The True Nigeria You Never See

Countless media sources highlight the bad, amoral and ugly Nigeria, so the good gets left behind. As a Nigerian now living out West, I know to take everything I see in the news about my country with a grain of salt. I turn on the news, and almost every headline I read about Nigeria goes along the lines of, “Nigeria in Crisis”, “Hundreds killed in Nigeria”, “Terror in Nigeria,” and the extensive list of ugly and depressing headlines continue. However, the media doesn’t celebrate the people that do put in work to turn the country around; people who believe in their home and are willing to glorify it to whatever length it takes.

Nigeria as a country is far from its negative illustrations, and before reading this, you should believe that too. Although, I cannot deny that to an extent, Nigeria is truly not amongst the safest places to live. In fact, why would I leave my home and move out West if it were so safe, beautiful and generally positive? The truth is, just like every other country (but mostly developing countries), the people are tired of their corrupt leaders and have decided to take the matters of survival into their very hands. People have opted out from ethical societal norms of living, and begun to do anything and everything to survive, crime included… corruption, disregard of human rights, child labour, and so much more. So, I cannot sit here and deny the fact that Nigeria is indeed a land that breeds a host of crimes, and inhumane actions. But it is home; home for me; home for so many other people that are born into that system of survival; home for people that have no other option but to live a broken lifestyle; home for people that have no choice but to survive.

So even if I sit in my plush chairs, and type freely and safely at my laptop in public, without any immediate fear for my general safety while sipping on a pretentious yet delicious beverage from Starbucks out West, I cannot help but yearn for my home in the East. I yearn for my family, and hope that one day, Nigeria truly becomes a safe haven for all of the people that have left. It is in my moments of looking out for my country that I came across the incredible work of Devesh Uba (also known as Snap It Oga). In the past year, his name has diffused over all of social media. From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, he is everywhere, and more importantly, he is everywhere because of the nature of his photographs.

In 2013, Uba, a street photographer from India disregarded the many negative labels that propaganda media is fond of attaching to Nigeria, especially its commercial capital city, Lagos. This city is widely known as the second fastest growing city in Africa, and it is undoubtedly rich with diversity, culture, vitality, tourism, as well as extreme over population. Uba ventured out from his hometown in India to the vibrant city life of Lagos – armed with no fear from all of the negative information he had previously heard about the country – travelled to the city on his own to work and live for a year.

“Before moving here, I spent a lot of time researching Lagos and Nigeria, only to be discouraged when I did not find any positive stories or pictures. However, when I finally arrived and started to spend more time around the city, I realized there are several positive things about the culture that most media conveniently ignore. There is art almost everywhere… on Danfos, on streets, on shop signboards, on school walls and so on. The people of Lagos ‘hustle’ and do it with a smile. The colors of the markets are so vibrant and the ‘never say die’ spirit of people here is just so inspiring. The Nigerian love for food, football and music is just infectious”, Uba opens up about his immediate perception of the city life in Lagos in a feature interview for Spirited Pursuit (SP), a blog and social media hub for travelling photographers.

With this overall surprise at how different Nigerians seemed in person, Uba launched his widely known brand called Snap It Oga. However he also states in his SP interview that this name wasn’t his brainchild but rather, “The first few people I photographed in Lagos would say ‘Snap it, Oga!’ when I was looking at them through my camera’s viewfinder; the name just stuck, so I just ran with it”, he explains. And for many Nigerians reading this, we can all agree that Snap It Oga is indeed incredibly Nigerian and an invitation to the way of its people, as ‘Snap’ is a slang term (broken/pidgin English) for ‘take the photo’ and ‘Oga’ is typically a name given to a foreigner, or any one that is considered superior in Nigeria.

Apart from Lagos state, Uba has travelled almost everywhere in Nigeria from East to West, and his reactions about the disparity between the people he meets and the people he hears about in the media seems to grow large with every day he spends on the streets capturing photographs. It is because of this difference in illustrations of the kinds of people that live in the country that inspired Uba to launch Snap It Oga, a blog space where he catalogues all of the photographs he captures, and shares it to his various social media accounts and to his followers, without any media filter.

In my opinion, Uba has the right formula. Experiencing Nigeria and its people should be subjective, real, and free of judgment. I am not stating that there is no truth to the Nigeria you see in the media, all I’m saying is that like every country, Nigeria is made up of people, and it is these people that define the country. It is unfortunate that we’ve let our perceptions of Nigeria be shaped by the select few bad people, while ignoring the majority of great and genuinely kind Nigerians. Uba resonates with this too, as he states in his SP feature, “One of my worst memories as a photographer in Lagos was on the streets of Ajegunle when I was there to capture street art. The roads were pretty bad, so our car got stuck on a bump. Out of nowhere, ‘area boys’ surrounded us and started banging the car’s glass hysterically. Somehow my driver was able to calm them down by telling them his brother lives on the same street and runs a saloon in the local market. We were finally able to get some help from some kind people who stopped after all of the chaos ended. I can’t lie though; those were the most uncomfortable 20-25 minutes of my life. Despite this negative experience, I have had many great and positive experiences here in Lagos that make up for the bad ones”.

So even if all that comes to mind when you hear or think of Nigeria is danger, don’t let that stop you from an opportunity to visit one of the most culturally diverse and successful nations in Africa. Nigeria is made up of deeply rooted traditionally and culturally rich elements that will shock and excite every keen and nonjudgmental explorer that has the opportunity to visit its land. From the beautiful clear blue waters, unparalleled ranches, incredible game reserves, warm springs, magnificent waterfalls, rich African history museums, and so much more, Nigeria has it all. So, do yourself a favour, turn off the television, plan that trip out to Nigeria against all odds like Uba, and explore like never before.