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Benjamin U Asks: Is Lagos The Big Apple Of Africa Without Clean Water? Nwosu, Jr | Sahara Reporters

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    One of its most critical problems is access to clean water and sanitation. Nigeria as a nation has failed to meet its goal of providing clean potable water to half of its population by 2015! This infrastructural failure has dire consequences for a heavily populated city such as Lagos.

    Lagos metropolis, popularly known as Africa’s “Big Apple” is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. But Africa’s Big Apple faces many challenges spurred by this runaway growth. 

    One of its most critical problems is access to clean water and sanitation. Nigeria as a nation has failed to meet its goal of providing clean potable water to half of its population by 2015! This infrastructural failure has dire consequences for a heavily populated city such as Lagos. Lagos is the largest populated city in Nigeria. It is home to 25 million people, with 600,000 new arrivals being added every year. Lagos is growing at a faster rate than Los Angeles and New York, but its water sanitation facilities are poorly developed and subpar compared to the other developed or developing cities in the world. The exploding population statistics has put a huge strain on the water sanitation infrastructure of Lagos.

    There are several reasons for the poor water sanitation situation in Nigeria. These range from lackluster leadership, rampant corruption, inadequate human capital, diminutive investment in water resources, and inadequate maintenance of existing infrastructure. To make matters worse, the leaders of Lagos have responded in a lackadaisical manner to the water and sanitation problems of Lagos.

    The primary cause of the poor water and sanitation facilities in Nigeria is rooted in colonial history. The colonization of Nigerian and other West African nations such as Ghana by Europeans in the 18th century left deep claw marks on the continent and one of these atrocious legacies is the poor water sanitation in the region today. Africa has a historical legacy of trade and commerce with Europe that lasted for more than 400 years. However, these centuries marked a period of European exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and wholesale oppression of Africans. Africa's huge advantage over the rest of the world in raw materials attracted European colonizers who swarmed the continent, gathering as much land and resources as they could. These rare and valuable minerals and resources stolen from Africa indubitably put Africa at a disadvantage till date, contributing to the vast underdevelopment of the continent. Scholars agree that “the European opening of Africa stimulated the slave trade for the next 400 years, with more than 11.6 million enslaved Africans transported across the Atlantic which left societies close to collapse.” 

    The rampant stealing of resources and human beings led to a degradation of African societies with only the western and eastern coasts, where the Europeans lived, becoming the most technologically developed settlements on the continent.  The unbridled pillorying of Africa’s vast natural resources put the continent at a severe disadvantage with the rest of the world, as is evident today.

    More importantly, following the European invasion, destruction, and utter ravage of the continent, the Europeans abandoned Africa to its fate: essentially leaving the continent to rebuild its dilapidated infrastructure. During the colonization of Africa, Europeans built cities from the period of 1862-1915. These were generally known as “Europeanized” or “dual cities”. The Europeanization of Africa led to the disappearance of Africa’s unique infrastructure, such as the walled city of Benin, which was utterly destroyed by British invaders and interlopers who sacked the King’s palace, burnt the city to the ground, and carted away priceless bronze artifacts, statues, and other rare African gems to Britain. All these atrocities were perpetrated under the authority of the British Crown and other European monarchies. These new settlements, built by the colonizers essentially disrupted the political and economic status of African nation-states, which the colonizers referred to as tribes. 

    These disruptions led to the collapse of the regions under European colonization. There is a straight line running from the era of European transatlantic chattel slavery and subsequent colonialism to the lack of modern-day necessities such as access to clean water and sanitation in various parts of colonized Africa.

    Furthermore, the European invasion of Africa upset “many of the delicate economic, political, and interpersonal linkages of precolonial Africa. These groups and political allegiances were at the heart of what kept African tribes and empires relatively balanced with each other, which contributed to the balance of the whole region.” Upsetting these delicate systems left the African continent in ruins, leaving Africa with no clear, structural society. The destruction of the economic base of the African nation-states left these indigenous nations defenseless in the face of the crimes committed by Europeans on the continent. These economic exploitations and degradation have bled into modern African societies and are eerily linked to the issues of water sanitation problems on the continent. To be fair to the Europeans, though they invested less in Nigeria and Africa, things appeared to be working when they were running their colonial agenda in Africa, as they needed operational efficiency to enable them cart away as many valuables and resources as possible from the continent. Following Nigerian’s independence in 1960, the Nigerian government officials went into an orgy of looting of national resources that has continued till date. This lack of attention to infrastructure development and maintenance was how things finally broke down.

    Currently, the lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services limits the development and quality of life across Lagos metropolis. A well-planned and developed city should ensure that its residents have access to clean water. Lagos is far from meeting this minimal expectation. Less than 40% of the residents of Lagos metropolis have access to clean water and there is no solution in sight. This is a health crisis as access to clean water is a basic human right! In conclusion, whereas European colonization is a remote cause of this water and sanitation issue, the hugely corruption government officials in Nigeria are its proximate cause.

    Benjamin U. Nwosu, Jr

    Worcester Academy, Massachusetts, USA


    1.    Chemonics. "Improving Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Nigeria." Chemonics. Last modified January 3, 2023. https://chemonics.com/projects/improving-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-in-nigeria/.

    2.    Cookey, Peter. "The Nigerian Sanitation Economy: Possibilities and Challenges." The Source Magazine. Last modified November 29, 2022. https://www.thesourcemagazine.org/the-nigerian-sanitation-economy-possibilities-and-challenges/.

    3.    Daramola, Oluwole. "Lagos Has a Water and Sanitation Crisis: What the State and City Can Do." The Conversation. Last modified September 13, 2021. https://theconversation.com/lagos-has-a-water-and-sanitation-crisis-what-the-state-and-city-can-do-164971.

    4.    The World Bank. "Nigeria: Ensuring Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All." The World Bank. Last modified May 26, 2021. Accessed April 27, 2023. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2021/05/26/nigeria-ensuring-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-for-all.


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