“The area boys. They’re faceless, nameless, and shameful.”
They are the invisible members of society. And they have been forgotten by the rest of society. This is how the area boys were described to me on my first night, last night, in Lagos.
I am now in Lagos, a city of 21 million, and growing. Estimates put the population of the city in a quarter of a century at 300 million. Whatever the case may be in 25 years, currently the city is composed of a lot of people and all on their own life trajectories. That was perhaps one my first reactions to driving through Lagos for the first time yesterday – here is a city of so many people, so many people that exist on this earth, and indeed so many of us that exist on this earth, but mere pebbles, in a large large pond. We are all tiny heads bobbing along amidst a great pool on earth, and most poignantly, vastly disconnected or rather unknown fo each other, in many ways.
Chinua Achebe writes the following on the stigmatized first impressions of Africa that he has encountered:
“People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads and so they fail to see what is there in front of them. This is what people have come to expect. It’s not viewed as a serious continent. It’s a place of strange, bizarre and illogical things, where people don’t do what common sense demands.”
| Chinua Achebe
Yet of the invisibility in Lagos of individual lives, perhaps those most invisible to the general public are those that go unspoken for. Unspoken for in the streets, in courtrooms, in yards, and in social services; all determining who is seen and who goes unknown, and unaccounted for. These are the area boys.
For me, coming to Nigeria represents a part of larger journey to make connections with places where youth constitute a large majority of the population, as well as a considerable group of people engaging with survival tactics that ultimately suspend them from society and entangle them in a system of complicated justice. According to the CIA Worldfactbook, children (up until age 14) make up almost half of Nigeria as a whole – 40%. Who are these children? And who are these area boys? A discussion I have already begun in previous posts on this blog using the material of Wole Soyinka and Abubakar Momoh provides an introduction to this question, which will be a focal point of my research.
As one man said to me last night, the area boys are in prison for crimes of survival, and not given any skills in return to help them in their lives on the street. Yet as a young woman said to me this evening, the area boys are well-organized and not be underestimated. They are a true force of power in Lagos.
I am now one in a sea in a crowd of many, one buoy bobbing between the islands and city spaces of Lagos – Victoria Island, Lekki, Yabba, Festac, Victoria Garden City, Ikoyi, Mainland…… all names bobbing around in my mind now as I get acquainted and settled with the largest city in Sub-Saharan Africa, and soon to be perhaps the largest in the world.
“Lagos is all about God – and also about cologne and phones.”
‘Letter from Lagos’, Panorama Book Review (San Francisco Panorama 1.1), 8 December 2009, p. 1.