Is the thought of travelling to Lagos
for work or leisure filling you with uncertainty? Perhaps you have read one of
those annual security reports that rank Lagos near the bottom of global city
security rankings, somewhere between Damascus and Sana’a, with a side of
Chicago South Side thrown in for good measure. According to these reports,
Lagos is one of the most dangerous places in the world, where everything from
walking on two feet to breathing oxygen can get you robbed or killed, and you
especially don’t want to be a foreigner
because that triples the risk factor. Is all of this true, and if so, what will
your likely experience of Lagos be? Well, it’s best to start with the bad news.
So here’s the thing – Lagos does have quite a bit of crime – a lot
of it in fact. The National Bureau of Statistics recently published a
report stating that 45,385 crimes were
reported in Lagos in 2016. The majority of the reported crimes were classified
as ‘Offences Against Property’ and ‘Offences Against Person’, which basically
means theft, criminal damage and personal assault. That statistic might sound
like an awful lot, but bear in mind that the population of Lagos is estimated
at anything between 17 and 21 million people. This means that the statistical
crime rate per 100,000 people in Lagos is about 267/100,000. To put that in
perspective, the equivalent crime rate in New York is about 2104/100,000. Of
course this does not mean that Lagos is actually safer than New York, because
the inefficiency of Nigerian law enforcement means that many crimes are not
detected or reported. Even then, it is worth bearing in mind that in real terms,
Lagos is actually not necessarily more unsafe than anywhere else. We’re about
to start exploring some reasons for this.
A major reason why Lagos is probably
safer than you think is that like any other city, crime rates vary drastically
by neighbourhood. Just like Manhattan and Queensbridge are likely to have
vastly different crime rates due to the sheer economic difference between the
two New York areas, Victoria Island and Oshodi also witness very different
crime numbers. If you are coming into Lagos as a casual visitor or an
expatriate worker, it is very unlikely that you will frequent any of the
neighbourhoods identified as trouble spots in Lagos. One thing you will see
that might make you slightly uncomfortable is just how unequal different parts
of the city are, and how that translates into divergent living standards. If
you live on a quiet street in Ikoyi, you are likely to enjoy the very visible
presence of armed police and paramilitary protection around the clock. This is
not the case for Mushin or Igando. In other cities, many undesirable elements
avoid upper class neighourhoods because they are unfamiliar with them, even
though they are physically able to visit those places at will. Lagos on the
other hand, is one place where people are actively profiled by law enforcement
and private security before gaining access into middle to upper class
districts. The economic stratification and resultant crime differential is not
subtle or unspoken at all. So if you spend the majority of your time within the
wealthier parts of the city, chances are you will probably never be disturbed.
Another reason Lagos is not Mogadishu
is that there are private alternatives to the inadequate public security
services. These private security services often have a liberal remit to bear
firearms and patrol large areas of the city, which unsurprisingly are the
wealthier parts. You have probably noticed a pattern of economic distinction
between low crime and high crime areas, and unfortunately, this is the reality
in Lagos. Many expatriates work for firms that hire private security outfits or
armed police under private arrangements, which is all completely legal.
The final and most overlooked reason
why you will probably not lose your kidney in Lagos is that you largely control
your own security situation. Robbers, thieves, assassins and other assorted
terrors of the Lagosian night all work with information. If they do not know
enough about you, they cannot get to you. If you want to live ostentatiously
and move around like you are on Safari in the Serengeti when you are in Lagos,
you should also have a huge budget for security, because you will attract a lot
of undesirable attention to yourself. Loud jewelry, drop-top coupes, flashy
spending habits and a rich-kid attitude will draw the wrong kind of crowd to
you. You really cannot make the distinction between bedazzled hangers-on and
thieving opportunists over here, because it doesn’t exist. So you need to keep
your circle as small as possible, establish a reliable routine, make friends
with your neighbours and other useful people, and above all make it clear that
you are not swimming in oodles of cash. This is especially pertinent if you are
visibly an ‘Oyibo’, i.e non-black foreigner, because the general impression is
that all ‘Oyibos’ in Lagos are working for oil multinationals and getting paid
the annual Nigerian median wage daily. Even if that is true of you, or perhaps especially if it is true, nobody needs
to know. Keep all your income and financial information secret. Also try to
avoid having many people over at your place, especially if you do not know
All of this is not to say that you will definitely never face any
challenges with crime in Lagos. It is after all, the largest and most
economically vibrant city in what is still a very poor country. You might heed
all this advice and still be unfortunate with a crime incident, but for the
most part, your experience in Lagos will be one of discovery rather than
regret. The vast majority of Lagosians will view you as a polite curiosity, and
not as prey. You will probably make a number of great friends and have the time
of your life.
Just don’t mention how much you make.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Basket
Scroll to Top