The untold story of Lagos, Nigeria

What strikes a newcomer to Lagos is the constant hustle and bustle, typical of large cities in the world; the medley of people from different ethnic groups, the frenzied struggle for survival by its denizens, etcetera. Traffic appears to be paralyzed by its perpetual motion. It is a mix of awe and appeal.

But amidst this “beautiful chaos”, there is a growing hunger for culture which is eliciting the steady growth of the creative industry, with the rise of artistic talent, cultural centers and shows, and of Nollywood – the second largest film producer and exporter of culture in the world.

Home to 20 million people, Lagos is the most populated city and the commercial center of the continent’s largest economy. Because of rapid development and entrepreneurial opportunities, Lagos attracts people of all walks of life; people of different cultural backgrounds, languages and perspectives. Due to the diverse cultural interactions, ideas are generated, expressed and distributed in multiple forms. It is amazing catching glimpses of these expressions along the suburbs of Lagos where eager and vibrant children express themselves by singing and dancing. This could be the reason why Bolanle Austen Peters, the founder of Terra Kulture, once commented that “if we are not known for anything else, Nigerians are known for music, dance, and for our creativity. I think this is where we have an advantage; we write, sing, dance, and act; it’s part of our DNA.”

This so-called identity or, to borrow Bolanle’s words, “self-expression inherent in our DNA”, is growing at a very fast rate through the use of different medium. In every nook and cranny of Lagos, creative spaces are propping up to meet this insatiable demand; surprisingly, it is hardly keeping up. But these creative spaces or hubs, as sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues, “are crucial to cultural production because they allow for the spontaneous exchange of jobs and skills that occur regularly within the cultural economy.”

With a dint of hard work, these various creative industries are quickly gaining international recognition. Nollywood, which is leading the pack, has recently enjoyed a series of collaborations between its actors and Hollywood’s, the latest being Chimamanda Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun”.

The musical industry has practically dominated Africa with its unique musical genres and dance styles. For example, Davido, a popular Nigeria musician, released several hit songs that have being a continental smash hit. The amalgam of media and technology has also helped to spread its reach outside the continent.

The burgeoning artwork auctions and exhibitions holding regularly in Lagos attract large numbers of Lagos-based buyers, owners of private collections and lovers of African artistic talent. At the Golden Jubilee Art Auction organized by Terra Kulture and Nimbus Gallery, Anatsui’s 1004 Flat series (wood panel, 40 x 40 cm) culminated in a sale for N 3.6 million.

With the apparent successes, the bubbling creative industries are now the boon of investors. Verod, a Finnish mobile cloud storage company, bought Spinlet in order to distribute and monetize Nigerian musical content. In the words of Verod’s CEO “Nigeria accounts for over 60% of West African GDP and this is a big enough market for us right now.” In addition, local initiatives are also rising to help grow this creative industry with the likes of Enterprise Creative setup by Nkiru Asika to help build capacity and support for small businesses in the creative sector, and the Center for Contemporary Art by Bisi Silva.

As Lagos gradually becomes Africa’s creative hotspot, what stops it from joining the global league of place-names for culture in the world?

By Clinton Ofoedu, Research Assistant at Lagos Business School