It starts with spending hours in traffic and using Lagos Snapchat filters because you passed by Lekki in the afternoon.
Mowe has only one bank.
It is barely a minute from the main bus-stop, along the same stretch of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as the sole Forte Oil branch and the only police station in the area.
It is either the first thing you see or the one place you cannot remember, no matter how well anyone describes it to you.
Considering its name, the obvious lag in development and what it offers (which isn’t much more than a community with relatively cheap land that’s ‘not too far’ from Lagos), it is natural that most people expect that a certain type of person lives in Mowe.
That person is like Ranti Ladoja, a middle aged entrepreneur with a family of 5 who lives in Mowe but runs two small businesses in Ogba and Ketu.
Ranti fits the idea of the typical resident to a T, and he used to think the place overflowed with people like him.
Until one day, coming home later than usual at 7pm, he hit the main street to see Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz cars too low for the bad roads and the odd government plate driving into the community.
There is a demographic in Mowe made up of people you’d expect to find everywhere but here.
They are ‘next-to-blow’; the ambitious, upwardly-mobile executives, politicians and businessmen who, for some reason, choose the isolation of Ogunrun Road over nightly visits and estate picnics in Magodo GRA.
In truth, these people never really get to spend much time here to begin with. You can only know a town so much when you leave home at 5.30 am to beat the traffic to run two hours from midnight because not all battles can be won.
“I like Mowe because it is peaceful and not as busy as Lagos”, Ranti says, “but waking up early in the morning to avoid traffic is the only problem that I face. At times when I get to the bus-stop, you will see bank officials and civil servants in suit waiting for buses, it’s not easy.”
This is not to say that it is the worst place to live in, it’s just that, sometimes, you realise how much it needs.
And it hurts that you can’t fill this void, especially when you remember that Lagos is between one to six hours away, depending on which Pentecostal church decides it wants to have a revival on a weekday.
Where do you live?
Where in Lagos?
On the outskirts.
lol. be specific joor
Mowe people want to live in Lagos so bad that sometimes, they act like they already are. Ask them where they live, and they will make all the references to Lagos, Berger and Redemption Camp without necessarily answering the question.
The reasons are clear to see; a good number of residents live in Mowe because it is ‘close’ to the places where they spend the majority of their time; the high-rise office buildings, schools and streets of Lagos.
Living in Mowe makes you a Lagosian by affiliation.
What this means is that even though they come home to a town with no social amenities or nightlife, they can swipe right and use the Lasgidi filter on Snapchat because they were at Lekki in the afternoon.
"The last time I saw light in this area was last Christmas, and it didn’t last, they just gave us to let us know that the transformer was still working".
Josh Adubazi is a 23 year old student of Houdegbe North American University that knows Mowe like the back of his hand. He grew up there, playing with his siblings in the vast uncleared bushes that surrounded his father’s house like a colonial outpost.
He also knows that where there is a lit bulb or music playing from speakers, there’s a generator close by, working more than its manufacturers intended.
Despite the fact that it is mainly residential, electricity is a major issue in Mowe, along with water, transport (you can hardly find a cab or bike any time after 9pm) and all the other social amenities you would expect.
Which is why unlike most new communities like Ajah, Isheri or even Ikorodu, consumer businesses are not exactly in a hurry to move here.
There’s only one spot that qualifies as a fast-food place; a cross between a snack shop and a full-on restaurant. Nothing close to the hubs and spots that allow young people to gather and enjoy their youthful inclinations.
So, instead of sitting at home and lamenting, people like Josh plan a day in advance to 'travel' to Ikeja to see a movie or catch a live set on Lagos Island.
Nothing says Lagos like having fun and getting stuck in traffic on your way home.
Of all the problems that residents of Mowe face, nothing beats the long lines that slither on Lagos-Ibadan expressway at any given time.
There is something special that traffic jams teach you about patience and planning; Lagosians know this all too well, and Mowe people have learned it too.
For all that it lacks, though, it is very clear that Mowe can be so much more than it is.
With the right decisions and good planning, it could just be the one of the best things that happened to Lagos. Or something close.
There is a reason why the majority of Mowe residents make a living in Lagos yet choose to live on the outskirts and endure the difficulties that come with it.
Lagos, with a population of over 20 million people and the smallest land area of any state in the country, has a serious housing problem.
Moving to communities like Mowe, Lambe, Ikorodu and Ibafo is the people’s way of solving it themselves.
Ranti wakes up at 5am on the average morning so he can catch a bus, beat the inevitable morning rush and get to his business in time to do anything meaningful.
One day during the festive period in 2013, he had to leave the house at a few hours past midday to respond to a family emergency. He spent the rest of Christmas in traffic.
“By 9pm, I was still on Long Bridge. I wanted to just park by the side of the road and go back home”
“This thing happens because everybody wants to be in Lagos.”, he says. “Small money, they want to move to Lagos, they want to do this in Lagos, they want to buy that in Lagos."
"Look at this Mowe, if the government develops the place, gives them electricity, improve the roads, people will move. The rent is cheaper and the stress is not much. It will reduce the burden on Lagos. That place is too crowded”
And he’s right. While the Lagos state government continues to look inward as it tries to solve its housing problem, it is surrounded by solutions in the most obvious places.
There are many scenarios that could work. And they involve the people and the government at all levels.
It starts with the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, a Trunk A road that the Federal government must do a better job of maintaining.
For the better part of the last one year, engineers have been working on ‘widening the lanes’. Single lanes have been divided in two to allow for the passage of traffic in both directions while work continues on the other lane.
The result: very few people working in Lagos and living on its outskirts get home before night falls.
Developing alternate transport systems will make movement easier and attract the people who are discouraged by the prospect of long hours in traffic.
Perhaps, most importantly, it must provide the social amenities that will empower residents to develop the local economy, and in turn, attract investment.
The Ogun State government also needs to re-prioritise. In recent months, it has focused the state’s resources on beautifying the capital town of Abeokuta, and ignored rapidly growing population centres in Obafemi-Owode and Sagamu.
The government of Lagos should understand the potential that lies in small communities like this. It should collaborate with the less-wealthy Ogun state government to provide important infrastructure and create policies that will speed up development.
In areas where there is much work to do and the challenge appears daunting, territory can be ceded or transferred between the two states.
In time, this will get more people to see Mowe and similar communities on the outskirts of Lagos as suitable residential options.
This may seem absurd considering that the PDP could win Lagos tomorrow and both states decide to be sworn enemies, but this will not be the first time they come together to agree on territory.
Communities like Ogijo in Ikorodu and large chunks of the Epe corridor did not originally belong to Lagos.
Arrangements were made then, they can be made again.
When Mowe becomes a fully viable community, people will move. A good number of these people will come from Lagos, solving a problem that is already knocking at the door.
It’s really that simple.
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