Monday, April 24, 2006

The road to Obasanjo's farm is littered with woes

(A reporter's diary published in Nigerian Tribune)
John Awe here recounts his experience on his way to the site of Bellview flight 210 crash recently. It is the route to President Olusegun Obasanjo's farm as well.

Late visitors to the site of the Bellview Flight 210 crash at Lisa Igbore village in Ifo Local Government of Ogun State would take it for granted that it would be an easy task. Everyone knows the place now. The road has been charted. All should be smooth and easy. Right? Wrong.

While late visitors to the site no longer have to contend with the confusion of the best route there, they will still find that accessing the site of the crash remains one of the most unpleasant experiences one can undertake in the course of a day’s work.

To begin with, anyone going to the Lisa Village site of the crash from Lagos have to first tackle one of the most notoriously chaotic routes in Lagos, Lagos-Ogun State express way. This, in case you do not know, is one of the traditional routes of Lagos' traffic menace, otherwise called Molue. It is the route that commands the presence of the most reckless danfo drivers that Lagos State can boast of.

Throw in the continuous milling of pedestrians around the major bus stops along the route, especially Iyana Ipaja, factor into the riotous equation the reckless okada riders, and sprinkle a few private motorists who struggle to match the commercial drivers madness for madness, strength for strength, noise for noise and what you have is a living nightmare.

If a comparative study of the blood pressure levels of people living in various parts of Lagos were to be carried out, those living along this route will emerge tops.

The road leads to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Ota farm interestingly. But it also leads to frustration and despair, especially if you take it during the rush hours. The President does not know that. He flies.

While the rush hours pose the greatest headache, delaying your trip till the office workers have departed is no guarantee that you will have a smoother, swifter journey through this chaotic route. What helps is the presence of traffic police personnel at the trouble spots, particularly the T-junctions at Ijaiye.

For me choosing to wait till the traffic had reduced was a mistake on Thursday November 3 2005. A brief shower earlier in the day had sent all the traffic wardens off the road. That was the invitation the commercial drivers and other motorists needed to turn on their worst behaviour.

Many motorists unwilling to wait for the slow moving traffic lunched into the opposite lanes facing coming vehicles. From Obadeyi Bus stop, Ijaye, about one kilometer from Meiran, three queues of vehicles facing each other had formed, with no further room for any vehicle to move forward or backward.

It would appear stupid to a foreigner or a visitor how that situation could happen in a road as wide as that. But those who know the area said it happens regularly any time the traffic wardens are not there.

Some police men who arrived at the scene looked on helplessly. Some drivers shut down their car engines and stood with their chins on their hands beside their vehicles.

“Why do we do this?” an exasperated man in his 50s was overheard rhetorically asking his wife beside him. People in commercial vehicles are not asking questions. Apparently accustomed to it, they poured out of the vehicles and began trekking the one kilometre or so to the end of the logjam at Meiran.

I joined the exodus, blessing the colleague who had earlier advised me to leave my car at home.
While the crowd was huge, the trekking was confined to the side of the road as the vehicles had taken over the entire road. With the earlier rain, the road was slippery in parts, messy in parts and flooded in other areas. Many men folded their trousers’ legs, while some removed their shoes as we waded through the flood waters.

At the end of the log jam, mini buses were waiting for passengers. The journey from Meiran to Ijoko was riotous. The mini bus we boarded apparently had no serious defence against rain. The seats were all wet and passengers only realized it after they were seated.

But while bickering with the conductor over that, the passengers soon discovered that they had a bigger problem on their hands. When the bus ran into a puddle, by some strange ‘internal mechanism’, water was evenly distributed on all the passengers. There was bedlam as a couple of passengers who had not paid refused to pay. We were happy to make it to Ijoko.

At Ijoko, getting an okada to the site was very easy. The only tricky part was the bargaining. Since the crash and the upsurge in the number of people visiting Lisa, the fare had been increased from N50 to anything between N250 and N2000.

Capitalizing on the availability of many okadas hustling to take me aboard, I haggled the price viciously with a 25 year-old man, who I later got to know as Taiye. I got him to agree to take me there and back for N400.

The trip from Ijoko to Lisa is an exercise in endurance. The road was recently expanded following the Bellview plane crash. However, it retains all its contours, potholes and undulations.

Riding at about 60 kilometre per hour on this road as my okada man was doing was equal to riding a bull being stung by a thousand bees. It was a test of how long your spine could hold out.

After a couple of near-accidents, I asked the okada man if there was any special reason unknown to me why he wanted us both killed. He pointed to the gathering cloud and told me it was going to rain soon and that it was in our best interest to be in and out of the village before the rain began.

The explanation was good. But whichever way I looked at it, the prospect of clambering on a muddy, slippery road was still not half as bad as the prospect of breaking our necks and ending up on cold slates in a morgue. I suggested this to him, though it didn’t seem to have much impact.

We continued to a village called Opake where a hen ran into our path with a full complement of its chicks. In an attempt to avoid them, Taiye swerved, ran into a pothole and swung us into the air. Villagers nearby shouted in apprehension. Luckily for us the machine landed on its wheels without losing much of its balance. But my phone flew off my pocket, landed and scattered into three pieces.

I there and then gave the okada man two options: slow down or have me leave him without paying a kobo. He grudgingly took the former option.

We soon got to the worst portions of the road where motorcyclists were tested for skills and strength. It was a combination of sticky mud and flood water. Motorcyclists discharged their passengers and struggled to get their machines through the slippery mud to the other side. The passengers walked to the other side to join them.

There were up to half a dozen such spots before we reached the site of the crash. At the worst one, even a Toyota Landcruiser (four-wheel drive) being brought to the site by some victims’ relatives was stuck. Unlike in Lagos where youths swarm on you in such situations, here there was no helping hand. But you could trek to town to hire youths. The operative word is hire, because the youths would plainly ask how much you intended to pay them before they would follow you.

We made it to the site with mud splattered on our dresses and legs made heavy by mud. I knew we were there by the morbid smell hanging around the trees.

The security men sat around under tree shades, looking bored to death. Incidentally, no excavation, had taken place that day on account of the rain the previous day. And it did not seem any would take place the next day too because it was already threatening to rain.

The rains make it difficult for the experts to come from town and even more difficult for them to work at the site if they can manage to get there. The security men cannot go to town to seek refreshments on account of the bad road.

I was soon done with nosing around and hopped back on my hired bike for another bumpy road to town.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lucky mistake

Published in Off the cuff in Nigerian Tribune
On account of the incredibly good fortune inadvertently visited on a young lady by an official of MTN recently, it pays to include this item of prayer in your prayer points. “Lord confuse and confound GSM operators to favour me.”
The young woman, Miss Chinenye Onyema was minding her business and doing what all young women do, which I presume included flashing the living daylight out of every person whose name appears in her phone-book. Then suddenly, a call was put through to her by an MTN official, saying she had become a proud owner of a brand new Kia Optima.
The girl reacted like any girl her age would at such news, vis-à-vis, “it’s a lie! Are you serious? S-c-r-e-a-m!!!.” Of course, she no doubt immediately flashed her dad, mum and boyfriend to share the news.
It is all so good. The snag was, it was not her number that the MTN official announcing the winner of the “MTN’s Y’ello Season Promo” meant to call. He meant to call 0806 543 4897, but because, I suspect, Miss Onyeama had very early in the morning prayed an MFM prayer point “Lord, cause the high and mighty to commit errors to favour me this day”, the MTN official could not help calling out instead 0803-543-4897.
Realizing the error and the potential embarrassment this might cause the girl in question and the company, the yellow people had to deep their hands further into their yellow pocket and pay for another car.
Regardless of who intervened or who did not, in the end, the original winner, Mr. Isaac Dike got his brand new Kia and the luckier girl also got her unsolicited , unexpected gift of a brand new Kia.
Are you listening, somebody? It is your turn. You have suffered long enough. It is your turn to shine. I can see it happening to you already. Pray this prayer with holy aggression and you will see wonders.
Say after me: “Oh Lord, as from today, cause any announcer of a promo grand prize to stutter, stammer and babble until and unless they call out my name” Oya, what are you waiting for?
419 again
I experienced some fairly long period of respite from Nigerian fraudsters who bombarded my email and phones with their now popular unsolicited messages. But about a week ago, one dumb soul thought I had had enough respite and called me early in the morning. As usual the number was withheld.
“Hello, bawo ni? “ the chap launched into Yoruba at once, without first finding out what tongue I spoke. Apparently, this was a gamble meant to boost his chance of success if it turned out that the receiver of the call was Yoruba. It was meant to lure the receiver into a false sense of security that the caller knew him well. But if it turned out I did not speak Yoruba, the chap would just drop the call without any further word and try his game on somebody else.
“Emi ni o, lati lu oyinbo” he said, meaning it is me o, from abroad. I knew it was a fraudster at once and played along.
“Ha Uncle Taju, eku ojo meta. Awon omo nko?” I said. Translated, that means UncleTaju, long time How are the children.”. He was pleased with the name I gave him. He said he was okay And the children were fine too. Before I could say anything else he launched into what he wanted me to do for him since it had appeared that he would not be able to come home as he had earlier planned. That too was meant to cut me short from asking some questions that might expose him as not being the genuine Uncle Taju.
He said somebody was in Nigeria with a package containing a Nokia camera phone among other goodies and that I should call him immediately. He gave the man’s name as Pastor Ademola Ajayi and his number as 0806 311 0057. I sounded very grateful to my beloved uncle and offered profuse prayers which I meant to elongate the talk time and decimate the fraudster’s credit. One long minute later I was still praying for him. He probably read my mind and cut the conversation before I could do too much damage. I have not heard from him and his pastor friend ever since, though he promised to call in one hour to find out how things went. Dumb soul!
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Nigerian ladies go man-baiting

Nigerian ladies go man-baitingSome Nigerian ladies leverage on technology to advance the old art of flirting, reports JOHN AWE.

"Quand je dis i,aime cest de tout mon coveur. Hey stop gettg confused. It's just d French way of sayg I just thought of u with all my heart. LUV U WIT ALL MY HEART."

This text will extract the same set of feelings and reactions from any man, whatever his background, race or creed- broad smiles and general feelings of accomplishment and appreciation. Except of course, if the text is from a source he does not know, in which case the next sure thing the recipient wants to do is to call the sender and clarify things.

Welcome to the world of man-baiting. Once you make the call, you are already in a game contrived by a lonely female in search of a romantic liaison. Lonely female? Well, not every time. Sometimes it is a female who is bored or broke, or both.

The sole purpose of the game is to pick up men without manifestly appearing to be doing so. It is mostly being resorted to by young women in tertiary institutions who are finding it tough keeping up with the financial demands of their rich life styles.

The targets are rich men who can afford to spend a few thousands on strangers of the opposite sex. But hitting these targets take a little time, wiles, and patience. All these the players have.
The numbers of those to try this game on is randomly chosen. A set of numbers that appear exotic however seem to be more picked upon than the others. Some numbers do point to the wealth, connections and power of their owners. Owners of such numbers, for example, one ending with 1234, do get preyed upon by man-baiters very often.

As a rule man-baiting texts look as innocuous as possible and are wired to excite curiosity. They look every inch like the senders know the receivers like Adam knew Eve. They have no fixed format, and come in different tones, tempo and character lengths.

There was one that simply stated: “C u tmrw”. For the benefits of those not versed in text language, that means “See you tomorrow”. Another variety of this that someone shared with Infosystems asks a question: “Are we seeing tomorrow?”

Those who receive these texts naturally spend the next few minutes trying to recollect what appointment they fixed but that they have forgotten. But if with their best efforts they cannot seem to recall who has the number from which the text originated, they will naturally reach for their phones to call. And when they do, the sender of the text is waiting with her sexiest voice.
And once this conversation starts, it takes a man who is able to resist the charms of a skilful temptress not to fall prey.

“Hello” you say as the phone is picked.
“Hello” a sexy female voice answers.
“You just sent a text now to this number. Are you sure you didn’t get the number wrong?” you ask the sexy voice.
“Oh I’m sorry; I meant to send it to a friend. This is so embarrassing. I hope your wife didn’t see it first?” she says giggling. Now, this is where she gets to know if she has landed a willing player or not. The answer, whatever words you choose can be categorized into two.
First: “No, lucky me. It is ok then. Bye.” That is the likely answer from any married man who has ears only for his wife’s voice.

Two: “I don’t have one yet. By the way, this is a very lovely voice”. This is the likely answer from a typical man not done with playing the field, married or not. And he is the one the lady is looking for. How technology solves the problem of two people in need!
In a few minutes, what they will be talking about next is where each party is located. A few calls later, they will be talking about where to meet.

As Infosystems investigation reveals, it is not every time the initiator of the game is interested in romantic escapades. Sometimes, all she wants is the next credit to continue her frequent calls to friends and lovers.

In this instance, after a few calls from the victim, the man-baiter requests for recharge voucher. If the victim plays along and sends it, she asks for more until the victim is annoyed and signs off permanently. That fits the description of what can be called advanced fee love fraud.

“What you call man-baiting is not totally new” said Tayo, a technical support staff of a Lagos based Internet Service Provider. “It is simply the domestication of a cyberspace practice. We have ladies going into online chat rooms for the sole purpose of picking up men. Some post their pictures on the web and when men respond they start an online affair”.

Indeed, pictures of Nigerian ladies seeking foreign lovers from cyberspace are numerous. Some genuinely want a man earning foreign currency who will come to rescue them from the grinding poverty in Nigeria.

Others are interested in the collecting some money they can use to set up themselves and their Nigerian lover at the expense of a foreign 'idiot'.

Some Nigerian men also go to online chat rooms to introduce themselves as women with the sole aim of picking up men. When any man falls into their traps, they use every trick in the book to convince him he has landed a pretty, lonely lady who is ready for marriage. After a while they demand for money and when the victim obliges, he begins a fruitless journey where he continues to part with his money till he is fed up and gives up.

Whether it is French-couched love professions sent out to strange mobile phones, or it is lurid pictures sent into cyberspace, the game is the same. And the facilitator is the same- technology.

Amazing world of amphibious Lagosians

First published in the Nigerian Tribune

  • They throw babies into lagoon to acclimatize
  • Organize parties in floating bars/hotels
  • Have own hospitals/maternity, cemeteries,’ police’, kings and floating palace on the lagoon.
It is possible for someone to live in Lagos for 100 years and never get to see all of its aquatic splendour, all of its perilous life styles, incredible filth, and all of the diverse kind of people who make it up. But anyone who cares to investigate would be shocked by the sheer difference between life as it is known by a generality of Lagosians and as it is seen by a smaller group of less privileged others who also live in the self-same city.
Driving over the third Mainland Bridge, many motorists have wondered at the sight of houses, mostly of planks, bamboo sticks and corrugated sheets erected right in the middle of the sprawling lagoon. There is no access to them except by boats, mostly canoes. Many are wont to wonder who the people are. Do they have children? How do they prevent their little ones from drowning? Are they real human beings or spirits? Given the phobia of most Lagosians for water, they are most likely to conclude that the people on the lagoon are spirits.

But as Saturday Tribune found out last Sunday, they are no spirits. They are human beings carrying on their lives in their little watery community, oblivious of how anyone else is living outside their immediate environment.

Welcome to the world of rustic living in the fishing communities of Sokoro, Migbewe, and Adogbo situated just a little above water level on the lagoon.

Woman frying puff-puff in a canoe
The first major challenge of the expedition was transportation. From Iso pako (saw-mill) in Ebute Meta end of the Third Mainland Bridge to the community of this ‘amphibious’ Lagosians, one needs a boat. But being a Sunday, there was no commercial boat. A friendly machine operator who would like to be identified only as ‘Baba Tee’ at the saw mill advised that such an expedition was better done on a weekday or a Saturday when there would be commercial boats.

But are the people friendly, or would they take exception to a young man poking his camera at their faces on a sweet Sunday evening? Did they have any latent propensity to throw strange, pestering people into the lagoon when nobody is looking?

“Ah ah, they are nice people o! Why would they do that?” Baba Tee asked, laughing. “They are real people like you and me. They just happen to be living on water because of where they come from. If they don’t live here (on water) they will fall sick”. Baba Tee said in Yoruba. He repeated his advice for a return visit on a week day.

Floating 'hospital'
But the community was visible from the saw mill and one could not imagine coming that far without being able to accomplish the rest of the task. One could see many canoes being paddled across the lagoon, but as the saw-miller explained, those were privately owned ones and they would not come to the saw mill from where one could convince them to offer charter service.

A long wait at the saw mill however paid off as a young man came ashore to see a friend at the saw mill. He willingly agreed to be an emergency tourist guide, and in a rustic simplicity eagerly ushered one into his canoe without asking for payment. Or did he harbour a hidden agenda to take the stranger to the deepest part of the lagoon, overturn the contraption and swim to safety? He looked harmless enough and smiled very broadly and genuinely. But he had a tattoo of scorpion on his either shoulder.

He wished to be known simply as Folorunsho. The expedition started. Initial trouble turned out to be how to keep the canoe from shaking as if it was going to empty its two passengers into the lagoon at any moment.
“Is it normal for a canoe to shake like this?” one asked Folorunso. It is not the canoe that is shaking sir. It is you,” he replied, smiling reassuringly. “There is no problem” he assured. One had earlier inquired about life jacket and the question drew laughter. What use would it serve, Folorunsho had asked. There was not a single person in the community who could not swim. Even pregnant women would dive into the lagoon should a favourite spoon drop into the brown water, he added..

The entire community is made up of three small ones that would be no more than streets were it to be on land, namely Sokoro, Migbewe, and Adogbo. They used to be separate communities with different baales (chiefs), but now population expansion has removed the distance or distinction between one community and the other. Individual communities still retain their baales.
As it is on land, so is it in this watery settlement. The ‘streets’ are filled with kids and women roaming about with wares to sell. The difference is that the hawking is done with a canoe. What you can get to buy from them range from fruit such as banana, oranges, pawpaw, mangoes; cooked food such as ewa (beans), pap, bread and butter, fried egg and yam, and fried puff puff, hot and fresh, off a sizzling frying pan in a canoe. It was amazing to see the woman maneuver her canoe expertly in the heavy traffic of other canoes, with the charcoal stove on top of which is balanced a frying pan with hot oil, mixed flour, and water for washing her hands.
The sort of jobs these people do ensure that they do not have cause to go ashore for a very long time. Folorunsho and another son of the soil (or water, in this instance), Mayowa, explained that there are people who have never gone ashore since they came to the settlement from their original villages in Badagry. They are largely fishermen who leave from the settlement for the high sea and return straight into their homes at the close of work.
Buyers of fish from outside visit them in their homes while their wives and children smoke the rest for later sales. Most women are engaged smoking fish and selling them to buyers who come from outside.
There are also fish net makers, boat- builders, crayfish trap makers, barbers, tailors, shoe makers and at least one GSM call center operator, among others.
The houses are made of planks, bamboos, corrugated sheets or palm fronds and related materials. But one rich person sank a block house right in the middle of the community. How he managed to do this without the technology of Julius Berger would get many modern construction engineers scratching their heads.
Folorunsho tried to explain the technique, and it turned out not to be dramatically different from the one employed by construction companies in constructing bridge pillars in the water. The only difference is that this local effort did not profit from any technological assistance. It was pure brawn. An area of the lagoon was encircled with very strong planks, closely planted into the base of the lagoon. Then the circle was filled up with sand and concrete till it was elevated above water level. Folorunsho explained that it was very expensive. He personally would have preferred to use money for such a venture to go and buy land in town.
It takes about N15 000 to erect the common plank and bamboo house on the lagoon. It can be erected in a few days and can be very fast when the owner has all the money ready from the onset. 50 percent of the entire community are living in rented houses. An entire house of two rooms and a parlour goes for N600 per month. Rent is paid strictly per month and no landlord is allowed to ask for more than one month at once.
Some of the houses are tastefully furnished. Most of them have black and white television. There is one with a colour Television, Video cassette player and a VCD/CD player. The gentleman even has what qualifies to be called a rug, a two-seater cushion chair, and has his treasured pictures hung on the bamboo wall.
Electricity is tapped from town but no NEPA man has yet been bold enough to visit the community to serve bills or collect money for light consumption. One or two houses also have generators.
With the structure of the house one wondered if they never caught cold especially during the harmattan period. Folorunsho and another community member, wale said on the other hand heat was their biggest problem. According to them, most people sleep on their verandahs to avoid heat.
Community Police
The community has its own arrangements for security. Folorunsho explained that this was necessary since the regular police in Nigeria were reluctant to come into the lagoon to enforce the law.
“Police don’t like to come here to arrest people. The water used to scare them” Folorunsho explained in his imperfect English. Our expedition made a brief stop over in the house of the overall head of the community’s security apparatus. The man looked too young for someone who is the equivalent of Nigeria’s Ehindero on the lagoon. He seemed happy to see our little party. He was okay, except that the repercussion of bleaching was catching up with him in all the wrong places. If the ‘IG’ was this badly bleached what would the criminals in the community look like, one thought.
His job was said to be easier than Nigeria’s IG’s, because there is hardly any theft in the community.
“First nobody can come from outside to steal here. Secondly, everybody knows everybody very well. So you cannot steal from your brother,” Folorunsho explained, adding however that in the event that anybody did, the community police took care of the person in such a way that he would never try it again.
Community damsels
The community was complete with its own damsels. A couple of them were sighted strolling on the hand-made overhead bridge that led to the most popular floating hotel at Sokoro. Elsewhere, you could see young ladies with made up faces in t-shirts and trousers commuting in canoes to destinations within the community.
Then there was the shocking sights of topless ladies smoking fish in many verandahs in the community. There were a couple with nothing on besides panties.
Folorunsho explained that the business of smoking fish was a very difficult one which got the women very uncomfortable.
“It is one of the most difficult jobs here. You know the smoke is entering your eyes and the heat is too much and you are sweating. So some of them just don’t care about clothes”, he explained. But would that not bring all the young men coming in droves to buy fish they have no use for, one asked.
“Ah ah, no. Why? “ Folorunsho answered laughing. “There is no such thing. But may be some people do it. But it is not common. You know the women are not really beautiful at such times. You even pity them. And again they are our sisters.”
Promiscuity level
The community frowns seriously at men who sleep with other people’s wives. All the men and their families are known to each other and bond very well. But as Folorunsho explained, it had been known to happen for a man to have affairs with women they are not married to. When the original husband catches the philandering man, he is free to administer any punishment he deems fit, or he may just call in the community police who takes the offender to the chief. But there is said to be a very strong traditional curse that afflicts women who indulge in extra marital affairs.
“They will begin to bleed and if they fail to confess they will die”, Folorunsho explained. Although he had not seen anyone so afflicted but the belief is overwhelming among the community residents. Many male residents would rather go over to the floating hotel where some call girls are said to reside and pay for sex.
The singles are however free to do what they see fit. Under the cover of the night some of them cross the overhead bridge into the floating hotel to earn some money, pleasuring men.
Throwing babies into lagoon
“But is it true that you people throw your babies into the lagoon to ascertain whether they are bastards or not”, one asked.
“Oh I 've heard people say that. They say if the baby is a bastard he will sink and if not he will float. I don’t know if other community do that. But we do not. You cannot know a bastard like that. What we do is we throw our childrens into the water to become friends with it so that they can never be killed by water again. But the childrens must be well at the time. You must not throw sick childrens into water. Our childrens know how to swim before they can even talk self because when their mother is swimming she throws them into water too,” he explained.
On the most popular ‘street’ in the community which qualifies to be the community’s equivalent of Oshodi, the ‘traffic’ was chaotic, even for a Sunday. Canoes bumped into each other and finding where to dip your paddle sometimes was a problem.
“Do you have traffic accidents here?” one asked.
“Yes, but not like the ones on the land. People don’t die in such accidents. Some people may not be looking at where they are going and seriously hit you. You just settle it and go your way. But engine boats can be very dangerous because they sometimes lose control. If there is one coming your way and you see that he has lost control, you just dive into the water before he hits your canoe.”
Folorunsho also explained that for there to be sanity, engine-propelled boats had been banned from hawking in the ‘streets’. Even when they are going to the high sea , they use paddle until they get out of the community.
“Our chief is a tough man. If he catches you, there will be trouble. There are many children using canoe. You cannot just ‘drive’ anyhow.” Folorunsho said.
One Canoe per person
Despite the spirit of communality, canoes are one thing that community members don’t share. A canoe or two is parked outside each house as people park cars outside their homes on land.
“Nobody will borrow you his canoe. Everybody has his own. Some even have five. If you have many childrens you will like to give them their own canoe to move around. And you must keep your paddle very well. If you go out and park your canoe and leave the paddle inside, somebody may just take the canoe away. So you must take the paddle with you or put it somewhere else.
A carved boat is to this community what a Mercedes Benz is to the people on land. A small carved canoe costs N5000 and can last up to 20 years. A carved boat with an outboard engine is to this community what a Pajero Jeep is to the people on land. It is owned by the rich. Apart from carved boats, there are ones built from planks. They cost between N2 000 and N2500 and do not last more than about two years. A huge fishing boat of this type costs N10 000.
There is a common cemetery for burying people who do not wish, or are not rich enough to be taken to their original village. According to Folorunsho, the cemetery is a tiny island further down into the lagoon. But when the water level rises during raining season, the so called cemetery is submerged.
Consequently the lagoon has on occasions returned some dead bodies to their owners before the beer bottles used for the burial ceremonies are parked away.
The stench that wafts into the nostrils of commuters on the highways (waterways) in this community is incredible. It is a mixture of the murky smell of fresh fish, smoked fish and human waste.
In the densely populated Migbewen, human waste plops up beside your canoe now and again as you navigate the lagoon.
The reason is simple. The toilet system in the houses is the more original form of water closet (WC), whereby you squat on a platform and do the business directly into the water below.
Five minutes of navigation on this brownish water fills your mouth with saliva, but the residents find nothing wrong with it. A child not more than ten was even sighted doing a backstroke in the evil-looking water beside their house while his parents look on.
“How often do people fall sick here?, one asked.
“Oh we are very strong people. We don’t fall sick. But we have many hospitals and clinics. I will take you to the biggest one. But you are only going to find pregnant women there waiting to deliver. People don’t fall sick here” Folorunsho said proudly. But that’s a shock because if normal people were to have a dip in the evil smelling water in the community, they are sure to land on their back in a hospital, being treated for a combination of cholera, stomach disorder and respiratory and urinary tract infections.
Friendly people
Whatever their problem, these amphibious Lagosians are generally friendly and easy-going. They greeted the Saturday Tribune crew with smiles and took no exception to their pictures being taken. Some of the children even shouted that their pictures should be taken. Most of them have not seen the four walls of a school. They speak pidgin and say sorry when they splash you water with their paddles or when their canoes bump into yours. There are only few lucky ones as Folorunsho who went as far as a secondary school before returning to the community to commence fishnet making, shoe cobbling and singing.
“I went to the high sea for fishing once and nearly died in an accident. Since then I’ve been doing other things. My ambition is to be a popular musician. I can rap in English and my dialect. I have a demo ready and hope to find a sponsor someday,” he concluded as he completed his task as a guide, bringing the canoe to a final stop at the saw-mill.
In another few minutes and with an unsolicited tip in his pocket, Folorunsho would happily row back to his community and his usual routine which he must faithfully maintain to keep his head above water until his big dream comes true.
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