Monday, 22 August 2011

Lagos - Perceptions and Reality

Before I came to Nigeria, I was scared of it, and even more scared of Lagos.  If you are wondering why I am surprised, Nigeria has a reputation for it seems all things bad: crime, corruption, armed robbery, juju, 419 and email scams.  My grandmother told me some friends of hers spent 20 years in Nigeria and hated every minute of it, now I was a little dubious, they could have just flown home!  Another friend who did some consultancy work here told me that she was met at the airport in Lagos by a driver, and an armed guard, somebody else told me not to come at all.  So now I have been to Lagos three times and I rather like it!

So after all these dire warnings I was glad that I was flying into Abuja, a long way from Lagos, and that apart from the intense heat, February is not a good time of year to move from Bournemouth to Abuja, I found Nigeria was surprisingly normal, I could for example walk along the street and use public transport, without the need of an armed guard!  However even in Abuja the tales of Lagos continued to be off-putting, you could waste the whole day in a traffic jam, or go-slow as Nigerians call them, another friend told me she took a UK visitor to a big market in Lagos and she was totally overwhelmed.
So after moving to Ibadan, a mere 128km from Lagos, I finally ventured to Lagos to visit Mike, a British volunteer who is based there.  My journey was a classic example of Nigerian hospitality; first I caught a shared taxi to Iwo Road, a major transport hub in Ibadan.  I asked a fellow passenger to help me find transport to Lagos.  She did, found the vehicle, negotiated the fare, and arranged for someone on the same bus to make sure I got off at the right stop and found connecting local transport. 
Note the bus stop with canopy and name!
One thing that struck me immediately in Lagos were bus lanes, and formal bus stops, almost like a tram or railway station, bus tickets, and buses with destinations on the front.  Na wa o!  This is the BRT or Bus Rapid Transit System brought in by Fashola, the Lagos State Governor who has just been re-elected for his second term.  His campaign slogan was “Lagos is working, Fashola is working”.  Sceptics say it is in the second term you find out if politicians are genuine; currently they can only serve two terms so in the second term they can steal the money!
Lagos is working, Fashola is working
I should add a word of warning here, although I have been from Lagos Mainland onto Lagos Island on a BRT bus and not wasted a whole day in a go-slow, I have only done this journey at the weekend, I cannot vouch for weekdays, when apparently traffic and go-slows are still a big problem!

On my second trip to Lagos, I went to the airport to see off to VSO volunteers and to a wedding, which I have written about here.
On the BRT bus
My third trip to Lagos was just last week, I travelled on Thursday to attend a meal with Lagos volunteers and VSO staff, in particular the new Country Director. The meal was great but we met at 5, and poor Abdul sat politely with us, until sundown around 7, before he could eat (its Ramadam)!  But another reality check, by around 7:30 some of my fellow volunteers started worrying about getting home safely!  Murugan said there were often armed robberies in go-slows at night, Clementina and Rebecca didn’t feel safe it the area they lived in, Mike and I were living the closest but he still said we should really be back by 8pm!

We arrived safely in Mike’s neighbourhood, Mike playing the great host had stocked his fridge with beer and we sat up talking till late.
So on Saturday, I saw another side of Lagos, the one for the rich and privileged, Victoria Island and Bar Beach.  Like a true Brit I paddled in the sea and ate fish and chips, before going off to see Thessa at 1004 estate, see below!
Of course I had to paddle!
To me Lagos is an example of how good leadership can make a difference, Nigeria is an enormous country with big challenges, but it seems that Fashola has really managed to change Lagos, a recent (2008) guidebook makes Lagos sound terrifying, it has clearly changed and other States should learn from what has worked. 
Fish and chips Nigerian style
However it is an enormous densely populated city, with a population of between 8 and 17 million depending on which report you read, and of course it still has many problems including poverty, crime and climate change.  Recently heavy rain caused widespread flooding and a State of Emergency was announced, around 25 lives were lost, a clear example of the challenges that will get worse as climate continues to change.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly how we found it on a brief visit to the posh end - including a great walk around Lagos market. Guidebook makes it sound like a pit of death but it was just a joy. Great photos, too!