I was in Lagos for less than a week taking pictures for a blog post I was working on and visiting friends I had not seen in a long while. I have been taking photographs in Port Harcourt for as long as I have had a camera but Lagos was just a totally different experience.
I have always said that Lagos is a melting pot of the best and the worst that Nigeria has to offer. I don’t know if there’s any other place in Nigeria that offers the same depth and variety of photographic opportunities as Lagos does. On the flip (very bad) side, I don’t think any other place in Nigeria offers an annoying level of harassment for street photographers as Lagos does. From uniformed personnel to “agberos” on the road, everyone seems to want to shake you down with the excuse of you needing “permits” or paying “marching ground” money for shooting pictures.
The first shakedown I experienced was probably my fault. I went to see someone at Agege by Herbert Shaw. The agberos at the junction were at each other’s throats. I walked past them discretely taking a few shots. Turned out I was heading in the wrong direction so on my walk back I got greedy and took a few more shots, bad idea. Two agberos ran up to me on both sides. The one on the right asked me to stop and asked for my ID card. I told him I didn’t have one. He said I was a press officer and I was lying and that he saw me taking pictures. I said I was taking pictures but for my personal use. He kept saying he saw me taking the pictures and I was lying about it even though I told him several times that yes, I took some pictures for my personal use.
I was scared. The guy on the right kept asking the other guy to take my camera away from me. I tightened my grip on the camera and rolled the strap around my hand. I made up my mind not to let them have the camera. I conceded to them that I messed up and asked what I could do to fix it. I asked them several times how much they wanted to make this mess go away. They said they didn’t want my money. They wanted my camera. They wanted me to also move with them into a side street which I vehemently refused to do. I asked them to accompany me to the next street instead. They threatened to call their chairman and that he would smash my camera. This went on and on while I was begging and trying to explain myself.
Another agbero joined us. The situation wasn’t getting any better. I then asked their assumed leader who exactly he was. He said they were the guys responsible for security at the junction. I sensed his confidence drop so asked for his ID. He started to stutter and blurted something about him liking my question.
At that point I just told myself I’m a Port Harcourt boy, this shouldn’t be happening to me. Just like that it came out of my mouth. I told him I had come in from Port Harcourt the day before and that if I was from Lagos he wouldn’t be doing this crap.
The leader asked what part of Port Harcourt I was from and added that he grew up in Borokiri. To cut a long story short, he asked me to give the second whatever I felt like giving him and that he wasn’t going to take anything from me. I gave him two hundred naira which he clearly wasn’t happy about. I asked the leader for his name, we shook hands and I left. Total cost N200.
This same scene repeated itself a few days later. This time on the Lekki-Épé Express way before the Oriental Hotel. I was with friends crossing the footbridge from the lane going towards Ajah. I told my friends they would be the ones dealing with anyone trying to shake me down before bringing out my camera out from my bag. A few pictures later, someone dressed in a uniform that looked like that of the Nigerian Civil Defence was waiting for us at the foot of the bridge and was asking for our ID cards and permits to take pictures of the road. I found out later he was actually a Man-O-War officer. He claimed he was there at the request of the Lekki Concession Consortium and that we needed permits to take pictures of the road.
After a few minutes of arguing we asked how much he wanted. He said he didn’t want our money and asked how we could ask him such a question. To cut another long story short, total cost, N200 again. This was getting really cheap and annoying.
A day after the incident with the agberos I took some pictures in front of the Tafewa Balewa Square. This time I took some minutes to survey the area, looking for clues for who might be in charge. I saw a scary looking guy sitting with two other guys in front of a stall selling drinks. I walked up to them and bought a bottle of coke. Halfway through my drink I asked them if I could take pictures of the Eyo masquerades. Their eyes lit up. They said yes I could but that I would have to pay “marching ground” money if not the security people at the square won’t let me take pictures. They added that if I paid the money to them they would walk me to the front of the square and stand watch while I took my pictures.
I told them that I knew I was going to pay the “marching ground” money, why else was I talking to them. I asked how much it would cost me and they said a thousand Naira. I said that was too much and then the guy who sold me the drink said I should just give them what I had. They asked me to follow them to the front of the square. After taking the photographs I paid them and left. Total cost, N500 plus an additional N100 for the bottle of coke.
For the pictures I took of Broad Street, I spoke to the guards at a bank I had just finished making use of an ATM at. They asked if I would be fast about it and also added that agberos might still show up and ask for their share of the “marching ground” money even though I wasn’t paying them. I made about three shots, thanked them and left. Total cost, zero.
There were many photo opportunities I passed on because I felt the photos weren’t going to be worth the stress and risk of losing my camera. A good example is the big mosque somewhere near Broad Street.
Although I was shocked at first, this turned out to be a good learning experience. I will just concentrate on shooting photographs of Port Harcourt and other cities in the South South. Lagos after all already has a lot of photographers documenting it’s everyday life and keeps drawing more. I know, it’s the chicken in me talking 🙂