The rain these days and the resultant flooding in my neighbourhood, have me grimacing each time I go in and out of my ‘posh’ suburb. I can’t stomach the incongruity of staying in a neighbourhood that exclusive, everywhere I look, I am surrounded by beautiful houses and expensive cars and smack in the middle of it, is the ugly flood and drains overloaded with debris. It is right there before my very perceptive eyes, the ugliness beneath the glitz; the cloying squalor underneath all that wealth. As I watch my la-di-da neighbours, decked out in screaming opulence, struggle to meander the flooded streets in their expensive cars, I can’t help but wonder how many are financially struggling, practically drowning in debt to keep up an appearance of being bourgeois.
Nobody is without guilt, for creating an illusion of themselves, it is a normal human proclivity, to represent ourselves, better than we really are, but the greatest sin of all is actually believing this phantasmagoria we have created, to replace our tangible reality with the mist of dreams.
Indeed, none is without guilt, from the white Gwagon driving young man who only dates working class women, so he is entitled to a large chunk of bae’s salary at the end of the month; to the 30 inches human hair wearing young woman, who can barely feed herself, even as she has the clothes, shoes and bags to slay; the house wife is not left out of this Lekki ragtag band, because she is so consumed with keeping up with the Joneses, that she is wearing herself and hubby dearest thin. Lets not forget the 40-year-old man in the grip of such midlife crisis that he uses up his family savings to get himself a Lamborghini. It is unimportant, if he is almost destitute, because with the sound of his Lambo’s engine revving, he becomes the king of the universe.
In the jungle of Lekki, only one law prevails and that is the law of ‘Pepper Dem’. Starve yourself if you must, drown yourself in debt, live out of your car, that doesn’t matter, as long as you ‘Pepper Dem’.
My writer’s curiousity have me investigating my neighbourhood closely and I rely on salacious gossip. As fodder for information, who more to talk to than the domestic help – they are the all-seeing, all-knowing witnesses to our upheavals and as expected, in most families, they are treated like mindless figurines.
To protect the identities of my informants, I will give them fictitious names, as we chronicle the travails of the Lekki urban poor, even as they desperately attempt to create their own slice of heaven, albeit ill-advised.
In broken English, I had a conversation with security man Gambo (not his real name). He happens to work for one of the wealthy Lekki Ogas, whose name commands respect. He owns a palatial home, cars parked in the garage from the most to the least luxurious. According to Gambo “Oga na Onigbese o! any woman way see all the house and the plenty cars put head, don enter one chance, Oga go chop am for free”, he lewdly remarks.
Forever in debt, Gambo’s Oga owe clubs millions of Naira, as a result of a gawdy show, of his dwindling wealth, as seen in bottles and bottles of champagne, bedecked with sparklers, as if to announce his omniscience; or the fact most of the luxurious cars parked in his garage were paid for, with his name, which is no more than an empty husk of broken promises, indeed looking good is good business and Oga invests heavily in it. Car dealers after waiting for months without getting paid, beset his home with armed men, in an attempt to either get their money or repossess the vehicles. “One time na him one man way dey sell motor come our house with soldier, na him oga jump fence run, make them no catch am”, says Gambo.
The suffocating duplicity of men like Gambo ‘s Oga, is the reality of many, drowning in debt, barely able to stay afloat, as they keep up the appearance of affluence.
In a conversation with another domestic help, this time a maid living and serving her apparently wealthy, unmarried madam, to protect her identity, I will call her Simbi. According to Simbi, “madam they owe me 6 months salary, I no fit comot, because I go lose, so I dey stay till when God touch her heart make she pay me”. I asked Simbi, if she is being owed because her madam has no money, “madam get small money” she says.
“Madam never pay rent or buy food for house finish, she go gather money go overs” (overs being her own word for overseas). From my conversations with Simbi, her Madam is clearly living a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget, She has no career and own no thriving business, save a dusty edifice with a few unfashionable clothes for sale, clearly she doesn’t get the trendy clothes she wears from her own store.
She slyly times her trips abroad, to coincide with days she is to pay her creditors, always high strung, forever desperate, and on the look out for the next Alhaji who will pick up paying her bills from where the last left off. Therefore it is very important that she keeps up the image of affluence, because that is bait for the big fishes, she is to reel in.
I am left dumbfounded by these revelations and chronicles of the Lekki urban poor. where does it all end, the lies and the duplicity, the desperate and drowning need to keep up appearances.
Are we to talk about the desperate housewife, who threatens her husband with a divorce, because he had dared to suggest they pull their children from the expensive school, kids of those who matter attend, as a way, of surviving the economic meltdown holding everyone to ransom.
Just recently a very popular Instagram model aka slay queen, gets disgraced and called out for owing a boutique owner the staggering sum of 500 thousand naira for two years, while she had celebrated her birthday in a limousine, drinking champagne and living the life.
As a young man, if you must get the daughter of a wealthy man interested in you, you must pretend to be what you are not, while using the very last dime you own, to fuel this duplicity, in the hopes that when you both become an item, you get a return on investments.
The creed of the urban poor becomes, to earn any money, you must spend a lot of it; you must spend the money you are yet to earn, in an effort to keep up appearances. For residents of Lekki, keeping up appearances is all that matters, in fact the only thing that matters.
If you look closely at the chic young woman and the influential looking young man, what you will find is the ill-disguised undercurrents of desperation that dogs their every step. Many are pushed to the very brink of bankruptcy, with many holding on to this illusions of wealth by a hair’s breath.
We all want a little slice of heaven, how far are we willing to go for it?