Lagos, my Lagos

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Lagos is a city where news breaks at the speed of sound: Before you properly digest one, another is upon you. One of the news items that grabbed our attention the day before was about a clash in Alakuko, a boundary town with Ogun. Nineteen suspected cultists are being held in search of peace. And yesterday, the aftereffect of a brawl between boys in Onala and Agarawu areas of Lagos Island gained some traction alongside other news. Today, we will be devoted to some other news, good and bad.

There is no dull moment in this city. With its off-putting rustic quarters, its contemporary mansions, its loudness and its serenity and its pungent poverty and its sweet-smelling affluence, Lagos evokes the memory of the mythic Esu with two-sided face of different hues as though intent on causing confusion— leaving a resident or a visitor to choose what to believe about this city of promise.

Lagos is like a lion: it rumbles, it roars, and on its streets, iron jangles against iron. Many a part of my Lagos is so alive that shutting the windows, slamming the doors and more are not enough to drive away noise pollution. If an ambulance is not disturbing your peace, a bus conductor shouting himself hoarse is; if the muezzin’s annoyingly loud call to prayer is not the source of headache, the disgusting cacophony from a vigil or mid-week service in nearby church is. At times the challenge is street brawls.

My city, my state, in many a place, resembles a giant construction site. If you stay away from Lagos Island for six months, chances are that you will not recognise many buildings because they spring up like weeds on cassava farms. Lagos has grown irrepressibly and keeps on bloating, careless of having gorged more than its digestive system could process. Every hour it receives new visitors to swell its bloated tummy, which makes it look like a candidate for constipation and making my Lagos look like heaven and hell, side by side: for every Apapa GRA, there is an Ajegunle; for every Ajah, there is Agungi; for every Ikoyi, there is an Obalende; for every posh side of Ikeja, there is an Ipodo; and for every Lekki, there are shanties here and there.

My Lagos, especially its Lagos Island arm, grins with skyscrapers, smooth and sparkling road network befitting a modern city. The Banana Island part of my Lagos reeks of wealth: well-laid out road network, well-mowed lawn, perfumed air, well-built and glossed mansions, and an ambience comparable to Seventh Arrondissement in Paris, La Jolla in San Diego and Tokyo’s Shibuya and Roppongi. There are no potholes, no house with peeling paint; no form of shabbiness had room in this rich’s playground. But my other Lagos, especially its shanties and slums, smells of poverty.

Hopeless gridlock is synonymous with my Lagos. It can be so bad that even when the traffic light changes from red to green, nothing moves. It is a city with no sense of time, where almost nothing starts on schedule. Even when you want to be different, traffic can mess things up. So productive is the gridlock that anything can happen while in it: you can buy pepper, meat and every other ingredient needed for a pot of soup, you can buy a machete to deal with your stubborn neighbour or use on your farm or to weed your compound, you can do and undo. If you are lucky to be in traffic caused by an upturned lorry, you can even get the pepper blended, the vegetables shredded and once you get home, the soup will be ready in a matter of minutes. Drama is not in short supply: Blows are regularly exchanged. I have even seen a guy break a bottle and ready to cut a fellow driver who refused to make a way for him. The curse of the traffic makes brutes of gentlemen, and makes the stubborn mad. It can be madness galore.

My Lagos, in some sense, is a beggars’ republic. Seeing a man in tie and in suit does not mean he is not out to tell you some bogus stories aimed at punching holes in your pockets. They are corporate beggars who actually tell you the amount they need from your compassionate purse. People fake injuries with make-up; many people’s fathers die and die and die many times depending on the number of clients they have to deal with or they have to lie to. Beggars in traffic are difficult to dodge because they swarm every side. If you turn your eyes away from one, another is waiting on the side you have just turned, palms opened in expectation of compassion.

My Lagos is home to many lawless people. Each time it rains, our drainage channels are clogged by plastic bags and each time there is a flash flood, what takes over our roads is not just water but an assemblage of nylon bags, Styrofoam cups, take-out packs, and other disposables. My Lagos is a major contributor to the estimated 32 million tonnes of solid waste Nigeria generates per year. Plastics constitute 2.5 million tonnes of this waste.

Illegal dredgers are also killing my Lagos. A report indicates that if this continues, local government areas in the riverine areas have a high risk of flooding measured in kilometres. Seventy-nine per cent of the Eti-Osa local government landmass is listed as black spot. Of its 168km, almost nothing is left with 133km under threat.

For many, Lagos is restless because there are always some things to attend to. Even in the thick of a pandemic, the market, the cinemas, the roads, the event centres, the supermarkets, the mail and every nook and cranny are peopled to full capacity and more.

In my Lagos, especially Yaba and Oshodi, women are endangered species when they dress in what moral police consider indecent. They drag their skirts, tug at their shirts and harass them physically and verbally. The moral policemen shamelessly salivate in a way that clearly shows that were it not for faces glaring at them, the rapists in them would have been in action.

My Lagos is also good to hustlers, genuine and phoney. The phoney ones can rent one apartment to seven clients and collect money from all; even the genuine ones charge for registration even when they are not sure you will like what they have to offer.

My final take: Lagos is under-policed and the federal police cannot help it tame the mad ones who have made it a madhouse. The Neighbourhood Corps do not seem to have what it takes and I doubt what the Constabulary can do. Proper state police and local government police as obtained in advanced democracy are what we need. If a matter is beyond the local government police, the state police take over and if it is beyond the state police, the federal police take over and if more than them all, the military are invited.

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