In the last twenty years, the International Trade Fair Complex has been transformed into a regional hypermarket for trade with West Africa. These recordings were made during the trip to Lagos in February 2023 with the aim of researching the processes of transformation.

Research trip / Iva Njunjić and Tihomir Dičić / 2023
Drone recording / Tolulope Fatunbi / 2023

The central hall
Artificial Lake and ASPAMDA Market around the northwest hall
The central hall
The southeast hall and the southwest hall
The southeast hall

Date: 16 February 2023
Location: The International Trade Fair Complex, BBA Market, Lagos, Nigeria

Conversations with:
Chief Anderson Ezeanyaeche Sunny
The Honourable Timothy Egbu
Sir Michael Eneh
(due to poor recording conditions, the sound from this interview is lost, regrettably)

Conversations conducted by:
Iva Njunjić and Tihomir Dičić

Date: 20 February 2023
Location: A private garden, Lagos, Nigeria

Conversation with architects:
Tokunbo Omisore, former president of the African Union of Architects and presently the vice president of Region V of the International Union of Architects
Enyi Ben-Eboh, the president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects
David ‘Lola Majekodunmi, the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects

Conversation conducted by:
Iva Njunjić and Tihomir Dičić

From the diary of Iva Njunjić and Tihomir Dičić

12 February 2023
The constellation of Lagos

At Istanbul airport, an image of a black ribbon is displayed on LED screens, a sign of mourning for the victims of the earthquake, alternating with the Turkish flag. The plane to Lagos is half empty; bulky. It flies over two topographical surfaces, a sea and the Sahara, and the undulation of both.

We land at night. The scattered lights look more like constellations than urban structures. There are no continuous directions, no permanence.

Upon entering the corridor that connects the plane to the Murtala Muhammed Airport building, there is a feeling of high humidity and the hot air from the lagoon. With hands full of winter clothes from Belgrade, I fill out endless forms with a pen, lent to me by a Nigerian, that leaves a mechanical imprint on the paper, with no ink. To the question, What do you have for your friend? we answer that we have no money. The air is heavy, clammy, the airport building smells a bit like urine.

On our way out, the soldiers inquire about Kosovo.

There is a observing crowd in front of the airport building. We try to walk straight on and pay no attention to the people following us and intrusively offering transportation. Right in front of us, a phone appears with our pictures.

There are no lanes or traffic signs on the road to the hotel, and the drivers use their horns to signal movement. To the right of the Third Mainland Bridge is the darkness from which the Makoko roofs rise. Lagos Island glows on the left.

A ramp is raised in front of us and we realize that we are entering a gated community, that we are on the island and that the hotel is close by.

13 February 2023
Never closer

While we are waiting in the hotel lobby around 11 o’clock, David approaches us, both politely and cordially, being at least two hours late. The traffic jam in which he was stuck for hours didn’t seem to trouble him much, and he explains to us on the way that the driver had left the house at five in the morning in order to arrive on time.

We’ve been driving for about an hour, making our way through the crowd, talking about elections, money printing, fuel shortages, Keke and Danfo. We realize that we won’t have anywhere to exchange Euros into Nigerian naira, as there are almost no banknotes in Nigeria at the moment.

go-go-go, David shouts at the driver, policemen hands thumping the car hood and windows, and we speed up in the direction of the Fair, while in front of us another policeman yells for us to stop but he himself is unsure about this, on wobbly feet he raises his weapon in fear, we stop, and our eyes, overwhelmed by this new unfamiliar shift of normality are still, while we are locked in the car waiting for David to talk it over with the police, the policeman enters our car, speaking two languages, in one he roars, in the other he speaks to us politely, they take us to the police station in Festac Town… it was built by a Romanian company at the same time as the Fair… they check our documents, we wait in the car, and after about forty minutes they let us go, we continue our way to the Fair and arrive around 1 pm

Finally, we approach the Fair from the main road and leave the car under practically the only tree there, in front of the entrance pavilion, where the drivers are laying on the seats of their parked motorcycles, resting.

at the entrance to the complex, we see the first free space unoccupied by crowds, the driver unlocks the car and we approach the complex ceremoniously,to the first barrier; the Entrance pavilion is almost empty, a random guard is seen shaking his head at the request to enter

While waiting for our entry permits, we sit in the restaurant of the entrance pavilion, the interior is from the 70s. There’s no light in the restroom. The soap was on one of the tables outside, it was kind of unreachable. We drink Desperados, produced and bottled in Nigeria. We meet Professor Mokolade, his students and cameramen. While we’re waiting for hours, David goes to take a test shot of the lake, kindly requesting that it be done without us, as we have attracted enough attention for the day.

shouting is heard from the stands, and I search for my camera…

I separate myself from the others twice to walk around and take photos; I roam freely; someone from the team is always on alert, behind me, they keep an eye on me, I go up to the stands, I want to see the central pavilion rising like a little pyramid surrounded by imposing barracks, and they tell me to come back

the highways are narrow linear markets full of saturation, and locked in our car, we observe the reality, it’s happening around us, and I pick up my phone to take a picture, they tell me to put it down

14 February 2023
Day 1 of filming
Decisions ring / Permits ring / Bells decide

We hadn’t even woken up yet and David was already outside the hotel.

The air is a dull gray-yellow, colored by the Sahara sand and by climate change. The infinitely long bridges are lost in that warm and humid grey within the perspective of the yellowish sky. Ahead of us are highways, interchanges and concrete bridges, the infrastructure of Lagos. Short houses, densely and irregularly built, follow the main roads. There are no squares, gardens, and parks, no urban planning.

We are waiting under the mango tree for permission from the Fair management to film; we won’t get it today. (“Come back on Thursday”)

At the entrance gate of the BBA market, there is music blaring, people are dancing on the stage. The streets are crowded, everyone is carrying the load. They balance the weight on their heads with their steps. They engage the whole body.

We take a cross street to the southeast pavilion, passing through a corridor covered with panels of prefabricated triangles where carpentry workshops are located.

I raise my camera.

I’m stopped – we’re not welcome, we need to leave the hall, two of them are waiting for us on a motorbike and they take us through the market to the authorities, taking pictures is prohibited, there are ten men sitting around a large table in the room, chairs are lined up in rows at the front, based on the hierarchy the professor and David are sitting in the first row, the two of us in the second row, the students are behind, there’s noise in the room, a bell is given to the eldest, he rings it, there is a moment of solemn silence, the first row is representing us, there are opening words, then courteous phrases and clink-clanks, then requests, and with the final bell, out of compassion, we get permission from the local chief to film, we’re sent to the official administration to confirm the permit, and we return to the atrium

They cook in big cauldrons, assemble in the workshops, there is also some kind of a dump made of sacks stacked to a height of at least seven meters, there are bits of some kind of waste everywhere on the ground, some tent was raised too. The facades are almost imperceptible, and stairs were added on one of them to enter the church, which was on the first floor.

We launched a drone to see the hall, which can really only be viewed from the air.

We go to the lake, the owner refuses to give us permission for filming.

We return to the market, I’m good at finding my way through the alleys so I lead the group.

We approach the central pavilion from the main market. It is covered by vegetation and surrounded by a tall fence. We observe the facades from a distance of seventy meters.

While we’re launching the drone, behind us, the locals are standing in rows, watching and greeting us – Oyinbo, how are you?

15 February 2023
Day 2 of filming
Dusty and stuffed

There are lines of motorbikes and cars heading in both the opposite direction and in reverse. People cross the bridge in groups, some jump over the traffic medians to block the highway. In a Danfo, there is always someone standing at the door, half-floating sideways, one foot in this minibus from the 70s, the other up in the air. There is not a bus stop, everything depends on communication with the driver… Danfos were manufactured in the Volkswagen factory – and, right across from the Fair… some people are beating at the trucks with long sticks, demanding money. There are domestic animals on the side of the road.

tell him Otutu oma, a greeting that expresses respect for the elderly, Otutu oma, comes out an older man from the market administration, somewhere in the maze of streets and covered passages, we meet our seller who is to give an interview the next day

The northwestern pavilion belongs to the market, like the southeastern one, and it is lost in the warehouses that are lined up in concentric circles around it. There are banks in the halls, cars are parked in the atrium. In front of the metal fences there are crowds of disgruntled people waiting to withdraw cash, which almost nobody has these days. That morning, we manage to exchange the entire twenty Euros for a stack of naira, which we aren’t allowed to use outside the hotel anyway (where did we get it from?).

The space is expressionless, the facades are covered with bank advertisements and the roofs are full of solar panels.

A sandy street, around us are archetypal houses with steep roofs and fake windows, the backdrop of market warehouses. Without permission, we are filming the southwestern, star-shaped pavilion from a distance of about one hundred and fifty meters. The pavilion was stripped of everything that could be used. It is a skeleton, a ruin, a modular structure itself.

we’re getting ready for dinner with the architects, we are wearing  sneakers full of sand, they are clean and fresh, living in houses built around trees, with tangled corridors, gardens and atriums, we exchange gifts, no one has been to the Fair for a long time

the sensitivity of the pre-election days, they appreciate that we are here, they pack food for us, they ask if we might have planned to visit Kano, they laugh hard

16 February 2023
Day 3 of filming
One needs to go back

We are looking for a place to film the interview. We are waiting for the seller to receive the payment of 30 euros. Our eyes are full of sun and dust and smoke from the local cauldrons where food was being prepared. Otutu oma.

We are ready, the sellers are dressed festively and according to their own personality. The market hums unstoppably in the background, we are calling out to each other while talking about the market, the business, trade, about administration. The sound follows us…

the students leave, we insist on filming, David refuses, we give up, then he wants to film at any cost

we pick up the drone, the seller picks up the phone, two locals on a motorbike approach us, give instructions, we lower the drone, trail them to the station, and so, following their motorbike, we turn in the other direction for a second

at the sound of a whistle, a man suddenly runs up with a rock and a tire, which he throws in front of the car, suddenly there are many of them, another man is getting ready to puncture the tires, David jumps out to clear up the situation, and from the locked car, we listen to them as they used their entire bodies to tell impatient phrases

We’re leaving the Fair, we’re stuck in traffic on the ramp to the highway. David gets out. We inch forward slowly in the car, and after half an hour, we see him regulating traffic. He directs us to the open lane through a hole in the concrete traffic median. That was a tanker drivers’ strike, and all those stuck there will remain in traffic till at least tomorrow.

17 February 2023
Day 4 of filming
Nothing’s right and everything is fine

In Lagos, the rule applies that if you see a line of cars heading in the opposite direction, you join them. This also applies if someone advises you to turn the car around.

Halfway to the Fair, in front of us, all the vehicles were coming towards us in three lanes. We pull over, the driver gives up his seat to David without question and the next moment we’re speeding through Lagos back to the hotel.

That morning, one week before the election, the country banned the use of old five hundred and one thousand naira notes. Riots break out in markets all over the city.

We understand that in this election-laden atmosphere, this may possibly be the last chance to visit and film the Fair.

It’s life as usual on the island – a parallel reality. The architect takes us to a concert in Freedom Park, a cultural center, a former colonial prison from the 60s surrounded by its original ramparts. The cells remain in the shape of museum installations. They present to us the spatial concepts of prison details, which we don’t even know how to recognise. Our interlocutors belong to the second generation of prisoners, opponents of the regime.

Made Kuti performs last. The sound is rhythmic, sensual, everyone dances, climbs up on the stage, they dance with him.

The site’s architect recognizes me and explains how we had met in Paris a few years ago.

18 February 2023

A golden cage.

19 February 2023
Yevo on the Atlantic

on the way to the coast there is a labyrinth of narrow streets, the doors and windows of the single-story houses are wide open, privacy spills over into the ambience of common events – cooking, bathing, resting, walking is one and the same in the corridors between the houses

eager and timid, a little girl holds out her hand to me, hesitantly, dressed in colorful clothes, our fingers touch, the moment passes and she runs towards the shouting grou

on a narrow strip of coast, we board a long wooden boat and set off into Makoko on the water, from the black water full of trash rise up the crooked piles, imbedded by hand, swaying the wooden houses

there are hundreds of boats on the water, colliding and rocking on impact; very young children row by themselves – knowledge is born in the water

the bottom of the boat is already full of water, we leave it in front of two one-story houses connected by a bridge – one is a school, the other an orphanage, a wooden trough filled with sand serves as a playground; in an upstairs room, Sunday preaches – the first fishermen moved from Badagry about 100 years ago… The Fair was built on the Lagos-Badagry highway … men catch fish, sail into the Atlantic, women sell it at the market, they are a community without representation in the government, which is trying to displace them

our eyes drift to the Third Mainland Bridge, and far from the shore people push boats in the waist-deep water

there are children everywhere, on the plateaus of the houses, on the bows of the boats, on the wooden piles, they are smiling, waving at us and shouting their welcome in chorus – Yevo! which means – White Man!

we wave back…

At the other end of the city, we glide into the Atlantic. This time to a private beach; we pay an entrance fee. It is well kept and expensive, designer clothes are sold; drinks are served in poolside bars, and food is served in diners made from shipping containers. No one is swimming; they just dip their feet into the water.

We collect shells.

20 February 2023
Daylight is running out

We are recording interviews in a private garden, birds can be heard.

21 February 2023
Concrete sails through the rainforest

on the way to the airport, at the university campus, we are greeted by professor Mokolade, the dean, students exhibit their works outside

from the shore of the lagoon there is a view of the endless Third Mainland Bridge, the cape on the south side hides Makoko

crabs crawl out of holes in the ground, creatures unknown to us slither in the mud of the shore

the buildings were designed by the Germans in the 60s, after the independence was declared, they are floating concrete structures in the rainforest, like narrow and long boats, a romantic image of Africa, the campus is an oasis in this brutal city

@ 2023 In Reflections / CONTACT