Xenophobic Lagos Youths – Desperation in Action ?

I wrote these article in Lagos in November 2006 and April 2007 – apparently a long time ago but how much has changed? I was minded to pull them out of my archives during the recent anti-South African xenophobic riots in Lagos and the images of smashed and looted supermarkets appeared in my inbox.

So, what’s the connection? Simply, the more hopeless – whether corrupt, inefficient, polarising or extreme – a government is, the more likely they are to use ‘fear of the other’ to divert attention from their own inadequacy. I am in the UK and not close enough to make direct assertions but I would ask this question. “Why is it that these rampaging youths feel the need to demonstrate in support of their abused brothers in Johannesburg townships when tens of thousands of their own people are dying every year from the effects of their own government’s inadequacy?” Crime, religious and economic strife, a collapsed health system and no clean water are bigger killers than any xenophobic South African. In any case, it is the collapse of Nigeria’s society that has sent these people down south in the first place.

Oh and by the way, just for the avoidance of doubt, we can clearly see the same tactics of blaming ‘the other’ in Trump’s racist rhetoric and the Brexit anti-immigrant ranting. It is not a new phenomena. History is littered with despots who prop up their own regimes by creating a sense of hatred against foreigners, other ethnicities or religions, immigrants and people considered ‘not one of us’. Sometimes it is deliberately conceived and other just an opportunistic way to divert attention from problems closer to home. Nigerians should consider, if the unwaged and unconsidered mass of disenfranchised youths across the country turn their attention closer to home and their anger on their own elites, life could become very different.

So, here are my 13 and 14-year-old articles (a little truncated). Has anything improved for these young men and their families or was “Ade’s” little brother one of those poverty-stricken youths carrying away a microwave oven from a burnt down Shoprite in Lagos? Some of the specific numbers have changed but has these young people’s reality? Just asking………..


Anonymous Graduate *

“I am a statistic. I am only 22 years old and although I am a human being it appears my humanity is submerged into numbers. You can find me in so many places but you will not see my face. It doesn’t matter whether I am male or female, tall or short, light or dark. I could be Igbo or Yoruba, Hausa, Berom or Tiv, Itshekiri or Ijaw. I am in World Bank reports and articles in the Economist. The bureaucrats in the Federal Offices of Statistics argue about me. I am in presentations to the top management of companies already in Nigeria and those thinking about coming in. I am in brand presentations and market analysis. Whenever academics or analysts use the word ‘demographics’ you know they are talking about me. Occasionally I even pop up in the speeches of politicians although more often in those made by foreign ones that Nigerians! It appears they don’t care about me as an individual but I seem to mean something as an integer.

First, I am a population figure; 130 million and counting. They say that if you took five representational black people from around the world one of them would be me because I am a Nigerian (that’s my favourite statistic). Given the country’s GNP this means I live on about $300 dollars a year, apparently. Of course, if there was more of me I would have less to eat. Just take a look at all the fuss about the census. Just counting us is obviously a big issue!

Secondly, I am one of more than one hundred million in this country who is not employed in the formal sector. That is one figure I kind of agree with because I certainly do not get a pay cheque every month. Of course, I run errands for my father’s boss or some big men he knows and earn little money. This means I am in the informal economy. I could be a conductor on a danfo or drive an okada, sell gala meat pie in the go-slow or just rob people at bus stops. That all counts as the informal economy anyway, as long as it gets me a stick of Suya and a Star who cares? So, although I officially live off around 82 US cents a day, which is around 110 naira, my ‘black economy’ money means I count in so many other commercial statistics. Depending on your economist’s definition I am either a D or E rated consumer in terms of spending power but as I am a graduate I increase in importance because, as we all know, graduates are the future leaders of any country and influence consumption patterns. Abi?

Which leads me back to Statistics. I am one of the 12 million unemployed graduates in the country and one of the 85% of my class of ’99 who still don’t have a proper job. According to some figures, 12% of the unemployed millions in Nigeria are graduates. Employers will only look at your application if you have a First or Upper Second from a respected institution…..which is a pretty small list. It doesn’t matter which State University I went to, they’re all pretty much the same. I read Computer Studies and Business Admin. Contrary to rumour my class did have access to computers. However, there were 64 of us and we had to share three old IBM’s that didn’t even have Windows Software. Even then the campus hardly ever had light anyway. One kid did have his own laptop but that got stolen after about six weeks of the course. Apart from beer most of my money went on using the computer in the business centre.

I figure a lot in Statistics about Demographics, especially the ones in marketing reviews. Given that around 60% of Nigerians are under the age of 25 my generation are of particular interest to all sorts of companies. Food, drinks, hygiene and health care, clothing, technology businesses… ….you name them. If they sell stuff they all want to know about us. What religion are we? Are we fundamentalist? What do we eat, drink and wear? How much money do we have? What do we spend it on? Where do we live? Who do we hang out with? Sometimes we get called up by research agencies who pay us to sit around, try some new drink or something and then ask us questions about it. What gets me, if these people are so interested in my views, how come they don’t bother to reply to my job applications? If politicians are so keen on my votes how come they spend their time avoiding people like me? I am told they all want to know what I think but if I walk up to them some heavy smacks me on the head with a baseball bat!

Now, I shall tell you some Statistics of my own. I am one of 99.9% of Nigerians under 25 who think all politicians serve the interests of a small group who do not have the needs of their people at heart. I am one of 99.9% of Nigerians under 25 who have no clue what any political party actually stands for. Nor any of the Presidential aspirants for that matter. In fact, I am one of 95% of Nigerians under 25 who will not be voting unless someone pays me to. I am one of a majority of Nigerians under 25 who thinks his father’s generation has messed up and no longer derves the respect accorded the elders. Politicians, Businessmen, Preachers. Economists, Statisticians, Professors. You discuss me and count me. You measure me and categorise me. But you don’t know me.

Here is a new statistic. I am of Nigeria’s Generation X………I, who have come of age in our bright new age of Democracy. I, who am already strong and getting stronger will one day know my own strength. I am the new majority. I am your future. Fear it.


Lagos Conundrum *

My name is Ade. You wouldn’t take much notice if me if you saw me around. I am just an ordinary street kid. If you drive up Agege Road you might see me some days helping my friends who sell pure water in the go-slow. You know, usual thing; dirty face, baggy knicker and a previously owned Man Utd tee shirt that somebody dashed me. I live in Mushin with my father and mother, my sister Amina and my older brother Olu. My oldest brother, Akin, has left home though he is back with us now for a while since he got beaten up at a political rally. My mother does the cleaning for an oyinbo family in Ikoyi but my father is out of work.

  • Notwithstanding its status as the centre of economic activity in Nigeria, 63.6% of Lagosians are now classified as earning less than N4,000 monthly……and 40.9 % of poor urban households are unable to satisfy their food requirements.

We have one room in a ‘face me I face you’ but we have two windows and there are only four other families sharing our latrine and a bathroom. There is no kitchen in the house so most people do their cooking in the passage way over kerosene stoves. This means everything is smoky and nothing ever smells good. Fortunately, there is a standpipe very close so altogether we are better off than many of my friends.

  • According to certain information quoted in a publication by one of the governorship candidates for Lagos…..72.5% of Lagosians live in a one room apartment, with 8-10 in one room, while only 4 million Lagosians have access to pipe borne water

I am the youngest in our family. For a while I went to school but since my mother started cleaning and leaving the house early in the morning I haven’t really bothered attending. We couldn’t afford to dash the teacher or to buy books or pencils so I was just sitting at the back being ignored. It was a waste of time really. Akin got his school cert but it hasn’t done him much good. Olu and Amina did some more schooling than me but I don’t see what it has done for them. I don’t see the point in trying really, where does it get you?

  • ….in Lagos State, only about 12% of children beginning primary school complete secondary education……it is not surprising that ….urban poor youth unemployment is rampant on our state – 54% in Lagos State compared with a national average of 17.4%

My father used to work as a gatekeeper for a security company but somebody stole something so they sacked all the guards. Since then he hasn’t had any regular work. Not long ago somebody introduced my mother to this Yankee woman in Ikoyi and now she is cleaning and ironing there. I have been there with her a couple of times. What do rich people do with all that space? I could get fat just eating all the food they throw away. Sometimes Ma brings home stuff they put out for the bin but her and the cook could get the sack if the lady caught them, which doesn’t seem fair. They even have better food for their dog than we have some times!

  • Of course the distance between home and the workplace is like travelling across the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan, only in this case there is no promised land. …..some of them have to use a minimum of 2 to 5 bus rides just to make it to work.

The woman is pretty friendly and passes down some clothes that her and her kids don’t need but to get there Ma has to take three buses which means leaving home at 5.30 and getting home at between eight and nine. Sometimes it can be worse than that if she has to stay late and help out with something. She tried to complain once but the lady got angry and said she could easily find someone who was ready to stay late. Father gets pretty angry but Ma says she is lucky to have the job and anyway working for a rich Nigerian would be even harder. He is happy it brings some money in the house but he has to wait until late to get his dinner. Ma is always tired so there is a lot of fighting in the house.

  • Add 600 unplanned communities and over 1,000 slums, power demand of 2000MW but with actual supply of 500MW it gets worse

She used her contacts once to find father some work driving one of the expatriate men but he complained my father wasn’t clean and smelled. He didn’t seem to understand that we share the latrine with thirty other people. For father to reach the white guy’s house in time to clean the car and be ready by seven thirty he would have to leave the house by five o’clock. To bathe and get ready by that time he has to beat the morning toilet queue which means getting up before 4.30. Anyway, the American didn’t care about all that so he gave the job to somebody else.

There is even more fighting in the house since the election stuff started. Akin started with one party, I forget the names, they all sound the same to me. Anyway, he started with one big man but he switched camps and joined another party so now Akin works for them. He follows them round in a bus and stops other gangs of boys attacking their rallies. Sometimes he gets paid to go round pulling down posters. Last week his group ran into another and there was a big fight. He told me that was Ok but that a few days later the opposition brought in a gang from another part of town. They caught my brother and beat him. So now he is back at home hiding out and nursing his wounds. However, that just makes for more fights because Dad says these people are useless and we should support these other people. Ma just says they are all the same as each other. Na grammar she says and what will they do anyway? I don’t know but whom ever gets in next better do some thing. I’m only a kid but I know Lagos can’t go on like this forever.

* Published in “Outsider Inside” Originally Business Day November 2006
**Published in “Outsider Inside” Originally Business Day May 2007. This article was inspired by a reader’s email (thanks Kingsley) and indented paragraphs are direct quotes from him or candidates’ campaign literature.

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