Lagos, Nigeria: Through Grey-ish Literature

Lagos seen through documents


Nigeria is considered a key power on the African continent, not only because of its size, but also because of its political and economic role in the region. One in five people in Sub - Saharan Africa call Nigeria home. The country’s commercial center, Lagos, is among the world’s largest cities. Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, and it is one of the world’s major sources of high-quality crude oil.

Congressional Research Service. Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S. Policy.  March 11, 2016

Mind Blowing

The mere mention of its name evokes strong reactions from visitors and Nigerians alike. Most people either passionately love or virulently hate Lagos, but no visit to Nigeria is complete without experiencing this overpowering and mindboggling city. It is stimulating and vibrant, and dirty and dangerous, all at the same time. Those who love Lagos do so because of its diversity, and the majority of Lagosians proudly confess that they can't see themselves living anywhere else in Nigeria. Those who hate it find it a volatile place, with perhaps one of the world's worst reputations for congestion, crime, poverty and chaos. Whether you love it or hate it, you will undoubtedly find Lagos mind-blowing!  

Nigeria: The Bradt Travel Guide by Lizzie Williamsfrom 2008


Lagos map, courtesy of Wikipedia

Lagos map, courtesy of Wikipedia

1861: British annexation of Lagos as a Crown Colony.
1960:  Nigeria becomes independent from the United Kingdom on October 1; Lagos Stock Exchange and Nigeria Acceptances Limited
1961: Nigerian Institute of International Affairs founded.
1962: University of Lagos established.[5]
1963: Independence House built. City's population: 655,246.
1979: Murtala Muhammed International Airport opens [Photo]
1983: Vanguard newspaper begins publication; Mama Cass restaurant in business.
1990: Third Mainland Bridge opens; Lagos City Polytechnic and Equatorial Trust Bank established.
    Urban area Population: 4,764,000
1991: Federal government relocates from Lagos to Abuja
1995: Urban area population: 5,966,000
2007: State election held; Teslim Balogun Stadium built; Centre for Contemporary Art founded
2009: Nike Centre for Art and Culture opens.
2010: Lagos Fashion Week begins

From A History of Nigeria by Toyin Falola and Matthew M. Heaton and Wikipedia

Why Come Here?

I asked Olakunle Tejuoso, who co-owns Jazzhole with his wife, Olatundun, what makes people come here.

This is a place where you come and take a breath from everything outside. Lagos is so fast and rowdy at times, but you can come here and hear yourself think.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, The Guardian. Welcome to Guardian Lagos Week – live

Growing, Growing

The growth of slums in Lagos state results from the population, size and age of existence. Presently, the number of slum areas in Lagos is over forty-two (UN HABITAT, 2003)... 

A great challenge facing Lagos Metropolis is shelter (Abiodun, 1976) particularly for people living in overcrowded slums. The estimates from official records put the population density at 1,308 persons per square kilometers with the available land falling prey to unregulated and unplanned development. The problem of insecure land tenure defined by the inability of the slum residents also contributes to the growth of and the poor sanitation condition of the slums. The common practices of bulldozing the slum environment exemplified by the Maroko case of 1990

Adedayo, A. F., and N. A. Malik. "Variation in the quality of upgraded slums in Lagos, Nigeria." Ethiopian Journal of Environmental Studies and Management 9.1 (2016): 14-21. [PDF]

On Nollywood

Lagos is where Nollywood is primarily located, and for budgetary reasons its films are always shot on location, most often in Lagos, which serves as the ground of the films, not just in the immediate sense that when cameras are turned on, they make images of Lagos (or one might even say, Lagos imposes its images on them), but also that the films are a means for Nigerians to come to terms—visually, dramatically, emotionally, morally, socially, politically, and spiritually—with the city and everything it embodies. Nollywood’s imagination forms the city’s images, making them public emblems of fear and desire. Nollywood is a part of that cityscape, an element in its visual culture. This cityscape is a resource that the films share and an environment that shapes them materially.

For years, the principle meeting place for actors and producers was Wini’s Guest House, where the floor was sticky with beer and the furniture was apt to tear one’s clothing. Under pressure to relocate by neighbors upset by the noise, the frequent blockage of the street, and the difficulty of distinguishing aspiring actresses from prostitutes, the film people moved from Wini’s to O’Jez’s, a more attractive nightclub and restaurant, located in the National Stadium. The stadium itself is a hulking ruin, the field overgrown, the equipment ripped out and carried away by thieves, and the environs haunted by armed robbers, but O’Jez’s is spruce and hums with activity, a suitable home for a vibrant, rising professional community: it has good sound and light systems; and downstairs in the courtyard, film people carry on animated conversations over tables crowded with beer bottles, pepper soup, and cellphones...

Nollywood in Lagos, Lagos in Nollywood Films Haynes, Jonathan
Africa Today, Volume 54, Number 2, Winter 2007, pp. 131-150 [PDF]

On Light

 WE call it light; “electricity” is too sterile a word, and “power” too stiff, for this Nigerian phenomenon that can buoy spirits and smother dreams. Whenever I have been away from home for a while, my first question upon returning is always: “How has light been?” The response, from my gateman, comes in mournful degrees of a head shake.

Bad. Very bad.

The quality is as poor as the supply: Light bulbs dim like tired, resentful candles. Robust fans slow to a sluggish limp. Air-conditioners bleat and groan and make sounds they were not made to make, their halfhearted cooling leaving the air clammy. In this assault of low voltage, the compressor of an air-conditioner suffers — the compressor is its heart, and it is an expensive heart to replace. Once, my guest room air-conditioner caught fire. The room still bears the scars, the narrow lines between floor tiles smoke-stained black.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, New York Times. Lights Out in Nigeria

A City on the Move

This October, Nigeria’s largest city will once again host its annual Fashion and Design Week. Since 2012, the event has drawn designers from all over the continent, and a popular platform for young talent has launched new careers in an industry that has expanded as the region has prospered. The design world is taking note of lagos’s rapid growth—the task of finding creative solutions for a city with an estimated 21 million people has engaged international architects, including Rem Koolhaas, and David Adjaye, and local talent NLÉ.

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The development of music in Lagos

Two factors appear to have been particularly important in the development of Lagosian popular music: the movement of musical ideas, technology and personnel along hierarchical economic networks linking Lagos to Europe, the Americas, and other West African port towns; and the role of musicians as cultural brokers, situated at social interstices in a complex urban environment. Syncretism, the amphoteric fusing of diverse expressive materials into performance structures stabilized by indigenous values, was, for professional Lagosian musicians, both aesthetic praxis and socioeconomic strategy.

Waterman, Christopher A. "Aṣíkò, Sákárà and Palmwine: Popular Music And Social Identity In Inter-War Lagos, Nigeria." Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development (1988): 229-258.

Cover photo by satanoid.