The riveting insanities that define public order in Nigeria are nowhere more accusingly evident
than in its cities.
While the madness is everywhere, Lagos is in a class of its own when it comes to the tumultuous
and strange. One may ask, what about the floggings, stonings, amputations, and beheadings we
hear about in Northern Nigeria, where raging jihadist insurgency is the norm? The answer is
simple. Up there, there is no love lost between it and Western culture.
Smoke billows from a burning garbage pit in a Lagos
shanty town. These first four photos are from a Reuters photographer in Lagos, Akintunde
Akinyele, and are used by permission.
But Lagos at least mimics the culture of the West. From glossy sky-rise buildings, five-star
hotels, malls, beltways and multi-million dollar yachts gracing its waterways to gratuitously expensive
cars and the decadent lifestyle that goes with these appetites, Lagos lays claim to a sophistication
But that is probably where the pretention stops.
This colorful shanty is easily accessible by boat
It is common to see fisher folks and sand diggers squat on the edge of their canoes and defecate
in broad daylight. The beautiful sandy beaches of this mostly aquatic city are favorite resorts for
fun seekers frolicking in the splendor of the tropical sun. The beaches, however, in many
instances, also double as a public refuse and human waste dump.
To be sure, such eyesore is merely a carryover from our not-too-distant past, when the nearest
bush was good enough to answer the call of nature. With city officials too besotted by dubious
priorities, including looting state funds, to care about the provision of public restrooms, folks
improvise by reverting to old rural traditions.
The water under these stilted homes serves as a roadway
and a sewer. It also serves as home to fish that are caught and consumed by those who live in the
UNICEF sources recently claimed, "An estimated 33 million Nigerians still practice open
defecation in different parts of the country, depositing about 1.7 million tons of faeces into the
Any wonder Ebola may not take a vacation anytime soon?
In a story titled, "Horns, hawkers and headaches -- driving in Lagos," my blogger friend Madonna
Valentine posted wrote this about the punishing reality of Lagos:
I am amazed by the luxury cars that regularly toil their way through the choked streets of
Victoria Island, Lagos. Porsche Cheyennes, Jeeps and Land Rovers are the car of choice
for ex-pats and wealthy Nigerians. The car favoured by oil industry executives is an
armoured Land Rover, capable of withstanding an armed assault.
Even in our most crowded cities, we westerners do not
know the meaning of gridlock.
Taciturn Nigerians trained in security driving ensure the privileged, like me, survive their
journey in what is reputed to be one of the world's most dangerous cities. Amongst the
many hazards, dying in a high speed car crash is not one of them. We crawl along, with
barely an inch between us and the next car.
This stationary mode of travel is a Godsend for the hawkers who tap on the black
tinted windows, wanting to sell pirated movies, magazines, sweets, fruit, nuts and
bottles of soft drink. Particularly heartbreaking are the beggars, many of whom are blind
or polio victims. They tap on the car window, putting their hands on the glass to peer in.
The juxtaposition of old and new is stark in Lagos. This
and the remaining pictures here are by Jeff Corey and are used by permission.
We are under strict instructions not to open the windows or get out of the car under
any circumstances, although I'm assuming we can bolt if the car is on fire. Sitting in a car
fortress while turning an impassive face to malnourished and disabled children is the
worst aspect of living in Lagos. In time I will become accustomed to the pollution, traffic,
noise and stifling heat, but I will never become impervious to those tiny peering faces.
Nigerian taxis are banged up yellow and black sedans bearing the dents of peak hour
battle, like broken mechanical bees. I was informed ex-pats cannot use these taxis safely
so was amazed to see a young British man alight from one a few days ago, calmly hand
over the fare and saunter down the street with his bag slung over his shoulder.
Move aside Chuck Norris, the new toughness bar has been set by an unknown skinny
British kid, last seen on Victoria Island wearing a Union Jack t-shirt.
The public bus system consists of old yellow minivans or green and white ones used
for mass transport. Passengers hang their backsides out the side door, which is never
closed, so they can jump off near their "stop". It's not uncommon for whole bodies to
hang out of windows during peak hours.
The main bus depot on the Lagos mainland near the airport is a crime hot spot run by
"area boys" who extort money from passengers for the right to wait at a stop. However
much ex-pats worry about crimes such as robbery and assault, the main victims are
Nigerians unable to pay the police for private protection.
Small motorbikes and bike taxis are banned in many areas of the islands as they have a
reputation for being used in robberies. The option of using small vehicles is gone, so the
congestion continues unabated.
Mainland Lagos has fewer cars as many roads are not paved and walking is the most
common way to move around. On the mainland it is common to see large shanty towns
where the lack of running water and basic sanitation causes disease.
Along the main roads on the islands shanty towns spring up suddenly but remain small.
The inhabitants set up barber shops, foods stalls, magazine stands, photography booths
and other businesses.
If people in Lagos are carrying something, it is on their
This young girl is about to try her luck against traffic as
she carries her burden across the street.
It is common to see a large board set up in the street with numbers on it and young men
sitting around. Apparently this is some kind of gambling game with cash prizes. Even
though we live in the "wealthy" area, we are never far from the harsh realities of life in
I asked about going to the beach which is close to our staff house. It's a very nice beach, I
was assured, but also doubles as a toilet for the shanty towns. Public toilets don't exist in
Lagos, which means typhoid can race through the street communities.
Although life in Lagos is difficult, for many it is preferable to the poverty of a rural
village. The growing city provides opportunities for education and employment and
draws immigrants from all over Africa. Driving around late at night, with the city lights
reflecting on the water, it is possible to sense the bright future that lies ahead for this most
idiosyncratic of African cities.
Except for the buildings in the background, this picture
could have been taken a hundred years ago
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North