“I no like trouble”, isn’t something you’d expect to hear from an area boy, but when you lose
two friends from a fight over an ignorable issue like taking cabbage from a small pack of suya, your view of life changes entirely. This is the story of ‘Agamma’, one of the area boys whose story Tolu Itegboje told in his new documentary. Beyond this story of loss, is also a tale of his meeting with Afrobeat legend Fela, a mentorship stint and a music career which hasn’t blown to the extent it should have, seeing that he grew up on Fela’s music.
Agamma’s story is one out of many intriguing stories captured in this new documentary, Awon
Boyz, which provides a never seen before view of what it is like to live on the streets of Lagos
– how people find themselves there, what they have to do to survive, and what the future
holds for lives such as theirs.
There are certain expectations from people living on the streets. There is a reason they are
called area boys; but the thing is, many of them don’t actually sleep on the streets like most
people are led to believe. They often have homes, no matter how small they might be, with
families of their own, and while they may share quite a number of similarities, their stories also carry some uniqueness that reflects what each person’s journey has been.
For one of the area boys, the documentary was an opportunity to reminisce about leaving home and
deciding to fend for himself on the free streets of Lagos. It was also a chance to remember his first street fight and think for a split second if he could have avoided it and ensured the scar it brought with it was never earned.
Not many Nigerian businesses can boast of a certain creditworthiness or a willing customer
base ready to pre-order their goods; but area boys can. They are sweet talkers who have
mastered the act of sales and negotiation like their lives depend on it, because they do.
Nigeria has a growing number of entrepreneurial ventures, with Lagos boasting the largest
number of them, and the most successful of them; and one wouldn’t be wrong if they said that
the wisdom of the streets has contributed in some way to that success.
Awon Boyz is more than just a documentary about area boys, and anyone who looks closely
will find that the stories told in the film could as well be that of any Nigerian seeking a better
life. In the form which they are told, each person draws the viewer into his own world and gifts
them the power to imagine what they would have done if they well dealt same situations that
they had. On the outside, it is easy to think that everyone on the street came for the freedom
it affords, running from homes where they could have been more protected and better
nurtured, but like one of them says – life is a fight, and sometimes even when you run from the fight, e go still come meet you.
In the months and years to come, area boys won’t be the only ones grateful that they got the
opportunity to speak their truth; all of us will. What Tolu Itegboje and his crew at Zero Degrees
have done with this documentary is to tell a more complete story about a topic that has for
long existed in a singular form; and to tell it in a way that makes for deep introspection and
questions what we know about hustle and the Naija spirit.