How to Use a Friday Night

Lagos is the city of sin. It plays host to jaded men, lying women and tons of broken dreams. Here, married men say “it’s not that serious” when asked about their rings by the single ladies who do a poor job of feigning coyness. On a Friday, it’s easy to mistake Allen Avenue for Adeniran Ogunsanya. Across board, the city unites as one in debauchery.

Afrocritik Lagos Allen Avenue


I packed my things and left. It was before sunrise. It was before “Alhaji”, the gateman, woke up to sweep the grave of my landlord’s ancestor. I just got into my car and left. No farewells. No goodbyes to the town’s deputy president-general, Pastor Oti, who spoke fluent Yoruba like an Oyo man, laughed like a wealthy trader and kept promising that the town was going to pay me what they owed.

The town owed salaries for nine months in arrears. When I started working at Ubaha Comprehensive Health Centre at the start of that year, the Local Government Chairman had promised that the Town Union would look after me. Yesterday, we were issued our discharge certificates after one year of meritorious service. Yet, the town had not paid me.

Pastor Oti, before he left for his weekly evangelical mission in Abia State, swore by the Holy Bible that it had skipped the President-General’s mind to pay me the previous week.  The President-General is a hefty man who keeps a sheaf of hair on his lower lip. He drives a Tundra and his voice, surprisingly, is not like thunder. He is a civil engineer living in Port-Harcourt and he had told me on our first encounter, at least six months ago, that the town would take care of me.

Was I to be a kept doctor?

I heard the Igwe hosted the other corps members who were leaving after an engaging service year. I was neither informed nor invited. I heard that Pastor Oti gave the corp members a paltry sum for their transport back home. The town was grateful for their services, but did not seem quite grateful for mine.

I had delivered two sets of twins in this town, stitched wounds, managed hypertension, blood sugar and pile and low back pain, but my reward was the empty promises of the town’s local politician. So I packed my things and left. First thing before the sunrise, my load cluttering the boot of my dutiful brown Toyota sedan. Lagos-bound. But first, I must pick L. at Nimo.



I want to buy an engagement ring for L. with the money the town owes me. Something sparkling. Something befitting of her beauty. I hear a lot of men in her neighbourhood call her “damsel” and sometimes I call her that too, just to tease her.

But she doesn’t tease easily. Things haven’t been smooth with us of late. The reason, I think, is because she found a pack of cigarettes in my house. She is worried that I have taken to smoking again.

I have taken to smoking again.

It’s been rocky, this “thing of ours”, since she came back from Lagos. Whenever L. goes to Lagos, our relationship suffers. She doesn’t fly to Lagos. Her journey comprises of long hours crammed behind a bus driven by a homicidal driver, but every time she travels, I don’t say a prayer. Her mother is a deacon at Winners’ Chapel.

At Nimo, L. is not ready. I wait in the car. Her load comes in trickles, thrice the volume of mine. We unload the car and rearrange it to fill the car trunk yet again.

L. is pensive, quiet. She looks good. She has also started to grow her hair again, but it is still low. This accentuates her pointed nose, her hair cut low. She is slim and curvy and lithe and lovely and she became our NYSC Camp queen and I, by affiliation, became a sort of king.

I wish.

We are on our way to Onitsha, with Lagos as the final destination. The sun is out at Ogidi, Achebe’s village. This is after Achebe had died for the first time. A year after his first death, Achebe would die again, this time on the internet. At Onitsha, I want to stop and pose with Ojukwu’s statue shouldering a bag in the direction of Asaba. We cross the River Niger as the asphalt leads to Lagos. Rex Lawson is on the beat. I don’t remember the exact song but I remember the car steering wheel seemed heavy from the load.

L. and I are going to Lagos. I call her name every quarter of an hour, and she returns a wry smile each time.

We are slipping out of each other’s hands—and we know it. To quote the chorus of John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room”, we are going down, and she can see it too.

L. does not like acoustic music.



If you are coming to Lagos, please hold the tuition fee for your wisdom.

If you don’t get this memo, then refer to the Agba Meta at the city’s ceremonial entry point. I am no stranger to Lagos, but having not lived in the city for 8 years means something. It means I need to learn to become a Lagosian again. Becoming a Lagosian again is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you have fallen into the habit of small towns.

Afrocritik Agba Meta

Ife was cool while it lasted. Too cool, during the Harmattan period. Ilesa was pastoral, ancient, but ornate in its own way. Unfettered access to pounded yam was a strong selling point. Sometimes we went to the bus park at Odo-Oro at 12 a.m., just because Ilesa is that city where eating pounded yam at any given hour was a fundamental human right. Snaking through back streets through Ifofin to Imoo to go for Aunty Hannah’s periwinkle-adorned Afang soup, with a bottle of stout to lubricate the throat while Prof and I discussed literature and Nigerian politicians.

Ndiowu was a sleeping pad. Ajalli held the company of Faith and the stewed goat meat of Ochilli. Ufuma had fresh palmwine.

Lagos meant chaos.

Being jobless in Lagos is not merry. I didn’t intend to sit on my oars for long. I called Pastor Oti and cursed him out. He kept calling my name as if to soothe me, but I am no imbecile. The PG doesn’t pick his call. He doesn’t do dirt except he is driving his Tundra through construction sites. I could have prayed that his car falls into an erosion ditch at Nanka, but I don’t pray often.

L. is not picking up her calls. L. is not returning my calls.

She is sending me messages like ‘Hey, I will call you back’.

One moment, I got her on the phone and she said she is hanging out with her cousins in Surulere. These cousins are not familiar. Not in the 11 months of our dating has she ever told me that she had older cousins living in Surulere. What kind of cousins are they? Are they nominal cousins or can we actually trace them by a thin film of blood on a family tree? I swallow my rhetorical questions because she said we will see soon. This was before she said she loved me.

She said she still loved me.

I had been an asshole. Quick to anger. Drinking too much. I blamed her for my staying back in the East. I blamed her for losing six hundred thousand naira to bespectacled chiefs, smiling chairmen, intimidating President-Generals and prophesying Deputy President-Generals who also posed as pastors and bike riders and local politicians.

I am interviewed for the position of a medical officer at a small clinic in Ebute-Metta. The principal offers me a hundred thousand naira and a room in his in-patient facility at Ejigbo.

I decline the offer with profound and servile thanks.

There is a cover job for a week at Ogudu. 500 naira per hour. 5 hours a day. At the end of 5 days, I would have made 10,000 naira, just enough to buy me a full tank of fuel in my car, pay for my internet subscription and a few beers on a Friday.

I take the job. I am asking friends around for short-term gigs on the island because the mainland is where abject poverty resides.

“Fancy taking a full weekend shift at a hospital in sub-urban Abule-Egba for 10,000 naira?”

In the end, you would have assisted four caesarean sections, two myomectomies, done two exchange blood transfusions and earned 10,000 naira only.

Fuck private hospitals and their miserly owners!


Today will be rosy, because it is Friday.

It is mid-October. It is Felabration week. Fela has been dead for 19 years, but we still celebrate his birthday. Today also happens to be Afropolitan Vibes at Freedom Park. It is a good time to be in Lagos.

L.’s phone is still unreachable. After Surulere, her tour bus of cousins has pointed in the direction of Ajah. It would have been nice to hang out with her. It has been almost one week since I dropped her off at her parents’ house from Nimo, Anambra State. Now, it seems like dutiful cab service on my part.

I meet my friend Sope at his office in Yaba where he spends his day doing research on sustainable development for an NGO. He is happy to see me, and eager to buy beers too. I am thirsty for a lager. After all, it is a Friday night.

Friday nights in Lagos are known to have a mind of their own, so we go with the flow. We stumble into a snack bar where American urban hits from 10 years ago are on play. The playlist must have been one of those Popular Demand selections, that bootleg CD that always had Big Bros Jigga Man, the greatest pirate ever liveth, credited as executive producer.

Few playlists from that noughties era include Public Announcement’s “Papi”, which is not exactly a gem of a song but it wells up memories for me. The song loops around patronage in Spanish, typified by the throaty way girls roll out the term “patrons” from the back of their tongues, presumably referring to Spanish drug barons, Papi. So what does a middle-level African-American boy band have to do with husky Spanish patronage?

Songs like Nelly’s “Ride with Me” almost make me bring out wads of my recently-made 10,000 naira and scream, hey, must be the money! Songs like Jagged Edge’s “Where the Party At” meet us a few drinks down the boulevard of courageous expectations.

Sope wants to know how my youth service went, besides my writing. I had just published a poetry chapbook enjoying remarkable attention on the local literary landscape. I tell him about my unpaid six hundred thousand naira. He mourns with me for a bit, and then goes on a short tirade about the stereotype of Igbo cunning. DMX’s “What These Bitches Want” intervenes and distract us. We rap in sync with DMX’s his inventory of female names: who knows where Brenda, Latisha, Linda and Felicia are these days?

We laugh out loud. We have our beers replaced.

I call L. She does not pick up.

She still loves me.

I drop a message on WhatsApp and I confirm that she hadn’t read my previous messages.

The Cousin tour in Ajah must be going really well.



Afropolitan Nights at Freedom Park is where to be on Friday nights. Better to witness it than to be told. The strobe lights twinkling, casting fleeting attention on sweaty bodies. The music, big as fuck. The horns piercing the night. The melodious singing invoking Lagos. The bodies. Oh, the bodies. Hourglass female bodies lining the front row, sharing breathing distance with the musicians who are beating their instruments and making the night worthwhile.


Men are behind the beautiful women with short dresses, their feet adorned with bracelets and gold chains. Men are chewing Cuban cigars, imbibing the music, nudging it with nods and the occasional soulless clap. The band is doing a chorus that requires a jump. Grown people are jumping as though their lives depended on it. Then there is a majestic turn of phrase and the baton is passed on to this tall man who launches into a medley of highlife songs. The ladies go wild. He is unperturbed. He is working it and he knows it.

I am amazed. Is this how to use a Friday night?

In Ajalli, I listen to the mellow highlife of Celestine Ukwu and chew goat at Ochilli’s. Sometimes Faith keeps me company, when we are not having one of our dry spells. Sometimes Ochilli will talk to me about Lagos and his sojourn as a young man. His scantily clad kids will come to the table and he will chase them back inside the house. They will laugh and run away and return because it was fun when their daddy tried to make hard faces. Ochilli was a nice dad, even though he looked like a beast. His wife was a youth corper like us, except that he had knocked her up again. She could throw a stone from her place of primary assignment to her house. I could throw a poem from Ndiowu to Lagos via the internet.

Afropolitan Vibes comes to an expected end. Sweaty bodies retreat in the direction of the music which leads them to the food court. DJ Ray Browne is doing what he knows best: playing old-school music all for himself. The crowd is thirsty for fresh air and liquor and food. The food vendors at Freedom Park are raking in most of their orders for the month in those crucial hours. Everywhere is frantic. You have to fight a small war to buy beers.

Sope and I just won the war, our hands cradling the liquid gold that I had recently taken a liking for: Goldberg. I have gone full circle on brands. A year ago, I was a Dubic man. A few months back, I had made ‘Life is a beer’ the maxim. There was Hero too, gradually working its way to becoming the regional beer of the East. Trophy was troubling the South-West, using iconic male figures of Yoruba Nollywood to push their beer as some kind of autochthon brew. Star was no longer the darling of nightlife. Gulder had become geriatric. Harp and its lack of hangover was no longer fashionable. Dreams still die at Ekwulobia, but on Lagos Friday nights, we all could use a beer.

Postscript: L. did not text back. She didn’t text ever again

Published at AFROCRITIK

The Ordinary Events of a Dying Day

Kofi was getting married in Warri and I had a morning flight to catch. The plane was scheduled to depart Lagos at 9.20 a.m. and arrive in Warri at 10.30 a.m.

The time was 8.30 a.m. The Domestic Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport was rowdy. The queue at the counter was disorderly. A clean-shaven man asked for my passport. He proposed to help me with my boarding pass because my aircraft was about leaving. Although he spoke with a voice of authority, I knew he was just another hustler.

I ignored him.

My flight was called by a burly man in lemon-green reflectors holding a walkie-talkie. He shouted into the crowd that passports were to be submitted to him.

Real Authority.

We responded in the most chaotic  manner. I was unperturbed. Chaos is the language of Lagos. And after chaos comes the calm. Then, it was announced that our flight had been delayed by thirty minutes; the reason was muddled with microphone static.

The lobby was full of people. Travellers appeared distinguished with their suitcases; their mannerisms suggested there was somewhere else they would rather be. My eyes fell on a group of travellers nursing a conversation.

I was looking for a familiar face because I always found one at airports. I once met an ex-lover at the airport in the company of her parents who frowned when she offered me a bosom hug that lasted longer than their notion of civility would prescribe.

My eyes fell on a man about my age. He looked familiar, balding and storky. Dressed in flowing buba and sokoto, feet shod in black leather slippers. His wedding band gleamed in his left fourth finger. His laughter was measured. He felt at ease, discussing with a bespectacled man.

I nudged him. He remembered me within seconds.

“Dami?” he asked and we hugged and shook hands.

It had been at least eight years since we saw. We were in the same residential hall at 100 Level in the university; his room was opposite mine. We began to trade names, tracking friends with whom we had lost touch.

“Everybody keeps in touch on Facebook these days,” I said and we both laughed in agreement.

I whipped out my phone and he did the same. I asked for his number and politely asked how it should be saved.

“Seyi,” he said. He didn’t appear offended that I had forgotten his name. My immediate recall was bad. I knew that if I gave it sometime, his name would return to me.

The airport official was back with our passports and boarding passes. We formed an imperfect circle around him and he called our names and told us to proceed to the departure lounge.

The immigration officials were full of implicit admiration and outward smiles. One even asked me how we intended to spend the weekend and I smiled in return. He patted my body, doing his routine security check, my hands raised in surrender, his face facilitating a venal grin. When he completed his official routine, he wished me “a nice day”.

As I walked into the departure lounge, I became aware of my hunger. I remembered that I hadn’t said goodbye to Seyi. I remembered that I had not told my folks about my trip to Warri. My refusal to tell my parents was deliberate. An act of defiance, perhaps. After all, I was a full-bodied adult.

I considered sending a text to my father.

Something like, Dear Sir, Good Morning. I am en route Warri for my friend’s wedding. I don’t know if you remember Kofi. Kofi once lived with me in Lagos but now he is back in Warri and I am surprised he is getting married because last year he was passing through Lagos from Accra on his way back from his cousin’s wedding and he was having girlfriend issues. Now he is getting married to a different girl.

Too much information. Delete key.

My father’s response would have been a curt Okay.

I decided to wing this. I was due back in Lagos this time tomorrow. Everything will be normal, as if nothing happened.

I walked to Double Four Restaurant. I had only sat and asked for the menu when my flight’s first boarding call came.

The ride to the aircraft in the airbus was short and bumpy. A middle-aged man in denim clothes and fancy denim shoes stood beside me.

“Nice shoes,” I said.

“Nice bag,” he replied, “really classy.”

I smiled and considered telling him that it was a gift from an ex. I wondered where he had bought his fashionable shoes from. Perhaps it was a gift too, from an ex.

I saw two middle-aged ladies dressed in different styles of the same lilac fabric. They looked like sisters. I decided  that they weren’t sisters. One wore brown sandals and her toes were manicured. She looked like she was in her late forties. She had an air of confidence about her. She looked well-mannered, if not wealthy. I wondered what she was going to do in Warri. Perhaps, like me, there was a wedding to attend. Looking at her cute purple traveller’s bag, I imagined how she must have looked twenty years ago.

The air hostess in the aircraft was too generous with her smile. She pointed me in the direction of my seat and I wondered why. All seats were in that same direction. I found my seat beside a bearded white man with headphones. He was fiddling his Samsung phone. I sat in my aisle seat after placing my bag in the overhead carriage. I whipped out my phone and called Kofi. I wondered if he wouldn’t be too busy to pick up. He picked up on the third ring and I told him I had boarded the aircraft. He said he was about leaving the hotel for the registry.

Passengers walked past my aisle seat as I looked through Kofi’s pre-wedding photos on my phone. My favourite picture was the one where he was styled like Micheal Jackson, ankle-shy trousers held in place by suspenders, white socks peeking, his smile made of teeth. His woman looked like a geisha with long eyelashes, she held a small pink umbrella and a matching hand fan.

One year ago Kofi had kept the night at my place on his return from Accra. He was returning from his cousin’s wedding. He was having issues with his medical student girlfriend of three years. The issues were not clear-cut but it had led to their break-up. She had given Kofi a different kind of closure when she called three months later that she was getting married.

This was six months ago. Kofi met another girl. Today, Jite weds Kofi.

Kofi and I met during youth service. We had both been posted alongside one thousand Nigerian graduates to undergo the mandatory one-year programme. Kofi and I met in a shed at mammy market where I was served medium-rare fried chicken. He intervened and the chicken was returned to hot oil; we remained friends after camp and visited each other. He was posted to Umuchu-Achalla, an outskirt town close to Imo state while I was in Orumba North Local Government in Anambra state. I worked at the Model Hospital, Ubaha in a dusty community called Ndiowu. Ndiowu was popular for two reasons. One: former Vice-President of Nigeria had married two wives from one family in Ubaha Village. Two in 2012, a Dana Air Flight 992 from Abuja crashed in Lagos and six members of the Anyene family of Ubaha Village perished. The death news remained on the lips of the townspeople. The tragedy of losing six souls in one aircraft. Ndiowu was the biggest casualty of that air crash which killed one hundred and sixty souls.

During my service year, I lived in the Anyene’s compound, in a detached Boy’s Quarters with a roomy verandah.  When I told well-meaning villagers after consultation where I lived, they would say, “You live where Onyeka used to live.”

Then they would begin to eulogise the man called Onyeka Anyene, the lawyer who had married a Hausa woman. A soft-spoken man in person, his kindness was staggering. He gave to people and instructed that they should not tell anyone—that was the nature of his philanthropy. He had lived in that detached Boys Quarters until he built his own mansion on the ancestral land further up the hilly village. That property was now irredeemably empty, manned by a chain-smoking guard called Yao.

An elderly woman was having difficulties finding her seat. An air hostess swung into action and walked her closer to the Business Class area, she was smiling until they stopped short of the Business Class curtain; the old lady’s smile waned.

A lady carrying her infant daughter and holding her toddler son’s hand had difficulties loading her luggage into the overhead compartment. Her son began to cry in front of me and she looked perturbed. A man behind her, presumably her husband, was unperturbed, rifling through his mobile phone. The lady looked like she was about to snap. I looked at her and gestured for her son.

He sat on my laps like I was momentarily his father. He fiddled with my ear-piece, gestured for my phone which I put in my pocket, out of his reach. He began to cry and I said something which he surprisingly found soothing. I looked behind me and I saw the lady in the brown sandals again. Her companion in the same fabric was talking and she was listening. The lady in brown sandals looked like she approved that I took the crying toddler. The white man was in his own world listening to some loud rock music. I wondered what he was doing in Nigeria. Perhaps he was an expatriate at some oil rig.

The smiling air hostess began to talk into the microphone. She requested that the aisle be cleared. The lady had found a seat. Her husband came for his son and carried him out of my lap without a word.

I looked behind me. The lady in the brown sandals was distracted by her talkative friend. The boy’s mother was busy with her infant daughter. I pulled out my phone and switched it off in time for the instructions. Before take-off, the pilot’s voice from the cockpit apologised for the delay which was due to bad weather. He welcomed us on board and estimated the flight duration from Domestic Wing to Osubi airstrip to be about 45 minutes.

The plane leapt into the sky and we were suspended in the clouds by a force I thought was better explained by metaphysics. I pulled out Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and began to read.

The inflight service began first with the business class and trickled down to us: a stable croissant, cheap sandwich biscuits and a small pack of orange juice. The flight was without incidence until we began our descent.

Then it became turbulent.

Looking out of the window, everything was blurry. It had the dreamy and aqueous quality of a storm. As the aircraft rocked and struggled through its turbulent descent, the cabin was quiet. Even the chatty woman behind fell silent.

I looked out again and I saw nothing discreet. The pilot’s voice announced that we are about to land. We held our breaths. We waited for what seemed like eternity. Fifteen minutes later, we were still air-borne.

What happened to landing?

The pilot’s voice came again. Visibility was poor, he said. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to land the craft. He was going to try once more but with a caveat that if he failed again, he would return us to Lagos.

Passengers became uneasy. I looked over my shoulder and saw the mother of the boy, she was speaking in tongues. She had taken a cue from the pilot to raise her voice.

I was surprised by my calmness. The unease was palpable. People were terse in their seats. There was zero conversation and no eye contact. The air hosts were out of sight while the turbulence reigned.

An unsettling alarm erupted from nowhere. The mother’s children began to cry. The mother’s voice became emboldened. She was decrying, binding and loosening every force within her reach. Passengers around her had begun to say amen. Their hands held in fellowship.

The alarm continued. So did the turbulence. I looked out again and I saw a rapturous void.  I saw frissons of light; I saw the darkness wobble as if it was made of liquid. I couldn’t see anything that resembled a civilisation. It all looked like an abyss. I looked behind and caught a teardrop rolling down the eye of the woman in the brown sandals.

What happens before a plane crash? The last cockpit conversation is recorded by the black box. What happens to the goodbyes in the cabin? The prayers. The wails. The hysteria of people who must urgently meet with their violent ends.

We felt the plane continue to descend. I was too scared to look out again. I looked at the white man beside me and I saw his fears too, etched in bold letterings across his face. I asked him where he was going.

“Escravos”, he said in a thick Eastern Europe accent.

The passengers behind us were singing a worship song. The Nigerian rendition of the divine rescue of Paul and Silas. The cabin speakers came on and we were informed that the alarm was just the toilet cigarette alarm.

Some quiet. Some respite. The prayers mellowed. My thoughts were with Onyeka Anyene in his final moments. How does a man endure his death alongside that of his wife and four children? I looked at the husband of that young mother but I could not see his face. Was he saying amen to his wife’s loud prayers? Was he appraising his relationship with friends and even strangers? Did he think he was going to die? Was I going to die?

I thought about my day. It had begun like an ordinary day. I had woken up beside my lover. I had met an old university friend whose name I couldn’t remember. I had collected his phone number which I knew I would not call. I had exchanged compliments with a much older man, fantasized about an older woman. These were ordinary events of a dying day.

The plane grumbled towards the ground, the pelting rain showering its fuselage. We held our breaths. This was a do-or-die affair. This plane must land or we go back to Lagos. Or what did the pilot mean when he said he will return us to Lagos? Was Lagos a metaphor for something else? My thoughts ran awry, finding no comfort in the visage of fellow passengers. Where are the air hostesses when you need them? They were not displaying any facile smiles. Perhaps they were contemplating their mortality too. A career of air-borne hospitality punctuated by death in the skies, period.

The plane touched the ground with a loud bump and as it taxied valiantly down the airstrip. People clapped, ululated, cheered and smiled. Their relief was palpable. Their joy, meaningful. It was a close shave with death.

Moments later, we disembarked from the aircraft. I saw the husband holding his son while his wife carried their infant daughter.  I saw the women wearing the same lilac fabric when I looked behind, the chatty one had resumed talking while the elegant lady in brown sandals just listened.

Everything was normal, as if nothing happened.

Published at Olongo Africa