At a recent talk I gave on oil protests in the Niger Delta, an audience member asked me about my interest in Nigeria during the question and answer session. More specifically, he asked, “So, why Nigeria?”
If you are fascinated by social science, then a country that embodies the exaggerations of all social phenomenon is nothing short of intriguing. I am fascinated by culture, conflict, power, history, race, gender, and all social dynamics, and Nigeria demonstrates the dramatic extremes of all of these. It is the most and the least, the best and the worse, of so many measurements.
It produced the most victims of the transatlantic slave trade. It is the most populous country in Africa and is the third most ethnically diverse country in the world. Lagos is one of the top ten megacities of the world, and is growing faster than any other in Africa. It produces the most oil and has the fastest growing economy of any country in Africa. Nollywood surpasses Hollywood to be the planet’s second largest movie producer. To get more obscure in the statistics, it has the fifth highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world. It is even has the world’s largest singing choir. A survey several years ago even ranked it as the happiest country on earth. How could I not want to learn more about a country that is such an amalgamation of fascinating facts?
In short, I love Nigeria because it is a puzzle I can never solve.
For the PPT of the presentation, click below. Please feel free to contact me for the audio recording.
Although not about Nigerian politics, a travel story I wrote was published in Somewhere, Sometime. My chapter is about navigating the complex social terrain of “Area Boys,” or unemployed young men who try to make money in unconventional ways in Lagos. I came across a group on a day off from field research, and it was one of the greatest learning experiences I have had in Nigeria.
Link: A Dash in Lagos
Lindsey Galloway writes a pertinent article about learning uncommon languages, which includes a section on Lagos that I was quoted in. Enjoy!
One of Africa’s oldest and best-known slums is being dismantled
Aug 18th 2012 | LAGOS
This story from The Economist
brings together two issues I have written about, the problems posed by rapid urbanization in Lagos (see posts Nigerian Urbanization I
) and most recently, the necessity of official property rights
for Africans who live and work extralegally.
“PADDLES splash through oily water and propel dugouts along narrow channels separating wooden shacks on stilts far out in the shallow lagoon on which much of Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, was built. A quarter of a million people live in Makoko, learn to swim before they have walked on land, go to school, buy goods from traders drifting down the main channels, build fishing boats and go to sea. A few narrow bridges connect elevated platforms anchored, like everything else, six feet below the waterline. They say the only thing you won’t find in Makoko is a grave.
Or the government. For more than 120 years the fishing community has been left largely to its own devices. But that changed last month when a hundred officials with chainsaws razed dozens of shacks. Lacking property deeds, residents were given only 72 hours notice to go. One died in a clash with police. Steve Adji, an indignant community chief, says, ‘The government speaks of shanties but these are homes.’
The entire district may soon be gone. The government is eager to reclaim what has become prime waterfront land. It is only half-fair to depict it as heartless and greedy. Built on a swamp, Lagos is fighting for survival. Ceaseless migration is strangling it. City fathers foresee the doubling of the population to 40m within a few decades, which would make it the most populous city in the world. Lagos’s economy is growing so fast that it is bigger than, for instance, the whole of Kenya’s.
Lagos has long been a byword for urban chaos. Traffic is legendarily bad, crime is a perennial sore and public services reach few. Re-elected last year, the city government is striving to change all this. It has commissioned a rail network, tried to control unruly motorbike taxis and invested in roads. The clearing of slums is part of its effort to unclog the city and spur the economy. But all too often it is the poor who pay the price.”