CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA, AYOMIDE OWONIBI and ADEMOLA ADENIYI went inside Lagos markets for a purchase like no other.
The day Lagos stops being the city of wonders, wonders are dead. Too many stories about the famed land of opportunities can be stranger than fiction. But there are not only true even in their weirdest forms, they keep changing shapes are forms, gradually moving to the monstrously unrecognisable.
All the grotesque happenings are almost always geared towards a definable end; hurtling. Thus, it would seem the city formed out of the sea of hustling, and fashioned out of the crucible of desperation, a situation that has ensured that throughout its rich history, the historical city has witnessed different grades and shades of businesses that involve hustling, including legal, illegal and possibly semi-legal ones.
As one business enterprise vanishes in the city, another rises in its stead. Perhaps this explains the disappearance of the once popular ‘bolekajas,’ which were replaced by the dinosaur-like ‘molues,’ which are themselves now a shadow of their old selves. It is also generally believed that selling of wares in traffic, which has become a commonplace in virtually all major cities and towns across the country, also has its origin in Lagos.
All the businesses mentioned above (and many more) have one thing in common: they are largely run by youths who have migrated from different parts of the country, believing that Lagos is a place to make it – anyhow.
But now, another form of business appears to have ‘landed’ in the city. It is the body-transformation business, which ranges from the common pedicure and manicure business to the making of outlandish hairstyles and drawing of tattoos. Expectedly, the youth have been the champions of this business.
In a daring business move, a group of youths has claimed the possession of the technical know-how to turn human lips, particularly males’, pink-like, comparable to an infants’. They also boast the skill to help people, especially ladies, reduce belly fat, make their faces devoid of pimples within hours, reshape their sagging breasts and perform other cosmetic wonders. Any of these ‘corrective measures,’ they claim, could be achieved in a few hours, inside a structure no larger than a regular barbershop. Such business places can be found in Ikeja, Idumota on Lagos Island and many other popular markets in Lagos.
Pink lip specialists
As a first-time visitor to Ikeja, one of the first sets of people that welcome you are young men trying to convince you to buy from an assortment of similar products like pink lip balm and flat tummy tea.
Young men in trendy clothes stand in strategic corners beckoning to prospective customers. “Aunty, I can give you pink lips!” Aunty, I can flatten your tummy!” Aunty, I can firm your breasts!” These are the brazen, loud chants of these young men.
Once your interest is aroused, the boys offer to take you to their ‘office’ where they hand you over to the boss who promptly puts you in a seat and explains the ‘services’ they offer and the ‘procedures’ to you.
As they show you the packages they have, which range from intimate body massage to tattoos, breast enlargement and reduction, to penis enlargement products and body relaxing techniques.
One of the boys who spoke to Saturday Tribune said the most booming parts of their business were breast reduction and penis enlargement.
“We don’t do surgery here; we just sell ointments that help get the job done. We have many clients and they all have good testimonies to share. Our products are not harmful,” he said
But of particular interest to Saturday Tribune was the pink lip service which appears to be fast becoming lucrative at the Under Bridge area of Ikeja, a few metres away from the ever-busy Computer Village.
Lagosians are used to seeing weird-looking individuals – some actually lunatics waiting to be picked up by appropriate authorities and others, street urchins – at different locations. At the Under Bridge area usually stands a group of weird-looking young men holding small vials containing some pinkish ointment or balm and reaching out to passersby, asking them to “get pink lips.”
Apparently in line with the general business notion that it is good to first sell yourself before trying to sell your ware, the ‘pink lips specialists’ look every inch their trade. Noticeable is their weird hairstyles; while some wear different shades of dreads, others dye theirs in diverse colours. The crazy hairstyles are meant to tell a prospective client that they are hair specialists, while their bodies, smeared with all kinds of tattoo designs, are apparently intended to make it understood that same ‘enhancement’ could be done for you. These ‘specialists’ also flaunt their lips to make people want to buy any of their services. Many of them have their lips so pinkish that a passerby may not help looking at them.
At the Ikeja Under Bridge area, Saturday Tribune visited a spot where the pink lip balm hawkers had taken positions. It was hard to know which of these young men, numbering no fewer than seven, would be ready to volunteer some useful information about their trade. They all looked too eager to meet clients to talk to an inquisitive journalist on an early Wednesday morning.
Our correspondent had no option but to pose as a prospective client interested in any products or services the young men were selling.
One of them, who identified himself as Pink Lip Swezzy, with a smile, handed a vial to our correspondent and give the assurance that within “three days, your lips will be as fresh and soft as you ever want it to be.” Pointing to his lips, the lower of which had a scar, Swezzy stated that the use of the balm had helped diminish the mark which, he said, was left after a wound he sustained in an accident.
“See my scar? It is the telltale sign of an accident I had some time ago. It was bigger than this before but since I started using it, this ointment has peeled off much of the dead skin of the scar, leaving me with this manageable scar,” he said while trying to prove the efficacy of the product.
He maintained that the ointment could restore any types of lips to their “glories” even if they have turned black due to long period of smoking. “As a matter of fact, within two days, non-smokers should have their lips totally turn pink, while for smokers, it can take a little longer, say, four or five days,” he said.
He pointed out that with the balm he had successfully “cured” acute Indian hemp smokers who had lost any form of beauty of their lips.
Another seller, identified simply as Simon, said, “Aside from smokers, a lot of regular people, including police officers, patronise us. Policemen smoke a lot. You may not know but we do. They come here from time to time to buy this stuff from us,” he said, apparently trying to discard the notion that most of those who patronise them were mainly hemp smokers.
But a quick look at the body of the vial showed that it contained little or no information about its content. Apart from the price, which ranged from N1500 to N2500 per vial, which is no bigger than the tip of the human thumb, all the items checked by our correspondent from all the ‘guys’ spoken to had almost zero information about them. None of them had a company name, address, contact number or approval number from NAFDAC. What were common to the products were the price and a short statement that read “Have a great day.”
But this lack of necessary information did not stop Simon from still insisting that the item had no side effects otherwise the government would have come after them and they would have lost their customers over the years.
“I have been doing this business for about five years and in all those years, I have sold countless number of the product and there has not been a single case of side effects. I use it too and I have not suffered from any negative effect,” he said.
Inside the make-up ‘parlour’
Meanwhile, to have a good understanding of the way this group of businessmen, whose ages range from 18 to 30s and who attract clients of the same age group, go about their other ‘cosmetic’ businesses, Saturday Tribune reporter visited one of the offices they use as the operating base in Ikeja. The placee is a salon-like room inside a multi-storey building where a group of young men and women eagerly awaited customers who wanted any form of cosmetic routine, chief of which is tattooing. The room was full of all manner of customers, most of whom were having their hairs turned into all sorts of things. A tattooist was seen holding a recently used tattoo machine in his hand. This was judging by the heat the machine was exuding. In a corner sat a pregnant young lady who was going through the contents of a phone. Her mission, it was later gathered, was to select a tattoo design from the samples contained on the phone. She seemed set to have a tattoo on her body. This was to be done by a male tattooist who sat beside her, helping her in her choice.
Our correspondent who had also posed as someone who had come to have a tattoo (this was the only way full access could be gained into the salon), haggled over the right price for a tattoo (later identified as the Tribe style) that would run across the arm. A final price of N7000 was finally agreed on from an initial N15000, but having no intention of bowing to the needles of a tattooist anytime soon, our correspondent had to walk away with a promise to the enthusiastic tattooist to be back.
An expert’s opinion
Although Saturday Tribune couldn’t get the view of a dermatologist in time for this report, a certified cosmetologist and chief executive of Pretty Look Unisex Centre in Lagos, Lola Adekanmbi, warned of the possible side effects of continuous use of pink lip balms and other body enhancement products, because of the ingredients used in making them.
She said that chances were that uncontrolled use of lips balms could lead to addiction, which could ultimately lead to cancer of the lips.
“In fact, the worst side effect is that when you overuse lip balm, it can lead to the chapping (eventual cracking) of the lips. Some of the ingredients used in those products have the tendency to make the user want to continue to use them because of the soothing and pleasantly tingling feelings they give. But these contain chemicals such as phenol, menthol or salicylic acid, which should be avoided,” she said.
Adekanmbi noted that the sensation caused by these chemicals is what ultimately causes the protective layers of the lips to peel off, leaving the skin susceptible to environmental factors that cause chapping.