I spent most of my growing up years in Akure “Oloyemekun,” the land of the famed Oba Adesida. Akure was a very nice place to grow up. A fascinating city that refuses to let go of its fantastic communal life. Akure combines the good sides of both a village and a city and I love it for that. Despite the great love that I have for the city, as a young graduate with eyes on the future, I had no second thought about where I wanted to start my work life, it had to be Lagos. Lagos as the commercial nerve centre of the nation hosts most of the big corporations in the country and offers the kind of future I desire – a future filled with so many opportunities and possibilities.
Before coming to Lagos, I had heard so many stories about Lagos – some good, some bad and some ugly. I was told that Lagos is no friendly place, but I made up my mind not to be deterred by such discouraging words. I heard tales of the yellow bus drivers who know almost nothing about traffic rules yet drive like kings of the road; I also heard of their adroit conductors who can catch up with the fastest moving bus with ease and can never be cheated when it comes to collecting bus fares and giving out “change.” One question that still bothers my mind is why one of these fast vehicle-catchers is not picked to represent us in the Olympics and do us proud by taking the title of world’s fastest man from Usain Bolt. I also heard stories of the many “agberos” that man all the bus stops in the State and do nothing but collect money from hard working transporters, no one seems to understand how they have become so powerful that they can’t be challenged.
I heard stories of the nefarious “omo itas” or area boys who make the city a living hell. I heard and read of the Third Mainland bridge, the longest in Africa and one that traverses the “Okun” and the “Osa,” those two legendary water bodies our mythologies are filled with tales of. I heard of the “Eyos,” the Lagos masquerades who can run in flowing white gowns without being whipped to the ground. I heard of the three white-capped chiefs that welcome all new comers to “Eko aromisa legbe legbe,” and that by their different postures they implore all that care to hear them that “o gbodo suegbe, o gbodo nagare, o de gbudo ya mugun.” Most of the stories seem to repeat the same theme – that Lagos is no place for the chicken hearted, a very popular Lagos song summarized it by saying “eko o gba gbere rara,” meaning Lagos doesn’t accept any form of sluggishness. I didn’t plan to go and be a slug-jack in Lagos anyway.
One of my favourite stories about Lagos is one where a JJC (Johnny Just Come, a derogatory name for a new comer) on arrival in the mega city began admiring the sky scrapers that adorned the landscape, he was so awestruck by the height of one that he began counting to know how many storeys it had. As the story goes, he had already counted fifteen when he was spotted by an area boy who could detect from his demeanour that this was an “ara oko” (someone from the village) and decided to make good of the opportunity the situation presented. He accosted the new fellow and told him that in Lagos you pay N100 for every storey you count, the new man quickly did the maths and not wanting to pay the N1, 500 he had accumulated told the area boy he had counted just five. He paid N500 and went away happy, believing that he had duped a Lagosian in Lagos not knowing that the joke was on him.
I had heard stories upon stories that I felt like I knew all about the city, but still I had the desire to see Lagos for myself, as my people say, “iroyin o to amojuba”, seeing is believing. So, I travelled from the place where I have always known as home, Akure to start a new life in the city of aquatic splendour, Lagos. On getting here, the Lagos I saw was different from the one I heard tales of, not because the stories were false but because they could not entirely capture the real Lagos. I knew that my own Lagos story was going to be built, not on the tales I heard but on my own personal experiences. However, I didn’t know how soon the stories would start building up.
On alighting the bus at Oshodi I saw many beggars and I felt compassion welling up inside of me. By my upbringing, giving alms is a part of life and so I dipped my hand into my pocket to offer money to some of the beggars that were appealing to me when I remembered the many horrible stories I have heard of Lagos beggars. I heard that many of them actually feigned whatever ailment they claimed they had. There was the story of one of them I had who made a fortune from begging in Lagos and returned back to his village where he built a palatial building and had “Eko go” (Lagosians are foolish) inscribed on it. I didn’t want to be taken as a fool and so brought out my hand and walked past like I didn’t see any of them. While some of them may be feigning it, yet some of them are truly in need of help but how do I distinguish?, I thought within me.
As I walked past the beggars, I was approached by a young man who was gorgeously dressed. He told me he was stranded because he forgot his wallet in the cab that he took from the office. I fell for it. I dipped my hand into my pocket and this time around didn’t bring it out empty, I brought out what I believe is worth the class of this business executive who was just unfortunate to misplace his wallet. That was the big scam. I was later to see that same man in different locations on different days repeating the same story, he was a beggar in a new form and he fooled me. Then I realized that like the birds who said if the hunters have learnt to aim without missing, they have also learnt to fly without perching, the Lagos beggars too were coming up with innovating ways of still making fools out of Lagosians. So, on my first day in Lagos I was fooled and that marked the beginning of my Lagos story.
The Lagos I saw was one of rushing madness where everyone seemed to be in a haste at all times and usually with no purpose. It was unusual to walk five minutes without coming across some pugnacious fellow earnestly eager to pounce on anyone that comes his way. It was here that I first saw people arguing without hearing the other party out and after thirty fruitless minutes come to the stupid realization that they have both been saying the same thing. Here, it seems like everyone is in a move to cheat the other, hence you are always advised to shine your eyes.
On getting to Lagos, I had to stay with a friend of mine who was connected enough to be posted to Lagos for his NYSC. He gave me his address but there was no way I could locate his house on my own. Where I come from it is sensible to ask for directions when you are in an unfamiliar place but in Lagos that is not advisable because people hate to show their ignorance, so rather than tell you they don’t know they will be willing to give descriptions that will confuse you the more and take you farther away from your destination. This I didn’t hear from the Lagos stories I was told but found out the hard way. Unknown to me, I was just some minutes away from my friend’s house. I knew I was quite on track but asked for directions to be doubly sure I was still heading towards the right place. Where I come from they say “abere ona kii s’ina” (he who asks for direction never misses his way) but not in Lagos! The more I seek directions from people, the more confused I got. As a last resort, I called my friend and he came to pick me up from where I was and on our way I discovered I was on the right path until I sought for direction from Lagosians.
My friend’s little apartment was only going to offer a temporary relief as his rent will be due in some few month’s time, so I had to be fast about my job hunting and home searching. Seeing job offers wasn’t a problem but the problem was in getting one that met up with the expectation I had. In searching for a good job, I came across a new form of fraud being perpetrated by firms calling themselves recruitment outfits, all they do is deprive people of the little money they have in the name of helping them with the recruitment process. I actually got my fingers burnt with one of those recruiting outfits but that’s a story for another day. There were lots of jobs with ridiculous pay all around and I was about giving up before I got one that could serve as a pedestal to get what I really want. The pay wasn’t what I had envisaged but when the desirable is not available, the available looks like the desirable. More so, I had to quickly take up the job because my friend’s rent would soon be up and I had to get a place of my own.
One other thing I heard about Lagos I didn’t tell you earlier is that the Lagos landlords were worse than Shakespeare’s Shylock and I saw a glimpse of that within the little time I spent in my friend’s place, his landlord was meaner than mean. I knew the man would not allow me a day beyond the rent period for free, my escape route was that my boss agreed to give me six months pay upfront to assist me in settling down. With the money in my hand I began a search for an apartment. My friend recommended a local agent who he believed would be helpful. One really needs a reliable estate agent because there are many of them who are out to perpetrate fraud; they collect money from several people for the same apartment and run into hiding with the loot they just made. The agent my friend recommended was a very popular one in the area and had information about every apartment up for grabs in his jurisdiction. I got to the kiosk-office of the agent and the sign post read J.A Agunbiade & sons.
This is one of the stories I didn’t hear of Lagos but was discovering for myself – that most businesses here, no matter how small, are usually this and sons, that and sons. So, it wasn’t uncommon to find the local drug seller’s business going by the name of Chukwuemeka Igwe and sons; the electrician, Moses Ojo and sons; the food seller, Iya Segun and sons. You know, I actually came across Iya Segun and sons and I was wondering if her parents actually christened her Iya Segun, funny Lagosians. I am still yet to find out the fascinating secret about the “and sons” craze here.
I walked in and met Pa Julius, as he is fondly called, adorning a tee shirt and trousers with a Kangol cap. I wasn’t surprised that he was the only one in his “and sons” enterprise. He should be in his late 60s but he was still up and doing. That’s another tale about Lagos, kosarugbo ni Lagos – young or old, everyone was in the quest for livelihood. I have heard that he was a jovial man who liked to play down his age. When I told him of the fact that I was just a bachelor, he told me he has only three apartments affordable by fresh starters like me and he has nicknamed them house of companion, house of confusion and house of commotion. I was later to find out that he had named the three apartments after the three wives mentioned in the theme song of a popular Lagos sit-com, “Fuji House of commotion”. The theme song went thus – “wife number 1 is companion, wife number 2 is confusion, wife number 3 is commotion!”
We decided to check out the houses so I could see the buildings for myself. Our first point of call was the one he labelled house of companion. It was a beautiful building to behold and with very serene environment. It consisted of two detached duplexes with a boy’s quarter apiece. I really like the fact that I was going to stay with matured couples. When I asked for the cost, Pa Julius said it would cost me N400, 000 per annum and I had to pay two years rent apart from agent, agreement and other sundry fees which totalled about N1, 000, 000. I had to quickly remind him of the fact that I needed just the BQ and not the entire duplex.
“I know na, duplex ke? Where will you see a duplex of 300k per year, e ma gbo arakunrin yi” he said.
“How come a room costs that much?” I queried.
“Ah, Eko ma re, aromi sa legbe legbe,”he said and added “the house is powered by a 24hours gen.”
I told him point blank that I couldn’t afford that.
So we moved to check the next in rank, the house of confusion. The building was nice except for the fact that there were many flats and single room apartments here and when told that it will cost N300, 000 inclusive of all the other miscellaneous fees, but just for a year, I breathed a sigh of relief that I could at least manage here even though I detest the nickname Pa Julius calls it. Nevertheless I thought that it won’t be a bad idea to see the last of the three, the house of commotion. And it was hatred at first sight, the house consisted of several one room apartments that Lagosians used to call “face me, I face you” but now derogatorily refer to as “face me, I slap you” because of the frustrations that the occupants let out at the slightest provocation. I knew this was not compatible with the status of an upwardly mobile young man like me. The apartment seemed to me like shanties. I told Pa Julius I would take the second and he said
“E for better make you take the house of companion ooo.” He didn’t say more than this but I knew he really wanted to say more, something told me he had considered the kind of apartment that will suit someone of my background and work. I was tempted to take the first but my pocket was stubbornly against that decision. We went back to his office and we fixed our next meeting for the next weekend when I would see the landlord so I could make payment for the apartment.
I moved into my apartment a week before my friend’s rent was due. I heard the landlord was happy he wouldn’t be renewing the rent so he could charge the new tenants heavily. I arranged the few things I had in the little room I paid for and still had a lot of space begging to be filled up. For the first time I was realizing that I didn’t have much property but was still thankful to God that I have a place of my own and with time it will be filled up till the point that I would be needing a bigger apartment. I then decided to take a stroll and go on some form of sightseeing. I returned around 6 pm and it was at that point that I found out why Pa Julius had christened this place house of confusion. Once it is 6pm everyone puts on his PMS-powered generators called “I better pass my neighbour” and the real confusion is let out. As the deafening noise kept multiplying, my mind quickly raced to the house of commotion where every room in the whole apartment had a generator. “That place must be hell at night,” I thought and with this thought consoled myself. It was difficult to get a sound sleep with all the maddening noise around and the fumes produced by the generators. I made efforts after efforts to get into sleep land but every time I got drawn back to reality by the noise, it was at this point that I came up with a plan to stop this harassment – I will get my own generator and add to the confusion! I also laughed because I realized that I was fast picking up the Lagos spirit, it’s funny how contagious it could be. Something else that crossed my mind was, when I buy my generator, there would be no neighbour I could say “I better pass” because everyone owned one. Back to reality, before my generator comes I will have to kill the noise with music from my battery-powered music player to help cross over to dream land. I put the little device on and searched for a station playing music and the first one I stumbled upon was playing “Palava” by Fela! It seemed like the song for the moment and with that I drifted to dreamland successfully.