Surviving Lagos

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, is a vast sprawling mega-city of 15 million people. Located on the country’s southern coast, Lagos is a hot, humid mass of humanity where life, for most, is tough.

Lagos (see map below) has a crumbling infrastructure that is a major problem for all the city’s residents, and Lagosians complain bitterly about the lack of a reliable supply of electricity through a central grid. Those who can afford to buy their own generators to provide 24-hour power. But the majority go without, their homes and work places plunged into stifling darkness in the middle of the afternoon.

For Ibrahim Alhadji, life would be better with electricity, or “light”, as he calls it. Alhadji, 24, is a fashion designer. He designs, copies, cuts and sews clothes from a small room in the Obalende district of Lagos.

“With light, even life it would be easier because it’s part of life. But without light — the weather is so hot,” Alhadji said. “But if there is light, I would put on a fan, enjoy the radio and then work would be moving fast.”

Last year, for the first time in history, more people live in urban areas than in rural ones, according to the United Nations. In developing countries like Nigeria, in sub-Saharan Africa, urban living brings different problems than it does in the developed world.

Much of the problem in Nigeria stems from a lack of investment in the basic infrastructure that enables a city to function. For decades, corrupt governments — both civilian and military — have enriched themselves on earnings from the country’s vast oil and gas reserves, leaving the majority of the country’s 140 million residents to struggle in poverty.

In addition to electricity problems, the city doesn’t have potable water. Most of Lagos's residents must buy water from street sellers or line up and collect it from shared stand-taps. Some nine out of 10 Lagosians live in a slum, according to the U.N., and less than 1 percent have a flush toilet.

The city’s pot-holed roads are choked with traffic, or "go-slows" and it’s not uncommon for workers to spend up to four hours battling to get from home to their jobs in the main central business district.

Cell phones are the main means of communication, as there are few working landlines. The postal service barely functions. To receive a letter one must have a post office box — zip codes for residential delivery have never been developed.

Buying and selling of goods, or petty trading, is one of the main ways people eke out an existence. Most people get by on just a couple of dollars a day.

Yet despite all these problems, Lagos continues to grow. Along with a high birth rate, Lagos attracts young people from all over the country, as the city is Nigeria’s driving economic force and offers the promise of success for those willing to try.

“If you don’t have work to do, life can be very difficult here in Lagos,” said the fashion designer Alhadji, who says young men turn to crime when they can’t find work. “But there is many work [opportunities] here in Lagos. Here you can try, you do whatever work you can and, god willing, you find money.”

More GlobalPost dispatches from Nigeria:

Nigeria tries to settle oil protests

In Nigeria, all bets are off 

My goodness, my Guinness! 


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