By Olaniyi Olayemi
Lagos is notorious for many a thing, albeit negative for the most part. Its mention brings a writ of remembered fear on the faces of those who’ve had horrid experiences in their stay there. Inhabitants, transplants mostly, per diem live to face its stressfulness owed to a capitalist nature that exploits.
I’m a student and I live in Sango Ota, a contiguous city, which is fast becoming a metropolis itself, greatly influenced by a surfeit of factories. I route through Lagos each time I journey back to my school in Ife, experiencing always its good, bad and ugly.
My last voyage through Lagos was in the wee hours of a Friday. It was around six in the morning but it hadn’t dawned (longer night, shorter day, I suppose). My early rising was meant to avoid my getting grounded in the fast-building gridlock which one experiences at Toll Gate, an outskirt that connects one to Lagos, but 6am was rather too late a time for me.
Most commuter buses that ply Lagos are painted yellow with two black parallel lines. At the rear of most of these buses is a sketch showing a sombrero hatted man paddling a boat, all rendered in black. This I suppose shows pictorially the alluvial topography of the state. These buses – danfos in local lingo – ply Oshodi, Agege, Mile 12, Obalende, to mention a few places.
After a few minutes of waiting, I finally thumbed down a danfo going to Oshodi and hopped in. There were 4 people already seated and they seemed to me to be enjoying the soporific breeze of the precocious morning. Suddenly, the passenger beside me–voluble, pudgy, and stentorian–blurted some vitriol against the Nigerian government. It then occurred to me that a conversation was taking place in the bus which my arrival had suspended.
“He said we should be eating Abakaliki rice. Ehn why is he saying we should not eat imported rice? If you want to eat Abakaliki rice fine, but does he mean to say that they are all eating the Abakaliki rice at Aso Rock? Is this the ‘change’ they are talking about?’ Nobody should come and campaign any foolish thing to me again”.
I wasn’t surprised at his disparagement. Nigerians, I know, display an unmatched patriotic élan when it comes to commenting on their country, especially when corruption is the subject matter. But this man spoke empirically as if he knew the many shady things in the polity Nigerians don’t know of. I wondered for a moment if he had been to Aso Rock.
A man jn front of me was seconding all the views about the Nigerian economy and the President’s seeming ineptitude with a syncronised nod.
By the time we reached Oju-ore, a T-junction (looking like an inverted Y though), the bus was almost full, carrying an assortment of Lagos-bound-early-rising commuters. The tonguey commuter continued his vitriolic flaying of the Nigerian political class, providing a soundtrack to the morning.
The irked co-passenger represented a demographic of Nigerians who each day tells tales of hardship; of the stratospheric soar of prices of goods; of how the government is reneging on its many electoral promises; of how Nigeria is at an all-time economic recession; and how the former administration seems to be better off than the present.
Lagos is a perfect archetype of the larger Nigerian society. It is a paradox; a city of struggle and a city of paradise; a city of law and lawlessness; a city of traffic and traffic lights. It is utopia and dystopia sewn together in a geographical spectrum. There’s an inimitable burst of energy displayed by hawkers of bread, rat poison, chocolate candies, biscuits, sweets, sausage rolls, soft drinks, pastries, belt, and an infinite number of items that form the gaggle of merchandise sold on the road. From all sides of the window they come bearing their goods in rhythmic gimmicks. Once a passenger beckons a hawker, they sprint after the car, exchanging in motion money for goods through the window. This they do for almost every transaction on the road.
Lagos’ colonial and industrial history perhaps explains why it serves as a melting pot of sorts. Being a melting pot isn’t without some downsides however. In Lagos, like most industrial cities in the world, the rookie falls prey to extortion and fraud because the have-nots ingeniously device devilry ways of defrauding people.
The best place to measure the potency of the change doctrine the current administration is creeded on is Lagos. And frankly, nothing has changed to an appreciable level in Lagos. Nigeria, as attested by Lagos, is still rotten.
Before the irked passenger alighted at Iyana Ipaja, he reminded us of Da Grin’s factual lyricism oft-quoted by distraught Nigerians:
Gbogbojumo lan gi riya.
Obviously, he gave up on Nigeria. He gave up on the change mantra.
Olaniyi Olayemi Luke
Olayemi, a poet and essayist, wrote from Obafemi Awolowo University.