How Not to Make a Megacity

Some cities are littered with garbage. Lagos is littered with corpses

2 min read
How Not to Make a Megacity
A woman walks through the Olusosun rubbish dump in Lagos on 18 April 2007. That day a fire tore through the shacks of a makeshift village built atop the dump site, leaving many people who scavenge waste material without shelter.
Photo: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

A young man lies dead on a strip of gravel near a bus stop. Two men grip his limp arms and drag his body toward the bushes. Maybe he fell out of an overpacked van—or danfo—a mode of travel that passes for public transportation here in Lagos, Nigeria’s fast-growing commercial capital and home to an estimated 15 million people. Or maybe he just stepped too far out onto the darkened road lined with street lamps that do not work.

Wrecked cars, burned-out vans, and the occasional corpse greet visitors driving along the highway from the Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport to one of the four islands—Lagos, Iddo, Ikoyi, and Victoria—that make up the frenetic core of this port city, a former slave-trading hub. Here enterprising street merchants ply the city’s infamous “go slows”—traffic jams that can last for hours—hawking cellphone calling cards, candy, plastic bags of potable (maybe) water, and T-shirts. Three-kilometer trips between islands or to the mainland can take 2 hours, or much more if you foolishly decide not to bribe the police who demand baksheesh from everyone trying to pass through their intersection.

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