The setting of this story and the events in it is Nigeria. The cities referenced are all Nigerian cities. Lagos is Nigeria’s biggest commercial city, Abuja is its capital, and Port-Harcourt is the social place of the south. Oil was first discovered in the Port-Harcourt region, so it was the first attraction to many white men.
I was born in the ’90s. This was a time when we only saw nude images in what was colloquially termed ‘sacred’ magazines or special TV series, which happened only at nights. The airing time of these special TV series was intentional because only adults would stay up later than 9; this was the culture. Children were more peaceful beings, so they simply get sleep at any time—regardless of place.
I remember 15 years after my birth, when my father was fortunate—to my misfortune—to find a single picture of a lady whose smile I simply loved and nothing more, I promise. This lady’s picture was the branding image of a particular toothpaste, but there was a problem. She was putting on tight pants, quite revealing it was that it disclosed two things: her broad V-shaped underpants (mildly say, a non-G string) and the elegant partitioning of her relatively asymmetric buttocks.
So, here I was confronted by the world’s fiercest dad, my father, as to why I really had this picture on my phone. I froze. You must now infer what followed.
Indeed, time flies. How have we moved from sneaking to see unclad images, to ostentatiously displaying it everywhere we can? More about movements and transitioning, I recently relocated from Abuja to Lagos. I have never been in such steep trouble as I was in the first two months of my arrival. Just when I thought I had battled the severest of trials in Port-Harcourt, here comes Lagos where I have to wake up to myself. Truly, Port-Harcourt’s is only a shadow of what I now see.
Frankly, never in my life have I seen nudes in physical locomotion, not in movies nor moving images, but reality—in real people moving and transacting their daily businesses. “Ha! Does she not have clothes? Where’s her bra? This one isn’t wearing underpants! Such small breasts!” My comments were incessant and never-ending. Olawale, my host, would give off peals of laughter as to mock me. He follows this gesture with “Welcome to Lagos. You’ve not seen anything yet”; this would end our roaming as we return home before the evening dusk.
The sacred of our 20th has become the secular of our 21st.
Adjusting in Lagos was gradual. Alhamdulillah! I had thought my body was under control, but no, this situation is different; I would need tights, not just boxers. I mean, I cannot be seen ‘rising’ unexpectedly, if you know what I mean. Friends, my only offense was coming to Lagos to work.
In the part of Abuja I know, people were covered. Even so in Minna, people wore C-L-O-T-H-E-S; clothes that do their singular job—cover! Some northern clothes covered almost everything; that’s the power of the hijab and niqab. Generally, almost everything was in the clothing, so it was safe. But this is not the case in Lagos. Here, almost everything is outside the clothes. Recently, I have grown to the conscious routine of ensuring that I am ‘suited’ for the daily trials to come. I must mention that some days come with new and innovative images, gladly I don’t get too shocked; such benefit of preparation! I reckon that there is no such thing as being over-prepared.
Brothers, I write these things to you so that you will not forget to pack those essentials if you are coming to Lagos. Most people here do not wait for the night to do the ungodly! In Lagos, there is no time, and no one wants to know the time; any time you wake up is your morning!
Wait! One more thing you may struggle with when you first arrive here is the lack of civility and order. Because most people are in haste, they think things are done faster in the absence of courtesy. You know what they call it? “open eyes”. One with “open eyes” dares walk into anywhere and demand immediate attention!
The other day I stopped over at a kiosk, that food vendor’s place, close to Balogun market. It’s no longer a kiosk ever since the city’s enforcement officers started harassing street traders in illegal stalls forcing many of them into hawking. This food vendor makes her sales between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Her customers are a diversified group: the white-collar worker like myself; the street beggar that needs strength for the daily business of begging; the young Igbo man that deceives his buyers to believe orange denims are blue since his shop is heavily lighted with blue-colored bulbs. There is also the bus conductor who doesn’t want to start his day with junks, and the apprentice who takes a cut from selling street-food—in fancy packs—to her bosses.
As I joined the queue of customers that morning, I watched, as a first-timer would, how almost everyone tried to make a request or a modified request with aggressive tones, even the vendor was no exception. I observed how this aggression was also apparent in their body language. This pattern gets even interesting: most customers whose tones were combative received smaller rations, and because the queue is usually in favor of the vendor, she didn’t care; she made them pay for being ruder. When it got to my turn, I made a simple request and allowed her follow through it without complicating the menu. She must have sensed something different… “you just come Lagos?”. That was her asking—in broken English—if I recently moved into Lagos. The queer smile that followed after that question affirmed that she didn’t need an answer; she knew the answer. Perhaps I got some reward for being civil; maybe I got more food than I paid for.
Many cities bear a similar story. But regardless of this decadence, we are not hopeless. We can tear down these flaws with our lights if we truly shine. I believe in the value each of us will bring here, and I hope the system here doesn’t drown those virtues before we realize our purpose. Beyond this clime and geography, we will keep upholding the truth to ensure that the ultimate transformation, that of our mind, is continually strengthened.