Priest warns Kenyans against false allure of flashy Naija lifestyle
Not everything that happens in Lasgidi (Lagos) stays in Lasgidi.
On February 20, a memorial service was held at the chapel in Kirikiri Female Prison in Lagos, Nigeria. It was for a Kenyan, Susan Odhiambo Johnson, who had been serving a sentence after being arrested on April 2015 at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in possession of narcotics.
According to Nigerian media, Susan arrived in Lagos from Burundi on an Ethiopian Airlines flight when officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency arrested her. The substances she was carrying tested positive for cocaine.
In her defence, the Kenyan argued that the bags were given to her by a friend to carry to Lagos and she had no idea what they contained.
On December 7, she was sentenced at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, and on the same day, began her incarceration at Kirikiri. Susan ailed in prison for a few months and died on February 16 on her way to hospital.
Fellow inmates, observed by the female guards, came to the chapel to pay their respects. Some wept openly while others sat pensively through the liturgy.
The Kenyan Consular Officer attached to Lagos, a Mr Onyancha, and two Kenyans were also present.
Susan was two months away from completing her term and, according to the priest, she was looking forward to going back home.
Her immediate family knew about the mass, having been informed of her death and of the chaplain’s plans by the Kenyan Embassy.
Presiding over the mass was Fr Cletus Udoh, the Parish Priest in charge of St Joseph’s Kirikiri, Lagos.
On his side was Fr Emmanuel Likoko, a Kenyan priest in charge of St Matthews Catholic Church in Amukoko, Ifelodun, who had been of much support to Susan in her final months of her life.
Providence had brought together the priests and Susan in very unlikely circumstances.
She was not alone. On October 2017, a Kenyan inmate, Imelda, had her sentence commuted and was released from Kirikiri to travel back home.
Kirikiri Women’s Prison at a first glance is surprisingly orderly. The remnants of last year’s Christmas decorations, most probably a gift from corporate or churches, litter the compound. Some inmates walk around the compound for leisure, released in batches to keep the peace.
From a distance one can see the living quarters, which are strictly out of bounds for outsiders. Their time at the prison was most likely lonely, the food foreign, the clammy heat and Lagos temperatures most certainly unbearable but for a single stroke of happenstance.
In 2011, Fr Kioko was transferred from Port Harcourt to St Joseph’s Kirikiri. A missionary under the order of St Patrick’s, part of his job was to reach out to the poor and the needy in the community and the prison.
The parish is literally a stone’s throw-away from the large prison walls; in fact it is said that prison authorities established it to minister to the wardens and their families.
In no time, the surrounding community grew and so did its need to expand the outreach to inmates.
While Susan’s story reads like an episode out of the television series Banged up Abroad, her saving grace was the presence of a spiritual figure who understood what home was and who spoke her language.
The Kenyan community in Lagos was equally instrumental in providing support, whether financial or medical when the need arose. In particular, two women – Charity and Esther – often visited Susan in prison, usually in the company of a member of St Joseph’s Parish’ welfare committee.
When Fr Kioko was transferred to Abuja in 2017, Fr Cletus who, coincidentally, had lived in Kenya as a missionary, replaced him.
Lagos is a banquet for many international visitors and their variety of taste in textiles, food, music and film. In recent years Kenyans, too, have been lured by the promise of flashy lifestyles witnessed in the Nollywood films that are popular in East Africa.
A fleeting but highly impressionable take on Nigerian society, many young women take their chance and come to Lagos seeking greener pastures.
There truly isn’t a party like a Lagos party, as sang by Nigerian crooner Banky W. Yet for every exciting party scene served by the likes of Olamide and Banky W, there is a corresponding harsh reality as in Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba“.
One man noted that Lagos has two legal systems – one for locals and another for foreigners. The law can be absolved under certain conditions for residents but in the case of foreigners, they must face the full wrath of justice.
To survive here, one needs a certain mindset, shrewdness to detect opportunity and mischief alike and a great sense of belief in one self.
Tales of Kenyans stranded with no official documents or means to go home are legion around town. Further, there exists a greater number of those who remain incognito, or worse, living in ways they are ashamed of yet unable to go back home.
Human trafficking is rampant though hushed, with travellers lured in under the guise of jobs, only to end up in brothels.
But it is not always such gory tales of crime and mischief that pose a problem to unsuspecting travellers.
Religious tourism is a major reason for travel on the Nairobi-Lagos route. The rise of the televangelist and the search for miracles, most often in the case of desperate pilgrims, has seen many flocking to church centres in Lagos for healing.
What seems to be a quick trip for prayer and a miracle often turns into days of waiting to see the “Man of God”. The preachers invest not only in television ministry but the whole business of lodging and meals.
New arrivals take classes on deliverance and have to sow a seed to accompany their faith. At the end of it, those seeking a miracle may find it, but at great expense in terms of money, and time.
Speaking on the side after Susan’s service, Fr Cletus spoke of one of his former parishioners who had come from Nairobi seeking a miracle in one of the new-age churches.
Given the waiting time for an appointment with the televangelist, she spent all she had on food, lodging and so on, until she turned to him for help.
“Officials of the church could not release her and had to escort her to the airport to pick up the money she ‘owed’ the church for services,” he said.
Against all advice, such believers still come to Lagos hopeful, only to leave with bitter experiences.
I have seen stranded Kenyan pilgrims at one of these centres I had gone there last year to purchase “miracle water” for a relative.
Truly in Lagos, as they say, everything and anything is a business.
Work deals and promises gone sour are another challenge for unsuspecting visitors to Nigeria. They say when the deal is too good, think twice, but many believe that Nigeria’s oil riches pour into every sector of the economy, like rain falling on everyone.
Many have come only to be left stranded as businesses that were to be established faced a hitch. The wise ones contact the mission in Lagos and are able to get back home, but many are not so lucky.
While this serves as a cautionary tale to many wishing to embark on a journey whose cost they haven’t fully counted, it is equally accurate to say Nigeria is largely misunderstood.
The country has a thriving workforce and labour, exceptionally brilliant individuals and unmatched business acumen across the continent.
There are many Kenyans enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the country and adding value to it.
There is only one caveat: Come with your eyes wide open and with an intelligence radar that is at par with that of your hosts.