Which Lagos, Whose (Hi)story?
[I]f Lagos had not existed, it would have had to be
“invented” as a tribute to the capacity of the Black
people to rule themselves or to ruin themselves
accordingly. – Tatalọ Alamu, 2017
Lagos: The Metaphors of the Onion and the Elephant
Today, Lagos is a megacity with a population in excess of twelve million persons and the industrial and commercial hub of West Africa, with an economy reputed to be the fifth largest in Africa. In this prefatory discussion, we shall highlight the challenges of studying or interpreting the city, given the sheer size and complexity of its population and political economy, by anchoring this piece on the metaphors2 of the onion and the elephant.
The metaphor of the elephant is based upon the fable of four blind men, who touched and described different parts of the animal that each of them took to be the totality of the elephant. Relating this to Lagos, the sheer magnitude of the population, the size of the economy and the complexity of the city-state’s politics and human population can only be described from a particular vantage point at a time without capturing the totality of what Lagos is. Awareness of the gargantuan size of Lagos and its ramifications should have a sobering effect on those who might wish to generalize about Lagos or resort to reductionism out of convenience.
The metaphor of the onion vividly portrays the layers of human population and the intricacies of the history, human relationships and dimensions of the economic activities in the megacity. That imagery conveys a striking message: There is or there could be more beneath the surface or current layer or level of observation and analysis.
The evolution of Lagos may thus be appreciated via the metaphors of the onion (layers and concentric circles), elephant (magnitude and complexity) and, as indicated below, the fruit blender and bread toaster (assimilation and transformation). In the following passages we shall attempt to engage the double-barrelled question, “Which Lagos, Whose (Hi)story?, by commenting on the many-sided and multi-dimensional phenomenon that Lagos represents in human, spatial and temporal terms.