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Nigeria Urbanization Since Independence
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Spurred by the oil boom prosperity of the 1970s and the massive improvements in roads and the availability of vehicles, Nigeria since independence has become an increasingly urbanized and urban-oriented society. During the 1970s Nigeria had possibly the fastest urbanization growth rate in the world. Because of the great influx of people into urban areas, the growth rate of urban population in Nigeria in 1986 was estimated to be close to 6 percent per year, more than twice that of the rural population. Between 1970 and 1980, the proportion of Nigerians living in urban areas was estimated to have grown from 16 to more than 20 percent, and by 2010, urban population was expected to be more than 40 percent of the nation's total. Although Nigeria did not have the highest proportion of urban population in sub-Saharan Africa (in several of the countries of francophone Central Africa, for example, close to 50 percent of the population was in the major city or cities), it had more large cities and the highest total urban population of any sub-Saharan African country.

    In 1990 there were twenty-one state capitals in Nigeria, each estimated to have more than 100,000 inhabitants; fifteen of these, plus a number of other cities, probably had populations exceeding 200,000. Virtually all of these were growing at a rate that doubled their size every fifteen years. These statistics did not include the new national capital, Abuja, which was planned to have more than 1 million inhabitants by early in the twenty-first century, although that milestone might be delayed as construction there stretched out. In 1990 the government was still in the process of moving from Lagos, the historical capital, to Abuja in the middle belt, and most sections of the government were still operating from Lagos. Since 1976 there had been dual capitals in both Lagos and Abuja. If one added the hundreds of smaller towns with more than 20,000 inhabitants, which resembled the larger centers more than the many smaller villages throughout the country, the extent of Nigerian urbanization was probably more widespread than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Many of the major cities had growing manufacturing sectors, including, for example, textile mills, steel plants, car assembly plants, large construction companies, trading corporations, and financial institutions. They also included government-service centers, large office and apartment complexes, along with a great variety of small business enterprises, many in the "informal sector," and vast slum areas. All postsecondary education installations were in urban centers, and the vast majority of salaried jobs remained urban rather than rural.

    Although cities varied, there was a typical Third World urban approach that distinguished life in the city from that in the countryside. It emerged from the density and variety of housing--enormous poverty and overcrowding for most, and exorbitantly wealthy suburbs and guarded enclaves for the upper classes. It also emerged from the rhythm of life set by masses of people going to work each day; the teeming central market areas; the large trading and department stores; the traffic, especially at rush hours; the filth that resulted from inadequate housing and public services; the destitution indicated by myriads of beggars and unemployed; the fear of rising crime; and the excitement of night life that was nonexistent in most rural areas. All these factors, plus the increased opportunity to connect with the rich and powerful through chains of patron-client relations, made the city attractive, lively, and dangerous. Urban people might farm, indeed many were trying to do so as food prices soared in the 1980s, but urban life differed vastly from the slow and seasonally defined rhythm of life in rural areas. Generally, even with all its drawbacks, it was seen as more desirable, especially by young people with more than a primary education.

    The most notorious example of urban growth in Nigeria has undoubtedly been Lagos, its most important commercial center. The city has shot up in size since the 1960s; its annual growth rate was estimated at almost 14 percent during the 1970s, when the massive extent of new construction was exceeded only by the influx of migrants attracted by the booming prosperity. Acknowledged to be the largest city in sub-Saharan Africa (although an accurate count of its population must await census results), Lagos has become legendary for its congestion and other urban problems. Essentially built on poorly drained marshlands, the city commonly had flooding during the rainy season, and there was frequent sewage backup, especially in the poorer lowland sections. As in other Nigerian cities, there was a constant problem of garbage and waste disposal. Housing construction had boomed but rarely seemed to keep pace with demand. The city's main fame, however, came from the scale of its traffic jams. Spanning several islands as well as a large and expanding mainland area, the city never seemed to have enough bridges or arteries. The profusion of vehicles that came with the prosperity of the 1970s seemed often to be arranged in a massive standstill, which became the site for urban peddling of an amazing variety of goods, as well as for entertainment, exasperation, innovation, and occasionally crime. By 1990 Lagos had made some progress in managing its traffic problems both through road and bridge construction and traffic control regulations. This progress was aided by the economic downturn of the late 1980s, which slowed urban migration and even led some to people return to rural areas.

    Aside from Lagos, the most rapid recent rates of urbanization in the 1980s were around Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta region, which was at the heart of the oil boom, and generally throughout the Igbo and other areas of the southeast. These regions historically had few urban centers, but numerous large cities, including Onitsha, Owerri, Enugu, Aba, and Calabar, grew very rapidly as commercial and administrative centers. The Yoruba southwest was by 1990 still the most highly urbanized part of the country, while the middle belt was the least urbanized. The problems of Lagos, as well as the desire for a more centrally located capital that would be more of a force for national unity, led to the designation in 1976 of a site for a new national capital at Abuja.

    Data as of June 1991

    NOTE: The information regarding Nigeria on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nigeria Urbanization Since Independence information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nigeria Urbanization Since Independence should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 27-Mar-05
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