Monday, 7 May 2012


kpako estate is the story of Cyril, a young poet who journeys through the slums of Lagos in search of his dream. In kpako estate - a slum housing over 400 shacks and close to 2500 people, Cyril realizes that there are people there who need his help. The children who don't go to school, the girls who had taken to prostitution to survive, the guy in prison who couldn’t get justice... But Cyril can’t help them all. He finally meets an old learned gentleman with whom he could discuss poetry and politics and decides to start a school… But will it endure? Days passed and he abandoned the idea. Everyone wanted to leave kpako estate and Cyril wasn’t an exception. In Cyril’s world, everyone was a story he would tell. The stories of individuals and families who braved the odds of living in shacks to remain in Lagos... Hoping, praying and searching for the Nigerian dream....

We got on the bridge. It creaked. I stopped. “C’mon”, Dan urged me, “look out for these” he warned, referring to the wooden boards that served as the floor of the bridge. As we walked carefully down the narrow bridge, I looked down at the still black water under us. Our shadows were silhouetted against the moons reflection on the surface. We looked like weary pilgrims trudging on, to a holy city.

On the other side of the bridge, the ground was very slippery. I almost slipped once but I quickly steadied my footing by grabbing Dan's shirt. Had he not been a stout guy, we would both have toppled to the ground like lazy bags. Dan remarked jokingly that I almost slipped because I hadn’t been taking "Jedi Jedi" and "Jedi Jedi" he said, would help reset my rickety hips. We laughed heartily over the incident and continued down the road to a very large compound on the right. A water tanker was parked beside the old rusty gates that hung reluctantly from the dismembering pillars that held them. The gates were open.
"This is the place" Dan said as we walked in.
"Wow" I let out slowly.
"What is this place?"
"Was this where I was going to be staying?"
Questions raced through my head. My mind returned to the telephone conversation I had with Dan three days ago. He'd told me that the place he lived in was called "kpako estate".  The name sounded funny to me, but I waved it off as some Yoruba word so I didn’t bother to ask him what it meant. Besides, my problem was a roof over my head, every other thing was secondary. My God! This place was like a refugee camp! There were wooden shacks everywhere, stretching...for what seemed to be miles, and miles! Most of them were very old and shabby. Torn and weathered tarpaulins hung droopily from their roofs. They looked like depressing sign posts, portraying the poverty of the people here. We walked on, past naked dirty children playing in the sand, and crazy drinking bars blaring music loud to the top of the skies. "Pass the microphone eh...Terry G...pass the microphone eh!" exploded the loud speakers from one of the crazy drinking bars, drowning the sound of the music from the other bars. The song set the place on fire. People threw away their chairs and began to dance. One girl caught my eye. She swung her hips vigorously to the beat; her breasts rose and fell with the rhythm as she threw her body into sporadic gyrations. She swerved, she bent low...low...until her buttocks caressed the floor. She rose slowly, then quickly, took several steps to her left and stopped. The men were ecstatic now. She began again, with her hands pouted in front of her like that of a kangaroo; she started the popular "Alanta swag". They applauded. She danced more vigorously, as Terry G’s voice slammed into the high tempo salsa beats with his funky slangs "Ginger ya swagger...Ginger ya swagger eh..."  The lights went off. Shouts of disapproval rent the air... "Nepa! I couldn’t help laughing from where I was standing with Dan. These people still lived I thought as we moved on. I noticed the rubbish heaps beside the shacks we passed. They rose like little hills everywhere you turned. Refuse disposal here was a problem. Thick black smoke was rising from suya and smoked fish stands. The inviting smell of food filled the air, but somehow, it was stained, by a depressing arid smell, that seemed to come and go.

 This photo was taken at kpako estate, Ajah Lagos..

In my mind a poem was already framing itself. “A conflict of two worlds" would be the title.
It went...
A lost world,
A world in peril,
Yet teeming...teeming with hope,
Groping, surviving....
Words formed in my mind, they grew as we made our way further in, into this new world, through which i was now beginning to see the extreme irony of life; the paradoxical reality of the human society. I dwelt on this as we turned right, wondering if providence brought me here. Maybe, somewhere in the corners of this place, the answers I've been searching for would present themselves. Something told me that I was meant to be here, that I had a part to play. It was that sudden intuition from within that we all feel but often ignore, that aching call, which we all fear to embrace. We passed a structure I immediately recognised as a bathroom. It was about two meters high and made from empty rice sacks sewn together and tied around four wooden stakes. The stench of concentrated ammonia hit my nose. I felt my stomach recoiling. My lungs screamed for fresh air."This place stinks" I muttered under my breath.  I'm not sure Dan heard me but he said nothing anyways. We were now in between a row of shacks. There were people everywhere. They all stared at me as we walked past their doors. Dan greeted some of them and they greeted back. I waved at a brilliant looking little boy clutching a broken turtle ninja; he smiled and waved back at me. He would become one of my students a month later. 

 John lives with his parents in a shack beside ours in kpako estate

 When we got to Dan's shack, he asked me to wait outside while he took my bag inside. I seized the opportunity to take a closer look around me. My eyes rested on the rubbish heap about eight feet from the front of Dan's shack. I mentally explored the contents: pure water sachets, cigarette butts, biscuit wrappers, milk and tomato tins...etc. While I slowly took in these details, a sweet female voice spoke from behind me in perfect English.
 "You’ve been standing".
 I turned around to see a dark beautiful round-faced-wide-eyed girl of about seventeen smiling up at me; she was carrying a wooden stool.
“Sit down”  
 She offered, placing the stool on the ground.
She repeated, tapping the stool twice. I accepted the offer and sat down.
"Thanks" I said.
 She seemed to be pleased; she smiled shyly and turned away. I regarded her as she went away with an amused look on her face. Her hair was unkempt and she was very thin. Seconds later, Dan reappeared with a steaming plate of beans and plantain pottage. "We can't eat inside" he explained. "The room (referring to his shack) is still heated up from the fire from the stove". Eating outside wasn’t a problem for me, frankly I preferred it to eating inside a little airless box as I have come to regard the shacks here. Well, I was going to sleep in a little airless box today. The thought of it amused me. We said the grace and started filling our hungry bellies".  I think I caught a glimpse of a boy's face peering from the window of the shack beside Dan’s. He must have been hungry. I motioned him to join us, but he withdrew into the shadows silently as if to say "you don’t understand".
After we had eaten, Dan ordered for two bottles of coke from the nearby store. As we sipped the cold drink, we tried to catch up on old times. We talked deep into the night. We talked about home, we talked about our girlfriends, we talked about our prospects, but we did not talk about kpako estate. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement between us not to talk about it, an unwritten law that bid us to abandon it. Yet it was there - a lingering conversation between our dreams and our current reality, our future and our past, our ego and our friendship. We went to bed and bade each other good night. Each seemed to say in his heart “We’ll talk about it in the morning” That night, kpako estate did not sleep. The night was interrupted by the sound of murmuring children and scrambling rats, the interminable humming of sickly generators, the negotiation of sex workers with their customers and creaky doors opening and closing. All wove in sublime patterns, a genre- less music that courted the night. I closed my eyes. Morning seemed far away. 

Author's note

I started writing this story when I was living in a slum like the one described above. Next editor Molara Wood had intended to publish it as a series on the Arts and culture section but Next didnt live long enough for that to happen. I have decided to post it here because as I type this, there are people still living in places like kpako estate, who struggle everyday to scratch a mere existence, who pray each day , that by some miraculous act of providence, that they would be delivered from the slum. I feel that as a writer, I have a burden to tell their story, it's the burden all writers bear. Even though it's been almost a year since I left the slums for a better life, I still hear their voices, I still hear their cries... they seem to say " you are our Voice"... and so , it would be unjust for me to bury that voice that they have given me.. it would be a violation of that sacred creed which all writers sing... that we are the conscience of society.

1 comment:

  1. The similarity is amazing:

    "Ajegunle was a contrast to life, a euphemism for the lack of it. People, infrastructure, even the air itself all contradicted meaningful living, for which the city could earn an unopposed nomination as the king of slums in Nigeria. Everyone there was angry. Little delays or hitches over change from the bus conductor for fares paid resulted in expletives.

    People thronged along the busy road that should lead me to my destination. I mistakenly stepped on a fellow’s heel ahead of me. Before I could say sorry, a blow had already shut my lips. Everyone seemed to have a serious issue of lack rattling their inner peace, the very catalyst for anger and poise for violence.

    It was not difficult locating Number 8 on Ashafa Street. The road was untarred and busy. Street soccer and the noisome loitering of jobless boys and girls held sway. At the frontage of my prospective host’s house, a scene was created by a couple that threw tantrums at each other.
    “Yeye man! Na drink and Baba Ijebu go finish you, otobo! Come cut my breast chop, you de hungry, mcheew!”
    The lady mimicked the sentence “I dey hungry” contorting her face in the effort. She slung her verbal assault from afar, as the crowd cheered. The man could not earn crowd support with his drab flaks, and resorted to violence: he glanced around, picked a nearby stone and lobbed it at her but it went over her head. “Over the bar!” chorused the crowd. A naughty fellow ran commentary for the duel: the man he called America; the lady, Iraq. The lady chased the stone, caught it, and sent it back to source. Crowd ran helter-skelter as the stone flew menacingly to crash on anyone. I was standing opposite the house and waited for a safe moment to move into the building.

    When I entered the building, I spotted a pretty young lady leaning on the doorway from one of the rooms. We exchanged glances severally, and smiled.
    “Welcome!” she said.
    “Thank you, good morning. Please I’m looking for Mr. Okey, a newly married man...”
    “That’s his room behind you, knock at the door,” she said.
    The communication cut off the formality between us and she stepped forward to help with my bag, as I knocked on the door.
    “Thank you, I can carry it. It’s light,” I said.
    “I know you can carry it, let me see if I can carry it too,” she said. We smiled again. I let her have the bag.
    “Iyawo! You get visitor!” she shouted, knocking a bit louder on the door. Okey’s wife was inside. Her husband had gone to work, but was expected back that morning – he was on night shift the day before.
    “Anyway, I’m Victor. What’s your name, my friend?”
    At that point Onyinye, Okey’s wife, opened the door, and Nse left. In that short moment I looked at her quickly as she walked away. With the vibration that emanated from her backside, I knew there was trouble ahead.

    Okey’s abode was the first room in a structural contraption that was no more than a dual stretch of rooms separated by a long, dark corridor. No, it was not a single room; it was double: the living room consisting of three worn-out sofas and a tacky centre-table, stopped at the opaque partition of a curtain. Behind that curtain was a room within a room, the venue of the couple’s covert bedtime activities. Not that the regular moans at night from that quarter did not puncture the pretensions of that obscurity. The corridor that led to the room was cluttered with all manner of things, and served as make-shift kitchenettes to tenants. Tenants were entitled to the spaces behind their doorways as cooking spots mostly on top of food cupboards. But no one dared leave food in those cupboards even if the largest padlocks were on guard. Most rooms had up to ten occupants, and the corridor served those who came back late from work, who could not find sleeping space in their rooms - and these were practised food thieves. Soup pots left in that corridor could be mopped thoroughly by skilled fingers till Made in China showed up."