Story and Photo by: Tersoo Achineku
Legend has it that a place exists where madness is the motto and civility is a mere dictionary word. A place where the weak are preyed upon by the local bigwigs and chaos is the order of the day. A place where your generating set will be stolen and you’ll still have electricity. A place where you will buy an iPhone and it will show two hands shaking (Nokia’s trademark) when you turn it on. A place where some people arrive with the hope of buying a phone and end up going home with a piece of fufu. Nope, this isn’t Iraq or Mogadishu, we’re talking about Lagos’ most popular commercial hub situated in the heart of Ikeja simply known as Computer Village. Like most times, legends tend to be a bit exaggerative and off the mark so I decided why not? A little expedition wouldn’t kill anyone, I hoped.
It has to be said that a journey into Computer Village can only be taken by the bold and patient only. Anti-social nerds would have multiple heart-attacks at the entrance of the great commercial hub as one is welcomed by a herd of rowdy humans. Steeling myself, I decided it would be very stupid for me to have endured a journey from the office and putting up with a Keke Marwa driver that thought my last name was Buhari (as he kept on complaining to me about the rising Naira), only to chicken out at the entrance of Computer Village. A few steps later and I met the first wave of madness that the hub is known for. Popularly known as the Streetz, these set of guys have one mission, to find out if the new comer needs help. I know you might be like, oh, that’s sweet, and trust me, I did too at first but 10 seconds later, I began to rue my earlier convictions. The job of the Street is to tail you until you decide to patronize him (or physically attack him as I’d eventually learn) and believe me, these guys know their jobs, a little too much to be frank.
“Boss, boss, wetin you wan buy? I get Samsung, Tecno, Infinix, just come my shop, make we hook you up”
I was only there to take look around as such, I replied with a simple shake of the head which in normal human body language system means no, I don’t want anything. But this is Computer Village and shaking your head simply means, IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?
Half expecting the guy to have walked away, he changed tactics as he noticed my camera.
“You wan fix am? I get lens if you want, just come my shop, we go hook you up”
Once again I shook my head. Then he decided to go full retard and grabbed my hand.
“Why you dey do like novice? Just show for my place, anything you dey find, I get am. Trust me I go hook you up”
At that moment, I came to the conclusion that if I continued to shake my head, it would eventually fall off and he’d have to hook it up somewhere as a trophy. So I finally decided to speak and I yelled, no. A bit louder than I should have but all the same, perfect because I’d had it with the pestering. Apparently I wasn’t going to be of any help to him, so he hissed and sauntered off, leaving me seething.
I was half expecting someone to grab me by the shoulders and snatch my camera away (as the legends say), but I found myself alone in the midst of so many humans trudging their way through the streets of Computer Village, too busy to notice a mere journalist. I decided that I needed a tour guide since I wasn’t familiar with the place and headed back to the entrance to look for Captain Hook Me Up. I found him eyeing another victim and quickly stepped in before he managed to frustrate another individual. As expected, he wasn’t full of glee to see me and even after asking him to take me around, he decided it was time for his revenge and asked for an unreasonable amount of cash. I explained that I needed a tour guide, not a secretary but unfortunately, he didn’t get the joke and I was forced to part with money I could have spent on something more useful. It is because of this that I will refrain from using his real name and will instead, call him Captain Hook until the end of this feature. Who says journalism doesn’t have its perks?
Computer Village used to be a residential area until late 1999 or early 2000 when Internet technology became a household name in corporate Nigeria. Knowing that a major industry was about to spring forth, savvy businessmen took position in the most vantage location of Ikeja – Otigba Street to commence trading in IT equipment and devices and by 2003 a year after GSM services were introduced to Nigeria, computer village had become a household name among telecommunication users, especially small businesses and end users.
Arguably, the largest IT market in West Africa, the scenery is mainly comprised of rowdiness and as me and Captain Hook maneuvered through the crowd, I spotted a bunch of men clustered in a corner of the street and took immediate interest. Captain Hook explained that these were the handy men of the market who can fix basically anything that rings. The men, all seated behind tables, called out to passersby to patronize them and I decided to ask for a shot. Half expecting a shout fest, I was shocked by how eager they were to have their pictures taken. Kolawole, a member of the troupe and a graduate of Computer Science for The Lagos State University, explained that he was forced to work in Computer Village after months of unemployment. His customer, a beautiful looking woman was too eager to tell me that the Windows Phone she was repairing had been rejected by Microsoft and written off as dud. After a few minutes with Kolawole, the old device sprung to life and I began to question the coincidence of the day. Captain Hook must have noticed my look as he continued to speak.
“The Government do not want to give us jobs so we have to learn to fend for ourselves. Most of the people here are jobless and Computer Village is our only hope for survival. We cannot steal and we cannot kill so we use what God has given us, our hands”
The words did hit me deeply and I pondered over this while the lot admired their pictures. As we walked away from the tables my faith in the Nigerian mass was restored as I realized that not everyone who is jobless is indeed, a miscreant. Captain Hook continued to explain as we walked deeper into the market.
“There are bad eggs here just like you will find in any place on earth. There are those who have mastered the art of con and can rob you without raising an inch of suspicion. This doesn’t mean that we are all thieves. We do what we can to survive as long as nobody gets hurt in the process.”
He took me to the local police station in the market. Station is too big a word as the guard point is merely situated in a container sprayed with the colors of the Nigerian Police Force. Perhaps a curse, the Nigerian Police is officially scared of journalists (for some reason). After introducing myself, I was immediately treated as a threat and every question I asked was deemed a trap (Even when I asked for the name of the officer in charge, he replied by asking if I wanted to publish his name on a billboard). After a few moments of persuasion, I managed to convince them that I wasn’t going to tarnish anybody’s name. Pleading anonymity, the officer explained that the Computer Village of old was gone and serenity was the watchword of the day. He explained that although there were still pockets of unruly petty thieves scouting the area, Computer Village was still a place of peace where businesses are run without the fear of criminal activities.
The sun was getting to me already and I decided to make one more stop before I returned to the shade of my office. Captain Hook took me directly to the main part of the community that gave rise to the name, Computer Village. Mainly made up of Igbo traders, this section of the commercial hub, serves only the needs of computer owners. And as the Igbo-man’s history goes, I was expecting a glimpse of genii and I wasn’t disappointed. Captain Hook explained to me that most of the men fiddling with computers there were uneducated and had no certificate to their names. This, however, doesn’t stop the numerous owners of computers to troop to the place to have their devices serviced without fault. Upon entering the plaza, I was immediately rushed by a barrage of men who wanted to know what I wanted to fix. After shooing them away, I went into a random stall to ask questions and I met Mr. Cornelius. According to him, he’d come to Lagos looking for greener pastures and had to learn to fix computers in order to survive. He further revealed that he’d finally been able to start his own business after working under a master for a few years. Cornelius ended by praising his ‘master’ and uncle who taught him the handiwork that now feeds him.
Captain Hook further revealed that there is a cycle that is known to this part of the Village. A man comes to learn work under a boss for a few years. He finally becomes independent and starts his own business. Then he takes in another person who will then serve under him for another few years. And so on and forth.
I was more than eager to leave the sun and as I gave Captain Hook our agreed commission, I felt a pang of emptiness. I’d totally seen the notorious Computer Village from another point of view entirely and the eye opener of the day totally changed things entirely. Suddenly, I wanted to learn more about Captain Hook’s world and to understand the day to day travails of a people, forced to fend for themselves by using any means possible without resorting to violence. Another Streetz boy brought me back to reality as he inquired what I wanted to buy. I shook my head slowly and chided myself internally for the mistake as the rascal moved to stage two.
“I get lens if you want, just come my shop, we go hook you up”