Decision Making and Future Thinking in Lagos

By Olamide Udoma-Ejorh, Lagos Urban Development Initiative

But I think this election was decided, dominated and directed by social media. The power of social media came out for this country. Social media played a central role as a watchdog in keeping the integrity of the process. Within minutes of votes being counted at a polling unit, the results were all over social media. Ordinary people with Excel sheets were doing tallies. At the end of the day when it was announced officially, the results matched.

 Sunday Dare, Executive Commissioner (Stakeholder Management) of the Nigerian Communications Commission, discussion on the 2015 presidential election[1]

All over the world social media has made a significant impact in how citizens engage with their governments and vice versa. Engagement through social media can positively affect governance if used efficiently and this is no different in Lagos. However there is still a long way to go to ensure social media is used effectively towards good governance.

Governance in Lagos can be described as top down, where the Lagos State Government creates rules and regulations without involving citizens in the decision-making process. This therefore does not make for good governance.

Sunday Dare on the 2015 campaign trail courtesy of The News

For decision-making to happen successfully, multiple stakeholders, including those that will be affected, need to be involved. Social media can act as a means for engagement for those who are willing and have the capacity to voice their opinions, needs, and wants. However, the majority of citizens do not actively participate; this may be for a number of reasons including lack of access to the internet, loss of hope in governance, or general disenfranchisement.

There are many reasons why Lagos citizens are unable to participate in governance. Lagos Urban Development Initiative (previously Lagos Urban Network) has highlighted many of these issues, specifically the inability of residents to articulate needs and wants as well as identify their role as active citizens. Lagos Urban Development Initiative, through partner projects, has used scenario thinking as an experimental means to remove these governance road blocks from and between citizens of Lagos.

Both scenario thinking and social media can be used as tools to improve the engagement between Lagos State Government and residents to positively impact governance, decision-making, and how people experience the city.


Governance & The Use of Social Media

 The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes governance as:

The exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations, and mediate their differences.[2]

The UN’s definition asserts that an administrative authority usually manages the affairs of a country, city, or community. Therefore when thinking about governance it is important to note who the administrative authority is, the rules or policies they use to ‘manage’ the country’s affairs, and the processes by which these policies are selected and defined.

The definition of good governance goes further in that it is equated with specific outcomes. These outcomes hinge on principles such as accountability, transparency, responsiveness, inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, participation, equitability and the rule of law.[3] Political, social and economic priorities should be based on a broad consensus within society and at all levels of society; the poorest and most vulnerable should be included in the process of deciding how to manage a ‘country’s affairs.’

Good decisions often need to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders. Additionally, expert knowledge needs to be added to the mix; decisions must align with an overall strategy while still making sense to people who will be directly affected by the decision.

Stakeholders involved in decision-making can be placed within four categories:

  • those who will implement the plan (e.g. ministries and parastatals, private sector)
  • those who will be affected (e.g. the population of Lagos)
  • those who will monitor its implementation (e.g. government, management committees, private companies)
  • those who can contribute (e.g. private sector, NGOs, and experts/consultants).

Governance in Lagos is top down and the administrative authority is the Lagos State Government. The state government consists of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. The executive is responsible for implementation of bills and the daily administration of the state. The legislature is the state house of assembly and they are concerned with law making. The judiciary is concerned with ensuring the law is upheld. Decision makers sit within the executive and the legislative branches; they are also the two arms that interact with citizens most often.

Lewis Map of Lagos I

Lewis Map of Lagos II
Map of Lagos from the 1970s from the Anthony Lewis papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In Lagos it is hard to see where the population actively contributes to decision-making. Those who implement the decisions and monitor the decisions actively participate in decision-making and therefore governance. At times those who can contribute are brought in to support these outcomes, however it is very unlikely [4] that those who will be affected actively participate in decision-making. If they are brought in at all, it is once the decision has already been made.

It is therefore no surprise that the populace has avoided politics and governance, demanding less and less from their leaders. The research on why this may be is scant but from conversations and observations, such civic passiveness may come from Lagos’s history of military rule or continued failure in leadership and government.

Worldwide, social media is increasingly being used as a way to bring leaders closer to their constituents and allowing for a more transparent relationship. In the United States of America social media has “changed the way campaigns are run and how Americans interact with their elected officials.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, has been described as a social media titan. Her twitter account (@AOC) has more than 3.9 million followers and on Instagram she has 3.2 million followers. She uses these two social media platforms and Facebook to reach her constituency and share her political agenda, progress, and the realities of working in congress. Her interaction rate is also very impressive, which means that dialogue is happening; discussions are not just one way. Personally, she has experienced both the positive and negative impacts of social media, which resulted in her quitting social media on weekends. Similarly the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, used social media during his campaign and has continued to do so. He calls this engagement ‘MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.’[5] With a constant and active presence on Twitter and Facebook, Trump used trending topics to tailor campaign messaging and win over voters. However, since becoming president Donald Trump has not used these tools effectively. Instead, Joanne Weiss describes his feed as ‘weirdly turgid, loaded with ponderous attacks on his perceived enemies and obscure multipart arguments about his legal situation’[6].

For Governments, despite limited resources and tight budgets, when used efficiently social media can drive citizen engagement. Research done by the American Congressional Management Foundation reported that 76% of policymakers reported social media enabled them to have more meaningful interactions with their constituents[7]. Being borderless, social media can reach audiences across continents at all times. Social media also allows for real-time data collection and instant feedback. This could lead to improved services within cities and communities. Social media can also be used as a tool to transform public perception, maximize awareness of agency goals and gain the trust of citizens by becoming more authentic and transparent. During elections or when implementing a project, social media can help test messaging and ideas.

Social media can also have devastating effects when used negatively. In 2018 it was discovered that Myanmar’s Military used online channels like Facebook and blogs to incite genocide. For over five years, using fake accounts, posing as pop stars and national heroes, members of the Myanmar military posted anti-Rohingya propaganda inciting murders, rapes and forced human migration. This emphasizes the need for governance in regard to how social media is used and received.
Social media can play a beneficial role in Lagos. Already it has been used in Nigeria as a tool to mobilize groups and ensure transparency during elections.

Protests over President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to end oil subsidies.

Nigeria is an oil producing country, but with inefficient refineries the majority of the raw crude is exported and petrol is imported, making the refined product expensive for half the citizens. With this in mind, a fuel subsidy policy was introduced in 2006. It was supposed to last six months while the refineries were rehabilitated but instead it has lasted years, putting a strain on the country’s economy. There were debates and discussions at all levels of government about the removal of subsidies (as well as several attempts to do so). In 2012, protests ensued when then-President Goodluck Jonathan removed the fuel subsidy. Facebook and Twitter were used to connect and unite people. Protests took place across the country, including in the cities of Kano, Lagos, Abuja, and at the Nigerian High Commission in London. The Facebook group called Nationwide Anti-Fuel Subsidy Removal: Strategies & Protests was created on 2 January 2012, and within seven days it had grown to over 20,000 members. The mobilization of people standing together with one message led to closed-door-meetings with government officials, and part of the subsidy was restored. Though not fully successful, Occupy Nigeria showed how cyber interactions can move to offline mobilization and more inclusive decision-making.

Another example of how social media has played a role in governance in Nigeria is the 2015 presidential elections. Social media was used as a tool for transparency. Sunday Dare’s quote at the article’s outset aptly expresses how social media was used

7b23c9bcdaee8c657d6da58cf814cf0b_400x400.pngDespite the growth of social media and its potential for more inclusive and transparent governance, the number of people online and engaged is still limited. The digital divide is vast in Nigeria and this was clearly demonstrated during the TweetChat held by Future Lagos in 2015 as part of Open City Lagos.[8] The TweetChat happened on Twitter. Six questions, on Lagos as an online city, were asked and answers came from all over the globe with opinions and examples of technology, citizenship, and urban development in Lagos.

The one-hour TweetChat lead to break-away discussions on technology being an enhancer and not a solution. Therefore the emphasis should be on creating sustainable, people-centered governance and administrative systems that are supplemented by technology. Other strands of the conversation focused on online governance and if decisions should really be made within 140 characters.

@nsibidi: Real time governance sounds like a disaster. maybe faster decision making, but real time decisions can’t be made in 140 characters

@victoria_okoyeIf governments are not interested in listening to citizens in 1st place, internet, open data won’t change this

One of the highlights of the chat was the realization that a large percentage of Nigerians are not online. Nigeria has 51% Internet penetration and 10% of the population actively uses social media.[9] Therefore, despite technological advances and the growth of affordable smartphones, the majority of the population is offline and therefore cannot engage in discussions online.

The two examples in this essay of how social media in Nigeria has been used for better governance have been publically led. The public sector has accepted the application of social media, however it has been used as an unsophisticated tool for education and information only. True engagement, which can lead to some of the benefits stated earlier — such as real time data collection and improved services — is still in its infancy.

Rush hour traffic in Lagos courtesy of Future Lagos via

Scenario Planning & Active Citizenship

To make the decision-making process more inclusive, more voices from all socio-economic levels of society need to be heard. This means that the populace needs to be active as citizens, able to participate in discussions that will change their environment. At Lagos Urban Development Initiative, when performing street interviews for research projects it has been difficult to garner opinions on the changes people would like to see in Lagos. Interviewees are able to tell us what they do not want but it can be quite hard to articulate what one needs or wants. Our conclusion was that imagining a different reality was not the problem but providing a solution without ever seeing alternative possibilities was.

Knowing that the inability to articulate the changes one envisions in Lagos removes many people from decision-making has led Lagos Urban Development Initiative to embark on some projects where scenario planning has been deployed to stimulate ideas and open up discussions about the issues and needs of Lagosians.

The Economist describes scenario planning as “a structured way for organizations to think about the future. A group of executives sets out to develop a small number of scenarios—stories about how the future might unfold and how this might affect an issue that confronts them.”[10] Scenarios are created to help understand the changing aspects of our present environment, how that will effect the future and how we can adapt to ensure it happens or to change the outcome.

Lagos 2060 was a project that used scenario planning to encourage radical thinking that involved a wide cross-section of society beyond the formal means of city-making and social commentary. The aim was to not leave the future of cities solely in the hands of policy makers but to engage citizens in policy and change-making discourse. By hinting at ideas of what the future of Lagos could be, this enabled every day citizens to take a step back to understand how Lagosians could create a different future. It also helped to open up minds and expand their knowledge of the present-day city.

Lagos 2060 was presented in various ways, including videos, talks, a book, and feedback forms at exhibitions in Lagos, South Africa, and London. Some of the questions we asked exhibition attendees were:

You came here today in your flying car, but your Local Government is online debating if flying cars should be banned from Lagos skies. What do you think? Do you agree?

 3D laser printing is now available commercially for those wanting to print instant houses, furniture and even temporary girlfriends. What was the last thing you printed?

 Now that Lagos is no longer part of Nigeria, what regional network of global cities do you think we should join?


When projects and policies are created by the executive branch and legislature, public participation is usually seen as a box that needs to be ticked. Therefore it is done in the simplest of manners without real engagement. Scenario planning is a tool that can be used to stimulate ideas and open up discussions about the issues and needs of Lagosians. It can build individual capacity to participate in discussions about the future of Lagos. With this potential it should be used more often in policy making and public participation workshops and meetings.

Within the four main categories of stakeholders that should participate in governance, the two largest groups are the government and its citizens. Both parties need to play their part to ensure good governance takes place. With more active citizens it is likely more voices will be heard.

Social media has the potential to foster engagement between citizens and the different arms of government. However there is some way to go to ensure that social media as a tool is used more efficiently in Lagos when dealing with governance and decision-making. In addition, the digital divide in Lagos is still apparent, though decreasing.

The push on social media comes mainly from citizens. Government officials, both elected and non-elected, need to have a presence and use the tools available to them to drive citizen engagement, collect real time feedback, test ideas, gain trust, and therefore be more transparent. As the digital divide continues to decrease and social media is seen as a means for more ‘real’ participation in decision-making, it is likely that more citizens will engage online.

IMG_9352ed.jpgOlamide Udoma-Ejorh is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide started her career in PR, giving her a business and marketing foundation. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organizations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading, and housing rights in urbanizing African cities.

 Currently based in Lagos, Olamide is engaged in bridging the gap between communities and their environment as the Director at Lagos Urban Development Initiative. She is also a trustee at Open House Lagos and the Editor-in-Chief of the Lost in Lagos magazine.

Featured image (at top): Lagos Island, Pride of a State, photograph by Ademola Akinlabi, September 23, 2015

[1] Eddings, J. (2015, April 20) How social media ‘decided, dominated and directed’ the Nigerian elections, Retrieved from

[2] World Bank, What is Governance? Retrieved from,,contentMDK:20513159~menuPK:1163245~pagePK:34004173~piPK:34003707~theSitePK:497024,00.html


[4] Murse, T. (2017, August 16). How Social Media Has Changed Politics, Retrieved from

[5]Twitter, @realDonaldTrump, July 2, 2017

Joanne Weiss (2019, January 3) How Trump got bad at Twitter

[7] Congressional Management Foundation. (2015, October 14) New Report Outlines How Congress and Citizens Interact on Social Media,

[8] Future Lagos is a Lagos-based organization promoting democracy about the future of cities. It is part of Our Future Cities NPO. The publication “Open City Lagos,” a cooperation with Nsibidi Institute Lagos and Fabulous Urban Zurich, intends to initiate a public reflection and discourse on the characteristics of an “open city” where the co-existence of different social groups and the richness of cultural diversity come together to foster growth that is diverse, equitable, creative, sustainable and inclusive.

[9] Hootsuite, 2017,

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Retrieved from

[10] Scenario planning, (2008, September 1), Retrieved from

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