I was unprepared for Lagos. Lokoja, town of my childhood, led me to believe the world was a gentle place where to enter a bus was to stand by the roadside, wave a lethargic arm and walk idly in, conductor, driver, passengers waiting, adjusting their schedules on the fly, according to the whims of this person, who, transformed into a passenger, took upon the qualities of the other passengers and did as they did, promoting the land’s endemic inertia. The cast of the Lagos bus—conductor, driver, passenger, and oddly, for a Lokoja boy, area boy—was in haste. Often it was hard to tell if these strangers were in haste to meet a schedule or merely to escape fuggy buses were accents and odours collide daily.
Lagos, created in ‘67, is the older state, and were these places personified, one might expect a genteel maturity, but Lagos has no time for self-respect. And by the time the nation’s capital was moved in ‘91 to Abuja from Lagos, its character was fixed and all hopes of a steady functioning state, without the hassle, without the hustle, was irreparably lost. The presence of a democracy and the diplomatic baggage that system of government carries may have imparted on the city an equanimity it now will never have.
This was the state I met the place all those years ago in 2001, two years after civilians were in power again, and the difference between the new capital and the old one could be seen and, only hours in, felt.
Abuja, the new capital, where I lived briefly before coming to Lagos, was serene, clean—two adjectives entirely unknown to good ‘ol Lagos. And when the Lagos government took to the streets, via posters, to tell its residents to clean up, stop littering the roads and sidewalks, it adopted a rhetoric that, save for its grammar, wasn’t far out of the vocabulary of the loathed and soon to be extinct area boy:
“YOU WILL NOT DEFACE YOURSELF. SO DO NOT DEFACE LAGOS.”
It seemed to me reading this poster at a bus stop under the Town Planning flyover, somewhere on the Mainland, that the Lagos state government wasn’t much different from the state’s violent miscreants. They were same as I came to see—a tropical re-creation of that scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where man turns to pig, pig to man, neither pig nor man distinguishable.