Smart cities are not an entirely new phenomenon. However, for many cities around the world, the implementation of smart cities is still largely in the experimental stages. Others have blasted it forward and have had great success. Smart cities have been used to solve problems related to public administration, environmental and waste management, utilities, security, contactless payments, and healthcare. Barcelona, ​​Singapore, Zurich (Switzerland) and Oslo (Norway) are now at the top of the 2021 IMD-SUTD Smart City Index (SCI). Ranked 115 globally out of SCI’s 118 countries, only Lagos for its part has begun to research the benefits of advances in smart city technology. But for all that it promises, the myriad infrastructure challenges usually associated with a developing country’s commercial nerve center keep the city in a vice. However, there is nowhere to go but climb.
Popular beliefs say that an untimely Monday morning city commute in Lagos can very easily end in a 5-hour traffic jam. Exaggerated or not, traffic jams and road accidents in the city have been shown to lead to significant economic losses and low productivity for businesses, residents and government. Reinforcing drivers of this congestion are the city’s small land mass (about 1,200 square kilometres) compared to its 15 million inhabitants, walled by the Atlantic, with a road-based transportation infrastructure. Incidentally, smart city technology is remarkably effective in managing traffic and mobility issues in the world’s congested megacities.
Like many other cities in the world, the Lagos Smart City agenda aims to make the city more livable and productive for its residents. The smart city agenda was initiated and initiated by the previous administration of Governor Ambud sometime in June 2016 and continues with the current administration of Governor Sano Ulu. The agenda primarily focuses on enhancing security, smart identities, and efficient traffic management. But focus is one thing. Building and acquiring basic infrastructure is another thing entirely.
Without solving the problem of Internet/broadband adoption and energy connectivity for data collection and exchange, any smart city agenda is essentially a lame duck. Smart cities are built on a solid foundation of a stable and comprehensive networked infrastructure (a mixture of hardware and software). They thrive on the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and cloud computing with heavy reliance on sensors (i.e. motion sensors) and Internet-enabled cameras to collect, exchange, transmit, process, analyze and even make a decision-making industry. For example, data can be captured by motion sensors set up on highways, city traffic light poles, smartphones, and smart vehicles, and then transmitted to a control center for analysis. This can keep city officials updated on the state of traffic throughout the city, major traffic accidents (such as accidents or road blockages), and even make it easier to identify traffic offenders for collection action.
Globally, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are expanding their investments in the satellite Internet industry that underpins smart technology. Recently, Space X’s Amazon Kuiper and Starlink venture have made significant investments in this area. Needless to say, Lagos, as the number one commercial hub in Nigeria with its proud demographic “assets”, is the prime destination for many ISPs and telecom companies and as such it boasts of faster and higher internet penetration and connectivity than other cities in Nigeria. In Nigeria, MTN recently launched 5G internet services in only seven (7) cities including Lagos. ISPs and other major telecoms companies have put underground fiber optics in their bids to deepen broadband penetration and make a good profit in the process.
Additionally, in 2021, the Lagos State Government announced a major push towards the smart city agenda; Extension and installation of 3000 km of fiber metro network. This was the first phase of a 6000 km project aimed at establishing and improving high-speed internet connectivity to key areas of the state, including coverage of public schools, local government districts, higher education institutions, courts, health centers, public and semi-governmental offices. There are undoubtedly many aspects of life in Lagos City that would benefit from introducing ‘smartness’. It is our hope that the current boom of the Internet in certain locations of the state (along which fiber optics have been laid) can certainly be leveraged by the state government to solve the most pressing problem of traffic congestion on our roads.
Connected internet, hardware and artificial intelligence solutions must be implemented to handle all aspects of sustainable control and management of the Lagos traffic dilemma. Data is the key. AI can help determine the daily number of cars on the roads and the hours of traffic at the peak. These vital statistics can help the Lagos State Government plan and make informed decisions. This will include sites to erect and install more traffic lights, allocate time to the various sheds of traffic lights, and capture data to penalize road traffic offenders and encourage safe and rational driving on Lagos roads.
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Although the state government has made some progress in its quest to create a smart city in Lagos, it is just starting to scratch the surface. There is still a lot to be done especially in the field of smart traffic management. Traffic rule violations contribute to a large portion of the traffic congestion in Lagos. It is commendable, that the state government has started installing high-sensitivity security cameras across the state that capture car or vehicle owners and motorists who violate traffic lights, traffic rules and regulations and then issue a ticket associated with the vehicle or vehicle license. Therefore, the car owner or the driver is notified of the traffic violation via a text message to his mobile phone. If the offender does not pay the fine within a specified period of time, the penalty accrues and a vehicle license fee is charged.
When a vehicle owner or licensee intends to renew the vehicle’s license, a red flag is automatically triggered. A valid renewal may not be issued unless the accumulated fine is paid and fulfilled. Proof of non-payment becomes fast and efficient. The red flags on the license can simply be traced electronically to the event that led to the issuance of the ticket, there is a photo session. This method of enforcement places great pressure on the administration of the system of administration of justice. Instead of prosecuting traffic offenders, they are simply denied a license to reissue, which in itself is a crime. Traffic guards are also equipped with smartphones that can prove the activity history associated with the vehicle’s license number. Entering the license number on the phone results in a date that includes evidence of the crime committed.
Apart from deploying smart management solutions (described above) to track and punish traffic violators, regular state government engagement with key stakeholders in the transportation value chain is also indispensable. The state government should collaborate with the private sector to roll out more smart initiatives such as smart buses that accept smart payments for bus fares.
It must be emphasized that achieving the nation’s collective vision as a smart city is not only about the Internet of Things (or broadband generation) but also about the development and construction of physical infrastructure. It is therefore recommended to build and create more alternative road networks and signage, with continuous education and awareness of road users, through social and traditional media. A concrete goal of getting Lagos out of the bottom 3% of smart cities ranked in SCI, say the top 50% in the next four years, would show some resolve around a smart, but cunning agenda.

Ugochukwu Obi, Partner in Charge of Perchstone & Graeys ICT Practice Group, and Omolade Afonja, Medium Partner in the firm.


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