The Journey of Rebuilding Nigeria, one city at a time

June 30, 2023

Nigeria as a country

Nigeria is a country that is popularly known as the “Giant of Africa” with over 200 million population, over 750 ethnic languages, boasting a rich diverse culture. It is largely divided into the north and south regions. The northern region is known for its Islamic dominance, dry arid desert-like lands, Arabic architectural Influences and predominantly Hausa tribe, while the south is known more for the tropical landscape, wetlands, riverine areas, predominantly Christian with the Ibo and Youruba as the principal tribes. 

Nigerian cities

Over the years, Nigerian cities have evolved along with its politics. National capitals have moved from the southern states of Calabar between 1893-1909 to the western state of Lagos between 1914 -1991, and since 1991, moved to the North central city of Abuja. Nigeria is politically divided into 6 regions - North North, North East and North West, as well as the South South, South East and South West. 

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Each region has notable cities with political significance, social and economic significance. From Calabar, a clean city rich in carnival and tourism in the south south, to port-harcourt the oil centre of the nation, Enugu the southeastern state rich in coal, Lagos the commercial capital and most prominent south western state,  kano the commercial and political centre of the north, Abuja the national capital. 

In all, we can find common characteristics of the cities. We see that all these notable cities have a strong historical base, economic base and political base. Lagos for instance has been the economic capital of Nigeria from the colonial days, and till date, has expanded to be the economic centre of  not just Nigeria, but West Africa. It is indeed a metropolitan city. This has caused Lagos to have a large population due to urban migration and a high concentration of economic opportunities. In fact, Lagos has the 7th highest GDP in Africa . This McKinsey report actually places Lagos as a middleweight city, which has huge potential of becoming a mega city like Paris, Osaka, Vancouver. Sounds like good news to hope for! Ordinarily one would expect the city to be currently comparable in infrastructure, planning, organisation and quality of life with cities like Cairo, Johannesburg, Rio-de-Janeiro. Sadly, the political factors and governance that creates the soft framework for development such as good planning, adherence to rule of law, quality of life, crime, order, has not worked well, This is not peculiar to just Lagos, but a reflection of the unfortunate political climate that has plagued the moral and social fabrics of many African societies.

Again, we have a growing population, good concentration of economic opportunities, but a poorly planned state with a huge infrastructure deficit: poorly planned road networks, bad roads, bad drainages that often cause floods, poor water and energy supply, and a generally hap-hazard organisation.  Some people actually describe Lagos as an organised chaos. Unfortunately this leads to gross inefficiencies which have a negative multiplier effect in both the economy and social spheres of the city. For example in Lagos, a commute on a sunday between places of residence and work could take about 30 minutes, but would take over 3 hours on a weekday. Sundays have the least traffic on Lagos roads. Very easily we can see that this inefficiency results in 5 productive hours lost!

In the north, they face a different problem. The settlement is predominantly scattered due to their major occupation as farmers. As such, it becomes very expensive to create efficient infrastructure as you would need approximately 10 kilometres of road to service only 100 persons. Such investment could have served 10,000 people if things are planned a bit more efficiently.

Generally,  inefficiencies caused by inadequate planning result in poor infrastructure, noise pollution, and terrible traffic. One of the most hit sectors with poor infrastructure is the power sector as we see inefficiency in poor power generation, transmission and distribution take its toll in various degrees across Nigerian cities.

All hope is however not lost. As with all precarious situations, we need to identify our advantages, make them work for us, and limit the impact of our biggest challenges or disadvantages. In this case, poor governance and infrastructure.


Nigeria is blessed with a vibrant young population, full of energy, talent, intelligence, grit, and hardwork. Herein lies our greatest strength and opportunity. Nigerians have been known to perform excellently when placed side by side with their counterparts all over the world. In the US, 64% of Nigerian Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher.  35% earn $95,000 or higher. Exceptional Nigerians doing well abroad include Philip Emeagwali the “unsung hero of the internet”,  Tope Awotona, founder of popular app, Calendly, Ndubuisi Ekekwe who invented a technology for the Iphone, Chimamanda Adichie, a famous poet to name but a few. Nigerians simply have stuff! 

It is easy to see that overcoming or mitigating the socio-economic disadvantages which are the basic barriers faced by the youths in Nigeria will unlock the hidden potentials and opportunities that exist in abundance. 

To realise their potential, Nigerian youths have  to move up the Maslow's ladder,  from the extreme sport survival mode to self actualization which is where stars shine. Achieving this is really very tough at the moment. It is tough to  be the “unsung hero of the internet” when you have only an average of 7 hrs electricity to write computer programs? It is tough to write award winning poetry when you go through 5 productive hours every day in gruelling traffic? It is tough to create global utility apps when you constantly undergo traumatic experiences of harassment by the police. This probably explains why many of them do well when they get abroad or “japa” in local parlance

Nigerian cities of tomorrow

Knowing our problems is helpful as identifying the problem is usually half the problem solved. We also understand that corruption in governance might not realistically go away as soon as we imagine. We know that  building infrastructure that will be efficient city wide is very expensive and may not be realised in the near future. We understand that power problems, water problems, security problems may persist a little while longer. But we also do know what we have going for us and what we can do. We have the power and capacity to build cities that work for us.

Why cities? Cities have historically been known to provide the platform for economic growth. The cities we have now are cities of yesterday, built on the framework of Industry 2.0, characterised by the use of electricity to power manufacturing, mass production in factories and the expansion of infrastructure including gas pipelines, water and sewage supply and drains in cities. However, we are now in Industry 4.0 where automation, robotics, data analytics drive productivity, and at the cusp of Industry 5.0 where AI, machine learning, automation, quantum computing drives productivity. In Industry 5.0  we do not need the same scale of factors of production required for Industry 2.0 - land, labour, capital  and risk taker to be productive. Less land, labour and capital would greatly move the needle of our GDP. In Industry 4.0 and 5.0, A smart Naija bloke, with his N200,000(about $300) fairly used laptop, N150,000(about $200) solar backed power bank, with internet and a pretty decent place to sleep can produce as much as a factory in 10 ha of land would have produced 30 years back.

Realising this, it only makes sense to instead of developing large cities, develop smaller economic districts that focus on economic activities which is the bedrock of any city. It is cheaper, easier, efficient, smarter and faster to provide power, utilities, security, and even governance in a well planned out 10ha development, than to provide all these essential city components in a 50,000ha city. So by reorganising our resources and efficiently appropriating resources, we can have high impact developments. In the end, Nations rise when they improve their productivity and the quality of our cities determine the quality of our nation. 

Shenzhen and Dubai are great examples of cities that were developed to catalyse the economic growth of their countries. Luxembourg was once a poor state, but by focusing on levers of productivity and economic performance along strategic advantages, transformed from being a poor state to being one of the richest countries in the world.

Itana, following the footsteps of Shenzhen and Dubai, is building an economic district that focuses on the digital economy. We realise that in industry 5.0, our strategic advantage is in the abundance of talent especially in tech and creative industries. We foresee that we only need to create an environment that works for these talents in order to realise outsized gains in economic and social impacts. Currently we are developing our first site, a 7.2ha mini-city in the Lekki Free Zone inside Alaro City. We are intentional about creating a city with business friendly policies,  DAO oriented governance, top notch infrastructure suitable for live-work-play, world class security, and eco-friendly car less city. The city lives and breathes the future, innovation and creativity. The startup campus by Future Africa in the development sets the intellectual, bold, daring, friendly tone and energy of the city. We aspire to be the nursery of top talents and unicorns in Africa. This aspiration would have multiplier effects in the wider economy as was the case in Shenzhen when realised. Scaling this model around Nigeria and Africa in the coming years will mean that we would have rebuilt Nigeria and Africa, one city at a time.

The world has evolved, and I personally feel the stars have aligned for Africa. Our natural endowments did not help us much during the industrial 2.0 age. We missed it. I am optimistic that we will be able to leapfrog our development now that we have all it takes to win in industry 5.0. And, yes, we will win!


The people behind Itana: Founders, Government, and Private Sector Partners

The concept of Itana was conceived by Iyin Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave. His vision was to create a city and ecosystem where technology and startup companies could not only operate but also thrive, collaborate, and innovate.

Special Economic Zone

Discovering Itana: Your Gateway to the African Digital Economy

Itana is building Africa’s first digital zone — the ideal business jurisdiction for global and pan-African technology and service-oriented businesses to remotely incorporate, operate, and scale across Africa, thereby unlocking the continent’s digital economy.