Resilience;Lagos State Beyond GDP, Embracing The SDGs

As one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Nigeria’s larger than life biggest economic hub with such a reputation that precedes it far beyond the shores of the Atlantic must make a full strategic shift towards the Sustainable development Goals indicators and focus less on Gross Domestic Product; GDP, a standard for measuring economic growth rate. It can also be the monetary value of all finished goods and services made within a country during a specific period. With an unofficial population of over 21 million as of 2015 and more Lagosians sinking into poverty, there must be a change in approach to development policies and implementation. The 17 United Nations SDGs were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. It is an urgent call to action and partnership for both established and emerging economies. The goal is to provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for humanity, now and into the future. Lagos is ahead of many states in Nigeria no doubt but it runs the danger of becoming an expensive slum if conditions do not improve.

According to new 2019 national growth figures released by Nigeria Bureau of Statistics; Q1 2020 Real GDP grew by 1.87 % compared to 2.27% in Q4 2019 & 2.10% in Q 2019. Oil GDP grows 5.06% (4.59% in Q4 2019; -1.46% in Q1 2019). Non-Oil GDP grows 1.55% (2.06% in Q4 2019; 2.47% in Q1 2019). The question about GDP figures is how they translate to the wellbeing of millions of Nigerians. For the Internally generated revenue at the state level, Lagos was the highest with 29.88 percent of the total revenue with N398,732,246,493.38. Lagos could be a country on its own and it is little wonder people never seem to be tired of Lagos. With so much potential, human capital and revenue, how can Lagos State become resilient and improve the wellbeing of residents, not just o the island but all over Lagos? With projects like Eko Atlantic which is beginning to look like a form of Eco gentrification, thousands of properties being erected which remains affordable to millions. Despite massive visible homelessness on the streets of Lagos coupled with the displacement of people from certain areas like the recent Takwa Bay issue, unending unhealthy traffic where people are locked in for hours, it has become important for Lagos State to consider sustainability instead of growth, human wellbeing over profit.

We are 10 years away from the set 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs. In this Anthropocene age with massive human action depleting limited resources, it is important to move on from “business as usual” mode of governance to a more sustainable approach to achieving measured progress. Lagos state economic prospect is on the decline setting back the state’s ability to achieve the SDGs. While may developed countries strive to make measurable progress by focusing the specific SDG indicators as their foundation, Nigeria’s growth rate is insufficient for meaningful progress, plagued by a near-decade of stagnation. In Sweden, the have made gender equality and climate change their sole goal. They have designed policies around these two SDGs encompassing all the indicators, this is the basis on which they have chosen to achieve the rest of the SDGs. Every country, state, and even community can have an individual goal based on the existing system and build on others but that would mean more than just talk.

Despite growing economic spending; increased population, the burden of debt, web of deep root rooted corruption in key sectors and lack of diversification continues to weaken the resilience of the present system with far-reaching environmental, economic and social consequences.

The SDGs presently face challenges with insufficient data and research, yet the benefits of focusing on the SDGs outweigh just relying on the GDP as a measure of progress. GDP despite been a standard for so long does not give a full picture of the economy. SDGs offers the opportunity to approach complex development problems with systems and resilience thinking, while GDP focus on just sectors, missing out on the interconnectivity and complexity of the whole system. A city like Lagos, which has limited available development data and millions of undocumented residents living outside the government radar, it is important to focus on the SDGs which encourages at community levels in policymaking and implementation of projects. GDP does poorly on the individual wellbeing of Lagosians and hence, many are still left out and it is difficult to track spending relying on GDP as against the SDGs which has specific indicators for each goal to aid the government in tracking measured progress.

The present development measurement using GDP does not indicate the impact of everyday choices on the environment and who bears the cost. Lagos state is known to face extreme flooding during the yearly raining season for many reasons, this includes indiscriminate dumping of refuse and poor drainage systems across the state. While GDP shows how much government spends, focusing on the SDG indicators will help the government map out strategies and develop projects which can be directed towards environmental sustainability, get stakeholders on board as well as encourage a participatory approach to move on from over-dependence on a hydrocarbon, mineral intensive economy with dividends spreading across the different societal class.

GDP measurement does not consider how much the lives of individuals are being affected. People in the slums of Lagos and many parts of Lagos cannot say for sure how their lives are being improved by government interventions. With more people entering and ending up in the slums, GDP does not accurately help the government reach out to these communities in ways that can break the cycle of poverty. SDG indicators create a road map where the poorest of the poor can be reached in ways that ensure participation and use of social capital within communities to achieve results.


Resilience is the ability of a system to bounce back after external shocks. Nigeria’s economy rarely recovers from shocks and once a sector collapses, it has a domino effect on the rest. Shocks that total reliance on GDP cannot fix. The SDGs are platforms for applying the resilience thinking approach as proposed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre ( Even though the idea of resilience thinking focuses on the interaction between people and ecosystems, the principles can also be applied in development planning in states like Lagos and help in achieving a progressive strategic shift from GDP. Some of These principles applicable in this context include:

1. Maintaining diversity and redundancy; A city as diverse as Lagos State can capitalize on different actors like NGOs, corporate and private sectors, sources of knowledge to improve the resilience of the whole system against economic shocks which set development planning back. While management redundancy may be viewed as something negative, in achieving SDG indicators, having diversity can compensate for the loss or failure of others, so planning and progress will not get affected when a part of the system fails. It is like avoiding the temptation for putting all your eggs in one basket.

2. Manage Connectivity; When a system is diverse like what the economic and social set of Lagos state, such connection which is not limited by tightly knitted communities of the same ethnicity or religion, can be a major factor in planning development projects which can be inclusive. For example, while a community like Makoko is said to be dominated by the Egun speaking people, yet you will find people from different parts of Nigeria in that slum and other slums around Lagos where many NGOs carry out initiatives with short term benefits.

3. Managing slow variables and feedbacks; SDG indicators are key to helping policymakers understand what the slow variables in any defined system are, the thresholds and regime change that produces positive feedbacks that can negatively affect any system. An example will be managing population growth in Lagos. When there is poor population management in the city /infrastructural planning, overtime there is overcrowding leading to situations like people wanting to experience the comfort of their car than using poor public transport, then we have more cars on the roads or more use of petrol generators for electricity, causing environmental pollution, affecting air quality and eventually human health. The feedback from human health can cause the faster spread of diseases, weakening the resilience of the system, causing the government to spend more in a way that would increase GDP but not solve the root cause of the problem. The SDG indicators help in solution-based planning and partnership.

4. Fostering Complex Adaptive Systems; There are several sectors in the society and different form of interaction occurring at different levels, understanding this will help policymakers work with the unpredictability, uncertainties of a large city like Lagos and embrace a multitude of perspective as against one size fits all in working across different local governments. Each local government can always bring to the table, an approach that can be measured based on SDG indicators and then budget/planning can be made to improve the resilience of the state system against sudden shocks like fire outbreak, insecurity or any form of natural disaster that puts the population at risk.

5. Encourage Learning; 2030 is just a few years away. The school curriculum must be made flexible to accommodate the SDGs. The 17 SDGs cuts across different sectors of the economy and teaching it at schools can stimulate learning and partnership. This will allow for collaboration between government and institutions in planning, designing solutions that can solve complex problems in a way that cost-effective. Institutions will be in a better place to take initiatives that involves the thousands of students with Lagos state in planned initiatives and collaboration with NGOs, corporate social responsibility goals by companies in a targeted way that can yield results that will be inclined with the overall goal of the state. This will also structure funding received for projects within the states from international bodies. Presently, there is a lot of projects/initiative which different organization does but have no overall measured impacts majorly because it is driven with GDP indices as against SDG indicators. This is an example that can work effectively in plastic recycling.

6. Broaden Participation; When learning is encouraged, participation can be broad and well planned in a way that can build trust in achieving collective progress, leaving no one behind.

7. Promote a system where multiple governing bodies can interact, make as well as enforce these rules with specific policy setups and locations in a way that promotes balance and negotiation.

In conclusion, focusing on the SDGs will create an avenue to track progress on poverty reduction, create a decent job environment, improved access to clean energy. Moving away from the GDP means there can be improved forecasting, effective scenario thinking/planning (within the complexity of our system), drawing coordinated road maps and embracing future pathways seeking to accommodate others. If Lagos must solve problems like flooding through proper city planning, public transportation to limit the number of cars on the road, manage the increasing population growth; it must embrace the sustainable development goals, understand it and crave its path to measured progress.

Article was first drafted earlier in the year before the novel corona virus epidemic

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