“Lagos is New York on steroids,” says Dare Olaitan, a breakout filmmaker from the Nollywood movement, currently the world’s second largest film industry. In 2015, Olaitan set up his own company, Singularity Media, with the aim of telling young Nigerians’ stories on screen and challenging perceptions of African life. “I am trying very hard to influence people and make them see the world as I see it, even if it is just for 90 minutes at a time,” the director says. “We aim to curate moments that are authentically African but carry shared worldviews. It’s important for everyone to be able to look on screen and see people that look like you.” Olaitan’s debut feature film, 2017’s Ojukokoro, explored the consequences of greed in Nigerian society, while his second, Knock Out Blessing (2018), told the story of three young women who become embroiled in the city’s criminal underworld. “We are aiming to evolve into something like the African A24.”
Given that the average age in Nigeria is just 18 and a huge 60 per cent of the population are under the age of 25, Lagos is a city powered by young people like Olaitan, using the tech and social media at their disposal to influence the world. With a population of more than 20 million, Lagos is not only Africa’s largest and fastest-growing city, it has become the heart of the continent’s tech industry – as the cluster of startups blooming around the suburb known as Yabacon Valley indicates. “(Just as) there has been an outcry in Hollywood to see a representation of minority characters as people with identities,” says Olaitan, “I would like to see the African woman rise from titles in scripts as maid, wife, secretary and housegirl.” But more than this, Lagos’s youth is moving away from the world of Instagram likes, TikTok views, and YouTube subscriptions in search of something more tangible and real-world, using media to create authentic cultural shifts. As with most Lagos influencers, Olaitan is active on social media, but views it as a double-edged sword. “Even its creators have spoken about the damage they feel it has caused to the human reward system,” he says. “I appreciate how it gives indie filmmakers like me a medium to connect with the wider world, but as with all tools, it should be used for the right purposes.”
Lagos’s music scene has raised its profile dramatically in recent years, too. Chin Okeke, co-founder of Gidi Culture Festival, a one-day event that has been dubbed the “Coachella of Lagos”, is altogether more optimistic about the power of traditional ‘influencer’ culture in Lagos. He sees it as a way to upend negative stigmas. “The 20 people that watch what influencers are doing will speak to 20 million people,” reasons the event organiser, who secured the likes of Rema, Flavour, and Naira Marley for this year’s festival, now rescheduled for October. “We realised there (were people travelling to the festival from) the rest of Nigeria, Africa, and globally, so we spent the last couple of years trying to change perceptions about coming (here).” Although Okeke was initially hesitant to invite influencers to his event, he saw it as a chance to reach a wider diaspora. “We’ve used them to first change the perception of Lagos internationally, and then drive demand for the festival. (Influencer culture) is useful if you use it in the right way.”
Despite Okeke’s views on influencer marketing, he predicts that hype will increasingly be generated on a hyper-local level in his city – a move away from public domains like Instagram and into chat groups and private threads. “I feel like there’s a dependency on social media,” he says, “but many people don’t realise that with Gidi, for instance, a lot of our promo is done below the line in universities, at events, on the ground. That’s where we drive most of our traffic now.” Afro-fusion singer-songwriter Buju thinks that, increasingly, influencers will play less of a role in helping young people discover new music. “(It’s because) these days, it’s a guessing-game. You could have an influencer with major influence or (a large) followership and when they try to pitch music to their audience, it doesn’t fly as expected.”
“We aim to curate moments that are authentically African but carry shared worldviews. It’s important for everyone to be able to look on screen and see people that look like you” – Dare Olaitan
As the music scene evolves in Lagos, DJs are finding new opportunities to connect with audiences. If anything, underground performers can trace their influence from the dancefloor to the mainstream, first-hand. Olukemi Lijadu, who performs as The Kemist, mixes trap, reggae and hip hop. “For me, the real influence is offline,” she explains. “It’s that person who comes to one of my sets and hears that song from their childhood, or the person who leaves sweaty or the couple who share a moment on the dancefloor. Social media is always an afterthought, and while it has been crucial for me to get bookings and keep people updated on where I am playing, it’s the feeling that people get during my sets that is (still) the most effective way of influencing.” Lagos’s grass-roots fashion community is galvanised by names operating on both digital and IRL levels, such as consultant Bolaji Animashaun, whose website The Style HQ is a portal into underground movements in Lagos, and Arinola Olowoporoku, buyer and head of partnerships and collaborations at Lagos concept store Alára.
For Olowoporoku, social media coverage can badly water down a brand’s message – and it’s the message, ultimately, that matters. “Social media is an important tool,” she says. “You get to curate your brand’s story in the way that you as a designer or influencer have envisioned it. But you need to be able to drive the message to your audience through other means as well.” Tobi Onabolu, communications manager at the ART X Collective international arts fair, highlights the power of influencers in being able to engage with millions of people. “Social media is still incredibly important in Lagos and, more broadly, Nigeria... I see a lot of artists, influencers and celebrities use the ‘ask a question’ feature on Instagram, and a lot of influencers are very engaged with their online audiences.” According to a 2017 BBC report, 40 per cent of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs – a higher percentage than in any other country.
Faridah Folawiyo, an independent art curator involved with Art X Lagos, thinks that social media is being used to bring a sometimes fragmented Nigerian society closer together. “Especially in a vast country like Nigeria that is so heterogenous and varied when it comes to tribes, religion (and) language, social media is used to bridge communication gaps between people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions,” she says. Just as young people in India are using platforms to spread awareness of local customs and dialects – the so-called hyperlocalisation of influence – for independent professionals like Folawiyo, tech is a vital cultural leveller. Some figures suggest that Lagos’s population could double over the next 15 years. As young people continue to explore where their influence can take them, social media use has become a game of frontiersmanship – where the touch of a button can shift moods, switch up culture and truly break apart myths.
Make-up Onome Ezekiel using Meraki by Onome, lighting and photography assistant Chuku Marshall, lighting assistant Chuku Okorie, production Gina Amama at Generation X and Dafe Films, production assistant Omon Okhuevbie