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Lagos stories

A boy tenderly cradles his younger sibling. A minibus driver leans on his window and watches the world go by. A man has his toenails clipped in the street. Women pay the equivalent of four cents to walk across a wooden bridge, avoiding the piles of rotting rubbish dumped below. These are not dramatic stories, just moments in the lives of the inhabitants of Lagos, amongst dozens recorded by Jacob Silberberg in the weeks before the crucial April 2007 elections.

Population estimates range from 12 to 18 million, but nobody really knows how many people are crammed into Lagos, the tropical city in southwestern Nigeria that is Africa's largest megalopolis and the world's second largest city. Each week, tens of thousands move to the already swollen city, built on land reclaimed from a series of lagoons and creeks. These migrants are among Nigeria's poorest people and they come with little, seeking a fortune which often proves elusive.

Crushing under the weight of its massive population, the city struggles to provide basic services like electricity, running water or sewage and trash removal. Much of the city receives power for only a few hours per week. Trash is burned in open pits and along roadsides. Government officials abandoned the city as unbearable in 1991, building a new national capital in Abuja. That option is unavailable to those who struggle to carve out an existence in the chaotic, teeming streets.

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