The “Lagos Experience” through the Eyes of an Expat: Love it Or Hate it, Lagos IS the Centre of Excellence! – Read Part II

In recent times, a detailed and thought-provoking op-ed published online about Nigeria & Nigerians and written by a British expatriate formerly based in Nigeria, generated a lot of controversy and discourse. {Read the piece here}. Some Nigerians were of the opinion the writer’s points were sound and justified and that Nigerians generally do not like being criticized, particularly by non-Nigerians. Others railed against the piece, calling it unsavoury and biased.

Below is the first of a 3-part series written by an expatriate – Edward*. He has lived and worked in Lagos, Nigeria for 6 years, as well as in a few other African countries. Read on to hear his sometimes poignant and sometimes critical take on his experiences and perspective on life in Nigeria.

The second part of the series is called “Three Things I Dislike About Lagos/Nigeria in General”. {If you missed part I, click here to catch up}. We hope that Lagosians and residents of this bustling city can relate to the piece. We’d like your thoughts on the accuracy or otherwise of this narration especially as it is a view from the lens of an expatriate.

Lack of Electricity
It’s commonly said in the international media that Nigerian businesses and “those who can afford it” rely on generator power for their primary electricity. This is false, at least for Lagos.

Nearly ALL Lagosians rely on generator power for a key part of their electricity, including the poorest of the poor who pay rents of as low as $150 per annum. A generator is an essential part of every household and business in Lagos.

The toll that the electricity situation takes on Nigerians is difficult to fathom:
• We rush to iron clothes and charge phones when grid power happens to come back on
• We spend a small fortune buying, fuelling, servicing and repairing generators
• We dare not purchase too much food for fear that it will spoil
• In Lagos, we tend to cook more tomato stews (American: tomato sauces) that can last for several days, as opposed to more traditional dishes
• The average life of all electrical equipment is cut by at least half, even though we use expensive stabilisers to try to minimise the risk
• Local television is terrible, because viewership levels are not where they should be for a country this size and with this GDP
• We only know milk as a powder that gets mixed in coffee or tea
• There are very few manufacturing jobs, since factories are forced to use expensive diesel power to operate
• The lack of competitive manufacturing means that everything costs more, whether it’s processed locally or imported. We pay more, but the goods will not last as long as they should!
• But most of all, so much time, thought, money, energy and effort is spent on the electricity situation, thus leaving less time for other key life issues

Self-centredness
Through some combination of “end justifies the means” or “time is money” or “every man for himself” or perhaps simply high-level corruption and apathy creeping into the base of society, Nigerians generally come off as relatively greedy, aggressive, selfish, loud, arrogant and uncaring, as compared to citizens of other countries in West Africa.

This self-centredness manifests itself in a variety of ways, in everything from non-payment of bills to all forms of transport (plane, car, bus, motorbike, walking, elevators, escalators, train, etc.) to flip-flopping logic to phone etiquette to gawking and laughing at misfortune to avoidance of responsibility to outright lying and theft.

We like to have things made locally, like clothes and furniture, but we always withhold about half of the payment until the product is finished, or else the item may take months to make and come out shabbily.

We complain and point and yell and honk our horns when other people drive the wrong way in traffic or cut into our lane or stop in the middle of the road to call a friend for directions (or stop to greet a friend they see or stop to watch some people along the road), but then we do the exact same things ourselves. When asked why we are reversing 30 metres against traffic to get back to a turn that we missed, thus endangering other cars and perhaps making a series of other cars back up to accommodate us, we give a stupid answer like “Ah…just go back small small.”

I’ve been on buses carrying 100 people, where I’m absolutely comfortable because I’m amongst some of the hardest working people you’ll find in Africa, where people will not bother to pepper me with silly comments and questions because they simply don’t have time for such nonsense, but where, when a 55-year old woman carrying a heavy load enters the bus and looks for a seat, every single person will pretend not to see her, choosing instead to stare at the floor, stare intently ahead, turn their head or play with their phone.

Sadly, this all stems from a general lack of empathy. We’ll laugh at the person who got cheated out of his spot in the fuel queue he’s been waiting in for one hour. We’ll laugh at the footballer who is writhing in pain on the pitch, whether he’s a professional or a 13-year old. We’ll ignore calls from clients awaiting their reports that they were promised days earlier. We’ll point and giggle at the motorbike operator and passenger who fell in the road, spilling papers everywhere and potentially scraping themselves in the process.

Again, perhaps this is due to high-level corruption and apathy creeping into the base of society, but it’s a cold, hard reality that limits what Nigerians are generally willing to do for their fellow man, for their community and for their country.

I was once getting fuel at a filling station in Abuja, when a trailer disconnected from the truck on a road with a sharp downward slope. The truck crashed into some vehicles and motorbikes, likely injuring a few people, while the trailer continued down the slope until it smashed into some more motorbikes, possibly killing a few people. Right next to me were three policemen sitting under a shade tree, pretending to be oblivious to what had happened on the road. Nobody ever thinks to call a policeman to come and help; we all know that that is not what they are paid to do here in Nigeria.

Most Tolerant & Intolerant People in the World
We don’t do anything when politicians steal billions of dollars, but we’ll angrily denounce a foreign TV programme that showcases the gap between Nigeria’s rich and poor.

We’ll politely pull to the side of the road to make room for a noisy, erratic police convoy taking a minister’s wife to the shopping mall, but we’ll complain bitterly about a motorbike driver who’s obeying all laws but driving relatively slow in front of us, ultimately cursing him as we drive around him.

For women, we’ll keep dating or remain married to a man who is relentlessly unfaithful, unappreciative, rude, selfish and childish, but we’ll criticise a married woman for even thinking of allowing a male friend into the house alone. And we’d certainly rather he cheat and abuse us than be faithful and gay!

We’ll say nothing when an infrastructure project is announced at 50 times the cost of a similar project in other countries, and still say nothing when the project stalls after two years due to “lack of funds”, but we’ll argue vehemently over a soiled 20 Naira note on the bus.

We’ll manage days on end with no grid electricity or with 2-hour long petrol queues or teacher strikes or lack of running water, but we’ll criticise the man who didn’t wash his car or shine his shoes to a sharp lustre.

We’ll drive over the same deteriorating pot-holes every day from home to work, but we’ll yell at the boys who eventually patch up the holes and try to ask drivers for small change for their efforts.

We’ll carry around three mobile phones due to network deficiencies, but ignore calls from any unrecognised number (maybe our own illiterate father’s new second line?) and get angry when someone doesn’t drop everything they are doing to pick our particular call (maybe they’re in a meeting, or on the toilet, or sleeping?).

We’ll say nothing as a Christian or Muslim group leads an all-night worship session outside our home, led by an MC who does not understand that a microphone or bull-horn eliminates the need to yell at maximum volume, but we’ll lead an office prayer amongst diverse peoples with comments like “because Jesus said the only path to heaven is through him” or “We thank you Allah and we know that you are the one, true God”.

When our boys play with a stick, we’ll encourage them to hit people with it and when they cry we’ll ask them “who did it?” until a female is blamed for the mini-trauma, but we’ll never tolerate a girl to play with sticks or to shed a single tear.

We’ll vote straight party line for candidates that we know steal tens of millions of dollars annually, but we’ll take part in chasing any ethnic minority out of our neighbourhood if the election turns contentious.

Photo Credit: essence.com

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Keep refreshing BellaNaija.com for the finale of this insightful series.

21 Comments on The “Lagos Experience” through the Eyes of an Expat: Love it Or Hate it, Lagos IS the Centre of Excellence! – Read Part II
  • Dee September 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Very sad because it is true. Nigerians generally hate hearing the truth and that is another one of our many problems. Our Country is the way it is not just because of out leaders but because of each of us. The other day a young lady who just moved back was advising others that one of the things to note as an entrepreneur in 9ja is to learn to do the needful, basically pay bribe. Nigeria is only as bad as the people in it and even i am ashamed of doing some of the things he highlighted. We have all become so insensitive and used to the status co.

  • Iyke September 26, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I have worked for a better Nigeria in place beneath my aching feet…
    A Nigeria of positive intentions seeded…for both you and me.
    A land whose sole purpose of being…honors all her diverse citizens and mankind…
    A life without the strain of strife…a country reborn…
    Shame, it’s all getting worse each day…. a country without uncompromising character seeded within the heart, spirit and foundation of self worth…is meaningless and fraudulent…and regrettably, I have moved beyond trying, and resigned to think the worst of my beloved country and her citizens…
    not because it is my desire…but because Nigeria has insisted…and begrudgingly I must comply…

  • sissy September 26, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    what is the point of this article.will this change anything?why depress ourselves further.who cares what the expatriates say about Lagos,like we don’t know it already .

    • D September 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      aunty its becos of people like you that nigeria will probably never move forward.

    • Concerned_Boyfriend September 26, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      I wish you read the first article. You’re a classic example of why the country is what it is. …”Who cares ?”… All of the black people in the diaspora cares, our posterity cares, the world cares!. We cannot and should not be satisfied with the status quo. This is a call to action for each and every one of us. Situation are not going to change if we continue to sit on the fence.

  • ccc September 26, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Hmm…expat? Or returnee who got hired as an expat? Or just plain returnee? Because this -language, grammar, choice of words, scenarios- really sounds ‘nigerian’. Not that it really matters, because you gotta talk about this stuff sometimes; just that it’s nice to be clear and honest where the writer is coming from. Although, not sure if their write up would get this much exposure if it wasn’t promoted as it has been.

    • jcsgrl September 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      ccc you’re so right. This sounds like a nja returnee but he talked true anyway. Nja can be tiresome I tell ya. Where do you even start?

  • slice September 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    And I say Amen to that.

    “Nobody ever thinks to call a policeman to come and help; we all know that that is not what they are paid to do here in Nigeria.”

    I read this happened in Kenya this past week as well. Policemen hiding away, doing nothing when those bastards attacked.

  • Es September 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Wow…these are so true. Very well written. It’s so dead on and it’s the same for Ghana as well. When will things get better? May God help us.

    • Xtsy September 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Things will not get better, its d way of our present world. Most basic/average peeps believe that being so bloody attention seeking, garrulous and aggressive is the only guarantee to self preservation. Time will tell ……

    • Sel September 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

      It’s not the same in Ghana. At least to a certain extent. When you are admitted to a 4 year university program, you are sure to graduate in 4 years. Yes there are strikes but the longest I’ve witnessed lasted less than 2 weeks! A Nigerian friend of mine was surprised when I mentioned that we pay water bills in Ghana. Acc to him, in PH where he lived the govt did not provide water and you had to dig your own bore hole.
      Aside the periodic crisis at the Akosombo dam, electricity is pretty much constant. On good days you can have one month constant electricity with no power cuts. Most people do NOT own generators because they don’t have to.
      Yes the police is corrupt but I don’t hear of any reckless shootings and killings by policemen in Ghana.
      Apart from pick pockets and incidental robberies, Ghana is generally safe.No fear of kidnappers, ritualists and what nots.
      I’m not trying to paint Ghana as the perfect nation, we do have our problems as with any developing nation but it’s definitely not as bad as Nigeria.

      On another note, I honestly believe that Nigeria is the Giant of Africa and it has a lot of potential but change must come from the citizens themselves. I believe that this can be achieved through enlightenment. Just from reading Nigerian blogs I know there are a lot of enlightened citizens but most of them just talk, with little action. Even BN itself has a a great platform to take initiative and act on some issues because it has access to a a lot of insights into the mind of Nigerians. But it would rather talk and no action. There would be a lot of talk about this article, some would agree with the writer, some would cuss the writer for saying such about Nigeria but in the end there would be no action.

      • Dolapo September 27, 2013 at 11:07 am

        With all due respect I don’t get the whole Nigeria v Ghana comparison. The whole population of Ghana can fit into Lagos state. Ghana us no where near as bad as Nigeria because it doesn’t have anywhere near as many problems as Nigeria. Look at nigeria’s history and look at Ghana’s. Two very different countries.

  • Lara September 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    @ 8:16pm it’s not the same for ghana, we have electricity
    and water pretty much all the time… andwhen electricity goes off
    it’s for 2 hours… if there is load shedding, it is announced. i
    don’t know which part of ghana you have been, but this is nothing
    like ghana.

  • Sel September 27, 2013 at 7:52 am

    That is why is can’t get someone like Toke. There is a lot she could do with the kind of voice she has, yet she chooses to talk about how to know you are a side chick, why you should only have friends who wear the same designer cloths as you, why you shd put your friends in a box etc. And please don’t give me that crab that she’s an entertainment person cos even miss world that is the most superficial pageant is placing a lot of emphasis on beauty with a purpose. How someone can be so depthless and yet be celebrated in a society baffles me.

    • Dolapo September 27, 2013 at 11:10 am

      Nobody would take her seriously if she attempted to talk about anything tangible in her vblogs. She is clearly a person more concerned with the superficial things in life. Fashion.
      , haters, weave, bleaching etc.

    • Cee October 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      How Toke take enter the matter now? Instead of focussing on what someone else is doing be the change you want to see. No use bashing someone else here if you yourself have not done your part. Yes she has made a name for herself in the industry making funny videos.(which are always a good laugh by the way. Toke kills me) You too can also make a name for your self by starting a charity, lobbying the government for change etc. Its difficult but when there is a will there is a way. Celebrities are not super human. Change does not happen in one day. We can’t sit around and type on our computers and expect Nigeria to change

  • faith September 27, 2013 at 7:58 am

    The oda day I had to bribe phcn oga to clear my bills…I met this bill wen I moved into d shop o…at first I wanted to do it d ryt way by applying for a readjustment but they kept on delaying n cutting my light…..

  • impervious September 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Read the original article and quite frankly the man was 100% fair about what he said. There are decent, hard working Nigerians all over the world and even in Nigeria, but quite frankly those numbers are few and far between. He was also spot on about the lack of activities in Lagos… how many bars and movies can one really watch. How safe is it really to just go for a walk and take pictures, God help you if you don’t get run over. Cheap and cheerful things like weekends outdoors hiking, outdoor sports are few and far in between. If like me you had to restart life in Lagos it takes a while to meet like minded people for something as basic as a dinner party…. not a party oh….. just dinner, wine and conversation. I do love this city, I am a Nigerian through and through, but it is not for the faint hearted

  • Miss Anonymous September 27, 2013 at 10:44 am

    A lot of what the writer says is sadly true. The other day I was sitting at an airport departure lounge which was packed full and a heavily pregnant woman came in pulling a toddler along. They walked all the way down looking for where to sit and people pretended not to see them , it was only myself and the man sitting beside me (who happened to be African American) who eventually offered them our seats.

  • omada September 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    100% true!

  • Caro September 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    It’s all true. Living in Nigeria most of my life and then leaving and living abroad. It made me believe in Gods grace. It is by the Grace of God that people survive in Nigeria.

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