Most Nigerians either passionately love or virulently hate Lagos, but no visit to Nigeria is complete without experiencing this overpowering and mind-boggling city.
Although Nigeria’s capital city is Abuja, with a population of just under 1.5 million, it took over from Lagos as the country’s official capital only in 1991, and Lagos remains Nigeria’s largest and most overwhelmingly principal city. The city is the capital of Lagos State, lying in the southwestern corner of the country. It’s the smallest state in the federation, and occupies an area of just 3,577km², 22% (or 787km²) of which consists of lagoons and creeks. This is not much bigger than a British county, but with a vastly higher population density. It shares its boundaries with Ogun State in the north and east, the Republic of Benin to the west, and has 180km of Atlantic coastline to the south. The Nigerian name for Lagos is Eko. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Portuguese renamed it Lagos, meaning ‘lagoons’.
Lagos is situated in one of the few gaps in the 200km-long sandbar that stretches from Benin to the eastern side of Lagos State. It lies in a swampy mangrove zone and is entirely flat, with no natural point being any higher than a metre or so above sea level. The metropolitan area covers three main islands and an ever-increasing section of the mainland spreading out in all directions. The waters of Lagos’s lagoons stretch from a few hundred metres to 15km across, and in recent years landfills in the lagoons have been used for urbanisation. The city is basically a collection of islands that are connected together and to the mainland by long bridges – similar to Manhattan in New York City, though the comparison stops there.