Lagos is an energetic state with a teeming population of over 21 million people. A significant number, even in the world’s most populous black nation: Nigeria. It is the nation’s commercial centre, a former capital city and has been dubbed Nigeria’s centre of excellence.
It is located in Nigeria’s south western region, with the Yorubas as the native tribe. The unique appeal of this state has rendered it a rare heterogeneous blend of people from all tribes in Nigeria, neighbouring African countries and beyond. Many have settled in, some are just visiting, but whether for work or pleasure, they contribute to the ever swelling population of this largely urbanised state.
A few weeks prior to writing this article, I decided to take a bus ride to a certain place in Lagos where I had an appointment. I got to the appropriate bus stop along the express way, to board a bus going towards my destination. Upon my arrival at the bus stop, I noticed that it was less rowdy than I had expected. There were very few commercial buses parked and these were a long way off from the bus stop itself. I also took note of the numerous Policemen stationed at the bus stop. They were armed mostly with make shift batons made of pvc pipes, huge tree branches, planks etc.
These Policemen were very alert and active, in fact bordering on manic, as they violently rammed their batons against the chassis of any commercial bus that slowed to pick up commuters. They yelled at the top of their voices threatening the bus drivers to move or else…I guess most didn’t want to find out what would happen, so they kept moving.
The commercial bus drivers in Lagos are notorious for stopping indiscriminately at undesignated bus stops, leading to unnecessary build up of traffic. I tried to rationalise that this was just the cops way of trying to maintain order on the roads. Something still felt wrong, they were just too overzealous. There was definitely something “fishy” about their behaviour.
I walked to the side of the expressway and observed the way commuters had to break into a run and hop aboard moving buses, as they only slowed down rather than stop, due to police harassment. It looked a little dangerous, but no one had fallen…not yet. I took a moment to contemplate doing the same. A part of me was too “polish” and careful to do such a thing, but my adventurous side won this duel as the thought of me being late for my appointment was enough motivation.
I broke into a nicely timed run and 5 seconds later, I was in a bus! Yes, I was breathing hard, but smiling due to my “Achievement”. Thanks to my adrenaline rush, I felt like a part of Lagos. Lagosians (as residents are popularly called) are known to be quite daring.
Recovering from my “rush”, I looked around the inside of the bus. Commuters were being crammed in. Five five o! Five five! The conductor yelled as a few more brave souls hopped aboard. We were made to seat 5 per row (long wooden seat) as opposed to the obvious 4 people per row capacity of those benches.
The driver of the bus made an attempt to stop to pick up some commuters who were just a few metres away at the side of the road. He was immediately thwarted by the loud thuds and bangs of the cops’ batons crashing down on the sides of his bus. Amidst the shrieks and yelling of passengers, he quickly zoomed off. The bus conductor voiced out my suspicion that most likely a Police top shot was going to pass by the area, and they were doing the usual “eye service”. This “eye service” was repugnant to most of the people on the bus, prompting discussions on the issue, while a youth started calling the police “Were”! (Yoruba word for Mad man).
The bus ride continued with the usual bus chatter, even between total strangers. It was pleasant to watch them, and this helped douse the discomfort of being cramped up in the bus. About four bus stops later, we were free from the excesses of the Policemen (I guess their top shot wasn’t getting that far).
The driver stopped the bus at a certain bus stop in order to get other passengers. After about a minute, there was a sudden uproar of complaints from the passengers. It was just then that I took note of what was happening. The bus conductor was standing just outside the bus, facing the side of the bus repeating this statement in Yoruba language over and over again: o nwole o! Meaning he’s boarding please! Yet no one was boarding. The conductor kept looking down while talking. It hit me! He was taking a piss right there on the road! I didn’t know what to say, I just laughed. His gig was up. The passengers were all fully aware of what he was doing and mildly pissed(pun intended) that he was wasting our time. He quickly finished his business and hopped aboard the bus, smiling sheepishly. He was welcomed with lots of giggles and smiles and he quickly took over as the topic of discussion. I thought to myself: this Lagos! I was just glad I had payed my fares and didn’t have any change to collect…if you get what I mean.
When I got to my bus stop I signalled the driver. He stopped the vehicle and a couple of us alighted. While trying to get off the bus, a middle aged Woman hit me by mistake. She wasted no time in saying: sorry my brother. I made a gesture meaning no problem. I alighted thinking about our communal/family mindset, exemplified by this lady who called me her brother, though this was our first meeting.
There are those who only speak disparagingly about Lagos: it is rowdy, rough, unkempt, a corrupt city. I opine that that is a grossly distorted view point. I have experiential knowledge of the state and can talk about its rich culture, the marked improvement in electricity supply, giant strides in improving transportation etc. The people of Lagos are mostly warm, daring, fun loving and hard working with a strong communal mindset. This is the true spirit of Lagos.
Eko o ni baje o! (May Lagos never deteriorate!)