National Geographic : 2015 Jan
africa’s first city 95 The young banker then laughed off his pre- dicament and called out for another round. A recent survey of middle-class Nigerians conducted by Renaissance Capital, an invest- ment bank, found that 76 percent of them are optimistic about the country’s future. Sunniness of outlook has deep roots in Nigeria, particularly so in Lagos, a land of traders and settlers, and thus of industrious disposition. Lagosians be- lieve themselves to be pluckier than the aver- age West African. This is, if anything, a modest self-assessment. The man I hired to drive me around during my three weeks in Lagos, Daniel Sunday, took me one day to the neighborhood where he was born and raised: Makoko, a fetid shantytown on stilts in Lagos Lagoon that is mordantly referred to as the “Venice of Africa.” Sunday told me that he left the shabby family home when he was a teenager and found work as a bus conductor. He slept on his boss’s floor and after a few years had accumulated enough money to buy his first car. Now he was married, with a residence on the mainland, and for two hours each morning he uncomplainingly chauf- feured customers like me around the commer- cial districts. The motto on Sunday’s business card was “In God I Trust.” “If you give a Nigerian an opportunity, he will do his best,” a 36-year-old man named Onyekachi Chiagozie proclaimed one hot after- noon as he proudly showed me his mobile elec- trician’s workshop. In truth, the hollowed-out van with the cracked windshield wasn’t much to look at. Chiagozie had bought the used van for about $4,300, and with it he could drive his tools all over the city, an enabler and beneficiary of Lagos’s construction boom. All of this was an improbable outcome for a young man who, at 18, became an unpaid apprentice to an electrician and worked odd jobs to survive. For a time he slept in a bus stop. He owned what he was wearing and nothing else. After about four years Chiagozie scraped together enough money to rent a tiny house in the mixed-income neighborhood of Ojota, where he had apprenticed. “Save, save, save: I’ve made the sacrifice, and it’s started to pay off,” he recalled. “I registered my company. People in the area knew me. I’d fix this socket or see why that light wasn’t turning on. The customers grew to trust me. Then they started getting me good jobs. Wiring whole houses. Fixing ATMs and air conditioners. And because in Lagos it’s very expensive to have an office, I decided to have the first mobile workshop in the country.” The owner of the whimsically named Var- ied Pace Enterprises, Chiagozie beamed as he told me that he was now married, with a three- bedroom house in Ojota and a tract of land outside the city that he deemed a prudent in- vestment. He shepherded me through the neigh- borhood, pointing out the houses that he and his two apprentices were currently wiring. The slum child had broken through. Another Lagos suc- cess story—but an unfinished one, for this was not nearly enough. “I’ve been making money,” the electrician told me, “but the money is bet- ter across the bridge, on the island. And I don’t know the right people there yet.” Banke Meshida Lawal knows the right peo- ple. When I visited her at her beauty salon, BM Pro, on Lagos Island, the young makeup artist was applying a full makeover to a wealthy cli- ent who would soon be attending a wedding in Chicago. Because Lawal herself could not break away from her business to fly over for the event, a colleague was videotaping the procedure, and a AN AD HOC ECOSYSTEM thrashing with wealth seekers, Lagos is a strangely inviting place, a city of optimists.