It was a sunny Tuesday in Lagos, the temperature hitting over 40˚C, everywhere was steamy hot. I was driving to Ketu-Mile 12 area, sweating like an Agege goat that just escaped slaughter. My destination was somewhere under the popular Mile 12 bridge.
No! I wasn’t taking another wife nor throwing owambé party, so my mission wasn’t to buy baskets of rotten tomatoes or onions.
I was going for a business meeting!
Chuckles. A business meeting under the chaotic Mile 12 Bridge?!
My anonymous contact called and picked the rendezvous two days earlier. He said he needed a brand strategist to work on a digital project and wanted us to meet.
I arrived under the bridge and while searching for where to park, a guy came from behind and knocked the car door. I shifted back to have a clearer view of him, my other hand secretly grabbing a wheel spinner by my side.
A thief or a hero?
Oh, I concluded, he’s an àgbero wanting to get paid or to tell me to fuck-off.
He stared at me, and suddenly, his lips parted in slow stupid smiles as he threw up his hands in street ‘tuale’ salute, simultaneously stamping his feet on the ground.
‘Tuale Oga Victor’
I stared on.
‘Shebi you’re Victor Adeyemi?’
‘Thank you for coming, I’m Jayeoba. We talk on phone’
‘Oh really, Mr. Jaye’ I eased my posture and lowered my defense.
He directed me to where to park and gave series of two-hands-up ‘tuale’ salute to the touts under the bridge so they could back off me.
He seemed to be popular among them as they all exchanged familiar street greetings and raucous laughter.
‘So what the heck does this guy want from me? What does he know about brand strategy? Did this guy know who I am? Does he know those I consult for?’
I was ‘próuding’ as different thoughts raced through my mind.
‘Ikorodu o…Ikorodu’ a conductor of a dilapidated BRT bus hollered repeatedly, hanging carelessly on the door of the blue rickety bus.
‘Ketu jábòòlé o…I dey talk my own o…Ketu come down o’ another conductor warned passengers in flat Yoruba intonation, pulling his own ear.
‘Ojota waso…wole 50 naira Ojota’ another chanted as his yellow Danfo bus raced up into Ketu area.
The cacophonous melodrama intensified. Loud Wizkid music pulsed out of raucous speakers and further heated up the vicinity. Everywhere was riotous.
The traffic crawled and thickened, while the carbon monoxide from the moving machines choked up the entire supply of oxygen, my breathing became laboured and I was panting for air.
I screamed. Riot!
Welcome to Mile 12, the epicenter of chaos and disorder. Formed after Iddo Market could not satisfactorily supply the growing Lagos populace, Mile 12 market in Ketu area became one of the biggest, most popular and busiest markets in Lagos and South West Nigeria.
The market is termed the mecca for fresh foods like pepper, tomato, onions, veggies, fruits, palm oil, yam and other edible goods, all beautifully stacked in heaps of baskets. It is popular far beyond the South West to the East and North Central states of Nigeria.
Mile 12 market is characterized by beehive of activities involving wholesale merchants, wholesale buyers, retailers and the end consumers. The ecosystem also extends to permanent and casual laborers who engage in loading and off-loading from and into trailers and other vehicles, as well as hordes of market women who come to buy to resell in neighborhood markets. No matter your food need, someone somewhere sells it in Mile 12.
The intense, bustle and electric atmosphere associated with any typical Lagos market is what you get at Mile 12, considering the fact that it is a depot where over 95% of all the food products coming from within and outside the state lands.
Crowd mill in thousands, people bump into themselves, and also into trucks of different sizes. Hawkers of sachet water and soft drinks, lenders of rubber boots, truck boys, aboki wheel barrow boys, aláàru chics, the mekayás, touts, bystanders and shoppers of different ethnic groups litter the market like Mushin rats.
Accessing the market is a lot of struggle, starting with the nuisance of traffic gridlock caused by traders who display their goods on the road; coupled with the olfactory assault triggered by the nauseating smell of rotten and decaying food items, either at the roadside or emitting from the market interior.
It is a common sight for baskets of rotten tomatoes called ‘esha’ in Yoruba to leave the market in droves, not to the waste truck, but to rickety vehicles waiting at the entrance of the market to be conveyed to other consumers in the poorer neighbourhoods, the D and E socio-economic class.
Summarily, Mile 12 market is chaotic, unkept, dirty, smelly, nauseating, disorganized, and disorderly, yet it is that same market that feeds Lagos.
And this was where my new client wants to discuss business.
Jaye entered the car and sat on the passenger’s seat, sweating like Anty Kafaya’s armpit. He smiled again but I maintained a straight face. I don’t like his teeth.
Few minutes ago, my life was perfect, until I got stuck inside my own car with a random street guy I never wanted to be with, whose stares was piercing through every part of me.
I was thinking.
I have received briefs from all sort of places, from posh offices to churches, bars, or via emails, chats or phone calls, but I haven’t received one under any Lagos bridge, especially from a guy who I mistaken for a tout.
However today, history was about to be rewritten.
I didn’t stop thinking.
Could this be a robbery or kidnapping setup, considering the fact that Ikorodu and the baddo boys were not far from there?
My heart skipped a beat and I became extra cautious.
So, what’s the deal? I snapped out.
Lás làs, we started talking and Jaye knocked me out with a punch after another.
He brings food of all sorts in trucks and trailers from the North to Lagos. He has many food shops inside the market. He’s currently developing a N1 million software at CcHub that will decentralize the Mile 12 market. He had spent about a million naira travelling all over the country on R&D drive, striking up deals on food security. His business is currently worth over N20 million.
Jaye is a multimillionaire!
My respect for him was astronomic and somewhere in-between, I introduced ‘sir’ into our conversation.
Here was a guy trained to become a street kingpin and a nuisance to the society, but he changed the narrative and took his generation off the street.
Five years ago.
He was ‘razz’ to the core; a dark plump guy with an incomplete set of teeth lost in street brawl. He was well built, tattooed, with scars and bruises all over his body. His breath reeked of alcohol and smell of unfinished cigarette butt stumped in a damp bar. He was the king of the street.
No, he was never part of the upper middleclass crowd with a U.K. Masters degree. He never grooved at Hardrock Cafe, Escape, Quilox or Sailor’s Lounge. He had never chilled at Café Neo over a cup of coffee and a Mac Air. He never rode in Uber nor Bolt. He wasn’t ‘lucky’ to be ‘tush’.
He belonged to the razz culture, bred to rule the street. Poorly educated, with maybe OND or SSCE, struggler by nature, with a very low buying power. He hung around neighborhood bars, sport viewing centers, and cheap sex hotels disguised as club houses.
He was vast with local lingo, and moved the neighborhood by Danfo buses or motor bikes either belonging to him or one of his goons. Awón elei.
He habitually got drunk on festive days of cheap liquor, either from the sachet gin brands or low priced beer brands. He doesn’t drink alone, because he lived in clusters and community with clouts, so he drinks communally.
He even used Tramadol sometimes to supplement the cheap liquor to attain top ‘highness’.
He was a frequent face at Bet9ja and Baba Ijebu outlets, and always ‘throw dice’ at some rickety and unkempt make shift stalls.
A die-hard Chelsea fan, lover of instant gratifications; and a value for money consumer who always wanted more at lesser price.
Hopeless lover of music, and worshiper of stars. Proximity to local hero was social currency to him, especially the Fuji musical artistes. Now, he guns for Davido.
Then suddenly, his thinking changed and he started dreaming of moving out of his slum.
And he did.
In five fucking years, he transited from a street urchin to a global contender.
I meet millions of Jayes daily on Lagos street, those who’d resigned to fate because life had handed them a funny script. Its time to tell them to reactivate their street sense and transition from kingpins to kingmakers.
Don’t stop. Don’t dull. Don’t bitch. The street is no more for the kingpins and razz is the new cool.
©VictorAdeyemi | @ekojournalist