This story is a collaboration of mine that came from meeting some inspiring public servants in Nigeria - it's a cautionary tale.
To Hell in a Handcart - Uchenna Ogbonna / Dawn
His aunty’s flat is hot and loud. They’re celebrating Samuel’s last night in Lagos, drinking like kings, enjoying genuine label Hennessy’s washed down with the bitter malt of Guinness. They’re eating like chiefs. The peppery ears of a goat’s head peek out of a lake of oily stew.
“Ah! Even Usain Bolt can’t keep up with the Nigerian economy. You should move back-O!” A cousin slaps his shoulder. “Hi-tech start-up? Why not?” An Arsenal match is on TV.
The screen’s almost as big as the one in his lounge back in Dagenham. On a night like this, Sam could be tempted.
Instead he avoids the question, stumbling slightly out onto the balcony. The sulphurous smell of rubbish nearly knocks him over. A sign on the fortress compound opposite warns “Beware of 419. This house is not for sale.” Hundreds of people walk by in the pavement-less, potholed road, selling what they can. Aunty Asi demands money for his niece’s school fees. Even if he was a security guard in London, he couldn’t refuse. They think he’s a big man, a hot-shot IT manager.
Sam knows he’s really good at his job, but he hasn’t told them he works for the local council. They would laugh. They would howl like a pack of wild dogs. They’d assume he was on the take. Although he’s proud of his heritage, this place does his head in. It’s unreal. His father always talked about the old days, the British system of local government they’d inherited, but he’s glad his old man isn’t around to see the hollow shell Lagos has become.
Man, he’s drunker than he thought. Even the shell has been shattered and no one’s gluing it together. Suddenly morose, he thinks maybe this is the future for Dagenham. Is this where we’re heading? He sends his niece to get him a cold Coke and tries to break his downward spiral. OK, his borough could be better, but the system works. In fact, he knows it can be better and he’ll say his piece, do what he can to hold it together.
East London’s his home and he’s staying put.
Uchenna Ogbonna - describes himself as a persistently positive public servant, who has worked in the UK and Nigeria