Musings of a ‘Lagosian’
‘Are you really a Lagosian?’ The security man asked me again after he spoke to me in the Yoruba language and I responded in English. ‘Of course I am I replied looking somewhat dumb founded.’ I was tired of having this conversation with people who didn’t view me as a Lagosian as they told me either in plain terms or via body language that I didn’t cut the picture of a street smart – a trait which marks Lagosians out.
After my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) came to an end – I served in Warri. I wasn’t in a hurry to live the former oil rich city as I had grown to enjoy the peaceful and stress free way of life away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos life.
Four months after pounding the streets of Warri, it dawned on me that the city had a closely knit cabal who always played the tribal card on me as I was seen as an outsider who didn’t deserve a job. Some were even angry that I did my NYSC in The Shell Petroleum Development Company which should have been the exclusive preserve for their sons and daughters. How dare I spend time in the city to compete for a job when some of their children rode commercial motorcycles to eke out a miserable living!
Cowed and humbled by my non acceptance, I took the next available bus back to Lagos with my tail in between my legs.
My first job interview turned out to be a scam. A ‘smart’ human resources firm taking advantage of the massive youth unemployment in the country sent out a bogus advertisement for non existent jobs. On arriving the venue, I saw a mammoth crowd and we were asked to enter in batches. Pandemonium soon broke out when the scam was detected by some irate interviewees. They were asked to part with a whooping sum of ten thousand naira to secure a vacant slot. The veil then fell off from their eyes that it was pure daylight robbery. A fight soon broke out and the police were forced to storm the venue and used teargas to disperse the crowd. I heard a pretty girl crying that she came all the way from Enugu in the eastern part of the country by flight and had no money to even take a bus back to her base. Another whom I struck up an immediate friendship with came from Warri – the town I so adored and told me he was an aspiring comedian whose dream was to hit it big in Lagos. He mentioned the likes of Ali Baba, I go dye, Bovi and AY as his mentors as they left Warri to conquer the world of comedy in Lagos. He asked me if I was living alone but I told me I was squatting with a friend. I couldn’t bear to reveal the truth that I was still living in my parents’ house at well over 25. The shame was too much for me to bear. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch.
The Lingua Franca of Nigeria is English but the unofficial languages of the streets of Lagos are Yoruba and Pidgin English. I could speak the latter pretty well but I seriously struggled with the former as I was a victim of western colonization as my parents especially my dad who is a full blooded Yoruba man never thought me the language. The language barrier was a big disadvantage as I was dismissed as an aje butter (a spoilt child). Getting good bargains in the market was a herculean task, being excluded by friends and family was such a regular occurrence that I soon developed a thick skin. I didn’t fancy going to Owambes (parties) as I didn’t understand the language sufficiently well to be able to dance to the music being played in it. I dreaded attending family meetings as the language sounded like the combination of Sanskrit and Latin in my small ears.
I missed a Fulbright scholarship to teach Yoruba in an American University for a year. I was so incensed with anger that I had a big row with my dad and even threatened to sue him for denying me not only my cultural heritage but the opportunity of visiting Uncle Sam which was my favourite country. I was so in love with the United States that I had more Facebook friends there than Nigerian friends. How I so hated my dad!
Sometimes I wondered why I was born and bred in Lagos as the city didn’t seem to pass through me. I am rather laid back, conservative, unduly cautious and risk averse and these are all the opposite traits of a born and bred Lagosian. I felt so awkward in my difference with an average Lagosian that it made me very withdrawn and despondent. Some people saw me as weird; others dismissed me as a nerd but I resisted the pressure to conform. I was just being real to myself.
Getting a beautiful girl to date was akin to squeezing juice out of a stone. The slay queens wouldn’t date a guy who didn’t have a car or live in his own apartment on the Island which was the swanky part of town. No slay queen would agree to go on dates in a run-of-the-mill restaurant popularly known as ‘buka’ or ‘mama put.’ None loved intelligent conversations about the economy, polity or foreign affairs. They all wanted mundane things like fancy trips to Dubai, Paris, Seychelles and other such exotic places, the Brazilian hair do and many much more that is beyond the reach of an average Joe.
I have lived in the Lagos mainland – Surulere and Yaba all my life. The Island – Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki, Victoria Garden City, Ajah and its environs are the homes of the rich and powerful. I longed to live in those places as sometimes I felt the pinch to keep up with the Joneses but I was only a poor and struggling writer who was barely eking out a decent living and cursed to be domiciled in a country where the youths preferred being on instagram to reading anything serious. There is no greater dilemma for a writer than living in a country without a sturdy reading audience.
To be honest I am fed up of living in Lagos and would gladly relocate if I get a better offer no matter how remote the place may be. If not for religious considerations, I would have queried my maker on why he created me here.
I guess some questions are better left unasked as mere mortals.
Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com