Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos

Genre Fiction.

Blurb When army officer Chike Ameobi is ordered to kill innocent civilians, he knows it is time to desert his post. As he travels toward Lagos with Yemi, his junior officer, and into the heart of a political scandal involving Nigeria’s education minister, Chike becomes the leader of a new platoon, a band of runaways who share his desire for a different kind of life. Among them is Fineboy, a fighter with a rebel group, desperate to pursue his dream of becoming a radio DJ; Isoken, a 16-year-old girl whose father is thought to have been killed by rebels; and the beautiful Oma, escaping a wealthy, abusive husband.

Full of humor and heart, Welcome to Lagos is a high-spirited novel about aspirations and escape, innocence and corruption. It offers a provocative portrait of contemporary Nigeria that marks the arrival in the United States of an extraordinary young writer.

Dialogue Conversational and gives credence to the story.

Themes Corruption, Injustice, Family, Religion, Love, Friendship, Poverty, Class system and Hopelessness.

Editing Properly edited.

Plot Chike and Yemi, army deserters are running away from violence and injustice. Fineboy, a young militant (a self-proclaimed vigilante) who has bought into the idea of thuggery, brutality and wreaking havoc under the illusion of justice but in truth, is taking advantage of poor villagers who just want to be left alone is also escaping to save his life. Isoken, a 16-year-old girl who has survived a raid on her village which has separated her from her family and allegedly was almost raped by Fineboy and his group of militants is looking for a new life. Oma, a young woman fleeing to escape her abusive husband. These 5 people are thrown together by circumstances and form an unlikely group all fleeing Yenagoa to Lagos.

Chief Remi Sandayo, the Minister of Education is also fleeing from the authorities after allegedly stealing ten million dollars of public funds. Ahmed Bakare, a journalist is running away from the authorities after publishing an article that named corrupt people in high places.

How do these characters’ lives intertwine?

What worked? Because of the comments about this book and perhaps, because of the blurb, we expected a humorous account of living in Lagos. It’s anything but that. Narrated in different POVs, this book portrayed living in Lagos and mirrors Nigeria. There is no sugar-coating the reality of the life that the characters live. Though colourful and descriptive, this book will put you in a sombre mood, save for a few light-hearted jokes and conversations.

This is a well-written book about the lives of several people from different strata in society which become intertwined as the story unfolds. On the one end, there is the unlikely “family” of five people with nothing to their names led by Chike, an army deserter. On the other end, there is the well-to-do Chief Sandayo who becomes a focal point of the book towards the middle and the end and Ahmed Bakare, the journalist and his parents.

Lady B I liked the short extracts at the beginning of each Chapter from the Nigerian Journal, a newspaper run by Ahmed Bakare as it introduced something unique and different from the long prose of the story. I looked forward to the beginning of each chapter as a result. I could see the similarity between Nigerian Journal and the defunct NEXT owned by Dele Olojede and I wasn’t surprised to see Victor Ehikhamenor credited as the author of one of these extracts in the book.

Mo I love the multi-faceted and complex characters, although different, they shared the same goals. The fast-paced nature of the book was refreshing and Chibundu didn’t take too much time on writing conversations that would slow the book down and cause the events to lag. The magic of this book is in the way she weaves the stories.

Welcome to Lagos runs through familiar topics for Nigerians, corruption and greed by those in power and the police, infrastructural deficits such as poor power supply, poorly maintained roads and lack of basic amenities like potable water. It also shines a spotlight on the slums in Lagos and the underground world of criminals, thieves and “area boys.”

There is a religious theme which runs through the book but it’s presented by Chibundu as more of an exploration, a questioning of the faiths, Christian and Muslim.

On the whole, it’s the humanity portrayed and witty conversations that make this book tick.

What didn’t work?

Lady B The book flirts with plausible and implausible scenes. I found myself asking sometimes… what are the odds?

The book felt formulaic at times, and the end was predictable. It also left questions at the end on things which were unresolved, like who informed the police? Discussing them in detail would include spoilers.

Mo The multiple characters confused me initially but it was not bothersome. However, introducing other characters with their own POV later in the book takes the biscuit. I thought the book ended abruptly. I’d have loved to know what happened with the characters. Perhaps, there’s a second book in the works.

Number of pages 358.

Publisher Faber and Faber ltd.

Damage N4,700 on Booksellers.

Rating 7.5/10.

Welcome to Lagos is available on Amazon and local bookstores.

Have you read Welcome to Lagos? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

4 replies

  1. I loved this book so much. Yes, the multiple POV threw me off initially but I soon got a hang of who was who… one of the best books I read this year.

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