Few colonial (and subsequently diplomatic) postings can compete with Lagos in
terms of unpopularity. How often did one confess, 'We were in Nigeria, but
fortunately never in Lagos'? It was somewhere we passed through in the days of
sea passages and hoped that would be the only reason for ever going there again.
So, despite spending many happy years in Nigeria, most of us, but not all, never
got to know the then capital and paid little attention to its history. For the overseas
staff of many commercial enterprises the lively, bustling, seaport was, of course,
the only posting In Nigeria and many, as did some who found themselves in the
Secretariat, learned to enjoy it as they discovered that there was a considerable
plus side to the Liverpool of West Africa. Irrespective of the expatriate view, Lagos
was for many Nigerians a huge magnet. It has grown massively over the years, is
one of the fastest growing cities in the world and by 2025 is expected to be the
third largest with a population well over 25 million.
Kaye Whiteman, who many OSPA members will remember as editor of the
influential West Africa magazine in succession to David Williams, has been a
regular visitor to Lagos throughout his working life and on occasion has lived there.
He knows it well and writes easily about its history, its population, its celebrities and
its future. His book is a fascinating, if deliberately idiosyncratic, commentary on the
topography, history, peoples and personalities of Lagos from its earliest days,
covering, among many other topics, the British arrival and departure, the
Portuguese, Sierra Leoneans and Brazilians, the Nigerian assessment of
governors such as Lugard, Arthur Richards and Bernard Bourdillon, the Biafran
war, the move of the Federal capital to Abuja, and the artists, musicians, poets and
Kaye understands Nigeria better than almost any other expatriate and clearly has a
deep affection for Lagos and its citizens of all ethnicities, their restless energy and
their commercial and cultural talents. As he says, 'Lagos is above all a triumph of
imagination over reality'. His account throbs with excitement. He left me feeling
regret for what 1 had missed and in no doubt that Lagos and, more importantly,
Lagosians, will continue to thrive and be a creative and dynamic force in the future.