The British Empire Library

Lagos: A Cultural And Literary History

by Kaye Whiteman

Courtesy of OSPA

John Smith (Nigeria, Western Pacific 1951-78)
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 novelists.

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.

British Empire Book
Kaye Whiteman
Signal Books
978 908493 05 7


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