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Adaptation and Social Justice in Lagos, Nigeria

22 Apr 2021

  • Author(s): Ibidun Adelekan

Adaptation and Social Justice in Lagos, Nigeria
The UNRISD project Transformative Adaptation to Climate Change in Coastal Cities seeks to increase understanding of transformative adaptation and improve adaptation decision making in the context of two Southeast Asian coastal cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. This contribution is meant to extend the inquiry beyond these two cities, illustrating the relevance of questions of justice, transformation and adaptation in other (coastal) places, too.

Lagos in Context

The coastal city of Lagos, one of Africa’s three megacities, occupies a significant position as the economic and commercial capital of Nigeria, and the foremost port city in West Africa. Lagos contributes more than one third of Nigeria’s GDP, with over 60% of the country’s manufacturing industry—including about 2,000 industrial complexes, 10,000 commercial ventures, and 22 industrial estates located in the city. The GDP of Lagos in 2017 was USD 136 billion. The abundance of economic opportunities in the city has contributed to its high population growth rate (3.5% per year) and rapid urbanization. About 70% of the population of Lagos lives in informal settlements and slums due to the inability of private and public institutions to provide either land for housing, or housing, for the rapidly increasing number of inhabitants. The scarcity of decent and affordable housing in good locations of the city means that the urban poor population, including poor migrants, is forced to live in hazardous locations or build in areas that hinder the flow of storm water.

Lagos is identified as one of the top 10 global cities at extreme risk from climate change, with economic exposure to climate change estimated to reach USD 128.5 billion in 2023 (Maplecroft Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2018). While extreme temperatures are felt in the city, it is the increasing frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events, sea level rise, storm surges and coastal erosion that are the most perceived effects of climate change confronting the concentration of population, assets and critical infrastructure. Lagos has a long history of flooding, with severe impacts of significant pluvial, fluvial and coastal flood events in different parts of the city, as well as several smaller flooding events in the last two to three decades, underscoring the city’s physical and socioeconomic vulnerability to floods (Adelekan 2010; Adelekan and Asiyanbi 2016). No socioeconomic group in the city is immune from the risks of flooding, and flood risk perception is high among residents. Nonetheless, it is the urban poor who are most vulnerable due to the hazardous location of their homes in floodplains and waterfront and coastal locations, their higher sensitivity to harm from hazardous events, and limited adaptive capacity. Research in the city found that the urban flood risks of greatest concern to residents are flood-related sickness and disease (66%), damage to property (62%), drowning/loss of life (59%), and damage to sources of income (54%) (Adelekan and Asiyanbi 2016).

Adaptation Interventions

City planners and decision makers acknowledge the risks of flooding in Lagos (Adelekan 2016). In the last two decades, adaptation interventions have been put in place, through policies as well as structural and non-structural measures, primarily to reduce flooding in the city and the exposure of the population, infrastructure and assets to flood impacts. Key in this regard is the construction along the Atlantic coast of the “Great Wall of Lagos”—seven kilometres of revetment conceived to protect sections of the city from storm surges and coastal erosion. Construction of the now-almost-completed wall began in 2009. Together with a breakwater built in 2006 on the Lagos Bar Beach section of the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Wall provides significant protection to the adjacent coastal land from the impacts of coastal hazards. It can be considered maladaptive, however, as serious levels of coastal erosion further away from the revetment have been attributed to the construction of the groynes of the Great Wall. As a result, the wall works as flood protection for recent high-end developments, while it exposes informal coastal communities to storm surges that are increasing both in frequency and intensity. About 69 kilometres of concrete secondary storm water collector drainage was also constructed to address coastal flooding. Within the city, additional measures to reduce flooding include dredging and maintenance of rivers, extensive construction of new storm water drainage channels, and maintenance of existing drainage channels. The Lagos state government also discontinued physical development in wetlands and areas liable to flood which had previously been approved for building.

A detailed plan of action for climate change adaptation in Lagos was developed in 2012: the “Lagos State Climate Change Adaptation Strategy”, or LAS-CCAS (BNRCC 2012). The LAS-CCAS provides a framework to guide the government in building informed responses and enhancing capacities at individual, community and state levels for effective response to climate change. One recommended intervention is a long-term plan for relocation of the settlements and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to sea level rise (BNRCC 2012). This has yet to be actualized, however, as resettlement interventions have not been embarked upon with the well-being of the at-risk or vulnerable populations in mind.

As a result, people are forced to relocate to new locations that are poorer than those they were coming from, and with little or nothing to begin a new life. The socioeconomic conditions of resettled persons are therefore worse. Those whose work was in close proximity to their community could no longer keep up their economic activities since they had moved farther away or could not afford transportation costs. Evidence also shows that there is usually lack of basic social services and infrastructure such as good roads, pipe borne water, electricity, and health facilities in the new sites, thereby increasing people’s vulnerability to poverty and climate change impacts.

The case of Alpha beach community (2012)

Several small coastal settlements on the eastward side of the Great Wall have recorded increased rates of coastal erosion and increased frequency and intensity of storm surges resulting in loss of life as well as damage to houses, property, livelihood assets and roads. One example is the Alpha beach community where much of the land has been lost, causing huge damage and losses to the community members. Some residents were forced to relocate elsewhere because of the total destruction of their homes by storm surges. In August 2012, a storm surge washed into the Alpha Beach coastal area killing at least 10 people, and displacing many residents. Following the event the government ordered residents to vacate their homes, and subsequently embarked on demolition of dwellings in the community, rendering many homeless. Many in the community were artisanal fishers whose livelihood needs were not taken into consideration, since their trade required ready access to the sea. No provision for resettlement was made for the displaced persons.

The case of East Badia (2013)

One adaptation intervention embarked upon by the Lagos state government is the demolition of houses and buildings on drainage paths and certain flood-prone areas. During the period 2010-2013, buildings and structures in flood-prone communities in Agege, Ijeshatedo and Ijora-Badia were demolished. In February 2013, the dwellings of 2,237 households in East Badia were demolished and close to 9,000 people were displaced. The state government did not provide adequate alternative housing and resettlement for affected persons, however. This led to intervention by human rights agencies and litigation against government for proper resettlement and compensation for affected persons (
Amnesty International 2014a). While they successfully fought for the retroactive development of a Resettlement Action Plan and some compensation (Amnesty International 2014b), forced evictions continue to take place.

Implications and Conclusion

The urban development vision of the Lagos state government aimed at making Lagos an African model megacity finds expression in its sustainable urban transformation policies. These transformation policies, however, are to a large extent not inclusive of the urban poor population and their needs and aspirations (Olajide et al. 2018). This exclusion is also translated into actions towards climate change adaptation. The urban poor are nevertheless crucial to the functioning of the urban system since they provide important services. Their well-being and livelihoods need to be preserved. The urban poor need to be taken into consideration in climate change adaptation planning and action.

Successful climate change adaptation plans require collaboration between all stakeholders—vulnerable groups/community members, livelihood groups, local governments, civil society groups, research community, etc. A top-down approach in decision making is detrimental to achieving the desired objective of reducing the vulnerability of people facing climate risk. Avenues should be open for knowledge exchange between public agents and those at risk to climate change impacts. City planners and decision makers need education and capacity building in order to adopt more participatory approaches. Location- and context-specific information and data relating to the society in question are required. Climate change adaptation planning is not only about reducing exposure, but also about increasing adaptive capacity. Understanding the factors that shape or contribute to the social vulnerabilities of a particular group or community is important, as this will inform the needed entry points to increase their resilience.

About the Author
Ibidun Adelekan is Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

  • Adelekan, I.O. (2010): Vulnerability of poor urban coastal communities to flooding in Lagos, Nigeria. Environment and Urbanization 22(2), 433-450.
  • Adelekan, I.O. and A.P. Asiyanbi. (2016). Flood risk perception in flood-affected communities in Lagos, Nigeria. Natural Hazards 80(1), 445-469.
  • Adelekan, I.O. 2016. Flood risk management in the coastal city of Lagos, Nigeria. Journal of Flood Risk Management 9(3), 255-264.
  • Amnesty International. 2014a. Nigeria: The World Bank rubber stamps flawed Resettlement Action Plan for Badia East. https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/533aa7594.pdf
  • Amnesty International. 2014b. Human rights for human dignity. A primer on economic, social and cultural rights. Second edition. London: Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/8000/pol340012014en.pdf
  • BNRCC (2012). Towards a Lagos State Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (LAS-CCAS). Building Nigeria's Response to Climate Change (BNRCC) project.
  • Olajide, O. A., M.E. Agunbiade and H.B. Bishi. (2018). The realities of Lagos urban development vision on livelihoods of the urban poor. Journal of Urban Management 7(1), 21-31.

Photo: Stefan Magdalinski (Creative Commons BY 2.0 via Flickr)



This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.