(For anyone unfamiliar with the TV program ‘Welcome to Lagos… Youtube/Amazon is your friend!’ This is a rewrite from 2010)
The above greeting is my attempt to start this piece with a light-hearted comment, to diffuse the tensions between us, or the tensions against BBC and W2Lag (for the uninitiated that’s Welcome to Lagos). Events may have overtaken the airing of the series (the hanging of the British parliament, the cultural and allegatory crisis at the BBC, impending scrapping of the licence fee, the deletion of a Nigerian president, the clueless era, the prediction of electoral doom and purported goslowedness in 100 days …) I hope these events may give us an objective look at the documentary.
Given the detrimental nature of exposure naija and Lagos gets usually I was quite sceptical about watching W2Lag. What convinced me to watch it was the number of FB comments on Esther and her problems with her husband. It made me wonder if the BBC was actually going to show true Nigerians and not some demonised version which seems to be imprinted in people’s head. So I watched W2Lag, from part 3 to part 1, then from part 1 to 3.
One thing struck me as profound about the series. I have been in the UK for a while now, so I guess it must have been particularly poignant for me to see everyone with a smile. In the most squalid of circumstances, everyone was smiling. And not that fake just-for-the-cameras kind of smile, but a smile that extended from the slightly askew teeth up the dusty face into the rheumy eyes, no matter the circumstances. I believe that the eyes are the window of the soul and a smile that goes to the eyes, tells of souls that are undefeated despite the situation around them, undefeated despite the fact that those who have taken oaths of office to serve the people are ready and willingly to smash the people’s homes and throw into the street the meagre collection of the people. If W2Lag achieved nothing else it de-demonised my people and for that I am grateful. I would like the whole world to know that Nigerians are not criminals or fraudsters, but a people pushed to the edge of their limits by murderous, bloodsucking and power-hungry leaders and an outside world that have grown too selfish to care. I would want all to understand that at the edge of those limits lies an untapped resource of strength, resilience, imagination and courage. God bless all true Nigerians!
Nevertheless, this does not detract from the reality that in a programme titled W2Lag, the BBC crew bypassed the airport, clean roads, and rows of palatial houses before they deigned to bring out their cameras to signal a welcome. It is the cinematographic equivalent of describing the essence of a flowering frangipani tree by studying its roots, the roots may be an integral part of the tree, but its not the part that welcomes you. On the other hand the BBC has no duty to market Nigeria and its beauties, if we don’t market, and by we, I mean our epileptic non-government which grows fat on the flesh of children and distracts us by fomenting strife among those who should join together and kick the unmentionables out of office and existence.
This link is a letter written by the Nigerian High Commission to the UK addressed to BBC. The letter laments the fact that the BBC did not set itself up as an advertising agency for the work that Fashola is doing. In addition to these sort of presumptuous statements, the letters contains such elementary errors as substituting the word “slums” with “slumps” and “scanvage” instead of “scavenge.” The second example clearly showing that, the high commissions computer either does not have spell-check or the ‘Seke’ doesn’t know how to use it. (The latter reason is most likely as he/she probably got the job as per who-you-know and not what-you-know. In this case not much.) The letter says that this documentary is a distortion of life in Lagos. And thereby they deny the existence of a large percentage of the population of Lagos, and the rights they have to a better society to be provided by our inept, inadequate and demented government.
Of all the sinners at the table of W2Lag; BBC, Nigerians and the Nigerian Government; the greatest sinner in my opinion (as you may have surmised from my restrained descriptions) is the Nigerian government. The government’s reaction to the documentary is irrational, illogical and moronic. As for BBC, they do what they want to do and always get away with it, but in this instance they seemed to have inadvertently captured the hearts and lives of people we will hardly ever see on international TV, evoking with clean cinematography and an almost flawless soundtrack the complicated nature of lives and dreams of SOME people in Lagos. Maybe we should not ask a biased, ex-colonial for more than that, after all “Nous ne sommes plus leur singes.” And as for W2Lag, until we learn and are able and free to tell our own stories, it is to the Esthers, Vocal Slenders and Zagedes that we look to, to speak our heart, to tell of our realities and to be to the world, the real Nigeria.