LAGOS – ‘no be small t’ing’ Exhibited at PhotoReporter Festival

Posted on October 19, 2013 by admin

Robin was selected to be one of thirteen photographers to create work for PhotoReporter Festival International en Baie de Saint-Brieuc. He worked for 7 weeks in Lagos, Nigeria to create a unique insight into Africa’s fast growing mega-city.



Lagos defies Western ideas of urban order. However, what looks like anarchic activity is actually governed by a set of informal yet ironclad rules. To a new comer to the city, these rules are an absolute mystery but in the shouting, and blaring of horns, and the pushing and shoving of crowds, everyone has a place to go and a way to get there.

It is a fascinating city for a foreigner, but only if you’re able to leave. That is because it’s a hard place to live in. A recent survey placed it as the 4th worst place in the world to call home.

“Lagos – no be small t’ing.” The common phrase in pidgin English is not about the physical size of the city – although it is the biggest city on the African continent (by some estimates the population is now 21 million) – it means life in the city is not easy. Lagosians live by the maxim “Work or Die”, in Lagos, everyone must be a striver, the hustle never stops.

Some would interpret this as evidence of the hard working, entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians, and site proof of the markets that appear at every traffic jam, tailors carrying sewing machines on their heads making mobile clothing adjustments, the men that are building the city from the sand they dive to the bottom of the sea to collect. Others say it is a sign of shear desperation in an economy in which millions of people have to invent marginal forms of employment because there are so few jobs.

Some say that Lagosians do not actually value hard work. The way to riches is through your Oga or master – the boss-man. There is a belief you are going to make it not because you put in the work but because you know someone who will get you there.

And if that fails there is the ultimate boss-man. God. In a country with one of the most religious populations on earth, Pastors fly in on private jets to congregations hundred’s of thousand strong to lead prayers to increase one’s wealth. Recently there was a common prayer for a Pajero (a type of SUV).

Lagos, for many African’s, is a place of opportunity. Those with wealth flaunt it publicizing the promise the city seemingly holds. Separated by razor wire topped walls and often by lineage, the rich view the poor through tinted windows, the poor meet the rich in the full page advertisements the wealthy like to buy to show off their luxurious birthdays and weddings. The two groups rarely interact.

The poor flock to the city in the hope that one day they will join the ranks of cognac sipping, Rangerover driving big men. The reality though is that while hundred’s of thousands are enjoying what were once considered luxury goods, millions are stuck in the mire of extreme poverty and their dream of joining the elites is just that, only a dream.

There is a growing middle class though and Lagos is rapidly changing the way the world perceives Africa. Western lifestyles are within the reach of more of the city’s inhabitants than ever before. Still, Lagos is ranked one of the most unequal cities in the world. But the hundreds of thousands arriving every year (that make this one of the fastest growing cities on earth) never believe there is no chance – this is a city of optimists.

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