This Lagos sef.
I am used to living in Lagos now even though I never thought in a million years that I would ever like Lagos. I am a proper Jos girl. No one is really in a hurry for anything in Jos. We are not aggressive or opportunists. But Lagos has changed me.
When we Lagosians talk about the rough side of Lagos, there is a kind of pride we take in it. Not that we like this rough side, but the fact we are glad that we are alive to talk about it shows that we are living and surviving and even sometimes thriving in this mad jungle. The unpredictable monster becomes predictable in an unpredictable way. There is no new horror. Everything that can happen has happened and does happen here in Lagos. Our story tops the stories of people living in other parts of Nigeria.
“Ah, only that. Come to Lagos. This one wey you encounter na small thing for Lag.”
I was reminded in a personal way on Christmas day just how dangerous this city can be. Just when you think you know her and you have some sort of mutual respect for each other, she turns around and treats you like a stranger. Christmas day started out well. The kids still believe in Santa so they were shocked to get gifts from him. I had screamed about how naughty they were and threatened them with no gifts from Santa all year round.
My first son rubbed his eyes over and over awestruck when he saw the gifts under the tree and said incredulously. “So I have been a good boy…”
We had breakfast and went to church. We had a lovely time singing carols and watching the kids show off their watches. We eventually came home and ate rice like everyone else.
We have formed this tradition of taking a drive in the night on Christmas day. We go to all the places with lovely grottos. So we drove to UBA display at Lagos Island and then to Falomo roundabout. We decided to go for some ice cream and frozen yoghurt at The Palms. We got to Civic centre and halted at the red traffic lights. Suddenly, my husband was talking to a guy at his window and then he wound down. I was surprised that he wound down till I found myself staring into the cylindrical barrel of a crude local pistol. My kids went deathly silent. We had been admiring the amazing lights on the Civic Centre. But all that was forgotten. My husband cooperated and emptied his pocket. He asked for my bag. I had used a small gold purse for church but just before we went out, I had picked up my ATM cards and about 6k and transferred it to my makeup bag. I did not feel like carrying a shoulder bag. I also did what I had never done before. I forgot my phone at home and decided I didn’t need a phone so did not go back for it.
I handed over my makeup bag (with makeup I hardly ever use) and the man demanded for our wedding rings. My husband gave him his and as I was pulling mine out, the traffic lights changed and he sped off.
It was an interesting situation. We were not panicked or scared in the heat of it. After he left, my 4yr old son whispered in my ear “Mummy, why did that man want to shoot daddy?” I told him it was a toy gun and that the man was naughty and we tried our best to be normal. He somehow missed my husband’s wallet and phone.
The magnitude of what had happened and what could have happened hit me later at the mall. My husband’s close friend died almost a decade ago in exactly the same situation.
More often than not, people are not killed in traffic robberies but it does happen. We were thankful but I can tell you that our experience has tainted something.
A few tips if you ever find yourself being held up in traffic or at a stop.
1. Never resist. The guys are very jittery and most likely high. They probably do not set out to kill but that is a possibility you cannot take lightly.
2. It is wise to have dummy phones. Rather than let your old blackberry phones rot away on some shelf, keep them in your car. Even hook them up to a charger. Hide your phone somewhere else.
3. Women should consider having decoy bags. I was so glad I didn’t come out with my bag. My glasses (which I can’t drive without), my Driver’s License, my ID cards and other things that are cumbersome to replace would be in my bag. You could hide your bag or wallet somewhere and keep the decoy bag in view.
4. Do not carry a lot of cash. On the whole they got only 13k and a gold ring from us. My husband did have cash stashed somewhere. He had a few thousands in his pocket. Have readily available small cash to give them.
5. Do not shout or speak harshly. Speak in measured calm tones. This helps in de-escalating the situation.
6. Keep your wedding bands on. That is enough to pacify them. Rings can be replaced. Lives cannot be replaced.
My people, that was how Lagos reminded me that she is the “Boss Lady.”
But I feel the need to say that Lagos is not all brawns and sense. It does have a heart. Like the day my car stopped close to Oshodi at 10pm. Not even the hazard lights came on. It stopped in the middle of the road with cars zig zagging around me. It was so scary because of the crime rate and also fast moving cars and no street lights. Strangers sorted me out. They moved my car out of the way and fixed the problem.
Or the day my husband had to stop his car on the highway and was puking badly. Two guys appeared from nowhere with sachets of pure water and poured them over his head. They said soothing things and seemed genuinely concerned. They refused my offer to refund them the cost of the water they used.
Or the day my nanny was duped and found herself far away from home. Some people had carried her up from the ground where she laying crying. They even gave her some money for transport fare and directed her the way home.
Lagos has heart. But not every day. Some days she doesn’t know you and like Toni Kan wrote she becomes The Carnivorous City
Merry Christmas my people. Thank you for reading me this year. Hopefully we dey kampe as the New Year starts. No shaking.