Welcome to Lagos, Africa’s largest city. A land of *[insert generic line about prosperity
and warmth]
*. An unrivalled gateway city to *[insert line about how the whole of Africa’s economy works
through Lagos]
*. This is the city in Nigeria where *[obligatory line about your dreams
coming true]
*. Are you bored yet? You should be, because this
article does not intend to rehash the usual tired tropes and sentiments about
Lagos being a member of our family. It isn’t. No member of our family has the
polar extremes of Ikoyi and Mushin existing alongside 17 odd million spirits
inside one head. The purpose of this article is to examine Lagos as a social
and economic entity and answer this question truthfully – is this a good place
to live? Is it worth it?

Infrastructure and

Lagos regularly close to the bottom of international studies
and surveys about traffic, transportation systems, power supply, emergency
services, clean pipe-borne water, ease of doing business, rule of law, and all
round general sanity. It would appear that pretty much everything that makes up
a 21st century city in Lagos is either nonexistent or being built
over an existing scene of chaos, like the Light Rail Blue Line, which is
currently fighting with Marina and Okokomaiko, 3 years past the deadline and
wildly over-budget. All of this is not a secret. Lagos is a very tough place to
receive high quality public services, even at substantial personal cost. There
is just one problem however – the rest of Nigeria is literally decades behind Lagos. The poorly
constructed and over-populated districts of Lagos are better than the poorly
constructed and over-populated districts of Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Benin
and Ibadan. The overstretched emergency services in Lagos which are barely
hanging on are better than the non-existent emergency services across the rest
of the country. The overworked and inefficient Tin Can Island port is better
than the non-functioning ports in Rivers, Delta and elsewhere. I could go on, but
you get the point – Lagos is the proverbial one-eyed king in the kingdom of the
blind. If you are living in Nigeria and you want to experience a remotely
decent level of service delivery and public infrastructure, you have to be in
*The exception
is Abuja, which obviously isn’t really a place – just a shiny hunk of concrete suspended
somewhere between Nassarawa and Kaduna.

Economy and Business

Of Nigeria’s estimated $408bn economy, Lagos controls
roughly $136bn. What this means is that if Lagos were a country, it would be
the 5th largest economy in Africa ahead of countries like Morocco,
Angola, Tunisia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya. Economically, Lagos holds Nigeria
by the short and curlies. Uniquely positioned at the southwestern coast of
Nigeria, it houses Nigeria’s only 100% functional seaport, Nigeria’s busiest
land border, and Nigeria’s busiest international airport. It is thus the sole
entry and exit point for the products and ideas of 177 million people. It is
not by accident that just about every field of endeavor in Nigeria (except
politics) has its most important proving ground in Lagos, from entertainment
(Alaba Market) to international trade (Tin Can Island Port/Seme Border) to
aviation (Murtala Mohammed International Airport) to hospitality. If you are
looking for a job in Nigeria, you have a greater chance of finding one in Lagos
than anywhere else, and if you want to start a business, the population of
17-21 million economically active people gives you your biggest chance of
success in West Africa. Whether it is the semi-literate hustler from Minna who
moved to Lagos to get a job as a security guard, or the upcoming artist who
went to Lagos to pursue her dream, or the ambitious entrepreneur who
established a presence in Lagos to grow his business, everyone in Nigeria
eventually needs to gravitate toward Lagos for economic purposes sooner or

Entertainment and

Lagos is the nightlife and entertainment capital of West
Africa. That is not a statement of ambition or aggrandizement, but merely a
fact. The movie, music and fashion behemoth that gave the world ‘Nollywood’ and
‘Afrobeats’ is domiciled almost exclusively in Lagos, and it has spread its
tentacles across Africa and beyond, spawning a new wave of pop culture that has
influenced everyone from Drake to Lupita Nyongo. If you are looking for a good
time of any description, chances are
you will find it in Lagos, whether it is Moroccan food or Indian cinema.
Depending on your taste and budget, you can explore the bright lights of the
Island and Lekki and experience the wide selection of nightclubs, bars,
restaurants, live performances and themed events available every night. The
mainland offers a brilliant mix of prosaic and bohemian nightlife, with regular
conventional hangouts and entertainment spots interspersed with everything from
skateboard scenes to pop-up comedy clubs. Whatever you need to relax and get
your creative juices flowing, Lagos has it in spades.


Being a melting pot for hundreds of distinct Nigerian identities
is not enough. Lagos is also a truly global city in terms of ethnic, national,
cultural and racial makeup. Gone are the days when a few expatriate oil workers
with armed police escorts were all the diversity you could find over here.
These days, the person struggling to merge in traffic next to you in traffic at
a toll gate could be a Swiss woman making a school run before heading to work.
You could go to Ilupeju at 8PM and spot a fully wrapped and turbaned Sikh
gentleman walking down the road to the local Spar, and nobody would bat an
eyelid. Lagos has become more than just a place where lots of different people
meet to transact business, but also a home where people exchange knowledge,
ideas and cultural norms. None of this is totally new of course, as even the
word “Lagos” along with an entire quarter of the original architecture of Lagos
Island comes from interaction with Portuguese traders and Brazilian returnees.
Looking at everything in this article, it might seem as if
the answer to the question is “Yes, by default”, because it is not so much a
case of Lagos being great as that of the rest of Nigeria being bad in
comparison. Certainly there is an element of truth in that. However, looking
beyond the problems of Lagos or the wider deficiencies of Nigeria, it is also
plain to see that there is a unique energy and vitality that only exists in
Lagos. This city is a place where creativity and problem solving is constantly
rewarded, and the skills you can pick up from just living and surviving here
are priceless. The cultural and creative exchange that takes place in Lagos
hardly achieves such a scale in many other places, and for many people, the
everyday challenges of Lagos are merely questions to be answered, and not
insurmountable obstacles. With the right perspective, a healthy dose of
optimism, a dash of street smartness (and possibly a slight amount of alcohol),Lagos
can be as good a place as any to live.

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