But this 23-year-old, who also works as a pharmacist, thinks he’s found a cure in writing.
“It’s a way of dealing with my sanity and insanity,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme in a series about new African writers.
The living hell also provides a wonderful canvas for his writing.
“Despite the seeming chaos of Nigerian society – it keeps you going.
“It’s exciting and shocking, and you can feel angry and happy. It’s a blend you may not see in the West,” he says.
Ogunlesi, who began writing two years ago, says he also enjoys “linking normally unlinkable things” and allowing his imagination to consider things “the mind would not consider logical”.
In his story The Baby Who Didn’t Stop Crying, a Nigerian policeman tries to pay for his bus fare to the consternation of conductor and passengers, used to seeing police officers insisting on travelling for free, if they are not demanding bribes.
This policeman with a conscience introduces readers to a host of characters in the noise and lawlessness of over-crowded Lagos, Ogunlesi’s favourite Nigerian city.
“I love the energy, wildness and madness of Lagos. I always need to come back to Lagos to recharge myself,” he says.
“In fact, I wrote a poem called Deficiency of Lagos, which says if you’re away from the city for more than four months, you’ll get sick.”
This year, Ogunlesi moved to Asaba, in Nigeria’s southern Delta State to begin a year’s national service in a government hospital after his graduation as a pharmacist.
His career as a writer has also taken off. In his New Year poem, The Stream, Ogunlesi describes how his writing began as a trickle and has turned into a torrent of work.
Click here to read The Stream
Following the publication of his first collection of poetry, he has performed his poems at festivals in Holland and Belgium and become a fellow on the British Council Crossing Borders Project.
With such a tight schedule, when does he manage to put pen to paper?
“Mostly when I should be working in my pharmacy – I find it easier to work when I ought I be doing something else, it flows better,” he says.
He’s also found time to write a blog for the BBC’s Africa 05 website. He admits to being an e-mail junkie and claims the internet is the key to his publishing successes so far.
“When you find yourself pushed to the wall, the internet opens up a land that you never saw. It takes your work to an audience that is further and wider then you could imagine.”
His insecurities about the future, described as “see-sickness” in The Stream, are balanced by “sea-seekness”, an ambition to move into deeper waters of novel writing in the year ahead.
Here, he feels, his nationality puts him on a firm footing.
“Nigeria is classified by the powers-that-be as a third world country, but in our literary prowess, we inhabit a first class world. And that’s no empty boast,” he wrote.
“I wouldn’t exchange being a Nigerian for anything.”
The Stream by Tolu Ogunlesi
This dying year has been an ever-widening corridor
where the stream of my life seems to have taken on
the Blueness of More Significant Waters
I want this stream never to end, stroll
on and on like raging Steam, roll
like a never-ceasing thread
And continue its widening like the porridge from the Boy’s Magic Pot
whose mama forgot the StopSesame.
I want to forget too, my Stream’s StopSesame.
May this flow never cease, neither its blueness
where poems and stories have ruffled the waters, and kissed the bait
of my mind, waiting patiently to be smoked on the fireplace rack
Where Self-Discovery is a shark, nibbling
At my old unsure self, and Fulfilment is the venom
that the teeth of the waves sink into me.
See-sickness afflicts me, and I strive
to peer down the barrel of the horizon, wondering,
what can I read from the lips of the New Year’s shores?
Sea-seekness too afflicts, and I strive
to exchange this stream for the Sea, wondering,
on what key does it – the Sea – with its Fangs make Music.