You finally secure a job after years of job hunting. Prior to that time, you had to spend a gruelling year doing the compulsory NYSC (a mandatory year of service imposed on all Nigerian fresh graduates). You were posted to a remote village with almost non existent supply of water and electricity. And just before then, you spent six years studying a four-year course. It wasn’t because you weren’t brilliant enough and kept having to retake courses, far from it. You had simply been a victim of perennial lecturers strike – something you had no control over. At the end of the day, you got through all of that. The strikes, the energy-sapping service year and the seemingly endless years of job search. You survived it all.
As you put in the work and stepped up the rungs of the ladder of life, you understandably wanted a better deal for yourself. You had lived in an obscure part of Lagos all your life, or even some uninspiring place outside the state, again, not by own doing. At that time you had no money to move out on your own so you had no choice but to make do with the life your parents could afford. But all that is now water under the bridge. As an upwardly mobile young man you finally had the chance to live your own dreams.
And so the first thing you did as soon as you could afford to was move from the congested mainland to the Island. And not just any part of the Island, as a noveau riche, you had to announce your new status by moving to Lekki. It’s what people at your level do. It’s also a way to set yourself apart from your contemporaries who aren’t doing as well or have simply refused to “step up” to the other side. All the “hip” people stay on the Island, so why would you want to live elsewhere even if rent is cheaper there?
What you didn’t bargain for was the seasonal floods you’d have to contend with. Your fancy car and house under threat every time the rain lingers longer than an hour. The last time it rained, you had to move out of the house in a hurry, even at that you couldn’t salvage some of your properties early enough, and you had to count your expensive losses at the end of the day.
To make matters worse your SUV broke down right in the middle of the unrelenting deluge. A visit to the mechanic revealed the worst, your engine was gone. You’d have get a replacement, and it’d cost over half a million naira to do so. Money you don’t have right now. Now, you are wondering if it was a good decision to pay so much in that part of town only to have to deal with all these.
This little narrative represents the life of the noveau riche in Lagos. The rich who are poor at the same time. Poor because beneath all the cosmetic appearance of a beautiful and serene neighbourhood lies an ugliness. Underneath the aesthetics – lovely houses, hangout places, celebrity hubs and all round good living is a pitiful ordinariness that reduces the settlement to a caricature of what affluence should really depict. Maybe even worse, since the incidence of flooding that plagues Lekki cannot be attributed to many neighbourhoods that are looked down upon on the other side town.
Any community where residents are unable to sleep in peace, are scared to leave the house and at the same time stay at home once it rains is poor. Any supposedly rich neighbourhood where residents look up to the government solve their drainage problems, just like those who live in lowly areas is actually poor. The biggest tragedy in all of this is the Island vs Mainland debate that has sprung up yet again after last Saturday’s flooding. Instead of seeking ways to combat the worrisome situation and demanding a long lasting solution to the problem at hand, in typical fashion, young Nigerians are more concerned about what part of the city wins the better abode debate.
It’s true that even the most advanced countries of the world experience flash floods from time to time. What makes them different from us is the swift response and sustained attention they pay to issues of this nature. Why hasn’t the government taken time to study how Central Chicago for instance was raised by over 6 feet as far back as the 19th century when they had a similar problem. The London sewerage system also offers a good case study on how drainage challenges were solved, yet everyone appears clueless as to what to do over here.
I may have zeroed in on Lagos in this piece, but the story is pretty much the same in all parts of the country. In Nigeria, any progress you appear to make is thwarted by the system. The very system that should support you. You think you are comfortable but you are not. You are not. Don’t deceive yourself. While a section of the city may be the worst hit with regards to flooding, we all suffer the same light, water, insecurity and poor governance issues. All of us.
And so, at the end of the day, we are all poor. Effectively done in by the system. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you live in. Your fat salary or mansion doesn’t save you from the general mess. The possibility of losing your property either to floods, thieves or kidnappers.
At the end of the day, nobody is rich in these parts, not until things get better for majority.
From Okokomaiko to Ajah, we are all poor. I don’t stand corrected.