Lagos: The Island City

By By David Esler
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

Europeans arrived in the 1400s led by Portuguese explorer Rui de Sequeira, who is credited with having named the area Lagos after, it is believed, the Portuguese seaport Lagos from which that country's African expeditions departed. (Indeed, the name translates as “lakes,” possibly meant to describe the waterways between the islands and bars at the entrance to the lagoon.)

Four centuries later, the British moved in, annexing Lagos as a colony in 1861 and establishing control over exports from the region. Twenty-six years later, the British expanded their occupation to include all of contemporary Nigeria. It remained the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria from 1914, with Lagos as its capital, until 1960 when it achieved independence as a British Commonwealth country, and the capital was moved to Abuja, a purpose-built city in Nigeria's interior.

For much of its early independence, Nigeria was ruled by its military following a coup in 1966. Between 1967 and 1970, the new state was nearly pulled apart by a civil war when several provinces in the southeastern part of the country attempted to secede as the Republic of Biafra. Enormously costly in terms of lives and resources lost, the war aroused long-standing tensions among various ethnic groups and included mercenary soldiers recruited from Europe. After a stalemate that resulted in the starvation of thousands of Biafrans, the Nigerian military, backed up by British logistical support, succeeded in breaking up the Biafran Republic in two bloody offensives. It is estimated that more than three million people died — many as a result of starvation and disease — in the conflict.

Transition to Democratic Government

A new Nigerian constitution was drafted in 1999 and a peaceful transition to civilian rule commenced. This was completed in 2007 with the country's first general election marking a civilian-to-civilian transfer of power. While the civil government has held, it should be noted that Nigeria — an artificial construct like Iraq assembled by Europeans that attempted to incorporate some 250 distinct ethnicities and disparate tribes — continues to be fraught with racial and religious tensions, some dating back hundreds of years to when the Lagos archipelago served as a staging area for war, others more recently as huge numbers of former slaves flooded into the country from surrounding nations.

In extending their 19th century land seizure hundreds of miles north of Lagos, the British must have been aware of the tremendous mineral and organic riches that the region contained. The most prominent of these, of course, is oil, with huge reserves in the northern and western parts of the country. As of last year, proven crude oil reserves amounted to 37.2 billion barrels, of which 2.5 million barrels were being recovered per day, ranking Nigeria 11th in the world in terms of oil wealth and 13th in production. The country has been an OPEC member since the 1970s.

The country's GDP stood at $414 billion in 2011 (31st highest in the world), of which crude oil and petroleum products represented 14% and foreign exchange earnings amounted to 95%. Additionally, crude oil sales have supported 80% of government revenues.

Given this level of wealth, one would expect to see a high standard of living in Nigeria; however, corruption and governmental mismanagement, especially during the years of military dictatorship, squandered this fortune. And the overdependence on oil revenues and failure to diversify the economy had a devastating effect on the larger populace. Today, poverty and its related aspects of disease and other privations (3.6% of the population is infected with AIDS and 220,000 people die from it every year) affect 70% of the population, unemployment hovers at 21% and crime is rampant.

Nevertheless, since 2008, the Nigerian government has been successful in affecting some market-oriented reforms such as modernizing the banking system or fairly distributing earnings from the oil industry; however, lack of infrastructure and the slow implementation of reforms remain impediments to growth. Meanwhile, the cornucopia of minerals and agricultural products coming out of Nigeria continues to attract international business to Lagos. In addition to oil, Nigeria's mineral and agricultural wealth includes coal, tin, rubber, timber, fertilizer, cement, various chemicals, corn, rice, sorghum, cassava, and animal and fish products.

One of the first things that business aviation operators will notice entering Nigerian airspace is the country's British heritage in terms of ATC procedures, which are universally ICAO Pan Ops. Trip preparation begins with visa application, as visas are required in advance for stays of 48 hr. or more for both flight crew and passengers (i.e., they cannot be obtained on arrival). “You will need a General Declaration with crew and passenger IDs and a [customs] stamp from your previous port of call,” Greg Linton, master trip owner at Universal Weather & Aviation, told BCA. (This applies even if departing from the operator's home base and flying directly to Nigeria.)

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