A Creative Experience of Lagos

by Emmanuel Iduma

I daresay the best way to examine a city is how many books have been written about it. That said, I’d shut my face with a book and care less if many agree or not, and it would only be appealing if the following paragraphs attest to it.

Perhaps a better way to state it is to say that the best way to examine a city is how much creativity can ooze from it. I prefer this! Again, if you please, I’d put it another way: the best way to examine how creative a city is, is what a writer does immediately he returns from it.

So if the above premises are accepted, I’d proceed to write about a creative experience of two journeys. At the end, it might not be a very good narration of an experience. But I hope it’d be clear that the experience did spur creativity. By two journeys I mean I actually visited two cities, but there is the compelling nature of the one I make my title from.

But there was Enugu. Enugu belongs to me in some way, because of the four of us that visited the city (for a competition, we won!) I only could decipher the following and translate: otutu ihe di ebube ne me na Enugu (great things happen at Enugu—I hope I got the spellings right). Yet, it did not really belong to me. the following lines could not have been written by the owner of a land, but a writer whom a new visage was conferred on. The lines I wrote the night we arrived at Enugu are;

Enugu seemed like a bird
metallic and humble
yet giant with a measure
of hopelessness,
or was it helplessness—
the people in it
like limbs of a leper
(permit the language)
Or like fortunes of
a talebearer;
jagged like pieces of
metal, hanging on a
forgotten landscape,
although unforgotten
by the hills in sight
and the people in flight.

If I must say, those were the best I could write of Enugu. The best I could see in that country of imaginations. It could be that nothing other could come to me from Enugu, but it could also be that until I wrote that poem, Enugu would shatter before my eyes. And be a city without meaning. A certain wish thus dangles. A wish that such writing about cities, about country, would be read and cause a catalyst for change. Change, recently, has become the word.

It is to Lagos that I attribute the best creativity. Lagos that did not bring a poem from me. Lagos that I stood four hours in the rain, only because I decided to visit for a Christian musical concert. Lagos that I jumped BRT buses. Lagos that increased my return fare over a 100 percent. Lagos that rendered my phone and MP3 Player desirous of a miracle.

And Lagos that has a story for everybody, that makes a story for everybody. (I read somewhere that behind every window in Lagos, there was a story waiting to be told). Just the sights of Lagos alone. A graphic representation of life. Nigeria without Lagos is dead! No Lagos, no future! How far can one go without Lagos? Books and books and yet unending tales, possibilities.

To define Lagos would be to define nothing, just the surreal dream of flexibility. To write about Lagos is to write about nothing in particular. Not the people, because the people (like in Enugu) are in flight. Not the BRT buses, because when time happens to the buses, they might stop moving. Not Tafawa Balewa Square, because it could accommodate 350,000 people, but leave them in the rain. It is clear then that Lagos could make me write this, but could deny me the possibility of writing about it.

I’d be mad if this happens to Nigeria. That writers would keep writing about them and it would deny them the conferment of change, of reality. Indeed, that’s the way to write about Lagos. With the watermark of change, reality. Again, change is the word. That writers would not stop writing because it is doubtless that change would come. I resist the prompt to write a little about the word. I resist the prompt to define change in some way that would evoke glory.

Yet, as one does not leave Lagos without a creative experience—that experience to write nothing-yet-something, that experience without limits—this dear country would not leave anyone without a good experience to tell.

I am tempted to say amen.

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1 comment

Austin Dwiggs April 26, 2009 - 10:12 pm

Dear Emmanuel,

My eyes raced through the lines of your piece looking for a connection with a city that I have loved and missed. Alas, I found it in the line “to define Lagos would be to define nothing”.

You succeeded in taking me back to my mother’s flat in Games Village, Surulere…(gazing out of the windows at the streets strewn with people who seemed to come and go without end.)

Thank you


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