Author of Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad
‘Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad’ is a collection of twelve short stories featuring characters with unique voices and stories that represent the diverse class, gender and ethnic melting pot that is Lagos.
There’s a story of a young lady who tries to find her oyibo soulmate on the streets of Lagos; another of a pastor’s wife who defends her husband from an allegation of adultery; a wife takes a knife to her husband’s penis; a night of lust between a rising musician and his Instagram baddie takes an unexpected turn.
From Ikorodu to Yaba, Ilupeju to Victoria Island, the stories underscore with wit, humour, wisdom and sensitivity, the perils of trying to find lasting love and companionship in Africa’s most notorious city that will prove universal and illuminating.
There’s a story behind every hustling, hopeful, striving Lagosian trying to make their way to a better life and Damilare Kuku’s characterisations are brilliant distillations of this recognisable mind-set.
Every story is layered; these are people and choices you may recognise in yourself and people you know. Ultimately, these stories will make you laugh, think, feel and remind us all that we are not alone.
By Adedayo Onabade
Q: Writing Nearly all the Men in Lagos are Mad as a debut must have been a fascinating experience. Can you share how the journey to this book began?
A: If I had a dollar for every single time I have answered this question, I think I would be a millionaire. Like I shared in previous interviews, I was in my apartment in Yaba and had just finished praying when the inspiration came to me. So, I’d say that the journey started with God and continues with me. I am very open about my religion and where I stand with God, in the sense that I’m just leaning heavily on Him and hoping that He always helps me with everything I do.
When I got the title, I reached out to the assistant of an actor or producer and said I had an idea we could work with. And no one ever got back to me. About a year or two later, I submitted it to the book publisher, and that’s how the journey started.
Q: To a person yet to read it, the title of your debut work would seem like a harsh generalisation. How did you create or decide on this title, and did you have any reservations about it?
A: No, I don’t have any reservations about the title. I’m not uncomfortable with my art. Honestly speaking, art can be a subjective matter. Some people may feel it’s harsh, while others think that it speaks to their truth. Whatever interpretation that works, I am fine with it. As for the title, as I said with your first question, the title literally came to me as I prayed in my apartment.
Q: You weaved some synonymity between the city of Lagos and the central concept of madness which is rife among the menfolk in your book. What is responsible for this, and from where did you draw this inspiration?
A: Lagos is the city that never sleeps. It is like the New York of Nigeria. Even though it generally connotes something negative, for me, I think madness can also simply mean the hustle and bustle of men. With this title, it literally meant that a lot of people are unwell, especially the gender that is opposite mine. Also, you need to understand that if I were writing this as a man, I’d be writing based on my experiences with women. So, for me, weaving the central concept of madness with the city of Lagos is because Lagos is a city that is ever moving. It is the city of road rage, of unmatched, unhealthy anger that’s not exactly the fault of the people. It is almost like it is woven into the architecture of the city. But as a lady living in Lagos with family and friends who also experience the city and the men in it, it is just appropriate to say that Lagos and madness are synonymous and to emphasise again, not in a negative light.
Q: Some of your characters commodify or weaponize sex against the backdrop of promiscuity, materialism, and other vices. What would you say are the causes or sponsors of this in society today?
A: Honestly, I feel like this question is a setup. And I have found many times that interviewers want to ask about my view on certain topics. But truth be told, I don’t know that as a writer, I am a judge. I’m not here to judge or say something is bad or wrong. I’m just saying, ‘Here is a mirror I am holding up to the society, this is what I am seeing, and I hope that you can understand that there might be reasons for you to look into this. It’s not necessarily negative or positive. I’m a liberal person, and I believe in the philosophy of ‘live and let live.’ So, for everyone who chooses what they do with themselves, you cannot give a general reason to say, ‘I know why people do this.’ To do so is to impose a godlike view, and I don’t do that.
Q: The experiences of Shike Macaulay in 'International Relations' show that dating men of other nationalities is fraught with its own challenges. So what does this mean for the mad Lagos man as well as the woman who has to choose between both types of men? Do you agree that it is a case of choosing the lesser evil?
A: First off, I love Shike Macaulay, by the way. Interestingly, this is the first story I wrote in the collection, after which I wrote ‘I Knew You.’ So, when I hear people say, ‘Perhaps if I dated someone from another race…’ Personally, exploring is always an option. But sometimes, you find that the grass isn’t as green on the other side as well, as you find in Shike’s story. I don’t know that it is a ‘lesser evil’ because some women would date a white man and luck out. And they would say that’s the best thing they ever tried. It becomes more of a peculiarity. As I said, we must fundamentally understand that it is not about what is wrong or right but about sharing someone’s story and having other women relate to it. Take from it what you will, it is ultimately about showing society what it looks like. To iterate my earlier point, always having an opinion, coming from the place of always knowing it all, or being judgemental makes people refrain from opening up to you.
Q: In your interview with TVC's Wake Up Nigeria, you cited that the book was written as “a love letter to young girls and women, to say to them that they are not alone.” Were there any personal or shared experiences that registered this feeling for you and necessitated the creation of this body of work?
A: I suspect that I will always write love letters to women with all my work. Love letters in the sense that women may feel this shame of ‘Oh my God, this thing has happened to me and me alone,’ or ‘There’s something wrong with me. I must not continue.’ No, dear. Because a woman down the street is going through the same things. Someone out there, your neighbour, is also feeling or going through the same thing. But, beyond trauma bonding, I believe there is strength in getting up and knowing that this has happened, but you must move on, and you must continue and live for the next day. Because you don’t know what surprises life could spring up on you, and everything works out just the way you had imagined or hoped. So, for me, it is saying to women, ‘I see you, I hear you. You are not alone.’ And that is always going to be my mantra because while I am a feminist, I do not know that I am a feminist in the general overview. I understand the struggles of being a woman, and not just a woman but a black woman, a Nigerian woman, a Yoruba woman. So, with how tailored my experiences are, knowing that when I write, an Igbo woman sees my work and says, ‘This my Yoruba sister also went through this,’ it is fantastic.
Q: Let's talk about the women characters. You portray the effects that the activities of mad Lagos men have on the women in their lives. In The Anointed Wife, Evelyn says, “It hurts to act like I don’t know that the man I have given everything that a woman can give repays that devotion by chasing such a cheap high…Yes, he has lied to me, cheated, but…what we have is beyond understanding and will not be allowed to fall.” At what point do you think a person should choose themselves and walk away from a liaison when it only serves one partner's agenda?
A: I think people should always walk away from stuff like this. For people who know me personally, they know that I’m very quick to say, ‘You know what, this situation is not serving me. Best of luck, and I’m walking away from it.’ But you know, some people like to persevere. I persevere with God. I don’t know that a relationship should be persevered, and I don’t mean that only within the confines of a romantic relationship but in any kind of relationship - work, friendship, anything. And that’s for me, Dami. But when you ask me to tell you what I think, what if a woman has children involved and she wants to give it a second or third, or fourth trial? And in the case of ‘The Anointed Wife,’ she had put a lot into the marriage, as it is with a couple of other women in the stories as well. So, I think, yes, walk away from whatever doesn’t serve you when you know you’ve put your absolute best into it. And I try to do that, to do my best. But, again, please understand that as a writer, I write as objectively as I can, and my feelings as Damilare play no part in it. But if I, as Damilare, were her friend, I’d say to her, ‘This man is not worth it.’ As a writer, I’m not doing that. It’s not my job to tell someone how to experience their truth.
Q: You explore the subject and act of sex extensively. Was this a necessity for the finished work you had in mind? And how were you able to navigate this while sustaining the core narrative without the risk of tilting towards full-blown erotica?
A: When people asked me this question, I didn’t know that there was anything wrong with what I was writing. And I’m only just realising now that I must have tickled a couple of people’s moral boundaries. I’m sorry. I think I wrote as truthfully as I could. While many have referred to it as soft porn, I believe I stuck to the story as truthfully as I could, and if that’s the experience they took from the book, it is completely fine because that’s their reality.
Q: What is that one lesson that you would want every reader that reads Nearly all the men in Lagos are mad to take away from the experience?
A: We should all learn to show each other kindness and empathy. Sometimes, wear the other person’s shoes and be kind. I think that people forget the hustle and bustle of the city, the stress of living in Lagos, and the art of being kind.
Adedayo Onabade is a Nigerian essayist, fiction, and poetry writer. She holds a B.A. from Olabisi Onabanjo University and an M.A. from the University of Lagos, both in English Literature. Her works have been shortlisted for SynCity's 'Poetry in times of Corona' and #TwitterWritingContest.
Adedayo volunteers with STER (Stand to End Rape Initiative), a social justice organization that works to combat sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls, and vulnerable people. Outside writing, she is fascinated by NatGeoWild, art galleries, reading, and documentaries.