Lagos is Africa’s second-largest city after Cairo, with more than 15 million people. The first words you’ll learn here: “Go slow.” That’s what Nigerians call the mammoth traffic jams that paralyze the city from early in the morning until late at night. After crossing the Mainland, the vast stretches of slums and middle class neighborhoods, take the Third Mainland Bridge for 10 kilometers until you reach The Islands. That’s the business center and home to the city’s wealthy and and to its expats. Lagos is electric, fun and exciting — but you need to know the right places to go. And a Fela Kuti CD in the car.
English is the official language, but Nigeria’ 160 million people belong to 250 different ethnic groups and speak hundreds of languages and dialects. In Lagos, it’s mostly Yoruba. But if you want everyone to understand, greet with a “how you dey.” They’ll surely reply with “I dey fine.” Take note, even pidgin English gets spiced with local flavors around town.
One US dollar gets about 160 naira. ATMs abound. Hotels and some restaurants take credit cards.
Getting in Touch
Phone numbers have 11 digits. Buying a local SIM card is cheap and easy. You’ll just need to show your ID. Nigeria has a dozen local operators, but the most popular are the South African giant MTN, as well as Airtel and Glo. Most hotels and some restaurants in Lagos have Wifi. Otherwise you can buy a 3G dongle from one of the cell phone companies and top it up just like you would with a prepaid phone card.
There was a time when the streets of Lagos swarmed with Okadas, motorcycle-taxis that snuck between cars and let you get around cheaply without getting stuck in traffic. These motorcycles have been banned in most parts of the city, to the relief of drivers but to the dismay of everyone else. Now most people get around in yellow motorized rickshaws known as “keke marwa”, or in “danfo,” the mini-bus taxis whose name means “quick” in Yoruba. For mere mortals, there are also taxis, but you’d better negotiate the fare in advance.
Getting in Trouble
Old Nigerian hands say Lagos isn’t as cut-throat as it used to be. It’s also not a city for leisurely walks — mainly because there are hardly any sidewalks and everything is far apart. The streets of Lagos Island, the city’s oldest neighborhood, are the only place where it really makes sense to stroll among the roadside stalls, to admire the mosque, or to duck into the market. Just watch out for the “area boys,” neighborhood bullies who try to charge a few thousand naira to ensure your “safety”.