I took a keke ride home from Iyana Isolo in Lagos on the night of Nigeria's independence anniversary, October 1st 2016. The rider of the tricycle, a smiling old man, paid two sets of gun-toting policemen a hundred Naira each, the total sum of the fare he took from his four passengers, over a distance of about a kilometre. 'What happens now,' I asked him. 'Nothing,' he said. 'That's the prize I have to pay if I want to work at night.' I made a mental note to write about the experience on my blog, because it had all the trappings of a commentary on the Nigerian condition.
Earlier that day, I'd watched a film titled Gidi Blues at the Lights Camera Africa film festival, which had beautiful images of the Floating School in Makoko. On my way back through Third Mainland Bridge, I stared at the empty space where the school used to be, the grey waters of the lagoon calm in the absence of the multi-storey structure that collapsed in June 2016. The school, functional as it was to the community, is gone with little hopes of a quick replacement. The image, useful to the storyteller, remains.
Lagos is rife with stories begging to be told, but the best of these stories often involve people who lack the ability to tell it themselves. They are trying to survive in this raucous city. E C Osondu, a Nigerian writer now living in the United States, in an essay filled with nostalgia titled Literary Lagos, said 'there are enough stories from one molue bus ride in Lagos to fill the pages of a hefty novel.'
The molue is, however, not just a cistern of stories for the writer to draw from; it is also emblematic of the growing pains of a city that is trying to transform into an orderly megacity. The molue with it's tightly-packed passengers and old rickety parts that sound like a moving symphony orchestra, is a relic of the city's chaotic past that the government would like to shed and replace with better looking BRT buses. But it's also a necessity to many who strain to afford the BRT rates, cheap as they appear. The government is succeeding in this struggle, as the molue, once ubiquitous, is now found on just a few routes in the city. The storytellers draw their stories from the cistern, leave, but the realties remain for the people who live these stories to grapple with.
This isn't a dilemma for many who write, take photographs, or create narratives by whatever media, and it usually isn't for me too as I chronicle life as I see it. But that night, as I saw the keke rider shrug in front of me, I realised that I had a story to tell, but he had a life to live. As I begin my journey as an Amplify fellow, hoping to write about the things I see and experience, I think again about that keke rider. I alighted from his tricycle and rushed home to grab my pen and start the blog post. He turned around, headed to the Isolo to continue his business of living.
Featured image via Wikimedia by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung