Monday, July 6, 2009

My Maiden Voyage to Lagos, Nigeria

For me this trip has been a long time coming considering my maternal grandfather is from this country (Lagos and Ibadan).

My flight from Accra to Lagos was quick and uneventful with all the trappings of the increasing interaction between the two countries. I saw an old school mate of mine on the flight who I hadn’t seen in over 10yrs. He is currently the head of corporate communications for the Ghana branch of a Nigerian bank and was heading to Lagos for a meeting of other heads of communication within the bank.

I also saw two teenage “dada ba” Nigerian girls who looked like they went on a day trip to Accra because they were bored or wanted to get away. There were many others who looked like they make that Accra-Lagos trip often –much like a NYC-Washington DC Amtrak station look.

Since the emergence of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential Campaign in the US, the old republican conservative mantra about “government does not have a place in our lives” has come up in one too many debates.

My first inclination driving from the airport in the dark night (with street lights that don’t work) was that anybody who doesn’t believe in government should visit Lagos for a weekend. For the most part it’s “everyone for himself, God for us all”.

I was in Lagos for 4 days and the national power grid NEPA was on for less than 2 hours total. That a nation that has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the entire world cannot provide electricity to its citizens who are willing and able to pay for this service is beyond belief. I saw people driving in Rolls Royces and Range Rovers in the Victoria Island-Lekki Pennisula areas, living in homes that could double as a huge multi-level church building or mosque. I also saw abject poverty in other areas of the mainland (Mile 2 area, Ikeja, etc). The disparity between the ultra-rich and the ordinary man is obscene.

A lot has been said about the differences and similarities between Ghana and Nigeria. I’ll save my comparisons for a more elaborate analysis except the oft compared “Ghana Woman” and “Naija Woman” (see Wo Se Ekyir blog "First Impressions of Lagos: Ghanaian's Perspective").

In a very general sense I will agree that Nigerian women have prettier faces whereas Ghanaian women have nicer bodies. For some reason, these generalizations do not apply to Ghanaian and Nigerian women in the US. Maybe the US is just the great equalizer as they say or both countries send their “best & brightest” to the US (or better still maybe I’m just hedging my options).

Other observations, experiences and questions:

  • The Okada are a lawless bunch (sometimes they just decide to ride their motorcycles against traffic with reckless abandon). However, they provide a crucial means of transportation for the masses.

  • Seems to me like there’s no utilitarianism (common good) in the Nigerian psyche. Why is that?

  • If you see a building that looks like it hasn’t been painted since 1950 it’s likely a government building and someone “chopped” the money designated for paint.

  • Nigerians are fearless business minded people.

  • I’ve been in traffic in New York and Los Angeles. There’s nothing like Lagos traffic. Nothing!

  • Not to sound like a pessimist but I can’t think through a scenario where Nigeria gets back to what we know as “normal” – running water and electricity on demand. Can someone please help me? Under what circumstances does this country return to a place where the ordinary guy gets a fair share?
  • For a long time I wondered why a lot of Nigerians living in the Diaspora decide never to go back and live in Nigeria. I understand now. You feel like a drop of water in the ocean. There’s not much 1 person could do to steer a nation of about 150 million in the right direction unless you are the President or something like that.

  • I drove in Lagos for 2 days. I should get some kind of certificate I can hang on my wall.

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