Nigeria is a pulsating powerhouse: as the most populous nation on the continent nearly every fifth African is Nigerian it dominates the region. Recently, though, the boom has shown a few signs of bust: the economy has been hit by the drop in crude oil prices. But Lagos, the main city, is resurgent: with burgeoning tech industries, posh restaurants and clubs, and an exploding arts scene, this megacity is the face of modern Africa.
Outside Gidi (as Lagosians call their city), you may feel as if you are a lone explorer getting a glimpse of the raw edges of the world, immersing yourself in deep and layered cultures. From Yoruba shrines to the slave ports, from the ancient Muslim cities of the north (currently out of bounds for security reasons) to the river deltas, and among stunning natural environments â€“ there are plenty of wonderful antidotes to a sometimes exhausting journey.
The economic and cultural powerhouse of the country thanks to an influx of oil money, Lagos has an exploding arts and music scene that will keep your yansh engaged far past dawn. If you’re headed to Nigeria, you’ll have no choice but to jump right in.
As well as brilliantly buoyant culture, Lagos has bumper-to-bumper cars, noise and pollution beyond belief, a high crime rate, and maxed-out public utilities. Elevated motorways ringing the island city are jammed with speed freaks and absurd traffic jams (‘go-slows’) on top, and tin-and-cardboard shacks underneath. It’s a divided city, but an undeniably exciting one.
Named after the Portuguese word for lagoon, Lagos has been a Yoruba port, a British political centre and, until 1991, Nigeria’s capital.
Abeokuta is a remarkable place, backed by the huge Olumo Rock. Grand but dishevelled Brazilian and Cuban mansions built by returned slaves sit alongside basic shacks with hand-painted signs, historic mosques and churches and the rounded mass of the rocks, creating an unforgettable streetscape.
Located about 100km north of Lagos, Abeokuta has its own very strong cultural identity. It is well known as the birthplace of many famous Nigerians, notably former president Obasanjo, Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and writer Wole Soyinka. Soyinka’s autobiography, Ake, is a vivid depiction of a childhood spent here.
It’s a poor town, unused to visitors except those visiting the rock, and while wandering around is fascinating, you’ll feel conspicuous.
This very special city has been a traditional centre for Yoruba spirituality and, since the 1950s, the birthplace for much contemporary Nigerian art. The best sight is the Osun Sacred Grove, believed to be the dwelling of Osun, the Yoruba fertility goddess.
Benin City, which served as the capital of the Benin Kingdom, starting in the 15th century, gave rise to one of the first African art forms to be accepted internationally the Benin brasses (often given the misnomer bronzes). Today the city is the centre of Nigeria’s rubber trade, and a sprawling metropolis.
Virtually nothing of the historic city survives: it was destroyed by the British in an epic act of vandalism in 1897. But the culture and the royal family is still deeply venerated here, with the Oba (king) held in higher esteem than any mere politician.
Other Places Of Interest
Tucked into Nigeria’s southeastern corner, the capital of Cross River state has a rich history and is well worth a trip. Originally a cluster of Efik settlements, Calabar was once one of Africa’s biggest slave ports, and later a major exporter of palm oil. A popular stopover for travellers heading to Cameroon, this tourist-friendly city has a fantastic museum and an excellent primate-conservation centre
Afi Mountain Drill Ranch
The excellent Afi Mountain Drill Ranch near Cross River National Park is one of Nigeria’s highlights, with a rain forest canopy walk, close primate encounters and superb accommodation. Its headquarters is in Calabar.
A rich variety of crafts from all around Nigeria and West Africa: this is a brilliant place to wander and look for affordable gifts. You can also buy fabrics and get clothes run up on the spot here.