Nelson CJ is a writer and culture journalist based in Lagos.

‘When people ask me where I live, I'm often eager to tell them I live in Lagos and, depending on who's asking, I usually also add that I hate living here. 

‘I hate the floppy weather and the constant noise that comes from sharing a city with more than 14 million people. I hate that I can get stuck in traffic for three hours. I hate that everything is so expensive and, thanks to bad governance, the infrastructure looks like it works, but it actually doesn't.

‘There are many more reasons not to like this fast-paced city, and how impatient and frustrated it makes all of us who live in it but, like everyone else who claims they hate Lagos, I don't plan on leaving. At least, not any time soon. The thing about Lagos is that it grows on you. Because it's home to all kinds of people from within and outside Nigeria, there's a vibrancy to living here. And, while it might not seem so to people who have lived here a long time, Lagos is a really beautiful place. 

‘While you're stuck in traffic, it can be easy to miss the gut-wrenching beauty of the Lagos Lagoon as it turns fiery red under a sunset, or the brilliant colors of colonial-style houses, melding with modern homes and apartment buildings suffering disrepair, or spotting rusting roofs and peeling walls as you look at the city from a rooftop.

‘But, especially, there are the people: sharp, passionate, usually minding their own business, but also willing to come to your aid if you're in need. And, best of all, they're incredibly enterprising. When it comes to business, Lagos is a hub for all sorts of ventures, especially small ones – everything from roadside stalls and container shops in the street to small business stores in shopping complexes. 

‘The people who live in Lagos (split between the mostly affluent Lagos Island and the middle- to lower-class Lagos mainland) are always setting up businesses and trying to make headway however they can. This creates an atmosphere to succeed against all odds, and business owners have mastered the art of consistent creativity. 

‘So, while Lagos might not always be so kind to its people, we're always willing to make it work – traffic jams and all.’

Nelson's five favorite spots

1. 16/16

16/16 is a nine-bedroom lodging and gathering space in the affluent neighborhood of Victoria Island. My favorite part of the whole place is the balcony. It's a small steel enclosure, set high on the eighth floor. There are so many potted plants around that it's difficult to see the stools – but who needs a stool when you can stand and watch the stunning view that stretches all the way to Lekki toll gate?

‘Inside the hotel, everything is made from art. The lounge area features a long wooden table, while the bedrooms have skeletal, door-less wardrobes and the ceiling lamps are made from raffia and sculpted cement. 

‘Tushar Hathiramani, the 29-year-old creative director behind the boutique hotel, says that the establishment was born out of the need to host the resurgence of a creative and queer Lagos. “I just thought that this could be a space where people would feel comfortable enough to express themselves,” he says. Tushar is also hoping that 16/16 can be a place for visitors looking to experience the city, while being interesting – and sometimes surprising.‘

– Flat 16 at 16 Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island

2. Kingfisher

Kingfisher looks like a small yacht without hulls. The floor is made from wood and it sits right on the Lagos Lagoon, almost floating, as if waiting for boarders to take their seats before it takes off. For me, this seafood restaurant represents some of the parts of Lagos that remind you of the city's beauty. Because it sits at the Lekki waterfront, customers get a striking view of the water and the backyards of opulent island homes as they eat. Apart from the water, however, my favorite part of Kingfisher is its barbecued catfish. It's one of the best I've ever had in Lagos (and I don't say this lightly). This meal is served with a side of fried potatoes or yam and pepper sauce and I'm always ready to suggest it to anyone who'll listen.’

– 1 Wole Olateju Cres, off Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1

3. Art Cafe

‘At the top of a two-storey building, this coffee shop and bar makes me feel as though I'm entering an exhibition – but, in this case, I'm not merely looking at the art, I'm also in it. I'm in the wall paintings depicting everyday Lagos life, the old newspapers used as wallpaper, the small collection of artifacts on the table, the sculptures, the woodwork and everything else. This unique experience makes it a lovely place to have a meeting, get some work done or just spend an afternoon alone. One reason why I like this place is how it distinguishes itself from the many art-infused spaces strewn across Lagos – all of which are unique in their own way, no doubt. But there's something unassuming about the design intention of Art Cafe that makes it feel less commercially charged and more interested in you being happy to be there.’

– 282 Akin Olugbade Street, Victoria Island

4. Gents of Lagos

‘As a queer Nigerian man, I've always been afraid of barber shops. Growing up, I never felt like the hyper-masculine energy that's fostered in barber shops made them a safe space for me; I spent a long time hesitantly visiting and hoping that there wouldn't be a group of men gathered in the waiting area. Living in a queer-phobic place like Nigeria, that fear doesn't grow any less strong. This is why I love Gents of Lagos – it's really the exact opposite of the barber shops that I used to be afraid of.

‘The atmosphere always feels welcoming. I attempted my first dye job here, and I've felt emboldened to try out new haircuts. I've never found myself afraid to banter with other customers or my barber. “Personally, I welcome people of different perspectives because, over time, I've learned to understand people,” says head barber Joseph Omanibe Anedo. 

‘Gents of Lagos is owned by 40-year-old Abiola Babalola, and it operates in the mostly suburban part of Surulere. For Abiola, Gents of Lagos aims to provide a safe, family-friendly grooming space for everyone.

‘When it comes to the future of the business, Abiola already has a second store in another part of Surulere and he's looking to expand even further. “As a ‘barberpreneur’, the joy that comes when a satisfied customer gets more than the value of the services we render is my driving force. We've expanded to other areas of Lagos in the past and we intend to have business in different parts of Nigeria and the US in the coming years,” he says.’

– 136 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere

5. Yaba Market

‘Yaba Market [also known as Tejuosho Market] has a long and notorious history. The vendors follow you around, the roads are narrow and it's always crowded. I never carry important possessions, for fear of theft. Some male vendors have been known to touch female customers inappropriately, which inspired the Yaba Market March, organized by Nigerian feminists. 

Thankfully, things have gotten better. And, even though I'm always patting my pockets to make sure my wallet is safe, I love coming here to buy clothes. I usually visit the secondhand stores set under graying shopping complexes, where vendors sell sustainability-conscious clothing. You never know what you'll find at a bargain.‘

– Tejuosho Rd, Yaba

This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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