Lagos and the Burden of Cosmopolitanism

There is something really interesting (in a disappointing way) in engaging with people who somehow choose to elevate parochial thinking hinging on tribal superiority; who gladly broadcast their ignorance in the market square. Every five minutes, there is some debate, sometimes quite vitriolic, that suggests that anyone who lives in Lagos State but cannot legibly trace his or her roots to Oduduwa should be grateful at the magnanimity being enjoyed because benevolent hosts have allowed such a person to drink from Lagos’ cisterns in peace. Each time I hear such views expressed; I wonder if the espousers ever learned about symbiosis in school.

Lagos State, as distinct from Lagos Island (in the eponymous state) is Nigeria’s smallest state by land mass, yet the most densely populated state. It is also the only state with two population figures—one by the Federal Government and another one by the State Government. There are 36 (+1) states in Nigeria, however, it has been reported that Lagos State alone consumes about 25% of the available electricity in the country. By whatever metric is chosen, Lagos is the commercial hub of Nigeria and hosts the headquarters of almost all the biggest firms.

It is easy to assume that Lagos would have had one visionary architect, but like many similar cities across the globe, Lagos appears to just be built on a foundation of opportune geography, good fortune, and first-mover’s advantage. The state currently has one of the best governance structures (excluding accountability for collected taxes) among Nigeria’s poorly structured states, but its governance systems would have been of little impact if it were not located next to the Atlantic Ocean or served as a former capital of Nigeria.

The concept of “the rich getting richer” is supported by complexity theory, which alludes to how diverse interactions result in systemic outcomes. A simplified analogy could be walking into a market and realising that most of the shops that sell a particular item are situated in the same part of the market, even if the market was not initially conceived that way. Over time, people would tend to go somewhere that is familiar to them, or wherever appears to give the greatest probability of success. So, by virtue of Lagos being a port location, different traders would have come there to buy goods, and some would at some point decide to get a shop to ease their trade activities, or rent a house, or may find an attractive partner and choose to settle in the area. This is the trade angle.

Then, we move to the federal capital angle where the presence of the Federal Government would have attracted diverse Nigerians from across the country, and many persons and organisations would have developed strong roots in Lagos such that even when the capital was moved to Abuja, these roots would have been so strong as to justify staying in Lagos. Imagine seeking a multibillion naira loan and realising that all the bank HQs are in Lagos, or your preferred partner organisations are in Lagos. You would likely see a reason to setup base in Lagos, and so, the state would gain yet another ambitious entrepreneur.

Let us return to the cosmopolitan issue. Just as inbreeding results in poorer DNA diversity, a city that wants to grow cannot do so with its own people alone. Asides the fact that success attracts people seeking opportunities, every city that has developed has required the inputs of “outsiders.” Whether it is London, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Doha, Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja, or anywhere else, you would find that any developing city is intrinsically cosmopolitan. In such cities, the population of “indigenes” is always a small fraction of the total population. Ambitious people need a place to flourish, and a place that wants to flourish needs ambitious people, so we come to a potentially symbiotic arrangement where everyone wins.

But we understand that Nigerians have a strong attachment to ethnicity and “state of origin”, which is one reason behind the repeated assertions about Lagos doing a favour to outsiders. However, an interesting thing is that many of the persons calling others “strangers” cannot point to the graves of their great-grandparents in Lagos. Somebody moves from a village in Ekiti to Lagos in 2023, meets someone whose grandparents were civil servants at Ikoyi in the 1960s and has lived there all his life, yet feels this person is a stranger because “his village is in Buguma”, while he, a proud Ekiti son, is an overnight Lagosian as an Oduduwa affiliate. Even if we ignore the Nigerian Constitution with regards to number of years someone has lived in a place, should we ignore common sense?

When ignorant people spew hatred and threaten to destroy the businesses of “strangers” in Lagos, or push them into the lagoon, I wonder if they ever sit and wonder if it is proper to make God’s efforts at providing them with a brain of no benefit to society. Without “strangers”, Lagos would be like one of the numerous effectively unimportant states in Nigeria. Anyone who disagrees should show me any successful city that achieved success (and sustains it) using its own indigenes alone. And before anyone attempts to accuse me of tribalism, I should point out that I am half-Yoruba by marriage, so egungun better be careful. Rather than blindly run into an expressway, we should be looking at sustaining growth in Lagos and even getting more states to be like Lagos.

Image Credit: openglobalrights.org

1 thought on “Lagos and the Burden of Cosmopolitanism”

  1. Our rose tinted glasses shades our abilities to objectify.
    The overnight Lagosian whose reasoning starts and ends with his Omo Oduduwa ancestry did not realize that his pull to Lagos and not Ila Orangun is as a result of the cosmopolitan success that Lagos achieved on the backs of these so called strangers.

    Liked by 1 person

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