“Welcome to Lagos” is one of those books where we meet two characters, Chike and Yemi, and follow their journey as they pickup the rest of the characters (Fine Boy, Isoken, Oma, Ahmed, and the Chief) while the second half of the novel details how their lives all fit together. We start with Chike and Yemi, members of the Nigerian army. They leave the army due to an incident and meet up with Fine Boy out in the Niger delta. He, in turn, has already run into Isoken, and soon the three of them meet up with her as well. They all decide to leave the rural isolation of the delta and make their fortunes in Lagos. On the bus they come across Oma, who is running away from her abusive husband. Once they make it to Lagos, they all decide to stay together as a make-shift family. Soon their lives are turned upside down when a crooked government official, Chief Sandayo, discovers them squatting in his bunker.
This book is gritty in the sense that it very closely mirrors real life, rather than a fictionalized version of life. The author may have intended this to feel like real life in which our internal dreams and goals never come to fruition and how life gets in the way of it all. The message of “family is who you choose, not to whom you are born” was clear and it was an important part of the novel. Just like a family, everyone squabbles with each other, but in the end you all are looking out for each other.
A part of me couldn’t help relating this to many of Charles Dickens’s works because he too uses gritty real-life settings with flawed characters in order to make readers empathize and confront the reality many people face.
While I don’t know that I enjoyed this book, I do appreciate it. It did make me confront some of my biases and ignorance towards Nigeria. I’ve now read several books by Nigerian writers, set in Nigeria and they’ve all helped me understand the nation and the culture on its own terms rather than through my Western, Colonial understanding.
I recommend this book for book clubs. From the complex characters, to the various Nigerian settings, to even the politics of Nigeria, there’s a lot to discuss and reflect on.