06 Jan Christmas in Lagos
Emma Hooper writes from Lagos:
Lagos is the city that never sleeps, Africa’s New York; it is a sprawling metropolis buzzing with unrivalled promise. There is no better time to see the city’s unique spirit than in December when Lagos undergoes some subtle transformations. As the Harmattan settles across the city, blotting out the sun and delaying flights, Lagos witnesses an influx of people. Whilst expats head home and the country’s reputation keeps tourists at bay; Nigerians around the world fly back to celebrate what is one of Africa’s best kept secrets, Christmas in Lagos. The already vibrant city picks up the pace, particularly the city’s night life which is an attraction of its own all year round. Night life varies across the enormous city and it is at its most decadent in Victoria Island and Ikoyi, where over December the most affluent open up their homes for extravagant parties celebrating weddings, engagements or just Christmas itself. As the 25th approaches; the residential roads on the islands become congested with the SUVs of the elite who attend these parties. As the police escorts wait guard outside some of Africa’s most expensive real estate, inside ministers and CEOs will discuss business and politics until the early hours. Indeed, even at Christmas, wherever you are in Lagos, business never stops: it is a city where socialising is synonymous with networking and Christmas provides an ideal opportunity to do this.
During the festive season, it is not uncommon to attend 4 or 5 parties in one day and a seasoned Lagosian will have perfected the routine of eating and drinking enough at each so as not to offend but to leave room later on. A true veteran will show their face, greet as many as possible, have a few pictures to prove their attendance and exit promptly to reach their bed by midnight. On Victoria Island, younger generations will also hop from venue to venue sampling Lagos’s multiplicity of bars until 6.00am. However, the long evenings do not leave the days idle. Many will be up early to attend church services, visit family members or to take a boat to one of Lagos’s beaches that are some of the most beautiful in West Africa.
The Yoruba word for enjoyment is igbadun and there is much to be had in Lagos over Christmas. Indeed, such displays of glamour make it hard to see why Lagos is not more widely appreciated by travellers. However, it is a city of extremes and the Christmas season makes this all too apparent. It is perhaps for this reason that in December Nigerians give more to charity than at any other time of the year. For many Nigerians, Christmas is cherished as a time for family and enjoyment but the fact that the country is witnessing its worst recession in 29 years will have had a significant impact on celebrations this year. Away from the sparkle of Ikoyi, the harsh realities of daily life for the average Nigerian are hard to ignore. Desperation has reportedly led to an increase in criminality as food prices and unemployment continue to rise. The swathes of homeless lining the expressways are a reminder of the economic divisions that exist in the country. With the cost of a bag a rice over double what it was in 2014 and earnings remaining unchanged, it is now a favoured Christmas gift for employers whose workforce are rapidly finding this staple food unaffordable. Indeed, when the Lagos State Government announced that it would sell bags of rice at just N13,000 (approximately £34) per 50kg in the lead up to Christmas, many will have been relieved.
The opportunity Christmas offers for families and friends to meet makes it a perfect season to talk politics and wherever you are in Lagos it is a common past time. This year, from the streets of Surulere and Ojuelegba to the residences of Banana Island, there was an overwhelming unease about where the country is heading. Nigeria is at a crossroads with some uncertain times ahead and, as fireworks, church services and parties saw in the New Year, it was hard to ignore the anxiety about what 2017 would bring. One thing that is certain, is that Lagos is a city of great spirit and kindness; a city often grossly misconstrued in the international media and one I would recommend to anyone with some sense of adventure as a great location for a Christmas break.