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September 16, 2014
Insanity as Public Order in Lagos Nigeria
by Imo Eshiet

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 of sorts.

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 houses.

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 environment annually."

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 head.

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 Lagos.

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

About Imo Eshiet

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 Carolina Stake.

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