Welcome to Lagos. A very congested city of approximately 22 million people (though no-one is quite sure exactly how many.) It’s the most populous city south of the Sahara and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. That’s why they moved the capital to Abuja.
I've arrived from Mali.
All is well until my new guide, smiley Hassan and his aide, Cousin Abu, put their car on the road. The journey to my hotel in the Ikeja, airport neighbourhood, is projected to take ten minutes. But the traffic is hardly moving, and it takes just under two hours. The day begins with me accidentally pouring a litre of water over my day pack, when I’m having breakfast. Then I’m off to see what Lagos has to offer. Lagos was named by the Portuguese - the word means ‘lakes’. The original capital was built on Lagos Island, one of several islands floating in the huge Lagos Lagoon, formed by the delta of the River Ogun. It houses one of the largest and busiest seaports on the continent.
Lagos Island is reached by several bridges. Ours, at 11 kilometres, is the longest in Africa. Lagos is a major financial centre in Africa; houses unlike any other African capital, more Asian, even European, with its tower blocks and glass fronted shops. It’s a mass of elevated roadways, characterful touches, whole buildings painted vividly, as advertisements, and slow-moving traffic. Hawkers weave in and out of the cars, trays of fruit and drinks balanced on their heads, ignoring the signs threatening six months imprisonment for doing this. There’s a huge fishing village lining the edges of the lagoon and heading towards the island, where it becomes an enormous logging village. Teak and mahogany are floated in the water here to make it easier to saw up. Then it’s dried over ovens. There’s a pall of smoke over the whole area. And over the whole of Lagos for that matter.
Lagos Island isn't really an island. It's a whole series of islands in the lagoon, joined by bridges. like Venice. but not quite. It has an Afro-Brazilian quarter, created by the families of returned slaves. The streets are narrow and it’s impossible to stop and admire the Portuguese colonial style architecture. We do manage to look inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, though the cleaning women scowl when I try and go inside. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Hassan tells me that the architecture is ancient Brazilian style. It looks like ornate neo-Romanesque to me. Most of the houses have been demolished or torn down to make way for apartment blocks or shops, sold off by the descendants of the original owners. What could be a very picturesque area is sadly turning into a nondescript hotch potch.
Up the road are British colonial buildings, most notably the pastel walls and towers of the Mapo Hall, as well as the old racecourse entrance decorated with statues of horses rearing on the gates. These and the abandoned national administrative buildings are now all dedicated to civic affairs.
The National Museum is closed at ten, as no-one has come with the key yet - it was due to open at nine. So, we go back later, for a tour of the mainly animist related exhibits, masks and initiation ceremony explanations. The boards tell me that there are many ethnic groups in Nigeria, as in most West African countries, but the three principal tribes are the Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo. If you are an Ibo wife, you get presented with a special stool after you’ve had 12 children. There's also the car in which revolutionary general, Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated.
Next Badagry Island
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