I arrived in Lagos, Nigeria – a few weeks ahead of an appointment to take up a post and my departure from London was swift, and hasty – and my arrival in Nigeria, for lack of a better word – undercooked; something always goes wrong with a move to Lagos someone I know said to me soon after I arrived; apart from other circumstances, I was driven to Lagos by a desire to experience some of the mystery of this city that I knew as a child, experienced mostly inside cars, and in public transport in the anxious hands of parents or older relatives – despite over 20 years away, the raucousness of it, sometimes threatening, sometimes exhilarating retained its purchase on my imagination. I ran into its arms like a bullied child on the playground and was promptly slapped back; Lagos you see is a difficult mistress, and not in its present suit entirely tolerant of my courting it as a hipster. This is a list of what not to do if you are planning a move to Lagos.
Don’t take any job that does not cover your accommodation, transport, and relocation
Usually they say two out of three ain’t bad, but when it comes to Lagos, don’t do it – score a hattrick.
- If you can’t drive – don’t even think about it
You know that song? If you no get money – hide your face? Well, deplorable as the materialist lyrics are – when it comes to Lagos – it has the sharp bite of truth – as you will come to know if you try it; it is of course possible but your instincts and awareness of the cost of things, plus the decided suspicion that there is a vastly, opulent and comfortable life being lived by someone in close proximity to you – will sharp the edge of your jealousy till it is as sharp as a blade cutting your inside every day and night.
- Don’t argue with military police and soldiers outside empty buildings
You may have human rights – but Lagos, Nigeria is a place where this theoretical assertion established in 1949 remains relatively untested; if you are alone, unarmed and not in possession of a good name, oodles of cash, and/or your own armed guard – it is wise to be defiant but petulantly compliant, otherwise you may have the terrifying prospect of an interrogation surrounded by 6 officers of the armed forces and police combined under the distinction impression that your glossy, ajebutter ass has something they need, and which you will make available in deference to the barell of their guns.
- Don’t wear colourful trousers and board an Uber
This is liable to get you assaulted, insulted and argued with by an Uber driver convinced that anyone wearing colourful trousers is a homosexual, and that said homosexuals have a particular smell, and proceed to declare this to you when you politely – if a little performatively tell them you have some sense of your way around the city and they have definitely passed the roundabout you needed to drop off at — and….
- Don’t trust someone just because they are also a ‘Diaspora’
The sharpest and most fanatic of religionists it is often said are converts – well, converts to Lagos life may often display the worst excesses of ‘Nigerianismus’ – the ‘Diaspora/IJGB Nigerian identity as a measure of who is a shyster, low-down, double-crossing cheat that will cause you to end up quasi-homeless and searching for accommodation in a city entirely organised by car when you cannot drive – is a false measure. Trust anyone at your peril, but definitely do not trust someone because they are an ‘IJGB’ – even if they are a mildly successful one, they are liable to be full of shit.
- Savour the Good Bits
The breeze to be had after 4pm walking in Victoria Island; the art to be seen in the select number of galleries; the surprise of kindness from a bus conductor, or Okada driver – and the faded grandeur of independence-era architecture. The suya. Meatpie. Third Mainland Bridge. Pounded Yam and Eforiro in Computer Village or the Bukka on Falomo. The luxury of late-night driving when there is no traffic.
- Don’t Expect Power Always
It is apparently an annual occurrence that in the lead up to Christmas – there will be a fuel crisis – it is an early Christmas present that produces the feelings of smugness (if you have the good sense to know it happens; know how to drive a car and have stocked up on fuel) – shame and embarrassment (if you are completely lacking in such skills, knowledge and aptitude) – irritation (at queuing for said fuel and then end up watching a soap opera in which motorcycle drivers engage in a mysterious war of words which results in the station masters closing the station and declaring no more fuel will be sold – without selling a single drop until some big boys arrive in an SUV.
- If you can’t drive-don’t carry a bag and go clubbing
You can’t get into the club with your holdall – and the bouncer will ask you – oga, but it in your car; when you say you don’t have a car – he will look at you with a smile that contains both pity and derision, to the extent that even you will understand and speak the words in your mind ‘Oga, please respect yourself – if you don’t have a car why are you coming to a place of interaction such as this which is only for people who have the money to wash their face and their car – and look shiny enough to have money spent on them or to spend money on someone; if you are so hungry that your bag is your car, oga, please go home; all of this, you and your companion will understand without a single word being said, and you will proceed to walk up and down Lagos looking for a mildly lively spot from which to convince yourself that your night is not an absolute disaster and you have had better times taking a piss in a London pub.
Don’t talk about London
Don’t film just anybody….in fact, don’t film or photograph anybody
You will pay or get arrested by members of a public service who are ostensibly for regulating traffic, who may then hold you for several hours whilst they demonstrate that you can very well be disappeared in this mega-city, given that you, your shiny smartphone with its dead battery and your enthusiastic pictures are all in their hands.
Don’t expect your house to work – entirely
If you can’t drive – don’t arrange to meet anyone during the rainy season
Just stay home. The rain is a magician. Data connections disappear; buses and bus conductors disappear. Roads disappear or turn into huge chasms and rivers; ways open up that are wondrous to behold from afar but may swallow you whole up close – thunder announces itself, and your house may become a swimming pool, but still stay home – the street will not be much better, unless you are a mudfish.