The topic of how Nigeria is developing and the good things that are happening all over the country is one that is discussed quite regularly amongst Nigerians in diaspora. With a population of over 160 million and over 250 dialects spoken, finding a consensus among Nigerians can often feel like herding cats. The topic of home however, and need for change and development is something that is sure to unite Nigerians.
I was recently in Nigeria to celebrate the wedding of one of my close friends from secondary school and, as I had not been for a while, I was really keen to see with my own eyes what all the fuss was about.
I spent most of my time in Lagos so maybe my experience doesn’t represent the full picture but I believe attitudes here are often indicative of what is going on across the country.
Lagos is a vibrant city, full of business people, hustlers and go-getters. All without a second to spare. It is in many ways the industrial capital of the country, drawing people from all over the country and indeed the world. Like many cities across Africa, the Chinese and many European heavyweights have a very visible presence and are investing heavily in infrastructure and services for the ever demanding population.
With structures like the new Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge and the Lagos Free Trade Zone adding to its unique vibe, Lagos is fast becoming a city that could match any other in the world but there is still a lot of work left. For all the work that has been done, I couldn’t help feeling like it was all ‘make up on a pig’ at this stage. In a city where power outages happen on a daily basis and there are almost as many potholes as you have people, a free trade zone just didn’t sound like the right infrastructure to install. Even where you have good roads, the lack of a proper highway code that everyone adheres to means a drive to or from anywhere feels more like an exercise in avoiding the madness of pedestrians and other drivers.
Another thing I noticed in my conversations with Lagosians is what seemed like a lack of perspective, especially when it came to priorities. For example, someone I spoke to said he would be happy to skip meals as long as he was seen driving the latest cars and wearing designer clothing. I also heard of someone who recently bought brand new Mercedes G-class SUV but was defaulting on his rent. The most worrying thing was that these seemed like very regular and common occurrences.
It was also worrying that most of the facilities and infrastructure that were functioning properly were run by foreigners. From shopping centres to banks and businesses in general, my general perception was that if it wasn’t foreign, it didn’t work. What worried me even more about this was that many of the natives had fully bought into this and were more likely to support foreign businesses than that of natives.
Every country in the world has its own problems and no one has quite figured out how to make a city perfect but I like to believe there are some foundational things that need to be in place for things to be heading in the right direction. Good roads, steady electricity for all and access to clean water are among these and they are all lacking in many parts of Lagos.
I have been to a few cities around the world and very few can match Lagos’ vibe and energy. I imagine it is a great city to live and work in. I hope to see the day that Lagos is mentioned in the same breath as some of the great cities of the world but unless a steady supply of the above is in place, I won’t be surprised if the wait takes a while.