Is Lagos really like a war zone?

Is Lagos really like a war zone?

The third liveable city in the world, only after the war stricken cities of Damascus and Tripoli

In August 2016 The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published their annual report on where the best cities in the world to live are. Melbourne was victorious celebrating it’s 6th year in a row at the top of this list. I can understand why having lived there in 2014/2015. It’s a safe, clean city, where there is good infrastructure and education. Transport systems work and it’s a largely stable and very pretty environment.

Marvellous Melbourne Night Noodle market 2015

I moved from the “most” liveable to the “least” liveable cities in the world

Having also lived in Lagos for much of 2016 I was staggered to see Lagos was languishing at the bottom of the least liveable cities list. Third only after the war stricken cities of Damascus and Tripoli. I just didn’t get it. Boko Haram hiding around every corner and a volatile environment in Lagos? I don’t think so, i said as much in my post on moving from Melbourne to Lagos earlier this year.

Sunset over Lekki, Lagos 2016

Lagos has an infectious energy

Lagos, for all it’s flaws has an energy that gets under your skin. You won’t always have water (which is often independently sourced by you or the people that manage your estate/compound) and light (electricity) is something that flits in and out of everyone’s lives like like an annoying mosquito. It’s presence is most often only guaranteed by the constant hum of an intricate system of generators and inverters. Roads leave a lot to be desired, and traffic? Don’t get me started on the 4 hour trips that should take 10 minutes. Anyone who has lived in Lagos has one of those tales. But it’s still a hard place to leave, it has an indelible place in the heart of anyone that has spent time there. In my view this is because the inherent flaws in Lagos are what also create it’s strengths.

The Art Cafe, Victoria Island Lagos

Lagos thrives in spite of the lack of public services

The inherent flaws in Lagos create gaps in services and comfort levels that people have to fill for themselves. Business ideas are rampant as there are so many gaps in the market. Lagos has a thriving arts, music and culture scene. Along with growing availability of sports events and facilities. It’s not perfect, but there are things there if you are willing to seek them out. Outsiders are positively welcomed in too, aside from a misunderstanding with my visa when i left at the end of my first trip (there’s more on that in another post later this month!) I was welcomed warmly everywhere i went. It is sometimes a tiring environment as there’s so much going on all the time, days would change at a moment’s notice due to circumstances out of my control and nothing ever ran on time. But hostile is not a word i could honestly use to describe Lagos.

What’s in the EIU rating?

I dug a little deeper into the report to understand how Lagos could have been ranked so low. My assumption being that perspective is everything, the author can never have been to Lagos to give such a dismal and inaccurate view. I wanted to understand more of where they were coming from with this.

The ranking was based on analysis of the following five categories:

  1. Stability (weight 25% of total)
  2. Healthcare (weight 20% of total)
  3. Culture and Environment (weight 25% of total)
  4. Education (weight 10% of total)
  5. Infrastructure (weight 20% of total)

The ranking is not based on the life of real Lagosians

Importantly the ranking is geared towards big corporations looking to invest in new locations, or staff of these organisations that might move to cities across the world for assignments. These organisations are looking for markers to see whether Lagos is a place that would provide a stable business and living environment. The list is used as a guide for the “physical hardship” that moving to a city may cause for their employees. The ideal rating of 100 would define that “There are few, if any, challenges to living standards” and would provide a “hardship” allowance as appropriate. Typically if the weighting is 50 or less the allowance for hardship would be weighted higher. Lagos falls well within the range of 50 or less where “Most aspects of living are severely restricted” as defined by EIC, so expats get what i call danger money just for turning up to work every day in Lagos as a result.

The scoring for Lagos in each category against this rating for 2016 was:

  1. Stability: 10
  2. Healthcare: 37.5
  3. Culture and Environment: 53.5
  4. Education 33.3
  5. Infrastructure 46.4

Overall rating 36/100

Are the rankings true?

  1. Stability

Stability is the area that Lagos fared the weakest, this is made up of prevalence of petty and violent crime, threat of terror, threat of military conflict and threat of civil unrest. Perspective on what data is actually input into this report is skewed by the headline statement that a “Continued threat from groups like Boko Haram acts as a constraint to improving stability in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city” which is simply not true. Yes there is petty crime, it’s inevitable in a crowded city where there are swathes of people living on N18,000 (£46) a month or less. But i never walked the streets fearing i was going to be attacked any minute. 

  1. Healthcare

The healthcare rating is low, i can understand why. I spent most of my time in Lagos working with a non profit that provides support for women suffering with breast cancer. Most of whom are stuck in the ailing public health system and social stigmas surrounding the disease in Nigeria. There are thousands of brilliant doctors and nurses that lack access to the infrastructure and tools to treat people in an effective and timely fashion. Talking to doctors at a hospital in Lagos is so frustrating, many of the older doctors talk of a time when the building was new and used to have world class facilities. When they trained there it was on a par with what you might find in the US or the UK, but a lack of maintenance and little investment in equipment or sometimes even in their salary makes it hard for them to do their jobs now. It also means that mortality rates for diseases that are largely cured elsewhere in the world are high. For example 90% of Nigerian women die when diagnosed with breast cancer in Nigeria, when we know that if detected early a 99% survival rate is possible. As is the case in the UK.

  1. Culture and Environment

Incredulous is the only way to describe my response to the culture and environment score at 53.5%. Lagos has a thriving art, food, music and sport scene. There are events every single day of the week in different parts of the city. A new basketball league started up when i was there! There are new events and gigs popping up all the time. There is a lack of open outside spaces but people are creative with what they have, using rooftops and decorating what’s there. Then i looked at what the “Culture and environment” score is made up of…

  • Humidity/temperature rating
  • Discomfort of climate to travellers
  • Level of corruption
  • Social or religious constrictions
  • Level of censorship
  • Sporting availability
  • Cultural availability
  • Food & Drink
  • Consumer goods and services

I can’t see the detail behind the 2016 rankings without paying an extortionate amount of money, but i did find the detail behind the 2010 report that was also ranked quite low.

I’m not going to lie and say that food service is amazing in Nigeria as it’s not, there are many places where customers seemed to be a great inconvenience to the staff who were paid to be delivering food. And the choices are not as wide as you may be used to in Europe or the US. BUT, there are a lot of good local options at varying price points. From Suya on the street (my personal favourite and addiction when in Nigeria) and small chops to the high end likes of NOK by Alara. So it should not be the case that i was meeting people that had lived in Nigeria for 4 years and had never eaten Nigerian food (yes this actually happened). But if you list food as “uncomfortable” then that’s what’s going to happen.

To rank a country at a low level for humidity is beyond belief, for that to be a reason for visitors to get paid more than local people. Weather is not a hardship.

Corruption, yes it’s rife and obvious. But for the most part i can’t blame people for the dashes that they ask for particularly people that work in civil roles like traffic. From what i understand they often don’t get paid as the government fails to make the allocations for them, how else are they going to get paid? It’s all relative. I’m also not naive enough to think that corruption doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, in my view it’s just as rife in places like the UK, it’s just less obvious.

  1. Education

Weighted at only 10% education performance is ranked primarily on the availability and quality of private education providers not the public education system. Most expats seem to school their children at Lagos schools until they reach secondary school age and then send them overseas to boarding school. I am not a parent so don’t have in depth experience of either. I did have the pleasure of working with volunteers from two of the large private schools in Lagos at our fundraising events. All were extremely conscientious and hard-working, i can’t fault their efforts.

  1. Infrastructure

Is broadly pretty poor, but liveable. Water quality is poor, Dettol do a roaring trade as many people put it in their bathwater to kill the nasties that lurk inside. Drainage is not great, the worst job in Lagos has to be that of the poor guys that dig up the drains at the start of rainy season every year to try and improve their functionality, i’m not sure it helps as it’s easy to be wading in water knee high during a big storm in Lagos. Views over the lagoon are hampered by scatterings of litter every where, as are the streets. I had so many curious questions about this as i moved around Lagos, why are people paid to do perilous work to sweep the freeway of dust, but not the road outside a school in a relatively quiet neighbourhood? Surely that would be money better spent, and less lives put at risk? And the like. Public services make no sense. There’s a sanitation day every month where people are not allowed to travel the city as they are supposed to clean their areas, all that happens is that people stay in until 10am then carry on as normal.

Light is not constant for anyone, Nepa comes and goes. Often going when there are fuel or currency crises. This was a big problem in the hospital where equipment needs constant power to remain calibrated and fully functional. But the job was still being done to the best of the ability of the dedicated team there. While there is still an never ending queue of patients that need diagnosis, treatment and support these doctors continue to turn up to work. They are part of a spirited and dedicated generation of Nigerians that have seen the tide change in this Lagos over the years. The only constant has been change, of leadership, of availability of goods and currency. Of creative ways in which people invent new ways to survive this ever evolving beast.

Lagos is a beautiful place in spite of it’s challenges

There is a lot that rings true in the rankings, particularly in the poor provision of public services and infrastructure. But interestingly Lagos continues to grow despite all of what seems like hardship to the outside. The constant change has fostered an innate need to innovate to survive, no two days are the same. There is always a new event happening, person to meet or problem to solve.

So from my point of view it’s not the world’s least liveable city. It’s one that i have a deep desire to head back to as soon as i can, as for all of it’s challenges there is a lot to love about Lagos. It has a character that i have not seen anywhere else, it should be celebrated for the success created in spite of all the adversity and not ranked alongside war ravaged territories.

For context, before you all decry the fact that i am a white woman reporting on Lagos and make a heap of assumptions. Here are some facts for you:

  • My views are based of my own experience of Lagos in 2015/16
  • I went to Lagos of my own accord and wasn’t paid to be there
  • I volunteered with a healthcare NGO during my time in Lagos, and spent a lot of time in one of its main hospitals.
  • I had no private transport, i took Uber for the most part unless grabbing a ride with friends and walked occasionally when it was quicker than traffic.

Does this match your view of Lagos? How did you feel about the report? Let me know in the comments below: