Living Dangerously In the Inner Cities

I witnessed one of the most bizarre inner city scenes in a Lagos suburb on Sunday as my family pulled out of the driveway to head to church for Sunday morning service.

Right smack in the middle of a road sitting on a bench were two young men, also ready for church with Bible in their hands, obstructing our car.

As we pulled up to them, they seemed in a trance, refusing to let us through until my brother stepped down to berate them. I guess they saw nothing wrong with sitting in the middle of a thoroughfare at 8 in the morning all dressed up!

It was just one of several amusing scenes reorientating me to inner city Nigeria, that I have witnessed in the past few weeks, and reminded me of a similar introduction to inner city America some 25 years ago when I lived in Richmond, a predominantly black neighborhood in northern California.

After moving away from the north Richmond area some 24 years ago I forgot how elemental, reckless, dangerous and in-your-face existence can sometimes be in the inner cities, until I recently have to spend some time in a Lagos suburb called Akute Odo; a place so densely populated.

Life here is so in-your-face; with basic societal guarantees like privacy virtually non-existent, poverty a constant spur for desperate acts and power supply in fits and starts. Sometimes I wish I had a direct phone line to the GM of the local power supply company (which I am guessing is IKEDC) to just ask him- why provide power if it’s going to go dark again in the next 4 or 5 minutes?

In the first place, reaching here oftentimes is a nightmare due to two moribund over head bridge projects at Alagbole and Akute Odo that are the main access to the place.

If authorities cared about the welfare of the people in this densely-populated area, all it would require is for crews to spend two days of serious construction maintenance work to fix the muddy detour under both bridges (less than a mile) that becomes a traffic nightmare during rush hour.

Now, the Richmond experience, where I lived for a year with my Nigerian roommate Joseph and his wife, when I first arrived America more than 24 years ago until I moved to Fairfield in 1991, is one I sometimes recall with trepidation. With a predominant African-American population, you can imagine the high rate of unemployment and crime, in an area that also includes the unincorporated communities of North Richmond, Hasford Heights, Kensington, El Sobrante, Bayview-Montalvin Manor, Tara Hills, and East Richmond Heights, and briefly San Francisco on Red Rock Island.

Life in Richmond was a really scary introduction to life in America. One day we had a homicide next door to our compound, and upon return home it was shocking to see helicopters swirling overhead and yellow police tape all over the place; preventing us from going home while cops investigated the scene.

On another occasion I and my roommate were threatened by a man who said he would shoot us if we didn’t move our car that was blocking his car. It was that scary living in Richmond, a city where the population of people living below poverty level was at 17.9 percent (2.6 percent higher than the median for California), according to the latest US Census Bureau statistics. At one point in the early 90’s Richmond California had one of the highest homicide rates (especially in the north Richmond area) in the entire United States.

But the city has now rebranded its image and is now known as the “City of Pride and Purpose.”

Inner city living is indeed not for the faint of heart, which is why the authorities need to pay more attention to the welfare of the people in these often god-forsaken places, simply because it is the right thing to do.

The resilience of the Nigerian people especially in the inner cities around Lagos would be a perfect case study for 100 Resilient Cities – pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC), an organization that “is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.”






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Ben Edokpayi

Ben Edokpayi is a strategic communications consultant with more than 25 years experience in the USA and Nigeria. His most recent corporate assignment was as Media Relations Officer with the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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