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Book cover of Chibundu Onuzo's Welcome to Lagos

Welcome to Lagos

Chibundu Onuzo published her first novel at the age of 21. Welcome to Lagos is her second. Although this book partly tells of tragic circumstances and corruption, the first adjective that comes to my mind to describe it is: funny. It begins with the title, because – as the book says – Lagos has no welcome sign. The capital of Nigeria offers no warm welcome to the small, wildly mixed group of travellers whose story and stories it relates. Chike Ameobi was stationed as an officer in the Delta region and deserts his post, together with Yemi, one of his less educated soldiers, when they are ordered to murder unarmed inhabitants of the region. As they flee towards Lagos, they first pick up Fineboy, a youth who has joined the rebels but would rather become a DJ. Then they are joined by 16-year-old Isoken, whose parents have disappeared and who barely escaped an attempted rape by Fineboy’s friends. Finally, there is Oma, who is running away from her rich, violent husband. This motley group forms a community of destiny – none of them have money or networks, so banding together offers them protection.

The idiosyncrasies of the individual characters and their banter add to the humour of the story, although they face difficulties from the beginning and struggle for bare survival. First, they live under a bridge, then they find an empty flat which they occupy. For a moment, it could almost be idyllic – Oma cooks for everyone, Chike reads from the Bible in the evening. But one night the owner of the flat, Chief Sandayo, stumbles through the door. The education minister has $10 million in embezzled cash in his pocket and is fleeing from the police. At this point the story takes a turn and shows the unwilling squatters as selfless do-gooders who want to shortcircuit a corrupt system: They hold Sandayo captive, but treat him well, and invest his money directly in equipping a few select schools. They explain that this is how the money flows to where it belongs. The novel contrasts the greed for possessions of individuals like Sandayo with the charity of the five protagonists. But in the end, they all become embroiled in political and media mudslinging. How this ends, readers should best find out for themselves. For my part at least, it did me good to read a story with an optimistic view of humanity.

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