I arrived in Lagos on the 16th of February to attend Social Media Week 2013 (a.k.a. SMWLagos2013) from 18th to 22nd, the first one on the continent since launch in New York 5 years ago.
This was also my first visit to Nigeria, and I am so glad I took the opportunity.
Here are my 11 memories about Lagos:
1. Securing a Nigerian Visa is an experience on its own. Applying for my Visa took twists and turns on each of the 3 times I visited the Nigerian Consulate in Illovo, Johannesburg. Had it not been for Nigerian friends who came to my rescue, I probably would not have it to Lagos. I shall not go into detail, but my advise to all South African applicants is – BE PREPARED.
PSST: It was brought to my attention that Nigerian International Affairs gives South African Visa applicants a hard time as a tit-for-tat :-|.
2. Proximal location of accommodation is key. When I told my Johannesburg-based Nigerian friend that I was attending Social Media Week Lagos 2013, his first question was whether it is going to be held in Lagos mainland or the island. With this being my first time to this traffic-mad place, I did not relate. Now I know that you can spend up to 6 hours in peak traffic between the island and mainland, which is a stretch of 30 km at most! Yes, that’s how bad it can get. As a result, I had to ensure that I book accommodation as close to the main SMWLagos2013 venues as possible. It cost me more, but it saved me a lot of precious travelling time.
3. Lagos is a true cash economy. Be prepared to pay even for your accommodation in cash. In case you wanna know, I paid a total of 180,000 Naira for my accommodation that was in Lekki on the island. My next biggest cost was for transport, about 40,000 Naira.
Ensure that you alert your bank before you take the trip to Lagos. You may end up needing more cash than you originally planned.
4. Everything is expensive. A small cup of cappuccino will cost you at least ZAR32 (at R1 = 20 Naira exchange rate) in a normal restaurant. That’s twice what you will pay in South Africa.
Reading through this post will partly explain reason for the hyper-inflation.
5. Supply of power is not reliable, but life goes on. Business cannot operate without alternative source of power in Lagos. This is because electricity supply is unreliable, which is common. The place where I stayed had 3 industrial generators – 1 main alternative power source and 2 backups. I lost count of electricity interruptions during the time when I was putting this post together. As can be expected, this adds to cost of doing business as many industrial generators run on diesel that costs up to 180 Naira (or ZAR9) per litre in the black market.
6. A properly functioning air cooling system is an essential part of doing business. I am almost convinced this populous African state of 20 million inhabitants was part of the places that provided inspiration for invention of air cooling technology, given its average 30 °C and mid-70% humidity. I cannot tell you how life was before the time, because this place is unbearably hot and humid. But fortunately there is now a solution for indoor living.
As can be imagined, air cooling systems have to run for 24 hours for businesses such as hotels, despite unreliable electricity supply. While Lagosians pay less for a litre of diesel compared to South Africa, this PLUS maintenance of generators increases the cost of doing business overall.
7. Bandwidth access is still a bug, but might soon be a thing of the past. I secured a local mobile number from Glo on the 17th of February, key for easy access with contacts I was looking forward to building from SMWLagos2013. I purchased mobile data but could not use any of it due to poor bandwidth. This explained why so many Lagosians carry two or more mobiles, a fair amount of which are also dual sim phones.
Social Media Week 2013 video interview with Teddy and Adedayo on the need for multiple mobile phones in Lagos
However, a SMWLagos2013 session on Broadband in Nigeria gave hope that a lot is being done to address the poor bandwidth challenge through laying of fiber-optic cables and satellite networks in major centres, including Lagos, by all the major mobile operators.
8. It is preferable to be chauffeured around this maze. I call it the honk city. Cutting in front of other cars and hooting impatiently for other drivers to hurry along are part of Lagosian style of driving. In addition, cars are left-hand drives in this part of Africa (South African cars are right-hand drives). I would not want to risk it if I can afford to rather have a Lagosian driver to do the honours.
9. Don’t shop at the Balogun Market without company of a Nigerian national. I am so glad I accepted offer from my taxi driver friend, Dele, to accompany me as I was searching for bargains in the massive Balogun market. He stepped in to negotiate price for everything I bought, and this is just the way it is done here. In the end, he got me up to 50% discount on all my purchases, and fact that he could speak the local language helped.
10. Visiting Fela Kuti’s The Shrine is a must. It is like The Eiffel Tower in Paris and Big Ben in London, without which your visit will not be complete. But, it would be best to visit when Femi Kuti is performing to get fuller experience of the place. So, check the Lagos gig guide first.
11. It takes an open mind to enjoy it. As you will have gathered by now, Lagos is not for sissies (trust me, you do need a Lagos Survival Tool Kit to make it through the day as a first-time visitor). But, it can be a fun place if you are anything-goes-type of a person. I had lots of fun, I guess I am that type of person (^_-).
I had two critical things in my survival tool kit – (i) My positive experience started with the hospitality Lagosians showed me everywhere I went. I’m convinced that this is just what they are – hospitable people. (ii) I made good friends with a few locals – this included the 2 gentlemen I spoke to on the Lagos-bound 6-hour flight, staff at the hotel, people I met at SMWLagos2013, and taxi drivers who got me from A to Z. All my Lagosian friends helped me navigate and explore this cosmopolitan city on steroids to my delight, and I am grateful for that.
I am looking forward to visiting Lagos again, even if it means in a year’s time for SMWLagos2014 *fingers crossed*.