Income Inequality Due to Uneven Wealth and Power Distribution Experienced in Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria is home to 21 million people, making it the most populous city in Nigeria and the largest city in Africa. Lagos is home to a variety of ethnic groups with the Yoruba being their dominant ethnic group followed by over 250 other ethnic groups who migrated to Lagos from other surrounding countries as well as from different parts of Nigeria. While Lagos handles a big portion of Nigeria’s imports and goods, the majority of the population is living in poverty. Nigeria’s five richest men have a combined wealth of almost thirty billion dollars, and within Lagos there are also a good variety of millionaires. Yet, around 66% of Lagos population is currently residing in slums. Due to this vast gap in economic distribution, my focus for this paper will be on the income inequality, and the severe effects it has on those who reside in Lagos, due to the uneven wealth and power distribution.

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Over the last two decades of the 20th century, Lagos has been plagued by a quality of life that seems to be deteriorating as life passes. Their population has lived with high levels of poverty, over congested road systems, massive floods, proliferation of slums, environmental degradation, disrupted sewerage system, and an increasing crime rate that does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. If we retract to Nigeria’s pre 19th century colonization, we can see that the country as a whole was flourishing with empires, towns, cities, and kingdoms that would resemble something out of one of today’s well established urban places. However, once the colonizers established a system of urbanization within Lagos, Nigeria, much of how their system was previously run, had disappeared. Where, there was once a flourishing city, built with residual wealth between their people, there is now extensive social inequality within these new age megacities. Once these megacities were built, the majority of the population was seeking work in these multiplying industries and began to abandon their occupations within the farmlands. While, others fled to these new megacities due to their medical debts that were hardly being covered within the farmland industry. This rural-urban migration ended with much disappointment when individuals found that moving to cities was not enough to secure a job. These individuals migrated for the hope that they would find work opportunities that were not, otherwise, available to them back home. The problem with this is, that many of these job opportunities were not all they were painted out to be, they tended to exploit their workers because they knew that most of them didn’t have many other options. They had to find work, and when it proved to be a relatively competitive market, they failed to secure a lucrative employment and began to struggle. This struggle manifested itself into what we now identify as slums. The more people who migrated in hopes of finding stable income, the more proliferation of slums was brought about. More than half of the workforce in Lagos city is drawn from neighboring slums. There is currently a poverty issue occurring within Lagos, and the evidence of this issue lies within Ajegunle, which can be described as holding similarities to what we would consider a mega slum. In the Planet of Slums by Mike Davis, he describes slums as any given area which has fallen into decay or being in despair, has poor ventilation if any, a very low amount of sanitation facilities, overcrowding, scarce building management, all of which pose a threat or risk to the health of living individuals within that space. While, Mega slum’s emerge as shanty-towns and squatter communities that merge in continuous belts of informal housing and poverty, usually on the urban periphery. (Davis 2006, 27)

The trickle-down development approach that was established within Lagos led to much of the uneven wealth and power distribution, which in turn led to the majority of the population being forced to live in poverty. This development led to economic growth benefiting the non-poor and furthering the inequalities and poverty experienced by the poor. There is evidence that income inequality is a strong indicator of poverty within a place, not so much that there is a decline in the average income being made but more so that the income being made is not being distributed evenly amongst a population. The higher the level of inequality, the weaker the linkage between poverty reduction and growth; and the higher the growth rate needed to reach a given target of poverty reduction. (Ohwotemu 2010, 13) Developing countries such as Nigeria deal with much poverty and income inequality issues and it has been a long-standing battle for Lagos as well, because this inequality and its rise will threaten the growth and poverty reduction targets. Lagos handles eighty percent of Nigeria’s imported goods and Nigeria holds the greatest concentration of export and government revenue dependence on a natural resource commodity (Ohwotemu 2019, 23) and yet somehow the increasing income only allows for the further rising of poverty due to the uneven distribution of income. Nigeria’s economy thrives from a growing technological sector, agriculture, and oil exports. So much so that the 521.8 billion dollars of their gross domestic product is dependent on these attributes. This has since been a major development objective to understand how an entire country can become rich. It is evident that in order to move forward with the developmental process within Lagos, Nigeria, there needs to be an uplifting of the economic troubles experienced by the less well off. The only way to achieve this economic growth for the poor, is for the growth to be bias in favor to them. However, evidence suggests that the wealthy believe that they will only stay wealthy if the poor remain poor, and this toxic mentality is what will continue to lead Lagos, Nigeria to increased levels of poverty and despair. Nigeria has all the resources at hand to make sure their population remains well off, yet lack of resources is obviously not the problem, but the way they are being used, the embezzlement and disbursement of them, is. The corrupt political figures of Nigeria are disconnected with the average income and below poverty income population of Lagos. These elite do not relate to them, and in turn do not work to find resolutions to adhere the poverty population with abilities to rise above their situation.

The goal is for Lagos to develop a society where ending the poverty rate will improve the poor’s well-being, where no persons is disadvantaged when it comes to basic humans needs such as nourishment, living long and healthy lives, or babies dying from being born prematurely. The poverty-stricken population lack resources that allows them to meet their basic human needs, which is why the well-off population maintains their above average status. When these populations of poor individuals are not able to have an education, they struggle with finding good jobs that will allow them to feed their families and themselves. This lack of education leads to struggling financially, which in turn leads to falling ill. When these individuals are not getting their proper nutrition, they began to get sick and get sick fast. Within these poor communities and slums, there are little to no proper health sanitation facilities, and this leads to them not attaining the proper care they would otherwise receive if they were well-off. Per the World Health Organization, from Jan. 1 to April 15, 2018 1,849 cases of Lassa fever were found in 21 states in Nigeria, with Lagos among them. (Kellogg 2018) Lassa fever usually virally infects individuals through rats and whom live in places with poor sanitation. There are also women who become pregnant while living in these poor and disease filled conditions and struggle to make it to term with their children, many of them deliver premature babies because they don’t have access to proper nutrition. Yet many of the premature children don’t make it past a couple of days due to their lack of medical attention. Included in this devastating cycle, are mothers who die during childbirth because they aren’t healthy and don’t have access to a medical team. The unequal distribution of wealth is only a fraction of the problems faced by the larger portion of the impoverished individuals within Lagos. Among those problems are unequal access to basic infrastructures as well as a drought in job opportunities. The high unemployment rate being experienced by the youth of Lagos is a direct correlation of the misconduct of the resources within Nigeria. The slums in Lagos depict the contradictions inherent in unequal capitalist interrelationships between the rich and the poor in symbiotic relationships. (Adejare and Akanle 2017, 5) All the corruption within Lagos boils down to one, openly known fact, the rich are powerful enough to remain above the law while the poor continue to be powerless. This is evident in the case of riverbank community Otodo-Gbame, a slum, being demolished and getting rid of its residents by teargases and bullets at the hands of law enforcements, who were following the requests of Nigeria’s elite. The elite make enough revenue to lift the poor out of slums and a life filled with poverty, for the annual wealth they accumulate in those 24 months, they have enough to lift two million people out of their economic crisis. Yet they seek to do the opposite, their greed and corruption is fueled by the desire to build luxury hotels and high-rise buildings, leaving 300,000 Nigerians without a place to call a home. They do not feel that the life of the poor is adequate enough to suffice any losses of wealth to themselves. The wealthy are fueled by greed and desire to attain more wealth, without ever stopping to think about the struggles faced by the majority of the population whom faces unequal distributions. The well-off are stripping these communities of the only homes they know, many of them who have called the same house home for years after the independence from colonization. These poverty-stricken individuals have already struggled enough as is, while trying their hardest to find any way to make money in order to survive. Yet, many of these wealthy individuals could care less, and decided they needed that land to build their buildings that will produce them with future revenues.

There is still a debate occurring wondering whether economic growth is enough to suffice a reduction in the poverty experienced within Nigeria. It is evident that throughout history, the wealth of nations has relied upon factors such as population growth, the social, physical and human capital accumulation, and structural change such as technological progress. Overpopulation is something critical that Lagos is trying to deal with because they do not currently hold enough economic opportunities to suffice the ever-growing population they are faced with. People are migrating to Lagos from all parts of the country and they are making their way there blindly, with no jobs in sight and not enough housing available to them. This is increasing the homeless population and furthering the economic troubles of those already there. This rural-urban migration leads to much of the congestion that Lagos is currently experiencing and it usually leads to degeneration of a society fighting be the ones to survive within the community. Consequently, this systematic approach leads to another issue Lagos is currently dealing with known as urban traffic congestion which results from too many people using the same road systems, especially when trying to commute to and from work or school. This leads to people heading out for the roads before the sun rises and not arriving home until long after the sun sets. Megacities such as that of Lagos, tend to deal with constant stress from traffic congestion due to lack of proper road network systems, and this is something they will continue to deal with until the roads become sufficient enough to hold the growing population of commuters. Moreover, the attributing complication of urban gentrification shows evidence that the wealthy make no plans to attribute help to the poor population but in fact have underlying motivations to eradicate the chantey community. As I previously discussed, the corrupt wealthy investors living within Lagos have been fueled by greed to move forward with desires of waterfront lands. They achieve such not only by demolishing slums located within the areas they hanker after, but then building lavish edifices that leave no choice but to push below well-off populations out from there. The relatively poor inhabitants can no longer afford homes or lifestyles near these new communities and are left to fend for new homes and new communities. This style of gentrification leaves the well-off with new lands and the less wealthy with no accessibility to these communities. Per the World Data Bank statistics, 62 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 per day. (Hughes 2015) This is not nearly enough to survive after being uprooted from your home due to corrupt political instability.

Although many promises have been made in regards to the ever-growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in Lagos and how it will be eradicated, little has actually been done to fulfill these wishes. In fact, since the 1970’s Nigeria has helped produce over $400 billion dollars from oil revenue yet Nigeria is also more disadvantaged today than it was forty years ago. Sources believe this is due to the constantly growing society that produces ethnically polarized communities. These societies then show behaviors of competitiveness and desires to have their society function in a way that they believe is best, even if it differs from their neighbor’s opinions and beliefs and this leads to social conflict. This can be transcended into circumstances such as new policies, educational topics, infrastructure, and so on. Prior to the colonization of Lagos, societies worked together to function and ensure success for all parties involved, because they believed that the uplifting of one another will equate to overall prosperity within the given society. However, upon post-independence, different ethnic groups began to fear the control of a dominating group, which led different ethnic groups to only provide for themselves. This is where certain wealthy investors and well-off populations continued to climb the economic latter, by looking out for themselves, while the poor were left out to fend for themselves with what already little amounts of resources they had. No one wants to mix themselves with the poor, they believe that no matter how humble you are or appear to be, once you make it out of poverty, you must not associate with those in a lower class than yourself. Now, here we are in 2018 and no changes have been made to eliminate this dangerous cycle that is being lived out in Lagos. Sure, elite political figures have made promises of how to save Nigeria billions of dollars from foreign exchange by producing refineries in Lagos that will aid the structural issues that Nigeria has been dealing with for many years. Chairman and chief executive of a company looking to build this refinery, Aliko Dangote, believes that with the production of this industrial project, Lagos will be able to invest more funds within their community. However, this is hardly a solution from the point of view of those living in impoverishment, because no matter how much revenue is kept within Nigeria itself, no amount of new or old wealth will pass onto those individuals. As the rich get richer, the poor will progressively become poorer.

The only solution to the income inequality being felt by the below poverty community is to diminish the wealth gap and to redistribute the power of the politicians and elite. Sadly, no effective policies have been put forth to allow such a plan to be acted out. The amount of planning that needs be invested into these future policies is abundant, and needs to be delivered by politicians looking to create a society in Lagos that equally thrives, not just on the back of the economically well off. Should you look at Lagos, Nigeria from the outside in, it will be easy to believe that the city as a whole is thriving economically due to all the fortunes they have acquired through their oil based resources and fellow endeavors. For this reason, no one has implemented change within Lagos and their economy. Granted, the growing poverty rate in Lagos is astonishing seeing as 65% of Lagos population is living in slums and settlements, with no attainable possibilities of making it out. The endless work these individuals put in to migrate into mega-cities in hopes of finding work leads them to no avail since these job opportunities they set sail to find are nonexistent for the growing population. Greed and corruption of the wealthy population is amongst the leading factors behind the growing poverty rate within Lagos, with no end to the corruption in site. So long as the wealth gap exists, so will the growing poverty population, in turn creating more slums and only benefiting the rich.

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Income Inequality Due to Uneven Wealth and Power Distribution Experienced in Lagos, Nigeria. (2019, Jul 01). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from
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