Impact of Covid-19 on Nigeria’s Informal Settlements


An update from the Nigeria SDI Alliance, comprised of Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI), the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (the Federation), and the Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative (PCEI).


On 1 April 2020, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI), the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (the Federation), and the Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative (PCEI) launched a quantitative survey and a qualitative storytelling campaign both designed to understand the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on informal settlements and vulnerable urban poor populations i n Lagos. With over half of Lagos’s 23 million residents living in informal settlements and slum communities, i t i s essential that policies and interventions aimed at curtailing the spread of the COVID-19 and mitigating its effect on livelihoods be informed by data that reflects the real l ived experiences of the urban poor. This dual-pronged effort aims to support more effective policy-making and public health interventions in real time. This report captures findings from research to date and real voices from across Lagos.

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Community Awareness and Prevention Measures 

Accurate information and awareness about COVID-19 is key to preventing its spread. In March 2020, the Federation and PCEI launched a community awareness campaign through peer-to-peer, door-to-door education and distribution of fliers and facemasks, as well as demonstration hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer production. The survey aims to assess the reach of this and other awareness campaigns as well as the prevalence of prevention measures.

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Across the 144 slums and informal settlements surveyed, the Federation was the primary source of information about COVID19, followed by the government, and then other community groups and NGOs. Many communities reported no awareness campaigns had reached them. Physical infrastructure like public hand-washing stations remain very limited in communities.

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Lockdown, Stay at Home & Testing 

Two of the most effective government policies to control and curb the spread of COVID-19, across countries, have been lockdown and proactive, widespread testing. The Federal and Lagos State Governments have both taken steps to replicate these approaches during the first months of the outbreak in Nigeria. The survey aims to assess the effectiveness and reach of these policies in informal settlements and for the urban poor in Lagos.

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Encouragingly, a relatively high percentage of communities reported that all or most people were staying at home during the strict lockdown that was in place from 1 April – 4 May 2020. These numbers have steadily dropped as lockdown measures have been eased and general attitudes towards compliance have relaxed — a fact that is in stark contrast with the exponential growth in cases over the same period based on public data from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

A strict lockdown followed by gradual easing is a strategy that has been used in some countries to increase preparedness of isolation centers, health facilities, and testing capacity. Unfortunately, access to testing remains extremely limited for the urban poor populations surveyed. Across communities, 83% of respondents reported that no one in the community had tried to get tested for COVID-19; 11% reported people had attempted but encountered challenges; only 6% reported someone in the community had been tested successfully. Anecdotal evidence suggests several reasons for these extremely low rates of testing: (1) Inability or unwillingness to identify COVID-19 symptoms; (2) fear of going for testing or helping an unwell person to go for testing; and (3) unavailability of localized testing in LGAs where the testing facilities are not yet active/accessible. The solution of proactive government door-to-door screening or testing campaigns had been announced in Lagos on 10 April 2020; however, as of date, only 7% of respondents report that the Lagos State Government door-to-door screening has reached their community.

Impact of the Pandemic on Lives & Livelihoods 

As the government imposed stay-at-home measures, shuttered non-essential businesses, and limited public transportation options, residents of informal settlements – already locked in a daily struggle to put food on the table – faced price hikes and widespread loss of income. Across communities, 78% reported people are unable to meet basic needs. Meanwhile, the vast majority of urban poor communities (85%) reported government-provided “palliatives” intended for the vulnerable had not reached them.

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“Something wey we dey buy 11,000, dem dey call am 22,000… they go try to kill us with hunger before sickness go come kill us…”

Corona Diaries of the Urban Poor; Stories from the Front Lines

Alongside the survey, JEI, the Federation, and PCEI have undertaken a community-driven storytelling campaign that has brought together a diverse array of perspectives from across informal settlements in Lagos – comprising over 50 stories thus far from over 30 communities – creating a body of narrative evidence to further-inform the picture painted in the data. Stories of hunger. Stories of insecurity and nighttime vigilante duty. Stories of a suspected COVID-19 case unable to access testing or get evacuated despite the efforts of neighbors and community health workers and an old man dying quietly in his beds.

Picture3These stories have spanned a diverse array of topics – often interweaving more than one person’s experience – that together situate the unfolding pandemic within the context of urban poverty in Lagos, and help to tell the “human side” of the charts and data points referenced in this report

You can explore the full collection of stories from across Lagos at:





Key Lessons Drawn from Survey Data & Narrative Accounts to Date 

  • As the Lagos active-caseload of coronavirus has steadily increased, adherence to social-distancing directives has decreased among informal settlement residents – peaking in the second week of April 2020 with 94% of communities reporting all or most of their residents are staying at home, and since declining to 11%. The fact that this trend began even before the official easing of lockdown measures suggests that desperation for food and basic necessities began to force urban poor populations to venture out even when there was a risk of arrest or prosecution as well as a risk of exposure to the virus With the easing of lockdown measures starting on 4 May 2020, this trend has worsened. Anecdotally, across the city we have witnessed reduced rates of compliance with mask wearing requirements, avoidance of larger social gatherings, etc. These trends should be cause for great alarm from a public health standpoint, combined with the limited access to testing and case reporting.  

LESSON: Absent government mandated and supported lockdown measures, stay at home will not be a reality for urban poor.

  • The limited rates of access to testing speaks to the extent to which official numbers of cases reported by the NCDC likely underrepresent reality on the With only 6% of communities reporting that anyone in the community has been tested for the virus, there is no basis for isolation and treatment of persons affected or other precautions to be put in place. The low number of reported cases from across communities surveyed – with only 6 reported cases and 1 suspected COVID19-linked death – reflects more on testing than on actual prevalence of the virus. Anecdotally, we have identified several deaths in informal settlements where COVID-19 symptoms were present prior to death but no testing was done to ascertain the cause. Starting from June 2020, we are adapting our survey approach to better understand the barriers to testing and also launching a pilot door-to-door screening in urban poor communities to try to link suspected cases with available testing facilities.

LESSON: Absent major outreach (such as door-to-door screening), rates of testing in urban poor communities will remain low.

  • Should the government consider reimposition of lockdown measures as the upwards trend in infections continues, lessons must be learned from the April 2020 Our data points to key problems that require careful planning to avoid:
    1. Limitations imposed on business and movement lead to price-hikes on foodstuffs in informal While some price-increases may be opportunistic, supply constraints caused by movement restrictions appears a secondary cause.
    2. Dissemination of food aid and other assistance must leverage existing social networks – e.g. grassroots networks such as the Federation and PCEI – in order to reach the necessary scale and reach the most vulnerable residents of
    3. Insecurity threatens to undermine future “lockdown” directives if unaccompanied by effective government support and increased community-government partnership to increase security on ground. The government must also declare legal and paralegal services providers “essential workers” to enable access to justice for the urban poor during

LESSON: Future lockdown measures should be carefully tailored and co-designed by government, private sector, civil society, and communities to prevent insecurity, avoid disruption of food supplies, and ensure assistance reaches the most vulnerable.


ABOUT US: Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working to empower poor and marginalized communities to innovate their own justice and development solutions. The Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation is a movement of the urban poor for dignity and development with membership from hundreds of communities in Lagos and Rivers States and expanding to other cities across the country. The Physically Challenged Empowerment Initiative is a grassroots movement of urban poor people living with disabilities.

Since before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos, we have together led the charge on community health education, distribution of fliers in five languages and facemasks, as well as distribution of food assistance to nearly 30,000 urban poor households affected by lockdown with generous support from the Indian Community of Lagos, in addition to the efforts reported here.

The survey and storytelling efforts discussed in this report are simultaneously being replicated in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and Cotonou, Republic of Benin. Reports on the findings of those reports will be published separately and available at

Nigerian Federation & JEI: Responses to COVID-19

Free food_nigeria

On behalf of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Nigeria.

Over a month ago, the Nigerian Federation with support of JEI, began rapidly preparing to address the impending spread of COVID-19. Through cancelling all meetings, creating handwashing stations, distributing flyers in multiple languages, Federation tailors sewing 2,500 face masks and producing hand sanitiser – a multi-scale approach was taken to address the critical needs of the most vulnerable while warning communities of the imminent crisis. Over 16,000 informational flyers were printed and distributed in communities across Lagos in English, Hausa, Igbo, Egun and Yoruba, with 7,000 across Port Harcourt.

Assisting those most at risk – older, immune-compromised, homeless, indigent, immigrant/migrant Federation members to clinics to get tested when symptoms appear, while ensuring that there are no barriers to access due to language, cost, nor demographic – remains of utmost priority to the Federation.


At this time, Lagos is three weeks into lockdown, food is still scarce and government programmes remain to be seen for 2/3 of the population living in informal settlements. Mohammed (Vagabond) Zanna reflects on the precarious position of Federations, and more broadly, the urban poor with the lack of plans and proper response.

“We are doing our best as the Federation, in Nigeria, as an affiliate of SDI. We are creating awareness, making face masks, sourcing food donations, but it is not enough. From our side, it is not enough, the government needs to do more. What they give, is not enough for that person, and their family to eat. It is not enough. We are caught between Coronavirus and hunger, if we stay home, we starve, if we go outside, we stand the risk of catching COVID-19, and spreading it to our families, and also our communities. This is the situation, and there is serious tension. Something needs to be done.”


The ongoing work of information dissemination is crucial and focuses on social distancing that is tailored to the realities of living in informal settlements, recognizing symptoms, contacting government hotlines, and pushing back on false & dangerous information that has been simultaneously spreading. The communications includes regular WHO updates & recommendations, health education talks, and WhatsApp information campaign. These information campaigns are crucial to ensure updated and reliable information is reaching those most at risk, and to guarantee Federation experiences are being accurately shared.

Corona Diaries of the Urban Poor (#C19DiariesOfTheUrbanPoor) is a citizen journalism series that details COVID-19 pandemic at the intersection of urban poverty detailing the lived realities of slum communities told by current residents across Nigeria & Benin. With a mix of audio and visual mediums, and data conducted by the Federation in Nigeria & Benin, real-time stories are being developed. To continue following their work please check out the following social handles, Facebook, and Twitter: @vagabonkingdom @NaijaFederation @justempower – all above media can also be found on the JEI website with continued updated on the Corona Diaries page.

Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

Remembering Daniel Aya | #OtodoGbame #SaveOurWaterfronts


By Megan S. Chapman, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria

The footage you see at the beginning of the promo clip for “The Legend of the Vagabond Queen of Lagos” showing thousands of people in wooden fishing boats on the Lagos Lagoon watching their homes being burned by the government was taken almost a year ago to the day by my husband. He was with the evictees while tear gas and live bullets were being shot in their general direction to keep them from returning to land.

The man in the second clip whose head was lolling back was Daniel Aya, a young man and Federation member who was hit by one of those bullets in the neck and whose community members were trying to pole him to another boat that could try to take him to get urgent treatment across the Lagoon. I met that boat when it landed 45 minutes later carrying his dead body. A few minutes later, another boat arrived with a young man shot in the chest whose life we were able to save.

The Otodo Gbame community including 30,000 people was violently and forcibly evicted so their land could be turned into a luxury real estate development. It was destroyed violently and ruthlessly despite peaceful protests by thousands of Federation members from the Lagos waterfronts. Despite a court injunction restraining the government from carrying out the eviction of Otodo Gbame and 39 other communities who remain at risk of eviction up to today despite a court judgement in their favour.

This project is born out of the need for alternative ways to get the message out and change these lived realities of the urban poor in Lagos, in Nigeria, and around the globe. There is urgency in the struggle. It is personal to me and to hundreds of thousands of Lagos urban poor who are leading the struggle for dramatic change.

We believe deeply in co-creative processes. These are the key to alternatives we are pushing for the government to take to pursue win-win solutions with the poor instead of violent land grab. But co-creation is messy, is labour intensive and takes time to be done well and be truly co-creative and pluralistic. I both recognize the “essentialness” of this approach and struggle to be patient for the end-product (or mid-stream) tools that will advance the struggle — and hopefully transform it into something that will change the conversation and lived realities of the people with whom my daily life is intertwined.


Federations Put Data to Use in Lagos, Nigeria


UN Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GLTN) Urban Cluster Work Plan Project was conceptualized and developed by GLTN’s urban civil society partners at the Partners Meeting held at the Hague in November 2013.  The project was facilitated by the secretariat of GLTN, and coordinated by Shack / Slum Dwellers International, serving as the urban CSO cluster lead organization.

The program was implemented by cluster partner organizations: Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, Habitat for Humanity International, Shack / Slum Dwellers International and Academic Cluster partner organization, African Association of Planning Schools. Broadly the project aimed to activate and engage these GLTN partner organizations in activities that will improve security of tenure for poor urban communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The project was focused on promoting capacity development, awareness raising and alliance building within the Urban civil society cluster and among other clusters to contribute to the GLTN vision of a pro-poor, gender-responsive land interventions, with particular emphasis on increasing grassroots women’s land tenure security at country level.

The Urban Cluster Work Plan laid emphasis on collaboration and partnership between both GLTN partners in the urban cluster and across clusters. The intended outcomes of this were: joint advocacy positions on land tenure security within the global processes of developing post-MDG goals  – the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as participation in Habitat III; and improved land tenure security for poor communities working with the GLTN partners.

The Asian  component was led by SDI’s India affiliate organization, SPARC.  In Africa regional activities were implemented by two partners: the African Association of Planning Schools, which is part of the Academic Institutions Cluster of GLTN; and SDI’s Nigeria affiliate Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI).

This post will focus on the profiling and mapping activities undertaken by the Nigerian Slum Dwellers Federation and JEI Nigeria in Lagos, Nigeria – Africa’s largest city with a population of 23 million, two-thirds of which lives in slums.

Within the context of the SDI, Cities Alliance, and UCLG-A supported  “Know Your City” Campaign, the Nigerian SDI affiliate supported citywide slum profiling and mapping through:

  1. Community-led profiling of slum settlements in Lagos;
  2. Data capture and return to communities;
  3. Customization of profiling/enumeration questionnaire to Nigerian realities and harmonizing of data collection and capture processes with STDM; and
  4. Creation of maps and other tools to visually represent city-wide profiling data to be made accessible to the public at a new Lagos profiling hub in the heart of Lagos Mainland.

Community-Led, Federation-supported Slum Profiling in Lagos

Between May and November 2015, the Nigerian Federation supported the profiling of 28 slums in Lagos. 15 of these settlement profiles were supported by the urban cluster work plan.

The data collected in a slum profile consists of a boundary map of the settlement, mapping of basic services (like water and sanitation), a tally of all structures, photography, and the collection social economic data through focus group discussions covering 300 data variables. (To learn more about SDI’s slum profiling work, visit The profiling tool is inclusive of all questions contained in the STDM standardized community profiling questionnaire.

With the aim of carrying out city-wide profiling of all informal settlements in Lagos, JEI and the Nigerian Federation continued to train new Federation members interested in supporting community-led profiling, with a focus on youth members who have added capacity to learn how to use new technologies and energy to lead work in the field. The growing cadre of trained and experienced Federation volunteer profiling facilitators trained under the GLTN grant are going to be key to achieving city-wide profiling in the mega-city of Lagos in the coming years.

Building off of the informal settlement profiling completed thus far, JEI and the Federation have also worked to identify as many slum communities in Lagos as possible. This has happened in a variety of different ways, including: 1) identifying communities neighboring those that have already carried out profiling through in-person visits, 2) identifying communities clustered along the shore of Lagos Lagoon visible from afar when crossing the Lagoon on boat or via the Third Mainland Bridge, 3) brainstorming lists of communities that Federation members are aware of located in different Local Government Areas in the state, and 4) analyzing satellite imagery and other available data/reports to identify where informal settlements are located throughout the city. We are using this growing list of informal settlements as a bar against which we can measure our success in reaching new communities.

Data Capture and Return to Communities

The data capture process has been handed over to the federation teams, who enter all data into SDI’s global Know Your City data platform. To enable this process, both SDI and JEI undertook extensive training for community volunteers, who also had some computer skills. This has had the benefit of creating a feedback loop between the data collection and capture process and the communities. All profiled communities received a two-page community factsheet on the data collected, allowing for verification and subsequently for data updating.

For the communities profiled, this was the first time that they saw themselves ‘on the map’ and getting a more concrete sense of their population and other key statistics they can utilize. This has many practical benefits such as communities better recognizing their assets and their needs, as well as less concrete benefits such as greater communal action within communities.

With the concurrent support from SDI the Nigerian federation is able to leverage on the collected data. Currently JEI is working with communities to ‘put the data to work.’ For 7 Lagos informal settlements, one way this is happening is through a collaboration with Cornell University Department of Architecture which is working with the Federation’s profiling data and other community inputs to develop prototypes for simple, built solutions to some of the challenges that the Federation has identified as cross cutting, particularly as relate to water and sanitation.

This includes the Typology of Toilets and Water Points in Lagos Informal Settlements, and the Standard Building Methods for Structures Above Water in Lagos Informal Settlements. For other communities, the Nigeria federation is exploring a follow-on household-level mapping aiming to secure their land tenure through negotiations with a traditional land-owning family and subsequent formal land registration.

Customization of Profiling & Enumeration Questionnaire

At the outset updates were made to the standard SDI profiling questionnaire (with is inclusive of the STDM profiling template) to accommodate the Nigerian realty. Utilizing this questionnaire has resulted in overall cleaner and clearer data due to elimination of confusion among Federation profiling facilitators or communities. These are major achievements that enable profiling to move efficiently while responding to Federation communities’ needs and interests.

Following feedback from the Nigerian Federation, the service mapping form has been updated to add categories/sub-categories that are more responsive to local context. This service mapping data is a key resource in our collaboration with the Cornell University Department of Architecture.

With the aim of finding means of increasing the tenure security of Lagos’ informal settlements, JEI is now developing a new module to add onto the standard profiling questionnaire that will include more detailed, Nigeria-specific land tenure-related questions that the Federation will be piloting, beginning in February 2016. To develop the relevant questions we researched what similar tools already exist and where there are best practices that can be drawn on. This included conversations with other’s including a former USAID land tenure expert who worked in Nigeria, and a new start up NGO named Cadasta that is working to help make more flexible the land tenure tools that already freely available.

Simultaneously, JEI’s legal team has researched Nigerian land law and the available processes for formalizing land tenure. With the additional land tenure data collected with our new land tenure focused profiling module, during 2016 JEI and the Federation will work with communities in which the Federation is most active to develop tailored strategies towards greater tenure security.

Creation of Information & Knowledge

Since its launch in early June 2015, the Nigeria Slum / Informal Settlement Center has served as the main meeting point for the Nigerian Federation to engage with the data that they collected through the community profiling and mapping processes.  JEI and the Nigerian Federation have convened dozens of meetings to review data collected, discuss how to reach more communities in order to achieve city-wide profiling in Lagos, and have also together begun building plans to put the data to use

In addition, the Center has served as a space for the convening of the urban poor and others, including other civil society organizations, journalists, development partners, and individuals interested in the Federation’s work. Through these interactions the Federation has shared – through words and visual representation – their data-driven priorities, opening a perspective on Lagos rarely seen by politicians and the upper classes.

The impact of this Center is felt far beyond Lagos as well, as it has and will continue to serve as the convening place for exchanges of new Federation chapters from elsewhere in Nigeria and West Africa, as well as a growing repository for information about communities that is for communities. As the Nigerian Federation continues to grow, the Center will continue to be its base, the point from which the Federation will launch new chapters across Africa’s most populous country in the coming years.


Check back here in the coming days part two of this post which focuses on SDI’s collaboration with the African Association of Planning Schools to undertake analysis of data, packaging and engagement with city authorities around the use of data in three cities in Kenya. 

Agbajowo, Lafinsoya | Unity, Our Strength

By the Nigerian Federation and JEI-Nigeria



23-30 AUGUST 2015


Introduction and background:

This report covers the incoming exchange to Nigeria from 23-30 August 2015, the first incoming exchange to Nigeria since the Federation was born in mid 2013.[1] Accordingly, this exchange focused primarily on core SDI rituals, especially savings, and to a lesser extent broader issues of mobilization, building Federation leadership structures, and launching the Nigerian Urban Poor Fund.

Participants included members of the Nigerian Federation (Lagos and Port Harcourt), JEI staff (Lagos and Port Harcourt), and representatives from the Ghanaian Federation and Peoples Dialogue, Ghana. Unfortunately participants from Kenya and the SDI Secretariat were unable to attend due to visa issues and conflicts in scheduling.

The weeklong exchange involved time both at the Federation/JEI office in Lagos and in the field in communities where the Federation is active. Accordingly, a variety of learning and exchange techniques were utilized, including ‘classroom’ lectures and interactive dialogues on theory as well as practical exercises in the field. At the start of each day of the exchange, participants reflected on the previous day’s activities and reviewed the objectives and schedule of the day ahead.


Opening session:

The exchange began with excited chants of “Agbajowo-Lafinsoya! Ogboriboisime-Nyo! Odudu-Odudu!” – meaning “Unity-Our Strength!” in three of the many languages of the Nigerian Federation. Over 75 savers from different informal settlements across Lagos had gathered together at the Federation/JEI office in Lagos, together with two visitors from the newly launched Port Harcourt chapter, eager to exchange with their Ghanaian counterparts. The exchange had just begun.

The Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Federation led the opening session, which included individual saver introductions and an overview of the objectives of the weeklong exchange. Thereafter, the Nigerian Federation gave a brief introduction comprising of the history of savings groups and Federation mobilization in Nigeria. Subsequently, Haruna of the Ghanaian Federation introduced the Ghanaian Federation, his savings group, and their activities/accomplishments. He carefully explained the relationship between federation members, the supporting NGO, and SDI. This introductory session served to launch the exchange, enable Federation members to get to know one another, and also for everyone to raise the important questions and issues that they wanted addressed during the week.


PHOTO: Opening session at Federation/JEI office in Lagos, with over 75 Federation members from more than 20 different savings groups in attendance

At the end of the day, there was a deliberation on how to revise the schedule to simplify and focus, and also better accommodate the core issues raised during the day’s program and facing the Nigerian Federation more broadly at this stage in their development – SDI core rituals, leadership development, and mobilization.


Exchange objectives:

During the course of an open session on Day 1 of the exchange, the Nigerian Federation agreed to the following list of priorities for the exchange:

  1. Savings (techniques for mobilization of new groups) and loans (within groups)
  2. Federation leadership structures and qualities (by understanding how leadership structures developed in Ghana, and reflecting on the Nigerian Federation’s development to date)
  3. UPF (how to launch, manage the fund, keep records, and explain benefits)


Savings, loans, and UPF:

During the exchange, more emphasis and attention was given to savings than any other topic. Given the size of Lagos, and challenges of bringing most of the Federation membership to a single location, it was agreed that the exchange would move to different zones around the city and convene larger groups of savers who lived close to those areas so as to enable broader Federation participation. Four locations were chosen: Orisumnibare (Apapa LGA), Tarkwa Bay (far out islands), Otodo Gbame (Lekki peninsula), and Bishop Koji (Amuwo-Odofin LGA islands)

On Day 2, the exchange was taken to Orisunmibare informal settlement for a convening of over 10 savings groups to discuss local savings and loan practices. Orisunmibare informal settlement was chosen for this meeting because 2 of the 3 savings groups located in the community have successfully initiated loaning within savings groups. Loaning is not presently widely practiced across the Nigerian Federation, and therefore Orisunmibare served as a good ‘learning ground’ for the rest of the Federation. The meeting held in Orisunmibare was interactive, including presentations by the Ghanaian delegates and several beneficiaries of the loaning schemes who explained how they had used the loans, and why they were helpful.

After the session on savings groups and lunch provided by Orisunmibare savers, the Nigerian Federation and Ghanaian Federation supported community-led profiling in neighboring Abete-Ojora community – in response to an urgent request by savings groups there for profiling to take place during the week of the exchange (see Profiling and Mapping section of this report).


PHOTO: Comfort Akinde of the Nigerian Federation explains the savings and loans practices in her savings group in Orisunmibare

On Day 3, in response to requests by the Okun Ayo – a settlement neighboring Tarkwa Bay on the far-out islands facing the Atlantic Ocean – to join the Nigerian Federation, participants in the exchange visited the community to explain what is the Federation, what are the benefits of becoming savers, and how to start a savings group. After a long discussion with the community, a new savings group was launched, named “The Young Shall Grow,” with over 15 members contributing during the initial collection. Simultaneously the Nigerian Federation and Ghanaian Federation supported community-led profiling and mapping in Okun Ayo to gathering basic information about the community and the challenges they face.


PHOTO: JEI’s Lagos Coordinator Rasheed Shittu with members of the Nigerian Federation launching a “The Young Shall Grow” savings group at Okun Ayo community

Savings practices were the focus again on Day 4 when the exchange participants visited Otodo Gbame informal settlement. Otodo Gbame is a community situated on the shore of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase 1, a predominantly Egun settlement whose principle occupation is fishing and fish smoking. Otodo Gbame is an important site for a Federation meeting because there are 36 active savings groups within the community – the largest number of savings groups in any informal settlement in Nigeria. Over 100 people attended the meeting, eager to benefit from the incoming exchange. The meeting lasted for 5 hours, with great presentations from the Ghanaian delegates – especially Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation who spoke about savings and upgrading at Ashaiman – and active participation from Federation members from Otodo Gbame and Federation savings monitors. Both the Baale (traditional leader) and Chief Imam of Otodogbame were present at the meeting supporting the work of the Federation, reflecting the unity in common purpose of the Federation in Otodo Gbame.


PHOTO: Savings and loaning training at Otodo Gbame (where 36 Federation savings groups are active) with over 100 savers in attendance

During the program in Otodo Gbame, Salifu from People’s Dialogue in Ghana, and Haruna and Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation taught extensively on savings. The highlight of that particular meeting was when Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation addressed the community, showing them her passbook and telling them her personal motive for saving. The women were particularly excited to see and hear her speak – especially the story of the Aishaman apartment complex built by the Ghanaian Federation – and were motivated to save more and “save with purpose.”

On Day 5, back at the Federation/JEI office, the exchange participants together held a reflection session on the meetings and discussions that had been held during the exchange. Members of the Nigerian Federation recognized the effect Aisha had on the audience at Otodo-Gbame and took her as a case study, identifying what she did to connect deeply with her audience, including:

  1. She spoke with passion
  2. She was able to break down complex terms to the understanding of her audience
  3. She spoke using examples when necessary and stories
  4. She moved them by speaking in a heart touching and personal way
  5. She spoke showing pictures and using props
  6. She has had consistent practice
  7. She was confident

During this session on reflections on savings and loans practices, Salifu with input from Haruna, Aisha and JEI gave the core federation leaders in Nigeria a detailed lecture on savings practices. This was partly to demonstrate the way that savings is explained in Ghana, as well as to distinguish daily savings from other kinds of savings, and tackle some outstanding questions from the Nigerian Federation. This session covered the following topics:

  • Why do we save? (an interactive session with the Nigerian Federation)
  • Different types of savings in Ghana
    • Ordinary savings
    • UPF savings
    • Pension and insurance savings (Ghanaian Federation testing this practice now)
  • Tackling a big question from the Nigerian Federation:
    • Q: What if we meet a savings group already on ground?
    • A: Understand their savings group/practice (structure, purpose, how it is controlled) and compare with the Federation savings group practice. Then if they want to join the Federation, help them transition into a Federation savings group.
  • Savings group structure in Ghana, key positions and roles/responsibilities:
    • Collector
    • Treasurer
    • Loan Officer
    • Loan Committee
    • Book keepers

Haruna concluded this session by explaining the risks associated with giving loans in a savings group and encouraged the Nigerian Federation to brainstorm on ways to ensure that loans get paid back within savings groups – warning that if they do not, it can be very challenging for the savings group to survive.

The next topic of discussion was launching the Urban Poor Fund in Nigeria. Core members of the Nigerian Federation have recently introduced UPF savings to a number of the most established savings groups in Lagos. This step was supported by the printing of new savings passbooks that now include a column for UPF contributions, which are now being distributed to Federation members in Lagos and Port Harcourt. However, many questions and uncertainty remained about how the fund is supposed to work, who manages the fund, and what the benefits are, including how to leverage UPF savings to access the UPFI. Therefore, the Ghanaian Federation and NGO representatives took time to educate core members of the Nigerian Federation, answer questions, and discuss the need for future exchange.

This conversation was led primarily by Haruna of the Ghanaian Federation, with support from Salifu of Peoples Dialogue. They explained that the primary benefit of UPF savings is that it attracts potential funds to communities to support development and upgrading projects. They additionally told the story about how the Ghanaian Federation established their UPF. The Nigerian Federation concluded that they would continue to encourage UPF contributions from all Federation members (thus far only a small number have contributed), but that they would be recorded in their savings passbooks and, for the time being, kept within the savings groups – and only transferred to a central fund once there was a clear and comprehensive plan on how the fund would be managed. The Nigerian Federation agreed that they will continue working toward elaborating their plan for UPF management as a next step.

On Day 6, the last full day of the exchange, the Nigerian Federation convened a meeting at Bishop Koji settlement of savers from 6 communities on the islands off of Apapa Wharf – the third sub-region within Lagos where the Nigerian Federation has been most active. The meeting was led by the Nigerian Federation with support from Aisha of the Ghanaian Federation and was primarily aimed at mobilizing and encouraging savers to continue to engage in federation processes.


PHOTO: Salifu of Peoples’ Dialogue (Ghana) sharing his experience federation building in Ghana with Federation members at Bishop Koji with savers from 6 different communities in attendance


Profiling and mapping:

Because the Nigerian Federation has been using profiling as a tool to mobilize more informal settlements to join in Federation activities and start savings groups, as well as map out and identify all of the informal settlements in Lagos, the Nigerian Federation thought it important that the exchange touch on the profiling methods used in Nigeria, accomplishments thus far, and the goals ahead.

Accordingly, alongside meetings focused on savings and loans taking place in Orisunmibare on Day 2, a portion of the Nigerian Federation led a profiling and mapping exercise in neighboring Abete Ojora community. Similarly, in Okun Ayo on Day 3, a portion of the Ghanaian Federation demonstrated how they organize savings mobilization and outreach in Okun Ayo. By the Nigerian Federation leading during the first profiling exercise, and the Ghanaian Federation leading during the second exercise, we were able to learn from each others’ strengths and weaknesses which informed broader conversations about the profiling process, techniques, purpose, and outcomes.


PHOTO: Kayode, Comfort, Paul, and Emmanuel of the Nigerian Federation training Abete Ojora community on household tally as part of profiling process


Federation leadership:

A secondary, but very important thread of the exchange was the theme of federation leadership. This topic was first discussed at length on the day that the Ghanaians arrived in Lagos, before the formal exchange program commenced. This initial conversation was primarily between the Ghanaian Federation members present, and core members of the Nigerian Federation. Discussions began with the issue of how the Federation broke with RUDI, and its founder. The Ghanaian Federation members were eager to have a better understanding of what specifically happened to force the Federation to break away. The Nigerian Federation explained that the founder of RUDI tried to leverage the Federation’s members for his political campaign for local office, started a personal loan scheme that corrupted Federation’s savings processes, threatened with physical violence (through his vigilante force) anyone who dared to disagree with him, and extorted money from a number of community leaders for them to be eligible to receive promised future payouts of “SDI money” in return. Furthermore, they explained that the leadership of RUDI was not made up of Federation members, but instead was comprised primarily of male elders from a select group of communities in Mainland Lagos. For all of the above reasons, the Nigerian Federation is relieved to have moved on and hasn’t looked back since the split with RUDI. However, the transition was difficult. The most challenging aspect was explaining the split to some of the less active Federation members who weren’t involved in the negotiations and fall-out with RUDI. Although, with time, this has become less and less an issue as the Federation continues to grow.

The Ghanaian Federation members explained that they were not surprised that the Nigerian Federation had to go through this transition, and likely there would be many more to come. They further explained that every federation goes through such struggles, and the important thing is to learn from the experience and build back stronger. Additionally, the Ghanaian Federation advised the Nigerian Federation, based on their own experiences, not to mix politics with savings no matter the promise or prospects – as doing so will undoubtedly give rise to problems. The Nigerian Federation explained that they take several lessons from the experience – that political campaigns and federation-mobilization can’t be intermingled, that leaders of the Nigerian Federation must be savers who are active in trying to advance federation aims and objectives, and that central loan schemes to individual savers corrupt savings practices and undermine savings groups, among others.

Later in the week, on Day 5, we revisited the issue of federation leadership during a daylong reflection on where the Nigerian Federation is today, and what the way forward is. The team from Ghana threw more light on the issue of leadership within federations by explaining the evolution of the leadership structure in Ghana over the nearly 15 years’ history of the Ghanaian Federation. The Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Federation sat in rapt attention, taking furious notes, especially during the stories of leadership crisis in the early years of the Ghanaian Federation. The Ghanaian federation went on to describe the first round of leadership structures put in place during an annual Federation retreat around 2005 – and more recent adjustments to the Federation leadership structures based on their study of leadership structures in 5 different countries’ Federation leadership structures. They explained that today they have four distinct levels of leadership, namely: community leadership, zonal leadership, regional leadership and national leadership. However, they explained, this leadership structure didn’t come into existence over night, and that the Nigerian Federation should not rush to establish structures prematurely.

Instead, the Ghanaians challenged the Nigerian Federation to develop second-tier of leadership where experienced federation members identify and train others to be able to lead certain processes as well. The Ghanaian Federation members pointed out, however, that typically what happens is that active federation members try to act as gate-keepers – preventing others from coming up so that the benefits and opportunities can be shared amongst a smaller group of people. JEI-Nigeria reflected that they agreed second-tier leadership is the biggest challenge that the Nigerian Federation faces today, and that if second-tier leadership is successfully developed, the federation will grow exponentially and more quickly advance towards meeting their goals.


Outcomes and next steps:

During Day 5 and Day 6 of the exchange, core members of the Nigerian Federation held meetings to think about how to strengthen the Nigerian Federation and simultaneously bringing in new practices, such as UPF savings. Among the reflections and conclusions reached, the Nigerian Federation decided they need to convene more trainings to build the capacity savings monitors, profiling facilitators, and the key members of savings groups such as the collectors and treasurers. They additionally concluded that they would request for more opportunities for exchange – both internally within Nigeria and externally with other federations in the SDI network – so that they could deepen their understanding and skills.


PHOTO: “Profiling = putting our communities on the map” is a slogan of the Nigerian Federation – here pictured on their way back from Okun Ayo where together with visitors from Ghana they carried out a complete community-led profiling, tally, and mapping process, as well as launched Okun Ayo’s first savings group



[1] The Federation in Lagos was born out of two prior incoming exchanges to Nigeria in June and August 2013, which focused on house-numbering, mapping and enumeration of the informal settlements in Mpape, Abuja, and in Badia East, Lagos, due to both settlements being under threat of eviction. The first savings groups in Lagos started in Badia East during that time.

Reflecting on evictions in Makoko, Lagos: Moving from reactive to proactive decision-making

Makoko, Lagos

Photo (c)

By Benjamin Bradlow 

Cities are complex systems, comprised of elements both natural and human. Little wonder that they hold great interest to those who study biological processes of development, in addition to those who study social and political processes.

Cities are also places where ordinary people make decisions with extraordinary consequences. Sometimes it would be hard to believe this is true given the gospel of “world class cities” that serves as a model for planning decisions in cities as diverse as New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bangkok, and Rio de Janeiro. In all of these cities — and many more — the gospel of control and order covers up an altogether different kind of reality for residents. This is especially so for the poor residents of growing cities in the developing world.

One city that has received a great deal of praise over the last few years is Lagos in Nigeria, which has generally been known for anything but order and control. But Lagos state governors such as Babatunde Fashola and his predecessor Bola Tinubu have won plaudits for trying to control the growth of the city. As Fashola’s popular Yoruba slogan goes, “Eko o ni baje” (Lagos will not be spoiled). According to a slew of international newspaper reports on Fashola’s Lagos, the city has become a foreign investment attraction by clearing out informal traders, and exerting tough fines on illegal postering, littering, and loitering.

In a recent report in the Financial Times, Fashola cited a people-centred approach to city management: “It’s a big asset,” he said, referring to the population of Lagos. “[It’s] bigger than the challenge the people represent by their sheer number. People are the biggest and most dependable resource.”

That’s the rhetoric. Consider the reality. Within the past week, up to a quarter of a million Lagos residents find themselves under threat of homelessness in the wake of the Lagos state government’s eviction of the waterfront Makoko slum. About 30,000 people have already been forced to leave their homes due to an eviction order that the state government gave with only 72 hours notice. Local police are reportedly to blame for at least one violent death.

It’s a story that repeats itself in various iterations across the cities of the South. In the name of progress, the poor are nothing but roadblocks to be shunted aside and overcome. Though city managers and planners are increasingly sympathetic to the language of “people-centred” approaches, “participation,” and “inclusiveness,” the inhuman march of development proceeds. Outrage and condemnation are reactions popular amongst professional activists and humanitarian observers to the Makoko evictions like many similar cases before.

But, for poor people in cities like Lagos, a more complex set of questions emerges. Where to go? Where to sleep for the night? Where to find work? How to maintain a façade of stability for children? Where to rebuild the social connections that sustain in times of extreme need? How to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?

Indeed, evictions like that ongoing in Makoko deserve our outrage and condemnation. The violence and insecurity that the urban poor experience in cities like Lagos is a direct result of developmental decision-making that sees the poor as expendable. How to reconcile claims that “people are the biggest and most dependable resource” with the reality of eviction and displacement?

Over the last three decades, we have begun to see organizational strategies of the poor that can fundamentally alter the calculations that go into the decisions that result in this kind of massive displacement. In Mumbai, pavement dwelling women have organized since the 1980s to come together, negotiate with police and city authorities, and remain in their pavement hutments. At the same time they use their bonds of solidarity to collect information about themselves through self-surveys known as enumerations, save daily, and develop plans for housing development. This allows them to negotiate with authorities to not only mitigate the threat of eviction, but also to begin changing the calculations that local authorities make about a place for the poor in a spatial development framework that is otherwise weighted greatly towards the moneyed influence of domestic and foreign investment.

In Nairobi, Kenya, residents of the railway line slums of Kibera and Mukuru have organized over the past decade to stop evictions linked to the development of the railway line. They have done so using similar strategies, many of which they learned from their counterparts in the railway line slums of Mumbai. In both cities, residents counted themselves, mapped their settlements, and used these tools to negotiate with authorities.

Through exchanges within and between cities and countries, informal settlement dwellers around the world, who almost all face common threats of eviction and dislocation at the hands of both the state and the market, are sharing these kinds of strategies. They are strategies that move beyond a reactive approach once the decision to evict has already been made.

The complexity of cities can provide cover for a logic predicated on order and control. This decision-making framework rests on the assumption that economic growth cannot be achieved without a strong hand of the state.

But the experience of poor communities to not only fight eviction but also to develop alternatives upends this kind of naturalization of violence of the state and the market. Indeed, a substantive “people-centred” approach locates urban poor communities as generators of ideas and strategies for more effective governance, instead of positioning poor individuals and families as passive recipients of decisions made in the halls of power.

City growth may exhibit similarities to biological development. Still, the decisions that craft this development are anything but natural. Conscious organizing has developed not only louder voices for the poor, but also real impact on the way city managers and politicians make developmental decisions. As we decry the cruel, inhuman logic of growth in Lagos and many other cities, it is also time to see where to support the learning, solidarity, and profound strategic innovation that is located within the very same poor communities that find themselves under such constant threat.