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Learning from Lagos: what we can learn from Africa

Muyiwa Oki

Muyiwa Oki’s imminent visit to his hometown highlights the value of resilience, an invaluable quality that we could all benefit from acquiring

Lagos, like all cities, has its challenges.
Lagos, like all cities, has its challenges. Credit: iStock

Lagos, where Nigeria’s economic and social activity thrives, pounds to the heartbeat of resilience. I am honoured to have been invited to visit my hometown in a formal capacity, as part of the 15th session of Lagos Architecture Forum (LAF) this month. I will use the opportunity to reflect on my journey, which started in Lagos, and my hopes for its future. 

Reflecting on Lagos: a journey of resilience

Growing up in Lagos, among the daily hustle and bustle, the city’s pivotal role in Nigeria’s economic landscape may not be immediately recognisable. However, with time, I learnt that the city generates 10% of the country’s GDP. It is a powerhouse of activity and opportunity. Lagos thrives and grows in less-than-ideal conditions, because resilience is ingrained in the fabric of everyday life.

As a child commuting on the notorious Lagos-Badagry Expressway from Agbara to Festac, I (unknowingly) began to acquire that resilience. It wasn’t until my studies in architecture school at the University of Sheffield that I discovered the intricate layers of Lagos’ urban landscape. Via Rem Koolhaas’s captivating exploration, I gained a new appreciation of its complexity and adaptability.

Climate challenges and adaptation

Like many urban centres around the world, Lagos faces pressing climate challenges, from flooding to the urban heat island effect. While cities in more developed regions are turning to high-tech solutions, Lagos could leverage its unique strength – its so-called youth bulge. Africa is the youngest continent in the world, with a median age of 19. That’s why Royal Gold Medallist Lesley Lokko described it as the laboratory of the future. For a resilient future, all roads lead to Africa. 

Lagos and the UK: collaboration for change
The way towards resilience requires collaboration and shared learning. Lagos and Nigeria can draw inspiration from initiatives like the UK’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard, in which the RIBA is closely involved, paving the way for sustainable urban development. Commonwealth countries’ recent agreement underscores the importance of global co-operation in addressing urbanisation and environmental challenges. By joining forces with organisations like RIBA, Nigeria can access valuable resources and expertise to create safe, resilient and sustainable urban areas.

A call to action 

As we look towards the future, it is essential to recognise our collective agency and the power of collaboration. Leading with trust and integrity, and committing to inclusive partnerships, will be instrumental in shaping a resilient Lagos and a sustainable planet at large. To do this, we require: 
1. A common mission: In my speech at LAF, I will urge Nigeria – one of the most densely populated countries in Africa – to build on initiatives like the Commonwealth Association of Architects to address urbanisation and environmental destruction collaboratively. 
2. Agreement to lead with trust and act with integrity: Upholding integrity is crucial for scaling solutions like carbon markets. 
3. Collaboration on a planetary scale by investing in its youth and fostering collaboration on a global level, Nigeria can lead the way towards a sustainable future for all.

The journey from survival to prosperity is one that requires bold vision and unwavering commitment. Together, we can build a resilient future for Lagos and cities worldwide, harnessing the power of youthful innovation and collective action. The time to act is now, and we, in the UK, remain ready to learn from resilient Lagos.