-fed beggar, who can see, hear and speak, is not in anyway physically challenged, and is straight-faced about his lazy means of livelihood. They come with all sorts of stories to the “sympathetic” ear. Some are conmen and women (fallout of the status-symbol thing, the fear of failure and urge to “make it”). Many part with substantial amounts trying to help some of these expert story-tellers who throng heavily populated sections of the city including motor parks and make brisk business from the armada of potential sympathisers. Some turn into travel missionaries or motor park prayer merchants who gather at motor parks and pray for passengers embarking on journeys to various parts of Nigeria soliciting for God’s protection for them while asking for “seeds to be sowed for the Lord” in return.

It goes on and on and on. With Nigeria being the largest producer of cassava on earth and this cash cow being applicable to hundreds of industrial uses, there is no single processing factory of note in the rural areas where this wonder crop is produced. Paint factories that need cassava as part of their production raw material should be moved over to these places to reduce the farmers’ logistics cost to the cities or close to the cities where these factories are located; at the same time offering job or contract opportunities to indigenes of the area. With biofuel as a potentially possible alternative to the global overdependence on petroleum, the rural areas of Nigeria can produce a sizeable chunk of this commodity if industries dedicated to it are sited there. Heavy industries whose activities choke up cities should be wholly or in part, re-located to the rural areas. These relocations will bring with it, electric power, job opportunities, better roads, and recreational facilities. The telecoms companies have already made communication available in some very remote areas of Nigeria.

We have no excuse. This is the time. The time is now.

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