The hens ran free pecking at the flies, hovering around the little children crawling on the sand with dirty and faeces-soaked underwears. Strange, weather-beaten faces looked up from hot ovens drying smelling fish. Mothers too busy to take care of their straying children, came out of crooked doorways made of straw and corrugated iron sheets. The whole atmosphere was pervaded by a strange smell not good for the human respiratory system.
Young, jobless women sat around doorways gossiping, killing time before the arrival of night, when their male visitors come calling. Young muscled men stood around in groups discussing their escapades with the girls while constantly scrutinizing the appearance of passers-by watching out for those who looked easy prey to harass for some money, a wristwatch or any other valuables.
The shanty town looked so much at peace with itself from the eye of the uninitiated. Everything was running according to its tune. The open wooden bathrooms were over flowing with green matter, the rocks barricading the sea were covered with human droppings, as it was the only avenue for that kind of thing. Skinny dogs were sleeping all around with some helping themselves to the faeces on the face of the rocks. An old woman was having her bath on the abandoned rail track running through the middle of the shanty oblivious of disapproving eyes of passers-by.
The only presence of government was the signboard announcing that “This land belongs to the Nigerian Ports Authority” and the wooden Naval Port manned by an officer dressed in an immaculate white uniform. He was like an angel in the midst of all the poverty and misery. Little children streamed around just to get a glimpse of his lapels.
My German friend and I held our breaths as we walked through this neighbourhood in the Bar beach area of Victoria Island, scared to our marrows. I removed the watch on my wrist and put it in my pocket just to appear normal. Life here as we saw it was a dark cloud without a silver lining. We were afraid because we did not fit into the picture. We had only decided to probe deeper into the neighborhood having become tired of watching revellers at the beach. We ended-up finding the worst site of decay our young minds could ever imagine.
A people forgotten. A people who did not care who was in government, but were only concerned about having a good meal. A people who did not much care whether a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo man was president, but about having good shelter to live in.
I was discovering another side of life.
We walked through the settlement and stopped at the edge of the Lagoon looking at the other side of town where the skyscrapers were located in their hundreds looking beautiful and well kept. It was another life entirely from where I was standing, full of good money and wealthy people. My friend said that Nigerians are mad, but I couldn’t refute his assertion. In my mind, I knew it was so true. We seemed to be past caring what with the presence of so much money in the hands of a few while the majority of us live in so much misery and poverty. We have become so dead to the wailings of the poor in our bid to get ourselves rich.
We soon made our way out of the shanty back into civilization but not before missing our way and asking a woman who asked a little girl to show us the way out. Getting out, we were confronted with posters of politicians soliciting for votes on the wall of a government enterprise. It was their turn to beg to be voted into office while tomorrow they’ll use siren blairing cars and horse whip wielding policemen to chastise those who voted them in.
Life slowly came back to normal as we quickly made to forget our rude experience by taking a bus home but not after it had made an indelible impression on my young mind.
In a country that has so many potentials for growth, according to the United Nations; a vibrant population, commercial quantities of the most important natural resources (crude oil, bitumen, natural gas); arable land in abundance and a favorable climate that supports agriculture and other human endeavors, yet we have remained a nation at the lower rungs of socio-economic development with our people descending to the abyss of rubbish heaps to scavenge for food like vultures on a dead corpse.
In all these, some of us still ride in cars worth millions, sleep on beds with their worth in gold and pass by these less privileged people everyday without an atom of pity. As these thoughts slowly made their way into my mind, the import of the words my friend said earlier became real to me.
We must really be mad after all, Yes, I think we are mad.