A Wild Week in Lagos
Yellow minibuses, or danfos, clog the streets in a city with only 68 (working) stoplights over 385 square miles.
Credit: Jonathan Torgovnik
Meanwhile, there's another side to Lagos – one of exclusivity and wealth. One afternoon I went to a talk at the Center for Contemporary Art, a small gallery with bare white walls. The topic was the recent fuel protests, which everyone agreed were the most successful ever. There was talk of Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street and of the transformative power of Facebook and Twitter. Afterward there was a reception, with coconut shrimp hors d'oeuvres and palm wine in crystal stemware.

That night I dined on catfish and pepper soup with two of the panelists. Toni Kan was a former poet and novelist who now worked in public relations. His friend Victor Ehikhamenor was a soft-spoken creative director who'd studied literature and technology management at the University of Maryland. They both had plenty of problems with the government and the city, but they still liked Lagos for the opportunities it provided. Toni said he didn't pay taxes at all last year, and no one would ever bother trying to collect them. They both frequented the Ikoyi Club, where politicians and generals played squash and golf while blue-uniformed guards watched their Range Rovers. They also liked a beach called Tarkwa Bay, nestled in a cove a 15-minute boat ride from the city, where you can watch kids play soccer in the surf while sipping cold beer and eating the most delicious bananas you've ever tasted.

After dinner, Toni lit a Dunhill and eyed me through a cloud of blue smoke. "I see you getting four wives here," he said. I told him that sounded like a lot.

"My grandfather had eight wives," said Victor. "And he lived to be 103." (Victor, meanwhile, had one ex-wife. "In Dallas," he said, smiling.)

One night I went out with some employees from the U.S. consulate. We ate at a Mexican restaurant on Victoria Island where a pitcher of margaritas costs $25 and a band played bad Elvis. They were in their twenties and seemed excited to be in Lagos and ready to leave. They didn't interact with the locals much; they took armed guards to markets and weren't allowed on the mainland. They spent most of their downtime at restaurants like this, or playing soccer against the British in a compound surrounded by razor wire.

Later we had drinks at Ember Creek, a bar near the Lagos Boat Club popular with diplomats and oil executives. It was a breezy night, with Christmas lights strung through the palm trees and a swimming pool that glowed electric blue. On the water was a massive yacht whose owner had bought it off the set of the last James Bond movie. When the lights went out, as they often do in the city where some residents are lucky to get two hours of electricity a day, everyone cheered.