Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Welcome to Lagos (guest post)

A Somewhat Unexpected Welcome to Lagos

Generally speaking, I am inclined to agree that international audiences appear to be far more interested in pictures of starving Africans, as opposed to well to do Africans living in luxury in Africa.

Whether this is due to what they are shown by the media or due to their own expectations is debatable. However there is no doubt in my mind that a situation that allows supposedly educated people to state that the only thing that they know about an entire continent is wildlife in East Africa, wars around the continent or starving people is unacceptable.

It is always extremely saddening to hear that children in the Western world, some of whom bear African names indicating their roots are guilty of asking ignorant questions about people living in trees in Africa. It really makes me wonder about the quality of education in the West and appreciate the power of the media to shape the way we think.

There is no doubt a lack of balance in the coverage of Africa, and Nigeria in particular as I know too well. Such coverage leaves a lot of people suspecting average Nigerians such as myself who have never been in trouble, or committed any crime whatsoever of being fraudulent.

I have a degree in electronic engineering and like a lot of young Nigerians, am working to make a living. I am by no means an uncommon example of hard work and honesty (and believe it or not modesty too) in Nigeria, but that is not the Nigerian the world knows, instead they know the Nigerian stereotype that large corporations such as Sony perpetuate with tasteless insinuations in TV ads, or that the very same news corporations that we will eventually pay to air ads promoting Nigeria emphasize by focusing on the negatives whenever reporting on Nigeria.

Let’s be honest, a lot of Western businesses would be very wary of an email from a Nigerian indicating interest in doing business.

I am of the opinion that as long as other people tell our stories, they will naturally tell what strikes them the most – that is probably human nature.

I think it was Fela that implied in one of his songs that Mungo Park was led to the source of the River Niger by African guides, but because he had the pen and paper history will forever claim that he discovered it.

As for the BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos, it first came to my attention when I saw the pictures on the BBC website and I thought to myself here we go again.

I saw the comments in response to Will Anderson’s blog, one of which pretty much summed up the entire mood of the majority of Nigerians by asking him to stick his face in a dustbin. Unavoidably, my opinion was already skewed before I had seen the documentary myself.

However on Saturday I saw the first episode of the documentary and far from leaving me with a feeling of annoyance, it left me with a sense of pride and the desire to send Will (…yes we can now be on first name basis), the warmest pat on the back an email can achieve.

It is true that he focused on the slums of Lagos when there was a lot more to Lagos than its slums, but to me the documentary was more about Lagosians than about the city itself. In less than one hour he managed to capture the essence of Lagos, its people – the frustrated yet happy, hardworking, determined, ingenuous, loyal, and caring people that the majority of us are in spite of our difficulties. He was able to show people that there are quite a few of us who are determined to honestly work our way out of poverty, getting our hands dirty…literally.

Some people have questioned why he chose a men at a dump, and not some equally hardworking young men outside the slums of Lagos and I have to say that he may be guilty of not trying because British audiences might not be as moved by the story of say largely self taught computer programmers in their mid-20’s who about three years after obtaining their degrees and starting a business in their living room now employ about ten people and are handling multi-million dollar deal, providing Nigerian made solutions to meet our local needs (that example is not fiction).

All indications point to the fact that in spite of his four month stay in Lagos, Will was unable or unwilling to find a story worth telling outside of the slums of Lagos.

In spite of that, I appreciate that he did not import the slums and that they are real. What he showed us is a reality in Lagos, though by no means the only reality. I feel satisfied that while he could easily have shown any of the easy to find evils around Lagos he found positivity where most people would have failed to look. He found love, friendship and respect for others, qualities that sometimes appear to be scarce in people.

I worry that the biggest critics of the documentary including our High Commissioner to the UK who really needs to find more productive ways to keep busy, are guilty of what appears to concern them the most, an inability to see beyond the dump and see the people whose stories all human beings, especially us Nigerians with all that is said about us can be proud of.

Lagos faces a lot of challenges, but somehow manages to be one of the largest single economies in West Africa, boasting annual budgets larger than those of quite a few African countries. More than anything else, Lagos is its people – we all play a role. I hope that in the future, organizations like the BBC will show the other faces of Lagos as well.

If the first episode of this series does not show that we are great people from a (potentially) great nation then it’s quite possible that only a miracle will.

Personally, I cannot wait to see the next episode; I hope it’s at least just as good as the first.

Umeike Ekenedilinna


April 27, 2010.


Anonymous,  4:43 pm  

Brilliant write up.
Like the writer mentioned, a lot of people just aren't allowing themselves to see past the dump which is unfortunate.

kfc,  4:59 pm  

Yes, I think it was a moving documentary too - a little bit too Avatar (fantasy oriented story) in its production, but as you said - the producer/director didn't make it up, it was all real.

It broke my heart when I saw the young man making chicken feed from the abattoir waste - he is obviously very intelligent, if only there was more assistance for bright, enterprising young folk .....but they say necessity is the mother of invention - I'm sure it would never have crossed his mind if he had been sitting comfortably in his father's marble palace. But I hope some good Samaritan can find him and assist him before he develops lung cancer!

kfc,  5:10 pm  

Also, I like the fact that rather than simply portraying the place as a dump (metaphorically and otherwise) as Western reporters are prone to do, he went to an actual dump to see how people are living off what we (read Westerners and city-slickers) waste. By so doing, he has put a perspective on slum-dwellers and made them human - not just "those people that live on the dump in Africa". So people can now relate to them and see that they are human, just like you and me, with the full range of human emotions and expectations/aspirations. It wasn't just "please send $5 now", it was showing the strength of the human spirit through adversity.

Anonymous,  5:16 pm  


Iyaeto 11:37 pm  

@ Umeike you've said it all and it such a shame that the documentary is being condemned in some quarters but who cares?I'm marking the days off my calendar .I can't wait for the third and final episode this week.

Anonymous,  12:32 am  

writers like you will never get the point. Change starts from the bottom up not from Ikoyi down. This is the best documentary by far. If you need to watch ikoyi watch Naija movies. These are real people with real lives...people that are invisible. The BBC did an excellent job can't thank them enough.

Umeike,  9:49 am  

I hear the final episode was spent with a government task force cleaning up lagos, and shows the efforts of the state government to beautify Lagos. Hopefully that will appease some people.For those that do not know, vocalslender.com is under development - his life could be turning a corner soon.

Diasporan,  12:56 pm  

Thanks for the new perspective. I too believe it was an excellent documentary. People fail (or refuse) to recognise the fact that the dump was just the stage on which the story was told. The documentary was about the story brought to us through the characters. You cant get all hung up about the stage when a brilliant story is unfolding before your eyes. How short-sighted can one get?

I watched the first docu and felt nothing but pride for my people; Joseph, 'Vocal Slender' and all those hard working Nigerians on the dump and in Makoko (second documentary). Shame, shame, shame on Nollywood for selling us all those fake stories about fake people and their fake lives....these here are the real people with real stories to tell. Nollywood needs to get real, get its hands dirty and take a leaf from 'Welcome To Lagos'.

But I am equally ashamed that I have driven across the 3rd Mainland Bridge, right over the top of Makoko and never given them a second thought. Not for a second did I stop to ask myself who they are, what they do and how they survive. If I am like that, how much more our so-called government leaders?

And now we hear the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK is embarassing himself by... protesting? Protesting that what? He should be protesting to the Nigerian governments past and present, not the BBC. He should protest to IBB, Abacha, OBJ dem.
His and their shame is the greatest of all.

akintunde 3:16 pm  

been down in the slums for so long all i can see are stars http://bit.ly/ce2GM7

Anonymous,  5:43 pm  

I loved the documentary, i think BBC did a good job and should be commended.

Ayo,  3:36 pm  

Am utterly shocked at Wole Soyinka's criticism of the documentary. Me thinks the old man is overdoing his thing now. Will did a fanastatic job with the docu which i just saw, prior to which I must confess I was condemning, but seeing it tells me what powerful stories lies on the stage-the dumb site through which the story was told. Most intriguing for me was the guy making feedmeal from blood. I honestly hope the health harzard he faces from the smoke and heat can be looked into while some support are given to him. But it hurts that such a hectic duty earns him such a meagre pay. Yet these people live a great life (joseph's family and Slender's zeal. they have such an organised way of life as chaotic as it may seem.

Does anyone recalls Slender's statement about the unity of Nigerians as a people being most evident on the dumpsite.I love this story and it's perphaps the best to tell the world of our strength and survival in the face of daunting challenges.I hereby call on the Lagos state to immediately withdraw the petition submitted to the BBC as that smacks a very myopic move. Eko o ni baje o

Anonymous,  1:53 am  

another simplistic argument. yawn. we off that.

lekan 12:42 pm  

God bless you Umeike!! Brilliant wite up, you have said it all. Your comment shows you have a very broad point of view. Its good to listen to someone that sees it from all sides not minding their bias. Thank you!

olaoluwatomi 11:05 pm  

Have the same opinion, wrote about it on my blog a few days ago, check it out!

Miz B 2:45 pm  

A Rejoinder to Adaobi's article post by someone on Facebook

From the way you express yourself, it is obvious that you have been out of the country for a very long time. In fact your article reveals that you have adopted the superior ignorance and disparaging language of the west in referring to your own country people. Several times, in your article, you refer to Nigerians and Africans as “tribes”, an extremely derogatory and condescending term. I was almost sure you would soon use the word, “brute” and its close relative, “savages” but you kindly stopped just short of that. Oh, I see you actually did use the word ‘savagery’.
You say, “But hardly have I come across passionate expressions of "Oh my goodness! There are people in our country living like this? What shall we do about them? How fast can we act?" Like I said, obviously you left Nigeria a really long time ago, or perhaps you were born in the UK? These things are not new; Ajegunle, Oshodi and these other slums have existed in Nigeria for ages! It is not a hidden secret! However in the same token, all over the western world, my dear, you will be surprised to know, there are slums!!! Don’t get me started on the great USA, with homeless people wandering the streets looking for soup kitchens. Perhaps you need to see the footage on the slums of New Orleans, shown on TV after the Hurricane Katrina?
My dear, there is nothing neurotic about Nigerian’s preoccupation with their international image; no one wants to wash dirty laundry in public. Our shortcomings are our own internal matter, to be handled internally, not to be broadcast abroad by the BBC and discussed in the international arena.
The Nigerian outrage over the smear campaign is justified! Most of what the western world sees and hears about Africa is primitive, negative and condescending, even in this era of advanced technology. How we live in Nigeria is a national problem, not a U.K. or a U.S. problem. They have their own ‘skeletons’, which they don’t generously publish internationally as documentaries.
How we deal with “everyday shames!” You talk about “Nigerian families frantically hiding away relatives with obvious mental health issues rather than seeking help for them.” That is not just a Nigerian issue. There is no country in this world where people broadcast and share as water-cooler conversation one’s family’s mental history? Who does that? All over the world, mental issues are stigmatized, it is not a Nigerian thing! Even here in the US, people still have difficulty admitting that they or their family members suffer depression, or schizophrenia, to name a few more-kosher mental illnesses. I am not even talking about kleptomania or straight ‘madness’. Even people with post-natal depression don’t want to be stigmatized! Be real!
(For the full rejoinder click here

(This rejoinder was written by Dr. Judith Atiri a political scientist based in New York, USA.

Anonymous,  7:45 am  

The above rejoinder was written in response to Adaobi Nwaubani defense of the documentary 'Welcome to lagos by the BBC by on facebook and reprinted on www.nollywooduncut.com

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