Lagos – the city of Big Ambitions

written by Laolu Ogundele 

 What happens when you get a small-sized receptacle, throw in a dash of creativity, a mix of boisterous optimism, and more than a sprinkling of chaos? You get a city called Lagos. Occupying a combined 1400 square mile area in the southwestern geopolitical zone of Nigeria, the ancient town comprises a beautiful network of islands, lagoons and sandbars.

Elegushi Beach, Lagos

 With its teeming 24 million inhabitants, Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria – a country that itself is the most populous black nation in the world. For this reason, you won’t be wrong to argue that Lagos is a city that personalizes African energy and essence. But Lagos is so much more than just a densely populated African city. It is the economic capital of Nigeria and West Africa as a whole and also rivals as one of the continent’s biggest fashion and entertainment hubs. 

A panorama shot of Lagos

 Indeed, Lagos is like the proverbial elephant in the room: big, bold, and unforgettable – though not always in a good way. In spite of the many positives, it’s a city that some hate yet can’t do without. As someone rightfully said, Lagos is the most complicated city in the world.

Being the region’s economic powerhouse naturally makes it an attractive destination for people. Yearly, people migrate into Lagos from different country areas with nothing more than ambition and a desire to partake of the numerous opportunities that the city promises. However, that increased population comes at a cost, and many newcomers have been left worse off for moving there. Growing up and surviving in Lagos requires a bit of mastery in itself. And learning to navigate the frenetic pace of the bubbling megacity is one that must begin sooner rather than later. As the popular Nigerian slogan goes: “you must shine your eyes when you’re in Lagos.” 


 This loosely implies that you must be careful and circumspect when you’re in Lagos, else you’d easily be hoodwinked and taken advantage of.  Lagos is a city that spots weaknesses and naivety from a mile away! You’re never to be caught in a daze or mesmerized by the sights and sounds – you must always watch the magician’s hand. But the lessons the vibrant city teaches in being street smart remain forever. If you can survive in Lagos, you’ll very likely do the same anywhere else in the world. 

The realities of the inhabitants can vary massively in this city of contradictions. From labyrinthine slums built on stilts and navigated by boats to the sophisticated and luxurious edifices and estates of Banana island, you can find it all in this exciting city that can sometimes feel like the love child of New York and Mumbai. In Lagos, you will find the entire spectrum of emotions and conditions on display. A melting pot of sorts, every version of humanity is represented. Rich or poor, educated or not, religious or otherwise; everyone and everything coexist peacefully in a perfect symphony. But don’t be deceived: just because they coexist doesn’t mean they mix. 

100 naira; banknote close up

 So it’s not strange to find a church and a brothel located in the same building or a region with constructions aplenty being only a few minutes drive from an impoverished slum. The motto remains: “know your place, and we’ll all probably be fine…” But that should not be unexpected when the city seems to attract different people in different estates in life – the brightest, the best, and the hopeful. Anyone who has the heart to come in and pursue the Lagosian dream is welcome.

 Was this city always this massively populated mosaic of chaos? No, it wasn’t. In fact, in the 60s, Lagos hosted less than a million people. Although the region had some element of heterogeneity and social stratification, it was by no means to the degree that we have today. Settlers lived in the mainland, islands and around the lagoons in smaller, relatively distinct districts. How then did this area of moderately inhabited marshland and villages evolve into what we have right now? The (singular) most important reason for this expansion is the oil boom of the 70s which drove massive urbanization and rural-urban migration. It became the new fad, and thousands of citizens migrated to the city in search of opportunities. 

Half a century later, the growth of Lagos has been on a steady incline. A majority of the more recent migrants are comprised of a youthful population who admire the glitz and glamor that the city can sometimes bring. As more and more people arrive in their droves, there arises mounting pressure from the government to curb the growth rate, which is expected to double by the year 2050. This haste to accommodate the rising population has led the government to intervene by building more high-rise buildings and reclaiming land from the sea. Whether or not that will yield any reasonable results is yet to be seen.

 With its thousands of miles of beautiful coastline, delicious street foods, exciting art and music scene, booming job opportunities, and naturally witty inhabitants, Lagos is known for its Impenetrable charm and rich, dynamic culture. Whether you’re purchasing suya (grilled spicy beef skewers) along the streets of Magodo or dancing to some afrobeat music at Felas Shrine, the color and energy of the eclectic city permeates the atmosphere. 

Wake up, take a Rolls Royce through Victoria Island, hop on an okada (commercial motorcycle) through Ikeja, go on a ferry ride along the inland waterways of Badagry and walk through the crowds in Computer Village, and you just might have experienced a bit of the beautiful craziness that is called Lagos.

Is the city flawed? Yes, it is.
But who needs ‘perfect’ when you can have such a vibrant spot that hears you and has a place for you? 

More info: 

IS LAGOS THE MOST DANGEROUS PARTY CITY ON THE PLANET?  /in Swedish, but you can check some rare photos from Lagos, Nigeria 

The unplanned journey that led Lagos to become an overwhelmed megacity

Next – Russian Writers: Andrei Platonov 


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