Being a South African; I am no stranger to witnessing abject poverty living right alongside overt wealth. My recent maiden trip to Lagos, Nigeria has given me pause for thought as I reflect on the last few days in this country brimming with potential.
I will admit that my view is not complete. I only got to experience Lagos for a couple of days; but I am virtually certain that this is a sample of the rest of the country.
There is wealth in Lagos beyond measure. When you are on VI (Victoria Island) or travelling through the suburb of Ikoyi; the building are in great condition. The roads are in good condition and there is construction at almost every turn.
When sitting in meetings and restaurants listening to the businessmen talk about their day; you can hear the great sums of money that are being discussed. You can see it in their clothes and accessories; not to mention the greatest concentration of Range Rovers that I have seen since the last blue light brigade on the N1 to OR Tambo.
Lagos has done well from the deposits of oil on their coast line. Lagos has done well out of the strategic location they enjoy; being the gateway to the rest of the country and the world.
The people of Lagos are friendly to a fault. Not once did I feel unsafe and that I was in danger. Obviously I didn’t travel to the worst spots in town and my guide knew the areas to avoid – so I am not by any stretch saying that Lagos is a safe place.
What I am saying is that I felt incredibly welcomed. From the locals wanting to take a selfie with a “white man” (admittedly this may have been for a future ransom negotiation) to the Manchester United fan contemplating the future of the club with me.
From what I can see; it is all about “the hussle”; it is all about making sure that you are making your world in the world and not taking handouts. There were a few people at traffic stops asking for Naira; but these were; as a rule; either elderly or severely handicapped people.
In conversation I asked about the Nigerian 419 scams; apparently popular opinion is that this is an attempt to just be entrepreneurial; not necessarily to outright steal money! (I think I will reserve judgement on that one)
On the trip from the Lagos airport to VI; one drives along the Third Road Bridge; this is the longest bridge in Africa which connects a section of the mainland to the Island. AS you cross over the waterway; your eye tracks along the banks of the river below you where there are thousands and thousands of people living in the poorest of conditions; trying to eke out a living next to the water.
Sanitation is a suggestion. Along many of the streets in the markets; villages and suburbs; there are large open drains that are filled with water that has been thrown out of peoples dwellings from the night before.
Road infrastructure is quintessentially African. I personally am nowhere near brave enough to drive in Lagos. Lanes are optional. Traffic signs are distractions. Traffic direction flow is organic. There are potholes a plenty; but it doesn’t deter people from trying their best to make full use of the road (at speed) and miraculously I didn’t see a single accident; not even a motorcyclist being nudged. And believe me there are plenty of motorcyclists that could potentially be knocked down (but they’d get up again)!
The contradiction in Lagos, and indeed Nigeria, is that it has a world of promise. It has access to workforce second to none and the potential to be far more than what it is. Sadly though; there are many divisions within the country: religious; political; tribal and as I have said above financial.
There needs to be an effort of unification; something that galvanises and binds the country together; whether this happens one city at a time or one state at a time; this needs to happen quickly! The potential of the people and their future potential contribution to the world economy depend on it!