Suffering and Smiling In Lagos

On a recent visit to Lagos, Tony, a friend who manages a branch of one of the new generation banks in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State remarked thus; “You guys don’t have a life here in Lagos, you are all suffering and smiling”. Tony had to dig up a popular phrase of late Afro-beat musician Fela Anikulapo – Kuti in describing the lives of Nigerians living in Lagos (Lagosians). This was after a gruesome 4-hour traffic along Falomo bridge occasioned by the partial closure of Babangida’s Third Mainland Bridge.

I had to agree with Tony, as I have often asked myself what I am doing in Lagos when there are other towns in Nigeria such as Enugu, Kaduna, Owerri, Abuja, Awka and so on where one could still earn Lagos salaries, enjoy Lagos lifestyles without experiencing the dreaded Lagos miseries including waking up at 3 a.m to begin the daily commute to work, coming back home at midnight, daylight armed robbery attacks, pot-holed and flooded roads, traffic gridlocks, polluted air, dilapidated infrastructure, hyper-inflation and all other woes associated with ‘shuffering and shmiling’ in Lagos.

With challenges like these, It is difficult to be envious of the job of Babatunde Fashola, the well intentioned Lagos State Governor. Every major effort of his aimed at improving Lagos state gets immediately overshadowed by the visible decay and rot left by previous governments. A glance through the windows of a descending airplane shows a sprawling and decaying town begging for its glorious past.

Perhaps some people in the corporate world could be pardoned for still enduring the crazy and soulless Lagos lifestyle. These are people doing what could be described as Head office jobs. But for the rest, I would encourage a discovery trip to Nigeria’s other towns and regions where another and better life is very much possible.

Popularly called Eko, its original name before the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century and subsequently renamed it, Lagos is the Hollywood of Africa. Everybody comes to Hollywood and Lagos in search of fame or fortune, or both. For some, the search for the fame or the fortune never materializes in their lifetime. For others, the actualisation of either the Lagos or Hollywood dream comes at a huge prize.

In Lagos’ many roads, particularly at major traffic junctions, you will see beggars of all sorts, mothers with their young babies strapped to their backs begging for arms in the hot scorching sun, quadriplegics strapped to wheelchairs angling for positions with the cars, school age kids with tongues as sharp as razor, and as deadly as caustic soda whose learning is done everyday on the street, sickly individuals contracted by Lagos – smart businessmen and women, some with intravenous drip tubes dangling and sticking out from various parts of their bodies, others with heart-wrenching cancerous growths, wounds and open sores standing in the way of the traffic begging for money.

In Lagos, a common fate binds both the beggars and their potential patrons;. For the former, it is physical misery; for the later, it is emotional torture and guilt. Many go home and pass up their dinner in frustration and anger as they reflect on the living dead walking and working all around them. In such a city, how can one even enjoy what little fortune fate and hardwork has thrust their way.

Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital and the economic hub of the country is a city of over 10 million people. UN projections is that the city’s population will reach 20 million by 2010. it is now ranked the 30th most expensive city in the world, and the most expensive in Africa according to Mercer’s 2008 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey published recently.

Lagos is probably the only town in the world that has no official “Welcome to..” signage on its borders. What Lagos has is just a “This is Lagos” sign. The hidden message in this cold and unwelcoming signage is that ‘This is Lagos, what you see is what you get’.

Those who live in and love Lagos say that Lagos holds a special type of appeal and magic. They love the Lagos hustle and bustle. There are stories of those who arrived with just a Ghana-Must-Go nylon sack with a one-way ticket on ‘The Young Shall Grow’ Luxury bus. On arrival, there is usually no welcoming relative or party, waiting accommodation or livelihood. For some, securing a sleeping space under Lagos’ many bridges becomes the first true test of survival. Such persons go ahead to compete against man and the elements. There are the marauding ritualists (the Clifford Orjis) to evade at night and the heavy rains to shield from in the day. There are also the faulty breaks of Lagos’ many crazy drivers, including the commercial bus (Danfo and Molue) drivers to contend with. Lagosians claim that surviving in Lagos actually means that one can survive in any other city in the world. I tend to agree.

For civil servants and other paid employees, perhaps the time has come for an aspiring gubernatorial candidate to run on the promise of introducing Lagos Weighting Allowance (LWA) if elected. This will compensate at least in some small measure for the escalating cost of living and working in Lagos. This special allowance is currently being used in London where workers living in London are paid a little extra, sometimes over Five Thousand Pounds for living in, and working in London. What this means is that Mr A and Mrs C may be working for company Q and performing similar job roles at two different locations (London and Luton). Mr. A who lives in London gets paid more than Mrs. C who lives in Luton every month because Mr. A spends more to get to work every month. There is also additional compensation for housing and other expenses associated with living in a big city. While this may not fully solve the many problems of workers living in Lagos, it will at least serve as some kind of palliative.

I visited Enugu recently with some friends and was shocked at the Four Thousand Naira bill the restaurant owner gave our 5-man lunch party for all we had eaten including second helpings and drinks. Charles Okoli, a friend who works for UBA in Lagos actually placed this in perspective for all of us. He remarked that what we had paid could hardly pay for one person’s meal at Yellow Chilli, a restaurant patronized mainly by the corporates in the Victoria Island area of Lagos.

Also during a recent business visit to Kaduna, I was informed by my colleagues in the North that the cost of renting an up market 4-5 bedroom duplex complete with servant quarters is about Five Hundred Thousand Naira (rent for similar houses in upmarket locations in Lagos range between 2-3 Million Naira) . This sum will not even pay for a one-room boys quarter in the Island area of Lagos. I remember my colleague Biodun’s expression when I told him of the asking prices of houses on sale around the Island and Lekki areas of Lagos. He wondered if the amounts Lagos letting agents and landlords were asking for was actually for buying places in heaven.

The situation is now such that while banks and other employers have started giving mortgage loans to their employees, the loan amounts being offered are usually not enough to meet the asking prices of Lagos landlords and letting agents, whereas similar employees living in other towns are able to buy multiple houses with their mortgage loans. Another case of ‘shuffering and shmiling in Lagos’.

But just before you contemplate packing your bags, soul and sanity and moving to another city in Nigeria before life passes you by, ask yourself what you will miss most about Lagos. If you can answer this question, that’s your decision already made for you.

For the rest of us living in Lagos, the die-hards and stay-putters; perhaps the time has come for us to make our case before our employers for a Lagos Weighting Allowance.

Written by
Uche Nworah
Join the discussion

  • “begging for arms in the hot scorching sun” . No disrespect but it’s begging for ALMS.. not arms.. .

    “Lagos is probably the only town” . .Again, Lagos is not a town. it’s a STATE unless you are talking about downtown Lagos. I do agree with you though, everybody wants to live in Lagos. We need to start expanding and developing other parts. You have to imagine some Nigerians don’t like people from other parts of Nigeria in thier neck of the woods. So as a Yoruba person , I sure won’t be moving to Bauchi anytime soon. I’ll stay here in the South West , thank you very much. Maybe a village that isn’t so crowded.

  • I like the article as it brings attention to problems Lagosians are facing dealing with life in Lagos, but Uche’s profile says he lives in London which is which?