“This part is not nice, but it’s just the outskirt, not the main city”. We were above a neighboorhood made of shacks separated by yellow dirt roads. As we were approaching to land in Lagos, the passenger behind me made a task for himself to introduce me to Nigeria. He was a Nigerian living in Germany and this was one of his yearly visit home. He was living in Stuttgart, he told me, and he liked the German city because it was better organised than his home city. “Lagos is crazy”, he said smilling. I had a little bit less than 5 days to check this.
Formerly the capital of Nigeria, Lagos is located in the South-West of the country, on the Atlantic coast. According to the information provided by the national census in 2006, metropolitan Lagos is home to 8,048,430 inhabitants. The rate of the population growth is of 600.000 people per year, making Lagos a city that grows 10 times faster than New York and Los Angeles. The United Nation estimates that at its present growth rate, Lagos State will be the third largest mega city of the world by 2015, after Tokyo in Japan and Bombay in India. In Africa, Lagos is now the second most populated city after Cairo.
In the Lagos airport, I spent more than one hour waiting to retrieve my luggage. Two flights carrying hundreds of passengers had landed around the same time, crowding the 2 belts of the baggage claim area. In between the 2 belts, people were snapping at each other, upset when somebody was blocking their way or their view of the belt.
My fiancé, who was working in Lagos at the moment, came to pick me up from the airport. “You most likely wouldn’t get to your destination if you would just take a taxi”, he said. Kidnappings of foreigners were quite common in Lagos. This was also one of the reasons I couldn’t explore the city as much as I wanted in the short time I was there.
On the way from the airport to Lagos’ Victoria Island I thought we would crash into another car at any moment. There seemed to be no rule for driving, no lane to follow and I admired the drivers who managed to avoid each other in the last moment, the cars a few centimeters away.
I lived in an apartment in what seemed to be a fancy area of Lagos on Victoria Island. The apartment complex was behind a gate guarded by 2 Nigerian people carrying guns. Even though the place looked very secure, I was told not to be fooled by it. If there were to be an attack, none of those guards would stay there to take a bullet for the inhabitants of the complex. “They are not paid well enough for that”, my host told me. Having lived there for a few months now, she was surprised about how hierarchized society seemed to be and how people would show respect to others only according to their position on the hierarchy. “Some people would even stand there and get a slap from their bosses without saying anything”, she added.
From my bedroom window I could see the ocean, with its sailing vessels and oil extraction platforms. Three children were smiling and waving at me from the neighbours’ house.
What surprised me in Lagos was that everything was behind gates. The fences and gates were so high that you couldn’t see what is behind them. “Another security measure”, I thought. Later on, while sharing my surprise with my host, she told me how one of her Nigerian colleagues who visited “the West” exclaimed upon his return: “I couldn’t believe that there are no gates out there”.
My short stay was long enough for an encounter with the Nigerian police. As we were driving one late evening towards a shaorma place, we were stopped by the police on a dark street. They pointed their guns at the car and said that was a closed road. The driver argued with them, upset that he had to take the longer way to get to the shaorma place. The policemen kept pointing the gun at the car and even asked the driver to open the door. He decided to turn around and take the longer way. “They probably don’t have any bullets in those guns anyway”, my fiancé told me while we were driving away. “They are just trying to intimidate people so they can get money from them”, he concluded.
Front page picture: sailing vessels and oil platforms in Lagos
First picture: Flying over the Sahara
Second picture: Fancy house on Victoria Island in Lagos
The pictures were taken by me during my trip to Nigeria in November 2009.