More. One step on Bar Beach, the city’s beautiful white sand public beach, and you would be asked to pay, whilst many others set their own stalls on sand as bars and restaurants. The “magnificent architectural masterpiece” Lagosians prided themselves on, is the National Theatre with a musty odour. The city’s biggest shopping mall is the size of our community centre. Hawker stalls creeping along roads did not really expect customers. Recent news in Daily Times Nigeria mentioned a study that revealed 22% of Lagos drivers tested positive to drugs like cocaine and marijuana. And this is what they called a great country and a global city.
Lagosians, souls of the city
Temitayo, a young Nigerian writer in her mid- twenties, showed me her article about her homeland, ‘The Lagos Devil, she called it. It reminds me of a woman in labour, groaning and screaming curses at her husband and the gods that made the seed fertile. She wrote with paradoxical affection. Love, anxiety, anger, and fear all rolled in one ball, I feel for Lagos, but, unlike the pregnant woman who delivers a child; I don’t know what Lagos will bring forth!
With a majority of the cityscape barred behind guarded high walls, roads became the only mirror of the city, its people – and they call themselves Lagosians – its only soul. Despite the broken roads, incomplete infrastructures, and the everyday
blackouts, Lagos nurtures the most notable spirits humanity would celebrate. Enthusiasm has its best glow under the silver sky of the fuel-clogged city. Without much left by their ancestors, a local journalist friend Jennifer Ehidiamen told me, Lagos is up to the making of the young generations. “Those before you must have worked really hard to make sure your generation enjoy a good country. That is what most Nigerians are doing,” she said. “Most young Nigerians are working hard and dreaming more, so that the next generation will not go through the same hardship. So it is like a seed one generation sow for the next to reap and nurture for posterity. If old generations in Nigeria had kept this in perspective, we would have been spoilt too.”
Positivity does rule this place. The ‘World’s Happiest Place’ sign soaring at the airport, as a Guardian journalist once recalled, may have its point. An international survey revealed that Nigeria’s positivity index was 70, whilst UK had a tragic -44.
Will Anderson, who did a documentary on Lagos, said Lagosians never see themselves as victims; they are tireless aspirers. Hawkers wandering around the streets may not have good business, but they were rewarded with laughter and chats with neighbours. A young gentleman who arranged my interview with a governor, owned an I.T company, while he was actively developing the emerging movie scene of Nigeria. We call it Nollywood, he said and immediately jumped to ask about the popularity of websites like YouTube in China. I marvelled at his packed schedule and the speed of his tapping on his Blackberry. “Because the city has high unemployment and bad traffic, going freelance is a mainstream,” he said. “You find entrepreneur on every street.”
Children whose family could not afford their education were satisfied with fierce football games on abandoned space with bare feet. Learning that I was from Asia, one kid came to me and asked with excitement how much more advanced China is than Nigeria. My answer might be a disappointment, yet he said with pride: we are almost there.While signs of a developed place in our world are about infrastructures, destination landmarks and civil services; the way Lagos defines civilisation is hedonism and naively bold visions. Like what Nigerian scholar Michael Eucheruo wrote in his book Victorian Lagos, this is an out-and-out international city like Amsterdam and Paris. Albeit the shortage of infrastructure, Lagos is thriving as a cultural and economic hub in West Africa. The tireless operation of the oil mine right next to the city’s main bridge strikes as a hope for future. Like Rem Koolhaas said in 2005 in Lagos Wide and Close, this place does not reflect despair, it is in fact where the civilisation heads to – the aspiration to build a better place.
Text by Ren Wan
Issue #37 BLACK is on the shelf now.