This is how I get to work some days. I take a bus from Lekki going to Obalende, stop at Law School Bus Stop, right under the bridge on Ozumba that connects VI with Ikoyi. I walk across this bridge, looking out at the water as I go (this is usually the highlight of my morning), and then I get to Falomo Roundabout in Ikoyi, on the other end.
Now, here’s when it gets interesting, because at this point I have to find some means of transportation to the office other than my feet. I don’t mind walking, and the office really isn’t all that far from Falomo. But when you consider the intensity of Lagos sun at around 8.40 am, which is when I’m usually at Falomo, and the fact that I carry my laptop and other stuff to work every day, walking the additional distance doesn’t sound so good. But then, there are no taxis or buses plying Kingsway Road, not that I know of. The only other option is to get an okada. This should be simple enough but it isn’t, since okadas have been banned from virtually all Lagos roads.
The first time I got an okada from Falomo Roundabout it went something like this. I did my walk across the VI-Ikoyi Bridge, emerging at Falomo Roundabout, with the sun beating down on my head as if I was a personal offence to it. I was starting to doubt the wisdom in my earlier decision to walk from Falomo down Kingsway Road to the office. Keep in mind that at this time I did not yet know The Secret to Getting an Okada at Falomo Roundabout, and so I was just there asking myself, ‘Self, what were you thinking? You think you’re still in the UK where you walk everywhere abi?’ What if I passed out from the heat and became one of those people that provide entertainment, a temporary escape, for weary Lagosians.
I walked on, slowing down in the shadows cast by the abandoned NITEL Compound just by the roundabout. I was adjusting the straps of my backpack around my shoulders and giving myself the pep talk that would allow me to keep walking when a man in dark glasses sidled up beside me.
I wanted to turn to look at him but something in his demeanour stopped me.
‘You dey find okada?’ he asked, in a whisper.
From the corner of my eye I could see he wasn’t looking at me; his eyes were straight ahead, his body inclined away from me. To any watching eyes he was just a random person standing beside a random female, trying to cross the road or something.
I was wondering why this random person was asking if I wanted an okada (did he have one in his pocket to give me?) when it suddenly occurred to me. My head went cold, like I was in a spy movie. He was the okada man!
I got into character.
I glanced about, keeping my head as still as possible and using just my eyes. When next I spoke, it was with minimal lip movement.
‘Where your okada dey?’ I said.
He still wouldn’t look at me. Smart guy.
‘E dey,’ he said.
This one was a pro; he would give nothing away. I smiled. Maybe I looked like someone from the Lagos State Okada-Hunting Task Force gone undercover. I wondered if that should make me feel cool.
‘Where you dey go?’ he asked.
I told him, and he said the price was N200. A rip off – coming all the way from Lekki had cost less – but then maybe not, considering the risk involved. When you choose to operate on the fringes of the law you pay the price, in this case N200.
I looked up at the sky. The sun still seemed to have something against me. I nodded. N200.
The man disappeared through the gates of the NITEL compound, and moments later he came out rolling his motorcycle, looking all around him. He stopped beside me and I hopped on, my face straight, feeling like a badass but wondering: if one of these Task Force or LASTMA people catches the okada man for operating his okada illegally, will they want to keep the passenger as well? But I got to work okay. No Task Force, no wahala.
The other day I was describing my commute to someone and I mentioned taking an okada from Falomo Roundabout. The person stopped me.
‘I thought they’ve stopped all the okadas from running there? How do you get one?’
I gave a slow, secretive smile, gently pulling at my chin hairs.
‘You don’t look for them,’ I said. ‘They find you.’