My take on *Welcome to Lagos*

By | April 25, 2010

Some Nigerians are complaining about the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos because, they say, it is not balanced.

I have not seen the second in the series so I can’t really say much about that. The first, though, in my opinion, does not leave any gap that needs to be filled by any fair and balanced reporting.

It is a story about a dump and its dwellers, and how they manage to eke out a living, create a semblance of a government, and work towards achieving much more than they already have.

I would actually find it distasteful if the documentary had brought a bit of the Lekki side of life in order to show that there is more to Lagos than dumps. That would indeed smack of tokenism, and most likely remove from the main thrust of the documentary by drawing attention to the things that the dump-dwellers do not have. It might also end up portraying them as victims, something that the documentary was very careful not to do.

The other question here would be whether the story would in any way be advanced by showing those other sides. I doubt it.

The documentary depicts an important part of Lagos that is almost never talked about. For that, we should be grateful.

I would assume that it is an insult to the British audience – for whom the documentary is primarily intended – to believe that they do not know that there is more to Lagos than dumps. Really.

There are complaints that there are Brits who live on garbage. Oh yes there are, and I could almost bet that there are documentaries on them. Probably prepared by or for the BBC. But that is not the issue here.

The issue here is that this is the story of Olusosun and not a documentary comparing it with dumps in other parts of the world. I am sure that anyone who is interested in doing a documentary on that topic – a comparison – would be able to get some funding for that.

This documentary is one that I am the better for having watched.

One take on this that I find really interesting is the description of life on the dump as libertarianism in action:

Not only did the scavengers sell on any rubbish of any value, but a market arose to satisfy their own needs; the tip had a café and even a manicurist. And at the nearby cattle market, every part of the cow except the hair was used for profit; even the blood that would otherwise drain away was scooped up and turned to chickenfeed.

In this sense, we saw the free market in its perfect form: sole traders exploiting every tiny profit opportunity; the minute division of labour; hard work, energy and entrepreneurship; the lack of any waste.

We also saw that the market policed itself. The scavengers claimed that they trusted each other – though whether this was because market transactions bred bourgeois virtues, or because they threatened to burn to death suspected thieves, was unclear. What was clear, though, was that they didn’t need the state to solve their disputes.


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  • I felt the same way you did after watching the documentary. But those protesting actually have a point: the title is “Welcome to Lagos,” so if they really want to welcome people to Lagos in its entirety, then the documentary must be ideally balanced. Nevertheless, like you said, I doubt it will be balanced at the end of the day. The problem is the government who are doing close to nothing to help the security and job allocations of people in places like Makoko and Ajegunle that are getting on my nerves, they have no rights to protest…what have they done for their people? People in Lagos say though that the Lagos Government is doing a lot…

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  • Remi Martins

    This is how the BBC described the programme from the onset: 'Three part observational documentary series which explores life at the sharp end of one of the most extreme urban environments in the world: Lagos, Nigeria'
    The aim was always to tell the story of the neglected people of Lagos, there is no issue of balance?

    At the slightest problem, Nigerians will call for the North to be separated from the South but when Gadaffi says it Nigerians call him a mad man.

    Nollywood produces a mass of stereotypical nonsense which is celebrated in Nigeria yet when foreigners produce District 9 or Welcome to Lagos everyone makes a fuss.

    Nigerians wish to hold foreigners to standards they don’t uphold themselves.

    Is the London based Nigerian-owned BEN Television not afforded the same international platform as the BBC or CNN, yet they waste it promoting government propaganda and charging guests to appear on substandard shows? I almost vomited when Henry Bonsu (formerly of the BBC) asked Alistair Soyode (owner of BEN Television and member of the rebranding Nigeria committee)during a TV interview to mention some of the places to visit in Nigeria, his response was that Nigeria has the best to offer in Africa but that he couldn’t mention any right now.

    Are the BBC or CNN meant to serve as media tools for Nigeria? NO
    Has Welcome to Lagos fabricated the slums? NO.

    The documentary is a story of poor and neglected Nigerians who have chosen hardwork and innovation over 419. This should be an opportunity for Nigerians to reach out and work towards addressing some of the problems these men and women face, their efforts should be celebrated and I applaud the BBC for amplifying the voices of those who’ll never be able to afford to pay to feature on BEN TV or NTA or the other Nigerian TV platforms who won't invest the money and skill in making Nigerian documentaries.

  • Nii

    The title was misleading. Other than that generally it was a well made series to watch. I hope critical analysis of it continues though. Is there a generational gap here? Will Wole Soyinka had criticised the series as colonialist had he been younger? Is the younger generation failing to “see” the subtle hand of “colonialist” actions? There is a lot to think about and to explore, which i think will eventually be the legacy of this documentary.

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