Lagos, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you are in Lagos
These streets will make you feel brand new
The lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for Lagos,
The origins of lines above didn’t include our Lagos, but it’s easy to see how well ‘Empire State of Mind’, an ode to the Big Apple, fits this city. It is our own concrete jungle, a city almost without lights where everyone’s dreams are valid. Here, people actually have a chance to hustle and thrive. This is why two years ago, I packed my bags, tucked my dreams into one of the compartments, and left the oil city, Warri, where I was born and raised for Lagos. Before Lagos called out to me, I was restless in Warri, a city that first became popular for its unique blend of pidgin, which in turn gave birth to some of the country’s best comedians.
The residents of Warri speak many languages because the oil makes it home to Nigeria’s diverse tribes and foreigners. It is also home to the Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiris, tribes that speak their own languages too. These collection of people evolved the now popular language known was Warri pidgin. It is different from what people speak in Lagos. It even comes with its own accent and gestures.
I grew up when people were just realizing they could get more from oil companies and the Federal Government than what came from oil bunkering. But of course we—Urhobo, Ijaw, and Itsekiri—had to first fight ourselves for it, not minding that more than 50% of Warri people have intermarried with offspring. The ensuing bloody crisis went on for about a decade, and MEND, ND militants and other groups sprang up at the end of it. Although the crisis disrupted our lives, growing up was fun in the midst of all of it. We even went to sit for those NNPC/Shell/Chevron JV scholarship exams with pride—Indigenes of oil producing communities.
As I grew, I realized there are few things one can do in Warri, the best of which is to become an employee of an oil company. It is a thing of pride to be an oil worker. People introduce themselves with it like it is a title: “My name is Tuoyo, and I am an oil worker.” If not oil, then banks, or schools, or businesses. Shopping malls sprouted all over the town, so much that the name could have been changed from oil city to city of shopping complexes. The last option is to join one of the agitating group of boys who operate their refineries. These boys have money too, loads of it. You will know them by their glimmering dark skin and gold bouncing off their necks as they ride around town in exotic cars.
The life I wanted didn’t fit into any of the available options, so when an offer opened up in Lagos, I bolted.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of how rough Lagos is—not the movies, stories or music videos/songs made about Lagos—the metal and wood death traps called danfos, and the underbelly of thugs and thieves operating night and day.
I went through different levels of cultural shock. Let me break it down:
- Food: Every other state in Nigeria has 24 hours but Lagos has only 20 (please do not argue with me). Because of this, people do not have time to cook. I remember how surprised I was the first time I saw school children buying their breakfast along the road. The only time I ate out in Warri was when I accompanied my Mum to the market, and even then, she brought food on most days.
- Boli and groundnut: why do you people eat boli and groundnut? I used to think Boli is only served with pepper sauce and fish, until I entered this city. Well, it’s not like I can make the boli or the sauce, so guess who now eats boli and nuts?
- Mood: Everytime I remember that part of the bible that says the road to hell is wide and people are rushing in, I imagine Lagos on a Monday morning. Where do you people go? And why are you always angry?
- Markets: Lagos markets are mad houses. There is no other word to explain how a simple activity like buying and selling becomes war. Mad houses, from Island market to Yaba to mile 2.
- Ignorance: When it comes to the other parts of Nigeria, Lagosians are proper olodos. I have met people who asked if Warri was in the middle belt, if Benue people are not Hausas. And the most popular one: everyone after Ondo state is Igbo. There’s no point explaining that you are Bini or Ijaw. When they greet kedu? Just say odinma and go your way.
- Lagos is like a very attractive person who ignores all their problems, masks it with flashy clothes, make up and fakes everything. This is until the rain comes. When it pours, the real ugliness of Lagos is revealed: insane traffic, horrible roads, muddy streets, and, of course, the flood.
I cannot exhaust the many ways Lagos has left my mouth open, thinking “wait, what?” Every day presents a new way to shock me. But in all of these, it is still the city where dreams become real.