Supernatural City

May 2022 9781787386945 344pp


This is a frantic, mystical journey through Africa’s biggest metropolis: Lagos. Going beyond the popular images of mad traffic or crowded slums, it tells of the incredible feats Lagosians must pull off to survive their broken-down city. It also reveals the secret enabling them to cope with the chaos and precarity of Nigeria’s most populous centre: spirituality.

A female street fighter in a male-dominated mafia extortion business. Two powerful chiefs locked in a deadly feud over billion-dollar real estate. An oil tycoon who gambles her fortune on televangelists’ prophecies. A rubbish scavenger dreaming of a reggae career. A fisherman’s son trying to save Makoko, the ‘floating slum’, from demolition and transformation into luxury waterside flats. A priestess to a river goddess selling sand to feed Lagos’s voracious construction boom.

If anything unites these disparate figures, it is their belief in unseen forces, and their commitment to worshipping them–whether at secret shrines to West African gods and ancestors, or in the iron-roofed churches and domed mosques dotting the Lagos skyline. In this extraordinary city, Tim Cocks uncovers something universal about human nature in the face of danger and high uncertainty: our tendency to place faith in a realm beyond.


Tim Cocks is a British-born Reuters journalist of South African parentage. Currently based in Johannesburg, he was formerly Reuters West & Central Africa bureau chief, based in Dakar, following four years in Lagos as Nigeria bureau chief. He holds an MPhil in philosophy from the University of Oxford.

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