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The “Lagos Experience” through the Eyes of an Expat: Love it Or Hate it, Lagos IS the Centre of Excellence! – Read Part 1

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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 first part of the series is called “Three Things I Love About Lagos” 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.

Lagos is Home to EVERYBODY
Similar to New York, London, Berlin, Singapore, Lagos is an “everybody city”. You can probably find people from over 100 countries living in Lagos, with the bulk of the foreigners coming from nearby countries like Benin, Niger, Togo, Cameroon and Ghana.

For most of the day, hustling people cannot be bothered to worry about each other’s looks, accents, religious affiliation, nationality, etc. Most Lagosians have to earn their daily bread, so there’s no point wasting time with discriminatory pricing in markets, transport fares, etc.

In Lagos markets, shops and transit points, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Beninois, South-South, Calabar and Edo peoples sit side-by-side doing their business. I buy tomatoes and peppers from my Hausa lady, plantains from my Yoruba student and fish from the Beninois women. Now, being Southwest Nigeria, you’ll certainly hear more Yoruba than other languages, but there’s no time for shame if you’re not Yoruba.

Lagos is a Land of Opportunity
Forget the international press clippings about over-population and Lagos being a slum city, etc., etc. Life in Lagos is far better than in most of West Africa, which is why half a million people relocate to Lagos every year. They cannot find work in their home states or countries, so they come to Lagos, selling GSM recharge cards in traffic by day and sleeping under bridges at night. Whether their dreams are big or small, they have come to the place where dreams might come true.

Even for the better-educated or well-off, Lagos is where nearly everyone ends up. Yesterday evening, as I was out sharing ice cream with a friend in Victoria Island, she looked up with surprise upon seeing an old classmate that she hadn’t spoken to in years. For her, it was an amazing example of how “it’s a small world.” For me, it was absolutely normal, something I’ve seen fifty times or more. Of course the old friend ended up in Lagos – this is where you HAVE to be if you want to make it professionally.

Whether you work in banking, oil & gas, manufacturing, telecommunications, property development, trading or any other sector except farming, the odds are extraordinarily high that your largest customers and largest competitors are based in Lagos, that you import/export all goods into/out of Lagos and that you are intimately familiar with Lagos’ daily traffic and seasonal weather patterns.

Lagos is a Hub for Good Food
If you’re like me, you’ll adore the variety of dishes unique to this part of the world, the freedom to eat with your hands, the pleasure of seeing hard-working women satisfied when you ask for second helpings and the awe in which your friends watch their fellow Nigerians stare at you.

However, if you’re like many better-off Lagosians, you’ll appreciate the availability of imported and non-traditional foods like cereals, Indomie pasta, cashews, Gala snacks, soft drinks, canned fish and vegetables, chocolate bars, Guinness beer, etc., as well as the large variety of slow-food and fast-food restaurants. In Lagos, you can find Chinese, Indian, Thai, Brazilian, American, Japanese, Lebanese, French, Italian, British and of course Nigerian restaurants to name a few.

We have pepper soup, Eba, Moin-moin, Fufu, Okro, Egusi, Eemovita, Pounded yam, Starch, Banga, Ogbono, Vegetable soup (varies by region), boiled yam, yam fries, yam porridge, dodo, plantain chips, fish stew, Suya, Guinea fowl, bitter leaf, periwinkle, Chapman drinks, Jollof rice, coconut rice, fried rice, groundnut soup, rice Tuwo, maize Tuwo, Akara, Kilishi, Kuli-kuli, Afang, Amala, chin chin, Puff puff, Edikaikong, Ewedu, e.t.c.

Even with this kind of variety, 99.99% of Lagosians would discover a new dish or food simply by travelling to other parts of the country. The country really is that large and diverse.

Photo Credit: Bayo Omoboriowo

*Not his real name*

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Keep refreshing BellaNaija.com for the next two parts of this insightful series.

26 Comments

  1. Stephanie

    September 25, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Totally agree…Lagos is everyone’s home
    blogsvila.blogspot.com

    1
  2. NikkyDiva

    September 25, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Lagos is the centre of everything good or evil, true definition of Nigeria is Lagos. No Lagos, No Nigeria !

  3. hilda

    September 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Finally..someone sees the positive side of things.

    • andrew

      September 26, 2013 at 9:00 am

      I agree! Tim Newman was depressed when he wrote his long piece (not the one up here; the one that was making rounds on the internet a while ago). Signs:

      – It is when one is depressed that one writes such long pieces, in a bid to understand the meaning of life.
      – He pointed out himself that what he didn’t like about his whole Nigeria stay was not that there was a chance someone would steal his sandwich from the fridge, but that his movement was restricted by his company for ‘security’ reasons. ‘Prisoners’ are usually depressed.
      – Lagos has obviously been good to the guy. The only ‘bad’ things he had to report were experiences of other people. Like me complaining I don’t like the US because I read of shootings everyday. Please commot.
      – He had to relocate, but still remains with the company or working with Nigeria. Barring a major life change, you have to have a big explanation to your company to let them agree to relocate you. Maybe Tim, with all his openness, can clarify this.

      Living in another country is tough, whether you are living in a developed or emerging country. In general, this is NOT how expats see Nigeria. I would hazard a guess that this is not even how Mr. Tim Newman sees Nigeria on a good day. Poor guy is just depressed.

      My advice for Tim: See a shrink.
      My advice for Nigerians: don’t let anyone lie to you with ill-researched examples. As Mz Socially Awkward concluded, Nigeria IS making major strides, despite friends like Monsieur Newman that assert that there have been no changes since 2003. Obviously living under a rock.

    • dapo

      November 11, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      Tim is frustrated. i know him and he worked for Total in Nigeria and now in Paris…he is still very frustrated and bitter. Some people don’t just see any good with any other thing they are used to or know.
      Seriously if he hadn’t the opportunity to be working for Total, he probably would be another low life oyibo….with his chimney(smokaholic) russian wife.

  4. Mz Socially Awkward...

    September 25, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Hahahahaha!! I love it and dude is actually spot on in his description of Lag (although, what do I know? I only lived there for 2 years of my entire life). Going off to read the rest of whatever he wrote which “generated a lot of controversy and discourse”.

    And can I just say that some Nigerians living in other people’s countries really need to take a leaf out of his book and ENGAGE with the cultures and communities around them? It’s shocking to meet Nigerians who’ve lived in countries for multiple years and still refuse to sample local dishes, learn something about the local history or participate in any kind of Non-Nigerian social event. Na just red/blue/rainbow pali all man dey interested in, everything else na waste of time…

    • Bas

      September 25, 2013 at 11:17 am

      He did not write the other piece , that was written by a Tim Newman. This piece is written from the perspective of another expat in Nigeria.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      September 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Bas, I just read it. Tim Newman went hardddddd, though. I laughed at his story of half-eaten sandwiches being stolen from the office fridge but got progressively sadder as I continued reading his account of Nigeria’s evils. I’m not sad because he wrote about his experiences, I’m just sad that the state of the nation made his experiences what they were. Another independence day looms and we are still in regression.

      And what’s up with this statement – “By contrast – and I challenge any Nigerian reading this to disagree – there have been no discernible improvements in Nigeria in the past decade (outside of Abuja, where all the politicians happen to live).”?? Dude said he couldn’t move around freely because of security concerns, so how could he is he able to say that without first visiting cities like Calabar which have experienced very considerable development in the last decade? A lot of truths in the article but also a lot of broad conclusions….

  5. Bim

    September 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Reading Tim Newman’s piece is the business. BN should ask for his permission to publish it here. Seeing Nigeria through a foreigner’s eyes actually made me cry this morning.

    • Toyin

      September 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      yeah, reading Tim’s own views made me really sad for us 🙁

  6. Tinuabe

    September 25, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I hope Lagos state are paying you for the advertising,BN!!

  7. Gistyinka Blog

    September 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Eko ile.. @tinube i think so too so

  8. roundpeginasquarehole

    September 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

    “However, if you’re like many better-off Lagosians, you’ll appreciate the availability of imported and non-traditional foods like cereals, Indomie pasta, cashews, Gala snacks, soft drinks, canned fish and vegetables, chocolate bars, Guinness beer, etc.,”

    Erm…… I thought Indomie, Guinness, Gala were made in Nigeria and cashew is also grown in Nigeria? Yeah there’s the Irish Guinness but it’s less bitter than the naija one

  9. Jane

    September 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Haha Lagos no be everybody home biko but Lagos accomodate everybody….

  10. giggy

    September 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I Love this piece….. makes me appreciate Lagos more

  11. OK

    September 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Na nollywood movie wey dey get part 1 and 2 and 3? Why not put the whole article so that we can have a holistic view of where *Edward is coming from so that we can give our opinions accordingly?

  12. OmoMakun-www.ankarafestla.com

    September 25, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Read Tim Newman’s article and he was so right. Its our
    harsh reality, however I didn’t like the fact that he said Nigeria
    cannot change. If anything, change is constant in this world and I
    honestly believe that Nigeria can and will change for the better.
    One day will be one day, our so-called leaders cannot be on top
    forever. In regards to this article, i couldn’t agree more with
    those 3 reasons…lol! Made me laugh

  13. Chy

    September 26, 2013 at 5:35 am

    compare to other metropolitian cities, Lagos is slowly becoming a slum. The islands are what make Lagos. Lagos is a state of deception. Everyone think they can make it in Lagos. Yes, you can sell this and that; that is only because of the millions of people in there. Develop other states, and what people leave. Soon the islands will want to become their own state.

  14. I Rock

    September 26, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I read Tim Newman’s article and all he wrote about Nigeria may be depressing but they are also a 100% true. I couldn’t agree more with this quote, “the behaviour was identical across all strata: I want more money, and I will do absolutely anything to get it. If you were to replace the politicians – let’s say our 109 senators from before – with 109 random people from the Nigerian citizenry, you would get no change in behaviour. You could repeat the experiment a thousand times, and you would get no change. There is no ruling class in Nigeria, there is just a set of rulers. Where any change is expected to come from I don’t know”. Corruption is in the fabric of Nigeria as a whole…it has eaten very deep into every single institution in the country. Now, everyone is just awaiting their turn for the National Cake. The rich are insatiable and the poor will sell their soul and if possible, those of their family members to the devil to become rich.

    Mr Newman wrote, “in fact, the only behaviour I managed to identify which would cause a Nigerian to be shunned by his peers and made an outcast, is if he decided he wasn’t a believer and therefore wasn’t going to be showing up in church (or mosque) any more. I don’t think I met a single Nigerian who didn’t attend either church or mosque, and religion plays an enormous – possibly the key – role in Nigerian society. I’m not going to go into this topic, mainly because I’m not reflexively anti-religion, but I do suspect that a lot of Nigerians justify unsavoury behaviour during the week by going to church on Sunday and washing themselves of sin”. For a country with so many “religious people”, churches and mosques, one can’t help but wonder who the culprits that are destroying the nation really are.

  15. lola

    September 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

    All that is written here(The “Lagos Experience” through the Eyes of an Expat: Love it Or Hate it, Lagos IS the Centre of Excellence!) is propaganda. Tim Newman saw the correct image of Nigeria. With the teeming unemployment, widespread corruption, and selfishness of the ruling class, I wonder the fate of this country called Nigeria. Anyways, I had myself a laugh with this paragraph culled from Newman’s now famous article (The end of an assignment): “When I was bored in our morning meetings – which was on most days – I would canvas my team’s opinion on certain things, often the state of the country. They were by and large in despair. Nigerians are famously optimistic, but this is often through desperation. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than on the occasion when a bank put a Christmas tree up on a roundabout with “presents” at the bottom, and the next morning all the presents had been ripped open. If somebody thinks a box under a tree on a roundabout contains an X-Box, then you’ve gone way beyond optimism and into desperation or delusion.”

  16. Dee

    September 26, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    So not to long ago BN had posted an article by some lady
    about how to have a succesful business in Nigeria and people were
    hailing the article, that everything written was true and the
    author was being honest, some people even went as far as saying if
    people (who had objected) did not like the article then they should
    not read it. Interestingly, what Tim Newman wrote is EXACTLY what
    the author of the article wrote about the only difference was the
    tone used. The other author was trying to come across as
    inspirational while Tim well was not. Although when I saw the other
    article I was even more upset than I am about Tim’s because there
    was nothing inspirational about it but the truth is both authors
    are 100% right!!! I said it then and I am saying it now, corruption
    has so much eaten deeply into our society that like Tim I don’t see
    how we can get out of it unless God wipes out the entire country
    and we start all over (harsh but true) like he said if all the
    senators are fired today pick randomly other people to replace them
    things will not change because bribery, corruption is the order of
    the day in Nigeria and it has become what i regard as a culture.
    People can criticize Tim all they want but the truth remains. I see
    Nigerians leaving on flights to Nigeria from other countries and
    when you get to Muri airport you wonder if this are the same people
    that got on the plane with you few hours ago. I tell people there
    is something in the air that just makes us turn into thieves and
    act irresponsibly and irrational once our feet touches that
    Nigerian soil. The only point which I disagree with Tim is on the
    Nepotism issue he raised, I don’t care what country you belong to
    and unless Tim is in denial that is everywhere form or rate or
    whatever, people give positions to family members FIRST before
    anyone else. Infact they tell you to network and meet people
    because it is a matter of who you know from the Europe to Asia to
    Africa that is prevalent. Everything else I agree with. Sorry for
    the long speech

  17. mama

    September 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    andrew pls you need to see a shrink to get your thoughts together……

    • andrew

      September 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

      Is Tim masking as mama on the blog now or is this just his
      gf? I’m perfectly fine, thanks for the concern. But I also have
      lived in over 5 countries (not visiting, lived) and I know that Tim
      has to have serious issues. Many of us that lived in the UK/US/etc
      experienced many things that would make Mr. TIm’s stories sound
      like child’s play. Yet we are not whining on blogs. Dude needs a
      shrink and I bet you he is already seeing one, once he relocated
      outside the country!

  18. Amiphat

    September 27, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Sorry, but Tim’s (very long) article was written from what I call the “Lagos” perspective. I agree with the commentator who mentioned that moving around with a security detail effectively made Tim a “caged man” – free but not so free.

    I grew up outside Lagos and know for a fact that most of what he described is NOT what I grew up with.

    The reality is that Nigeria is made up of 36 states and Abuja, Calabar and Lagos are just 3 out of these.

    People need to get “out” more – its not all gloom and doom in Nigeria. Don’t believe me?

    Ask Bella Naija who has a whole section dedicated to returnees.

    Naija4Lyfe!!!

  19. Dee

    September 30, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Your view on life mostly depends on how you approach it. Without rehashing what has already been said in the comments, Andrew is by and large correct. I’ve also lived in multiple locations abroad for a total of over 15 years and having relocated to Lagos, I can assure anyone who is not familiar with the city that Mr. Newman’s view is not representative of what Lagos is all about. There is so much culture and vibrancy in the city that is counter-balanced by the ridiculous traffic and epileptic power supply but overall I find it to be a more enjoyable lifestyle than my experience overseas.

  20. Jjj

    December 8, 2014 at 12:41 am

    I’ve lived in many countries… But nothing is so beautiful as Nigeria and Lagos is so vibrant and colourful.
    The people are very warm and pleasant. Just after setting my foot in Lagos international airport for the first time, was in the bus that ferried me and other passengers to the terminal. I was busy holding my hand luggages in one hand and trying to balance my act.
    A faint murmuring voice got my attention… It was a small boy next to me… He again repeated. “Good afternoon sir”… We have all got lost into the busy world and don’t have time to greet the other human beings… We have just forgotten all the courtesies… This little boy on my first day in Lagos re-taught me the good manners…. You can see this warmth and pleasant feelings in every corner of Nigeria…. What can one ask for more. I hope this sweet quality doesn’t get washed away by the fast modernization and other alien cultures.

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