As I prepare to write my final exams, I reminisce on my time shuttling between Lagos and Benin city the last five years. Even though I’m from Edo state, I was born and raised in Lagos, so living in Benin was a chance to connect with my people. However, as much as I like to deny it, I’m a Lagos babe through and through. I like the hustle and bustle that comes with Lagos. As much as I complain about the traffic, a traffic free life scares me. I love
The culture shock I first experienced in my first year in 2018 hasn’t ended since. If you’re a Lagos babe like me and you want to know what to prepare for if you ever have to come to Benin city, first of all, never wear white shoes out. Benin and red sand are like Lagos and traffic — joined together, never to depart from one another. Your shoes will change to shades of red and orange, and you’ll hate yourself and the person who brought you to Benin.
Of course, not everywhere in Benin is covered in red sand, but most of it is. Especially the places that require you to walk. That brings me to my second culture shock. There are parts of Benin where you forget that okadas exist. In Lagos, I’ve watched various governors try and fail to ban bikes. They bring their little task forces and impound lots of people’s okadas, but one week later, they are back on the road.
My cousin told me there were no bikes in Benin, and I thought she was joking. When Oshiomole decided to ban them, he banned them for real. Lagos state governors should come and learn work from him. Edo state has mostly expressways and bikes are a big no-no except within specific streets. Even then, it’ll take a while to find one. If we’re being honest, finding anything in Benin city will take a while. The early morning grind culture I grew up with in Lagos? Non-existent in Benin city.
Benin people do not like to stress. They do things at their own pace, especially if those things are running a business. You go to a shop to buy something, and the owner sits while you attend to yourself. If you finish and don’t have the exact change, they can’t be arsed. Get out. I’m used to sellers in Lagos offering to at least find change for me. I can’t forget when a woman shouted at me for trying to buy a sachet of milk with ₦200, like I’d committed a crime. I had to return to my streets milkless and annoyed. It was even worse because I had to walk a long while to find a shop open by 8:30 a.m. on a weekday. They open their shops late and close them early. Do you want to order a Bolt by 7 a.m.? Better use that time to fill up your water bottle and start trekking. Anything that relates to stress? Benin people can’t take it. They don’t care if you’re paying them. Their gist, their peace, their rest come first.
If these business owners eventually answer you, language might be a barrier. If you’re like me and don’t speak Benin fluently, I’ll advise you to brush up on your pidgin. The pidgin they speak here is unlike the one they speak in Lagos. Dem fit use am sell you for your front, and you go just dey shine teeth. Your 32 go dey sparkle but dem don call price for your head. Better go and hire a pidgin lesson teacher. Make e no be like say I no warn you before. At least, if you narrate your story give another person, you go include say I warn you. If you no include am, the thunder wey go fire you dey warm up for Oba palace. Dem no dey talk too much give wise man.
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If you get the language part down and have to deal with the business owners behaving anyhow, you might feel tempted to interfere. You might want to raise your shoulder and shout at them to prove a point because you’re now a superstar, shey? The insults they’ll rain on you will humble you. I’ve not met a group of people with a worse mouth than Benin people. They curse you to say hello, and if you complain, you chop some more.
Last week, I offered to do something for my roommate, and she ignored me. I told her, “I don’t blame you; it’s me that wanted to do good.” Tell me why one of my Benin roommates replied, “Instead of the good you want to do to kill you, it will kill the person you wanted to do it for.” The scream I let out could’ve been heard from the gate. What did I start? What did she finish? And she said it so casually, like it was an everyday phrase. After the initial shock wore off, I added it to my dictionary. Benin has taught me a lot of interesting and colourful statements. When I unleash them in Lagos, they’ll gather and beat me.
Benin isn’t all bad. I think my favourite thing about the place is the electricity timetable. Every street has a particular time they “bring light”, which is helpful to plan your day. If they bring your light by 6 a.m., you know it’s there till 9 a.m. Anything you want to do should be done by then. When they take it, it’s till 12 p.m. It’s very consistent; they hardly bring light when it’s not yet your turn. Unfortunately, when rain falls, it can take two to three business days for the wire to dry, and in that period, nothing for you. Just zukwanike. Rest.
Benin is for people tired of the hustle and bustle of places like Lagos. Rent is not as expensive, but that’s rapidly changing. With the rate at which fraudsters are pumping money into the shortlet apartment industry in Benin, if you want to come, come fast.
There’s a lot of time to just relax and take it easy. If you enjoy a vibrant nightlife, omo, nothing for you. Except you don’t mind peppersoup and beer joints. That one, Benin has in abundance. You’ll eat grasscutter so much you’ll start growing it on your head. If you’re trying to find clubs, whatever they show you there, better close your eyes and collect it. Lounges? Same thing. Whatever you use your eye to see, your mouth might be unable to say.
The people who were born here or moved willingly don’t have a bad thing to say about Benin city. If they could, they’d choose to be born here over and over again. Me, on the other hand? I’m dipping the first chance I get.