Lagos Notes: Beloved and Dreaded City of Modern Nigeria

Maria Glover

Maria Glover, a native of Lagos, is a graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, and of the University of Leicester in England





Slums don’t make headlines anymore. In most cities of the world slums have become such routine and part of daily life they don’t count any more.  Some slums are better than others. Others are so bad even its rodent population agree conditions perhaps ought to be better.

Lagos that mammoth loved and feared city was once the neat and trim seat of colonial power, and later the capital of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today Lagos still is the commercial hub of the country and boasts many slums scattered along its many arteries. Perhaps the most fascinating of them are situated oddly enough right in the middle of the city’s wealthiest, most elegant and most exclusive districts, the Victoria Island and Lagos Island. The city is divided into two, the Island and the Mainland. The whole make up Lagos State of Nigeria. Lagos is actually a city state.

If you are anybody in the city, you live and do business on the Island. To sample the experience of authentic cultural offers as can be found at the Shrine of the famed Afro beat King, Fela Kuti, you have to visit the Mainland. The Mainland is where some of the city’s most colorful events take place. Otherwise the Island is where the action is and where who is who of Nigeria reside. Forget Abuja; forget the elegant northern city of Kano or the cultured western city of Ibandan. Many of the largest Corporations, foreign and domestic, have their headquarters in Lagos. Despite the shift of the capital to the brand new city of Abuja two decades ago, the large embassies in the country still maintain a presence here and run many of their operations from here. Lagosians think of themselves as a breed apart


In this city so beloved of its citizens and so feared by strangers, it has become a status symbol to mention that you live on the Island, not on the Mainland. The drop of the name immediately signifies that one is a person of wealth, affluence, even power. Top civil servants, top politicians, top business people, diplomats, military men, even churchmen live here. Top crooks, especially of the internet variety, known locally as  Yahoo Boys,  live here too. But Status is not only the reason why people choose to live on Victoria Island. Many jobs are located here and there is the convenience of living close to one’s work place thus avoiding the horrible business of commuting on the city’s traffic clog roadways where drivers draw up their own traffic laws moment by moment as they negotiate their way in the heat and congestion.

Within the proximity of the palatial residences of Victoria Island stand some of the world’s most expensive slum real estates. Here the cost of renting one tiny and shoddy apartment can be the equivalent of rent for 2 luxury residential homes elsewhere in the city. Here the living condition is so bad even rodents and cockroaches, of which are plenty, might complain. Here on the parking lot of these dilapidated slum apartments, stand some of the choicest cars in Lagos, here the tiny DSTV television cable antennae pop out of every window. Here live some of the most well paid people in the city. You ask yourself, why do the good folks put up with so much rot, year after year? Answer: this is the Lagos thing. And this dear friend is the reason the town got so bad in the first place and why every attempt to fix it has so far not succeeded.