Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh, Nigeria

I've been told by my good friend Dax that sporadic blogging is not cool, you lose your audience- her words. Thus, from this day forward I'm going to endeavour to be somewhat regular in my posts and updates, at least once a week....sounds long as I'm inspired. It's really not so easy writing about my thoughts. It would have been so much easier to be regular if I was blogging about current affairs, or gossip or fashion or hair or make up. But I'm not, I'm just a girl who has long thoughts once in a while and instead of kick-starting the first stage of madness by talking to myself in the mirror, I pour them out here...once in a while.

What are my latest thoughts?Moving back to Nigeria has been foremost on my mind ever since I went there over the Christmas period for 4 weeks. I swear to you I did not want to come back. The thought of the bleak cold weather, over-subscribed trains, monotonous work, people who are ever too busy to socialize and just the thought of leaving the cocoon that was Nigeria at Christmas was seriously depressing.

They say home is where the heart is and never did that saying ring so true as it did as I boarded my flight from Abuja to London on the 24th of January. It was with a heavy heart that I checked in and let the customs officers run their grubby hands through my nice clean clothes not even bothered to be offended that they made me lift two suitcases weighing over 20kg onto a counter as high as my waist. Surely there must be some aviation technology the Federal Airport Authority can acquire that does the searching and lifting without us having to endure silly questions as 'where are you going with this indomie and yam?' and 'what are these things?' gesturing at what are clearly panties and bras. But I digress.

I truly believe that Nigeria is the best place for a Nigerian to get to the top, firstly and more obviously because you have the home advantage. When they are not too busy adhering to federal character requirements and filling up the Niger-Delta quota. Secondly, because good business booms in Nigeria. You really need not have any sort of business plan whatsoever to start with, just bright ideas, determination and maybe a wealthy and supportive uncle. The late entrepreneur MKO Abiola always spoke of how he used to hawk goods for his mother when he was younger and rose to become a businessman,publisher, politician and aristocrat. Not overnight,mind you, but ultimately before his death he became one of the richest and most successful businessmen in Nigeria.

Where is all this patriotism coming from, some might wonder? Having lived in the UK for close to 9 years on and off I'm slowly becoming disenchanted with the supposed glitz and the non-existent streets paved in gold. No matter how much you earn over here its just a vicious cycle of bill-paying and catching up. Very few people- and I mean the Mohammed Al-Fayeds, David Beckhams and the Royal family can truly boast of wealth and comfort. Everybody else is a hustler. Admittedly there are different hustles- some people work at fast food restaurants and others work at investment banks, but the story is the same. You work all hours of the day, you think your pay is going to be decent but after the tax man has swallowed a ridiculous chunk of it, you're left with just enough to pay the bills and go to the pub.

Its all well and good when you're a student and relying on the merchant bank of mum and dad, there's no tax, there aren't any real bills, there isn't any real responsibility. However reality bites when you're suddenly unleashed into the pool of job seekers and later admitted into the club of the employed. Time and money are suddenly very scarce or perhaps one or the other. This is not to say that jobs in Nigeria are not demanding or there is no tax. Nigeria has a whole different set of issues. For instance, the lack of power/electricity is so ingrained in our heads that a lot of the time nobody bats an eyelid when the lights go off at the airport during boarding or at the bank when the cashier is counting out your 1 million naira deposit. We don't even notice the hum of generators when they come on, I suspect that a lot of Nigerians have lost at least 20% of their optimum hearing because of the kind of sound pollution we are exposed to from generators at every corner.

I have to say that my main issue with Nigeria is not to do with infrastructure, or even the advent of a new kind of oppressor- the Boko- no, it is the people that work in government. What do I mean by this? I mean the average policeman on the street, the average lecturer at a 'higher institution' and the very worst of the lot- the NYSC official. These people operate on a very different wavelength from the average other person in Nigeria who is just happy that they are alive and have something to eat. This lot are frustrated, oppressive and act like they are doing you a favour by sitting behind their desks and discharging the duties for which they are paid. Yes, I know that the paychecks are as sporadic in these jobs as rain in the Sahara desert however that is no excuse to treat people the way they do. The average police officer at a checkpoint believes that he deserves a tip for stopping you randomly at a dangerous intersection and asking you to show him your fire-extinguisher, despite the fact that the non-possession of same is not a crime however because he has 'let you off' he truly deserves your money.

I think this is ridiculous and I can honestly say that I have never parted with money for these policemen except for the times when I have committed actual offences such as hitting a policeman's bike whist fleeing the scene of a crime i.e the red traffic light and driving with an expired driver's license. The second class of offenders are the lecturers, now I've heard stories of lecturers at Nigerian universities turning up to lectures as if these were their very own chieftaincy coronation ceremonies with students pleading for reversals of F grades in their wake,others begging to be registered for the class, sauntering in, hailing their fans and reading from prepared, time-constrained speeches.I have experienced for myself the lecturers at the Nigerian Law School addressing university graduates as if we were preschoolers who were recipients of a special fund for the hard-up and mentally handicapped.

The NYSC officials are simply in a class of their own. For the uninitiated, the NYSC scheme is the national Youth Service scheme which endeavours to unite Nigerians from various parts of the country for the purpose of voluntary(read:compulsory) service to our country. All the officials I encountered ranging from the so-called para-military camp, to the community development meetings to the liaison offices, bar none, are unanimously living in frustration. Now I don't know what they put in their water for them to sip on that renders them acutely frustrated and overbearing. This is a scheme that I don't believe any sane person would undertake were it not mandatory therefore it beats me why I would ask you to sign my discharge form- put pen to paper and make an endorsement- and you look me up and down as if I'm begging you for money. They treat you like an idiot, send you from pillar to post forgetting that you could be somebody tomorrow even if you're only a mere 'corper' today.

Okay let's leave the matter of a select few ill-mannered class of people. The majority of Nigerians are cheerful and just happy to be alive and well especially with all the life-threatening possibilities that could manifest at any time. If its not kidnappers it's armed robbers, if it's not ritualists its the latest cult in town- Boko Haram who I believe should abandon all pretext of being a religious group and announce what they really are- an anti-PDP/Goodluck Jonathan machinery of brute force and chaos. Seeing a new day in Nigeria is a cause for celebration in its own right. Despite all its shortfalls however, Nigeria has strength in numbers. Even only children have cousins, there is the advantage of neighbours, ex-primary school friends, work colleagues you actually have something in common with to socialise with at the end of a busy, frustrating day.

Weighing up all these advantages and disadvantages, you can probably see why its such a huge dilemma(or maybe not) deciding whether to pack my things and head back to my fatherland where I will be simultaneously in the bosom of my great Nigerian people and at risk of one or more threats from the afore mentioned evil Bokos or stay in the land of the free and independent and liberal and be at risk of fading into the background of the dull brick and mortar that is London most times having not made one single impact anywhere or left behind any sort of legacy. What are your thoughts?

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