Lagos can become a success story, not just for those whose faces emblazon the Eko @ 50 banners on the city’s highways, but for everyone.
I moved to Lagos four years ago in search of greener pastures. Umuahia, where I was relocating from, had nothing of such in its keep. Opportunities were as scanty as the city’s streets by midday. Most hustles were constructed, not with the expectation to make a living, but to achieve basic human survival. I was among the privileged few who had a job that paid a salary, but the money I was earning monthly would only cater to my needs if I didn’t include feeding, utility bills and transportation fares. After eighteen months of living hand to mouth, I was eventually handed an opportunity to relocate to Lagos by a budding startup.
My startup pay in Lagos was more than four times my take-home in Umuahia, and it wasn’t up to one hundred thousand naira. For a while, the sheer magnitude of my new salary made me feel on top of the world until the cost of living in Lagos had me cascading back down to earth. Rent, for a room half the size of my Umuahia apartment, in a neighbourhood that made ‘decent’ a euphemism, was four times my new ‘mega’ salary and more than five times my Umuahia rent. I was never a good cook, so I sought out the cheapest bukkas to eat, but their prices convinced me that my cooking wasn’t that bad after all. Unlike in Umuahia, my apartment in Lagos had its toilet and bathroom en suite, and there was tap too, but water seldom came through. I often had to lift two thirty litre gallons of water from the central tank at the back of the building to my room on the fourth floor. As for light, I couldn’t pass my neighbour, so I befriended him in order to charge my phone and rechargeable lamp whenever he put on his generator set. We all still had to pay electricity bill though, for light that we almost never saw.
Believing that there is light at the end of the tunnel of my Lagos sojourn, I’ve soldiered on, waking up before dawn and returning home after dusk, braving two hour traffic jams twice daily, surviving the intermittent menace of Oshodi-under-bridge boys, who have now twice relieved me of my phone, switching jobs for better pay and career growth, and managing the expectations of my folks back home, who are half-breath between lamenting that I don’t send back enough money and pleading that I return home.
I have no plans of leaving Lagos anytime soon, either for home or abroad (and believe you me, I am the only one among my group of friends who hasn’t tried applying for a Canadian visa). Lagos is my home now; of struggle, of survival, of success? I am still working on that, and so too is everyone I know. (Caveat: everyone I know lives on the Lagos mainland).
To be honest, I believe that I will, someday, be successful enough to think of Lagos as my success story. However, my faith isn’t inspired by the opportunities in Lagos. Are they abundant? Yes, but only when compared to Umuahia. Neither is my faith motivated by the living or working conditions in Lagos. No, I only believe that I will succeed in Lagos out of my personal confidence in myself and spiritual faith in God. And for a state with the potential of Lagos, both reasons (actually, they are excuses) are not good enough.
As the economic nerve centre of a country that is vastly rich in human and material resources, and the melting pot of a continent literally overflowing with milk and honey, Lagos has the potential to guarantee the promise to all of its residents, that if they work hard, they will be sure of a decent means of livelihood and quality standard of living. Unfortunately, the state couldn’t be farther from fulfilling such promise. And this is partly because Lagos exists in a land of low expectations.
When Lagos is extolled as a Success Story, the terms of reference include Abia, Benue and Zamfara States. That is like comparing the educational attainment of primary school children in a public school in Andoni, Rivers State, with kids at a Lekki private school (and I’m talking about Lekki phase one). The real contemporaries of Lagos, a state with a GDP more than that of Ghana, Guinea, Gabon and Gambia combined, lie far beyond the continent. They include the New Yorks and Londons of this world.
I am not saying that Lagos must be transformed into New York or Paris overnight, but certainly, the state is far overdue for a metro (even Addis Ababa already has one!). This is why it is a struggle to voice out gratitude to the government when it marginally eases the traffic situation on the 3rd Mainland bridge (as relieving as that development has been). Affordable housing remains a myth, and I’m not just speaking for myself. Only 18 percent of residents in Lagos live in their own houses. The fact that I complain about the fruits of my labour not being fruity actually highlights my privilege. Many people do not even have labours at all, as unemployment, underemployment and lack of empowerment remain abysmally high.
Despite these obvious challenges, my confidence in Lagos remains high. I believe that Lagos can become a success story, not just for those whose faces emblazon the Eko @ 50 banners on the city’s highways, but for everyone. It will be hard to achieve. Inequality is spiralling out of control, too few young people are finding gainful employment, small businesses lack everything they need to thrive and the state is still being powered by an infrastructure that, ideally, isn’t even fit for the Umuahias of this country. Still, I believe that Lagos can overcome all of the aforementioned to become a success story if we all (government in particular), first, admit that, for what it’s worth, Lagos isn’t a success story yet.