Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lagos: Africa's party capital

Lagos is sub-Saharan Africa's largest and most vibrant city, writes the BBC's Sola Odunfa in a special report on cities in Focus on Africa magazine:

When General Ibrahim Babangida decreed the immediate relocation of the Nigerian government from Lagos to Abuja in 1992, many thought that was the end of the glory days of the city on the Atlantic - but 15 years later, Lagos life has never been more exciting.

Lagos street bar

Lagos's beer parlours are open 24 hours a day

Babangida had lost political support in Lagos because of his long-winding transition to civil rule, and was booed whenever he ventured out. He escaped from the open hostility in Lagos to seek relative peace in the new capital city, which was then a vast construction yard.

Thousands of federal civil servants were forced to make a hurried and unplanned relocation to Abuja. Federal office buildings were abandoned to the mercy of looters. Lagos was shorn of power and influence. Property prices tumbled.

Soon, however, people found that the big bosses who deserted Lagos still held tight to their official residences in the city.

Abuja had nothing to offer them after office hours, so they would fly back to Lagos either on Thursday evening and return to Abuja only on Monday morning.

'God's own city'

It was those civil servants who brought to the attention of Lagosians the intangibles that gave the city, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, its character. The disorder, filth, noise and overcrowding became "qualities" they longed for.

Pub in Lagos

Historians say Lagos dwellers have always loved social gatherings

And so Lagos gained a new lease of life. The shock of desertion by government wore off and the people settled down to making money through other means to sustain their fast lifestyle.

The slogan "Lagos is God's own city where Satan prowls" was coined - and the city lives the slogan to the letter.

The city does not sleep. When the lights are out at midnight in some neighbourhoods, in others it is the start of day.

Highbrow Victoria Island - once a decent, quiet neighbourhood where the streets were dead after 8pm - is today full of fat-pocket patrons, with giggling young girls in tow, strolling into its upmarket nightclubs at 2am.

Meanwhile Mushin and Surulere have huge loudspeakers outside the doors of hundreds of beer parlours, and blare out juju and apala music, at full volume, almost 24 hours a day.

Local historian Kunle Akinsemoyin says early Lagos dwellers "loved social gatherings, drumming, dancing, merry-making - and freely indulged in them on the slightest pretext".

In modern Lagos, people indulge in their pleasures on a daily basis as long as they can afford it - or find someone else to pick up the bill, voluntarily or otherwise.

Little to drink

Everybody in Lagos complains strongly about traffic congestion. Many workers and traders leave home at 6am in order to get to work at 8am - for a journey that should take 20 minutes. When they end the day's chores in the early evening, they may not reach home until 10pm.


But this does not stop large numbers of people migrating into Lagos every day from all parts of Nigeria to partake in its assumed prosperity.

The majority of them end up on the streets. But Lagosians are generous. It is said that no-one in the city goes to bed hungry, and this is one of the reasons why there are so many beggars.

In Lagos, there is sea water everywhere - but little to drink. The metropolis has grown so big and fast that the once-adequate public water supply now serves less than half of the population.

The state government confesses it can no longer supply potable water free of charge, and has introduced monthly fixed charges - but only residents in affluent neighbourhoods, like Victoria Island, Lekki and Ikoyi, pay.

The vast majority are not bothered because they buy drinking water either in sachets or in plastic kegs from street vendors.

Now that this year's rains have started, blocked drains are flooding their contents on to the streets. Lagosians merely shrug their shoulders and set up their tents on the filth to party. Partying, like life, must go on.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Lagos: Africa's party capital