I can sympathise with the worry that led to criticisms levelled by Governor Fashola, Dr Dalhutu Tafida, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Wole Soyinka against the BBC's documentary Welcome to Lagos. As a Nigerian living in Britain, I am acutely sensitive to any media portrayal of Nigeria that might re-establish colonial prejudices, as sadly several TV programmes and even university courses do.
Yet this documentary far from condescended to the people of Lagos. Rather it heaped praise on them as business savvy, innovative, organised and trustworthy. Every Lagosian I have spoken with agrees.
Therefore if the critics' worries were not dispelled by watching the programme, I can only infer that what they criticise is not a negative portrayal of slum dwellers in Lagos, but any portrayal of the slums at all. They fear that the international community will conclude that slums cannot coexist with the more 'modern' business districts of Lagos.
This is a false assumption as proved by India's and China's positions as amongst the world's fastest growing economies despite a coexistence of the most advanced business districts and informal businesses.
Rather than demolish all slums, the Lagos government must think of creative and fair ways to harness the potential of the slum's most profitable businesses, providing employment and improved livelihoods to millions of people.
To strengthen the livelihoods of workers in the various industries explored in the documentary, notably recycling materials, cattle brokering and logging, the Lagos state and the federal governments and civil society organisations should be considering the following five policy areas:
- provide intellectual property protection to inventors of new ideas at any scale;
- protect local industries from international competitors;
- require multinational companies that invest in Lagos to share ideas and technical knowledge to support these industries;
- encourage venture capitalists to invest in small-scale businesses; and,
- promote micro finance.
These policies are more likely to succeed if government can provide the necessities of basic housing for its citizens, electricity during working hours and just and fair institutions which will regulate investment and ensure that those working in informal settlements are not exploited but receive their rightful share of profits.
Governments must aim to increase standards of living for slum dwellers and reduce the gross disparity of wealth that currently exists between rich and poor in Lagos. Ambitions to become the next London will fail if the dual economy is exacerbated by an informal economy that is left to lag behind the leading sectors.
Wole Soyinka argued that one would not title a programme "Welcome to London" and show only impoverished council estates. However, this argument does not suffice when three-quarters of Lagosians do indeed live in slums as opposed to a minority of Londoners living in poverty. Instead of turning a blind eye to slums, Lagos state and Nigerian businessmen must realise their vast potential and invest before international investors beat them to it.
Born in Lagos, Rolake Rosiji studied economics and politics at Durham University before gaining a masters in international development management at the London School of Economics. She has conducted research at the AfriMAP Open Society Institute in London.