Before the rainy season started in earnest, professional photographer Grace Ekpu endured night after night of intense, stifling heat in the Nigerian city of Lagos.
Air-conditioning is an unaffordable luxury for most here, so people generally rely on fans. But rolling overnight power outages mean a challenging work-life balance for many sleep-deprived citizens. They’re rarely well-rested enough to tackle a day in Nigeria’s busiest megalopolis.
Lagos is home to 22 million people and rising rapidly, with the Nigerian population as a whole predicted to double by 2050. Temperatures are increasing too: the whole country has been experiencing an intense heatwave. In the first four months of 2019 the mercury rose up to five degrees higher than average – around 35 degrees Celsius – in the humid commercial capital. It has come down a bit since the rain began in May. But according to climate change scientists, this heatwave may be a sign of what lies ahead for the West African nation.
Early mornings are cooler most of the time, but the journey to the office at first light can be sweltering if you’re stuck in nose-to-tail traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge. It links the mainland district of Lagos with Lagos Island and, at 11.8km, was the longest bridge in Africa until 1996.
It’s a long, sweaty commute on a route that sees heavy traffic. While public corporations are based on the mainland, more multinationals, start-ups and young professionals are based on the island. It’s where resourceful millennials and Generation Z are furthering their careers in fields like finance, media, technology and law.
Most of these young workers have had to come up with their own hacks for surviving the heat. “I really wish I could permanently wear a hat with an umbrella. I see some people who wear that and I think it is genius; at least it shields them from the harsh sun,” says 28-year-old Ekpu.
“Getting to work, I have to battle a bit of traffic driving on [the bridge] to the island. It gets really hot and I have to use the AC in the car to the max, even in the heavy traffic.” Ekpu knows this means she uses more petrol – one of her biggest expenses – but the benefits outweigh the cost. “I just take lots of water with me to ease the stress from the heat,” she says, adding she’s also cut down on applying skin moisturisers to try and cope with the sweating.
Not everyone makes this torturous commute. Some people are wealthy enough to live on Lagos Island, with its beaches and maritime resorts. Residents are a mix of the super-rich and affluent workers in tech and digital media industries. High rents around other prime locations with better coastal access like Victoria Island or Lekki make the mainland the default choice for most professionals, but there’s really no place to cool off.