Comment: To Love and Loathe Lagos

When a recent power outage happened in Lagos, I was grounded; jobs to deliver but both laptop and phone dead. I sent out an SOS on WhatsApp, asking any willing taker to kindly accept me as a post-Easter guest. Criteria: you had to reside outside Lagos.

I wasn’t serious, of course. “You don’t have light at home,” my inner Lagosian advised me confidently “but you can go to the cinema and – you know – seat by one wall socket and wait for a non-existent ‘friend coming from Ajah’ to join you”. Adversity brings out untapped realms of thought to life. There was just no way I would up and leave the city just because there had been no light for 30 hours.

Why does everyone complain about everything that is wrong with Lagos, yet no one is leaving? Amongst other themes Chimamanda Adichie explored in a recent essay for Esquire magazine, I find this one interesting because like the author’s other works, loving and loathing Lagos is so relatable.

Lagos is chaotic. It can be very hot, and too wet. It is probably overpopulated, depending on the demographer you consult. Yet, we all want to stay. We accept that the rich own and run the metropolis but deep down, we are safe in the belief that there is enough space for all. Because the city does not seek to perform to any particular group or class, everyone feels like it can be theirs eventually. The city doesn’t want to belong only to the rich, to tourists, or celebrities. It has rejected being definitively branded in the way “Empire state of mind” identifies New York, declining Jazzman Olofin’s “Eko Ile” and Jimmy Jatt’s “Style”. The last effort by Olamide has produced a one-term Governor. Essentially, Lagos belongs to all and none; it makes space for you according to your budget and patience.

I did not know some women have to place fake bags and phones in their cars so thieves can have something to snatch instead of shooting them. No matter how long you have lived here, you can’t claim to know exactly what the city is. Its many aspects make it unlivable, yet the eagerness to truly understand it makes it unleavable. Have you had that one crush in your life who’s hard to get yet you can’t get out of your head? S/he’s got nothing on Lagos, trust.

Lagos is cocky. It knows its worth, its history, the triumphs and troubles. Even Adichie, recounting its racist formation, craves old, colonial Ikoyi (don’t we all?). So it is actually not bothered who comes or goes; it knows it will go on. Lagos isn’t the subject of a Dettol advert. If you don’t care for it, someone will come along any day now, recognize its unique curves and shower it with tender love and care. It knows this, so it is patient to glow and indifferent to your groans. You either be patient or you go.

Adichie’s essay, read slowly in her voice, is an effective painting of the city. Incoming Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should read it, especially if he is shopping for a suitable replacement for “Itesiwaju Eko…,” etc. He could adopt something Adichie once said of her disinterest in seeking people’s validation, something Lagos also declares of itself: Anaghim agba ka m’ data ego. Loosely translated, it approximates to “Lagos will not court you”.


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