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.
Olushola, a non-basic introverted extrovert in her 30s, shares her story moving around Nigeria and finally settling in Lagos, with us.
Growing Up in Osogbo
I prefer to say I grew up in Nigeria. I grew up in Osun State, I grew up in Kogi, I grew up in Warri, Jos, Lagos, then my secondary school in Ogun State.
I was born in Osun, Osogbo. The only year I think I can remember at that stage was when I was four. It was pretty awesome. My mum worked in a school for some time, so I’d always go to school with her. I remember liking cold places. I would always sleep on the floor. On the TV, there was always this program playing, it was called Arelu. The intro had flute playing, and for some reason, because they had this deep herbalist thing going on—it had Abija, Orisabunmi, all of those funny people—whenever I heard the flute playing I’d legit run behind the chair. It was scary. And behind the chair was always cold, so I’d sleep there. It became sort of like my comfort place. All this was on OSBC.
I don’t remember much from Osogbo itself because, as a child, I was always in my head, imagining things. All I remember is it was always fun when it was raining. It seemed then that adults were more fun.
Moving to Ajaokuta
From Osogbo we moved to Kogi, Ajaokuta. I remember there were lots of white people around—well, not white people exactly, but Indians, Asians, Russians and stuff. So it was always fun. Because my mum was selling stuff, you’d always have people around. What we had was a bar kind of thing, and people would come over, buy drinks. Back then 33 was the stuff.
There was always light in Kogi. I’d sit and watch cartoons, watch Michael Jackson on TV, listen to Abba. It was an estate, so everything was very insulated. It was a laid back environment, everyone going for strolls in the evening. There was a spot for indoor tennis, badminton, so life there was pretty chilled, laid back, no stress. If you wanted an almond fruit you plucked it from the trees; if you wanted a mango you plucked it from the trees. Back then there was nothing like video games, so if we were playing we played with counters. We played suwe; I watched my mum bake. Things were super cheap, and you weren’t afraid of your next-door neighbor being a pedophile. Everyone knew everyone. Things were super chill.
Back to Osogbo
Things were pretty much the same way they were in Kogi State. It was a company camp—a company estate. Only this time around there were no white people, no Indians, no Asians. I mean, there were a handful of them. You could count them. There was the clubhouse, and it wasn’t meant for adults alone. You could go there to play badminton, have your suya, have your drink.
School in Osogbo was awesome. It was there that I got to know kids who would come to school with no notebooks, no socks, and they’d end up at the top of the class. The school was inside the estate, but people who weren’t a part of the community were allowed to attend the school. We walked home from school, and along the road we’d actually pluck things from trees. You could stop by someone’s home on your way from school and they’d call your parents who would have no fear that someone was trying to kidnap you.
The school in Kogi was pretty much the same, secluded inside the estate. But Ajaokuta was much calmer, as opposed to Osogbo that was quite rowdy. The way Osogbo people shouted was way different from Ajaokuta. Ajaokuta people were calm, you know, calm with the way they handled things, not going around shouting like you had in Osogbo. We were in Osogbo for may two, three years, then we moved to Delta State.
Off to Warri
Here was basically the same camp—let’s call it a camp. It was the same company. The school had more people. Outsiders were allowed to come in. There was a bit of culture shock for me, because you’d see a young person speaking pidgin. I was like, What? You were supposed to speak proper English, or at least your dialect. But here the norm was people speaking pidgin. I was like, Oh wow. Vernacular. Seeing a young person, someone my age, speaking pidgin, that was something. But after we settled in, and I saw that on the TV they were speaking pidgin—after they give you the news in English, they’d give you in pidgin, and maybe in Itsekiri as well—that kind of got me into watching the news. I thought, Oh wow, this is interesting.
I found that in Warri the students were more corrupt. Perhaps it was because I was growing older, but they were more daring. They would rather fap something than ask. And I remember seeing a kid eat bread with toothpaste. This was also the first time I saw an airport, the first time I flew a plane. It was a pretty small plane, but it was a nice experience. Warri people take pride in their royalty, and getting to see that, see the Olu of Warri, was interesting.
Big City Lagos, Finally
This was my first experience as a child in a big city. Initially, I’d visited with my siblings and folks to see my cousins. But we were always locked up, staying inside the house to play games. This time, it was different because I got to enjoy traffic. It was like, My God, what is this? Everyone was there, stuck and sweating. And I realized, too, that people were generally not okay. It was in Lagos I realized that people were not okay. People are not as sane as you think they are. You see people shouting, see people driving and saying, Waka. All of it was pretty shocking, and I’d think, Why can’t you be civil? The places I was coming from, there was respect, there was civility. To enter another person’s lane, you could say good morning and they’d let you in. But in Lagos they’d abuse you, almost try to push you off the road. And I think it’s been getting worse to the way it is right now.
I also experienced going to school. I was staying in Ketu, and having to go all the way to Isolo. Traffic was especially terrible on Tuesdays. Aswani Market. But, for me, I found Aswani Market fun. You’d have people buying and selling, and the car literally trying to squeeze through the road. Everyone would have their wares on the road, and pedestrians would take up even more space, insulting drivers, Ahnhan you no fit see? It was in Lagos that I realized that people don’t run from cars.
It was also in Lagos that I learned that just because someone is your parent doesn’t mean they have to take care of you. Because some of the girls in class would come to school with different marks on their body. Or they’d come and say they didn’t eat the previous night. Or their fathers didn’t give them money for food. I also got to partake in real life experiences in Lagos. This was also when we had cultural day in school, and I got to use the Abacha stove for the first and only time.
Life in Jos
Jos was awesome. We stayed on Zaria Road, on your way out of Jos. It was pretty big and nature was just awesome. I fell in love with the weather. It was always cold, different types of noises, like someone was whispering to you through the wind. It was my first time tasting strawberry. In Jos you had different fruits, different vegetables, so I got access to a lot of things I’d only read about in storybooks and seen in cartoons. Jos exposed me to a lot of things. There was this place where we played arcade games. We’d stand around waiting our turn, asking for codes to do one kick, one punch, beat one boss.
Rustic Town Ilesha
Here, you’d have people entering buses and greeting everyone inside. (I tried this in Lagos when I first arrived, but I soon learned I was wasting my time.) Then I got to realize that traditionalists existed. The way they would dress, their regalia and all. One thing I regret is never going to the Osun Osogbo Grove.
Compared to when I was a child, you could tell that the place was now more civilized. People would try to show their agidi Lagos, but it just wasn’t there. They had that Everybody wanna be funky vibe, especially the young people. People in Lagos have I just got back, but over there, what they have is I just got back from Lagos. People would go to polytechnics, and when they returned they’d be feeling like, I have arrived.
I’d say, in Ilesha, everyone was nosy. Everyone was in your face. No one minded their business. They felt they could tell you what to do, how to live your life. You’d give a driver money with your left hand and he’d school you through the entire trip that you don’t do things like that, that it’s an insult.
Uni in Ado Ekiti
Ado Ekiti was uni. Moving to uni was a big deal. In Ado, everyone was like, Hi, I’m out here, notice me. There, for some reason, gold was in, so you’d see them using two or three pendants. That was like a shock for me. Coming from where I came from, it was okay to be normal. It was okay to not show that you had money. But here, you had to show off. People bought with their last card gold pendants and expensive shoes. The idea was, I can dress like a Lagos person.
I was spending most of my time in Ado, but I traveled to Lagos and Osun occasionally. I’d travel to Lagos to buy Big Treat cake, sponge cake, and return to Lagos on the same day. The journey was four-hours go, four come. I was also selling rommanel gold, so I’d travel to Lagos to buy some earrings, pendants, chains, and sell to those who could not afford to buy real gold in Ado.
Abuja and One Chance
Abuja was different. I was serving there, and for me, considering the places I was coming from, and experiencing Lagos, I’d believed Abuja would be madder. But getting there, I saw that it was like a mash up of all the places I’d been and Lagos. So it was quiet but it was urbane. You’d have the tantrums like we have in Lagos, but it was still mellow.
I stayed close to Nasarawa, outside Abuja. Every day for about six months, I made the commute from Nasarawa to inside Abuja. If there was no accident, no traffic, it took about 45 minutes. But with traffic it could take almost two hours.
I couldn’t settle in Abuja. It felt like any job people wanted you to do was sales or marketing. So I redeployed to Lagos. This was after a cab man assaulted me – because he didn’t want to go look for change. I gave him maybe ₦500 or ₦1000, and I was used to Lagos, where the conductor or driver goes to look for change. He told me he didn’t have change, and decided to drive off with me still in the car. I dey take you go my house, he said. When I tried opening the door in motion, with all the James Bond and Catwoman movies I’d seen, I saw from the side of my eyes that he was coming with a punch. Punched me in the face. For almost two weeks, I couldn’t eat with a side of my teeth.
I entered one chance twice. There was one where I was in the car, and the guy beside me was fidgeting. The ride was ₦150, but he had ₦100 rolled up. He was all sweaty and everything. Not long after we moved, the guy was like—actually, it was a woman. The woman was like, Oga, oya I wan come down. All through this I was chatting with my boyfriend on BBM. BlackBerry days. Initially, all the things they said, I didn’t hear them. But when the driver told the woman, So na you get that thing for that back? Na you get that Ghana-must-go of money? Wetin you wan make I do with this girl now? He said that last one to me. I suddenly heard all their previous conversation. By that time, he’d parked. I quickly opened the door, and my right leg wasn’t even on the ground yet before they sped off. I was just happy to escape. I was like, if I can live in Lagos and not experience all of these things, maybe Abuja is not for me.
The thing with Abuja was, people have no regard for you as a woman. The default was, Na woman, no mind am. They believed that women could be gotten with fish and beer. And they believed that women were only good for marketing. They were also judgemental. I could be walking on the road, and a guy would cough up phlegm and spit right at my feet. Probably because I wasn’t as covered up as they’d liked.
Back to Lagos
I stayed at our family house in Lagos, which made things easier for me. No need searching for a place to live. I was used to Lagos by this timet. There really was nothing new. In fact, I’d be away from Lagos and I’d miss the hustle and bustle. I had a nice boss, so I could leave work early, maybe by one, and I’d be home in thirty minutes.
What I’ve found about Lagos is people in general will try to take advantage of you. People are more selfish in Lagos. They’re looking out for themselves. Another thing in Lagos is how unwell everyone is. In the other places, you could tell, Ah, this one is not well oo. But in Lagos you can never tell. Everyone is mad.
Lagos has toughened me. It has made me realize that it’s every man for himself. It has made me realize that if you want to help someone, you have to think twice. Lagos also showed to me that I can be more. That I can be better. When you see other people striving, doing good, you think: I must be better. It can somewhat be that Lagos somehow encourages discontent. That’s why you see a lot of greedy people in Lagos as well. People see others and they go, I want to be like you, I want to have what you have. Without the work. It’s not, I must do this work well. It is I must make this money.
So, yeah, Lagos made me realize that you can be better at what you think you are doing. If I was still staying back wherever it is I was staying, I would still be like, It’s okay. Let me wake up in the morning and just eat my yam and stew. Let me just do work for this and this and go and rest. But in Lagos I want to work more because I know that if I work harder and smarter, then I’ll be greater. Lagos has broadened my horizons.