Lagos Urban Renewal Guidelines: An interview with Dr Taibat Lawanson

The large population growth in Lagos is due to natural population increase, caused by persistently high fertility, declining mortality, and a young population, but most importantly rural-urban migration. This accounts for up to 75% of the population increase. When people come into Lagos with inadequate funds, they find themselves in low-income communities. These spaces are integral to Lagos and house most of the population. It is important to note that there is an obvious need for low-income housing and amenities.

The 2013 slum identification handbook of the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) indicates from previous research that there were 42 blighted communities in Lagos State in 2002. Since then, several slums have emerged in low-income residential areas and the total number has risen to over 100.

Lagos Development Plan of 2012-2025 mandates Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) to reduce slums by 5% annually. This has been impossible due to the heavy funding required, hence the need for alternative financial models. Another major setback is lack of trust from members of public on government projects.  LASURA believes that integrated affordable social housing and development guidelines are integral and key to sustainable redevelopment programme.

Under the Global Future Cities Programme, Urban Renewal Guidelines for urban renewal/slum upgrading projects in Lagos State were developed. The guidelines promote slum upgrading and urban renewal projects that contribute to the overall goals of poverty reduction, environmental improvements, and good governance.

Dr Taibat Lawanson, Associate Professor of Urban Planning and co-director, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), has been part of the GFCP urban renewal guidelines project in Lagos. It was a pleasure to ask her some questions about her experience and the impact the project has made so far. As an urban planner with an interest in urban governance and pro poor development, she proved to be a tremendous asset to the project. Over the past 20 years, she has been teaching, doing research and publishing with a particular focus on African cities and Lagos. We were unable to meet in person, but we chatted via zoom. After some pleasantries we dived right in.


Olamide Ejorh (OE): What have you been involved in the Global Future Cities Programme?

Taibat Lawanson (TL): There was a focus group discussion at the stage of conceptualising the programme, it was held at UNILAG and I participated in that. After the programme kicked off, and when the draft guidelines were structured, I served as a co-chair on the guidelines advisory committee. 


OE: How would you describe urban renewal in Lagos in the past 10-20 years?

TL: In the last 20 years urban renewal has been ad hoc. Sometimes it was done in response to investors or a disaster such as a flood. It has been tokenism - put in a borehole here and a road over there. Therefore, it has not been affective. Also, some of the urban renewal programs, for example Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project (LMDGP), were done without the input of the affected community.

The Lagos Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) has been somewhat incapacitated and there has been a quick turnover of staff. This has meant the people with institutional knowledge and who can engage are usually moved elsewhere before they have a chance to effectively contribute over time.

Overall, the general landscape of urban renewal across the city has been donor-led and piecemeal rather than at scale or starting at the community level.


OE: You have mentioned how urban renewal has not had the desired effect and why. Can you identify any other impacts or issues with urban renewal in Lagos?

TL: There is a lack of process and lack of autonomy on the part of the urban renewal agency. They are limited to work solely in slum areas, but this needs to change because we need to look at Lagos in a holistic manner. So LASURA’s mandate must extend beyond the slum areas. There have also been a lot of evictions taking place (often without the knowledge of LASURA). These are key things that have been hindering urban development in Lagos.


OE: Can you identify any difference in the practice of urban renewal from the start to now when the projects is winding down?

TL: Taking micro level planning more seriously - Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development (MPPUD) have commissioned a series of action plans and LASURA also has sent out Expressions of Interest for the redevelopment of several communities, like Makoko.

Another thing I have seen is that LASURA is now willing to work across communities. For example, the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation (Federation), is represented in the newly inaugurated slum identification committee. LASURA now sees the people in the communities as part of the process and they are willing to see them as co-travellers in comparison to the benevolent tokenism approach to participation that used to be utilized. I do not know to what extent the Lagos Urban Renewal Guidelines have contributed to that shift, but these are shifts in the right direction.

Also, I was at the launch of the Ajegunle/Ikorodu Resilience Action Plan, and the chair of the house committee on urban development highlighted that any urban development plan/project that is coming to the house must clearly spell out the resettlement and contingency plans for the people. Similarly, during this launch the representative of the Lagos Resilience Office (LASRO) had said that they are preparing to institutionalise resettlement and contingency planning as part of the urban renewal process. LASRO is an agency that is not within the urban planning ministry, however they have been brought into the loop of urban renewal.

The governor has an interest in urban renewal. I believe this is because urban renewal can be a positive response to the EndSars[1] protests. This can show that definite actions are being taken to improve people’s lives. I can see that there has been more action being taken after the protests that happened last year.


OE: Are there any takeaways or learnings from the GFCP process?

TL: There has been an issue of communication or perhaps it is how people understood the project. This stemmed primarily from the fact that a lot of funds were allocated to the process and not necessarily touching the lives of Lagosians. It was a case of we are spending so much money without a tangible project. This led to the development of a demonstrator project, which has been a positive takeaway.

Earlier on in the project a Memorandum of Understanding was drafted to be signed between University of Lagos (UNILAG) and LASURA. Though it has not been signed yet LASURA is already working with UNILAG. Sometimes we must take baby steps and appreciate the little wins on the way to the larger outcomes.

Overall, it was good to define what urban renewal is and highlight that urban renewal goes beyond the overall focus on slums. This process has been particularly good in brining that to the fore and exploring autonomy of the agency. While LASURA cannot advocate for this themselves, it is something that is necessary if we want to see meaningful progress in the Lagos urban development trajectory.


[1] End SARS is a decentralised social movement, and series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria. A two week protest took place in October 2020.




Federal Republic of Nigeria




Spatial Planning

Urban Governance and Legal Frameworks


Olamide Udoma-Ejorh

Local Strategic Advisor - Nigeria, UN-Habitat