Adedotun Adekanmbi: In the slums of Ijora-Badia, happiness and poverty are not mutually exclusive

by Adedotun Adekanmbi

“Play Na play, but for this Lagos, Na Plenty money fit make person Happy o” – the lout or Area boy as they are fondly called in the city of Lagos startled, as he gave his remarks on what he felt could make someone happy.

Often times, I drift into deep thoughts to search for the true meaning of the entity called happiness. Scholars call it a state of mind that connotes excitement, others attribute it has a manner of showing contentment and pleasure; however, to what extent is happiness fully actualized?


Last month, I took on a project to portray the real definition of happiness amongst people and what gives them joy in the activities they partake in. I was very much determined to delve into the lives of various rural subjects to ascertain if the “money creates happiness” phrase was really a thing or just a growing façade among the human populace. After all, what better place is there to create a happiness journal rather than in the slums. I settled for Ijora-Badia.

Ijora-Badia is a community in Lagos Nigeria, West -Africa that sits near the only functional port of Nigeria, the Apapa Port. One of the numerous slums in Lagos, Nigeria is notoriously known for gang wars, prostitution, and poor living conditions with a rapid growth rate in maternity. The community is home to over 13,000 Lagosians comprising of the old and young living in makeshift houses and an environment gravely infested by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and horrible sewage disposal systems. Ijora-Badia sits on a heap of plastic waste and dirt that stretches across the middle of the community with overly blocked drainages and bushes all grown around but somehow, people have managed to adapt to this environment. There are also various settlements within the community but all still poised with the same problem of poverty.

One step away from death is the thin line of happiness that the people of Ijora comfortably pitch their tent and habituate on. It would be a faux to say that life is not really enjoyed to the fullest in the nooks and cranny of these slums as activities always spring up at every point in time. Imitating and adapting the words of Nigerian Afrobeats singer, Runtown, one could say that “if you follow me go Ijora-Badia, Na enjoyment go kill you”. In this community, some of the children are very much seen in smaller groups playing on the dirty terrains of the environment, barefooted with one thing on their faces, smiles, which connotes happiness. On the other hand, a major populace of the male adults and teenagers are more opinionated of what happiness implies to them as they can be viewed either patronizing prostitutes, smoking Indian hemp popularly known as “Igbo”, playing drafts or drinking “Ogogoro” – a local gin made from fermented marijuana and pap water.

I approached one of the male adult residents in Gangare, Jamiu Kanpo, a commercial bus driver to pose my research question. Greeting in Yoruba, we exchanged pleasantries and started to dialogue in a street fashion manner; I asked him what gave him happiness and he hurriedly put it out as “money and women”. He explained further that he had no children, he was unmarried and all his daily savings from the transport business mostly ended up on women which he didn’t mind giving. Needless to say much, he is a frequent at the makeshift brothels in the community.

Similarly, no fewer than 5 residents I approached out of the 13 gave the same answers that the latter had mentioned. They all attributed their happiness to alcohol, women and drug usage. The notion of poverty only seems to occur to them as a familiar disease but it never stopped them from enjoying life to the fullest in the slum. They all posed as happy. The women were more of the opinion that their happiness would and could only mean money, a good husband and nice clothes to match their flattery attitude. They preferred keeping to themselves as most of them hurriedly dismissed my presence. In all these events, they still made gestures while drinking and throwing tantrums at each other, their faces beaming with smiles and voices booming of laughter.

In an environment that is reigning supreme on abject poverty, the children of Ijora-Badia do not seem to mind much about their state of living as they are less conscious of what life’s problems can cause. Even though seen walking barefooted, dirty and hungry, their welcoming smiles could warm hearts and make you appreciate the innocence of little love in a world filled with mishaps.

Still on the path of seeking answers to joy, one can ascertain that happiness is relative to different humans at different intervals in different situations irrespective of popular or general opinions. Happiness stands to be the entity we strive daily to live for.

What is your happiness?

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Adedotun Adekanmbi is a published Documentary Photographer and Photo Journalist currently working the Terrains of Slums in Africa. He is the Co-founder of The Roots NG; a multi-talent management company aimed at discovering core gifts in the deep parts of the Slums and giving them a Platform to educate, nurture and showcase their skills. He is also the Social media and Promotions Manager for Trace Tv in Nigeria. 

Instagram: @adedotvn


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