Monday, December 24, 2007

Lagos- Chop Life City


I have spent two nights in Lagos, yet it feels like a week or two. Things move so fast here but each moment is filled with all kinds of experiences. What you experience in Lagos in one week can be like a month in other countries. Scenes and events from a drive from the airport to Victoria Island is enough to write a short play – I guess this is why Nollywood is so prolific. This is all heightened around the Christmas and New Year period when Lagos is on a full high. The festive period is a time of great activity: weddings, engagement parties, Christmas parties, all kinds of parties for all kinds of reasons or at times, for no reason at all. People simply want to ‘Chop Life’. This is Chop Life city, the home of CLC – Chop Life Culture. The parties never end. The people must party. The unwritten social constitution accepts it as a fundamental human right. It is the land of the world’s happiest people.

In December, hundreds if not thousands of Nigerians in the diaspora return home for the festive period (and the airlines make a killing at this time because they increase their fares knowing they will still have full flights). For Naija’s returning home, it’s not just time for gifts and good cheer, it’s a time to “show what you got” and strut your stuff. For every indignity suffered overseas, the few weeks spent in Nigeria will make up for it, when all of a sudden you who may have been a struggling nobody with a strange surname in a foreign country get to Lagos and become a ‘Big Man’. People who can tell you are from ‘abroad’ or that you are a person of affluence or influence (in short, if they smell the cash) with full-toothed smiles and solicitous eyes will call you “Oga, Chairman, General, Chief etc”, not because they really feel you maybe any of these things but because they are simply seeking their own slice of your financial cake. Some egos thrive on this and so some pockets get filled up from ego-stroking. And for those with the same background as you, well, the competition is on: the question is who is the Bigger Boy: What do you drive? What do you wear? Where do you live? Who’s your daddy? How many bottles of Champagne can you buy? Who’s on your arm? How fair skinned is she? These are, of course, all broad generalisations, but you get the picture, Lagos is not for light weights. For example, on Sunday night, I was driving in Victoria Island and then got on the phone with a friend in Nairobi, so I parked opposite a club not too far from my family home here. In less than 30 minutes, I counted at least six brand new Range Rovers, five Mercedes Benzes and a plethora of other luxury cars driving up, many with personalised licence plates. The “sistas” all looking Beyonceified in their carefully chosen colour coded clothes, glittering hand bags and dangerously high stilettos, ensured that they did not go unnoticed in the whole charade. It was both a car show and a fashion show at the same time. You can smell BIG money everywhere, though the source of the money however, is another issue.

Often when people talk about Nigeria or Africa, they focus on the poverty not the wealth, the dangers not the pleasures, and while watching one of those Nollywood movies on Africa magic, I was impressed when one of the actors driving down the streets of Abuja, pointed at the skyscrapers and said “They don’t show this is on CNN, they just want people to believe we live on trees”. True to form, I was watching the BBC a few hours later and on a programme called Have your Say, there was a debate about aid ( in the context of humanitarian assistance) and conflict across the world, but the only pictures they were showing in the background were kwashiorkor ridden African children with their genitals in full display, bare breasted African women and drug-dazed pseudo-Rambo rebels contorted into strange positions while shooting AK47s at some unseen opponents in lush distant bushes. This is the Africa the world knows, not the Africa where people enjoy and “chop life”. In addition, they will never show unclothed Caucasians in a state of vulnerability on television (unless it carries a warning) and secondly why use Africans as the image of poverty? As if that is all we are about. I suggest that the Ministry of Tourism think about changing the brand of Nigeria from ‘the Heartbeat of Africa’ to Nigeria: Chop Life Country. It seems so much more appropriate and by the time you explain that Chop Life means ‘eat life’ i.e. enjoy life to the fullest, then we may just position Nigeria as a key tourist destination. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have some pounds and dollars and you are coming here to live large or oppress those who live here – they may just have more of both currencies than you do. You better bring a truck full of money if you think you will impress anyone because Lagos can be both expensive and demanding, and before you know it, you have spent all you have. But at least you will have enough memories to show for it.

People here know how to have a good time and are as committed to it as Italians are committed to their one hour siesta. In the next five days, I have three weddings, three receptions, traditional engagement parties and a number of other parties and reunions. I suspect that by the time I get on the next flight, I would definitely need a holiday. By the way, I am writing this from Terra Kulture – one of my Think Zones in Lagos ( as you will discover in different cities across the world, I have what I call TZ’s which are cafes, restaurants or lounges where I can think, write, eat, drink and people watch). If you dabble in any of the above, Terra Kulture is a must. Its wi-fi enabled and they also have theatre (every Sunday), an art gallery, a library, a bookshop and an internet cafe. The ambience is arty cum sophisticated with Afro-decor. When I was driving in, I smiled when I saw a banner saying ‘London has the West End, New York has Broadway, Lagos has Theatre@Terra. To know more about Terra Kulture have a look at their site: http://www.terrakulture.com/.

Anyway, enough for now, more from Lagos- without a doubt. Merry Christmas from Chop Life City.

7 comments:

Saymama said...

Brilliant piece. I agree with you, Nigeria should certainly consider an image branding alternative and "Chop Life Country" has an cool ring to it. I've often said that international social and fashion magazines, such as the likes of InStyle and Harper's Bazaar should feature some of our social scenes in Nigeria and the powerful fashion statements on full display..from cars to outfits. It would certainly give the Hollywood scene a run for their money; and it would certainly present a stark contrasting image to the obvious ones in circulation about Nigeria or Africa in general.
I love TerraCulture, a refreshing and welcome haven from the chaos that is Lagos.
Looking forward to reading more of your reflections.

Afolabi said...

lagos.."chop life city"..I'm a ph guy and that city is boring compared to lagos...I just couldn't help but notice how in Lagos people are ever ready
to "faaji". Love the city though.

Fola77 said...

chop life city indeed! I didn't know TerraKulture was wi-fi enabled, I will definitely take my laptop with me next time. I guess you have to love Lagos life, or leave it. Not evryone 'chops' life in Lagos. Personally, I find Lagos overwhelming and exhausting. People sure DO know how to party though.

DO said...

SAYMAMA: Ese pupo. I agree on the need to sell Nigeria. Those mags you mentioned exist and are being produced at alarming rates! The problem is the fact the quality is often bad and even for the really high quality ones, high-street and high-end shops will not carry them on their shelves, if they do check under "Ethnic” or “World"... In the UK experience, you often have to go to Finsbury Park or Peckham or some Naija enclave to get these mags. So, yes the problem is not just production but also distribution. Thanks for your kind comments and for spreading the word.

Afolabi; Thanks for yours. I have heard PH is like a live wire! I am planning to do a tour soon. Wanna swap for a bit?

Yes, Lagos can be as described. TK sometimes charge you £500 for WI-FI access. Don’t forget to check out the art upstairs for inspiration first. Interesting: I may just be sitting there blogging - as I am now- when you come and you would not be able to tell. The beauties of anonymity...

Fola77 said...

anonymous? ore mi, u can't tell? ME, ur no1 fan? U still talked to me about the returning home club some days ago??? We were talking about racism in the West and itzs effects on Africa...?

As for the art upstairs, my first visit to TK was for a photography exhibition of a dear brotherfriend. I believe his work is still on display...

Well done, keep sharing, and keep shining.

Phoenix said...

Love the piece on Chop Life City. It is indeed. A friend once told me that Lagosians are constantly rushing. Rushing to work, rushing home and even rushing in their dreams. I found that quite funny. Lagos is fun and sometimes pretentious, with all the people who love speakinf their "fonetics".
Love the city though!!!!

Anonymous said...

tp, came across ur peice while looking for terraculture events having read about it in nextonsunday. it is great to know that all is not lost and that this country has so much to offer but its like a diamond that never sees the light of day, it becomes worthless. cnn derides us and our leaders just cant get enough of the loot leaving our youths hapless and clueless.but what to do? time is running and the happy people just need to raise the game. great cars on bad roads? -minus lagos sha.u don shadow the tag on good pple, great nation? go check nike tag and u go c say anoda 410.poor madam dora. Oga, but wetin to do?we don sidon look tay.any way, terra kulture i go land soon. ibadan based.