Area boys’ are synonymous with urban fear in Lagos, West Africa’s mega-city and Nigeria’s commercial capital. They are boys from a given area organized into a survival network. They have no allegiance to any ideology or creed, only to their locality and the young men they cohabit it with. Many are orphans or have been disowned by their families after joining the area boys or committing a crime and bringing a bad name to the family. Others are just trying to get by. Mostly they sleep in the street or in makeshift shelters. The bosses and big men live in tenements called ‘face me, I face you’ for their rows of tiny rectangular rooms with entrances facing one another.
The boys are omnipresent in the city, smoking weed under overpasses, slouching on the outskirts of markets, and hustling everyone they can for small money in the vast markets on Lagos Island. From a distance, they are an ominous presence, and up close they can be terrifying. Area boys attacked me before I started this project, as I was shooting from a highway bridge in Lagos one night.
I wanted to understand my attackers and the desperation that fuels their violence. I began this ongoing photography project to take a closer look at the individuals that live and perpetuate the myth of the area boy. Intimate portraits humanize these men that are too often simplified as an urban menace. By spending time with the area boys and photographing them the way they see themselves I am exploring the truth and fiction of Lagosian gangsters.