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Mnena: Lagos Asked Me To Leave… So I Packed My Things

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It was the last day of my life in Lagos. I make it sound like I am writing this from beyond the grave, but I just mean that I moved. What else do you do when you feel a city doesn’t want you anymore? The next morning I was going to get on a 6.25am flight to London. But that morning I stepped out of my little flat (one of four in a building) and under the leaky communal tap in front of the house was shit. Human defecation. Someone had squatted down and probably holding the tap as support, had strained out soft round brown pellets of what was unmistakably shit.

By this time, I’d been back to Lagos for two years and I had seen things. Like a mentally ill woman who crouched in front of the stalls at Ikeja Under Bridge, in full view and began to shit. She was interrupted by a female trader whacking her across the back with a mighty stick. Shit at my doorstep was nothing, I kept moving. Such is the unpredictability of Lagos.

You go to sleep one night and when you wake up the following morning, some figurative shit has happened. Some people revel in this – I abhor the chaos.

But can I take you back and start my story about my last day from the top? 12 am. I’m in my flat on the ground floor. Little mercies, there is light. I’m trying to run out what’s left of my data by streaming How to Get Away With Murder. And then I hear voices. Rising and falling from the school behind the house, they give praises to their Lord on High. They sang, begged, clapped and drummed. Whenever I’d think they’d ended, when I’d start to marvel about how cute the tip of Wes’ nose is, the voices would rise again. At the 2.35am mark, I’d had it up to here. I put on some clothes, slipped my feet into bathroom slippers and I was READY. I was going to walk into their gathering, righteously shouting at them, at their selfishness. I would tell them that they are meant to be a religion of generosity – at what point did they turn into one that did not care how their actions inconvenience others? When the chill night air touched my skin, I remembered how dangerous it was walking the streets of Lagos at 3am, who knows what could happen. I’d be a story on social media and I still hadn’t quite gotten the perfect modelesque selfie which would serve as my mourning picture on people’s DPs.

Instead I walked to the back of the house and stared venomously and impotently at the lit glass window with pictures of cut out animals stuck to it. I stepped back inside, kicked off my slippers and continued wondering why Annaliese walks sloping to the side.
Nigeria is hard, Lagos especially. No matter what the slick Channel 4 documentaries show you, it is a punishing place. We know it’s bad, but maybe majority of us don’t realise just how bad we have it.

David Foster Wallace, a writer, started a commencement address with this story:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” He went on to explain that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. ” Maybe we accept and live with the mess that is Nigeria because this is all we know. It is our norm. We think we are powerless to fix it so we look to the highest power we know to reach down and lift us out of our problems – money God.

Growing up in Lagos, I don’t recall churches being so yanfu-yanfu ubiquitous in residential areas . Now any building can be converted into a place of worship, even a school. As the quality of our lives deteriorated, as incomes shrunk, people flocked to churches. Supply follows demand. A single stretch of road can have six churches on it, some from the same church body. Churches even increased the number and variety of services it held – like a shop increasing its opening times. A recent theory, proposes that countries with a greater degree of economic uncertainty tend to have higher rates of religious observance.”Societies where people’s daily lives are shaped by the threat of poverty, disease, and premature death remain as religious today as centuries earlier.” If our roads, hospitals, schools, electricity all worked, if we weren’t mini governments in our own compounds providing these things for ourselves, would we still spend all night singing?

***
“You know it may be someone unhappy with the landlord” my cousin said. It was getting to noon, I was in her living room sipping on some chilled zobo and discussing suspects in Doo-Doogate. She continued “The house behind mine, the tenants had been having problems with the landlord. When they left they smeared shit all over the walls” Now that’s some dedication, that’s Lagos. My sister joined us soon after and we flitted from topic to topic: friends who visit you but end up staying for 19 months, the evergreen topic of poor customer service and unavoidably, the difficulty of people’s lives in Nigeria. “On the radio, there was a man who was angry with his friend for not wanting to work where he did. He worked loading bags of pure water into trucks. He had to load 2000 bags a day. And was being paid N1.00 per bag.” I sometimes wonder why the poor haven’t banded together in anger and overrun the more well off . I keep expecting it to happen. Maybe we haven’t imploded yet because they don’t know what their lives can and should be. That they can earn more, be better educated and live better lives. You can never know what is possible if you’re not shown it or discover it. And if you’re busy just trying to survive, when you’re just trying to get some certainty in your life, what headspace do you have to see what is possible? When can they pause and wonder about the water they’re swimming in and what happens when they decide that just surviving is not enough?

***
It was late afternoon when my sister and I left for a friend’s child’s party in Gbagada. At the party, we walked past beggars standing by the house gate, attracted by the loud party music and the possibilities. Another of our cousins was at the party. I hadn’t seen him in years. Over the last two, he’d been working on a documentary about one of the mainstays of Tiv culture: Kwagh-hir. Kwagh-hir is a piece of musical puppet theatre, you have to see it to understand it. Growing up, I used to watch it on NTA in the 80s. It is a creative swirl of storytelling, dancing, carpentry, costumes and tiv music. My cousin had to travel deep into Tivland to find people who would be able to stage the original show. Over the blaring music, seated at a table spilling with food, cake, balloons, wine, soft drinks and hard drinks, he told me about his experience.

“Mnena, I saw people, you know those people when they say [Nigerians] live on less than a $1 a day.” He twisted his lips and shook his head like he had swallowed something bitter. “Those people aren’t you and I.” He talked about taking the almost finished documentary to the Benue state government for support. A state commissioner said would never take on the project because of who his father was. A piece of my culture wouldn’t be shown to the world because of a personal gripe. Is this how ideas and dreams die a death on the carpeted floor of government offices? I asked him if he felt Nigeria was getting better. He thought for a bit, not looking at me, the pulsing beat of a song standing in the silence and he slowly said “yes”. His roommate likened Nigeria to an elephant. It takes an elephant eons to turn, placing one foot after the next before facing the way he has chosen to go.
It was night when I left the party. I got a danfo to Ikeja Along and got into a car which took byzantine liberties to avoid the traffic. I slept without interruption.

***
It was 4am: time to catch my flight. I went to the gateman’s small room at the back of the house and it was cleared out. Only a calendar left on the wall. It was a dire room, unpainted walls with just enough space to fit in a small bed and not much else. Like a prison cell. The landlord must have made good on his monthly threats to sack him. Maybe, like the tenants who smeared shit on the walls, feeling powerless with no other way of voicing his pain, the gateman had left pieces of himself by the tap.

At the airport, my taxi was stopped by the lone soldier on duty, the light of passing cars illuminating our encounter. I was told to bring down my boxes for a search. I placed them on the ground and zipped them open. I was then told to lift items out and into the air -so he could see what was under. I squatted, holding my belongings for every passing car to see. The taxi driver protested and for his efforts got threatened with arrest. You don’t argue with the man with the gun – you beg. You cajole, you placate. Sooner or later we all beg in Nigeria. We will beg God, government officials, party throwers and soldiers high on the little power they’ve been given. He let us go. I closed my boxes and got back into the car. The city was telling me to go – and I left.

Photo Credit: Isaiahlove | Dreamstime.com

Mnena hates quirky things and can't come up with a bio. In any case, here are the basics. Writer. Lover of Small Chops. Fan of Hadley Freeman. Visit her website: Mnena.com  and follow her on Twitter @mnena

42 Comments

  1. Sonia Paloma

    September 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I had to skip that your description of the shi*t part lol. Like hot dam*, how disgusting
    Reason I said the moving back home series was too vague.
    Great write up and it will be appreciated if you can go into more details of the struggles you encountered when you moved back and what the last straw was for you

    • Mnena

      September 1, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Hi Sonia, thanks for reading and sorry about all the shit descriptions loll. I eventually moved back to England because I needed a job and it is easier hunting for one in the abroad. I got one a month after I got here. The decision to move back was made much easier because of the things I said in the article. I’ve also written articles on BN about bad employers, difficulty renting as a single woman and also street harassment. All culminated into the last straw.

    • Tee

      September 1, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks for the article,.. “Growing up in Lagos, I don’t recall churches being so yanfu-yanfu ubiquitous in residential areas . Now any building can be converted into a place of worship, even a school. As the quality of our lives deteriorated, as incomes shrunk, people flocked to churches. Supply follows demand. A single stretch of road can have six churches on it, some from the same church body. Churches even increased the number and variety of services it held – like a shop increasing its opening times.”

      Even with the Lagos environmental laws they continue to constitute nuisance in neighborhood, same on the trains they make journeys unpleasant with so much ranting they are not law abiding. it is bordering on fanaticism and extremism now.
      what ever happens to ‘ LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF, they make so much noise day and night shouting and screaming into loudspeakers, it so absurd even on my street there is 9 within 250mtr of each other its working distance , Nigeria has the most churches per square mile in the world but you look around what do you see , wickedness , selfishness evil and most of all manipulation on grand scale. Most people purport to christian but do not understand the doctrine. we celebrate falsehood now everyone and anyone want to be pastor/prophet/prophetess . We loose so much man hours in these places of ‘worship’ which could have been put to good use to develop human capital which we have in abundance, The white people that gave us the religion used it to as basis for their laws and it has help them have a stable and thriving nation that is why many people are dying to go there. Their laws protects everybody no matter your status in society. To those saying enough of complain well you all know the solution but don’t want to change the status quo, Only social justice and good governance can help us not religion. I wish you good luck in your new job and peace ! thanks for sharing.

    • Weezy

      September 1, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      I agree with Sonia. To be honest, no one is following your writing in particular, so were not necessarily going to remember something else you wrote last month and put it together with this.

      You should definitely do a counterpoint to the move back to Nigeria series. You write well, and it would be good.

  2. neka

    September 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Nice article but……. we know the issues, proffer solutions not complain!

    • Nahum

      September 1, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      I can’t stand people like you!!! Someone is speaking the truth and like a rabbit, you shout “proffer solutions not complain”. You are what is wrong with Nigeria!! You know the issues but you are happy living with them. Instead of allowing us to discuss them, you want to shut the writer up. You too, “proffer” your own solutions na!!! Afi “proffer” ko!! Shior!!

    • hmm...hmm..

      September 1, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      Your response is a bit harsh and unwarranted, The person did not say they are happy with the conditions in which they reside, they are asking for solutions. They may not be exposed to life abroad, and may be looking into insight.

      That is what bothered me about this write up, it was easy to say, Nigeria told me to go and I left. What about those with no options to leave anywhere? For some it is simple, for others it is not. In the end, the writer and many others like herself should be thankful that they have the option to “leave.”

      I was discussing with my husband how it is funny how things are right now, Just a few years ago when America was going through economic crisis, many Nigerian Americans were crying that they needed to leave, and they did, they went waves to NIGERIA!!! In search of opportunity, profit, growth because they had that OPTION!! Now Nigeria is going through their own recession, but Nigerians don’t have that option to just leave and look for opportunity. They have to stick with it. Man life.

      I am unsure about how it is in the UK, but in the USA, the benefits that many black foreigners benefit from, are not only from our hard work but those we are distant relatives of (the enslaved Africans).

      Overall interesting write up, I enjoyed parts of it, but way too simplified.
      Anyways it is what it is.

    • Huh Nahum

      September 3, 2016 at 12:29 am

      Why are you bitter? You can state your point without the insults.

    • Mnena

      September 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Hi neka, thanks for reading. At this stage, I truly believe that whatever solutions anyone proffers will not work in naija because mentally we aren’t there yet.

      We are a hyper individualistic entity. Every man for himself. We need to change me and mine to Us. This attitude is everywhere, even when sharing small chops in the office 🙂

      We also don’t know how to behave in a democratic setting. We don’t know our rights. If your road is bad, who do you hold responsible? How do we get them to fix it? We don’t realise that the highest office in the land is the office of the citizen.

      Those are my “solutions” I guess -change the way we think and know that we are above any politician we put into that office.

    • Icrossmyheart

      September 1, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      I have yo disagree with you there where you mentioned we are not mentally there. It takes a visitor to let you know that your house is smelling. Diaspora Nigerians have a greater role than they think to help develop Nigeria because of their varied experiences abroad. I lived outside Nigeria for more than two decades. I came back to serve and i know the difficulties in helping to develop a place. But it is not that we are not mentally there but that most people which is the masses do not know any better. People are averse to change. It is natural. But small steps will eventually lead to big strides. I believe strongly that this our nation will be great if it is noy already great. There are many cracks, but if we continue to spew negativities and cast negative aspersions, these cracks will never be mended.

      Nigeria is great nation. I do not care about how many negative comments i read here or on other naija blogs. I love Nigeria. May God bless Nigeria.

    • Manny

      September 1, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Great write-up Mnena. I really enjoyed reading it. The shit part though.

      “I sometimes wonder why the poor haven’t banded together in anger and overrun the more well off .” I wonder too – all the time. What makes Nigerians so complacent about things? We rant and rant and it’s back to business as usual.

      Your cousin was partially right – Nigeria is getting better …. at the pace of a snail.

    • The Land is Green

      September 2, 2016 at 12:01 am

      You are only saying this because you have an option, trust me I would say the same. Having an Option is a beautiful thing. When you have no choice you would make things work.. Nigeria is not a hopeless case and I wish you well.

  3. similicious

    September 1, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    This is such an apt article and i enjoyed reading it. Wishing you the best in your sojourn out of Lagos.

  4. Toluwalope

    September 1, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Very beautiful write up??

  5. Grace

    September 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    LMAO @ “I still hadn’t quite gotten the perfect modelesque selfie which would serve as my mourning picture on people’s DPs. “

  6. Thelma

    September 1, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Dear Mnena, you’re a beautiful storyteller, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. I moved from London 3 years ago and whilst my husband has cushioned the worst of the vagaries of living in Lagos, there are days when like you, I want to pack up my bags and flee back to civilisation. Hope you find better fortunes in London

  7. ElessarisElendil

    September 1, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    So much shit in this. Luckily I haven’t seen human shit since boarding school.

    Few observations:

    1. “soft round brown pellets of what was unmistakably shit.”??????I will never forget this line, but is human shit round? strikes me more as goat shit, human shit= cylindrical, occasionally spherical and in some unhealthy cases, like a black bamboo. But round………that’s mutant shit.

    2. “streaming How to Get Away With Murder.”: without headsets……pssh rookie move.

    3. “A single stretch of road can have six churches on it, some from the same church body.”: Redeemed Christian Church of God, passing along your shade.

    4. “At the airport, my taxi was stopped by the lone soldier on duty,”: This was the part I concluded that yes, Lagos doesn’t like you very much. The odds…………..

    Enjoy London, don’t forget to remit your sweet sweet sterling occasionally.

    • Ello Bae

      September 1, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      I have read your comments on other post and one thing I have noticed from all of them is that you are a sad person. Your vibe is so negative and quite depressing. Open your heart to love and life. One cannot live like this forever.

    • darkling

      September 1, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      I don’t mean to be rude but, you are remarkably stunt in your thinking. You read all this and perceive “sad”? I pray for you. Please learn or at least attempt to learn the humour and messages in posts like this instead of making unwarranted opinions. Next!

    • ElessarisElendil

      September 2, 2016 at 1:10 am

      ????Ello Bae……………..from the other side?

      Deeply sorry for depressing you, I no mean am. Thought everybody found shit funny???

      “One cannot live like this forever.”, All men die, must be quite sad thinking you’ll live forever.

      I’ll look out for your positive vibes.

  8. Baby gurl

    September 1, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I got so emotional reading this. I know how heart gutting it is to build hopes as high as to the heavens and have them shattered by factors beyond your control. I guess you believed in Lagos but Lagos did not believe in you. And it’s funny. IJGB and Abuja was my first stop. After 3 months testing the waters in Abuja I’m ready to move to Lagos to grab my own “share”. I mean, hustle lol. I know it won’t be easy mahn but I hope I get to reach my dreams Inshallah. Goodluck with your future plans Mnena I really really hope and pray that you achieve your goals and live your dreams greater than you even imagine. To @neka up there ? calmest down, life is bright and fair!!

    • Mnena

      September 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks a lot Baby gurl. Funny enough, when I moved back I was in Abuja as well. Lagos, has more and in some cases better jobs though. I wish you the best with your dreams. Please don’t be discouraged, no matter what.

  9. Buttercup

    September 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    We already know the many problems of Nigeria, we talk/rant/complain/groan about it every day. We need solutions not people who pack up and leave or people who just talk about it. So I agree with @neka, we need solutions

  10. Asa

    September 1, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    I am not even an IJGB and Lagos chased me away too, back to Abuja. Yes, the suffer was too much, but it was my landlord that definitely made me know it was time, 7 days after rent was due, he knocked at my place with the gateman and removed everything I hadn’t already packed outside the room. I squatted for about 6 months more with a friend then I left. The End!

  11. Jennie

    September 1, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Nice article,but pls I need tutoring is left us go d right thing instead of let us go.No insults pls seeing DT for d first time.

  12. Dike

    September 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I like ur write up, u should be a novelist. Ur choice of words are excellent

  13. Olayemi

    September 1, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Me, I have stopped complaining. Instead of snowballing into depression, I have decided to find a way through it, until I can pack my load finally. Lol

  14. Jagbajantis

    September 1, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    “I stepped back inside, kicked off my slippers and continued wondering why Annaliese walks sloping to the side.”

    This part had me laughing out more than I should. It is the Annaliese slant.

    The part in that series that got me was when Annaliese got home distraught about her husband, and started wiping off all her make-up and took off her wig. She looked like a Nigerian native woman

  15. Angel

    September 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Heyyyy Mmena i think i know your cousin T. I hope I’m right. Lol

    • NaijaPikin

      September 2, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Yes you are right. Anyone who’s met TMknows how passionate he was about the documentary.

  16. Atebodi Mosi Aisoni

    September 1, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Mnena my TEEVi neighbour in yoruBA TONGUE. The story was great & funny. I wished u wud hv talked pix of the Shit self . A selfie wit be nice though. Hastag #SHIThappENS. U see my sister i did verification exercise 4 LGA workers in one of north eastern state and i one of LGA worker i verified altered her date of birth,when she was supposely older. I asked she told me with a straight everybody doing it and that all nigerian r corrupt. She does stay in the LGA. She lives in Abuja. Nigerian have no conscience. Yet they can answer church service,all night, fasting and spiritual activity. GOD go just dey look. Him go ask you WHO U EPP in Olamide style. MEN! Like i should have slapped her in my mind . Mnena i had a Nation break not heartbreak it pained me like what the hell. The mentality is an issue. Nigerian love the help story even when its not justifiable. You hear just help me. If you ain’t helping you wicked. IT IS WELL. Pls say amen. How löndon doing u.

  17. darlingoma

    September 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Mnena, if i could so easily leave i would have a long time ago too and trust me, me and alot of other frustrated Nigerians are still trying to get out. I totally agree with you, you cannot drink panadol for another persons headache a beg. Is it not a country open to change that can he changed? We all have yo change our mindsets and thinking individually for us to see progress. Till then, sai gwobe

  18. Obinna

    September 2, 2016 at 12:48 am

    I loved reading your article! I was almost screaming pls dont leave.. Lol. I absolutely do think Nigeria would get better- a lot of promising ppl in the younger generation; the problem is, most r waiting for that chance… Somethings r not given, its taken!

  19. Moyo

    September 2, 2016 at 3:40 am

    This was such a great article. so descriptive!! Chimamanda in the works. Was your major creative writing?

    • Cutie Toxie

      September 5, 2016 at 7:33 am

      She is a Farafina Creative Writing Workshop Alumni. Makes sense.

  20. Tina

    September 2, 2016 at 3:57 am

    how sad! my dream is to move back and be settled in Nigeria one day.

  21. The Bull

    September 2, 2016 at 6:07 am

    I cannot believe that someone is even arguing that the first step to changing Nigeria is changing our mentality, there are many Nigerians that will support a looting politician, as long as he is from the same tribe or religion with them. Many Nigerians that do not want the country to get better, they just want to be immune to our problems, and you can achieve this by making money.

    Apart from the people let us look at the old leaders that cling to power, leaders cut of from current realities.
    I can never blame anyone for leaving Nigeria. life is to short, for all the suffer head.

  22. Femi

    September 2, 2016 at 9:27 am

    I laughed so hard. Mnena.. i love it! Very descriptive and actually leaves me with something to ponder upon. beautiful!

  23. seamless

    September 2, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Great write up Mnena. You write exceptionally well…
    I just went to your site and i can assure you its something I will book mark to read more of in the future. I don’t know Lagos very well and I have a certain terror of the place thanks to the horror stories I have heard, but I grew up in the North where things are different and where the simplicity of life can be beautifully peaceful. Nigeria hasn’t shown us the best of itself yet because we aren’t willing as its citizens to show the best of ourselves. we are always waiting for someone to do what is right ad justifying our wrong living and thinking on other people’s actions. We will get there..it might be a slow pace, but Nigeria will be a place where people from developed countries will flock to soon enough….Cheers!

    • Mr.A

      September 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      You said it all.

    • Mnena

      September 2, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      “Nigeria hasn’t shown us the best of itself yet because we aren’t willing as its citizens to show the best of ourselves. ” Exactly.

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