The Sun News

Eko, our Lagos

‘They’ said it was once called ‘Oko’ in the 15th century by the Awori who lived there before moving to Iddo under the leadership of a man called Oloye Olofin and then later to the larger Lagos Island. In 16th century, during the reign of  Oba Orhogba, that Awori settlement was conquered by the Benin Empire and the Island became a war-camp called ‘Eko’, the name Lagos till today retains as its native name,
There are those who also told us that the name Lagos, which means “lakes”, came from Lago de Curamo from the Portuguese explorer, Rui de Sequeira. And then there is another explanation; that Lagos was named for Lagos, Portugal – a maritime town which, at the time, was the main centre of Portuguese expeditions down the African coast.
Whichever account we choose to go with will fit perfectly with what Lagos is today, a colourful megacity of colourful people where you can have colourful fun while making megabucks. Or not. It is a place that means many things to many people, a city where you can lug your dreams into and turn it into reality. It is also a city where you can lose your dreams or even get lost along with that dream because in Lagos, the dream makers live in the same space with the dream eaters. Take your eyes off the ball for a full day and your dream is gone, just like that, lost in the sea-kissed air of Eko.
From the days of Lagos being a key slave trade point to the season of bombardment and capture of the settlement that is today a mega city, Lagos has kept its heartbeat. Oh yes, it has a heart. It is a living being, one that refuses to be put down or reduced by any time or tide happening around or to it. Or hasn’t it grown bigger in every way in spite of the relocation of the seat of Federal Government to Abuja on December 12, 1991?
But this is not a History class, far from it. I’m just in a Lagos-at-50 -mode, actually and there are so many funny things we do in Lagos that makes Lagos just Lagos. Of course, other cities are following in the footsteps of this great city-state but you can’t outdo Lagos, the same way Warri no dey carry last.
You can arrive Lagos at midnight and become a landlord by noon. You just need to know what to do and how it is done. Locate a piece of land under high-tension cables and build your first home or shop or both and you can live happily, not ever after though, just until Alausa nemesis catches up with you. And that may take 10 years, sometimes more, by which time you would have become Omo Onile (land owner) yourself, parcelling off land to naïve new Lagosians and even giving them survey and deeds of assignment. Yeah, we are creative like that. You can even live under a high tension cable town and become a Baale, village head, install your own chiefs and create a new history of how you arrived this planet on the same rope from the sky with Orunmila. Trust me, this is a land of promise.
Moving forward, when Lagos state government finally arrives to move you out of this illegal empire, you can sue, organize protests, harass the governor on social media and grant newspaper interviews and get the civil rights community to weigh in on this infringement on your fundamental human right. Sounds familiar, right. That’s our Lagos.
In Lagos, you can tell your neighbours you are a trader in Oshodi or Ikeja, leave home every morning and return in the evening even when you don’t and have never owned a shop anywhere. Not that you are a thief or anything close, you are just a ‘shopless’ Lagos trader.
You buy your goods on credit in the morning from those who have shops, set up your temporary stall along the road, hoping that KAI officials will not raid today, and pay your ‘suppliers in the evening. All you need is a table, a tray or two and an umbrella. And you are in business.
Talking about KIA, Kick Against Indiscipline, officials, let me say as Lagosians find ways to live their stressful lives as stress-free as possible so does Lagos find ways of sustaining its number one position among the states, in very creative ways. I know that the first thing that comes to your mind is the creation of LCDAs (Local Council Development Areas) that started in Lagos. The constitution said states can’t create local governments, so Lagos, under former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, created LCDAs. Other states have since joined that creative club. To stay clear of all illegalities associated with creating state police, Lagos again found many shortcuts in KAI, LASTMA and many other uniformed corps. So, while others were explaining the provisions of the law on state police and the federal government was shouting itself hoarse over local government creations, Lagos did what it had to do and as they say, the rest is history.
Where do you find estate agents collecting agency fees for two years on one year rent? Lagos, that’s where. Since the state government has learnt to shoot without missing, these ‘professional property finders’ have also learnt to fly without perching. Lagos state made a law banning landlords from collecting more than one-year rent from tenants and while the landlords resigned themselves to fate, the property finders insisted on their two-year agreement and agency fees even when ‘dem no get any agency’ or even a small shop. Dial their number and they arrive on okada in a jiffy. Creativity things, right? Right.
If you never rode on the yellow lorries called ‘Molue’, you’d never be able to understand in full what comedy on wheels means. The entertainment content of a 30-minute drive stretched by traffic jam into two hours was made bearable and even fun by the entertainers always on board. Where else would you learn that taking blood tonic tablets will not only ‘cleanse’ your blood but helps a man to ‘urinate like a landlord’. Don’t ask me what that means. But I can tell you for free that a man who wants to discuss newspaper headlines in bed is a man whose manliness has a question mark. A man who can ignore his wife in negligee for Network News is a man in need of help, yes, help from the mobile pharmacists who plied their trade in the molue. The stories you hear them peddle to stir the passengers’ interest in their uncertified drugs would make even Satan cringe. So, when the state decided to push the lurching road bully called Molue off the streets, I was worried about how Lagosians would cope without their on-board entertainment but everything has worked out fine. The comedians, nay the chemists, have set up their enterprises in the new Lagos buses. You can ban the molue but you can’t ban our mobile comic relief.
And this. How often do you see a full-grown man defecating on a bridge, along the road, in broad daylight with his full-grown staff of office like a dangling modifier entertaining passers-by. He does his thing happily and goes back to his day-job, pretending to be a city dweller.
Steaming hot jollof rice and amala at 1 a.m just by the roadside with both sellers and buyers chatting away like it is 1 pm? Yes, in Lagos. I used to be a partaker of the midnight communion  in those days when I covered the nightclubs and just last month I saw the businesses have not lost steam at all.
In how many cities do you see traffic building up at 5 a.m and still find thousands of vehicles everywhere at 11pm? And you ask yourself where are Lagosians always hurrying off to at all kinds of hours. Then check out the frequency at which these people party and when they do, they do it so colourfully. So, when exactly do Lagosians sleep? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it is just the spirit of Lagos. Always bubbling, always on the move
Engraved on the wall of the reception hall of John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York is this:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
So, let me take the liberty to compare Lagos to New York City, Yes New York City.  Lagos has done as much for the weakest, the poor, the down-trodden. It is home and refuge for all. Please raise your glasses and let’s drink to the health and wealth of this happy city-state.

Happy 50th birthday to Lagos State.

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1 Comment

  1. Nwagu K V 28th May 2017 at 8:26 am

    This is writing at its finest. A classic really. Do more articles of this quality and make a book out of them I doff my cap.

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