It's hard to imagine a city with a worse reputation. Mexico City gets a
bad rap for its pollution. Johannesburg gets a bad rap for its crime and
Well, Lagos has all of the aforementioned nasties in abundance and then
some. It is a city in disrepair in every imaginable way- a clogged
up, crime-ridden mass of humanity crammed into what could be some of the
most pleasant ocean-side real estate imaginable. Beat-up yellow vans and
over-sized buses ply the various motorways while belching black smoke into
the sky. Gangs of jobless youths, known as "area boys," wait beneath the
motorways for the inevitable car breakdown, which will provide them the
opportunity to swarm in like vultures and strip the victims clean.
Electricity is practically non-existent. The police, underpaid and understaffed, often clash with the vigilante O'dua People's Congress
(OPC). Unfortunately, the OPC, an ethnic militia group claiming to
champion the political cause of the Yoruba tribe, are frequently accused of
complicity with criminals. All of these factors added up seriously
undermine the claim of Lagos to be the "Center of Excellence" (which is boldly
displayed on all car number plates).
At the same time, it's hard to imagine a place that's more alive.
The humid night air often sizzles with the infectious polyrhythms of Fela
Anikulapo Kuti, the king of Afro-Beat and Nigeria's favorite son. At the
infamous "Bar Beach," located on the south end of posh Victoria Island,
young Nigerians get together to discuss, in loud, friendly banter, the
latest in Nigerian parliamentary shenanigans or the latest in American
Troops of local musicians, decked out in
tunic-like local dress, beat out requests on various drums, one of which,
dubbed the "talking drum," makes a warbling bass noise when squeezed. The
smell of "suya", choice beef dipped in a powdered peanut and chili paste,
fills the air and kickstarts the tastebuds.
And, fueling the festivities
are extra-large bottles of Star and Gulder beer. There is even a Nigerian
version of Guinness available, which, as many Nigerians point out proudly,
is twice as potent, twice as bitter, and can be bought in a bottle twice the
size of the original Irish version.