“Lagos is a city of migrants… migrants are shaping the city in ways that are evolving per day. We are where we are now as a city through the action of migrants. And, more recently, we find that the actions of migrants are changing the spatial configurations of the city, determining some of the political narratives and political ideologies as well as political practices around the city; that the actions of migrants are also determining, to a large extent, the kinds of ways wealth is being distributed across the city.”
In our latest podcast episode, researchers from ACRC’s Lagos team discuss how migration into the city is shaping debates around place, identity and citizenship, how it impacts on urban governance, and how the political obstacles holding back sustainable reform can be overcome.
Ismail Ibraheem is director of International Relations, Partnership and Prospects (IRPP) at the University of Lagos and uptake lead for ACRC in Lagos.
Taibat Lawanson is professor of urban management and governance at the University of Lagos and city lead for ACRC in Lagos.
Sa’eed Husaini is a research fellow at the University of Ghana, Legon and the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria, and is the political settlements lead for ACRC in Lagos.
The full podcast transcript is available below.
Intro Welcome to the African Cities podcast.
Ismail Ibraheem Welcome to Lagos ACRC podcast. My name is Ismail Ibraheem, the uptake lead for Lagos ACRC. Joining me today are two great scholars who will be sharing their experiences and perspectives on issues around migration and political settlement in Lagos, the city of aquatic splendour. We are surrounded by water, the Lagos Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, before we dip our legs into the ocean of what promises to be an enriching experience, let me invite my speakers to introduce themselves. Taibat.
Taibat Lawanson Hello, everyone. Incidentally, it’s raining right now in Lagos. Its a wet day. My name is Taibat Lawanson. I’m Professor of Urban Management and Governance at the University of Lagos and city lead for Lagos ACRC.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you Taibat. Sa’eed.
Sa’eed Husaini Great. Okay. I don’t know if I have much to add to the water theme. I guess I’m drinking some tea, don’t know if that qualifies. But my name is Sa’eed Husaini. I’m a research fellow at the University of Ghana, Legon and the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria, as well. And it’s great to be here.
Ismail Ibraheem Great to have both of you in the room. If I can start with you Taibat, can you please share your perspectives on how migration is affecting community interaction in Lagos.
Taibat Lawanson Yeah, so Lagos is a city of migrants. According to a former governor of the state, 86 people come into the city every minute and most of them have no plans of returning to their destinations. So you have a huge influx of people coming into Lagos per time. We have people from Nigeria’s hinterland heading to Lagos in search of the proverbial golden fleece. We have also people from the West African coast coming to Lagos in search of economic opportunities. We have international migrants, with a huge Lebanese and Indian community, who have been travelling to Lagos over generations for economic opportunities. And more recently, we’ve had the huge influx of migrants from Nigeria’s northern region, who are fleeing insurgency and terrorism in the north, and so coming to Lagos as a city of refuge. So we have different categories of migrants in the city and these different categories of migrants have different levels of ease of urban integration. We find that for those who are coming as economic migrants, particularly those who are coming in from areas in Nigeria, south western region, they are able to effectively integrate into the existing urban system and are largely sucked into the informal economy and the informal settlements of the city. For those who are fleeing insurgency and consider Lagos to be a city of refuge, the situation is a bit different. These are primarily IDPs, internally displaced persons, and they are unable to integrate properly into the urban system, largely because of the fact that their skills are largely rural and agrarian. There’s a language barrier and also there is the fear of what they’ve experienced over time. And so we find that these categories of migrants tend to agglomerate more in enclaves in informal shack settlements in the city’s peripheral areas, thus developing a new set of slums for Lagos. So that’s it regarding how migrants come into the city. Some are easily absorbed and others not so well.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you very much. So it seems Taibat that in Lagos it’s a melting pot city, where all the problems, the larger problems in Nigeria, come alive. How would you say that the perception of uncontrolled migration is encroaching into secure space of identity in Lagos? How are the communities in Lagos managing the interaction with people from other ethnic groups?
Taibat Lawanson Indeed, Lagos is a melting pot, and as Nigeria’s former federal capital, it is considered to be a mini Nigeria and, perhaps even more importantly, a mini West Africa, because we have representation of practically every West African country within the city. What we find is that a city of over 20 million people on a very limited land area is also a city of huge complexity and contention. And so we have 20 million odd people contesting or contending for the resources of the city. That brings up issues. How are people able to leverage what they have, in order to have easier access to the city’s resources? One way of doing that is by labelling some people migrants, labelling other people settlers, labelling other people as strangers. And we find that along the lines, we have ethnic lines, we have not so much religious lines. But, more importantly, what we see as really the deciding factor on ease of access or closeness to the resources of the city is socioeconomic profile. So the socioeconomic status of an individual to a large extent determines to what extent he is able to access the city’s resources, whether those resources are publicly provided or privately provided. The city of Lagos is one that is quite unequal, with a high Gini coefficient, where we have the high-income residents living right next to low-income residents and some artificial barriers between those two. And so, essentially, given also the governance dynamics of the city, we find that people who have a higher socioeconomic profile are just usually more fortunate in their ability to access those services and resources of the city. With regards to ethnicity, I will say that what we find is that while the city is the cosmopolitan and heterogeneous city, it’s also the city that manifests spatially as an agglomeration of ethnic enclaves, whereby you find the Hausa-Fulani-speaking people in Obalende and Agege. You find the Igbos in the Ojo Alaba area, you find the Niger Delta people living close to the waterfront communities of Ajegunle, Ajeromi-ifelodun and the like, you find Ijebu people living in Somolu, the Indians in Ilupeju, and what have you. So you have people who live and settle close to their kin and the linkages, the kind of political capacity, to what extent they are able to access the resources of the city, as well as their socioeconomic status, being a huge determinant of what resources they are able to leverage and what they are able to access, when they are able to access them and how they are able to access them.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you very much Taibat, you touch on so many important issues – ethnic enclave, the economic pull of Lagos, which is what seems to be driving the migration. I will come back to you regarding the issue of resources, because the issue of allocation of resources and access to resources seems to be coming out strongly in your perspective. I’ll come back to you. I want to go straight to Sa’eed now. It seems as if you look at debates around North-South movement and immigration between people going from the North to the South, I mean geographically, it tends to highlight the pull of abundance of economic opportunities in the global North as a key factor. Can we also say that migration to Lagos is fuelled by the perception of better economic opportunities in Lagos?
Sa’eed Husaini Thanks. I really appreciate your framing there, because as scholars of migration often point out, when we think of migration in Africa from the perspective of the global North, it’s often seen as migration from Africa towards northern countries and Western European countries most often. But in fact they point out that a lot more migration actually stays within the continent itself. And a lot of this migration actually even stays within countries. So the example of Lagos, and movement to Lagos, is very crucial in this respect. And you’re right that one of the key drivers of that mobility, of that movement towards Lagos, is the fact that there are relatively a wider range of economic opportunities presented in the city. As Prof Taibat has been alluding to, because of its particular location as a port city, its privileged history as a former capital city, and the fact that based in Lagos are substantial international and local business interests and the fact of the population itself provides a lot of opportunity for scale, so there certainly is that economic motivation driving a lot of migration, often from rural areas, but also from smaller cities in other regions. And dealing with that migration, of course, raises particular kinds of social and political challenges and opportunities. But it’s worth saying also that beyond the economic range of motivations, you have also familial motivations, because of how much of a melting pot Lagos has been and how cosmopolitan it is. It’s kind of assumed that you will find a family member somewhere in Lagos, if you head there. So, yeah, there’s the economic motivation, but certainly also a more complex range of reasons why people might end up in Lagos.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you so much, Sa’eed. One thing that is coming out is that in addition to, you know, the economic pull of Lagos, people have been attracted to Lagos because of this sort of security that they thought is available in Lagos. People have been driven by conflicts to relocate to Lagos. Professor Taibat, what would you say has been the response of the government? How have they coped with the movement especially of people known as internally displaced people from conflict-ridden areas in Nigeria? How do you think the government has been coping with this?
Taibat Lawanson Okay. So Nigeria has been experiencing these challenges of insurgency and terrorism over the past 15 or so years. We find that the framework for supporting victims of insurgency and conflict is a federal-level framework. However, many of these victims, particularly the ones who don’t settle in the IDP camps, are migrating to cities in search of economic opportunities and anonymity. So you find that a challenge that is occasioned by issues, usually in rural areas for which the federal government has jurisdiction, then becomes an urban challenge, for which cities or city-level governments don’t have the requisite institutional frameworks or resources to respond to. And Lagos being a city of over 20 million people, the state government is already grappling with providing resources or providing services for the residents of the city already, and the body language, what we see, is that they would rather not have this additional burden, particularly because there is no established framework for dealing with them. What then happens is that in Lagos we have one or two formal IDP camps and then we have a lot of self-settled IDP communities, as at the last count they were getting close to 18. And that’s primarily because IDPs are unable to fully integrate or properly integrate into communities. So you find a situation where they are now constituting the homeless population in our city. Under a lot of the public spaces, under the bridges, by the roadside, you find colonies of these IDPs that settled there. You find also in the city peri urban axis, you find quite a few communities in the Lekki Epe axis and in the Ikorodu and Badagry axis. These colonies of migrants that are settling there and creating new informal settlements, which becomes an urban problem, particularly since a city like Lagos has over 140 slum communities that it’s working hard towards regenerating. So you find that because there’s no official institutional infrastructure or supporting structure to support IDPs, it becomes a problem that the government is unable to fix head on. And so IDPs in Lagos are not given any special status than other migrants, in spite of the fact that they require a lot of support, many of them having fled with only the clothes on their backs.
Ismail Ibraheem That’s a very interesting perspective, regarding the sort of pressures that having more internally displaced people in Lagos, the sort of pressure they put on resources. You alluded to the fact that in Lagos, which is a cosmopolitan city, there seem to be some tensions around questions of national citizenship and urban citizenship, whereby socioeconomic condition is a strong determinant of the kind of resources, the kind of visibility and the kind of influence one is able to have in the city. How do you think this is shaping the interaction and relationship between the different communities we have in Lagos and between communities and the government? Taibat.
Taibat Lawanson So we see that your status as a member of the Lagos community and the way you access resources is largely dependent on your location in the city. That’s number one and two on your socioeconomic status – your location in the city meaning that those who are located in the city core are able to access more resources, are able to access more facilities of the states than those who are located in the peripheral areas. A typical example is a situation like Lagos Island, for example, that is the primary central business district of the city, that has the highest number of health facilities in the state. However, those who are actually resident in Lagos Island are very few compared to those who are travelling to work each day. And so you find that some other local governments outside, on the peri urban axis of the city, are only able to have a few primary health centres or maybe one or two higher-order clinics. And so you find that where you are located in the city to a large extent determines the kinds of service delivery that you enjoy. The second one is also whether you are located in an informal area, whether you are located in a planned area, whether you are located in a gated community, or whether you are located in a government layout or whether you are located in a slum community. All these, to a large extent, determine to what extent one is able to access the resources of the state and resources of the city. They determine to a large extent whether you are able to get police help for safety and security, whether your house is more prone to flooding than others, as the case may be. Across the entire city, communities are able to pool resources together to provide these facilities, especially when there is a gap in government provisioning. And that remains a strong point of the city, the ability for people to self-provision.
Ismail Ibraheem Okay. Let me come back to you Sa’eed. There seems to be a pattern that is now emerging and that is the crucial role of the place, which is location, and identity, in determining the kind of access that people have to resources in a place like Lagos. From what you have done in the area of political settlements, what is coming out from your own research, in terms of how all these factors are playing out in the area of West Coast settlements within Lagos?
Sa’eed Husaini I guess I would say that the nature of power relations and proximity to power are another key set of factors that we’ve realised are quite important to understanding the trajectory of development and reform in Lagos and then how that might affect the lives of migrants or long- term residents in particular communities. Our research has pointed to a number of very interesting examples of this, of how the nature of power relations shapes development in very tangible ways. So maybe to draw out a couple that maybe indirectly relate to the theme of migration we’ve been exploring: the transportation sector in Lagos, for instance, has had quite a pronounced imprint of politics, both at the national level, in terms of the relationship between the city and the national, and at the city level itself, in terms of the relationship between multiple powerful and organised actors. So in the first category, for a long time, Lagos was controlled politically by the opposition movement, actually going all the way back to the colonial period. And this meant that there was some measure of conflict between Lagos and the federal government over jurisdiction. And the movement of Nigeria’s capital out of Lagos actually was a product partially of that conflict. But it meant that issues such as who really is entitled to govern major transportation arteries – for instance, the lagoon, which you referenced earlier – were in contestation. So practically speaking, for a long time, the Lagos state government and the federal government were in court about whose responsibility, or who has the primary responsibility over the management of transportation on the waterways. Now, more recently, Lagos, the dominant political coalition in Lagos, as we know, in 2015, merged with other factions nationally to create what was then the largest opposition party and has now become the ruling party at the national level. That has meant that some of the historical conflict between Lagos and the centre has been reduced. So we’ve seen in the course of that period since the APC – the now ruling party at the national level – took power, we’ve seen much more collaboration in terms of, for instance, the waterways, right? So Lagos, I think has now much more scope to experiment with transportation options that utilise the waterways. Another example that also can be drawn from transportation is at the city level itself. Just briefly, for a while, the Lagos bus transit system has been the source of quite a bit of frustration and immobility in reform terms for citizens who use the roads every day. And the roads, of course, are the primary kind of transportation infrastructure. And so, there have been some efforts, including by the World Bank in collaboration with the Lagos state government, to make some reforms in this arena. So in the past decade or so, we’ve seen the rise of these rapid bus transit lanes that are set aside for these specific BRT buses. And that has to some extent met some of the demand. But the primary sources of bus transportation still fall in the traditional non-BRT sectors, which include the characteristic danfo, which is one of the symbols of Lagos – that yellow bus – and a range of other less formal, let’s say, busing options. Part of why it’s been difficult to shift that kind of arrangement, as we found in our research and has been identified by a lot of other scholars working on Lagos, is the fact that the organisations that dominate the busing system, including the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers, a quite powerful union nationally and with an iteration locally, have been quite embedded in the political party system in Lagos. So the NURTW is actually well known to be a kind of grassroots mobilising force utilised by the dominant party in Lagos. So that kind of political arrangement then means that these actors have so much more power in shaping reforms and can resist reforms that are viewed as detrimental or not exactly in their favour. So, I hope this just paints a bit of a picture of how politics and political alliances at multiple levels can have a quite pronounced influence on the lives of citizens and the kinds of utilities or resources that they can access at the city level.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you Sa’eed. Taibat referenced the fact that migration is actually intersecting with things like health, like education, like housing when it comes to access to resources in Lagos. Is this also coming out from the research on the settlements in Lagos?
Sa’eed Husaini Yeah, absolutely it is. And another area that has already emerged as Taibat has been speaking has been the area of security. And again, we see when we think about security, this kind of multilevel political influence, right? The fact that in Nigeria, the police and major security agencies are federal institutions, that are within the purview of the federal government to organise and deploy. Whereas a lot of the security challenges that arise do so at the small community scale or sometimes at the neighbourhood scale. So it means that, as has been alluded to earlier, for communities that are far away from the centre of cities or from the key financial hubs, then the reach of these federally controlled institutions into those communities is minimal – which isn’t to say that there’s absolutely no provision in those communities. Of course, in some cases they’ve had to take matters into their own hands, in terms of providing, making private security provisions available or in terms of creating vigilante networks. But that faces particular challenges and, in some cases, political challenges of its own. The first being that there’s quite a lack of coordination often between the formal federally controlled security institutions and these kinds of local community-instigated or informal security institutions. And then another key factor that perhaps limits the operation of these kinds of institutions is the fact that because of the sometimes ethnically homogeneous nature of these settlements, it can mean that the security providers are then associated with the particular … the ethnicity of the majority group in that community, meaning that the rights of ethnic or even religious minorities in those communities might be challenged if they are seen as the outsiders, and seen as maybe the source of crime. So, in these ways, questions of identity, migration and politics, both at national and local level, do intersect with and shape outcomes in the area of security. And healthcare also has these kinds of issues. There I think often the issue is more so around, as Prof Taibat has emphasised, the question of economic income level. So for those city residents with a high level of income, there are more options, right? In terms of the private healthcare market, which has been quite well developed in Lagos over the years. Whereas for migrants or citizens, longer-term residents who aren’t in that income bracket, then the options are a little thinner. And that’s, of course, even more so the case if they’re living further away from particular centres of commerce or more income variety, as it were. So yeah, there are certainly numerous ways in which the kinds of organisations, the ways in which political and social life are organised, have a significant impact on development across security and healthcare, that we’ve talked about, but really across all, pretty much all the other domains that we’ve been focusing on in the ACRC project.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you very much, Sa’eed. I think that is quite insightful and it’s taking us back to the issue of access. That seems to be a lot around the allocation of resources, control over resources, and access to resources. So Taibat, you spoke about this before, but can you maybe shed some more light on what are the enablers of this access to resources and what are the barriers to effective access to resources by residents of Lagos?
Taibat Lawanson I think enablers of access to resources, the primary one will be the community spirit that I alluded to before, which speaks largely to the capacity of Lagos residents to organise themselves in groups. In the low-income areas, we see them organising as community development associations and leaning on some of the traditional institutions and the religious institutions to organise and to pull resources together and to provide services for the benefit of the community, and also to support more indigent members of their communities. In the middle- to high-income areas, you see them as residents’ associations that generally oversee infrastructure and community support, provision of security, gated security, uniformed security, as well as deployment of infrastructure like streetlights and what have you. So the community spirit and the ability to mobilise is one that is an enabler. The other one that I would say will be access to the political elites. And so we find that in many of our communities and across many of our sectors, the closer you are to the political system, the easier it is for you to access resources. We find that in many of our low-income communities, men and women join political parties, the ruling political parties, to be able to access some of these resources of the states that ought to, on a normal day, be available by virtue of you being a resident of the city. And that brings us to the issue of documentation. We find that there are huge data gaps in the city, and this is a key barrier to just urbanisms that I will say. Take, for example, among the IDPs: many of them are unable to enrol their children into schools to continue their education, simply because they lack a home address. And so they are unable to register with the city’s residents registration portal. And that inevitably just restricts their ability to access physical and social infrastructure that will have helped them to climb out of the precarity that they currently face. We find that this remains a key challenge, where we also see many of the agencies operating in silos and the data that is required for planning, for determining need, facilities and co, are not shared among various agencies of government or not shared by the government with people that will then enable us to make certain decisions to provide more equitable access to the city’s resources and to the city’s service infrastructure. So I will say that the communal spirit is a major determining factor of how people are able to access data is a key barrier. And then the locational situation also determines to a large extent if one is able to access services on a consistent and continuous basis or not. If you are located in an informal settlement, chances are you will not access services. If you are located in a peri urban area, chances are you will not access services. And if you are located in the slum community that is by a waterfront area, the chances are heightened that you will not even be able to access the services and more likely than not, you will be faced with the constant threat of eviction. So there are layers to how one is able to access services across the city.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you so much Taibat, taking us again back to the centrality of place, in terms of as a key determinant of access to resources, as well as the role of identity. I’ll come back to you. Let me just quickly go back to Sa’eed. Sa’eed, if we look at Nigeria, for instance, there is a thought that there is no ideology in Nigerian politics. But what is coming out of your own research that you have shared with us, is that there is even a form of structure to informality, especially within the transport sector that you examined. So can we say that there is really no ideology when it comes to politics in Lagos? And how important are the ideas that you have shared with us in shaping how dominant factions, political factions in Lagos, think about development in Lagos?
Sa’eed Husaini I think it’s quite an interesting question and it’s one that does vex public commentators, as well as academic perspectives on the issue of development and politics in Lagos and really in Nigeria more generally. And I think what we’re finding is consistent with what a slightly more recent wave of scholarship, including discussion with Prof Taibat, has found in Lagos, which is that there really is a certain kind of vision of social transformation that seems to be influencing the way in which the dominant political coalition in the city thinks about and practises development. And we see this framed in terms of a desire to turn Lagos into a megacity or to pursue a vision of world class city transformation. And I think this doesn’t just exist at the level of discourse or campaign rhetoric. We actually see this shaping the kinds of reforms that are pursued and the kinds of development outcomes that result from them. So this is, I think, part of the reason why socioeconomic status has become such a determinant of access to resources, as we’ve been speaking about, in the city. It’s partially because development is conceived as providing much more of a middle- and upper middle class context, providing opportunities for business or residents that disproportionally favour people, the international mobile classes with access to capital. So I think that these kinds of ideas might seem a little obvious or hide in plain sight, but they are no less influential or important for trying to understand what is likely to happen in Lagos, what is probably unlikely to happen, despite it being possibly more beneficial for pro-poor outcomes, and how to navigate around this. So this is where the question about ideas becomes important beyond the academic interest in a project like ACRC, in trying to think through what kinds of reforms are likely to be viewed as feasible, likely to be viewed as interesting to government officials or political elites, we have to confront the fact that they already have, in their minds, a set of ideas that they believe will result in an optimal outcome. So in saying that, I think it’s important to highlight, particularly for the Nigerian audience, that saying that a given group of people have ideas or have an ideology doesn’t mean it’s one that’s favourable for our own vision as scholars or as more pro-poor advocates of development. But that’s not to say that such ideas are not in place or important. In fact, the fact that they might not necessarily align with our own visions for what pro-poor reforms might look like, means that it’s even more important for us to understand how they play out in society and what kinds of challenges and opportunities they present for pro-poor reforms.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you so much. Taibat, I need your final thoughts on this because it seems as if the issue of place and identity, how migration has been shaping our debates around place and identity, especially how it is affecting citizenship and urban governance – can I have your final thoughts on that, how place and identity are shifting those debates and other thoughts about governance?
Taibat Lawanson All right. Thank you very much. What I will say by way of final thoughts is that, one, Lagos is a city of migrants; two, migrants are shaping the city in ways that are evolving per day. We are where we are now as a city through the action of migrants. And, more recently, we find that the actions of migrants are changing the spatial configurations of the city, determining some of the political narratives and political ideologies as well as political practices around the city; that the actions of migrants are also determining, to a large extent, the kinds of ways wealth is being distributed across the city. And it is determining, it is shaping how governance patterns are emerging across the city, where we find that sometimes during the political campaigning season, messages take a political undertone. Responses also take on a political undertone. What I see is that we have to pay closer look to the way migrants are moving into the city. We have to be more intentional about collecting empirical data to understand the waves, the patterns and the implications of these waves and patterns of movements into and out of the city of Lagos. We also need to understand how these movements are determining the way we live together in our communities and the kinds of frictions and new identities that are being formed by virtue of the movement of people in and out of the city. With particular reference to the IDPs, which seems to be the most intense wave of migration into the city, we have to pay closer look at their activities, how they are shaping the city, and determine the kinds of support that we can give to them, in order to continue to build and mould, in the words of Sa’eed, the pro-poor urbanism. But I just think it’s important for us to really understand what is happening, so that we can ensure that the city works for everybody, both resident and migrant, both settler and native. And for those who are coming along the line. Thank you.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you Taibat. Sa’eed, from the political settlement perspective, what are your views? Final thoughts on how migration is shaping the debates around place and identity.
Sa’eed Husaini I think Prof Taibat has actually summed it up quite nicely, but if I could add anything there, I would just say that we have to, as scholars, continue to maintain this focus on what is politically feasible and what the political kinds of obstacles and challenges might be to pushing across reforms that will actually be sustained over the long term and that will actually have an impact on the most vulnerable in society. And paying attention to those kinds of dynamics entails keeping an eye on the fluidity of not only the movements into the city and migration and the patterns of that and how it’s influenced by events, sometimes events quite far away from Lagos, but also the fluidity of the political situation. Nigeria is now, of course, approaching an election next February, which will potentially have an impact on who is in power at the federal level and also potentially who is in power at the state level. So that will of course shift some, maybe not all, of the kinds of dynamics you referred to today, but it calls for, I think, for the attention and for the investigation into the nexus between politics and development.
Ismail Ibraheem Thank you so much, Professor Taibat Lawanson and Dr Sa’eed Husaini for your lucid, clear and magisterial articulation of the issues around migration, place and identity and how they are both affecting the issues of citizenship as well as open governance. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to have you today and until we come your way next time, we say bye for now.
Sa’eed Husaini Thanks.
Taibat Lawanson Thank you.
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