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[March 30, 2014]
Scribe's Lagos Experience
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) FOR obvious or whatever reasons, the mention of Nigeria rings many bells not just to a visiting stranger but to anyone.
It is a land of Aliko Dangote, Fela Kuti, TB Joshua, Chinua Achebe, Moshood Abiola, Wole Soyinka, Benson Idahosa and several other famous figures.
Recently, I visited Africa's most populous city, Lagos, accounting for some 21 million people.
That is almost double the population of Zambia.
After a six-hour flight from South Africa's O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, It was about 19:45 hours when the South Africa Airways (SAA) Airbus A340-3600 landed at Nigeria's crowded Murtala Muhammed airport, named after General Murtala Ramat Muhammed who was a military ruler of Nigeria from 1975 until his assassination in 1976.
He is widely recognised as a hero in the country. While on the six-hour flight, I turned to the in-flight entertainment, listening to audio stories and music of Asa, the soulful Nigerian, France-based song-bird.
I must say Airbus A340-3600, which has passenger capacity of 317 and a typical cruising speed of 886 km/h was great; lots of leg room, and seats that reclined much more than usual for economy class.
The moment we got out of the plane, it was a bit chaotic and a long queue awaited me. It was hot and humid and, I was sweating like a pig.
After doing all the cumbersome immigration formalities, it was time to head to the hotel, with a colleague from the Post Newspaper.
We had travelled to Nigeria for the 2014 Africa Magic Viewer's Choice Awards (AMVCA) courtesy of Multichoice.
Due to some communication breakdown, we were driven for more than 40 minutes to the InterContinental Hotel, which is based on the Victoria Island.
Victoria Island is an affluent town that encompasses a former island of the same name that sits between Lagos Island and the Lekki Peninsula in the Lagos Lagoon.
It is the main business and financial centre of Lagos.
At the hotel, I asked the waiter to show some traditional local dishes.
I was particularly interested in the yam, because, I read about it in Chinua Achebe's all-time best Africa seller novel Things Fall Apart.
The yam was not on the menu that Thursday night and so he asked me to taste fried plantain, which looks like a banana but tastes very different.
It is used as a major side dish for Nigerian rice recipes.
I mixed things up and ordered for palm juice which I enjoyed.
The Intercontinental hotel is quite an imposing towering structure on Victoria Island. It is in the centre of Lagos, home to the majority of foreign consulates and multinational companies, making it the perfect residence for affluent business and diplomatic travellers.
Built on an elevated terrain overlooking Lagos' port, the hotel offers uninterrupted spectacular views of Lagos Skyline.
I asked one of the waiters about the distance to the Synagogue Church of All Nations(SCOAN), home to famous tele-evangelist and Prophet TB Joshua.
He was like "it is very far from here. If you want to go to the synagogue for a Sunday Service, you have to wake up around 03:-00hrs because there is too much traffic that leads there".
Anyhow, we were never meant to lodge at the flamboyant InterContinental, and so a South African ground travel agent arranged a taxi for us to Ikoyi Sun, which is also an impressive synergy of stylish sophistication and luxurious elegance, combining classic contemporary design.
The taxi driver was driving like crazy making swift turns. Honestly, I began to worry about his restless driving.
For the sake of Heaven, he was driving a manual car and the way he was able to make sudden stops, and change gears baffled me.
They let us go anyway.
Arriving at Southern Sun, where other journalists from various African countries were lodging was blissful. We were the last to check in, and by then everyone had gone to bed.
The first day almost got my eyes out of the socket.
Lagos is choked with people, noise from honking cars. It seems everyone is running to catch-up or strike a deal.
In some cities this is often controlled centrally and signalled through overhead traffic lights, but Nigerians don't need permission.
The motorcycle riders (Okadas) - weave through traffic, seemingly unaware of their own and passenger's vulnerability.
Despite all that craziness on the roads, ironically I did not see anyone being bashed or cars hitting each other.
That's the way life goes in Lagos. As a matter of fact, there is a saying going like "If you can survive Lagos, you can live anywhere in the world". I believe that is true.
Fela Kuti, that controversial Nigerian musician described it best in one of his songs; "Vehicles are coming from the north. Motor dey come from south. Vehicles are coming from the south. And policeman no dey for centre. And there are no policemen in the centre. Na confusion be dat o o. That certainly is confusion." The name Lagos means just that in Portuguese, renamed from the original Eko by traders that sailed the West Coast of Africa from the fourteen hundreds.
The modern city starts on the beaches of islands that punctuate the Atlantic coast of Nigeria.
The largest, Lagos Island and Victoria Island guard the entrance to a huge lagoon and a network of creeks.
On our programme was a visit to the Nike Art Centre and downtown market.
After snaking through the mad traffic, we arrived at the Nike Art Centre, which happens to be the biggest art centre in Africa.
It is a five floor ultra modern cultural art centre at Lekki Peninsula, with the main purpose of positively transforming the landscape of the hitherto neglected art and culture in Nigeria.
"Nike Cultural Art Centre" has become a cultural hub and a popular tourists' destination in Lagos, Nigeria.
It is a brain-child of Award-winning Nigerian designer Nike Davies Okundaye, who has pioneered a global revival of Nigeria's ancestral dark blue cloth-dyeing art.
Displayed in major international exhibitions, her colourful creations share the themes from her Yoruba culture with the rest of the world.
I was fascinated with a number of art pieces and paintings from different artists that depict Nigerian culture and life in general.
Some of the paintings fetch thousands of America dollars.
I was inspired by the story of Nike, as told by her daughter of mixed race (Yoruba and Walsh).
Nike's works has been praised as an example to encourage more women to enter the art field.
She works in the modern context using traditional techniques and imagery. Her efforts are directed toward preserving the Yoruba culture through contemporary art.
Nike, who was once in a polygamous marriage, is helping her students fight some of the major challenges to African art today; a poor economy, which limits what most Africans can afford; and a strong taste for anything Western, including cheap, often second hand clothing and pirated musical-cassette tapes.
From the art centre, it was time to go to the market place. The market place in Lagos is basically a sea of people, trading and trying to make a living.
Our guide warned us not to take pictures. People on the street feel offended if you take photos, they would get angry and shout at you.
Even, if you are just taking a general street view.
I always tried to take photos with people far away.
My South African colleague was warned point blank by a trader never to take pictures. The warning was so strong, and I knew it could have spelled trouble had he continued.
Anyhow, we changed our money into the Naira, through the help of the guide.
One dollar is equal to 164.9 naira. The currency floats, and you can change dollars either at bureau de change or at occasional informal currency markets.
I was particularly interested in the native Nigerian materials. Getting native material was a way of saying, like in Nyanja "Baza ziba bwanji nenze ku Nigeria" translated as "how will they know I was in Nigeria." Nigerian clothing is unique and attractive. Lace, jacquard, adire, and ankara are some of the materials that are used to prepare dresses in Nigeria.
Nigerian clothing for women include buba, kaba, iro, gele and iborun or ipele and Nigerian clothing for men include buba, fila, sokoto, abeti-aja and agbada. Other than traditional attire, the people also wear western attires.
The ethnic diversity of Nigeria is reflected well in its clothing culture.
Nigerians are proud about their culture.
Their actions and worlds speak in equal measure.
I found Nigerians to be loud, aggressive and steadfast in whatever they believe in either in oneself or something else. It appeared to me that Nigerians do anything based on conviction (wrong or right).
They live a day as if they would be no other day. If they have to party, they party hard.
After everything, it was time to leave and face the traffic again, Like in Zambia, Unemployed entrepreneurial street hawkers wandering through the stalled vehicles everywhere.
They seem to appear from nowhere whenever a jam occurs. Some of the congestion is regular, but even when it is caused by a breakdown or crash, within minutes the tightly woven rope of traffic is weaving with the boys.
The night of the AMVCA came and all roads were leading to Eko Hotel and Suites.
It is the most prestigious international hotel in Lagos, strategically positioned near the heart of Nigeria's economic activity.
The hotel is spread over three buildings and has spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Kuramo Lagoon. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and magnificent African landscaping, Eko Hotel and Suites also has an enclosed auditorium as big as a footfall pitch and that is where everything was happening.
I was amazed at how such a big hall was not supported by any pillars in the middle.
A lot of actors and producers were honoured for their impressive contributions to the film industry.
It was wonderful that Zambian producer Fred Phiri was among the winners.
Phiri won for Best Television Series and Drama for his role in the production of local series Love Games Episode six.
The event was big as it was broadcast to the whole of Africa through DStv.
During the pre-cocktail dinner, I met plenty of Nollyhood actors like, Chinedu Ikedieze, Rita Dominic, Ramsey Nouah, Osita Iheme, and several other figures.
After everything else, it was time to head back home.
Copyright The Times of Zambia. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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