Julian Röder – Lagos

www.julianroeder.com

“What interested me about Lagos was the interchange of chaos and order in such a rapidly growing city. I already got a sense of this on my very first day there. I went to the Ministry of Information in order to obtain an official permit to photograph. There were goats in the hallways; noise was coming from a flat-screen TV on the wall; there was music playing somewhere. The only time it was quiet was when the electricity went out. I wandered through the building until I ran into the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, who told me to go see the Director for Public Enlightenment. Luckily, the director was immediately willing to write me a permit by hand, but when he finished, the secretary who was supposed to type the text had to go home. I gave her money so that she could take a taxi later. As she typed the text, her boss suddenly realized it would be better to use the wording from an official master copy. As it turned out, this master copy was on the computer of a colleague, who was no longer there. Then someone suggested the director simply sign his business card, but he did not want to do this without talking to his supervisor, the ministry’s Public Relations Officer. When he finally reached her, she asked why the permit hadn’t been issued already.

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Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria, and it has become a magnet for all of West Africa, largely due to the oil drilling in the country. Over ten million people live in Lagos and more keep coming. Although the city is growing, there is no place for it to grow because it is situated on two narrow strips of land that encircle a lagoon like the thumb and pointer finger of a hand. The resulting chaos is visible everywhere in the city. There are few streets but many cars, so I sat in traffic at least eight hours a day. The electricity fails constantly, and you can hear the sound of generators on every corner – some as small as a suitcase, others as large as a truck.
The city infrastructure is overloaded, but Lagos seems to be full of engineers. Everyone builds, tinkers, welds, and everyone finds their own solutions. That is what makes it all confusing. The moments of order you do encounter have for the most part been introduced by the new governor, Babatunde Fashola. He is a lawyer and was born in the city, and now he even has his own fan club. He puts in bus lanes where previously there was not even mass transit and installs streetlights powered by solar cells. He has slums cleared that spill out into the roads and resettles the people in barracks; then the area is landscaped and toilets are installed. He has bridges built over markets that obstruct traffic because the sellers and buyers are everywhere. A special police unit, the K.A.I. (Kick Against Indiscipline), makes sure that people also use the bridges.

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Once a month the radio announces a ‘sanitation day’, and the inhabitants have to collect garbage. New hospitals and schools are springing up everywhere, and corruption is no longer tolerated. When I went to the Public Relations Officer a few days later to thank her, I did not offer her money, only a gift basket. She would not accept it. If the governor is going to be successful in making changes, then it will be because he focuses on individual solutions instead of trying to impose one new system to regulate everything. He works with what there is and improves on it. Chaos is not evil; it is simply the way things are.
It was not easy to work in Lagos. People become suspicious when they see someone with a camera. There are swindlers who photograph buildings and put them up for sale in the Internet. This is why many people have written on the façades of their houses that they are not for sale. Once I wanted to photograph a man who was wearing a good suit and sitting in a corrugated shack, which was actually a liquor store, next to an impromptu garbage dump. He asked me what I was doing and what my mission was. I showed him my permit, and then everything was fine.”

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via Hey, Hot Shot!