Noisy, polluted, corrupt, lawless and ungovernable are the stereotypical ways of describing the so called Giant of Africa. Beneath these stereo types are one of the most hard-working, passionate and big thinkers on the planet. As they say if you want to do something, do it well. This was clearly evident in Lagos, the most populous city in Africa. From the street hawkers to the successful entrepreneurs, they all seemed to be doing something right.
Lagos has a vibrant day and night life and it has significantly changed from the last time I visited in 2005, apart from the regular power cuts. Most of Lagos is powered by generators, making it the noisiest city I have ever been to. There is no doubt that the Governor Babatunde Fashola has done a lot to transform the city for the better. However beneath this transformation lies the ‘inequality gap’! For every big boy that zoomed around the Lagos Island in their flamboyant Bentley, G class and Rolls Royce, there were thousands more striving to make a living to feed their family or send their kids to school. It is clearly evident that the gap between the rich and the poor is extremely wide like most mega-cities I have been to, including New York.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and is the world’s 26th largest economy, bigger than Egypt, Angola, Kenya, Croatia and Lebanon combined, and 12 times the Ghanaian economy. Upon all its economy success, the society remains incredibly unequal. On our way to Ikoyi, we normally use the 3rd main land bridge and there you can really witness in first sight the inequality. On one side of the lagoon known as Makoko, people (the forgotten generation) live in horrific conditions; on structures constructed on stilts, while on the other side of the lagoon, the elites build mansions on a man-made island, known as the most expensive real estate in Africa, Banana Island.
Oh yes, it is true that Lagos is energetic! We were up by 6am every week day and by 7am we hit the road, meeting different people doing great things in Nigeria. From Entrepreneurs to VC to Lawyers to Government Officials, we met them all. Every one of these people we spoke to had big dreams for Nigeria and were working towards making it a reality. We also experienced the local culture, by using the yellow local taxis. Thank God, I spoke Yoruba (cough, cough…oyinbo Yoruba), we were able to get a bargain on taxi rides, although I must admit the taxis we used was not in the best condition, but it did take us from A to B.
Planning is crucial if you want to get things done in Lagos and of course making contingencies for when something goes wrong. Believe me, most of the time, something would not always go to plan, whether you are caught in traffic or caught up in arguments. I and the team usually spend an average of 30 minutes every day arguing about the bill, as vendors were always trying to inflate our bill because of our ‘British’ accent, not knowing we were on a ‘fish and chips’ budget. However, we quickly adapted and changed our strategy so that we mitigated the risks of inflated bills….Yes, we paid before even touching the food or drinks…not the Nigerian way of doing things, but it worked for us.
While no city or country is perfect, it is up to us, to travel with open minds in order to explore what each city/country has to offer. As Mark Twain once said “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
There is no doubt that Lagos is a vibrant place and has a lot to offer. As they say “if you can make it in Lagos, you can make it anywhere in Africa!”
Check out my next blog on the more challenges we faced and the opportunities that lies within while conquering the greatest city in Africa – coming soon!