It is not new gist that Nigeria is an empire of paranoia. Well, ‘paranoia’ is not exactly the word; fear is better suited to what I speak about. This is the feeling that danger is looming, even close as breath. Although this is not exclusive to Nigeria, I am perturbed that here security is sort of a fool’s paradise, as government is probably a faceless, nameless being. I will tell a story to illustrate this.
A friend’s friend was given a house by her friend. This friend’s friend accommodated another friend in the house that had been given to her by her friend. So, we have Friend A (my friend), Friend B (my friend’s friend), Friend C (my friend’s friend’s friend who gave her a house), and Friend D (my friend’s friend’s friend who is accommodated in Friend C’s house).
Friend D is alone in the house one night, a few weeks ago, when the door, which she left locked, opens. She is greatly surprised, and when she goes to the door, it is a certain guy who asks for Friend C. He is told that she is not in, as she is not in Lagos at the moment. He claimed he was his girlfriend, but Friend D only saw two guys at the door with him, which left her wondering if he was gay, and all three of them exited together. Already Friend D is confused, as she has never seen any of the guys or the girl (whom she later saw in the vehicle they drove off in) before then. She shuts the door after their exit. A couple of minutes later, two guys knock. She opens for them, and her nightmare begins, as they were the two guys with the guy that had access into the house earlier.
In sum, they try to rape her. She is forced to the room and kept under the bed, which muffles her shouts. An argument ensues between the pre-rapists, and Friend D finds a way to escape. It is her mode of escape that baffles me, that tugs at my dignity, starts a question in my head.
She jumps down from a height of close to 12 feet, escaping her assailants.
What she did, in my thinking, was to compare a post-rape feeling with the danger of falling from a height of 12 feet. She considered the latter preferable, more dignifying. This is akin to a story of a group of Mozambican women who, during the civil war of the ‘80s, huddled together and threw themselves into a river. They had been raped.
Yet, I am concerned that Friend D, aside the obvious consideration of her dignity (the face she would see in the mirror if she is raped), used a method most Lagosians are used to – Fear As You Go! This method suggests that one acts because of fear, ensuring salvation on the grounds of what has not happened, and what should be prevented from happening. So, we have those who will scamper out of their offices because some Policemen have alleged that a bomb is in the premises (this happened about two weeks ago, in the Secretariat of a Local Government, where I had gone to see a friend). And because I have been infected with this method, a policeman asks me why my hands are shaking, when I am showing him the contents of my bag, which had my laptop.
It is a dangerous world, agreed, and I refuse to consider Lagos the most dangerous city in the world (I do not even think it is, or that there is safety anywhere). But what baffles me, and what I am concerned about, is how our Lagos-life is one that is established on the possibility of danger, of unwanted experiences, rapes, stabs, arrests, thefts. There are everyday instances I have witnessed – I was accosted by my friend’s (who I live with) landlord (or son of the landlord), and with a raised voice he said he didn’t know who I was, and therefore was not the right person to open the gate for me. I was amazed at his defensiveness, not to speak of his perceivable readiness to strike, especially if I gave away any hint of thuggery.
The wise thing, I suppose, is to continually live on the edge – after all, isn’t the world scheduled to end in 2012? With the close of the age upon us (thank you Mayans!), our collective persona should be one of effective trepidation – effective because we have to save our lives, we have to survive, and because Lagos seems to be at war against us.
I suppose this is not a peculiar Lagos model. Our world calls to us, as in an advert, saying, ‘Save Your Life using Fear As You Go!’
By Emmanuel Iduma