National Geographic : 2015 Jan
90 national geographic • january 2015 being rich,” Adeoti said. With a widening grin, he added, “But the middle class, we strive. Everyone is very desperate to be very rich these days.” Almost anywhere else in the developing world, such a sentiment would seem pitiably de- lusional. In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, “Be Very Rich” has all but become the city’s mot- to. The country recently recalculated its gross domestic product to take into account sectors of the economy that barely existed two decades ago. As a result, Nigeria determined that its GDP surpassed South Africa’s in 2012 to become the continent’s largest economy. About 15,700 mil- lionaires and a handful of billionaires live in Nigeria, more than 60 percent of them in Lagos. As with other African metropolises, oil- enriched Lagos has long nurtured an elite class only marginally inconvenienced by the squalor enveloping the city as a whole. Now the upper class is expanding, and despite persistent income inequality, so is the middle class. The growth of the latter in Nigeria, according to a 2013 survey by Ciuci Consulting, a strategy and marketing firm in Lagos, is driven by the expanding bank- ing, telecommunications, and services sectors, particularly in Lagos. Nigeria’s middle class grew from 480,000 in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2014, or 11 percent of households. Seemingly overnight, Lagos has transformed itself into a city of Davids clamoring to become Goliaths. This is a great African success story. And how lovely it would be to tell this bright, uplifting tale while ignoring altogether the dark and demoral- izing saga of Nigeria’s grotesque terrorists, which has blocked the boomtown narrative from the world’s consciousness like a lunar eclipse. But La- gos does not exist in a parallel universe, any more than the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram does. Both are indigenous to Nigeria, a vast West African nation teeming with industrious strivers like Adeoti but also with poverty, despair, and violence. If anything, the miracle of Lagos is that its economy gallops onward even when fettered by the same federal incompetence that allows terrorism to go unchecked. A lesser city would be crippled. Then again, in a sense so is Lagos. “Nigeria’s problem and Lagos’s problem is its image. That’s the chief problem. You’d think you were in a war zone in Afghanistan when you read what you read about here! But tell me: Have you felt any threat?” No, I confessed to Kola Karim, the dash- ing 45-year-old multimillionaire and CEO of Shoreline Energy International, a food/energy/ telecommunications/construction conglomerate with more than 3,000 employees. I felt quite safe in Lagos—a pleasant surprise, given that I had boarded my flight to the city on the same day that dozens were killed in a bomb blast at a bus depot in the capital city of Abuja. It was the latest in a string of terrorist episodes for which Boko Haram had taken credit. But Lagos had been spared from such incidents, so far. The violence felt a country away—like a bad dream washed from memory after a morning’s shower. “Look, I was invited to the White House a few weeks ago,” Karim went on, his British-educated diction edged with exasperation. “ There were 21 of us—young global leaders of the World Economic Forum. I told them, ‘You’re always viewing things from a national security angle rather than commercial viability. You invite African businessmen over, and all you want to know about is al Qaeda. Why are you wasting my time to come all the way here to listen to the same old gibberish?’” Karim makes it his business to evangelize about the Lagos miracle in which he has played a notable LAGOS HAS LONG NURTURED an elite class only marginally inconvenienced by the squalor enveloping the city as a whole.