When CNN Lied
published in the Guardian of Monday, March 16 as 'CNN documentary misses new face of Lagos'
I was on my way out of the house two mornings ago when I heard a reporter on the Cable Network News (CNN) mention ‘Lagos’. I stopped to listen. It was a story on the worst places for expatriates to work in the world, and apparently, Lagos topped the list. The report was based on Business Week’s findings and other places mentioned included Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and some city in India but we had pride of place as the very worst host of all the world’s countries to expatriates.
The reporter, some fellow whose name I can’t recall at the moment, told the CNN desk anchor he was trying to reach an expatriate in Lagos who would talk about his experiences here. He didn’t forget to throw in a jibe when he said the difficulty in reaching that expatriate confirmed his theory about the state of affairs in Lagos. According to the reporter, the issues in Lagos included severe crime, horrendous traffic and many other major problems.
He finally got through to the Lagos expat and it turned out to be Roland Ebelt, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bottling Company, makers of Coca-Cola, an expat who had been resident here for eight years. Roland Ebelt didn’t put a foot wrong once, saying the city wasn’t as bad as some painted it, and he actually had had a good time, majorly, for almost a decade. When asked what his greatest challenge in Lagos was, Ebelt said it was the housing issue. Now, that made me smile. Apparently the M.D. of Coca-Cola has difficulty with finding a home. Would that be not finding a house with Olympic –sized swimming pools?
As the CNN report on Lagos went on, pictures of the city were shown, overhead shots of cluttered-up roads, clumps of bananas in busy markets and hundreds of dirty, cracked feet, “moving in despair.” When skyscrapers were shown, the lenses of the camera had heaps of refuse in the foreground. One can only make wild guesses as to the underlying reasons for this approach to the issues in Lagos. To add some spice, a shot of some East African city was added. How did I know that wasn’t Lagos? All African faces might look the same to the CNN editor who spliced the tape, but we know who’s who when we see them. The skin hue and shape of head were East African, the landmarks in that particular shot were not recognizable to any Lagosian and the vehicles had registration numbers alien to Nigeria. Not the most intelligent piece of editing I’ve seen in my life.
I’m no expatriate but I should give CNN, Business week and their employees a crash course on Lagos. The city is divided into three islands adjacent to each other and the mainland. All expatriates are based on two of the islands; Ikoyi and Victoria Island and they rarely leave those places. Those two islands contain some of the finest homes and landscapes on the continent. Expatriates in Lagos live in paradise. The foreigner, particularly the Caucasian-type, is treated like a King here; by the law enforcement agencies, the citizens and in the market place. The respect given to the expatriate borders on subservience and this phenomenon arising from some of the most street-savvy people in the world would be a worthy study for sociologists.
It would be a bad argument and an immature one, to point back to CNN’s home country and say, ‘and you too’ and that land has many of its own “and you toos” but Lagos should be painted in its own colours, and not through the eyes of prejudice. The traffic in Lagos, if any these days, is caused by the government’s on-going renovation of old roads and bridges and the construction of new ones. The huge swathes of new roads all over Victoria Island (where the Expats live and work)is a good example.
The congestion of Oshodi market shown in the CNN report is now no more, cleared of all impediments to traffic by the authorities. Objectivity requires that you tell a story as it is. A report deliberately skewered to tell the reporter’s own bias is dangerous and makes one wonder at the truthfulness of many of the stories told.
Severe crime directed at expatriates is almost non-existent. Which criminal is going to come against the heavily-fortified and well-guarded work-places and homes of the expatriates in Ikoyi and Victoria Island? The CNN camera should have shown some of these homes and estates. The expatriate in Lagos moves off the islands only with armed police guards. Some have been known to drive against traffic (illegally) on one-way streets, something impossible to do in their homelands, but there’s very little you cannot get away with here if you are an expat. Maybe that approach to the report would have been a better one. A friend once refused to give way to an ‘expat vehicle’ driving down the wrong way with an armed escort, telling the ‘expat’, “you do things here you could never do in your home-country and malign this land when you leave.”
For the first time, I truly, fully understand the purpose of the cable television programme, ‘Studio 53’, showing the best this continent has to offer. Time after time, I have seen wondrous, beautiful places in Africa, Lagos inclusive, on Studio 53; things that would not make ‘a good report’ for CNN, and I’d rather no one gave me the example of its ‘Inside Africa’. If we don’t tell our stories, CNN will not.
The Lagos state government shouldn’t take CNN’s lack of objectivity and this rejoinder as proof of how well they are doing. As an example, every time I speed past middle-aged street cleaners on major express-ways and bridges, sweeping the asphalt with local brooms, I cringe. That is hard, back-breaking concentration camp labour, and no one does that anymore. Apart from Lagos. Get vehicles that can sweep the roads so these people are not put at risk daily.
There’s still some way to go and as you can see now, the whole world is watching.