Shifting Sands

Lagos Apartment Complex

Lagos Apartment Complex

My husband and I have lived in Lagos for 18 months. When I say Lagos, I mean one of the “islands” where most of the expatriates live – Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Banana Island. Every company has different security arrangements but most require their employees to use Mopol (mobile police) as an escort if they have any reason to visit the mainland.

Unlike most of the world’s police, the police in Nigeria can be hired to escort cars (mostly SUV’s) if it is deemed necessary. Mopol units are small trucks with flashing lights, armed men and very loud horns. They follow behind, making sure everyone knows you are important and therefore worth kidnapping or robbing. Having said that, the traffic on the islands is so congested it would be impossible for kidnappers or armed robbers to make much of a getaway during daylight hours. For this reason, most ex-pats are advised by their security people to be home by 10pm, as criminal activity escalates after dark. If you do succumb to the lure of Lagos nightlife and stay out late, expect to be stopped by police at various checkpoints. Try not to make eye contact and look busy on your phone or something. These checkpoints can be a hassle.

You will probably not be able to drive yourself. My husband’s company provides us with a car and our own driver. He picks my husband up for work in the morning and drives him anywhere he needs to go during the day. If I need to go anywhere, I arrange to have the driver pick me up later or I go in to the office with my husband. Even if I want to visit a friend within walking distance of my apartment, I still need to use the car. We are not supposed to walk anywhere alone in Nigeria. It’s a bit of a drag.

Where I live on Ikoyi it’s possible to pay a fee of $140 (each) which will gives residents a pass that allows access to a gated “safe” area on Banana Island. The enthusiastically guarded entrance is just outside our apartment complex. It’s not possible to sneak in without a pass, although we gave it a pretty good shot! Some of my friends have paid and assure me it’s a pleasant walk along the lagoon. We’ll probably get around to it eventually, but paying a fee to walk in our own neighborhood rankles a little, particularly as anyone can enter the area by boat via the lagoon. The lagoon was a favorite place for bandits in the past but we have been assured it’s now safe. So far, so good.

When you finally move into your secure apartment, you will feel extremely secure. In fact, I believe I know how Presidents, Royalty and the Kardashians feel. If one of my friends from the apartment complex across the road wants to drop in for coffee, she must announce herself at the security gate. One of the guards will then ring my apartment to see if I’m expecting a visitor. Eventually after greeting several security guards along the way, she will arrive at my apartment block, press the intercom button and I will let her in. It’s worse for the young girl who comes to help with the ironing. She gets searched on her way in and out at the security post. If I give her gifts of food or clothing I need to write a dated, signed note listing the various items. If I leave anything off the list the security people ring me.

These security arrangements may seem over the top but they reflect the fact that Nigeria has a large population of people who live in poverty (around $3 a day) so petty and more serious crime is a daily reality.

The sad fact, however, is that the poor are far more likely to be victims of crime in Nigeria than expatriates.

*The photograph above is of my apartment building in Ikoyi.


One Comment

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  1. July 29, 2014

    Thanks Madonna: it was good to get an insight into your daily lives.


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