Here’s Big City Living, a ten-part series where people who lived their childhood in small rustic towns share their experience of moving to big cities in adulthood. It’s something a lot of our parents did, something a lot of us are now doing.
Phidelia, a communications manager with a non-profit who moved from Benin City to Lagos, shares her story with us.
I grew up in Benin City, Edo State, where I spent the first twenty years of my life. My childhood was very sheltered. My siblings and I were not allowed to go out much, so I didn’t experience my city fully until I left home for uni. My childhood still managed to be fun though. I attended good schools, had fun friends at school, and lived a middle-class life. Oh, I went to boarding school in JSS2 and those remaining five years of secondary school were not funny at all. There was a bullying culture in my school, and I went through it. Thankfully, I came out sane. Or did I?
When I was maybe 13 or 14 I visited Lagos. I remember I flew in with my parents and younger sister for the weekend. It was also my first time on a plane, so major milestones. I had visited Lagos a few times before then but they were road trips, and we didn’t exactly explore the city. This time though, we drove around and even visited the barbeach. Also, my first time at the beach. It was a breathtaking experience.
I schooled in Benson Idahosa University, a private Christian university in Benin City. I’m not sure why I did not aspire to leave Benin City at the time – maybe I was scared to be too far from home on my own. But at least, it gave me the chance to explore my city. And I did. Benin is a very different place when you’re not a sheltered kid living with mum and dad. I got to experience the hip side of the city as well as the night life.
Adulting and moving to Lagos
I returned home after University and was at home for eight months while waiting to be mobilized for NYSC. I got posted to Ibadan which is almost as under developed as Benin City. So apart from everyone assuming I could speak Yoruba, and getting upset when they realized I couldn’t, I felt at home there. It was a calm and quiet one year. I visited Lagos a few times, for leisure at first, and eventually for job interviews.
Towards the end of my NYSC year, it occurred to me that there was no going back to Benin. See, Benin is not exactly the land of opportunity. It’s either you’re a receptionist, a banker, a government worker or a bouncer at a club. I exaggerate, but, the opportunities there are few. It was also not an option to go back, after spending twenty years there already. I needed to live in a new city, a breath of fresh air, and somewhere with many opportunities. Staying in Ibadan was also not an option because it felt too similar to Benin City.
My choices were Abuja or Lagos. Three months to the end of my NYSC, I got a job offer from a financial services company in Lagos. This made it easier to choose. A couple of weeks after NYSC ended, a month before my 21st birthday, I moved to Lagos with my sisters.
When we were house-hunting before moving to Lagos I realized this place was different. In Benin and in Ibadan, housing is relatively inexpensive. In Lagos, you get the s***tiest apartments at exorbitant prices. The difference in cost between an upscale 3-bedrom flat in Benin or Ibadan, and in Lagos is scary. Most of my savings go into rent and I still am not living in my ‘ideal’ apartment.
We rented a flat at Ajah so home itself was comfortable. However, living at Ajah was a disaster as my office was at Marina. The daily commute was soul crushing.
Okay, so how has Lagos been so far?
I think the most shocking thing for me was the traffic. There’s not much traffic in Benin or Ibadan. I was lucky enough to secure a job before I moved to Lagos, so I didn’t have a job hunt phase. To get to my job at Marina before 8 AM I had to wake up by 5 AM. See, I love sleeping a lot, so that was depressing for me. I was also using public transportation and the transport system in Lagos is royally f***ed up. On some days, people would push and scratch at others to get a seat in a rickety bus. The pace of life in Lagos is also way faster than I was used to. Everyone seemed to always be in a hurry, and it felt like I would never catch up. Another thing was my salary was little compared to my living costs, so I still got support from my dad. Eventually promotions led to pay raises and I could somewhat sustain myself.
Lagos and Benin, what’s the difference?
The major difference between Lagos and Benin or Ibadan is the pace of life, and this can both be bad or good. I like how ‘mega’ Lagos is because there’s always something fun to do – arcades, restaurant hopping, clubs, kayaking, going to the beach, etc. This is unlike Benin or Ibadan where it was always a struggle to find something interesting to do. But this fast-paced city gets mentally draining a lot of times, and I find myself craving the peace and calm of Ibadan.
Another great aspect of Lagos is the prospect of endless opportunities. Lagos is a land of opportunities, and the hustle capital of Nigeria.
I have definitely become more social, intelligent, street savvy, independent and interesting. Lagos has allowed me to access people and spaces who have made me a better and smarter person ultimately. I grew up.
And has Lagos been worth it?
Yes, it has. I may not have gotten the opportunities I got here back home in Benin. I probably would still be living at home, and not know a thing about adulting. Adulting has been painful, strenuous and difficult, but it has made me a more responsible human being.
But I also don’t intend to live in Lagos longer than six or seven years. Like I said, the fast pace is mentally exhausting sometimes. In a few years, I plan to move to a city that will offer me both the opportunities and excitement of Lagos, and the serenity of Ibadan. Maybe Accra, or Abuja. We’ll see.
If you enjoyed reading Phidelia’s story, catch up on Samsudeen’s Big City Living experience HERE.