Nigerians won't let this issue rest. BBC must have really struck a bad chord with them with this one. Anyways, here is one of my favorite writers, Salisu Suleiman's take on the whole "Welcome to Lagos" debacle.
When in the 1950s, my father returned from studies at the London School of Economics, it was a much heralded event. It was almost like an astronaut returning from the moon – so novel was the idea. Almost everyone in his home town came out to welcome him at the railway station. The first person to spot him disembarking from the train proudly narrated the excitement of the moment to whoever cared to listen for several years. Reading through my father’s papers decades later, I learnt that he had travelled from Lagos by ship, berthing in England some two weeks later and had also returned by ship.
For many decades prior to and after Nigeria’s Independence, travelling to Britain was the ultimate in travel and exposure. Even the Lancaster House Conferences where Nigeria’s federal Constitution was prepared were held in London. Those fortunate enough to travel to London deliberately mystified the experience, giving the impression that London, and by extension, the entire United Kingdom had the mysticism and splendour of the Baghdad of Arabian Nights.
Many Nigerians yearned for the opportunity to travel to the UK. I still recall numerous songs by Nigerian artists about London. Some of these songs remain classics till date. London was the destination for aspiring students and most sought after place for foreign courses and training. Even today, owning a home in London (no matter how rarely used) is practically a matter of life and death for Nigeria’s nouveau riche. (It hardly matters if it is a dreary flat in a dreary part of London).
But of course, familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. (And reveals a lot of dark truths). So when the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC aired a documentary portraying Lagos an open sewer of slums with millions of poverty-stricken throngs of humanity barely eking out a miserable life, one must ask, is London any better? The BBC documentary was genuine. The pictures were not created in a studio. The scenes were real. It is a matter of knowing where to go. And where to look.
If you know where to go and where to look in London, you’d find the same open gutters, high levels of poverty and throbbing ebbs of humanity thronging to eke out niggardly livelihoods. The truth is poverty has no race, no colour and is not limited to Nigeria or even other developing countries. There are many professionals who earn higher wages and live better lives in Lagos than they ever could in London. There are places in Lagos where refuse collection is more regular than in London. If the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA decides to produce a documentary on the misery and poverty prevailing in certain parts of London, it would make disturbing viewing, especially among those who still think the UK is the ultimate destination.
But beneath this cosmetic facade are the real issues of survival with which the UK is currently confronted. The hung parliament that came about in the aftermath of the last general elections is just the tip of the iceberg of problems confronting modern Britain. The economy is facing enormous challenges- including loss of productivity, high levels of unemployment and crippling debts. Nothing points more to the decline of Britain as their failure to hold on to things considered iconically British. Today, the global icon and carmaker Land Rover is owned by India’s TATA. The famous MG brand is Chinese. Harrods has just moved from its Egyptian owner to the hands of Qatari investors. Even international sporting brands like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and many others are owned by foreigners.
The Britain of today is hardly the top destination for students wanting to excel in specialized fields. The prestige of studying in British universities may remain, but the educational standards hardly rank among the best in the world. Similarly, London is no longer the financial capital of the world.Even Dubai is proving to be more resourceful than London in attracting global capital. Figures published in February 2010 indicate that the UK’s public sector net debt was £848.5 billion. I do not have the creativity to translate that sum into naira and kobo, but it is accepted that the country may soon need the ‘Greek Treatment’ (massive injection of funds to prevent the economy from collapsing).
So when next you watch a repeat of the BBC documentary on Lagos, look closely at the open sewers. What you see may not be much different from the open gutters of London. It all depends on where you look.