The Makoko Sustainable Regeneration Plan

First Submitted By hmadenian

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher

General Issues
Social Welfare
Planning & Development
Specific Topics
Sustainable Development
Public Services
Planning & Development
Internal- & Self-Management
Human Rights
Civic Infrastructure
Capacity Building
Architecture & Design
Scope of Influence
Start Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Deliver goods & services
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of private organizations
Citizenship building
Spectrum of Public Participation
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Facilitator Training
Untrained, Nonprofessional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Express Opinions/Preferences Only
Listen/Watch as Spectator
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Hearings/Meetings
Word of Mouth
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
International Organization
Government-Owned Corporation
Swiss Embassy, Heinrich Boll Foundation, Tafeta and Partners, UNDP, Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environmental Adaptation Program, Yaba Council Development Area, Union of Ogu Baales of Makoko
Type of Funder
International Organization
Local Government
National Government
Evidence of Impact
Implementers of Change
Lay Public
Stakeholder Organizations

A multi-sector program to regenerate Makoko’s public services. Based on UK models of Neighbourhood Management, the process improves community infrastructure and local urban governance and participation.

Problems and Purpose

In Nigeria, urban slums face what democracy scholar Archon Fung refers to as a “wicked problem” which requires a holistic and multifaceted approach to overcome. In recent years, the country has witnessed the highest level of urbanization in Africa. However, this rapid urbanization, coupled with endemic corruption, and low levels of government transparency, has brought to the fore challenges which the country has been grappling to overcome.

The ‘Makoko Sustainable Regeneration Plan’ intends to tackle infrastructure gaps such as sanitation, healthcare, housing, energy and education, and community empowerment, through an innovative model of citizen participation referred to as Neighbourhood Management. As a governance model borrowed from the United Kingdom (UK), Neighbourhood Management has the goal of delivering urban governance at the local level through a holistic approach.

Background History and Context

Sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed an interesting but disturbing demographic shift in recent years, with about 37 percent of the people now living in urban cities. By 2050, the urban population is expected to triple in the sub-region; Nigeria and Congo, it is projected, will account for the highest percentage of this concentration. In Makoko, a waterfront community in Lagos, almost half of the population (40 percent) live on less than USD 1.25 per day. This settlement, like many other slums in Nigeria, are clearly spaces of inequalities, social segregation and social polarization. The growing urbanization in African cities has not been matched with sustainable urban and housing policies, as well as adequate legislation and delivery systems. This has overtime resulted into urban slums, starkly manifesting the disparity between the state, public authorities, and the urban poor. These settlements are also confronted with problems of congestion, informal settlements, informal economies, environmental pollution and low public services.

Makoko has been considered an eye sore for the Lagos State Government. Its location along West Africa’s longest bridge, and the most populated city, has further heightened this embarrassment. Indeed, the Makoko settlement fits all three of the 'slum yardsticks' adopted by the UN Millennium Project: 

  1. A shelter in an existing inner-city slum;
  2. Occupation of a vacant land in areas that are risky to inhabit or lack environmental protection and;
  3. Semi-legal settlements, where landlords illegally sub-divide plots of land lacking basic infrastructure and services 

Makoko also fits into the UNHabitat definition, which recognizes a slum as a group of person living under a single roof in an urban area who lack one or more of the following “a durable housing of a permanent nature that protects against extreme climate conditions; sufficient living space which means not more than three people sharing the same room; easy access to safe water in sufficient amounts at an affordable price; access to adequate sanitation in the form of a private or public toilet shared by a reasonable number of people and security of tenure that prevents forced evictions”.

On July 16, 2012, the State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure, four days after issuing a 72-hour eviction notice to residents, set fire on earmarked structures, and deployed armed police who allegedly fired gunshots indiscriminately to dislodge the citizens who had gathered to protest the government’s decision. The controversy surrounding the killing of one of the residents led the demolition workers to suspend their assignment. The Makoko settlement is a typical example of how top-down approaches to urban planning can go wrong in the developing countries. As a slum community located at the waterfront, the houses are built with silts on top of water, with a considerable number of these houses located near power lines. Although this community has existed before the establishment of Lagos State, Makoko has developed into an urban slum overtime due to rural-urban migration, and poor urban planning. The community is diverse, with three major religions, six subcommunities, four main ethnic groups, five spoken languages, and despite its urban nature, the existence of a traditional governance structure and rulers, known as baales, with enormous influence.

Although it is difficult to get an accurate figure of the total population, various estimates cap the total inhabitants to be between 50,000 to 100,000. However, this population lacks basic infrastructural facilities. For example, despite its population, the community was served by only one English-speaking primary school on a reclaimed land that was susceptible to flooding. The continued rural immigration has outstripped the decaying infrastructure to cope with the pressure in the community. Although the community is renowned for fishing, boat making and craft, the low presence of the government, low technology for the processing of goods, and low expertise further complicates the problems of this low-income community. In recent years, the World Bank, through the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project (LMDGP) intended to invest $US40.9 million in renewing nine selected urban slum neighborhoods, included Makoko. However, the projects were terminated due to claims that the funds were diverted to other purposes. It was during this period that the state government commenced the demolition of some illegal structures in Makoko and Badia in 2013 in preparation for urban renewal. Despite this exercise, no provision was made for resettlement or compensating members of the community, a move that led to citizens confrontation with the Lagos State Government and a subsequent court injunction to halt the demolition. The result was an increased distrust between the government and the local community, with the local citizens and informal institutions pitted against the government and formal structures.

Urban renewal efforts at Makoko clearly show the disconnection between formal/top-down government planning and informal/bottom-up local citizen engagement. In most instances, such as efforts to address the problems of slums in Lagos, international development agencies may unwillingly reinforce undemocratic structures, when they by-pass local citizens, who know what is required to better their lot, to deal with formal government institutions.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Concerted efforts to fund urban slum renewal by the Lagos State Government dates to June 2009, when funds were released to the Ilaje and Bariga communities, among the nine officially designated slums in Lagos. Although Makoko was also earmarked for funding, the remaining seven slums, Makoko inclusive, did not receive funding under the LMDGP before the program was discontinued due to transparency and accountability issues. These settlements, intended as fish markets, are now used as junkyards for car parts. The deplorable living conditions in the waterfront community spurred the representatives of the Makoko community to reach out to the Lagos State Governor with a proposal to develop a regeneration plan for the community, which was granted by the governor. The community, collaborating with the Socio and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) mandated the Urban Spaces Innovation (USI) to lead the preparation of the urban renewal plan. To come up with a plan that took into cognizance the perspectives of diverse stakeholders, the community, SERAC and USI constituted a working group consisting of professionals (academia and experts) from diverse backgrounds in land, housing, environment, urban development, social and economic empowerment and development finance.

Furthermore, different segments of the community where included in the working groups. The working group was guided by the following terms of references:

  1. To come up with an infrastructural roadmap, housing and neighborhood regeneration plans showing the scale, nature and manner of the future infrastructure development in the communities and harmony of the proposed housing structure with the renewed neighborhood
  2. To develop a Makoko Tourism Plan that will serve as a tourism development and management guide and Makoko Economic Development Strategy (MEDS)
  3. To harmonize all development plans into Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Regeneration Plan (MIWRP) with a view to providing a comprehensive proposal on housing upgrading, infrastructure delivery, tourism prospects and overall community renewal projections.
  4. To propose a realistic land and littoral titling framework at providing Makoko residents with greater security of tenure and for possible adoption by the Lagos State Lands Bureau.

The working groups, in recognition of the wide diversity and broad remit of the tasks, further involved keys actors such as local citizens (Makoko community); Neighborhood Manager (comprising newly formed ‘Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Development Association’ charged with the oversight of the Makoko community) and individuals (charged with oversight of different sub-committees); traditional rulers (baales); Lagos State Government (and associated agencies and parastatals); civil society groups; private investors; consultants; and non-governmental agencies. The neighborhood manager played a key role in the Makoko Community Development Association, with the association serving as an interface between the formal and informal governance structures, and the point of convergence for all major stakeholders within, and outside the community. A key aspect of the implementation of this urban regeneration plan involves the engagement of relevant stakeholders, an engagement that gives room for a diverse mix of the community, including women, youth, social and community based formal and informal institutions.

Although funding details are sketchy, the Swiss Embassy in Abuja agreed to fund a Pilot Neighborhood Hotspot and on December 15, 2014, which led to the signing of an agreement with the Union of Ogu Baales of Makoko. Another project, the Floating School, was designed by a Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyemi to transform the water slum status of the Makoko waterfront community to a floating island. He collaborated with Non-Governmental Organizations including Heinrich Boll Foundation, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Federal Ministry of Environment Adaptation Program, Yaba Council Development Area (LCDA), Tafeta and Partners, and Makoko Waterfront Community to execute the project. The floating school was officially handed over to the community in August 2015.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The initial conflict between the Lagos State Government and the Makoko Waterfront Community formed the basis for participant selection in the project. Lagos State Government’s order for the demolition of the community was criticized because it favored a top-down urban renewal approach that disregarded the voices of the marginalized in the community. Consequently, the Neighborhood management approach first adopted a self-selection or opendoor approach that gave each person the right to attend the planning meetings. This was achieved through the advertisement of the event by the Baale, and the voluntary participation of interested persons. Although this was considered the best way to accommodate everyone, it was soon realized that self-selection had the tendency to privilege only those who had more resources in the community, including owners of business, shanties, landlords, and traditional rulers. These individuals have more at stake in the community, and are prepared to commit more time and resources in the project thus self-selection privileges those of the upper-class and/or political elite.

The second phase of the process was intended to overcome the problem of self-selection through the drawing of a representative sample of local citizens, women, youths, stakeholders with interests in the waterfront community, nongovernmental organizations, traditional rulers, and government agencies. However, the involvement of government agencies discouraged many citizens from participation, even when efforts was made through door-to-door recruitment of participants. Although both the first and second phases had in attendance only 68 and 82 participants respectively, the diversity in recruitment offered a satisfactory sample of the whole community. During the first phase, there were 36 citizens, 21 participants from a variety of organizations (civil society groups, nongovernmental agencies, private investors, and consultants); 8 from the government; 5 from traditional rulers. Several architects and aid agencies also attended the meetings. During the second phase, 52 citizens showed up, while other participants totaled 30, comprised mostly experts and professionals. From the meetings, the neighborhood manager was elected to oversee the Makoko Community Development Association. The Association also elected a Board of Directors comprising nine community members (sitting for a term of six years) including traditional rulers, leaders of cooperative societies (trade associations), leader of youth group, leader of the women group, and elected members of community.

Methods and Tools Used

The underlying assumption behind the regeneration plan was to adopt techniques that would enhance deliberative and participatory democracy. During all the meetings, the community development association incorporated mechanisms for citizen participation that make decisionmaking and implementation more democratic and transparent. The meetings and projects employed deliberative tools of engagement, such as surveys, question and answer sessions with experts, small group and focus group discussions, plenary discussions and public hearings. Most slum dwellers were not educated and often lacked basic knowledge of urban projects. The organizers tried to gauge the knowledge of the participants, before, during, and after meetings.

The use of deliberative poll made it possible for participants to be informed about a debated policy issue before polling them. During meetings, participants were first informed about issues being debated, such as the installation of solar panels on a floating school building, before they were polled to find out where they stand on such issues. One advantage of this approach is that it showed the effect of political learning, and shift in opinion, as participants became more knowledgeable about an issue overtime

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The meetings were regular forums, held bi-monthly, where all stakeholders met to discuss issues about the Makoko waterfront. The Neighborhood Manager and the Board members of the Makoko Community Development Association raised matters on the agenda, in which participants were giving two slots to contribute on an issue. The notice of the meetings were normally sent out a week before the day of the meeting. However, government officials could also call to schedule a meeting, even at short notices. The Neighborhood Manager played a key role in coordinating the meeting. However, the Baale also had influence to set the agenda for the meeting, or to dictate the pace or direction of the discussion. Although the meetings were geared towards citizen participation, the lack of knowledge from the citizens regarding issues being debated sometimes made them mere spectacles. Moreover, since the meetings were opened to the public, there were tendencies towards self-selection, making those who had interest in the topics to participate, as against other marginalized citizens who may be directly affected by the projects (Fung 2015). Furthermore, the technical nature of issues such as health, floating school with solar panels on the roof and a rain harvesting system that serve the toilets, often left most participants at the mercy of experts, who may have an interest in the project that may be different from the ordinary citizens. Notwithstanding this challenge, the representative sample for the meetings offered an avenue for direct citizen participation, which can be termed as minipublics (Fung 2015). Equally important, participants were giving the opportunity to speak for themselves, and not as a representative of an association. This methodology ensured that associations with greater resources did not monopolize decision making. However, since the debates were usually highly technical, only experts and the elite’s voices were often heard. Most participants were also not consistent in meetings, and when they attended, were very quiet during discussion sessions.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The ‘Makoko Sustainable Regeneration Plan’ was a success, considering its ability to halt the decision of the Lagos State Government to demolish the shanties at the waterfront, and the launch of the floating school, with the Lagos State Government funding the provision of solar panels on the floating school. This project provided an innovative approach to address the community’s social and physical needs within the context of climate change and rapid urbanization. The materials used for constructing the school were locally sourced and ecologically safe for the community. This project demonstrated resilience and innovations in achieving sustainable outcomes through building urban water cultures. It has received numerous international recognitions such as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2016 among others.

As an innovative participatory process, the neighborhood management sought to enhance direct citizen participation. This model provided a delicate balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches in urban regeneration. Participatory deliberation ensured that the views of the citizens and the local community were taken into consideration when designing issues affecting the local community. The essence was to increase the quality of life of citizens. The outcome of the deliberative processes was the Waterfront Regeneration Plan, which adopts a holistic approach to the waterfront relating to land use, housing, tourism opportunities, economic development, funding framework and implementation and management strategies. Apart from the provision of physical infrastructure, this project has increased the civil and deliberative skills of citizens, and enhanced leadership roles of those holding position on the Boards. Most importantly, this avenue for participation positively improved policy outcomes (cf. Fung 2006). The meetings highlighted the fact that citizens can improve policy outcomes through the quality of decisions made, implementation and delivery. As distinct from specialist, citizens were unencumbered and free to bring in fresh perspectives from their experience, which may be germane for the success of the project (Fung 2006).

The participatory approach of the ‘Makoko Sustainable Regeneration Plan brought together both the top-bottom and bottom-up approaches, paving way for the involvement of beneficiaries and development planners. Warren (2009) considers this as a ‘rebirth of strongly democratic ideals’ in policymaking. This approach enhances inclusion, representation, accountability and legitimacy. It also ensures that citizens and stakeholders who are affected can participate in the making of decisions affecting them. Since these meetings focused more on projects and less on electoral politics, they provided avenues for deliberation (Warren 2009). In addition, these meetings created room for the political elites, experts and governments to explain to the citizens the issues being discussed, thereby increasing the legitimacy of the outcomes.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The ‘Makoko Sustainable Regeneration Plan’ is a classic example of what can be termed a wicked problem. According to Fung (2015, 517), these problems require a “multi-sectoral problem-solving” and approach that enhances the “pooling knowledge and coordinating action” through networks, actors and institutions. Although this Plan enhanced citizen participation in the deliberative process, its ability to empower citizens, especially through social justice can be questioned. For example, its top-down model and control made it ‘elite-driven’ (Warren 2009, 9). Non-governmental organizations such as SERAC and USI dominated the participation arenas, hence the democratization process was not driven by local citizens but by elites that understood how to mobilize the knowledge, resources and time of the private sector. Many scholars argue that such participatory forums are mere source of legitimation of decisions already made by conveners. The organizers of such forum play influential roles in setting the agenda and aggregating the interests. Since they are the ones who choose experts, they can cherry-pick their preferred recommendations, and decide what is discussed as well as the timing and institutional design. Pateman (2012, 9) is worried that such venues are merely “useful legitimating devices for an already-decided policy”. In the Makoko Regeneration Plan, the overbearing influence of the baale or the traditional structures negatively affected democratic participation since these actors and institutions possessed disproportionate resources vis-à-vis local citizens.

Another weakness of the Makoko waterfront renewal was that the decisions did not have any direct effect on the final policy outcomes, since the Lagos State Government must approve all the decisions relating to urban renewal, especially finance. Similarly, the reliance on development agencies and the government for funding, meant that the meetings were often reduced to a mere talk shop with no implementation powers. Although the essence of the meetings were to promote citizen participation, governance-driven democratization such as has been emerging at Makoko since 2013, can be better described as elitist and a window dressing exercise, being invited rather than claimed spaces. Arnstein’s (1969) ‘ladder of citizen participation’ that conceives citizen participation on a spectrum from mere participation to full citizen empowerment, for example, fails to recognize that elites or traditional rulers may deploy their powers to whittle the ability of citizens to meaningfully participate in democracy. Although citizens may participate, their decisions do not have enforceable power. Polletta (2016) aptly captures the naturer of citizen participation at the Makoko waterfront when she argued that although citizens may be invited and may speak, they do not vave control over the final decisions, and thus their participation will have limited impact (cf Van Deth 2014). As mentioned earlier, such participatory forums are mere source of legitimation of decisions already made by conveners. Moreover, they may be restricted in discussing issues that are not of significant importance, such as the color the school should be painted. Polletta (2016, 234) suggests that to understand what Fung (2015, 9) refers to as the “park bench problem,” where citizens are only given the opportunity to participate in small-scale politics, or deliberate over less critical issues, there is need for a better grasp of “how the people who organize and participate in democratic initiatives understand the purposes of participation”. Fung (2015, 519) is right to argue that the extent to which participatory mechanisms promotes social justice depends on whether those who organize these initiatives want to achieve this or not.

In this case study, it is apparent that although the Makoko Community Development Association, through its sustainable regeneration plan, provides a veritable avenue for citizens to participate in deliberation, there are questions regarding the extent to which citizens participation can translate to tangible policy outcomes. One observed phenomenon is that participants’ expectations and understanding of deliberative forums conflict with those of the organizers. Conveners usually establish these venues to achieve their agenda, such as winning of government contracts and recruitment of citizens as members of political parties, which may differ from those of the citizens. Thus, in this case study, it becomes clear that “having a voice may be defined more with expression than as influence” (Polletta 2015, 243), and although the Makoko citizens had “a chance to speak’, they lacked “the power to choose” (Polletta 2016, 242). The conclusion to draw here is that the Makoko Regeneration Plan needs to be reworked to give local citizens the powers to deliberate and make enforceable policies. This underscores the importance of institutional design, not only in enhancing participation, but in allowing scholars and policy analysts to evaluate the output or outcomes of participatory venues (Fung 2006; 2015; Warren 2009).

See Also

Collaborative Planning 

Community Development Associations

Deliberative Polling 

Neighbourhood Management 

Participatory Urban Planning 


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Department for Communities and Local Government (2008), “Neighbourhood Management Pathfinders’. Available at: Accessed on June 27, 2017.

Fabulous Urban and Heinrich Böll Foundation Nigeria (2014) Makoko-Iwaya Waterfront Economic Opportunities. Lagos/ Geneva: Heinrich Böll Foundation Nigeria.

Floater, G., Rode, P., Friedel, B. and Robert, A. (2014) “Steering Urban Growth: Governance, Policy and Finance. New Climate Economy”, Cities Paper 02. LSE Cities. London School of Economics and Political Science: London.

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Hoelzel, F and Akinsete, E (2015) “Towards a New Community-led Governance Approach, Integrating the Global into the Mundane – and Why Design Matters” The Public Sphere Journal 26-36.

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Piper, L and Bettina von Lieres (2015) “Mediating between States and Citizens: The Significance of the Informal Politics of Third-party Representations in the Global South” Citizenship Studies 19 (6&7): 696-713.

Polletta, F (2016) “Participatory Enthusiasms: A Recent History of Citizen Engagement Initiatives” Journal of Civil Society 12(3): 231-246.

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External Links

Project Overview from the Buckminster Fuller Institute:

Slum Settlements Regeneration in Lagos Mega-city: an Overview of a Waterfront Makoko Community:

Makoko-Iwaya Waterfront Economic Opportunities Heinrich Böll Foundation Nigeria:

Report from the Guardian "Inside Makoko: Danger and Ingenuity in the World's Biggest Floating Slum":


The first entry of this case was based on a course paper submitted by Terhemba Ambe-Uva, Université de Montréal.

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