It’s not my first visit to Lagos by any means. But it looked very much so.
Fear and tear tore me all over. Of being pinched and punched. Robbed
and stubbed. A good thing, Nigerian movies! Imperialist tool! A bad one too! Feeling of being robbed on the streets especially at night, as portrayed by Nollywood. And it was all over me.
Not for the first time, Bellview was late to get me from Freetown. Late by two hours! The BBC had arranged for my pick-up for 8 PM, which the airline had advised would be my ETA. As it turned out, it did not. So when eventually we were told to board, like Hillary Clinton ahead of the primaries in Ohio and Texas, I was nerve-racked.
Eventually I arrived at the Murtala International airport at 11: 30 PM. I had travelled light, with just a hand luggage. So I did not waste time waiting for the long queue of baggage waiters. In 15 minutes I was at the reception and there was a man with a placard with my name on it. But I had been warned that even at that, I should ask a few questions to the placard holder. I did. And he passed the test.
The man, who turned out to be the driver sent for me, beeped my colleague who called back and spoke to the driver, then to me briefly. “How now my sister” I greeted. She paused and laughed. “Welcome to Lagos”, she said amidst laughter peppered with surprise. She was apparently surprised that I managed to speak some pidgin. “I come for Sierra Leone now,” I said, jokingly adding that there are unofficial states of Nigeria including Sierra Leone. But I spared her the history lessons of the ties that the two countries share dating back over 200 years. Then my security fears wore me like jeans and a beautiful lady. That time of night, midnight, was not the best to venture out. “I don’t want you to spend the rest of the night in the airport, but I don’t want you to brave it out either,” was the advice from my colleague. She was concerned that the car was flashy and really cool. Of course I did not want to stay in the airport for the rest of the night. Then the driver assured that we could make it to my hotel at Ikoyi. And we set off.
Miguel Indurain or the late Ayrton Senna would have looked on with envy at the pace the driver was accelerating. When I cautioned him to go a bit slowly, his response made me encourage him to go even much faster. There were police officers on the way. Then I got more scared when he told me of how common it was for armed robbers to dress in police uniform. I was tested on those verses of the Quran I had not recited since the January 6 invasion of Freetown.
At the hotel, the guards were afraid of opening the gate. They wanted to be sure the car was carrying a hotel guest, but they would not come outside to confirm. “Come closer to the gate now”, the more-of-porters-than-guards instructed the driver. As they opened the gate, they were stepping back amid the rolling of their eyes, which were now facing the wrath of the bright car light. But that is the light that disturbs. That which the people want is disappointing.
Power outage is commonplace in Lagos. It comes and goes like a fluorescent bulb nearing the end of its life span. This is Africa’s largest oil producer. But it is fair to say also that it is Africa’s largest population. Even if the oil money can care for them all, it is not doing that. Like a father who has many children and cannot tend to them, he is naturally having them all – progressives like intellectuals and scientists, but also retrogrades such as armed robbers and political thieves. That is Nigeria! And the people are complaining.
But it is not all doom and gloom. The part of Ikeya where I am staying is reclaimed land. A vast swamp I am told that it was some years ago, has given way to a sprawling part of Lagos. No one needs telling that this country should be the continent’s leader. Probably after the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is potentially the richest in Africa. But here it is with university graduates riding Okada (motorbike) for a living. Some doing even more menial jobs and finding it tough to make ends near, let alone meet.
But isn’t this where many parts of Africa get it wrong? Holding (shambled) elections that make undemocratic leaders like Muammar Ghadaffi look cool, simply because they let down their subjects. And it makes me wonder whether there is something wrong in our being English-speaking countries. The francophone west African countries, save Guinea (probably because of the way it parted company with France, are far ahead of us, at least in terms of infrastructure. But come to think of it, Ghana has made tremendous strides lately. A recent visit proved it’s moving.
It probably boils down to leadership, or the lack of it. Nigerians surely deserve more than the palpable sense of insecurity and hopelessness they are in. And I am told it is far worse in the interior. This can only breed hate and militancy. Apart from the magnitude, it sounds like a familiar story to Sierra Leoneans – successive failed leaderships. Now you know why the pressure and near impatience with President Ernest Bai Koroma to deliver, and to reign in on some of his ministers.
By Umaru Fofana