In 2006, I decided it was time to visit Lagos again. I have been away for 3 whole years, the longest period of time to be absent from motherland since I relocated to Sweden almost 6 years ago. I have planned for this vacation for more than 6 months and since Nigeria is our country, this was a trip that was really dear to my heart.
My intention was to stay for at least 4 weeks. This will also be the shortest stay ever. My other two previous visits lasted 2 months each. Have you ever been home and stayed so long to hear people gossip that you are now stranded or that your visa has expired? You may not hear this one but some people may have suggested in private that you have been deported. Your glory is that you have bought a return ticket that your family may not even know about.
Anyway sha… we reached Lagos after flying 6 hours on the connecting flight from Frankfurt with my good childhood friend Okechukwu Okafor. I started the journey from Stockholm-Arlanda. Oke joined me at Frankfurt. It is very usual that we go home together except that he goes home annually and has been living in Germany for more than 10 years.
We arrived in Lagos at the near peak of the fuel scarcity on 15th December. It was also during this period that armed robbers intensified their scary activities. Apparently, they have been on the loose for a long time and what I’d read online before embarking on this trip was nothing close to the real situation. To be on ground and witness these things was even more dreadful. There is always something happening on a daily basis: the threat that armed robbers posses will always make you look behind everywhere you go, day or night.
I have read about the raid on the Ladipo area of Mushin that lasted several hours. I was only a few days shy of the robbery at Alaba international market that also lasted several hours. However, I was sitting in a car with a friend, driving along 24 Road, Festac Town when a live phone call informed us that a robbery is on at Flour Mill area of Apapa. The girl that called abandoned her car only to come back to see corpses all around the place. Few days after I left Lagos, one of my very close friends in Festac (Ogbo Chris) woke up in the Hospital after he had been attacked and shot at close range by armed robbers who initially posed as Policemen. He wrote to me from his Hospital Bed in Igbobi.
As I was saying: There was no drop of fuel at the gas stations but the black market opposite TEXACO on 22 Road was selling fast. I will never understand how ordinary teenage boys can have petrol to sell on a street that is just less than 20 meters away from a TEXACO filling station. It is not possible to understand many things in Nigeria. The more you see, the less you understand.
The nights are always dark. Electricity supply was at an all time low. I had been misled by a friend on yahoo chat. Perhaps trying to impress me that things are better with power supply, Foluso gave me a false impression of the situation. Power supply in Festac Town last Christmas cannot be described as epileptic; it was something far worse than that.
There was no way our noisy generator could help us. We didn’t have fuel to run it. The fuel in the car was fast running out too after my double trips to Tejuosho market at Ojuelegba. What if my dad had not given me back the car fully tanked? Anyway, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the black market concept. It was obvious that I cannot run the car on my bio-urine.
It was also impossible to drive from around 7:30pm. The oncoming cars all had full lights and I get blinded all the time. You can tell that I am not used to Lagos driving because in most places, there are no signs, no road marks, no lanes and no speed limits. It took about 3 days to get in the rough mood of Lagos drivers but still I was scared to my marrows. It was almost useless looking in my mirrors or using signals for change of lanes. Who is looking at your signals? For Lagos!? I thought we were all involved in car racing competition without umpires.
My entire encounters were not palatable. Once I spent 4½ hours on the queue to buy petrol at a gas station. It didn’t help that I woke up at 6am. This was the day that I sat in my car and wept loud like a baby. I wept for Nigeria. I was alone and there was no chance of consolations. I will never forget. I got home later that day and received a phone call from Sweden. My Swedish family wanted to know if I was alright. Unknown to me but very well known to them, there had been a pipeline explosion in Lagos! It was impossible to follow the news since there was no power supply.
That night, as a result of my luck at the gas station (after spending more than 4 hours), we had fuel in the car and in a 10litre keg. So, for the first time in about 10 days, we powered the generator and listened to the news. It was at that point that I saw images from the explosion as shown on CHANNELS Television.
Another thing that struck me last Christmas was the high cost of everything. How do people sustain and maintain with their salaries? It beats my imagination. People now pay more for everything including transport, houses and food. On the contrary, the standard of living has continued on a sharp decline.
It is also of concern that there are several gathering spots for young cultists or gangs. A lot of young people now smoke and drink dangerously, and openly too. No more hiding. When did this mess become a part of our accepted or acquired culture in Nigeria? I couldn’t believe my eyes with all that I saw. What I saw in Festac Town and Lagos State were eyesores of unimaginable magnitudes. They probably depicted the larger society and how hopelessness has crept into the existence of many. People live now like there is no governance in Nigeria. They have speedily lost faith in the system that should protect and care for them.
Imagine that the pipeline explosion victims are mainly poor people scooping petrol illegally. They are aware that there have been past deadly incidents, they know the risk but they also thought scooping was worth dying for. This is the level that the value of the Nigerian life has depreciated to. Almost nothing!
There is another question on my mind. In Nigeria, who is taking care of what? In less than 2 weeks, I began to wonder if this is the same place that I’d been educated and lived for 29 years until the end of 2001. Of course, life wasn’t a bed of roses for me. It was very hard to get through school financially. It was not easy either getting food on the table. For me and millions of Nigerians, it has always been a life of hard struggle but I’d never imagined that it will not get better for us as a people and country.
The climax of my worries was when I took ill. I was knocked down by diarrhoea. I cannot tell if it was from the suya that I ate or from the bottled water that I drank or a combination of both. But it was a serious illness and I was leaning fast in a matter of hours. Lepa like me. What luck that there was a pharmacist in the house where I bunked! Sometimes it is good when a house is sublet with different kinds of tenants in all angles of the house. You will end up with different combination of accomplished Nigerians, each in his/her own way. I was in the BQ. The Pharmacist became my friend and he took me round chemists (Nigerian name for medicine stores) that opened during the yuletide.
It was difficult to cope again with the tempo and struggles of life for the yuletide season that I came back to. It took more than 6 months to prepare for this trip to Lagos but it didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to see my family in Sweden again. With a 100 Euro bill, my return trip date was recoiled. I landed in Stockholm again on the early morning of 30th December 2006.
A new chapter had since emerged in the life of Nigeria. Nigerians have placed their new found hope on a government that has serious problem of legitimacy. The resilient people of Nigeria have been made to “do-or-die” with the worst election in human history. They are anxiously waiting for manna from heaven but they need a quick reminder that heaven help those who help themselves.
May the Glory of Nigeria come, soon!