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Special Collection: Urban Expansion


Implications of urban expansion: land, planning and housing in Lagos


Basirat Oyalowo

Department of Estate Management, University of Lagos, Lagos; Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos, Lagos, NG
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With an over 20-fold increase in population between 1963 and today, Lagos has expanded significantly both within and outside its city administrative boundaries. Some paradoxes are identified using mixed methodologies from a qualitative research design. Lagos’s northwards expansion has exerted several externalities on a neighbouring state. Expansion within Lagos, on its coastal south-eastern axis, is defined by real estate activities of a different nature. In both cases, new settlements have emerged with differing social and economic characteristics that have far-reaching impact for housing accessibility and affordability. These differences are explored by establishing pull-factors responsible for attracting specific income groups to each axis, the impact of government action (and inaction), and the implications of these for city growth and management. Formal mechanisms of planning lead to a proliferation of higher end real estate development. This has created unequal access to land and housing for lower income families. The subsequent exclusion of lower income families from planned areas represents a failure of the market system. Lagos presents compelling complexities of the management of urban expansion that spread beyond administrative boundaries, as well as the influence of planning to achieve economic development.


Policy relevance

City managers and policymakers need to plan for expansion in fast growing cities. Urban expansion will flow with the demand for (and availability of) space and will not respect administrative boundaries. Urban containment policies are not known to have a high level of success in African cities, especially in contexts where planning enforcement is weak. Thus, city managers and policymakers must recognise the positive externalities of urban expansion on their cities and provide resources towards optimising this for the common good. They must also take actions towards monitoring and addressing negative externalities from the expansion of neighbouring cities, especially where planning jurisdictions differ. In both cases, government action is required to ensure that resulting housing and real estate markets work for all income classes.

How to Cite: Oyalowo, B. (2022). Implications of urban expansion: land, planning and housing in Lagos. Buildings and Cities, 3(1), 692–708. DOI:
  Published on 21 Sep 2022
 Accepted on 09 Aug 2022            Submitted on 12 Apr 2022

1. Introduction

Urban expansion is a global phenomenon that has become amplified with increasing urban population and higher demand for land. Some cities lack strong institutional frameworks to guide spatial growth. The World Cities Report estimates that urban population will increase globally by 8% between 2015 and 2035, so that 62% of the worlds’ population is expected to reside in cities (UN-Habitat 2020). Higher demand for land for recreational, housing, commerce, industry and other land-intensive activities are acknowledged drivers of urban expansion in cities such as Athens, Hanoi, Jakarta and East Java (Indonesia), while similar processes underpinned by weak planning frameworks continue to define urban expansion in African cities (Abdulai et al. 2021; Cobbinah & Amoako 2012). In addition, availability of land in expansion zones and the choices of land buyers and sellers also drive urban expansion into specific paths (Abdulai et al. 2021; Abiodun et al. 2017; Andreasen et al. 2017). Structural factors such as ease of operations in urban land markets and planning regulations are known factors that affect urban expansion (Zeng et al. 2015; Andreasen et al. 2017). The very visible hands of government, through their actions and inactions, also serve to escalate, control or guide such expansions (Watson 2013; Tellman et al. 2021). The interactions of these drivers in differing configurations have created massive expansion of primate cities in various countries around the world. Angel et al. (2011) project that globally more than 28 cities will experience more than a 16-fold increase in the 21st century. Tellman et al. (2021) report that urban areas grew by 80% worldwide between 1985 and 2015. For instance, Bangkok increased its urbanised area by 16-fold between 1985 and 2000. The population of Accra, Ghana, increased from 1.8 million to 2.7 million, a 50% increase, and its towns and cities experience the extension of city boundaries for various uses (Angel et al. 2011). China’s national land surveys show that the area of construction land increased more than 6 million ha between 2002 and 2012 (Zhou et al. 2020).

The common view on spatial expansion of cities is generally that it is problematic because it requires significant expenditure on accompanying infrastructure and services, is often unguided, leading to the emergence of slums and informal communities, especially in developing countries (Andreasen et al. 2017; Tellman et al. 2021). It leads to the depletion of environmental resources and reduced biodiversity (Zhou et al. 2020), heat island effects, loss of high-quality arable land (Zhou et al. 2020; Zeng et al. 2015; Abdulai et al. 2021; Watson 2013) with resultant food insecurity (Zeng et al. 2015), and it creates inequality in the outlying areas of settlement as compared with the core city. These views risk overlooking positive externalities such as access to land, opportunities for social inclusion, environmental and social justice, and delivery of affordable housing that urban expansion brings (Horn 2018).

Approaches to preventing urban expansion also vary, with the use of urban-containment strategies such as densification, limiting growth through transportation corridors and designating areas of no growth, including land banking with gradual release of land, as well as urban edge policy which was used and then retracted in Cape Town in 2017 (Horn 2018). More recently in the cities of China, India, the Middle East and Northern Africa, the trend in growth management policy has been the establishment of mega-projects or new towns on greenfield sites removed from central cities (Watson 2013; Horn 2018). Other strategies such as zoning, master plans, land-use planning, land preservation programmes, tax incentives and similar policy initiatives have also been used (Zhou et al. 2020; Jabareen 2006, cited in Horn 2018). China adopts an annual development quota to allocate construction land so as to curb expansion (Zhou et al. 2020). A general consensus seems to be that limited success is achieved with all these planning tools (Horn 2018; Tellman et al. 2021; Zhou et al. 2020) so that Angel et al. (2011) recommend the acknowledgement of the inevitability of urban expansion and the need to make adequate room to accommodate expected populations in a timely manner.

Most urban growth (96%) is expected to occur in East Asia, South Asia and Africa, which are less developed regions (UN-Habitat 2020). Nigeria is expected to have an additional 189 million urban dwellers by 2050 (UN-Habitat 2020). This will create demand for living and workspaces, which will lead to spatial expansion of cities. The anticipation of this growth, positioning of key actors to take advantage of increased demand for housing and other urban services, and the preparedness of governments for addressing these demands will determine the accessibility to key urban services for over 50% urban dwellers already living in slum conditions to remain so or even grow.

The present study of Lagos, West Africa’s most populous city, provides critical insights into the workings of formal land markets as well as informal land markets, a duality that characterises most African cities. Studies of urban expansion often assume the operation of formal land markets. However, Lagos and other African cities have informal land markets that arguably dominate land transactions. The behaviour of actors in land market transactions differs with respect to the type of market in which they operate. In tandem, the operations of government may also differ in response to actors and operations in either the formal or informal markets. The resulting spatial order highlights the differences in urban expansion: well-planned communities versus informal communities.

Lagos, having expanded beyond its state boundaries into another state on the northern corridor, while constricted by the Atlantic Ocean and low-lying forms on its southern boundary, offers an opportunity to understand the dynamics of urban growth in a less researched area. The dynamics of Lagos’s expansion is examined from two different approaches in the northern (Isheri–Ibafo) axis and the south-eastern (Lekki) axis. In exploring the nuances of urban expansion from the above context, the research questions of this study are as follows:

  • How can the active players and their real estate development projects be categorised for the northern and southern boundaries of Lagos?
  • How does government action (and inaction) aid the resulting spatial configuration in these areas?
  • What are the implications of these differences for city growth and management?

The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 explores the dynamics of urban expansion from the context of African cities, highlighting the limits of urban expansion tools in the light of conflicting rationalities in governance for economic development versus welfare (Watson 2003), and the implications of this. Section 3 presents Lagos as the focus of the study, drawing attention to its historical and economic importance and spatial expansion. In section 4, the mixed methodologies from the qualitative research design used for the study are outlined. Section 5 presents the results and a discussion section. The final section concludes the paper. Note that the study has not explored in-depth land management issues, especially the informal land markets, that also condition expansion in African cities. The residential submarket is particular, so the discussion does not include commercial (office and shopping) and industrial real estate investments.

2. Urban expansion

2.1 African context

Many studies provide a contextualisation of the expansion of known African cities and the dynamics therein. Andreasen et al. (2017) explore the dynamics of urban expansion in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They show how housing location preferences and practices of urban residential areas influence processes of urban expansion, based on recent case studies of five rapidly growing settlements on the periphery of Dar es Salaam.

Like Lagos, Dar es Salaam is the most important commercial city of its country. However, the process of urban expansion in Dar es Salaam is suburbanisation, with aspirations for affordable homeownership being the main motivation for movement into its peripheral areas, rather than income growth opportunities. Expansion happens informally and is therefore largely unguided by planners. The typical pattern of growth is that housing development occurs before provision of services and the resulting expansion occurs without appropriate infrastructure. Thus, peripheral areas of Dar es Salaam are unguided subdivisions that result in haphazard plot layouts, characterised by lack of access roads, plot inaccessibility and lack of land for communal facilities (Andreasen et al. 2017). The implication of such development lies in the resulting categorisation of such areas as urban sprawl, or slums and squatter areas, owing also to the widespread informality of tenure. The key actors in the urban expansion of Dar es Salaam are individual households’ decisions and choices (Andreasen et al. 2017). Aspirations towards homeownership fuel the movement to new areas. While recognising structural factors such as urban land markets, land tenure systems, infrastructure provision, urban planning, and public and private development projects, it appears household decisions to move to this area are the key drivers.

The remarkable thing about this is government responses to these dynamics. The responses, via planning agencies, are described at best as ‘unguided’, which can be attributed to ineffective development control, and also the lack of measures to provide infrastructure. Weak governance and lack of provision leads to poor housing conditions. The conflict of rationalities described by Watson (2003) is at play here, where urban planners are faced with a conflict between the logic of governing and logic of survival (Horn 2018).

The conflict arises due to government actions and inactions in producing various spatial expansion structures in urban areas. Cities such as Cape Town have attempted to contain urban expansion, but these efforts have been unsuccessful. Cape Town’s urban edge policy was retracted for a number of factors, especially linked to the populist activities of planning officers and elected representatives (Horn 2018). Political and economic decisions of this class, such as the increasing adoption of neoliberalism, means the public sector responsibilities become decentralised or privatised and welfare services are not prioritised. This means the introduction of new actors into the housing market: private companies, public–private partnership projects, all of which thrive on massive property development and entrepreneurial investment. By virtue of the imbalance between players, larger property owners become more entrenched and more powerful with vested interest in the development decisions. This tallies with the tendency to modernise African cities and turn them into gateways for international investors and showpieces for ambitious politicians (Watson 2013; but see Cain 2014 for a different viewpoint). This influences development and land-use decisions, so that ultimately the urban area either expands informally on the periphery, as in the case of Dar es Salam (Andreasen et al. 2017), or powerful interests subvert these processes to promote ideas of city utopia which are more aligned to the financial viability and economic growth aspirations, as in the case of Cape Town (Horn 2018). The extremes are seen in informal housing for the poor and high-income houses for the rich. Similar interplay has been recognised in research on cities in India, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East (Horn 2018; Tellman et al. 2021; Watson 2013).

The implication of the disparity in players and power structures is that government decisions in either case will differ (Tellman et al. 2021). In the one case, unbridled growth may continue, and in the other case, higher land values occur and ancillary uses are attracted so that the city becomes visibly differentiated along income/class boundaries. Thus, both settlement types are co-produced by the action (and inaction) of formal governments.

2.2 Lagos context

Lagos is a megacity and one of 36 states in Nigeria, West Africa. It has a population of 26 million (The Lagos Resilience Office 2020). Lagos State has a surface area of 3577 km2. Lagos is the seventh fastest growing city in the world, and the second largest city in Africa.

Geographically, Lagos State is bounded in the north and east by Ogun State, to the west by the Republic of Benin and to the south by the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, its northern and eastern neighbour, Ogun State, bears most of the spatial expansion of Lagos. Rapid industrial development took place in Lagos in the 1950s and resulted in the spatial expansion of the continuous built-up area beyond the legal confines of the-then municipality. Presently, Lagos has witnessed expansion in all ramifications that result in its status as a megacity.

Over 10,000 large-scale industrial and commercial businesses are located in the city, which also hosts the headquarters of many national and international corporations. And being a coastal city with additional networks of internal waterways has made Lagos accessible to both local and international businesses. The intense investment in infrastructure that came with its economic, political and administrative functions, first as a colonial headquarter and then as capital city of Nigeria (which has since been relocated to Abuja), coupled with the cultural receptiveness of its people, has enabled Lagos to remain the commercial, real estate and innovation hub of Nigeria. It is therefore a city that will continue to be attractive to new migrants and investors. Its expansion will continue.

The World Cities Report 2020 put the annual land consumption rate of Lagos at 2.05% between 2000 and 2015, with an annual population growth rate of 2.91% (UN-Habitat 2020). The ratio of land consumption rate to population growth rate is 0.7. Intense competition for land and reduced accessibility to land per capita possibly owing to increased prices are factors that might account for the reduction in the consumption of built-up area per capita from 55 to 50 m2 between 2000 and 2015. Nevertheless, the built-up area of Lagos increased by 31% in the period 2000–15.

In terms of urban planning frameworks, the Lagos State Ministry of Urban Planning and Physical Development is the apex statutory body with the responsibility for organising the spatial layout of the city. Its statutory duties include the initiation, formulation and implementation of physical planning policies and the preparation of regional, master, model city plans, action and development plans for excise villages, amongst others. Under this remit, the Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan was prepared by a commissioned consultant in 2013 to check the rapid and unplanned expansion of the city in the eastward’s direction. The plan is reviewed in this study.

Over time, the metropolis had spread to the periphery of Lagos State on its northern boundaries with Ogun State. In 2005, The Ogun State Government (2005) developed a regional development plan (2005–25) to address some of the urban sprawl issues arising from the rapid expansion of Lagos into its administrative boundaries. A component of this plan is also reviewed as part of this study.

3. Methods

The study is based on mixed methodologies from qualitative research design. With the aid of 2005–22 Google Earth images of Lagos’s expansion, a description of growth in two axes was performed:

  • the Isheri–Ibafo axis that lies in the general northern direction of Lagos
  • the Lekki axis in the south-east.

This ascertained the gradual spatial expansion of Lagos over time.

The second stage was a purposive sampling, targeting specifically the expert knowledge of the public officials in two public bodies. The Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development has planning jurisdiction over Lekki and the Lagos end of the Isheri–Ibafo axis. The Ogun State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development has planning jurisdiction over the Ogun State end of the Isheri–Ibafo axis. A total of 11 government planning officials in various cadres (deputy directors, senior land officer, senior town planning officer, land officer, head of the zonal town planning office, director and town planning officer) filled the mostly open-ended questions on Google forms. Their responses enabled the identification of key players and government policies in both corridors to answer the first two research questions.

The third stage was to understand the perspective of real estate developers. Given the visibility of corporate real estate developers as active players in both sectors, telephone interviews were held with this group, after identifying real estate projects in the study area through billboards during a physical visit to the site in January 2022. Respondents were managing directors of these organisations.

All responses from the survey and interviews of both groups were anonymised for analysis.

Lastly, a policy analysis was conducted on two key development policies guiding the areas of interest. The Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan, which sets the direction and priorities of the Lagos State Government in structuring the expansion of Lagos towards its south-east, is the first policy document analysed in this study. In 2005, the Ogun State Government (2005) prepared the Ogun State Regional Development Plan (2005–2025), classifying all its settlements bounding Lagos from the north as development pressure areas (DPAs). A subregional plan (Sub-Region 5: Development Pressure Area report) was prepared for them. This document is the second policy document analysed in this study.

4. Results

4.1 Lekki axis

The Lekki region is a naturally formed peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean east of Lagos City and on Lagos Lagoon. The peninsula is approximately 70–80 km long with an average width of 10 km. As at 2013 when a comprehensive master plan was prepared for it, several estates, gated residential developments and agricultural farmlands were in existence, with lands already committed to a free-trade zone (FTZ), an airport and a sea port. The Lekki Corridor is seen as one of the most dynamic growth areas in Lagos State, providing the opportunity to satisfy the increasing spatial demands of Lagos (Figure 1).

Aerial views of Lekki showing development, 2005–22
Figure 1 

Aerial views of Lekki showing development, 2005–22.

Source: Google Earth.

The satellite images from Google Earth over a period of 17 years show the spatial development of Lekki. In the 2005 image, major real estate developments, such as the luxury homes on Banana Island and a few developments on Victoria Island (on the right side), are seen to be in various stages of development. The area was generally characterised by a higher percentage of vacant lands. The roads for the undeveloped areas are, however, becoming visible and defined, providing accessibility and impetus for more development. The entire region on the map was sparsely developed in 2005, although evidence is visible for the planned layout in most of the developed areas. The unplanned area in the middle is Ikate, a local community that has existed since before the planned development of Lekki.

By 2010, more intense development had emerged in both the planned and unplanned areas of the area. The increased development in the areas around the local community in the centre (Ikate) evidences the interest in taking advantage of the fast-growing corridor as well as lapses in development control activities of the planning ministry. Expansion is also evidenced by the visible land reclamation activities on the northern side of the study area (Freedom Area). Meanwhile, the coastline to the south is undisturbed at this time. Two important mobility interventions can be seen: the Ikoyi Link Bridge, which currently connects Ikoyi to Lekki, providing access from one high end real estate to another, and the Lekki–Epe express road that has now been made a dual carriageway.

By 2015, however, expansion into the coastline has occurred, taking a wavy shape along some sections. The development of every available space is imminent and the level of development is clearly significant. At this point, the Lekki Tollgate is now visible as is the Ikoyi Link Bridge. Enhanced accessibility provides increased development potential and the result is inevitably more expansion and land-use intensity. In the 2022 image, the extent of reclaimed land has increased, ongoing developments are visible and the Lekki area can be seen to be intensively developed. The coastline is eroded in some sections and more developments can be seen along it. Importantly, the area of the coastline receded by 240 m due to human activities.

When the fieldwork for this study was undertaken in January 2022, several new enclaves of high-end, gated housing estates of various sizes were visible, with remnants of existing villages retaining informal characteristics.

4.2 Isheri-Ibafo axis

The Ogun State Development Pressure Area (DPA) Plan classified the Isheri–Ibafo corridor and similar locations sharing boundaries with Lagos as a DPA and described them as follows:

the area immediately to the north of Lagos and under severe development pressure from the neighbouring Lagos metropolis. […] There is thus a pressing need for quick response from government. It is approximately 30 kilometres radius from the intersection of the Ogun River and Lagos—Ibadan expressway at Isheri. The total land area so defined is approximately 950 square kilometres.

(Ogun State Government 2005)

The DPA is then further divided into three zones (Figure 2), of which Zone 2 (Isheri–Ibafo axis) is of particular interest in this study. By virtue of its accessibility and existing built-up environment, it was selected for development and was expected to absorb an additional 1.6 million people, attributed mostly to the expansion of Lagos. The specific low-lying area (0–10 km) of the Isheri–Ibafo axis is the focus of this study. The planning consultants recommended that this area should not be built upon because of the environmental consequences of building on floodplains. However, the aerial images suggest otherwise.

Zones in the development pressure area (DPA) of the Isheri–Ibafo axis
Figure 2 

Zones in the development pressure area (DPA) of the Isheri–Ibafo axis.

Source: Ogun State Government (2005).

In 2007, the development around Ibafo area was a sprawl. It was largely unplanned with irregular roads and development patterns. Subsequent development was partly influenced by the nearby religious establishment of three mega-churches along the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway (Figure 3).

Aerial images showing the development of Isheri–Ibafo, 2007–22
Figure 3 

Aerial images showing the development of Isheri–Ibafo, 2007–22.

Source: Google Earth.

By 2011, the development continued without a defined pattern and there was still no evidence of development control in this region. The major religious development is a planned settlement within the boundaries of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Development along the road has increased. In 2015, the built-up area had increased with several new developments, some swampy areas were landfilled, but the development is still largely uncontrolled. This has effectively invalidated the DPA plan for the area to be less developed, although the low-lying area is less intensely developed than the northern part of the corridor.

By 2022, the unmonitored developments have grown to more than double what it was in 2007. The demand for land and housing in this area is evident from the intensity of development over the years. There are pockets of newer housing estates developed by corporate real estate developers and these are spatially planned. However, more of these estates are located on the eastern part of the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway as the soil conditions are relatively more conducive for development (Figure 4). The nature of the development of the study are (on the western part) reflects more of individual land purchases for owner-occupied and rental properties (see also the findings from interviews reported in subsequent sections). In addition, despite the low-lying nature of the land on the eastern axis, from the Kara market area up to the Ibafo area, one can see a graduation of uses from cow-penning and shacks providing houses for cow-sellers, to the Sparklight Estate area (Figure 5). This estate is a planned residential area that has suffered from incessant flooding over the years due to its proximity to the floodplains of the River Ogun. Residential areas have also sprung up from Ibafo, a peri-urban community to provide housing for individual families seeking to live in closer proximity to Lagos (Figure 4).

Prominence of housing estates in the eastern area of the Isheri–Ibafo axis
Figure 4 

Prominence of housing estates in the eastern area of the Isheri–Ibafo axis.

Source: Google Earth.

Graduation of uses from shanties in the Kara market area to a housing estate in the Sparklight area
Figure 5 

Graduation of uses from shanties in the Kara market area to a housing estate in the Sparklight area.

Sources: Google Earth and author photo.

Having established the overall expansion of Lagos up to 2015 and two directions of expansion up to 2022, the peculiarities of these developments, the role of government and implications for real estate development in the city are further explored below.

4.3 Key actors and their real estate projects

The Ogun State Development Pressure Area (2005–2025) report described the actors in the expansion of this axis as follows:

There is a rapidly increasing flow (migration) of people from Lagos metropolis into the area, especially poor people who cannot afford the rent being demanded and need to move into more affordable locations. There is also pressure from property developers in search of land for development and sale of houses. Religious groups have also found the area attractive for its availability of large affordable land for their developments. There is thus a pressing need for quick response from government.

(Ogun State Government 2005: 1–1)

Previous studies add cooperative societies and foreign investors collaborating with the government to this list (Kadiri & Oyalowo 2011; Oyalowo et al. 2020). A field visit to the Lekki axis identified similar actors from observation. However, the individual housing construction is observed to be made by low and middle income.

Responses by planning officers showed that the most visible actors in the real estate development activities of Lekki were corporate developers in the residential space, followed by individual home-builders. Religious institutions, cooperative societies and government projects were moderately visible, as were recreational users and educational institutions but agriculture was the least visible. This reflects the Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan provision that residential land use would be 40% of the land use budget of the region (Dar al-Handasah 2013: 65).

A similar situation was reported for the Isheri–Ibafo axis. Residential uses were also the most visible, but this time with more of individual home-builders than corporate developers. Lands owned by cooperative developers, recreation, agriculture and governments were also visible.

The western axis of the Isheri–Ibafo area has attracted more real estate developers owing to the suitability of land for construction in comparison with the eastern axis, which is a low-lying floodplain. However, both areas attract individual housing construction activities due to the high demand for homes in close proximity to Lagos. The availability of land from traditional land owners is a major factor that shapes the expansion of Lagos into this corridor (Oyalowo et al. 2020; see also the DPA master plan).

However, an important distinction in the residential users was made by the planning officials. The Lekki axis was attractive to predominantly high-income housing providers (Figure 6) and least attractive for low-income housing. The Isheri–Ibafo axis was attractive to mixed-income residential users, followed by low- and middle-income informal sector workers.

Billboard promoting an exclusive mixed-use luxury development in Lekki
Figure 6 

Billboard promoting an exclusive mixed-use luxury development in Lekki.

Source: Author.

Real estate developers at the interview explained these differences:

Also in terms of the calibre of people that buy into it [Lekki], for example we have a lot of people in the diaspora, and they are looking to buy land in Lagos Island […] the next best place for them would be Abraham Adesanya, Sangotedo, Lakowe, they are still part of Lagos Island and still called Lekki. In terms of value appreciation, connectivity to the world, calibre of people, Lekki [is] more prime, more convenient and advanced and more conducive area than any other developing area in Lagos.


Diaspora market, are drawn to Lekki area compared to Ibafo area. The real estate activity there is high […].


Basically the return on investment […] even at the foreign market. The foreign market does not know about the Ibafo–Isheri axis but they know Lekki. […] I do not see the return on investment coming back at Isheri axis as good as the one at Lekki […].


Developers are attracted to Lekki rather than the Isheri–Ibafo axis because:

Lekki has better zoning (regulations), better profits.


[Lekki and Isheri–Ibafo] are both developing, but that of Lekki is much more […] just proper planning in the Lekki part of Lagos compared to Ibafo area. They are both expanding. […] Where you are buying land for N240million, you cannot compare to places where you buy land for 5million [… who] just want to put one room and a living room there, so you cannot compare to where you have high net-worth [individuals] working in that axis […].


The Lekki–Epe Express road, they are already working on it […] it will increase the amount of people moving to that area, where there is good road network, people will start moving [to that area]. It is already happening […] property [development] has started increasing in that area. The Free Trade Zone, Dangote refineries […] all these people have to stay somewhere and that is why we think that area is best for our development.


Within Lekki, respondents particularly cite Abraham Adesanya, Sangotedo and Lakowe as areas being recently opened up for real estate development. The field visit to Lekki in January 2022 also found a proliferation of upper-middle to high-income gated estates along corridors with areas such as Orchid Road, Lekki (Figures 7 and 8). At the same time, pockets of villages are rapidly giving way to these planned developments. According to the Dar al-Handasah (2013, p. 39):

Villagers tended to sell off their land to speculative developers. Development in these settlements were largely unregulated and characterised with absence of approved land use and development plans, subject to incremental development and lack of amenities.

Prominence of gated upper-middle to high-income gated estates in Lekki
Figure 7 

Prominence of gated upper-middle to high-income gated estates in Lekki.

Source: Google Earth.

New high-income town houses at Orchid Road, Lekki
Figure 8 

New high-income town houses at Orchid Road, Lekki.

Source: Author.

The Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan was prepared in response to these challenges.

Key considerations for expansion into Lekki are the intentional planning actions (zoning, infrastructure provision, complementary industrial uses), the market preference and the need to tap into existing and potential employment opportunities that would create future demand for high income homes. The Isheri–Ibafo axis is regarded as unprofitable for real estate development projects aimed at high income people. Instead, its relatively low land price is affordable for individual households who seek to purchase land for building their homes.

4.4 Government actions and inactions

Both the Lekki axis and the Isheri–Ibafo axis have been subjected to formal planning approaches with the Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan for the former, and the Development Pressure Area Plan for the latter. The outcomes differ in many respects. The DPA report maintained that the study area, that is, the Isheri–Ibafo corridor (Km 0–10 of the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway), is very low-lying on both sides of the expressway. The soil type is also alluvial, and it was concluded that no meaningful human settlements can be located here at reasonable cost (i.e. without fundamental remediation and engineering which would be costly, especially for households who build incrementally). It was recommended that the area be classified as forest reserve which can be allocated to farmers for whom the alluvial soil would be beneficial. It was also expected that:

This use of the land will also create the necessary buffer zone between the heavy development in Lagos and the hopefully more serene landscape being planned for the sub-zone.

(Ogun State Government 2005: 5–7)

Thus, the idea was to use this strip as a containment strategy against expansion from Lagos. It also asserted that:

While there is no need to revoke the existing allocations, their development plans should be seriously guided by the limitations of the area. Development densities should be very low. No new allocation for human settlements should, however, be made.

Beyond the undevelopable area, the plan was for a new city tagged Gateway City to emerge to:

re-create a high-class living environment such as Ikoyi, Apapa and Ikeja GRA [government reserved areas] in Lagos. It is proposed that such a living environment be created in this plan.

(Ogun State Government 2005: 7–7)

The aerial images of Isheri–Ibafo axis show the continued attractiveness of the area to home-seekers and developers, despite the DPA recommendation that the area should not be inhabited, and subsequently despite a planning instrument to guide the residential development in that area. Government action has not been visible in subsequent ordering land use in the area. Interestingly, in recent times, the Ogun State government has released another assessment of the development potential of this corridor, and a new ‘Gateway to Infrastructure and Industrial Investment Opportunities’ document plans to take advantage of proximity to Lagos by welcoming expansion. A ‘Magboro Cluster’ has been identified in this same axis as one of key economic development cluster in Ogun State in the new plan. It is described as:

a 2,500 hectare cluster strategically located along Lagos–Ogun Border […] to provide housing for individuals who work within and outside Ogun State.

(Ogun State Government 2020: 87)

It is meant to provide industrial estates, residential estates, and a creative arts and entertainment village. While the 2005 DPA plan had recommendations to contain Lagos, the 2020 plan seeks to consolidate the inevitable expansion of Lagos into an economic return for Ogun State. The ability of the government to muster investments to actualise this will influence the negative or positive externalities of urban expansion in this region in the coming years.

For Lekki, a comprehensive master plan was prepared in 2013 to provide the planning tool, zoning regulations as well as conceptual designs for the roads and primary infrastructure to guide future development in the Lekki Peninsula subregion (Dar al-Handasah 2013: 7). The overall area coverage of the master plan was about 60,000 ha, excluding the Lekki free-trade zone, sea port and international airport. A new city is envisaged here, and the master plan proposes a ‘Blue–Green’ environment city.

It was envisaged that the master plan will yield a total built-up area of about 10,671 ha and accommodate a residential population of about 3.42 million persons as well as a non-residential population, such as touristic, hotels, commercial, offices and industrial of about 1.75 million. Lekki had been a beneficiary of the Lagos State Regional Plan (1980–2000) and Masterplan for Metropolitan Lagos (1980–2000). Despite this, the area continued to have unplanned development alongside major highways, which the master plan sought to arrest.

One real estate developer observed the difference between subsequent government action in influencing the type and intensity of real estate development between Lekki and the Isheri–Ibafo corridor as follows:

[Expansion in] Ibafo–Isheri is organically driven, you have people who cannot afford to live in Lagos, people who have homes in other states […] stay there during the week and return home on weekends. Lekki is like aggressive marketing because [… with the] deep sea [port], a lot of companies driving that place, The President [of Nigeria] was there. Imagine someone [with land] about 3km from that place, imagine the value. Government is not doing anything there [in Isheri–Ibafo], it is the normal people, seeking homes to raise family […] Lekki [has enjoyed] a lot of hype, there are some development like Dangote Refinery.


The accessibility of Lekki from three bridges to the mainland, contiguous uses (e.g. the Lekki free-trade zone) and the continual desire to see Lekki grow all combine to make it attractive to developers and for local and international buyers. These factors ensure that developers would continue to develop high-end properties on the Lekki axis, while leaving the Isheri–Ibafo axis for low-income individual purchasers. The government officials also support this position. In response to a question on the factors responsible for the expansion of Lagos into the Isheri–Ibafo axis, they responded:

High cost of land in Lagos and [availability of] access roads [to Lagos].


Availability of land.


Demand for housing.


Urban sprawl.


If taken with responses to the high visibility of individual households in the property development of this area, a picture emerges of predominantly low-income housing that appears as sprawl on this axis. This is especially so if taken with the cautionary stance of the Development Pressure Area Plan, the low-lying nature of the land and the subsequent visible expansion of the area. The situation is exacerbated by weak institutional planning:

[Enforcement of] Planning laws are not strong enough in the axis.


There is development control but very weak.


Poor implementation of policy and weak political power.


Planning rules and regulations are not being adhered to as some residents believe the area is not the jurisdiction of Lagos State.


This last statement is very important given that the planning jurisdiction for most parts of the Isheri–Ibafo axis lies with the Ogun State government (which is carried out by its core ministry, the Ogun State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development). It shows the limitation of the implementation of the DPA, and the possible stronger planning enforcement mechanism associated with Lagos State. Thus, in responding to a similar question on the actions of government with respect to the Lekki axis, planning officers raised key points:

Enforcement and difficulties in getting building approval.


It is not really weak in Lekki but more efforts have to be in force.


Review of extant laws.


Development control in ensuring the approval order is being used as a guide for physical developments on the Lekki Corridor.


The marketing of Lekki accompanied the co-location of key development infrastructure that will continue to drive other industries and home-seekers to this area. Its proximity to existing high-end real estate in Ikoyi and Victoria Island all come together to ensure its establishment as a mostly high-income residential axis. Neighbouring planned high-income, residential areas such as Eko Atlantic, Lekki Phase 1, with industrial development of the Lekki free-trade zone provides impetus for new development and the planning of this area.

5. Discussion

The impact of the institutional planning structure is very visible in urban expansion in Africa. Past studies have consistently drawn attention to weak institutions as a driver for unplanned expansion in African cities (e.g. Andreasen et al. 2017; Cobbinah & Amoako 2012). This study confirms this assertion in part, while also presenting a dissimilar situation. A similar situation of weak institutional planning structure was found in the expansion of Lagos into the Isheri–Ibafo corridor. The weakness of the institutional planning structure of the adjoining Ogun State is a particular point to note, as its regions continue to bear the externalities of the expansion of Lagos. Although the consultants for the Ogun State DPA had acknowledged the limited suitability of Western Isheri–Ibafo for human habitation, expansion in the corridor was triggered by demand for low-income housing in proximity to Lagos and the availability of land in a peri-urban interface. These factors have led to increasing housing development in that region. Governmental inaction in not implementing its own plan has ensured the continuous development in that area.

Conversely, Lagos had aggressively implemented its Lekki Comprehensive Masterplan, guiding development towards recreating a high-income real estate peninsular to complement the existing, surrounding high-end developments as well as committed infrastructure investment. The planning institution for Lekki may not be totally efficient, but key actors such as developers acknowledge the drive towards ensuring that new developments conform with the zoning and building codes laid down for that axis. Thus, the intentional actions of the Lagos State government to direct infrastructure and high-end development to the Lekki axis and the complementarity with neighbouring high-end areas are important triggers for urban expansion in the Lekki axis.

The two contrasting scenarios represent what has been described as action and inactions that co-produce development outcomes (Watson 2013; Tellman et al. 2021). The implication is that both axes are likely to retain their present defining features as havens for low-income housing and high-end residential properties respectively in the near future.

Another important outcome is a confirmation of the limitations of urban containment strategies. For cities such as Lagos, the inevitability of urban expansion continually overwhelms physical barriers to growth. The Ogun State government had proposed a containment strategy of adopting portions of the western parts of the Isheri–Ibafo axis as a ‘buffer zone’ to limit the expansion of Lagos. This aspiration of slowing down expansion did not work, especially in the face of increasing demand for affordable land in an area in close proximity to Lagos. As confirmed by this study, the area continues to be attractive to individual families who can purchase land through the informal markets, large religious organisations which require land for large-scale worship centres, as well as private real estate developers and industry. With physical proximity and accessibility to Lagos provided by the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway, the current land-use pattern is not expected to change in the near future. However, the Lekki axis presents a critical factor that could change the dynamics: stronger enforcement of planning regulations.

The master plan approach was used to structure Lekki into four categories of urban hierarchy, based on size, density and location, as per conventions in the planning process: local centres, neighbourhoods, district and township. This clear delineation of development zones provided the basis for checking (or promoting) new development across the Lekki axis. This study shows that intentional enforcement is the basis for the relative success of structuring new development in the area, showing the instrumentality of government in directing urban expansion to specific corridors.

However, the situation also presents a paradox. Formal mechanisms of planning lead to a proliferation of higher end real estate development. This has created unequal access to land and housing for lower income families. The subsequent exclusion of lower income families from planned areas represents a failure of the market system upon which the Nigerian housing sector is based. Strategic interventions in repairing low-income submarkets would help to ensure housing accessibility to address prevailing housing needs.

The expansion of Lagos into the adjoining Ogun State is a testimony to the borderlessness of urban expansion, especially where weak planning enforcement occurs. The externalities of expansion are both positive and negative. Although new development can provide affordable land for housing development; the resulting traffic congestion, urban sprawl and informality are negatives that the Ogun State government has to deal with. The proposal to adopt Isheri–Ibafo as a buffer zone due to its low-lying nature in reality represented a misnomer: these lands were the closest to Lagos and enjoyed latent land values due to that proximity. A weak ‘no development’ policy stood limited chance of success without government enforcement. This was missing in Ogun State. The subsequent disregard for that proposal is therefore unsurprising. The implication was that development of a water-logged area continued with unceasing demand and population increase.

The expansion of Lagos in the two axes examined provide some alignment and contradictions with other African cities. For instance, where affordable homeownership aspirations were a motivation for movement into the peri-urban areas of Dar es Salaam (Andreasen et al. 2017). A similar pattern was found in the peri-urban areas of the Isheri–Ibafo axis. The persistence of individual households as key drivers of development in Dar es Salaam’s peripheral expansion is also similar to the development in the Isheri–Ibafo axis, but dissimilar to that of Lekki. Planned expansion into the Lekki axis does not provide affordable housing and inclusiveness due to the focus on high-income housing. The Lekki expansion, however, does reflect the outcomes of intentional government action that speaks to the tendency of African city development to build ‘showcase’ cities that satisfy policymakers’ drive for economic development.

Thus, the Lekki development can be regarded as being exclusionary and reflecting the response to the populist activities of the government, as Horn (2018) described in the retraction of Cape Town’s urban policy. The Lagos State government’s aggressive marketing of that axis lends credence to strong policy implementation that was not present in the Ogun State DPA plan (as well as Dar es Salaam). This negates the often-cited invisibility of government in the spatial expansion of Africa’s cities in past studies. Thus, just as the lifting of Cape Town’s urban edge policy brought in entrepreneurially driven real estate development activities, so too did the push for expansion in the development in the Lekki axis. The case of Lagos therefore speaks to the co-production by action (and inaction) of urban expansion outcomes such as city stratification along income lines explored by Tellman et al. (2021). From this, the dynamics of urban expansion from an African city perspective can be better appreciated.

6. Conclusions

Eventual urban expansion is relevant in both the Global North and Global South. The fundamental forces driving the resulting spatial structure of cities are broadly identified as population growth, income, low-cost peripheral land and inexpensive transport. Conventional urban expansion mechanisms are also recognised for their ability to limit the physical extent of cities, and this is often in the form of green belts, master plans and other planning instruments. Studies show that these have not been successful for some contexts.

This study shows the complexity for a city such as Lagos, which has expanded across administrative boundaries into an adjoining state to the extent that these areas are identified as development pressure areas. Plans by the adjoining state government to recognise and preserve the natural features and thereby create a buffer zone to contain rapidly expanding Lagos ultimately failed. On the other hand, planned development for a high-income demographic coupled with planning enforcement sustained the expansion of Lagos on the Lekki axis. The instrumentality of government is a significant factor in urban expansion management and this does not necessarily mean that a policy of containment is the single way to approach it.

A paradox of creating exclusionary markets with increased formal planning is one that presents a long-term challenge for housing in all income strata in fast growing cities. This calls into question the market economy for land, how planning policies are defined, how planning decisions are taken and how resources are allocated for city management. Urban expansion therefore presents more than just a spatial concern, it demands inclusive, comprehensive and strategic approaches that recognise and seek to balances the needs of state, people, businesses and the environment.

It is up to urban managers and policymakers to weigh the positive and negative externalities of expansion, while also creating inclusive policies to address these externalities for the common good.


The author thanks all the participants in the survey and interviews.

Competing interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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