“Lagos, Nigeria: 6°24”N, 3°26”E
One theory regarding the origin of the name of Lagos, Nigeria is that it was named after Lagos, Portugal by 15th century Portuguese traders. The Nigerian Lagos has been described by white men as an urban hellhole. They would know, since they have a basis for comparison. For many Nigerians, especially Lagosians, as residents and indigenes are known; it is the best city in Nigeria. It is a densely populated, congested, polluted, vibrant and harsh city. Not necessarily dangerous as indifferent and self-centred. Its people are so focused on preserving their advantage – by acquiring money – that they have become one sided. The only thing that excites them is money, its acquisition; preservation; multiplication and ostentatious spending. It is the financial centre of Nigeria, its most modern city and arguably, the most sophisticated. Provided sophistication is defined as being in tune with American and British fashions.
Travelogues have a euphemism for chaos. They call it energy; and Lagos is an energetic city. Energy that is evident when passengers do not wait for the plane to finish taxiing to the terminal before leaping out of their seats and pulling their carry-on luggage from the overhead compartments. They will remain standing in the aisle, fidgeting impatiently for the time it takes the cabin crew to complete their arrival procedures. The same impatience characterizes their disembarkation from the plane, to the arrival hall and into the battleground of the touts milling outside the arrival hall and trying to cajole people into taxis. This same energy makes driving something like a melee, with everyone fighting for only their own advantage. It is one of the causes of the city's legendary traffic jams, lasting for hours and requiring all trips be planned painstakingly and much allowances made for time. Other causes are myriad, from bad roads, to too many vehicles, to malice on the part of law enforcement agents who block roads ostensibly to check for suspicious vehicles but actually to extort money. Combined with the heat, fumes, the unending din of car and motorcycle horns and the cries of the hawkers; the traffic jams have a way of draining good cheer from people and so the commonest attitude is one of sullen aggression.
Lagos is the name of the city and the state. The subdivisions of the state are local government areas of which there are 20. 16 of the 20 have merged into Lagos city. The city is broadly divided into 2 - Lagos Island and Lagos mainland. The island is arguably the richest part of Nigeria. It comprises Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Eko (the original Lagos). The 2 parts are connected by 3 bridges - Carter bridge, Eko bridge and 3rd Mainland. 3rd mainland, built last, is an 11 kilometre span that was built by the longest military regime experienced by Nigeria. It was headed by Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a man who allegedly justified his corruption on the grounds that everyone is corrupt, the only difference being one of degree. He was so hated in Lagos that upon the advent of democratic civilian rule in 1999, no public structure was allowed to bear his name. However, even Lagosians admit (grudgingly) that the bridge is a good thing and only the military could have done something so necessary and done it so quickly.
I love Lagos. Growing up, I envied friends and relatives who lived there. My dream was to work on Marina. A street on Eko that is the financial capital of the country. I ended up working on Catholic Mission Street, just off Marina. I like to think that if I had stayed longer in the city, I would have achieved my dream.
Even though Lagos is geographically and ethnically Yoruba, a significant proportion of the residents are not. Even the Yoruba one finds there are mostly from other places. This cosmopolitan nature makes the city broad minded enough that non indigenes aspire to and attain political office, this is unusual for Nigeria because political office is a sure route to wealth and ethnic identity is the primary platform for our politicians. Anybody who has lived long enough in Lagos becomes a Lagosian, looking down their nose at the rest of the country. And that is why, despite my love for the city, I do not like the people much. Some of them are extremely aggressive; and I understand those ones. The ones I despise are those who speak with a feigned American or British accent. Some do it well, the soft "t's" of Yankee rolling of their tongues as naturally as the clipped syllables of Jand march out of others' mouths. (Yankee & Jand are slang for USA and UK respectively). But some cannot pull it off. And they talk in a disjointed way, western accents interchanging with their local accent. Others talk in a way I can only describe as the way one talks if one has something in the mouth that one wants to spit out. Like toothpaste lather or cum. The aspiration to copy westerners at all costs is something very prevalent in southern Nigeria. Which is why girls put fake hair on their heads in order to look like white women. Unfortunately, after a while, the fake hair makes their hairline recede and they look like a rodent has been gnawing on their foreheads.
There is a book I read long ago. It was written by a Nigerian whose name I cannot remember. In the story, one boy was boasting to his friends that he was going to Lagos. He kept saying "Asaba, second to Lagos. Lagos, second to London." That is how Nigerians view Lagos, as the only part of the country that could aspire to be like the developed world. Although, I think Lagos aspires to be more like New York than London.