Kalakuta Republic was the name musician & political activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti gave to the communal compound that housed his family, band members, & recording studio. The word "Kalakuta" was a caricature of a prison cell named Calcutta that Fela Kuti inhabited. The compound was burned to the ground on 1977 after an assault by a thousand armed soldiers...


The Wall of Benin

Created by the Edo people of the Benin Empire(1447-1897). Currently located in Benin City, Nigeria.

"They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet."-Fred Pearce

Yet people still maintain Africa has no significant achievements. We’ve been spoon fed bullshit all out lives.

Posted at 8:01pm and tagged with: benin, african history, nigeria, africa, history, black history,.

The Royal Niger Company’s dominance of Akassa and other tracts of the Delta was the culmination of several centuries of European plunder in the region of West Africa that became Nigeria. The first contact came via the arrival of the Portuguese in the late fifteenth century. Soon, trade in gold, other commodities & slave flourished. The Portuguese, British and Dutch fought for territory they could already see was rich in resources and ripe for exploitation. Locals chiefs proved willing suppliers for the European Hunger for human beings.

Then, in 1807, as a result of campaigning by abolitionists & religious sentiments, as well as changing commercial times, Britain outlawed slave trading by its own nationals. As part of a plan to end the practice all together - thereby, among other things, preventing its European rivals gaining a competitive advantage - London deployed patrols on the West African coast to intercept slave-trading vessels, free their cargoes and arrest their crews. In 1851, British ships attacked Lagos, then a small island-port, on the grounds that it was being used for slaving. A decade later, London formally declared that area a colony, gaining for the first time a political foothold in the land mass area that was to become Nigeria.

As Britain grappled for political control, its companies fought for commercial victory. The main rivals were French, who were eventually to take charge of many countries across the West Africa region, from Senegal to Cameroon. All the businesses wanted power over the River Niger, an invaluable trading route that rises in Guinea & snakes through the region before emptying into the was off the southern coast of Niger Delta. 

In 1886, The United Africa Company - by now a behemothic agglomeration of British manufacturing and trading Interests - found a novel way of gaining extra competitive leverage. It won a royal charter from the British government, creating a trade protectorate exclusively to the company. The idea appealed to London, which wanted to block the region to the French & other rival European governments but -like many invading powers down the years- was to overstretched to do the job properly itself. According to one history of the time, the British vice-consul of the Delta’s Oil Rivers Protectorate candidly admitted that London’s policy would ‘chiefly assume negative character. So long as we keep other European nations out, we need not to be in a hurry to go in’

The charter awarded the conglomerate almost unlimited powers. It was subject to few controls, and could effectively rule the Delta with the sanction and military support of the British government. Sir George Goldie, the UAC’s head, highlighted the business’s enhanced prestige by renaming it the Royal Niger Company. It’s political connections were evident in the appointment of Lord Aberdare, a former home secretary, as it first governor. It was one of the great imperial multinationals of an era of the East India Company and its peers held considerable sway in the world trade.

The conglomerate’s modus operandi was starkly laid out in the documents held in Britain’s National Archives. Perhaps the most striking of them was a thick Foreign Office book so old and worn that it was bound together by a cloth tie. The yellow leather cover was fraying at the corners, exposing layers of hard cardboard beneath. On the spine, written in a burgundy-coloured box, was the tittle: ‘Royal Niger Company Treaties. Part One 1891-98’. Inside, there was a covering letter by Goldie to the undersecretary of state for colonial affairs.

Writing under the ornate Royal Niger Company letterhead, Goldie introduced what he said was a full list of the treaties the company had signed. The following pages were divided by vertical red lines into three columns dedicated to the numbers, place and dates of the deals mad by this capitalist buccaneer.  The document had the air of a proud pupil seeking congratulations from his teacher for his industry: in one 20 day period in July 1889 alone, the company recorded it struck six separate deals. According to British government records the Royal Niger Company made between 340 and 500 of these agreements in total, to take spurious legal control over many territories of the River Niger.

The deeds were written in English and were mostly ‘signed’ by ‘x’ marks purported to have been placed by local chiefs. The language in Goldie’s book gave a sense of the scope of these agreements and how skewed they were in favour of him and his men. ‘With the consent of our people and with the view of bettering their conditions’  chiefs are quoted as agreeing in one deal, ‘[we] do this day cede to the company, and to their assigns, for ever, the whole of our territory’. 

Armed with these documents, the company started trying to dislodge the palm-oil traders who stood between it and the commercial monopoly it wanted. Opponents were driven out, if necessary by force. The company soon established the dominance it desired; palm oil flowed to Britain and elsewhere in Europe, where it was used to make soap, candles and the explosive nitro-glycerine. Most important of all, it a served as a lubricant, to stop the machines that were driving Europe’s industrial prosperity from wearing out. 



A Swamp Full of Dollars

by Michael Peel

Posted at 8:02pm and tagged with: Nigeria, Africa, History, collonial, collonial era, collonialism, african history, Niger Delta, British History, Europe, black history,.

Posted at 4:05am and tagged with: africa, collonialism, history, neo colonialism,.


The Kanem-Bornu Empire was a large African state which existed from the 9th century through the end of the 19th century and which spanned a region which today includes the modern-day countries of Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria. The empire was founded by the Zaghawa nomadic people, who may have been the first in the central Sudan to acquire and make use of iron technology and horses.

Kanem was situated north east of Lake Chad. Its early origins are thought to lie in the 7th century with the settlement of the Zaghawa people. In the early 11th century, the Kanuri-speaking Sefawa dynasty was established, displacing the Zaghawa.

The empire was first mentioned by Arab chroniclers in the 9th century, and by the 10th century the ruler of Kanem had control of the Kawar Oases, a vital economic asset. The political structure of the  Kanem empire had most likely grown out of rival states coming under the control of the Zaghawa. In the 11th century the Zaghawa clans were driven out by Humai ibn Salamna, who founded the kingdom of Kanem with a capital at Njimi. The Saifwa dynasty was established, a dynasty which ruled for 771 years—-the longest known reign in history.

Saifwa rulers (known as mais) claimed they were descended from a heroic Arabic figure, and the dynasty greatly expanded the influence of Islam, making it the religion of the court. Wealth came largely through trade, especially in slaves, which was facilitated by the empire’s position near important North-South trade routes.

Kanem converted to Islam under the ruler Hu or Hawwa (1067-71). There is some speculation that this ruler might have been a woman. The faith was not widely embraced until the 13th century. Certainly, Muslim traders would have played a role in bringing Islam to Kanem.

The wealth of Kanem derived from the ability of its rulers to control trade in the region. Their main exports were ostrich feathers, slaves and ivory. Their exports were crucial to their power and ability to dominate their neighbour. They rode horses, which they imported from the north.

Kanem reached the height of its power under the long rule of Mai Dunama Dibalami (1210-1248). His cavalry numbered over 40,000. But over the next hundred years, a combination of overgrazing, dynastic uncertainties and attacks from neighbours led the rulers of Kanem to move to Borno, which had previously paid tribute to Kanem. At this point, the state is sometimes referred to as Kanem-Borno.

Bornu expanded territorially and commercially, but increasing threats from other rival states, drought, trade problems, and rebellious Fulani groups eroded state control. Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi, a Muslim cleric, eventually defeated the rebellious Fulani and built a new capital at Kukawa in 1814.

His successors ended the Saifwa dynasty and the Kanem-Bornu Empire when they killed the last mai in 1846. Al-Kanemi’s Shehu dynasty was short-lived, and succeeded by slaver and warlord Rabih Zubayr, who was defeated by the French in 1900.

(sources 1, 2)

Posted at 10:01pm and tagged with: africa, history, chad, black, culture,.

'There was another group of Nigerians who had come to England. This group of men came in the late fifties, when Nigeria was still a colony. Even under colonisation, they were men in the middle class strata of Nigerian Society. They were well educated, with good secondary schooling or its equivalent, qualified enough to hold down clerical jobs in Civil Service. These were men who were conversant with the goings-on in world politics, who knew that colonialism, like the slave trade, would soon become too expensive for the colonial masters; that the outcome would be independence - in the same way the slaves were freed, when it became too expensive to keep them. The final nail in the coffin was the independence of India. It would soon be their turn. Nigeria would soon be independent.'
‘These groups of men calculated that with independence would come prosperity, the opportunity for self-rule, posh vacant jobs, and more money, plenty of it. One had to eligible for these jobs, though, thought these men. The only place to secure this eligibility, this passport to prosperity, was England. They must come to England, get a quick degree in Law and go back to rule their country. What could be more suitable?
The reaction that followed this sudden realisation spread like wildfire. Responsible men, in high Civil Service posts, threw up their jobs, asked for their gratuities, demanded their pensions, abandoned their children, gave twenty pounds or so to their illiterate wives, and packed their bags for the trip to the United Kingdom in search of education, in search of eligibility. The eligibility that would make them free, free to rule their country, free to go into posh jobs with long shiny American cars with back wings….’


The Tuareg are an ethnic group in Saharan Africa. Their name for themselves is Imohag, which translates to “free men”. Their exact origins are unknown, but they are thought to be descended from Berbers who migrated to the area around the 7th century BC. They speak Tamachek and French, and…

Posted at 12:43am and tagged with: africa, history, black,.

Despite all the talk we hear of colonialism today & all the information we have available to us concerning the matter, I have noticed that there is still a significant amount of ignorance that exists on the subject of Colonialism in Africa, especially amongst Africans. Like no doubt, a lot of us are aware of Africa’s colonial past, many people have some kind of general basic knowledge of her colonial history, but that’s were it usually ends. You know like ‘Africa was colonised back then, exploited, & then it was set free; & given independence, blah blah blah.’ & this, to me is a problem.

To a lot of us, our history of hundreds of years has been shrunk into little lines of dates & facts. A lot of misconceptions, myths & inaccuracies have been accepted, & even worse a lot facts have been left out. Many people have not bothered or have not been prompted to deeply explore/ understand Colonialism in Africa, its significance, & most importantly its after effect.

We begin the series with the creation of African states. Using Martin Merediths extracts, we’ll look back at how the Africa we have today was influenced/shaped, & what effects that process form centuries ago still has on the continent today.


“During the scramble for Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, European powers staked claim to virtually the entire continent. At meetings in Berlin, Paris, London & other capitals, European statesmen & diplomats bargained over the separate spheres of interest they intended to establish there. Their knowledge of the vast African hinterland was slight. Hitherto European had known Africa more as a coastline than a continent; their presence had been confined mainly to small, isolated enclaves on the coast used for trading purposes; only in Algeria & in southern Africa had more substantial European settlement taken root.”

“The maps used to carve up the African continent were mostly inaccurate; large areas were described as terra incognita. When marking out boundaries of their new territories, European negotiators frequently resorted to drawing straight lines on the map, taking little or no account if the myriad of traditional monarchies, chiefdoms, and other African societies that existed on the ground. Nearly one half of the new frontiers imposed on Africa were geometrical lines, lines of latitude & longitude, other straight lines or arcs of circles. In some cases, African societies were rent apart: the Bakongo were partitioned between French Congo, Belgian Congo & Portuguese Angola; Somaliland was carved up between Britain, Italy & France. In all, the new boundaries cut through some 190 culture groups. In other cases,  Europe’s new colonial territories enclosed hundreds of diverse & independent groups, with no common history, culture, language, or  religion. Nigeria for example contained as many as 250 ethno linguistic groups.  Officials sent to the Belgian Congo eventually identified 6000 chiefdoms there. Other kingdoms such as Asante in the Gold Coast (Ghana) & Loziland in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were merged into larger colonial units. Kingdoms that had been historically antagonistic to one another, such as Buganda & Bunyoro in Uganda were linked into the same colony.  In the Sahel, new territories were established across the great divide between the desert regions of the Sahara and the belt of tropical forests to the south – Sudan, Chad & Nigeria – throwing together Muslim & non-Muslim people in latent hostility.”

 “As haggling in Europe over African territory continued, land & peoples became little more than pieces on chessboard. ‘We have been giving away mountains & rivers & lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were,’ Britain prime minister, Lord Salisbury, remarked sardonically to a London audience. Britain traded the North Sea island of Heligoland with the Germans for Zanzibar, & parts of northern Nigeria with the French for fishing rights off Newfoundland. France exchanged parts of Cameroon with Germany in return for German recognition of the French protectorate over Morocco. By the time the Scramble for Africa was over, some 10, 000 African polities had been amalgamated into 40 European colonies & protectorates.”

“Thus were born the modern states of Africa.”


From these paragraphs we can establish how the colonialists knew very little about the African continent or her people. From their home country they drafted lines & maps that would change the destiny of millions of people.

Some of us subconsciously view our various African nationalities as if they existed since beginning of time, forgetting that these were all false states created for the sole reason of exploitation. We must begin to understand that when the colonialists decided to carve up Africa for themselves, they did so with very little regard for the Africans on the ground; these countries were being drafted for maximum profit not cohesiveness. The order of the day was Divide & Conquer.

So what are the effects of this? The most obvious is that today, these African states still, to a large extent, fulfil what they were created to do back in the late 19th century i.e to be exploited. These states were drawn & mapped out to maximise profit for the colonial countries & till today they still do so. 

Look around the continent today, we have so many mineral rich African countries like the Congo, Cote d’ Ivoire, Nigeria, Angola, Sierra Leone etc. that have countless suffering/impoverished citizens, but somehow still manage to feed their colonial masters. We also seem have a very small sense of African Unity on the level of state goats, because a lot of the individual nations are more tied to linked to their colonial masters than their African sisters.

We have nations that are not united within themselves as well. Politics & Government are decided on the merit of tribes, because historically, there’s no true sense of nationality in the making of these Mordern African States. We also have countries in Africa that have are constantly are war because colonialist maps fused conflicting/rival tribes together into nations.

These are some of the sediments of colonialism in Africa, & to break out of them we must explore & understand each one of them as we have done above. By uncovering such knowledge we trace back the roots of our problems today, & we can make better & more informed decisions when it comes to dealing with them.

Today, many African countries have a lacking sense of national patriotism. People are more attached to their tribes than they are than they are to their country because their so-called countries are the product of some profit driven sketches from centuries ago.

So, do we disregard them or try to modify them to suite us better? Are our nationalities a true reflection of who we are as Africans? Does it need to be changed? Does it really affect us as a people? Socially? Psychologically? Are Africa’s societal structures working for the benefit of Africans? or for the benefit of our colonial masters? What kind of changes can be made?

We now know that these false borders that we guard so jealously were actually created to ensure that we do not progress, do we have to abide by them or disregard them? Should Africans using homogeneity as a priority remap the African continent? Should secession be as frowned upon as it is today in Africa, or could it hold the answer to more peace & harmony on the continent?

Posted at 10:02pm and tagged with: africa, history, african history, collonialism, african politics, Kalakuta Journals, african society,.


The theft of the Benin Bronzes.

The Benin Bronzes are a collection of more than 3000 artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, which is in present day Nigeria.

Many of the Benin Bronze artifacts are currently housed in the British Museum, as well as other museums across Western Europe, and the United States.

Some of the priceless pieces are procured by wealthy art collectors through auctions, like this Bronze Memorial Head sold by Christie’s Auction House in London for 1.2 million pounds in 1989. The British Museum itself sold numerous pieces, as late as 1972. (Source)

Privately (black market), collectors acquire all kinds of Benin art not just limited to bronze/brass. Rare artifacts made from ivory, clay, wood, terracotta, and other materials all command high prices. Many of these are in the hands of German estates. German collectors bought them first when a sizable amount was sold in the late 1890s.

It needs to be stressed that these weren’t an archaeological find. These are looted artifacts. Under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, the artifacts were stolen by the British Army in the Benin Expedition of 1897. They deliberately destroyed, plundered, and burned Benin down to the ground. To date, no one knows how many Edo people were killed in Benin by the British. The expedition brought an end to the Kingdom of Benin. Click here for a short video on how the looting occurred. 

Only a handful of these artifacts are in Nigeria today. Nigeria had to buy back 50 pieces of their own artifacts from the British Museum. The British Museum refuses to return the rest, despite being fully aware that they were stolen.

Click here for a listing of pictures and details on some of the various Benin artifacts housed mostly in museums in Europe and the US.

More videos: Vid 1 - Vid 2

Posted at 4:09am and tagged with: africa, benin, art, black, history, african history, African people,.

PBS Egalite for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

Posted at 1:34am and tagged with: history, haiti, haitian history, africa, africanhistory, revolution, slavery,.

The continent’s booming new economic zones are outstripping the ability of weak central governments to retain their hold on them.


Heavy traffic on a bridge in the Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos on March 27, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

Twice as populous today as the next biggest African country, Nigeria, which was cobbled together as a colony 100 years ago, has always stood out on its continent as the most ambitious and in many ways fanciful creation of British imperialism. 

First, it was given its name in 1897 by Flora Shaw, a journalist for the London Times, and then run by her eventual husband, Lord Lugard, a former army officer and civil servant who recognized from the outset, even as he unified what had been a hodgepodge collection of protectorates, that its disparate regions had almost nothing common.

Almost from the moment of its independence in 1960, Britain’s fractious, artificial concoction has been falling apart, haunted by the twin specters of state failure and breakup.

In the country’s first decade, it was riven by the Biafran War, a vicious, ethnically driven bid for secession by its southeasterners that killed 2 million people and still ranks as one of the continent’s deadliest civil conflicts.

An oil boom in the 1970s briefly seemed to promise widespread prosperity. Instead, it brought a long period of runaway corruption, military coups, and abysmal misrule that have left 60 percent of the population living under the poverty line.

Civilian government and democracy were restored to Nigeria in 1999, but this has not meant the arrival of competent national leadership, nor to a halt in the procession of crises.

This decade has been marked by the alarming spread of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in the overwhelmingly Muslim northern half of the country, and by the rampant piracy of oil, Nigeria’s main source of revenue, in the southeast.

But from the perspective of a fast-arriving future, even threats like these to the authority of Nigeria’s federal government may soon pale alongside a far more fundamental challenge to national cohesion: Nigeria’s phenomenal population growth.

Presently, almost all of sub-Saharan Africa is growing at sustained rates unmatched in modern history. In this regard, Mali, Nigeria’s resource-poor and largely desertified West African neighbor, is fairly typical. The United Nations projects that the country, one of the world’s ten poorest nations, will see its population rise to nearly 50 million by mid-century from its present base of about 16 million.

Nigeria, a rambunctiously energetic country with roughly twice the area of California, may be on a slightly slower growth path, but its already huge size makes its trajectory far more dramatic. The country’s headcount is expected to double from a shade under 200 million today to 400 million by 2050, and by century’s end will reach an almost unimaginable 750 million — more than half the size of China — according to the UN’s cautious median projections.

Given the disastrous nature of so much news from Africa, one could easily expect this to be a story about hellish population bombs. It is not. Rather, it is a look at how booming demographics are fueling economic growth in many parts of Africa, while at the same time radically stressing the continent’s political geography.

More specifically, it is a glimpse at how urban centers led by Lagos, Africa’s biggest city, are positioning themselves to accomplish what any number of rebel groups and secessionists movements have failed to achieve since the continent’s independence era commenced in the late 1950s: redraw a remarkably static political map of Africa, imposed by European imperialists over a century ago.

Here and there already, the continent’s biggest cities are spawning enormous urban corridors that are spilling over borders and creating vigorous new economic zones that are outstripping the ability of weak and plodding central governments to manage or even retain their hold on them.

Lagos, which sits in the southwestern corner of Nigeria, sprawled over a collection of islands and swampy coastlands, occupies the leading edge of this phenomenon. Today, its extraordinary growth is driving sweeping changes in a five-country region that stretches 500 miles westward along a band of palm-shaded seaboard all the way to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a mushrooming city of perhaps six million people that has long been this region’s other major economic and cultural pole.

In between them, in one of the busiest staging areas of the historic Atlantic slave trade, West Africa is laying the foundations of one of the world’s biggest megalopolises, and in Lagos itself, the start of a potentially powerful new city-state.

With an estimated 18 million people (no one knows for sure) Lagos has grown in size nearly 40-fold since independence, and its expansion is still accelerating. Nigerian demographers estimate that as many as 5,000 newcomers migrate here every day, putting Lagos on track to easily double in size again before mid-century, when it will be a top contender for the title of the world’s largest city.

For decades, Lagos suffered one of the worst images of any city in the world, known widely as a place of thieving politicians, streets that crackled with danger, rotting infrastructure and “go-slows,” the monstrous, daily traffic jams in which people melt in their seats in the stifling, humid heat while praying they won’t be held up at gunpoint by robbers. The city’s most famous native son, the late musician, Fela, even coined a shorthand term for the Lagos’s litany of hardships: “impossibility-ism.”

But with the outside world having almost written it off, Lagos has recently enjoyed a prolonged run of strong economic growth, swelling its GDP to twice the size of Kenya’s, the richest and most important nation in East Africa. And while booming like this, Lagos has also begun to quietly develop a reputation for some of the most effective local governments in all of West Africa.

Under the leadership of a succession of ambitious, modernizing governors from the opposition Action Party, Lagos has embarked on an unprecedented construction spree, building freeways, sub-Saharan Africa’s first metro system outside of South Africa, and public housing units on a large scale. At the same time, this famously rough place has even added subtler quality of life improvements like the proliferation of public green spaces.

In a torrential afternoon rain one day, I drove to the seafront of Victoria Island, Lagos’s main business and financial quarter, to visit one of the city’s most ambitious new developments, a vast real estate project known as Eko Atlantic City. It is an entirely new district will house 250,000 people in high-rise apartment buildings, banks in corporate office towers, other businesses and hotels, and an 18-mile tramway.

With physical space for expansion fast running out, to build it, the city is filling in with rocks and sand 9 million square meters of ocean, an area one and a half times larger than Victoria Island itself.

For now, all that one can see is a vast, flat expanse of sand that stretches to the horizon, its southern border defined by a nearly 4.5-mile long seawall of boulders and concrete tetrapods piled high to hold back the ocean.

Ten enormous dump trucks filled with large rocks rumbled by while I climbed atop the seawall. On average, I was told, 300 of them unburden themselves of their 25-30 ton loads every day.

"Land used to exist here," a guide in hardhat told me, as we stood on the newly packed sand. "It took about 100 years for the ocean to reach that point," she said, gesturing toward Victoria Island’s Bar Beach in the distance.

If Lagos alone were growing like this, the disruption it would pose to the region’s staid political order would be marginal. But along with the world’s fastest population growth, over the next several decades Africa will also experience the highest urbanization rates anywhere on the planet. In this decade alone, cities in West Africa will swell by an additional 58 million people, according to the United Nations.

Between 2020 to 2030, an additional 69 million people will fill out the region’s bulging cities, and urbanization rates will continue accelerating like this at least until mid-century.

As a result, demographers foresee the emergence of hundreds of new, full-fledged cities born from what are now modest, faceless towns, as well as many others simply created from scratch that will begin popping to life like stars born from gathering dust in the cosmos.

Most existing cities, meanwhile, will undergo enormous expansion, swelling beyond recognition from what they have looked like only recently. Here and there, new urban corridors will spring up, along the lines of the 50-million strong 400-mile stretch of eastern seaboard between Boston and Washington, D.C., only far more populous.

And this is where Africa’s new political geography comes in. A simple tally of the projections for the three principal cities in this corridor, Lagos, Abidjan, and Accra, adds up to a mid-century population of 54 million.

To this, however, one must add places like Ibadan, Nigeria (presently 2 million people), only 80 miles from Lagos, Takoradi, Ghana (500,000 people), and the capitals of what are today sovereign countries, Lomé, Togo (1.5 million) and Cotonou, Benin (1.2 million). Throw in the countless other towns and cities along the way that will be swelling or springing to life, and the foreseeable result is a dense and nearly unbroken urban zone from end to end.

While I was in Abidjan on a recent visit, ground was broken on a multilane highway project that will run eastward along the coast, to Ghana, replacing the familiar old, potholed carriage road that for decades has rambled through brine-swept palm oil plantations.

A few weeks later in Nigeria, I visited an immense new Chinese industrial zone being built on the far eastern outskirts of Lagos, the Lekki Free Zone, a 60-40 joint venture between a Chinese consortium and the Lagos State government that is being promoted as West Africa’s answer to Dubai.

Even if that seems like a stretch, global energy firms and Chinese manufacturers of everything from furniture and palm oil products, to solar panels and automobiles, have already become early, enthusiastic investors. A Singaporean company, meanwhile, is at work building a deep-water port, which is due to begin operations in 2015, and to the immediate northwest of the zone, a new international airport is also under construction.

Investment in the zone represents a bet that if the government can provide land and labor at internationally competitive rates, along with reliable power supply and streamlined immigration and customs formalities, foreign investors will flock to the area. Their aim would not only be to manufacture things for export to faraway markets, but to take advantage of the emerging West African megalopolis’s attractive demographics, including high population density and a fast-rising middle class.

Arguably the most important of that city’s recent mega-projects is the Badagry Expressway, a newly opened, ten-lane road and rail corridor that will soon push onward to the nearby border with Benin.

Far more than a simple road, the highway is the physical embodiment of the politically transformative integration to come — think the I-95 of West Africa. At some point before long, it will merge with the highway being built eastward from Ivory Coast, perhaps somewhere in Ghana. But even before that can happen, tiny Benin and Togo, countries whose sliver-thin shapes mark them as conspicuous examples of fanciful European mapmaking, will face a powerful new existential challenge.

The most sacrosanct rule of continental politics in the post-independence era has always been the taboo on tampering with Africa’s borders, which almost every state has recognized as arbitrary and irrational, and yet equally essential. The Europeans may have consulted no Africans in drawing them up, but to renounce them now would be to open a gigantic Pandora’s box, and a recipe for endless, costly conflict.

But now the massive growth of cities in the region points to ways that borders and the nation states they contain can be overtaken or even rendered irrelevant without war or confrontation.

Like that of Lagos, well-managed, democratic Ghana’s resource-driven economy is booming, meaning that for Togo and Benin, the two little backwaters sandwiched in between them, hopes of prosperity will increasingly mean hitching their fortunes to those of their far larger neighbors. This will steadily force French speakers in these countries to opt for English, at a minimum, as the language of business and opportunity. And the switch of colonial languages is likely to be merely the first step toward unprecedented integration.

In fact, many see Lagos’s creeping interpenetration of Benin as being already well under way, pointing to a 2003 incident as an important milestone. It involved an armed robber from neighboring Benin who attacked a car owned by a close friend of the sitting Nigerian president’s daughter. The bandit fled back to Benin to escape arrest, but Nigeria punitively closed its border, which essentially meant cutting off trade with Lagos, Benin’s lifeline. Within 72 hours the suspect was arrested and delivered to Nigerian authorities.

"We already have houses on the border where the sitting room is in Nigeria and the bedroom is in Benin," said F.A.D. Oyekunmi, a demographer at University of Lagos. "I think Benin will remain the Benin Republic, but the string of communities that will spring up along the Badagary Expressway, all the way to the border and beyond, will become the nucleus of one new, giant and integrated urban area — one economy."

The biggest challenge posed by the growth of Lagos and the consolidation of an enormous, sub-regional economic zone around it, however, is not to the city’s minuscule neighbors. Rather, it is to Nigeria’s continued existence as a unitary nation.

If present trends continue, in another decade or two, Lagos’s economy will surpass the size of the rest of Nigeria.

What has held the country together in the past, however tenuously, is the redistribution of money earned from the country’s oil exports. But this is changing fast, as Lagos booms and its dependence on this ever more thinly sliced revenue — what Nigerian politicians call the “national cake” — dwindles.

"If [Lagos’s] GDP continues to rise the way it is, the federal contribution to [the city] could shrink to 5 percent," Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, the director of a leading independent Nigerian think tank, the Center for Policy Alternatives told me in an interview in his stylish offices. "What you would end up with is a virtual country. All of the parameters, absent an army, police and currency of your own, are there. We are good to go."

Not everyone agrees that Lagos can achieve this kind of autonomy through economic change alone. But as strong as it is, growth may only be the second most important challenge the city poses to the nation.

After decades of drift, Nigeria’s own people increasingly see Africa’s largest country as broken and fundamentally unworkable, perhaps beyond repair. Nigeria is the world’s 11th largest oil producer, and yet it imports all of its gasoline — it does not have a single working refinery. Just as gallingly for Africa’s energy powerhouse, most of its citizens live without electricity from the grid.

The arrival here a decade ago of increasingly effective, development-minded local government has already delivered a profound jolt to the country’s system, shifting much of the action in national politics from the hopelessly corrupt and ineffectual federal level to Nigeria’s 36 states.

Lagos has achieved this by providing what its incumbent two-term governor, Babatunde Fashola, a hard-driving, 50-year-old lawyer and latecomer to politics has called a social contract, which is something the national government has clearly never delivered, nor scarcely even hinted at.

At its simplest, it amounts to the promise that if citizens and businesses will pay their taxes, the local government will guarantee them services. What is more, Fashola, and his Action Congress predecessor, Bola Tinubu, have won a string of elections by urging voters to judge them on this basis.

Fashola, who previously served as Tinubu’s chief of staff, told me that when the tax collection efforts began, in 1999, the city was officially taking in a paltry $4 million a month. “Today, we are doing 15-16 billion naira ($101 million), and the incredible thing is that haven’t raised taxes. We are still a long way off, though, because we estimate modestly that 8 million people are employed here, and only 3 million are in our tax net.”

In a region full of states rendered unaccountable to their citizens by the so-called resource curse, which allows elites — in Nigeria, the so-called top million — to live off of their production of raw materials, this stands out as a surprisingly radical idea.

To wit, the city’s approach to politics and governance are being emulated in other states, especially elsewhere in the country’s south, and as dependence on the center and on oil revenue steadily weakens, many now say, so inevitably will the rational for Nigeria as we know it.

The first of two lengthy conversations I had with Fashola, came at end of a news conference at his sprawling state government complex. When the assembled local press began to break up and his aides introduced me, the governor asked me what he could do for me, to which I requested that he sit down for an interview.

Fashola’s aides had previously described him to me as restless, impatient and endlessly demanding. “He looks around us constantly and feels this is not good enough,” one of them had told me. “We have the resources, we have the materials, we have the people, and our lives could be much better.”

Now they looked on aghast when he responded by immediately inviting me into his office and speaking in impassioned, rapid-fire fashion about his ambitions for the city.

These included building a series of new satellite towns around central Lagos in order to accommodate its mushrooming population. He spoke about the need to revive the civil service by attracting talented people from the private sector. He spoke about ongoing efforts to improve education by involving parents more in their children’s schooling.

"One of the new reforms we have initiated is that parents must attend a minimum 90 percent of the parents-teachers association meetings for their kids to move on to the next class," he said, adding that, "if the parents take school seriously, the children will naturally do so."

Fashola spoke of being inspired by visits to other cities that have emerged rapidly in other underdeveloped parts of the world, beginning with Singapore. “I met with Lee Kwan Yew, and the people who worked with him. I knew from what they did that we could do it too, and I came back very angry. I went to Dubai on the same trip, and what they are doing there is absolutely audacious. It put rockets in my shoes.”

Early one morning, I set out in another driving rain to the governor’s official residence, from which I would follow Fashola’s motorcade for an inspection tour of new housing projects being built by the Lagos state government.

As my hired car approached Tafawa Balewa Square in the heart of the city, amid heavy traffic, a motorbike rider squeezed into the space between us and the car just ahead. On the frame of his license plate were printed the words, “Trust No One,” which to me seemed to capture the old spirit of the city I had known since the late-1970s.

That grudging old Lagos was a place of constant police shakedowns and of endless aggression. It was a place where the bodies of people hit by cars were uncollected and became flattened into thin pulp instead from being run over countless times.

Arriving at the residence, officers in the governor’s security detail instructed me to ditch my car and climb aboard one of the vans containing the state house press corps. Nigeria’s press has long been one of the most competitive and hard-bitten on the continent, and together with a couple dozen of its members, I waited under an elevated expressway that runs along the waterfront opposite the city’s busy port.

There, on Marina Road, the traffic was heavy and slow, but never reached a full standstill. More remarkably, the whole time we waited, public buses zipped by in special lanes introduced by Tinubu, and greatly expanded since, in a bid to combat the city’s notorious traffic.

The expansion was signature Fashola, applying public policy tools to everyday problems, and it had dramatically eased the commuting times for millions of residents. This, of course, contributed to the wild popularity of the measure, but there was something else at work in the enthusiastic public response. Nigerians had long been simply unaccustomed to their government doing anything to make their lives easier.

Waiting for the governor’s motorcade to take off, I asked one of the State House reporters if life had been improving in the city, and he gave me a befuddled look, the kind one can get in response to a stupid question.

"There are too many things to name," the reporter replied. "You don’t even need to ask. It’s everywhere: traffic, service delivery, health care, the courts…" His voice trailed off.

When we finally set off, before crossing the seven-mile span of the Third Mainland Bridge, which connects Lagos Island to continental Africa, the governor’s motorcade whisked its way up and around a looping overpass that traced the circumference of a large knoll below.

The reporter I’d befriended nudged me to make sure that I had taken in the sight. What once would have been an open expanse of dirt, a favored preserve of toughs lying in wait to ambush motorists, was now planted in manicured grass, replete with tulips and other flowers.

When we reach the mainland, though, it became abundantly clear that Lagos was not yet tamed. The traffic was manic and disordered on the main boulevard we pursued, with cars, battered tro-tros, or taxi-like vans, motorbikes and even daredevil pedestrians all jousting for precious road space.

No one seems to have ever contemplated zoning in this city, and grimy industrial parks, ramshackle high- and low-rise housing, and commerce of all kinds, together with an extraordinary proliferation of churches on nearly every block, were all joined together in a chaotic mix.

Our motorcade finally pulled of the main avenue and entered into a tight grid of streets that was bursting at the seams with people and bustling with petty traders. Without warning, our press vehicle suddenly stopped and the reporters and cameramen run, as if for their lives, dodging massive puddles, to get inside a walled-off construction site before the governor’s car made its entrance, so that they could get their shots.

Simultaneously, Fashola’s security men, large and unsmiling, also rushed to take up their positions, and then the governor’s vehicle, a black SUV, pulled onto the grounds of the site and the governor emerged, tall, smiling and exuding confidence as he buttoned the blue blazer he wore over an open collared shirt and crisp khakis.

With aides and construction company representatives cocooned around him, the governor strode forward toward a collection of nearly completed apartment blocks, firing off a series of detailed questions, and pressing for more minutiae when the answers disappointed him.

When he finished, the governor engaged in a lively give and take with local reporters who scrummed around him, lobbing tough questions.

Noting the relatively modest number of units involved in this project, a Nigerian TV reporter pressed a skeptical question, asking whether the new housing complexes we had seen weren’t largely propaganda devices; more symbol than substance for a city flooding with new residents.

Fashola’s posture grew more erect as he bristled, but his answer made clear that he relished her challenge. “You know how many projects that have been launched in Nigeria that we don’t see again today?” came his reply. Far larger numbers of units would be coming on stream in the future, he added, but unlike other governments, his administration wanted to emphasize work that was being delivered, and not make promises.

"If you [announce]a scheme and there are no houses, it will just be a big advertisement, and we do not do that. If we are committed to something in the state, we deliver it."

Curious local residents had filtered onto the construction site, forming clusters in the shaded wings. They were kept at a distance by the governor’s security detail, but could follow the exchange, and with that they applauded.

As Fashola turned on his heels, bringing the press conference to a close, he waved to them. Instead of smiling and saying “thank you,” as one might have expected, his parting words were: “Pay your taxes!”

The long-held attitude toward Lagos of Nigeria’s federal government and of its leading national politicians, many of whom have hailed from the country’s poorer and less developed north, can be summed up in the famous 1975 New York Daily News front page in which then-president Gerald R. Ford supposedly told a near bankrupt New York City to “drop dead.” (Historians later established that Ford never quite used those words.)

But the revival of Lagos, and the widening discrepancy between governance there and the steady underperformance of one national government after another, including most recently the hapless administration of the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, has produced an extraordinary reversal of fortunes.

Its strong tax collection efforts and local economic growth have given the city the means to fund 70 percent of its own operations, dramatically reducing dependence on redistributed oil income; meaning only 30 percent of its revenue comes from the national budget.

If such trends continue, as Nigeria’s troubles grow, one can imagine a Daily News-style headline that reads: “Lagos to Abuja: Drop Dead.”

Nigerians economists say that if the international price for oil dips below $90 a barrel, the government in Abuja will become insolvent. That is based on the country’s current population of 167 million people. In a quarter century, when Nigeria will likely have 300 million inhabitants, the game of redistributing oil income will be dramatically less rewarding.Richard Joseph, a Northwestern University political scientist who is a leading scholar on Nigeria, places it in a group of nations that he calls “big, messy countries,” where ethnically-based regions — places like Gujarati India or Kurdish Iraq — emerge to distinguish themselves by functioning at a substantially higher level than the nations that contain them.

Joseph said the question of whether or not Fashola’s models, places like Singapore or Dubai, are within Lagos’s striking range, is a matter of distant speculation.

"The question is whether a vibrant, efficient, democratic Lagos can emerge within a more dysfunctional Nigeria," Joseph said. "My sense is that there is a lot of space for them to go forward."

Fashola plays down the doubters, but he acknowledges that Nigeria’s grave dysfunctions hinder Lagos. “We have the power to galvanize Nigeria. Lagos can be the locomotive for the Nigerian nation. How far we can travel, though, depends on what happens with Nigeria.”

|JUL 1 2013, 10:01 AM ET

Posted at 5:48pm and tagged with: africa, Nigeria, lagos, economy, west africa,.