The story of Olajumoke Orisaguna …
.. and the allure of urbanisation
The intriguing story of Olajumoke Orisaguna, a 27-year-old Lagos resident who “accidentally” burst into the limelight early this year is a befitting metaphor on the attractiveness and challenges facing the city. Prior to her rise to fame, Olajumoke was a street trader who hawked the famous Agege bread on the streets of Lagos as her sole source of livelihood. This married young lady had left her family back in the village in search of greener pastures in Nigeria’s largest commercial centre. Expectedly, her rags-to-riches story has ignited a flurry of social media debates and a vibrant exchange of views on this exceptional life-changing story.
The debates have also attracted contributions from a heterogeneous audience, which include many Nigerian youths in Diaspora. Indeed, quite a few have expressed positive views and contemplated relocating home to pursue a career in modeling, with several concluding in summary,that “if an illiterate bread seller can do it, so can I!” I was still contemplating how her friends and relatives back in the village had welcomed her newly acclaimed fame when the media became awash with stories on how her husband and children had relocated to Lagos, with their pictures, as anticipated, flooding the social media.
To date, Olajumoke has signed modeling contracts with Payporte, an online store in Nigeria; Shirley’s Confectionery; Motola Abdul; and Layo G clothing lines with many offers still rolling in. In the short while since the new queen of the red carpet was introduced to the social media and the news spread around, her Instagram page hit over 60k followers in less than a week and she has since been showcased in the influential Thisday Style magazine. This contrasts sharply with statistics recorded by many more famous public office holders. For instance, the last time I checked, Olajumoke had recorded more Instagram followers than even the President of Nigeria, H.E President Muhammadu Buhari.
With a large number of Nigerians turning to faith and miracles to uplift their present circumstances and the news spreading widely on social media, Olajumoke’s good fortunes has also been attracting the attention of religious leaders who are using it to advantage to attract larger congregations. Posters and jingles making reference to Olajumoke’s breakthrough moment are used extensively in advertising their activities, as though they had been pivotal in making her non-existent dream come true.
In following this story as an urban planner, my mind races to the daily new additions to Lagos’ population, the increased number of crusades and night vigils that will follow, and the city’s already overstretched infrastructure amongst others. With these new arrivals, the population of the Lagos “family” had just added an extra four persons to its over 17 million residents. But my thoughts did not stop there, because Olajumoke’s breakthrough story alone might just be the motivation that will attract, if I am not mistaken, a minimum of 100,000 additional migrants to Lagos in the next four years, a fraction of who will arrive with an interest in modeling. These migrants won’t come from only rural areas, but will also include sophisticated and skilled Nigerians coming from other urban areas and the Diaspora.
This situation, in my view, can be likened to the Lagos trade boom of the 1970’s and 80’s. In geometric projection, the population of the state increased as news on how it was a land of opportunity filled with milk and honey spread like wild fire across the country. More commercial centers evolved within the state and the state overtook Ibadan as the largest city in West Africa, such that it is now fondly referred to as the commercial capital of not only Nigeria, but the entire sub region. Like it happened during the trade boom years as stated earlier, Olajumoke’s story has just succeeded in attracting more residents to the state.
An assessment of the pros and cons of this story fall on the plate of the state government. Is the government being pro-active in taking advantage of the prospective Olajumokes that intend to migrate to the state? The answer is probably NO. The responsibilities of the state are too enormous for such “trivial” issues … I can hear someone saying. However, lest we forget, it is important to recall that a city like Los Angeles derives over half of its revenue from Hollywood. What then are the implications of Olajumoke’s new status?
First, her capacity to pay taxes has just increased; she will be in a position to contribute more to the development of the state. Expectedly also, she will likely be buying a car soon, if she hasn’t already acquired one. This will be another contribution to the carbon emission levels of the city, indicating there are climate change implications. Also, by changing residence, she has become a home-owner, with its own attendant implications.
Urbanization is a force that cannot be halted, and the stories of the likes of Olajumoke are involuntarily and instinctively marketing the city; especially cities of hope like Lagos. Urban managers need to factor ways to incorporate such migrants into the models and plans for the city. As the world debates the right to the city, it is important that city managers, especially in Africa, take advantage of the agglomeration of diverse human capital as collateral for development. This, in my opinion, outweighs whatever other issues may arise.
Lagos for instance, has the largest agglomeration of Africans in the entertainment industry. It is, therefore, important to take advantage of this and other potentials, not only for campaign jingles when elections are around the corner, but as a platform for effective urban planning. Like they say in Lagos, “Eko sese bere ni … Lagos is just taking off!”
Omoayena Odunbaku is a Human Settlements Officer with UN-Habitat and Lecturer at the University of Lagos. The article is based solely on the writer’s opinion and do not represent the organizations she is affiliated with.
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