Lagos, is said to be unlike any other town in Nigeria. Eko, the city that never sleeps, home to the brave and the foolhardy, a city that can make you but also breaks you, a city of sharp contrasts and contradictions...Its cosmopolitan allure is irresistable and despite its obvious disadvantages, it still manages to attract the strangest motley of individuals, each trying to eke out a living from the extremes of affluence, dynamism, poverty, unsanitary conditions, human perseverance and a mix of the best and the dregs of human society. This urban jungle has several problems but worth singling out for mention are the diehard problems of accomodation and transportation. Transportation in Lagos is an entirely different ballgame. The most popular means of transport still remain the indefatigable molues and danfos, where the denomination you proffer for your fare determines just how far down your ancestral lineage the conductor is allowed to insult before he grudgingly gives you your change. If you have a N100 note, you thank your God as this just earns you a hiss and a glare that says 'were, oloshi'. With a N200 however, the conductor can rain insults on your good self and your immediate family i.e. your parents and your offspring. The code of ethics of the 'Conductors Association Incorporated' categorically states that he can go no further. If you dare possess a N500 note, this is when you begin to see how the art of insults can be taken to greater heights. This note gives the conductor a little more room to manouver, excercising that civil (civil?) right of freedom of speech. Here the inate poet in us all surfaces as the conductor waxes lyrical, denigrating your grandparents and greatgrandparents. The winner takes all is the N1000 note. First of all, your courage is to be commended if you possess the nerve (also called liver, also called foolhardiness...) to present this note. The deluge that spews forth at the sight of this note is like Hiroshima, the eruption of Mount Etna and the bombing of Baghdad rolled into one. There is really no limit to how far (or how far back as the case may be) the conductor can go. He is allowed the liberty of cursing your 'Kunta Kinte' up to your 'Alex Haley'. He spares no one remotely connected to you, from the doctor or midwife that delivered you to your greatgrandprents neighbours. Some conductors have even been known to rope in people who live in the same hamlet with your mother's uncle's cousin's niece three times removed. He can go on even after you disembark as the molue or danfo rambles on. However, not being people to waste energy on a victim that is no longer within earshot, the conductor usually switches dissaffections and the tirade resumes at the next hapless fellow which is usually by the next bus stop. By the way, the conductor is allowed to join two or three complete strangers in 'transport matrimony', by giving all three the same note to share out as change. How you do this is no concern of his, as he has done his bit in the quest to achieve unity for the various peoples of this nation. How more can you get to know each other if not by spending time together as you fruitlessly search for change.
As for Lagos landlords, they are a different breed altogether. Sometimes a potential tenant ( AKA victim, AKA mumu...) is asked to pay in advance for an uncompleted building under construction. Anywhere else in Nigeria, your defense system would immediately go on red alert at this unusual request. In Lagos however, due to a chronic accomodation shortage, rationality takes the backseat and you of course pay, immediately promoting yourself from plain fool to a world class moron as later developments would confirm. Desperate as you are, you pay for two or three years depending on how humane (?) the landlord is. He then uses your hardearned money to complete the building and the next thing you know, there are tenants in the house. When you finally find him 'on seat', he gives you the spiel that the cost of building materials had risen so dramatically while he was still constucting it that he would be doing himself, his children and antecedents yet unborn, great harm if he lets out the house on the agreed rate. Getting your money back (...your dignity, never) depends on whether you know any army officer or some one in the underworld. You do not push it. You take your money and chalk it up as experience. Anyway, sha, God dey! A friend said the way crime evolves in Lagos is in direct connection to technology; 419 became 2 419 when Lagos became digital, it is now 080 419 in this wireless age.
Eating out in Lagos is quite the experience. Strategically placed near those large and influential corporate offices on Victoria Island, are several bukkas and 'mama puts' where one needs both hands free in order to eat. One needs a hand to successfully mould and sculp the eba to the appropriate shape and size (good training ground for potential sculpters) before throwing the lump in the mouth. The other hand is needed to swat the multitude of flies, as well as wiping the cascade of sweat that drips down your forehead with the regularity of the appearance of a molue at Oshodi bus stop. Regular customers do not bother with the latter part for I am reliably informed that any sweat that drips onto your plate just seasons the meal to perfection. The most interesting part is the calibre of customers you find eating there. These are mostly professionals working in fully airconditioned and 'generatored' offices, giving out instructions, speaking through their noses with British accents or American twangs acquired from a two week vacation in London in the early nineties. At these street bukkas, all egos are checked at the entrance which is actually the pavement. Bank officers rub shoulders with labourers from the building sites around. Throwing all pretenses and dignity to the winds, people re-adopt their mother-tongue accents and ways of talking as they order eba, iyan, bushmeat, okro, drawsoup and all other such uniquely African foods with reckless abandon. Meet them elsewhere, perhaps at a social gathering and they would insist that they only eat salads and drink bottled water. Lagos, na waa. Then there is Iya Solimat, where you experience the epitome of customer service as it is practised in Lagos. At this popular bukka in Akoka, each serving of food is accompanied, for the slightest infractions, by your money's worth in insults from Iya Solimat's very vituperative and acidic tongue. To give credit where it's due, the food is absolutely delicious, so despite constant resolutions never to go back to be insulted even as they spend their money, her clientele remain loyal.
No discourse on Lagos is complete without a mention of the flooding problem during the rainy season that converts every building to a 'waterfront property' ?(v. convenient for real estate listings...). During my two weeks, the rains, which are usually my favourite season up North, exasperated me to despair because everything stops when it rains in Lagos. The traffic becomes horrendous and tempers are on a short (dare I say, shorter than usual) fuse. So many times, I had to wade through black, muddy waters infested with God Knows what to get to my training on time. In Kano, we say the rains are Allah's blessing but in Lagos, its a curse.
I look at the inherent problems of Lagos and think to myself, I am so lucky, I dont live there. With each passing day, I would count down my return home to Abuja. Lagos is so-o-o expensive. I have nostalgic feelings about Gaya, my village in Kano where N400 buys a 'mudu' of Gari, a bunch of spinach leaves, enough tomatoes, onions and pepper for stew, six oranges or mangoes, two average size fish and one female goat! In Lagos, N400 buys one meatpie, one boli (roasted plantain), one mouth organ (roasted corn) and a bottle of drink. In Gaya, one buys six oranges and probably get two more as 'jara'. In Lagos, nothing goes for free, except the air we breathe. Although clean air is fast becoming a thing of the past considering all the pollution and smog in the city. Lagosians, being the ingenious people they are, will soon start selling clean oxygen in little sealed plastic bags in 'go slows' as they do 'pure water'. 'Undiluted clean oxygen, o mo gan, twenty, twenty naira' (...and it will be worth it).
It was Romain Gary that said humour is an affirmation of dignity and a declaration of man's superiority to all that befalls him. Readers of my blog (...God, that sounds so immodest, like I have delusions of grandeur...) might have notice a certain thread of humour running through the pieces I write. Through my writing, I try to lessen life's pressures both for me and the reader. Well, I hope my piece amused you. To the Lagosians amongst you, think constructive criticism cos actually there is a lot the rest of Naija can learn from you. Your Governor, Fashola, is really doing amazing stuff. He is opening up roads (the one from Onikan to VI), dualising some that are long overdue (Bourdillon, Alexander etc) and beautifying the city (Cloverleaf Park) to name a few. The BRT idea is progressive and a first in Nigeria. So what you hear unsaid in my words is actually envy. O.K. thats it, go back to work...that's why your company pays you. It's over. You have had your break. Come on! Back to the grindstone, or in this age of technological progress, back to the blender!!!