A place to rave, a place to rant, to commend and recommend, mostly a place to vent...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lagos, their Lagos...

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!!!

28 comments:

Naija Idol said...

1st???

Standtall said...

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm welcome to my world. I stil want to relocate sha. God help me. Don't let me start another ranting here but u really saw a lot of what we face hear in lagos. And yes, Fashola is coming up with good plans to make life better for Lagosians.

Why am I not on ur blog roll? I vex!!!

OluwaDee said...

Lagos na wa!
That will b my home in a mayyer of days.

D-laj said...

good write up...the descriptions are apt.

LG said...

3 words...
Eko 4 SHow!!!!
dearie, wen r we xpecting u ???

AlooFar said...

Yes O... it's a city of contrasts and contradictions.

Good description.

30+ said...

Eko Akete, ilu ogbon.

I so do not like lagos but it is fun sha

yankeenaijachick said...

I doubt if I can live in Lagos anymore, Abuja is the place to be...love ya posts.s

Coral said...

Beautifully written, yes now I can go back to work.

NikkiSab said...

Lag is hell but funny enuf, i sort of like d place. D best advice is to live near ur place of work. As for rent, house n landlord matter....hmmm i am silent cos i mite start crying.

Uzezi said...

lol @ 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.


na my lagos u dey write about like this so abi?
anyway, u get am right. as for the conductors, just save urslef the harrasment and always have change on you, if not, before you enter, especially when the conductor needs passengers, tell him, 'na 1000 note i get o!' 'wole'.

it's the landlord thing that makes me wonder.
my friend paid two years for a place yet to be completed. then paid another year and found out same place has been given to four others, friend complains to house owner and was told not to worry. landlord knows who he wants as tenant.
then landlord ask for another year money and friend pays, because dem don jazz am.

as 4 buka food, most of them are more costly than the fast food fancy joints. once u eat it once, u r so going back.

KemiMamaLopes said...

Eko akete, ilu ogbon. To ba duro ko sora, Oniyangi, Eko a gba gbere rara o. Sums it all up really. Your writing transported me back to Lagos but I am safely back now :)

KemiMamaLopes said...

Eko akete, ilu ogbon. To ba duro ko sora, Oniyangi, Eko a gba gbere rara o. Sums it all up really. Your writing transported me back to Lagos but I am safely back now :)

NigerianDramaQueen said...

*I have to applaud the literary genius of this line: "...He is allowed the liberty of cursing your 'Kunta Kinte' up to your 'Alex Haley'..."-that was brilliant.
*I lived in Lagos for a year. Two words: Never again. My friends go on and on about how Lagos is the only place that really matters in Nigeria. No doubt, it is the hubspot for culture, the arts, and plain ol' fun, but when it comes to a place to live, nothing beats my Abuja. Even the air is different. I was always having asthma attacks in Lagos, which is part of the reason I left. The air, like everything else in Lagos is 'congested'.
*Anyways, have you ever considered writing for a magazine? I think you have good material for a column. Maybe you should think about it and send out some stuff...you never know.

Cheetarah said...

I read a glowing ref of ur blog from toks boy and flew hea..and then when I read about u I became even more facinated..

About Lagos..yes it is mad but yet I understand what draws us to it, it more of the possibilty that you can be anything, Abuja is excellent when you have a family BUT when ur single go and be made or broken in giddy,its worth it,lol!

As to Rufai, we hav a saying in hausa 'in mai fada wawa nai, mai ji ba wawa ba'. He did alot for abuja and i watched in anger as he was shot down, but Nasir has alot to learn about public office, and really needs a course in diplomacy hez one serious flaw.

As to ur madass neighbours,If my neighbours went on a prayer rampage I would do the exact samething, Im christian, but my lineage is from zamafara but settled out of the north, which explains why i 'look' hausa and half my village is hausa looking and muslim.there is a church behind my parents house in my hometown and it tortured us in our childhood, I hated them till i loved them to the point that it just became part of ourlives, BUT its the same way I hate the way roads by the masalaci are shut down on friday, religious tolerance is germane...sadly in the world we live in it may never be attained.

As to work in Nigeria glad you got a job!Congratulation Ciao x

Naapali said...

Bravo!
Beautifully written, I laughed and chuckled through it all. So many places got me but this one really brought back long buried memories:

-"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."

ibiluv said...

i soooooooo love this analogy of my fav town.....

...........rains in lag is a curse except when it falls btw the hrs of 11pm-4am then its a blessing...........

Smaragd said...

i cant believe i havent been here in yonks! *slaps self* lol and u stayed true by not deleting me from ur blogroll? i hereby repent.

this piece on Lagos is worthy of an emmy (or is it nobel prize? whatever). I live in Lag and though u made use of ur "poetic license" *raises one eyebrow*, u did really good. and all in two weeks!

how are ur neighbours O&G now? lol

congrats on the new job.

Despite my lyrical post on rain, i am currently hesitating to leave the office now cuz it;s drizzling! the rains this year are not for the faint hearted at all!

fluffycutething said...

This is quite good.... I've read it over and over

Very amusing i must say and apt too ;)

You left out traffic hawkers and area boys!!!

Jinta said...

love lagos. born and bred there, probably end up there

In my head and around me said...

LOL! At the massive exxageration about what you can get for N400 in Gaya. The Igbo girl in me had started calculating the profits in buying female goats from there and selling to the Amala joints in Lagos.

Lagos is a mass of conflicts. The one state people can't seem to stay away from and the one that they should. You are right about Lagos changing. I have seen some of the plans for beautification of Lagos and I definitely want to hang around to see it happen.

This was a great post and you win my award for great post of the year. Let me know where you want me to mail your N50 check to. LOL!

Oropo said...

I have had brief stints in other states in Nigeria and 15 yrs outside Nigeria but, no where and I repeat no where is like Lagos.

Like Fashola says, "Eko o ni baje oo"

Jaguda said...

excellent piece of writing and well broken down into different parts. first timer here but definitely will return. i admire why you are here and your stance on women affairs. well done

LG said...

just checking up on u dear.
hope all is well?
howz wrk n d fam????

TheAfroBeat said...

ah gotta love Lagos with all its wahala. Thank you for the constructive criticism, we need it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece and reminiscing on the good old days. It's been so long since i thought about the common occurence of "sharing change"...ah LAGOS!!!

Thanks for sharing! Hope training went by without a hitch. How's the new job? and yar family?

misspumping said...

Ever wondered why it is that when you arrive Lagos via the Lagos-Ibadan express , it says THIS IS LAGOS and not WELCOMETO LAGOS,it is beacuse of the characteristics of the town you have so beautifully captured.

ALL THE SAME CANT WAIT TO GET BACK TO THAT MADNESS!!!!

'Yar Mama said...

@ Ig, I am finally succumbing to the fact that I am not as young as I used to be...I am so tired. By the time I get back from work I can hardly move from in front of the TV, talk less of blogging. So my apologies to:
@standtall, you are on my blogroll so no vex oh
@oluwadee, pls note that the post is my jaded impression of Lagos with a little exaggeration (poetic license) so your experience hopefully is more positive...
@d-laj, naija idol, aloofar, 30+, yankeenaijachick,coral, nikkisab,uzezi, kemimamalopes, cheetarah,naapali, ibiluv,smaragd,fluffycutething, jinta,oropo, jaguda, misspumping, thanx for dropping by and all the compliments. We aim to please but I am blushing sha!!
@NDQ, I am most honest and expressive because of the anonymity of blogging. I have written many deeply personal drafts and I'm just waiting for the nerve to post. Therefore, I hesitate to send out any articles but it is a nice feeling that you, of the most eloquent and literary orgasmic posts think that mine are of the standard that could be published. Thanx
@inmyheadandaroundme, send the N50 on my behalf, to the fund for the construction of drains in Lagos. It is sorely needed!
@afrobeat, training went well, the work is exhausting but interesting and the family is fine thanx. What about yours?

Standtall said...

Okay, I don stop vexing!!!