This story, as with all stories about apartments in Lagos, begins with a girl searching for home on lost shores and fading highways. And the sellers of the city conning naïve buyers in the streets, drying out pockets that once sang, fat with the chra-chra of crispy naira notes.

It begins with a girl searching for coins, for the bag, for a deal, the next deal, to wash the bitter taste of poverty off their lips. It begins with a girl searching for waters strong enough to quiet the sea raging in her bones. It begins like this.

The first thing you need to know about getting an apartment in Lagos is that you cannot get your dream apartment. In fact, it is not likely that you get a good apartment. Disregard the title above; disregard all those fancy apartments you see online. Disregard what your colleagues have told you about getting a livable apartment. It simply cannot happen.

Now, to the subject matter, this is how you get a good apartment in Lagos.

Before you start searching, before you call up any of those slick-tongued estate agents, light seven candles in the middle of your friend’s one room apartment where you have been squatting in the past three months since you came to Lagos. Place them in a ring. Stand in the circle, hold your head in your hands and pray to your ancestors’ gods that you will not lose money in this search. Pray in all the tongues you can muster, known and unknown. This is the most important part of your journey, not losing money. Because on this journey, it is easy to lose money. All you have to do is talk to one agent and they are all over you, collecting inspection fee, transport fee, consultation fee, subscription fee, let-me reserve-space-for-you-in-this-uncompleted-building fee.

Now that you have fortified yourself with blessings from your ancestors, you can call that agent but not so fast. There is a method to this madness.

You need to check online first. Oh, before that, you need to make a list of things you absolutely must have in your new apartment. Things you cannot compromise. Make sure you only write the important and reasonable stuff.

Twenty-four hours electricity supply is not reasonable. Even the governor’s office does not have constant electricity. Remove good roads from that list. Don’t be ridiculous now; even the major roads have potholes, why do you think the tiny road leading to your street should be any different? And, forguhsake, take out that line about peace and quiet. Can’t you see churches and mosques are everywhere in Lagos? Please, let’s be serious.

Now you start your search online. Read every word of the advert on each house you like, dwell on every sentence like your life depends on it. Scrutinize every picture for unwanted features like houses without kitchen, kitchen without sink, kitchen without breathing space, rooms with windows tinier than prison windows, dark rooms that remind you of depression shrouded in yellow paint. When you finally identify the houses you think you like, find a male friend with a mature voice to speak with the agent on your behalf. Yes, a lot of the agents are men and like most Nigerian men, they are more likely to listen to, respect and help men.

Have him call up the agent and discuss inspection with him. And the inspection fee. There is always a fee. Have your male friend discuss it. He is more likely to get fair treatment than you are.

In fact, let me let you in on a little secret. These agents will respect you more if you are affiliated with or represented by a man you are affiliated with through marriage or engagement or something like that. So, if you can, wear a ring on your middle finger. Don’t worry too much about the lying, it is only the first in the line of many that you will tell on your quest to get a
good apartment.

Now that the inspection date is set, you can relax a bit…

On the day of the inspection, wear something corporate, responsible yet cheap. If those agents as much as sniff money on you, they will only show you only the most expensive houses with the biggest commission fees. During the inspection itself, fix your face like there’s dirt under your nose. Make notes—physical pen and paper notes. Write everything down. Take a video of the house, the compound, the surroundings. Ask questions, about your neighbors, about the neighborhood. Don’t expect honest answers, agents have an uncanny ability to gloss over the truth and present every house as perfect for you. Even the tiniest face-me-I-slap-you apartment with one toilet for a dozen tenants.

Save the house location on your Google map, you will have to come back yourself, preferably in the evening, to assess the house and its surroundings. It is then that you will discover the church next street over where the noise from their evening service extends to the four corners of the surrounding areas. Of course, you will not take the house. The agent will be disappointed, and he will try to convince you otherwise but stand your ground, he does not care about anything but the commission fee he wants to get from you. And he will find you another place with leaking pipes inside the toilets and another place near the biggest dumpster in Lagos and yet another place with shaking floor tiles and suffocative windows. He will continue taking you to houses in different stages of disrepair and you will repeat the routine until you get tired of seeing depression bound in four walls. Until you swear, one more tiny window and you will lose your damn mind. That’s when you start considering sharing an apartment with an old friend, one who you haven’t spoken to since you both left university because you stopped going to church and her version of fun and hanging out starts and ends with church. She offered you a room in her two-bedroom apartment after seeing your tweets complaining about extortion at the hands of house agents. But before you make up your mind, a colleague at work introduces you to his younger sister who is also searching for an apartment.

Together, you inspect several apartments on Ikorodu road before you finally settle for an overpriced two bedroom flat in Ilupeju. It is spacious and has a balcony, and both rooms have a wardrobe space—not the wardrobe itself, just the space. It costs nine hundred thousand per year and, with the agency and commission fees, it comes to one million and four hundred thousand naira. Pricey but you are happy to pay. The neighborhood is quiet and calm. There are no churches or mosques in sight. You are ready to pay but your potential flatmate isn’t. She does not have that kind of money. While she is running around to get the money, someone else rents the house.

Another thing about apartments in Lagos, someone is always willing and ready to pay for a house so you have to be sharp about paying.

Also, make sure you pay to the right account so your case will not be like the case of Mr. Gbolahan who paid his house rent into an agent’s account in January and till this day hasn’t moved into his house as he is yet to see neither landlord nor house key nor agreement. The agent’s initial excuse before he disappeared: the former tenant has not packed his properties out of the house.

After you lose the Ilupeju house, you start looking around Ọgbà. It is not your first choice but the houses you see online from that area are affordable and nice and you heard that they have near constant electricity. Soon enough you find a beautiful mini flat in a relatively nice compound with sad, yellow flowers and a dilapidated building. You decide to take it. It’s three hundred and fifty thousand for the basic rent and five hundred and twenty thousand including agency and commission fees. Fair enough, for an apartment with a wide kitchen, separate toilet and bathroom, extra space for washing machine, a balcony and double windows in both room and parlor.

It feels like you have found a starting place for your dream house, on the wrong side of Lagos mainland but, a starting place still. Your search is over. You start making a list of touches and finishes left to convert the house into your ideal house, how many makeovers it would take to make the kitchen into a replica of your mother’s kitchen in your old family house, the house your uncles confiscated when your father died last year. Your dream house is just within reach… until you meet the principal agent and he informs you that the house owner, an old-fashioned woman, does not want a lady in the house because the only female tenant in the house brings men home all day and refuses to go to work or do anything productive with her life. Also, because women are meant to stay in their father’s house until they marry because God forbid that a woman live alone without a man to serve as covering for her naked, inadequate self.

Now you are properly tired of the house search and ready to pay for the next thing that comes your way. Now you understand why people live in tiny apartments, smaller and less ventilated than your dog’s house in your family house. Now you understand why Lagosians are always angry. You would be angry too, if you paid half a million for an apartment only to be unable to catch a good night’s sleep because some useless church people won’t stop screaming and killing demons in the middle of the night!

It takes you another full month before you find a livable apartment. You jump at it, because you are tired of the house search. You forget your list, because you just want a place to come back home and write your heart into silence.

It is not until your third night in the house that you realize you have made a grave mistake. The house directly beside your window has children that won’t stop shouting and cackling. The residents of the apartment above yours keep dropping things, or falling, making thudding noises. The church directly beside the house, which you did not see in your hurry to get a house, will not stop making noise to their god who is most likely tone deaf because, how can anybody endure such whining and toneless music in such consistent manner?

The other church on the second street after yours only makes noise on select days but when they do, it feels like all of hell has taken up permanent residence between your ears.

With each passing day, it becomes more difficult to keep up your bubbly charade. Sleep deprived and over stimulated, you can barely perform your daily functions at work. The situation has gotten out of hand.

A week after you moved in, you have had enough. Unable to sleep one fateful night, you pick your weapons and march to the site of the offence. Lucky for them the gate is locked else, you would have scattered their nonsense with your bare hands. You settle instead for hurling rocks at them through the gaps in the iron fence.

The next morning you wake up with a big headache and an even bigger determination to leave the house.

This is how you start your career as a house agent in Lagos.

You put out ads on whatsapp.

Spacious mini flat for rent in Onipanu, easily accessible from Oshodi, from Ilupeju. 5 minutes’ walk from Ikorodu road. Running water, fence all round, etc etc.

And they come in their droves, unsuspecting house renters, would be neighbors of the noisemakers at number. 8 Arike street. You interview them. You size up their pockets and dice up their intents although it’s the pockets that matter the most.

By this time, the church beside your house has started praying against you, enemy of the church, commanding fire and brimstone and all sorts of painful deaths but your mother’s ẹlẹ́dàá is working in your favor and you find someone to rent the house within a week; a naive young man who does not mind living right beside a church or does not even bother to notice it. Before the prayer warriors kill you by casting and binding, before your head explodes from all the noise, before you run mad from lack of sleep and all the devils running amok in your head, you move out of the bedeviled house under the cover of a starless night, and into your old friend’s apartment in a much quieter part of town. It is not your first choice. Your first choice is an apartment all to yourself but there is no perfect housing situation in Lagos so you opt for sharing an apartment with your deeply religious friend who you haven’t spoken to since you both left university.

This is how you get a good apartment in Lagos.


The highway to the third mainland bridge calls your name from the kitchen balcony. From there you can see the ship lights in the distance and smell the sea and the souls she has swallowed. It is almost poetic—if you can ignore the uneven road and the rivers in the middle of the road, and the refuse dumps along the road. Your first night in the new apartment feels like heaven. It’s just a lot of space with two tiny windows and a balcony view that’s not worth viewing but, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

You light seven candles again and thank your ancestors’ gods for their kindness.

On the third night in the new house, when you awake in the middle of the night to sounds of clashing knives and the boom boom sound of shotguns behind your window, you remember your mother’s god as you shiver and pee in your pajamas, in your oversized room, on Cemetery Street, Lagos mainland. And when a bullet finds its way through your single panelled window, off your screeded room wall before finding its way into your cheekbone, you feel its impact first, hear the glass shattering a split second later before you sink to the ground, wordless scream tearing from your lungs.

Ọlákìtán Aládéṣuyì grew up in Nigeria and now resides in the UK. Her works have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Watershed Review, Down River Road, Memento, Agbowó Art, The Lit Quarterly, Newfound Journal, Kalahari review and others. Her story “girl of my dreams” published in Prairie Schooner in 2019 won the Lawrence Foundation award 2020. She is currently working on her second novel.