In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lagos

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Demography
  • Precolonial History and Slavery
  • Colonial History
  • Colonial Public Health
  • Ethnicity and Postcolonial State Governance
  • Religion, Society, and Gender
  • Novels, Plays, and Films
  • Port Polity and Coastal City
  • Toponymy and Anthroponymy
  • Architecture
  • Rem Koolhaas and Planning Debates
  • Urban Planning Crisis: Infrastructure, Transportation, and “Slums”
  • Employment and Jobs
  • Violence, Crime, and Urban Space

Urban Studies Lagos
Liora Bigon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0026


Lagos, the erstwhile political capital of Nigeria (1914‒1991), still constitutes the country’s commercial capital and a prominent port in West Africa. It is a highly cosmopolitan megacity of over fifteen million residents and is projected to be the world’s largest city by 2100, with close to ninety million residents. Facing a series of crises in terms of infrastructure, transportation, public health, economics, unemployment, urban violence, and extra-legal settlements, Lagos has also remained Nigeria’s economic engine: its thriving commercial and industrial activity is responsible for more than half of the nation’s economic development. In spite of its many ambiguities, urban life in this city is characterized by much innovation and resilience. Originating in an island settlement that developed from a small Yoruba village based on farming and fishing in the 17th century, Lagos played a central role in the transatlantic slave trade, following which the British colonial regime was established. The city has gradually extended toward the mainland and undergone intense urbanization since the colonial and the postcolonial periods. The literature on Lagos is especially rich and embraces many aspects and fields of research, which are faithfully reflected in the fifteen sections of this article. These sections move from multidisciplinary general overviews to the city’s geopolitical and economic position as a coastal port polity, including demography, ethnicity issues and postcolonial state governance, crime, and unemployment. They also move from aspects of urban planning and infrastructure to architecture and architectural debates, via extra-legal settlements (“slums”), also covering cultural expressions related to society, religion, and gender; toponymy and anthroponomy; and literary works such as novels, plays, and film. Special attention is given to monographs, articles, and primary sources in history, many of them written by contemporary Nigerian scholars or the indigenous Yoruba-speaking elite during the colonial period. These include precolonial history and slavery and colonial history with some central topics such as colonial public health.

General Overviews

The overviews in this section portray the city from a variety of aspects and disciplines, each in a comprehensive way. Lagos State Government and Fourchard 2012 are general surveys, with the former being factual and the latter being more qualitative. Baker 1974 and Barnes 1986 examine the city through the lens of contemporary politics, while Nicolson 1969 analyzes colonial government structures. Marris 1961, Mabogunje 1968, and Peil 1991 focus on urban geography and social anthropology. Whiteman 2012 is a work of cultural history.

  • Baker, Pauline. Urbanization and Political Change: The Politics of Lagos, 1917‒1967. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

    The book explores the impact of modern political processes on a major urbanizing community in Africa and the implications of urbanization on the exercise of political power. It reveals changing political behavior on the part of competing interest groups in the context of rapid urban growth and economic change.

  • Barnes, Sandra. Patrons and Power: Creating a Political Community in Metropolitan Lagos. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1986.

    An urban ethnography of metropolitan Lagos, analyzing the mechanisms of political interactions and their manipulative effects on urban power structures.

  • Fourchard, Laurent. “Lagos.” In Capital Cities in Africa: Power and Powerlessness. Edited by Simon Bekker and Göran Therborn, 66‒82. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2012.

    A short chapter surveying Lagos’s features as a main port city in West Africa and the federal capital of Nigeria between 1914 and 1991, stressing the shaping of its urban management in the light of modern and nationalistic modalities and colonial, national, and transnational influences.

  • Lagos State Government.

    Official site giving a factual profile of Lagos State, with attention to the city of Lagos.

  • Mabogunje, Akin. Urbanization in Nigeria. London: University of London Press, 1968.

    Written by a renowned Nigerian geographer, the book is useful in understanding Nigeria’s towns and cities against the background of broader regional and transnational urban economic systems. In the second part, the book focuses on the history of Lagos (and Ibadan) from precolonial to postcolonial times.

  • Marris, Peter. Family and Social Change in an African City: A Study of Rehousing in Lagos. London: Routledge, 1961.

    A bottom-up portrait of Lagos at the time of Nigeria’s independence is given by the author—a sociologist and planning consultant—exploring some of the radical changes of this former capital city. Based on interviews and an inquiry into social relationship, entrepreneurship, housing reforms, and urban policies, this monograph follows the residents of Central Lagos and the ways they were affected by slum clearance schemes.

  • Nicolson, I. F. The Administration of Nigeria, 1900‒1960. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969.

    A valuable analysis by a Nigerian colonial official-turned-scholar about the long history of colonial rule in Nigeria, its politics, and administrative management, also with regard to Lugardian policies.

  • Peil, Margaret. Lagos: The City is the People. London: Belhaven Press, 1991.

    A broad and qualitative overview of multiple aspects of the city such as: ethnic composition, rural-urban migration, local politics, social structures, cultural influences, as well as education, health, and housing systems. Of practical rather than theoretical value, this monograph is useful in understanding the contemporary “atmosphere” of the city.

  • Whiteman, Kaye. Lagos: A Cultural and Literary History. Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2012.

    An overview of Lagos history throughout the ages. Highlights cultural, artistic, and literary expressions.

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