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Hopes and troubles collide in Africa's mega-city

By Christian Purefoy, CNN
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Challenges of life in Lagos
  • Lagos is the most populous city in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Local authorities estimate over 6,000 people arrive in Lagos daily looking for work
  • Widespread unemployment and collapsed infrastructure pose some of the city's challenges

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- A junkyard orchestra of car horns, bus touts, traders and feedback from loudspeakers clamor for attention from the thousands of commuters making their way to work in Lagos's biggest bus stop, Oshodi.

Lagos, Nigeria, is one of the world's most notorious "mega-cities." With an estimated population of 15 million people, it is sub-Saharan Africa's most populous city and regularly ranks among the worst places to live and do business.

But such cold, statistical rankings belie the city's color, vibrancy and humor.

"The hustling and bustling is there, so normally I wake up very early and leave home after 5 a.m. and get to the office by 8 a.m.," shouted commuter Kayode Adekpo over the din of Oshodi.

"But as you can see -- I'm still standing, waiting for the bus to come"

"So you're late?" I asked.

A great smile split his face as he described just the start of today's challenges.

"I'm late already!"

In Lagos, you can work, you can see money.
--Damola Oye
  • Lagos
  • Nigeria
  • West Africa

Lagos state government estimates over 6,000 people come to Lagos every day in search of work.

But it's a city overwhelmed by the challenges of massive overpopulation, collapsed infrastructure and widespread unemployment.

However, whatever the challenges -- it is a city driven by the promise of making money.

"No matter what happens, if you enter Lagos, you will make it!" exclaimed another commuter, engineer Patrick Rock.

Lagos is the commercial capital of West Africa, boasting the region's biggest port, banks and markets. And just as the goods imported and sold here support businesses across the region -- so too does the money.

"Everything I do in this world is from this shop," said Austin Nwachukwu, pointing to his small cloth shop. "I cater for my brothers, sisters, mum, dad, everybody -- they live on this shop."

The city is one of contrasts. Fisherman in dug-out canoes can be seen alongside billionaires with million-dollar speedboats. Wooden shacks built on stilts are overshadowed by tower blocks that cost $800 a square meter to rent -- and you have to pay three years rent in advance.

Outside his small home constructed of wooden planks and covered by a corrugated iron roof, Damola Oye, a young student, described his hopes.

"Every one of us comes to Lagos to come and make it -- to achieve it," he explained.

If you stay in the village there is a lack of capital and education, he said. But "in Lagos, you can work, you can see money."

In the big city, no dream is too big.