I recently met a friend and he left me stumped. Here’s a detail of our encounter.
Sometime around 2005, this friend (let’s call him Kene) was transferred to work in Lagos, so he came to me, tense and sweaty in his cool office wear, for some ‘crash course’ on how to survive Lagos, as he put it.
Having spent his early days in Imo State, Kene thought Owerri was the safest city ever, even with its languorous look. This friend had barely stayed a week in Lagos. However, he felt harassed by the traffic, waste, and rowdiness.
Besides, Kene had been fed occasionally with the usual grisly fare by relatives and friends that Lagos was a dangerous place anyone should live in. A sprawling city crammed with crooks and charlatans, hustlers and hecklers, pickpockets and plunderers, and the like.
Because I had lived in Lagos, Kene wanted a bit of advice about the new city he would later call home. I was happy for him. He was going to work in a city swarming with gold despite the dross. Lagos, I told him, was just like any other crowded city caught up in the challenges that come with being chock-full.
That’s beside the point, Kene said. How do you survive Lagos? You don’t live in Lagos, you learn to survive it. I was stunned awhile as I mulled over his expression. Then I laughed, of course.
My friend wasn’t laughing, though. Kene was so unusually straight-faced I realized that he was stuck in a tight spot. If he actually had a way of refusing the transfer, he promptly would have. But he had none. So off to Lagos he went via ABC Transport.
Two years later, we ran into each other in Lagos. Kene looked jaunty and easy; no longer jumpy and stressed. I asked him how he was surviving Lagos. He flashed me a smile; he said he was having a ball. I felt so happy for him. Although I felt much happier when he told me that he had already set up a business in Lagos, I was shocked also. Because I thought he would invest at home, in Imo State.
Kene could never put in his hard-earned money there. In fact, he didn’t know when he would ever set foot in Owerri. He was sure that he wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon, though. All this he told me with an unsmiling face. Kene must have fallen in love with Eko, I suppose; of course, these things do happen.
Then he gave me a shocker. He and his fiancée had even decided to do their traditional marriage in Surulere where her parents lived. Not in her hometown in Obioma-Ngwa, Abia State. Before I could ask Kene why such drastic decisions, he said he didn’t think he could survive the south east.
I still didn’t understand Kene until he said that the spate of kidnapping in the south east was not only a deterrent to any aspiring young businessman, but was akin to someone courting death head-on.
I could still make out the despair in my friend’s voice as it dawned on me that the south east has become rather synonymous with kidnapping, just as the Niger Delta was once associated with youth restiveness and militancy. This is the cancer now eating away much of the south-eastern zone.
This attests to a saying that a rash on the skin, if unchecked at times, could manifest into something else; something as malevolent as it is cancerous. Indeed, the south east has festered with the stench of kidnappers for too long, and the pus has been smeared all over our faces.
There’s some respite now, anyway, for only once in a while are we assaulted by this menace.