LAGOS, NIGERIA —
Here’s what you get if you’re the governor of Nigeria's Lagos state: You get people, millions of them, spread through so many glitzy estates and unplanned neighborhoods that no one knows exactly how many there are. You get a city with towering high-rises and slums built on garbage.
And you get to manage what is by itself one of Africa’s largest economies, said Tunji Lardner, executive director of the West African NGO Network and a lifelong Lagosian.
“If Lagos were a country, it would be the fifth-largest country in Africa," Lardner said. "It also means that Lagos is, by certain estimates, responsible for perhaps 40, 50 percent of national GDP. It also means, ironically, that some of the wealthiest people in Africa are in Lagos, as well as some of the poorest people in Africa."
Nigeria's political scene was upended late last month when President Goodluck Jonathan lost the national election to Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress. It was the first loss by an incumbent president since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.
Jonathan’s People's Democratic Party is hoping to maintain influence with a win by Jimi Agabje, its candidate in the Lagos state governor's race. Buhari's party is hoping to further consolidate its power by getting candidate Akinwunmi Ambode elected.
Whoever wins has big shoes to fill. Lardner credits the state's two most recent governors with cleaning up the streets and building up a tax revenue base that’s the best among Nigeria’s 36 states.
Khadijat Sanni has benefited from that leadership. She’s spent most of her life living in Oshodi, home to a popular market and bus station where she sells beverages wholesale. The Oshodi she knew growing up was chaotic and unregulated, but that's no longer true.
“Then we were in primary school in Oshodi here, talk, everybody selling, no control, they just do things the way they like," she said. "Smoking, all these things, selling in railways, those things. But, thank God, there are many differences in Oshodi now.”
Not all parts of Lagos have benefited equally. In the Ajegunle neighborhood, people filled in swampland with trash to build ramshackle houses. Tolulope Sangosanya runs a resource center for local children. When a fire broke out recently, she said, firefighters didn’t show up. That’s just one way the powers that be have neglected the neighborhood, she said.
“We do something, and we don’t trickle it down to the grass roots," she said. "You fix the main road. You do not fix the inner streets.”
It’s not just Lagos that’s voting on Saturday. Contests for governorships will take place in most of Nigeria’s 36 states.