Before diving into the body of this piece permit me to make a confession: I had visited Lagos for the first time ever in my year two in the University in Benin City. My elder brother had invited me over for a weekend. Before leaving Benin City I was full of joy for the prospects of discovering Lagos! Prior to my weekend trip to ‘Eko’ one had heard about Lagos as a wonder land, the “Nigerian London” where big and rich men lived, where big cars and big houses existed. Lagos to us then (as never-been-tos) was equivalent to any great city in Europe or America we had watched through films and videos.
As I arrived Iddo at Edegbe Line Park my brother was already waiting for me there. And off we went to Idumota, Lagos Island. As a dealer in hardwares he had his office and shops in Agarawu Street off Idumagbo Avenue. As we meandered our way through streets like Docemo and Nnamdi Azikiwe leading up to Agarawu the human traffic was what first struck me leaving me confused as to the ‘kwaking’ and pushing and shoving by many people negotiating and navigating their way through. It was an organized chaos with no one complaining; if someone ran into you, smashed your feet or ‘jammed’ you the two parties looked at each other, sighed and kept mum and went away!
On Nnamdi Azikiwe street the skyline hit me; my brother and I temporarily lost touch and contact in the midst of confusion and sea of heads. When he found me as I was equally looking for him in a shoking atmosphere oozing out human survival instincts he warned me to be fast and moving. “This is Lagos!” he admonished, “you must be smart and ‘shine your eyes’ if you must meet up the pace and beat”. I quicky adjusted to his entreaty increasing my speed and shirking off the “JJC” toga that had come with me.
In his office the “Great Nigeria House” and other skyscrapers like “Net” and banks’ headquarters scattered in Marina and adjacent streets caught my attention and siezed my concentration. In Benin City where I was based skyscrapers were not such large and intimidatingly concentrated; we had few of them in Sapele Road and the head office of New Nigerian Bank on Mission Road. The Edo state capital cannot in any way be compared to Lagos infrastructurally. While Lagos was the former Federal Capital Benin City was known worldwide for its academic quantity and quality, good network of roads, artwork and ancient tourist sites like the Benin Mote.
As my brother noticed my fascination he delegated one of his assistants to take me round the island. We took a walk passing through Tinubu Square where he showed me the then headquarters of the Central Bank of Nigeria. We went as far as Tafawa Belewa Square also known as Race Course and Broad Street and Marina. It was then it dawned on me that Nigeria, my country, was indeed a great nation if what I had seen could be used as a yardstick for measuring national greatness. But all that glitters, they say, is not gold!
Lagos is ranked among the mega cities in the world with huge population above ten million mark. Others include, Tokyo, New York, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Seoul, Shanghai, Mumbai. The true population of Lagos goes beyond what the official census figures allocated to it; the State of aquatic splendour has more than fifteen to twenty million people breathing hot air within its space. Lagos may compete with the cities in America, Asia and Europe mentioned above for huge human invasion culminating in population explosion but the only difference is not only found in splendour or glamour which she lacks but in commensurate administrative masterplan tailored towards expanding infrastructures as the internal “exodus” intensify.
Lagos and Abuja are the two cities that represent everything in Nigeria. But foreigners see Nigerians through the Lagos eyes because that is where reminds them of how we bungled our greatness and gives out the impression of what would have been but never was. Almost every Nigerian of every ethnic or tribal link in Nigeria lives and works in Lagos. It is a city that truly represents the Nigerian heterogenous society. Everyone, from armed robbers to beggers to thugs to scavengers stake their frustration and take revenge on a city that is crying for a facelift.
While Abuja is a city where the politicians congregate to share our resources among themselves sometimes at wee hours of the night Lagos rocks with even mad and naked men and women participating actively! From Oworonshoki to Agege to Badagry to Ajegunle Lagosians have become accustomed to filthy streets and infrastructures that are all but collapsed. While Lagos viewed from VI and VGC and Ikoyi angle presents a beautiful picture of a serene city where decency holds sway the opposite is the case from Oshodi to Orile, Ajangbadi to Ilasamaja, Ojuelegba to Lawanson.
Lagos has fallen to the iron-grip of men of the underworld. Hardly a day passes without them striking at different locations, heavily armed, visiting banks and other money-spinning corporate concerns. Yet the truth remains that insecurity is an impediment to investments and development of any society. With an uncontrollable population which is
growing at an annual rate of about six per cent the nadir of poverty growing out of proportion in the rural areas are re-locating people, sometimes without address or relatives, to Lagos.
While Governor Fashola is trying to nip festering armed robbery in the bud by re-launching the RRS force it will take extra-ordinary measures to keep Lagos streets free from men of the underworld. The armed robbers are determined and unrepentant and their sharp hugely successful operations leave many baffled as to their modus operandi. Some has argued that some members of the police and military personel are among the robbers (especially those dismissed from the force for one misdemeanor or another); indeed their fire-power, precision and intrepid professionalism tend to support this school of thought.
Back to my first visit to Lagos. As we left Idumota for Bariga where my brother was putting up then the National Arts Theater in Ijora Causeway was viewed from far and its architectural splendour and serenity appealed to my patriotic spirit, today this edifice is the shadow of its former self. As we left the island for the mainland Lagos made a huge impression on me. The next day my brother had told me that he was going to Lagos for business and I was surprised hearing that since we were in Lagos. Upon inquiry he lectured me that there was a Lagos in Lagos, an island known and called Lagos and the other parts of Lagos: a Lagos within Lagos as it were!
During my last visit home February I had visited my brother in Agarawu and some bundled Yoruba women (called derisively ‘Iya-Akpati’) were cooking public food in the open along the street sending huge pall of smoke in the sky in a hot morning. The notorious street urchins, area boys, were mingling with traders looking out for any opportunity to exploit. Everywhere were smelling pollution and un-hygienic carelessness. Confusion and conflicting interests hovered over menacingly. Lagos Island could best be described as a monumental metaphor, one that depicts neighbourhood filth, atmospheric discomfort and indigenes’ indigence surrounded by opulence. That unfortunately is a microcosm of Nigeria in general.