As with every trip I take abroad I always read the latest security reports as part of the planning and I have to say that I was a little apprehensive before arriving here in Nigeria. It’s my first visit to the country but nowhere online could I find anything which showed the country in a positive light. Be it chronic corruption, everyday street violence, widespread inefficiency or the kidnapping of foreigners – it was all bad. So I was a tad surprised, and relieved, that my arrival at Lagos airport on Sunday was a relatively pain free process. I whizzed through passport control and the security checks with not a single person asking for ‘a present’ – most people call them bribes. I was also warned not to arrive in hours of darkness as the journey from the airport in to the city can be dangerous. Well, I exited the terminal building as the sun disappeared over the horizon to be greeted by my friendly driver and off we sped to the hotel. Lagos is infamous for its heavy traffic gridlocks but we only had to stop at a couple of lights. I felt a bit edgy at the first set of lights as I’d read this was a favourite place for carjackers to do their business on arriving folk. Well, so far so good and I got to the hotel safe and sound.
There are a handful of top end hotels in Lagos and, although they are not cheap, they are pretty much essential for foreigners simply in terms of security. I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton (a rather swanky affair) on Victoria Island, one of the most exclusive areas of the city. In fact, most foreign companies are located on the island and the majority of expats live there too. This made things fairly simple for my data collection as all of the outlets were in the same vicinity. The island is just one of many suburbs of Lagos, the largest city in Africa with an estimated 12 million people. Nigeria itself is home to a whopping 167million people which accounts for one in every six Africans! So, all in all, Nigeria is a fairly big deal as far as the continent is concerned. And Lagos is a fairly big deal as far as Nigeria is concerned. It has been the hub of all things commercial, industrial, economic, you name it, since the country’s inception in 1960 when it gained independence from the United Kingdom. It was the capital until 1991 which was then moved to Abuja to appease those in the north of the country who claimed Lagos was too far away for them.
Due to security concerns I had originally planned to have a driver take me to all of the shops and outlets I needed to visit but after talking to reception (and my own gut instincts) I decided to walk to Nigeria’s largest and most exclusive shopping mall which is about a kilometre from the hotel. The Palms Shopping Mall is nothing compared to the likes of Dubai but it has a few home comforts which foreigners are grateful for – a branch of Mango perhaps! Although I took the first tentative steps to venture outside on foot I was still a little nervy about getting my camera out and snapping away so apologies for the lack of a photo slideshow in this blog!
After surviving my first day I was wondering where all these horror stories come from about Lagos. If you have a search of the web you will find many and even Victoria Island sees armed robberies of expat’s homes and carjacking’s but, still, it’s much safer here than the poorer parts of town, of which there are many. The poverty gap is huge, with many locals in Victoria Island parading around in their 4×4 Mercedes’s and Cadillac’s whilst chatting away on one of their numerous technological gadgets. A couple of miles away on the mainland the slums are all too plain to see. It’s a real shame because the country actual produces huge amounts of wealth but Nigeria’s infamous corruption is all too real and the wealth created does not get shared equally. Well, this is what the taxi drivers were telling me. It’s a common problem in Africa and one which seriously needs addressing if the people are to be given a fighting chance.
Perhaps my initial thoughts on the country are to do with the fact that on the day of my arrival Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament for the third time and people were on a high. Once again, football seems to be a shining light for many in these parts of the world. The tournament win may also account for the lack of traffic on the roads when I arrived. Certainly, on my second day the traffic came out with a vengeance. It took an hour and a half to drive a mile or so as the underdeveloped road network failed to cope with the sheer numbers of vehicles on the roads.
I obviously hope that the horror stories I’ve read are very rare indeed but I’m now in Nigeria’s main oil city of Port Harcourt which, by all accounts is a different kettle of fish altogether. I was speaking to an expat at dinner last night who finds Lagos a safe enough place but he raised his eyebrows when I mentioned I’d be travelling here. I’ve only been here a couple of hours and it already feels quite different – more tense. I have a driver here as walking really is a no-no so let’s hope things go smoothly tomorrow when I’m out and about collecting data.