Today, not dissimilar from most Thursdays, I was on my way home from work. It was around 9.08 pm, and I was just entering the gate to my house when I received a text from Nsoromma. “Please tell me you are watching Welcome to Lagos”, it read. “Shit!” I thought, rushing through the gate and pushing through my front door in one messy bundle. Whoever knows me knows how anal I am about watching a film or a show from its very first second. And I had missed a whole eight minutes! mini sanɛ nɛ! (Loose tr: oh dear!) So I ran straight upstairs,totally forgetting about the televised political debate, not stopping to say hi to my family downstairs in the living room, not even pausing to take a breath, or to pass Go and collect my £200. I had to watch this programme I had been waiting for the whole week.
I practically catapulted myself into my room and made a beeline for my TV. Quick...Remote...BBC 2. Once I had finally managed to get the TV onto the right channel, and sit down, I must admit I was a tad disappointed by what I was confronted with: a grown ass man sporting dirty overalls and a cap rummaging through piles of junk in a massive dump site. What the hell is this? KMT! I was tempted to switch it over, but as the show progressed, I realised this man sells the “goods” he finds in the dump to make a living. And then the documentary followed the man into his home, (Joseph, I think his name was), and the way he interacted with his family. His daughter’s first birthday was approaching and he and his wife were planning a birthday party. Something he said caught my attention. It was along the lines of “If I had to work in a dumpsite smellier and dirtier than the one I’m in now to earn more money, I would do it to give my family a good life.” I am not really sure what the programme had covered so far, but for me that was the first of many stereotypes of Nigerians it had broken. For example, not all Nigerian men are dictators, fiercely ruling over their women and their families while refusing to actually interact with them with any sort of affection. Shoot me if you want, but that’s the portrayal of Nigerian men I had actually believed.
The documentary also showed how Lagosians and people from other places made a livelihood in the big cattle market. It documented people negotiating over the price of cows, and other cattle (that I cannot remember!) It also showed how a man (I have forgotten his name) processed Cow’s blood to make chicken feed. What I liked about the show was that, for once, Africans were being shown to be resourceful, working hard for a living, rather than passively accepting aid or fighting over food items being thrown from UN trucks.
Also, although these people were living in squalid conditions, they were happy. Rather than playing the victim, they seemed to be content with their lot. I also noticed that the narrator often used words such as “optimistic”, and “hard-working” to describe the Nigerian people.
My criticisms? Well firstly, in typical BBC style, I feel the show did impose its opinions on its audience a bit. Like the uncomfortable close up of the man talking into the camera with a chewing stick in his mouth. I mean I’m sure the BBC would never document life in London, and have a white man speaking into the camera while brushing his teeth and spitting foam into the camera.
I also disliked the way subtitles were put up even when what was being said was in perfectly comprehendible English. It just seemed a bit patronising. Subtitles, in my opinion, are totally acceptable if people are speaking Pidgin or in their different languages. And while, we are on the subject, why are subtitles always needed when it’s an African speaking, no matter how clear his English is? *sigh*
Also, I feel the great British public has been brainwashed with enough images of abject poverty in Africa. I don’t think they needed to see anymore. But I got the sense that the show was one episode in a series of many. So I sincerely hope that life in the more glamorous side of Lagos will be later broadcasted.
You may disagree with me, but one thing the documentary did not lack was the entertainment factor, it was certainly interesting. I think it did attempt to be real, but I couldn’t help but feel the Lagosians were sometimes being mocked. To finish, let me add that I actually sat there watching the show with my coat on and didn’t think to take it off until it was over!
Picture taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2010/04/welcome-to-lagos-itll-defy-you.shtml