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19Apr

Welcome To Lagos: Look Beyond The Poverty, See The Indomitable Ingenuity In the people

lagos

Welcome to Lagos may not be the best film to promote the people and values of Nigeria but it sure says a lot about the majority who believe in hard work and not scamming their way for a living.

I know there are many people, myself included who would say, the choice and places of location for this documentary shows Lagos and Nigeria in a negative light and as one huge refuse dump but it is only an ignorant ‘git’ who would think a nation with 150 million people is one massive landscape of refuse.

Like you have your West 1, the rich man’s quarter in London and your ghettos in East and South London, is the same way you have your Lekki, Victoria Island and all the beautiful places in Lagos in addition to your Makoko and Olusosun mini cities. It sure is the tale of two cities in one metropolitan city. After all, when I first came to London, I never thought I would see homeless people freezing in the cold during the bitter winter but this is the reality of cities like London, New York among others. So, for all those who want to turn their nose up at Lagos and its many stories, you can chew on that.

When it was shown on BBC 2 last week, Facebook was full of status with people expressing their views, I read some and laughed, others I thought, hmmm, how so patronising. But then again, who am I say to that those who said what they thought didn’t have a right to think that way. We are all entitled to our opinions at the end of the day. What I found most interesting was the fact that someone had taken the task upon himself to justify why the film was necessary and they raised some valid points, which I agree with. The film showed people at their best despite being in a situation many of us would run away from.

In Eric, we see a man, who you could say has multiple personalities, well, he does have multiple personalities. One day he is going through the refuse dump for items that he can sell to help him further his music career and the next, he is one of the biggest stages in Ajegunle, jiving away. Hell, that is not normal but for Eric, aka Vocal Slender, that is the reality of his life, a man willing to go down in order to go up. He has dreams and aspirations like the rest of us and he is working for it. He is not sitting at some internet café, doing some ‘Yahoo, Yahoo’ business. He is using his two hands to go through the items others have rejected in order to find his own raw material to make his life work, so the diamond in him can come out. Ain’t that sometime? The beauty of life’s many ironies. I bet you, when he makes it tomorrow; the girls who throw themselves at him will not give a toss whether or not, and as he puts it, was once a ‘scavenger.’ All they know is that, they are with Vocal slender. ‘Shege! Life is funny!

I have no idea who came up with the idea for this documentary but in fairness to them, they showed real people, at least, they spoke in their own ascents and not some fake ‘Ameri-Naija’ accent that is annoying and nauseating. The people featured in this documentary could easily live anywhere in the world and there is a big chance, their lives would still be the same. While they may not have to go to a rubbish dump for items in a place like London because  it is well controlled and sanitised, and given the grandeurs and fashionable name best known as recycling, that is the very same thing the people at Olusosun refuse dump do. The exception is, they do it with their hands and live there. I bet you, Vocal Slender would most likely sing or rap a few well established acts under the table but his environment is stifling his creativity, yet he sees beyond that and keeps going, better than siging up for the dole many would say. By now, you get the gist that in Nigeria, we do not have a welfare system that allows you to sign on. Everything you want, you work for though we all have different ideas on how we get there.

Take the statistics into account, 3,000 metric tonnes of rubbish is dumped each day and 500 people are in full time employment, now that is 500 people who are not thieves or for the professional term, armed robbers. That is 500 people who are not ‘yahoo, yahoo’ boys sending emails about the plight of their grandmother is some forsaken village.  500 people, who may not be rich but work for the little they have and what a joy to see they are content while striving to get ahead. I bet you cannot say that for a lot of the people who work in the City of London and really hate their jobs and their boss.

Joseph is a man whose priority is his family. For what it is worth, he seems happy with himself.  He found love at the dumpsite and has two children. Let me ask, how many of us, whose parents could afford to live in Ikeja, Allen Avenue or Opebi, Adeniyi Jones, Victoria Island and Lekki have pictures of our birthdays with our mum and dad? If you cannot produce one, then do not judge this man or look down on him. He has got his priorities straight. I would be the first to say, I do not have such pictures…my mum may have been home but my dad was a very busy man and is still a busy man. However, I do not fault him, that is the way it was and I appreciate the life and opportunity he gave me. And no, I do not need therapy because I have no birthday pictures or memories with both of my parents in it. Thanks!!!!

In Joseph, we also see a universal story, a man left after he was born and so, he has had to fend for himself his whole life, which I believe explains his passion to take care of his family. The very reason, he says he will go to an even stinker dump to pick the goods he needs for his trade. Take that and compare it to the number of deadbeat dads the system has to chase for child support in the West, I bet you, Joseph’s children will not trade their father for anything.

And so, let’s look at this mini-city with its own government, restaurant, church and mosque, and has everything they need. How many cities in the world can boast of the type of order this people show and the trust they have for each other? When was the last time you were able to leave your goods in a public place in London, went to bed, came back and it was still there. You must be having a laugh. In the same Lagos, people have fortified their homes for protection but in this dump where you would expect stealing to be rife, it is practically none-existent. The only joker, who tries to help himself to other people’s things, was taught a lesson. I was so happy for him that he did not get the jungle justice treatment. Amnesty International would have been all over the arse of the Nigerian government likes flies on a dead chicken.

Do I have any concerns? Yes, the health of the different people who live at the dump. The fumes among other dangerous gas they inhale but think will do them no harm. They may not fall sick but the human body is a funny thing and who knows what could be going on inside it. I also worry though I have never met them for their livelihood when the dump is on fire due to the same gases that form at the bottom of the rubbish dumped there and Nigeria does not have the safest fire containment record in the world. So, you hope and pray no one loses their life the day the place really goes ablaze. And of course, the very fact that, from now on, when some people ask, where are you from and I say Nigeria, their first reaction could well be, ‘did you see that documentary, ‘Welcome To Lagos?’ I have my response ready, ‘yes and it was awesome. It was way better than the filthy reality TV shows produced in the UK for the masses.’

In these people, I saw the beauty of humanity when they rallied to help Eric get out of trouble. They became his family though they were not afraid to let him know they were not impressed with his actions, by getting into a fight, which cost a colleague his eye. He got punished…he did not work for about a month. It is only those that care, who correct. My mother’s famous words when she had finished beating the ever loving living daylight out of my siblings and I, when we were kids.

I know there are many out there who are not impressed with the film, for once, let’s congratulate the BBC and media company that made the film. The focus was not on corruption among the many other negative things Nigeria is known for world over. A refuse dump may not be the best image to show Nigerians but in this filth, you can see the hearts of many Nigerians for what it is. They are hardworking and willing to do what it takes. It is not all of us that want the easy way out though that would be nice, we are also fully aware that nothing comes free. A point expressed by the young man who turns cow blood into food for chickens. He believes in hard work, how may of us are strong enough to go into that type of business, considering, all he is going to make is £20 or a little more. The same £20 you and I would spend in one-go on takeaway, will keep this guy for a few days.

So, in condemning the film, I would say, hold on a minute, look past the dirt and see the strength and indomitable human spirit in these men and women as they craft their own life stories.

Images of Welcome to Lagos: BBC/Keo Films

26 Responses to “Welcome To Lagos: Look Beyond The Poverty, See The Indomitable Ingenuity In the people”

  1. KT says:

    It was a good documentary.

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    I agree. It made me laugh and it made me cry…

  3. Being that I’m in the ‘dump’ some people ignorantly label Lagos as, I missed this doc. I read about some of the characters on http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/04/documentary-film-welcome-to-lagos-nigeria and I must admit reading the stories made me feel emotional. Thanks for the write up.

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Ms Afrpololitan, thanks for the comment. I had a blast writing it.

  5. Hans Schippers says:

    I have mixed feelings. While I agree that people’s ingenuity in dealing with seemingly hopeless situations is admirable, I am at the same time wondering about what is required for these situations to be no longer necessary. A decent social system is almost inevitably the result of a difficult social struggle which therefore requires a unified working class. However, these people seem to have resorted to creating an isolated sub-community. While it is amazing how well such sub-community can function, apparently, I wonder whether this may weaken the potential for a unified struggle.

  6. I missed the first showing of the documentary but when I heard it was based in a dump , I was pissed off! I can still remember the six part Lagos Airport documentary that Channel 4 aired ten years ago, so I thought it would make me feel same shame. I finally settled down and watched it on BBC iPlayer and I was so moved and so proud. I am now a big Joseph fan. It made me re-evaluate what I complain about and thank God that I come from a country of such survivors! Take away Job Seekers allowance for one year in the UK and see if the same could be said here.

    PS First time here

  7. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Hans, did you watch the documentary?

  8. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Caramel Delight, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I hear you…my thoughts are echoed in your words.

  9. Hans Schippers says:

    @ Belinda: I did, yes, and will be watching the upcoming parts as well.

  10. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Hans, while I understand what you are saying, you sure sound like someone who has never been to Lagos and so, you are yet to get the full perspective that Lagos is one huge city with many cities and it is a life of everyman to himself until he finds his own family like these individuals have :-)

  11. Hans Schippers says:

    @Belinda, you sure are right that I’ve never been to Lagos, so I’m sure my imagination of it is flawed indeed :)
    Still, like you said, there’s no reason to look at London and think it to be socially superior to Lagos, as it has very similar problems of ghettos, poverty, unemployment, etc.
    So what exactly is the crucial difference that I fail to see and that would make social struggle in Lagos unrealistic?

  12. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Hans, well, the number one factor that would make it unrealistic is the lack of good governance and the selfish idiots we have for leaders. People would be willing for a good change but implementing that change is money and remember, there are wicked people who like other people’s suffering because it is good business for them…
    While i really hate the image and what people were doing to survive, it is also a fertile and rich organic story that cannot be diluted…it is what it is, like it or hate it…
    As it stands, the Lagos governor is doing his best to clean up Lagos but there are people fighting the very change he is making, so you see, Nigeria is a land of characters and has its own rules…you could even say those two words ‘social struggle’ to a Lagosian and he would look at you funny and say, ‘oyinboloso’, meaning…in my best Yoruba, ‘what English are you speaking????? :-)

    It is a tricky one…but if you think its a task you can handle, then this could well be the change you need in life :-)
    happy traveling and let me know how it goes :-)

  13. I agree with you. I was expecting the worst when I first saw the trailers and adverts for the programme two weeks ago. I still have some criticisms against it, but on the whole, it was not all bad. It portrayed hardworking honest individuals, struggling against all odds to make a living, support their families, and pursue their dreams. It also opened my eyes to the plight of some Lagosians that I haven’t encountered close-up before.
    I also had concerns about the health of the people there – I said Health and Safety would have a field day in those parts of Lagos, they would probably shut down the whole city. But all in all, it was a good documentary and I’m eager to see what they focus on, in the next two episodes.

    (As an aside, I wonder if Indians feel this way too, about how the Western media focuses so much on the slums, and not much else?)

  14. Oops I think I lost my comment :(

  15. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Favoured Girl, no, you didn’t, it got spammed but I sorted it out…:-)

  16. Myne Whitman says:

    I saw the clips someone embedded on Vimeo. I think it was a great documentary. I still do not understand the title and the value of such a programme to the BBC British watching audience. There are hardworking people al over Nigeria and not just in the slums, also Lagos is not all about Olususun or Ojota, where less than 2percent of the 16 million population live.

  17. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Myne Whitman, your thoughts echo with me but in terms of its relevance to the British audience, it was programming, on form and a great relief from the crap on British TV these days. Of course, I understand it fuels the negative stereotypes but at the heart of it for anyone who is open minded, at least, they can see, we are not all thieves and though we do not have a welfare system, we are industrious and resourceful and believe in hard work despite life’s unsavoury circumstances.

    And hell yes, Nigeria and Lagos is not about those locations only. I am hoping the remaining two episodes continue this way and do not go down hill.

  18. Hans Schippers says:

    @Belinda, interesting points. Corrupt leadership, however, should not necessarily be the issue. Social struggle is, almost by definition, a struggle by the poor, exactly against such leadership. Them not having the money is a valid observation. The working class should see itself as their capital: They generate profit for their employers by the labour they conduct. So by making it impossible for the employer’s business to generate money (e.g. by occupying a plant), they are able to pressurize even without money. However, it requires a great sense of solidarity among the whole working class, for otherwise the employer will have his plant cleared by police/army and simply hire new workers. On top of that, this strategy does not really work for those people working on the dump, as they have no employer. Maybe these last two points indeed cause the Lagos scene to be different and more difficult?

  19. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Hans, true talk and no leadership should not be the issue with a social struggle but I grew up in Nigeria and any form of social struggle I know of was crushed by the same leadership that does not understand what a social struggle is about…so, where there is no government which understand the right of the people to speak up and silences them, we still have a leadership issue…it is merry go round and for now that is the way it is even if a few people are working hard on change…

  20. Hans Schippers says:

    @Belinda, yes, from the govt’s point of view it makes sense that they would try to crush all forms of protest. It would clearly be in their interest for the situation not to change, so they can continue luking only after themselves.
    Maybe it’s just that the social struggle is still too young atm, and it needs some charismatic leaders, who could inspire people in such great numbers that crushing becomes impossible. The poor masses always outnumber the ruling class in these situations… There might be hope after all :)

  21. chika says:

    I watched the documentary and I found the people: Joseph (he sounds very educated), Vocal Slender etc very inspirational. True, it is only one fce of Lagos, but it never claims to show Lagos or Nigeria in its totality. I also really liked it that the observer/reporter/docu maker never resorts to cheap patronising statements (oh poor but happy africans rubbish) but seems genuinely full of respect for what these dump dwellers have managed to acheive (including a government which works far better than the nigerian government!)

  22. chika says:

    lol@oyinboloso. The niaja workingclass is dispensable. If your driver goes on strike, there are a million others waiting to take over his job. We are our own social welfare system. How can you successfully go up in arms against the ruling clss when your wife and her other nd her mother’s mother are relying on you???? Our trouble plenty

  23. Belinda Otas says:

    @ Chika, interesting points and true, the narrator did not patronise them with the words you mention. Yes, oh, the trouble plenty when your wife and mother-in-law are waiting for chop :-)

  24. [...] Welcome To Lagos: Look Beyond The Poverty, See The Indomitable Ingenuity In the people [...]

  25. cfnm says:

    An ovation to you and your site! This is just the type of inspiration people want. This is what gets people wound up.

  26. You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

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