Nigerians are incensed by the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos for portraying the city as a dung heap. It is “condescending” and “colonialist”, piqued Wole Soyinka roared. Like a broken weir, criticisms surged from the Lagos State government, the Action Congress and the federal government. Naturally I was angry until I watched the documentary. Now I don’t feel like spanking the BBC or joining the wail of fury against them because they told us the bitter truth.
Though lopsided and deliberately “condescending” the BBC did not fabricate their story. The video was neither fiction nor faction; rather it was a faithful rendering of the slums of Lagos that are a stone throw from the seat of government. The sting lies in the peculiarity of our race; Nigerians don’t mind abusing each other, their leaders and the situation of their country. But we cannot take the same criticism when voiced by an outsider. It reminds me of Odia Ofeimun’s question to Keith Richards on how much self-censorship he went through when writing his column. The reason being that as an Outsider Inside, Mr Richards – an English man – had to be very careful in speaking about Nigeria or Nigerians.
Besides, our anger cannot be justified because when we fail to tell our story, we should not be infuriated when foreigners – biased by their own world view – lecture us about our own country. Pardon my intransigence, but many of the insightful studies about this country have been carried out by non-Nigerians – be it in the arts, music, language or history. What do we get from our local intellectuals and journalists, but an adulation of absurdities? The pages of our newspapers are littered with news about the ‘big men’ and society gossips. We need to be original and break the mould of recycling mediocrity in order to produce good documentaries that are just mere tools of government propaganda.
Moreover, what I watched was the typical story of the man-of-the street or man-of-the-gutters (no offence intended); an unsavoury but stark reflection of the Nigerian story. Eric Obuh (Vocal Slender) and Joseph Orji are just one out of many of who toil and labour to make their dreams reality. It is a human story; Eric is an adventurous waste scavenger. He wants to be a singer and he intends to own a record label. Rather than steal or wait for maga to pay, he picks gold from wastes.
Joseph is a scrape waste dealer and has been in the business for twelve years. He equates himself with stockbrokers in the high streets of Lagos and Abuja. The value of his product depends on the fluctuations of the US dollars. Yet Joseph has big plans for the future. He dreams of his daughter being the future Miss World. Not really out of place, for he fell in love in the dung where he meet his wife – Elizabeth – a former food seller.
While some Nigerian elites cry horse on a perceived injustice of this documentary, the protagonist are happy that someone has finally given eyes and ears to their ordeal, aspirations and expectation. What is most striking is the cheerfulness that these fellows exude: from Joseph and Eric, Mohammed the Fulani Cattle manager, to the graduate of Agriculture whose innovation has converted cattle blood into Naira bills. Same goes for other auxiliary services like bars, barbers, restaurants, that place bread on the table of many families residing in Lagos.
Sincerely I do not understand the victim howl of the Lagos State government. This video is a reflection of the magnitude of problems Fashola has to contend with. The fact that he has done a lot, does not retrieve immensity of the ‘much’ that still needs to be done. If not for anything, this is a commendation of the amount of filth that Raji Fashola has to contend with. Those fighting him should allow him to work.
The federal government’s protest is mere cosmetic anger. They should please focus on the three dominant problems of Nigeria – credible elections, electric power and corruption. We are all nauseated with the rancid incompetence of our leaders. The many years of broken promises, the greed of a clutch of politipreneurs (politicians who have turned government from a service to the common good into mercantile venture) created the slums in Lagos and others in all parts of this country. The BBC would have found it difficult to shoot a documentary if our shanty towns were fewer, hidden or non-existent.
Like Gaskiya commented in a story in NEXT’s website, “I have watched the first two parts of this documentary and I was struck by the cheerfulness, fortitude and more importantly the core values and faith that the people in the documentary demonstrated. I felt heartened that in these miserable corners of Lagos, there were good people daring to dream, working hard and trying to raise decent families and build honest sources of income. The aristos of Nigeria instead of complaining should learn about decent living from these guys.” I could not have expressed it better than he did.