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Dr. Godly Otto
University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Urbanization is one of the most pervasive phenomenal issues occurring in many developing countries.  According to the Nigeria National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy document (2004) the rate of urban growth in Nigeria is one of the fastest in the world.  This high urban growth poses some socio-economic consequences. Though these consequences may be positive and negative, the negative consequences tend to be more in many developing countries. These negative consequences impact on the economic development and growth of these economies in general including Nigeria.  This work addressed the Nigerian praxis. In Nigeria urban growth is informed by natural population increases in the urban areas, rural – urban migration, creation of administrative towns and population concentration in towns blessed with natural resources.  This high concentration of people beyond the facilities necessary to sustain the growth creates unhealthy competition for the available facilities and opportunities.  It is therefore suggested that industries which forge linkages with rural occupations should be promoted to mitigate a high rural-urban migration.

Keywords: Urbanisation; rural; development; poverty

Urbanization is one of the most pervasive phenomenal issues occurring in many developing countries in general and Nigeria in particular but the rapidity of urban growth poses grave consequences for socio-economic development, which is yet to be fully grasped. This paper sets out to highlight the trend and consequences of urbanization in Nigeria. A course of action for the maximization of the benefits of urbanization is also suggested in the work.

Nigeria like a number of other developing countries, especially South East Asian countries, face formidable urbanization challenges than the developed countries faced.  According to the NEEDS document, the rate of urban growth in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world.  The developed countries of Europe and North America developed at a comparatively leisurely pace. The United States for instance was 40 percent urbanized 1890,70 percent in 1960, and 75 percent in 1990. This gradual pace is in marked contrast with that of many developing countries. For example, the Republic of Korea was 40 percent urbanized in 1970, 78 percent urbanized by 1990 (see Henderson 2002). The United Nations projects that in 2025, over 4.1 billion or 80 percent of urban dwellers of the world will reside in developing countries. Table 1 presents the trend from 1950 and projects urban growth in the Developed and Developing Countries up to 2025.


Table 1:           Urban Population Growth in Develop and Developing Countries















Develop countries







Developing countries







Source: United Nations patterns Urban Growth (cited in Todaro and Smith 2003)

Figure 1: Patterns of Urban Growth


Source: Data obtained from Todaro 2003.

The urban growth rate in the developed countries over the last fifty years averages 2.75 percent, while the growth rate in Developing countries on average for the same period skates around 6 percent. Nigeria’s urban population has been growing at a rate which exceeds 6.5 percent and Lagos in particular grew by 5.68 between 1990 - 1995. This growth rate is not matched by growth in other economic indices as evidenced in table II below.

Table II:  Selected Economic Indicators: 2002 – 2005






GDP growth rate





Capacity utilization





Unemployment (urban)





Inflation rate





Source: CBN Annuals, Monetary, Credit, Foreign Trade and Exchange Policy Guidelines 2002 – 2005. 

The central questions therefore are what is informing this growth and how does this growth mismatch impact on socio-economic development in Nigeria.


Conceptual Framework
Urbanization is a natural part of development and is very desirable. With modernization and improvements in technology, the rural agricultural based activities can benefit from labour saving devices and release its excess labour to the industries. This will ease congestion in the rural areas, encourage growth in the modern sector and bring about an overall growth process.

Globally, industrialization occurs disproportionately because of opportunities to exploit scale economies of local agglomeration. According to Henderson (2002), about 70% of the cross-country variation in urbanization are explained by variations in the gross domestic product per capita.

Economic activity agglomerates in cities because of local external economies. Urban models of the micro foundations of urban externalities follow Alfred Marshall (1890)’s description of spill over benefits for a plant from others in the neighborhood. Studies also prove that firms producing related services learn from each other when located in proximity and benefit from localization economies (See Hoover 1948). Firms in interactive services with centralized markets, high-tech firms in research and development and new products need to get ideas from beyond their own industry by interacting with the scientific consulting industry, universities and soft ware industry. They also need large local markets to test products and ideas locally and to get immediate feed back. All these tend to concentrate resources and people. This encourages urbanization. Put succinctly, economic progress may be enhanced by concentrating forces of economic growth around some initial starting points. This spatial concentration of investments generates Urbanization and its other economies. These economies if well focused, sustained and accumulated enhances development and growth. The trickle down effects pull the rural

areas to higher levels of development. In this way, urbanization is a function of the agglomeration of economic activities. Therefore urban towns constitute vital dynamics or growth points which proximity to or distance away from will define all the difference in the magnitude and role of development in such areas. The nearer to those cities, the earlier communities will receive modernization influences from the Urban Areas.

Urbanization defines the manner in which populations change from rural life patterns to those of city dwellers. Some scholars view it as the process by which humanity gathers into point locations or clusters. In an urbanizing society, the proportion of city dwellers within the total population increases steadily. Other scholars base their definitions on population size in addition to the proportion that should be non-agricultural. For instance a town of 50, 000 with 75 non- agricultural population is Urban.However, for this work, urbanization defines a city with at least 100,000 inhabitants and 75 percent non-farming occupational background.

Orthogenetic and Heterogenetic Cities

Urbanization, population growth and economic development interact. It should be noted however, that not all urban forms stimulate growth and development with equal propensities.

The literature attempts to dichotomize cities into those of orthogenetic and heterogenetic transformation along the lines of their generative base. Pre-industrial cities whose primary functions are based on local traditions are orthogenetic, while modern cities created and sustained by wide spread industrial influences were defined as heterogenetic. Orthogenetic towns in modern times cannot with similar ease impact on development as heterogenetic cities. Infact orthogenetic towns in themselves are receding in influence and are

at best only dependent on cities for modernization influences. Such orthogenetic towns, in Nigeria may include Arroh, Ife etc, which were very famous before the advent of colonization. Cities of heterogenetic transformation are generally more stimulants of growth and development. These cities are those with high concentration of people equipped with modern technology and ideas.

Optimists and Pessimists Debate
Comments arising from theories and empirical studies relating the effects of urbanization on economic performance polarise into two: The Optimists and Pessimists schools. The optimists (See Boserup 1981, Hoover 1948, among others) suggest that urbanization leads to greater productivity either by inducing innovation, producing innovation, or through creating greater economies of scale, specialization or agglomeration.

The pessimists posit that urbanization could impact negatively on economic performance if it is excessive or haphazard. This is because urban growth means high aggregation of people. With a larger population, each worker will have less productive factors (especially capital) both accumulated and non-accumulated to work with. As a result, even if output grows in the aggregate, per capita output will tend to be smaller. This pessimist view is based in the Malthusian tradition, though with substantial modification and improvements. Pessimists therefore suggest that rapid urbanization can only be beneficial, if accompanied by massive capital formation or other major stimuli which will be sufficient to off-set the low level equilibrium trap which may be created through rapid population increases. (See Henderson 1999, MacManara 1984).

Urbanization Trend in Nigeria
Urbanization really is not new in Nigeria. Before colonization, Nigeria was inhabited by about 450 ethnic groups (Williamson 1987). These ethnic nationalities traded in and across their borders. Cities like Kano, Ibadan and

Benin among others, at the eve of colonization already had a large concentration of people and were famous. With colonization, and the subsequent amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by Lord Fredrick Lugard, an opportunity was created for Britain to further the exploitation of the economic potentials of Nigeria. This commercial interest largely, explains the pattern of urbanization and city development in the colonial era.

Trade in agricultural produce and other required mineral resources between Nigeria and the western world was encouraged. As facilitators, roads, railways and other relevant social infrastructure were constructed in those communities (areas) which had the needed items of trade in commercial quantities. Thus it was noticeable that the railways ran neatly from the groundnuts pyramids of Kano through the tin-ore rich Jos, to the coal deposits of Enugu down to Port Harcourt harbour where the ships were stationed ready to evacuate these products. Alternatively, the lines were from the Kano groundnut pyramids through the tin-ore rich Jos to the Lagos ports.

In addition to roads and railways, the colonial administration provided other facilitating infrastructure to ease administration and accommodate its officers within and in the immediate neighborhood of the areas of their operation.

These towns attracted people who were interested in the encouraged international trade. The subsequent agglomeration saw these new cities gaining more prominence beyond earlier traditional cities. For 50 years, this economic policy impacted on the urban development process till Nigeria became independent in 1960.

With political independence, patterns of urban development became affected by Nigerian (local) administrators. Thus in 1967, the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon quickly created 12 states to replace the

erstwhile regional structure of north, west, east and mid- west. The new state capitals had to be developed as centres of administration. A good chunk of resources meant for the states were channeled to the enhancement of facilities, in these towns leading to what Okowa (1987) refers to as urban bias. In response to this bias, rural dwellers had been migrating to these cities to benefit from the niceties of city life which include modern sector employment, decent housing, among others.

At the end of the civil war, coupled with the rising profile of the country then, as on oil-exporter there was massive reconstruction especially in the Southeast. People also migrated to towns in search of job opportunities in the emerging new towns and state capitals.

In 1976, the 12-state structure, which seemed to reflect blocks of people, gave way to a 19 - state structure, which took cognizance of populations. The 19-state structure gave way to 21 states in 1986, and currently the country is made up of 36 States. In addition, the federal capital was moved from Lagos to a relatively hitherto unknown town, Abuja, which is currently being transformed to another mega city.

New Local Government Areas have also been created. These Local Governments also serve to attract people from villages to the headquarters thereby aggregating people into smaller cities. In all it is estimated that rural-urban migration accounts for over 60 percent of urban growth in Nigeria.

Another factor which has contributed though to a lesser extent is natural population increases among city residents. With higher birth rates, population in our cities have multiplied.
In essence therefore, urbanization in Nigeria has arisen from the concentration of people due to:
(a)        Resource endowment
(b)        Creation of new administrative towns

(c)        Migration to cities in search of amenities and opportunities
(d)        Natural population increases by the city dwellers.

Implications for Socio-Economic Development
 The Positive Side
The massive programmes of infrastructural and industrial development initiated after the civil war benefited some small and medium sized towns. Port Harcourt for instance has expanded far beyond its original size to include areas like Trans-Amadi layout, Diobu, Borokiri etc, expanding very rapidly since then and covering as much as over 20 kilometers radius and modernizing the hitherto villages and hamlets. This trend is similar in other State capitals though the extent may differ. This growth pattern is not only in terms of sheer size but also in terms of sophistication, complexity and functions.

With the increasing number, the volume of services had tremendously increased. The number of agents within the cities also impacts on the competitiveness of service providers with the attendant improvement in service delivery at competitive prices for all goods and services. The existence of public sector monopolies is recognized though.

The continuing expansion of these cities also transmitted to the rural areas an improved culture. This subsequently out competed retrogressive and out of date methods and culture.  For instance, with ease, most rural dwellers in proximity to primate cities can access their friends and relatives anywhere in the world through the cell phones. The use of wood as cooking fuel has been abandoned by many residents of the rural areas now turned urban.

The Problem Side
Because of the paucity of development resources especially funds, the attention given to the emerging towns referred to earlier as urban bias has meant the neglect of larger

sections of the country. The intolerable difficulties and a misalign school system informed a push of rural inhabitants to the urban areas. Thus creating a higher concentration of people in already over-burdened cities and over stretching the available infrastructure. In most Nigerian cities like Port Harcourt, Lagos, Ibadan, Benin etc inadequate housing, water supply, transportation etc. are observed.

The over concentration thins down facilities per capita, which also impacts on health services. Poor sanitary conditions sometimes occasioned by these insufficiencies give rise to poor health status and a consequent declining productivity. The vast emerging slums in urban centres, high prostitution, increasing menace of cult activities may be attributable to high rural-urban migration as the facilities in cities are unable to fully absorb these migrants who are now forded to work for a means of survival.

Moreso, the speed in growth of the urban areas has denied them the opportunity and time for the orderly development of relevant political and economic institutions and market instruments essential for an efficient form of urbanization and a reasonable quality of urban life. These, include the mechanism for internal governance and financing of cities. In short the societal learning required to adapt rural institutions and governance to urban ones is more or less a crash programme where it is at all.

The debilitating effect of these problems could have been minimized with efficient planning but this is regrettably lacking. The revenue potentials of these cities are hardly fully exploited and when exploited the tendency is for the revenue officials to divert some of these funds to other “pressing problems” instead of providing the required facilities needed to enhance productivity such as electricity, water supply, commuting, etc.

When these aforementioned social services are available, consumers are not sometimes

rationally billed in accordance with their consumption rates. They are more often charged with outrageous rates vis-a-vis the quality of services provided. This exacerbates the high cost of living in the urban towns. Typically, the cost of accommodation, in cities like Port Harcourt is three times their equivalent in neighboring semi urban town like Isiokpo, Abua or Etche to use the Rivers State example.

Again perhaps, because of the technological inadequacies horizontal forms of city expansion is the main form of city growth in Nigeria. The effect is that such growth utilizes vast land spaces, thus encroaching and reducing the volume of land required for competing purposes. This pattern of development also creates communication problems. For instance the need will regularly be to travel from one end of the metropole several kilometers away to another end regularly to meet up one facility or another especially employment. This problem has greatly encouraged motor traffic congestion.

Another factor is the social heterogeneity of some primate cities in Nigeria like Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kano, Lagos etc. these cities consist of indigenous dwellers who always seek preferential treatment with respect to urban administration. These requests constitute formidable barriers to re-development proposals. On the other hand non-native settlers usually feel reluctant to participate meaningfully in activities that will improve these cities.

One major negative consequence of Urbanization in Nigeria is on the psyche of citizens. People are differently endowed. Some have better abilities in business (i.e. trade), others in agriculture, administration, academics, etc. As some professions are not well developed, people tends to willy-nilly go for those profession with high immediate remunerations. This creates unhealthy competition with the attendant rent-seeking

behaviour as bribery, nepotism etc. in the process many better qualified people lose-out.

Also because of the high level competition for these limited opportunities in urban centres, early beneficiaries or winners, continually take advantage of their early start positions to improve on their positions to the consternation of the new migrants or losers who find themselves at the margins. A vivid portrait of this disequilibrium in urban cities in Nigeria is the extreme poverty in Maroko existing side by side with the extreme affluence of Ikoyi in Lagos. This picture of social inequality which the new migrants or the poor may not see justification for already sets a process of social tension in motion. The spatial proximity of the communities but wide economic gap cannot be explained out easily to the sensibilities of a casual observer.

Conclusion and Recommendation
These formidable problems inhibit the beneficial backwash impact of city expansion in Nigeria to some extent. For instance, the economies realized through increased commercialization are largely refocused though to a limited extent on solving basic problems instead of expanding facilities and opportunities, which would have further trickled down to the rural neighborhood. More than this, Government has had to use increasingly proceeds of oil exports to see how to attend to this ever- expanding needs of the Urban settlers, further denying the rural areas the needed infrastructure for development. As this process continues, a yawning gap is created between the rich and the poor in the urban area and between the urban dwellers and the rural dwellers.

The potentials of city growth in stimulating productivity and economic growth will be maximized when these internal problems are minimized. Policies should be geared at integrating commercial and industrial activities in urban areas with the rural production and consumption. These policies must be practicable and ingenuous. Conscious efforts

to slowly but firmly adapt to vertical city expansion will free some land for other uses and ease communication difficulties.  Above all, efforts must be made to ensure a high level of output growth in order to generate the necessary resources to meet the needs of the rapid urbanization otherwise urbanization will continue to constitute its own developmental challenge.  As it is today, the rate of city growth and the necessary infrastructural growth needed to support that growth are not correlated.  This has led to several socio-economic problems which were not observed in Nigeria up till the mid 1980s, at least in terms of their quantum or sophistication.  Some of these include hostage taking, high rate of unemployment acute urban housing shortages, among several others.



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