The differences between the Mainland and Islands of Lagos have always been a cause for jokes. And Mainland residents have always been at the receiving end of the laughter, mocked for living in places too far from where the Lagos vibe truly thrives.
So, when Olamide threatened Don Jazzy with, “Don’t come to the mainland” after the Headies in January 2016, Lagosians on Twitter responded with uniform mirth. We all knew nothing would come out of the threat. We were also amused that a public figure like Olamide had embraced his Badoo persona to the extent that he could try to define territories the way young men on mainland streets in Mushin can banish anyone they have beef with from their streets. But who wants to go the mainland before? Who wants to swap the luxuries of Ikoyi for the struggles of Bariga?
It’s not news that parts of Victoria Island, Lekki and Ikoyi turn to retention ponds once rain touches down. Pictures of Victoria Garden City often appear on Twitter with some snarky commentary about the absurdity of living in a highbrow area that disintegrates at the sight of water like tissue paper. Those tweets usually attract retweets, and Lols. Rarely does anyone question the morality of laughing at the cars turned boats that get stuck in the middle of the streets.
On Saturday, however, as Lekki became flooded and roads like Ozumba Mbadiwe became hazards for cars smaller than SUVs and a white man gloriously paddled his yellow canoe on Ahmadu Bello Way in front of Silverbird Galleria, the jokes about living on the Island came as usual. But this time, there was push back.
What makes a joke funny?
It is accepted by all good people that Nigerian comedians are rarely funny. It is also well known that to dissect a joke is to kill it, so I won’t be able to give you examples to support my assertion above. You just have to accept it. But what we can easily figure out about jokes, and why Nigerian comedians are generally terrible at it, is that they’re supposed to punch up, not down. It is not enough that your audience laugh at a statement. If you had to mock someone disadvantaged to get them to laugh, you’re probably not very funny.
Nigerian comedians, for instance, insist on turning sexual harassment into comedy by blaming the victims and can rarely perform a set without shaming fat people or those who are physically challenged. It’s just jokes, some people say. But “just jokes” is how America found itself ruled by an orange man who thinks it’s presidential to mock his critics by tweeting from his toilet seat. Comedians aren’t given a leave from social responsibility. Actually, they often take on more responsibility, given the unique ability of their craft to tackle taboo subjects.
Punching up is why it can be funny to joke about people trapped by the rain in VGC. Residents of such luxury estates are rich, classed, and the kind of people who believe their success is independent government’s ineptitude, even when they profit from Nigeria’s dysfunction. (Of course they pay exorbitant taxes too, but since when do we let details like taxes obstruct schadenfreude?) They’re also probably related to a senator or governor: the root of our problems. So, why did it suddenly become bad to make fun of Islanders on Saturday, 8 July 2017?
The Lekki Scam
Many people outside of Lagos hear Lekki and think “funds.” I used to be one of those people until I moved to Lagos and discovered Lekki’s status is an impressive makeover. The whole of Lagos is a giant catfish. But while, for many parts of this city, you need rain to be like one of those silly men who threaten to take women on dates to reveal their real faces hidden under make up, Lekki is a poor catfish. You don’t need rains to realise the peninsula is just a ridiculously priced slum.
Lekki residents were the primary casualty of the Saturday flood. This made it possible to claim those making jokes about the water from the mainland were engaging in an inhuman act. Families were going to lose property—even lives—to the rising water. Photos immediately appeared online of people’s furniture floating in their rooms, putting human faces to the devastation.
Lagos is becoming titanic and Lekki residents are the first casualty. But many in Lekki are like the Jacks of this Titanic: they struggle to pay rent and live there just because they have to work and would rather pay the exorbitant rents than struggle with the stress of traffic while commuting to work daily from the mainland. You can’t ask me not to laugh at the people who might be the cause of our problems when they have to turn their cars into yachts, but present me with the image of a family wading through their belongings and my laughter pauses—as it should.
When can we go back to laughing?
Of course, once the rain stops, the mainland will once again be at the receiving end of jokes. We will laugh about how unsafe it is to live on the mainland, how uncool it is to have to travel every time you want to see an art exhibition or a stage play or a musical concert that isn’t a Fuji block party. No one will question why it’s funny. No one thinks of punching up in that scenario. I live on the mainland and think it is silly to assume a victim complex at the flood jokes. Maybe we mainlanders do have inferiority complex. But once you believe that, then agree that it is game for us to make fun of the highbrow residents of this sinking city.
I understand that it isn’t funny to make fun of people who will lose lives and property, yet I still found myself chuckling at commentary about the flood on Twitter. Like anything else in Nigeria, we’re laughing and in-fighting instead of getting angry at the people who have made this possible. It’s not coincidence that these flash floods have intensified at a time when the construction of projects like the Eko Atlantic City, and the wall that is supposed to protect it are flourishing. There were already speculations that surrounding islands in the City will bear the brunt of measures created to prevent that project from failing, and perhaps we’re just seeing that. The problems of Lagos’ flood are many, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you it is just one thing. It is poor drainage. It is climate change. It is constant sand filling. It is poor urban planning. It is Lagosians who have made fornication the official sin of the city.
I’m usually wary of laughing at people’s misfortune, and therefore have curbed my desire to laugh at the recent floods, but no one should ask me to be humane when years from now, after I’ve returned to my Ibadan, Eko Atlantic City begins to float. I retain the right to laugh at people who choose personal aggrandisements and risk harming those around them just to satisfy their capitalist cravings. I don’t care if that’s punching up, down, or sideways.