The Word On The Streets…..

Disclaimer:These are mainly anecdotes I picked up during my stay in Lagos. Feel free to fact check where appropriate.

In any case, it was never my intention to report what you can find on the pages of newspapers.

1. Of all the medical systems in the world to model ours on, it appears Nigeria is slowly but surely moving towards the American system. Before I left for Nigeria I was amazed to hear that Satya Capital was investing $18m in a HMO called Hygeia Nigeria Ltd. 

Healthcare is an essential social service and is practically inaccesible to the vast majority of Nigerians already. If the only investment going into our healthcare system is from the likes of Satya Capital, it can only end in tears. Simply put, private equity companies do not invest on a charity basis. They are in it for the money. I may be wrong though.

2. Staying with healthcare, I was at a wedding with a group of medical doctors and final year medical students. All the doctors I spoke to were all moving away from the profession either as soon as they finished their studying or their house jobs. One doctor wants to go into catering while I know at least 4 who are either currently doing MBAs or have plans to do so once they finish med school…with a view to moving into business.

It didnt take me long to figure out what the problem was; When a doctor is doing their house job they get paid N140k/month [soon to rise to N180k/month]. Regardless of what you think, this is a decent living wage. The problem starts once the house job is over.

A doctor can expect his/her pay to promptly drop to around N40k/month after the house job! A friend of mine who has never had to resit an examination since he started studying medicine in 2002 will graduate sometime in the middle of next year.

So to recap; you spend between 7 and 8 years studying to become a doctor and then after your house job, you get a job paying N40k/month. Nigeria will pay for the way it currently treats it’s junior doctors….sooner or later.

3. When it comes to FIERCE loyalty, the Hitler Youth have got nothing on Ibori’s Boys. James Onanefe Ibori is apparently a very generous man when it comes to his hangers on [or lau lau to use the Naija term]. This generosity buys plenty of patronage and blind loyalty.

I hate to say this but the dude is rather popular among quite a few people at least in his home state. 

I had a chat with an Ibori Boy and he offered the following in his Oga’s defence

‘He created the largest number of billionaires in the history of Delta State’ [bear with me, this is apparently a dividend of democracy]……’Asaba is the only place in Nigeria where you can smoothly drive a Ferrari because the roads are so good’ [What can I say]….He didnt steal Delta State money, he made his money from lifting the oil directly from the ground @ $11/barrel and selling it on for whatever the market price was’ [presumably the land where he got the oil from is his personal property]…..‘Even if he stole Delta State money, didnt Saminu Turaki also steal N35bn from Jigawa?’ [the argument here is that poor James is being picked on by Ribadu et al]…..’When OBJ was President, they were only 7 people with licences to lift oil from the ground in Nigeria, today there are 27 of them! Who are they?? [Nigerians need to chill out…there are more Iboris in the making out there who will also create more billionaires like Ibori did. Dont make too much noise, it will soon be your turn]…etc etc

In a rather funny story, he told me one of Ibori’s billionaire boys is getting married very soon and to add ‘efizzi’ to the wedding, the dude hired one of Nigeria’s most popular musicians [who has a habit of fathering children all over the place] to be his best man! The guy had is not friends with the said musician and has probably never even met him before, but he hired him as a best man regardless. Presumably he would perform a song or 2 at the ceremony.

I kept making the argument that if James Ibori had remained a Godfather in Delta State with all that money, I might not want to shoot him square in the forehead. The problem is that the man is now a vampire squid on the face of Nigeria and MUST be stopped….controlling the AGF and perhaps the President. I mean, WTF?

Regarding the now infamous decision by Justice Marcel Awokulehin [or is it Owokulehin?], I understand that when the EFCC initially brought the 170 charges against him, he stood in court for 4 hours and contested every single one of the charges. He refused to enter a plea for anyone of them arguing that doing so would imply that he accepted the charges.

He then went to his boy Marcel in Asaba [A judge who has 3 cases of misconduct pending against him at the Nigerian Judicial Council and who was installed by Ibori while in office] and applied for a motion to quash the charges.

From then on, it became a simple matter of waiting for the right moment to deliver the verdict. Indeed a couple of days before the verdict was given, Ibori’s Boys were apparently sending texts to people saying it was a done deal.

4. Staying with Godfathers; there is no doubt whatsoever that all is not well in Lagos state at the moment between Godfather and protege. There is a hell of a lot of interference going on and no prizes for guessing who’s getting really irritated by it all.

One of the more interesting stories I heard that sums up the above goes as follows. The governor, who is a stickler for time, calls a meeting for 10am in the morning with his commissioners and other government officials. As soon as it’s 10am, he shuts the door and starts the meeting.

Commissioner X arrives late say around 11am and finds himself locked out of the meeting. Commissioner X then calls the Godfather and explains the situation to him. The Godfather picks up the phone and calls the Governor who’s inside the meeting. The Governor takes the call and is told by the Godfather that ‘Commissioner X wa ni ita, jo ba mi si ilekun fun‘ [Commissioner X is outside, please open the door for him].

The governor can be irritated all day long but he’s got to open the door and disrupt his meeting.

One interesting thing about politics in Nigeria I’ve found is that, you cannot play politics and run an effective government at the same time. It’s just not possible. This was the undoing of the Godfather when he was in office and and the current strength of the Governor….seeing as he’s never been a politician per se.

Let me make a bold prediction; sometime between now and 2011, the Governor of Lagos State will make the transformation from effective administrator to politician. They’ll teach him.

5. Even with all the encomiums that have been poured on Babatunde Raji Fashola in his time as Governor of Lagos State, he is not immune to making the same inane decisions that have bedevilled governance in Nigeria from time immemorial.

You should see the lavishness of the christmas light decorations all over Lagos…the contract for which was awarded to Ibidun Ajayi-Ighodalo trading as Elizabeth R Nig Ltd. Credit to the girl, she at least put a lot of time, effort and hard work into the job. In that sense, it’s not your typical non-performing govt contract.

But let me illustrate the foolishness of it all; along Ikorodu Road and the Magodo end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway there are some pyramid shaped christmas trees made with plenty of lights and soft iron spaced out at intervals of around 100 metres. I kid you not, under EACH one of these lights is a home-size generator chained to the ground to power the christmas light.

It gets better; apparently there’s someone whose job it is to hang around there till night-time when it’s time to turn on the lights. Presumably, at the appointed hour, this person then goes from ‘gen’ to ‘gen’ turning on each one and voila, the city is lit up. Never mind the darkness in the surrounding areas…those lights must come on.

Dear Lord, why are we so crazy? 

T.W.O.T.S [The Word On The Streets] is that the christmas light contract was in excess of N200m. 

I am also obliged to inform you that someone who is apparently a good friend of Mrs Ighodalo told me that she is yet to be paid anything by the LASG for the work she has done. Is this true? I dont know but I do try to be balanced.

6. It’s no news that Nigeria is a Federal Republic powered by generators. It’s the new normal. I wont bore you with tales of how quite a few people have 2 generators, one for the day and one for the night.

But I did hear one story that broke my heart when I paid a visit to my Uncle in Isolo. After telling me of how they had only had electricity for 3 hours in the last 7 days, he then told that me that the residents had decided at their last meeting that everyone in the area must turn off their generators at 12midnight everyday regardless of whether Power Has Come Now [PHCN] or not.

As I type, I feel my heartstrings tugging at the choices that people are being forced to make. In this case, they had to make a choice between spending the night in utter discomfort when there’s no light or losing their minds from the crazy racket from the generators all working at the same time.

In the end, they decided that sleeping in the darkness and heat was the lesser of the 2 evils. 

Meh….

7. Speaking of heat, there’s no doubt that Lagos is definitely getting hotter. I am no tree hugger but Lagos state is a real example of climate change. 6 years ago when I left Nigeria, it was almost impossible to find air-conditioned taxis anywhere. Today they are all the rage. 

The other day I had so many runs to make so I decided to spare my mate the hassle of driving me around and just using a cab [I have vowed not to touch a steering wheel in Lagos till further notice]. So I went to change money at a local bureau de change and was waiting to hail a cab.

The first cab with an AC I saw said he wasnt going to turn on the AC for me as he had no fuel to burn like that. But he wont mind charging me an ‘AC fare’. I did mind and sent him on his merry way. 

After waiting a few minutes with no AC cab in sight, I started getting apprehensive carrying a rucksack with some chocolates and other stuff I was going to give some people and all my money in my back pocket. So I walked to the nearby taxi rank and took the first available taxi. Sadly non air conditioned.

Anyway we get to Marina area and run into some crazy standstill traffic. I literarily start to fry inside my clothes. So I roll down the windows and carry on chatting on blackberry messenger with my friend. Next thing I hear a hoarse, drug addled voice telling me to hand over my phone and other valuables. I look up to find the faces of 2 weather beaten thugs, one staring through the driver’s window and the other sticking his head through my window.

They start sticking their hands under their clothes making to bring out a gun and threatening to shoot me in the legs if I dont hand over my phone. I look at my phone and think of all the information I have stored in there and blurted out ‘mi o le fun e ni phone yi men’. The guy by my side looks at me incredulously and makes more threats to shoot me with a gun which had yet to materialise.

I tell them I will give them money but not my phone and they should name their price. Bizarrely the guy asks me to bring N2300. Presumably he was going to pay the N300 as tax to the Lagos state govt. I am quite ready to cough up but my money was in right back pocket and the guy was beside me sticking his head in the window, so I tell him to go round to the driver’s side to join his friend and I will hand over the money there [I didnt want to pull out the money while he was standing so close]. They go ballistic at the thought that I’m giving them orders but I stood my ground. I was quite prepared to give them N1000 in any case and take it from there. So the guy makes to walk round to the other side of the car as instructed….only for him and his friend to walk away to the next car behind us in the traffic!

There and then I knew; God loves me…inspite of myself.

To further prove the above theory of God’s love, another London friend of mine told me how he came out of an event somewhere on the Island and as he was walking to his car he was accosted by some touts who promptly grabbed his trousers and told him to pay up. He then offered to give them N1000.

One of the touts told him ‘Oloun bless e pelu iru moto bayi, o wa’n fun wa ni N1000? So ro pe ebi pa wa ni? [God has blessed you with this kind of car and you are giving us N1000? Do you think we are hungry?…LOL!!!!]

8. Do Nigerians have an alcohol dependency problem? I dont have the answer to that question. What I can tell you is that the dude who runs a bar/beer parlour a few blocks from where I stayed in Surulere did say he sells 20 cartons of Star Lager every Friday night. He didnt give the numbers for Guiness Stout [which probably sells more] and other drinks.

Bear in mind that this guy does not operate a monopoly…there are several other beer parlours scattered in the area so his numbers are interesting to say the least.

9. “You know these National Security Agency guys or whatever they call themselves….they have a budget of maybe something like N400m every year to fight kidnapping. They are just chopping the money. So when you go there and tell them you want to sell them equipment that can help them reduce kidnapping, they wont listen to you because in their mind they are thinking that if kidnapping stops, that money will dry up for them”

The above was told to me by a businessman I met in Lagos who’s trying to do what he mentioned. If this surprises you, then you havent fully grasped the way the Nigerian mind works when it spots a crisis. Everything is a money making opportunity.

10. Speaking of money, you cannot begin to imagine how much money politicians in Nigeria have access to. It’s mind boggling I tell you. People are just looting all day long.

As an example I was told of a member of a state house of assembly in a Southern state whose houseboy recently bolted with just under $90k cash belonging to his Oga.

Nuff said.

11. While waiting for my bags on arrival in Lagos, one of the 2 conveyor belts suddenly stopped working. While we were waiting for it to restart, I overheard the following conversation between 2 men standing behind me

Man 1: They have probably embezzled the money they allocated to repair the thing. Look, when I was working in Central Office, there was this Pastor who was stealing money to fund his church. You know Herbert Macaulay Road in Yaba? That’s where the church was…the name was Glorious Assembly or something like that. The man used the money to import everything for the church….their drumsets, choir robes…everything was imported. It wasnt until another staff member went to report him that he was investigated and suspended. The church was also closed down.

Man 2: So what did they do to the person who reported it? Did they promote him?

Man 1: Promote ke? He was posted to Minna to go and rot there…that was his reward!

And so life goes on in Nigeria….

12. The Murtala Mohammed Int’l Airport Lagos is now no longer fit for purpose. The place is such an eyesore. All sorts of people hanging around creating work for themselves. My passport got checked 5 times before I eventually boarded the plane.

If you are going to Nigeria anytime soon, I must warn you about the down escalators as you approach customs at the airport. The last 3 times I’ve been in Lagos, there has been an accident at the bottom of the escalator. Why? The escalator ends about 1 metre from a set of doors which are never fully opened for some strange reason. As the escalator brings people down faster than they can go through customs, bedlam naturally ensues as a result of people piling up at the door. Once this happens, without fail, a customs official ambles over in a perfunctory swagger to open the second door…clearly upset at having to do some work. Why the door is closed in the 1st place is beyond me…but this mild drama has played out exactly the same way the last 3 times I’ve been.

The local airport down the road from the international airport used to be a similar shambles until it got burnt down a few years ago and in it’s place was built the much better and modern airport currently sitting there. 

So maybe…..Oh Feyi you must stop thinking these evil thoughts!

13. Aliko Dangote controls Nigeri’s sugar market.

Alike Dangote also makes Dansa fruit juice. Perhaps to save on transportation costs, the sugar factory is probably sited next door to the fruit juice factory.

Last time I drank one of the Dansa juices, I had images of bare chested men tipping bags of sugar into the fruit juice mix before packing them in cartons.

The amount of sugar in them juices would be criminal in any other country apart from Nigeria.

14. So myself and a couple of friends are heading out to Ibadan the other day when we notice a filling station with only one car in front of the gate. And fuel was being sold at the pumps. Unable to believe our eyes [this was in the middle of some serious fuel scarcity] we hit the brakes and reverse the car…oncoming traffic be damned.

There were all sorts of touts hanging around hawking various sizes of jerry cans filled with petrol….black market if you prefer that term. This seemed odd to say the least because the whole idea of the black market fuel is that it’s more expensive than the official N65/litre at the pumps. If there was only a small queue at the station and fuel was being sold, what was the point of the touts selling their petrol [which has a 70% chance of being mixed with kerosene or something else] there?

Looking around I quickly hazarded a guess as to what was going on. Some soldiers were there to buy fuel and perhaps the owner of the station had been busted hoarding fuel so had to begin selling at short notice. Meanwhile, the filling stations have a habit of selling their petrol to the touts in the dead of night in jerry cans for much higher than N65….and then pretend to have run out of fuel once the morning comes.

In this particular instance, arbitrage had perhaps gone wrong and the touts found themselves carrying a quickly depreciating ‘asset’. 

But give a street urchin a piece of thread and he’d make you a suit. The touts then decided to lock the gates to the filling station with their own padlock and chain. They then made sure to stay away from the gate but hung around holding the key.

When it got to our turn to enter into the station, the spokesperson for the touts came to our window and told us we would have to pay to get in. After we exchanged a few ‘pleasantries’ with him we gave him N100 and another tout brandishing the keys appeared from nowhere in particular to unlock the gates..making sure to lock it and then dissappear as soon as we entered the forecourt.

The ubiquitous touts, who never make a loss on anything, had literarily snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. By charging a ‘gate fee’ they were simply making up the lost value of their ‘stock’ occassioned by the filling station disrupting their market.

Yes, there are millions of people all over Lagos who wake up everyday and live by nothing other than their wits. 

15. There are now distinctly 2 different Lagoses, the mainland and the Island, with each requiring a different type of swagger to navigate successfully. 

To state the obvious, your paper needs to be long to live on the Island…even expatriates now complain about how expensive Lagos is. For the returnee Nigerians, it’s possible to live on the Island and to a certain extent replicate the lifestyle you’ve been used to abroad. This obviously sounds odd and it probably is but seeing as we have no identity of our own to be proud of, this is to be expected. 

Indeed there are people I know who never leave the Island for anything. They work, live and socialise on the Island.

The mainland is more ‘Lagosey’ if you permit me the word and is a better reflection of the true state of affairs in Nigeria.

So if you are thinking of moving back to Nigeria, best to listen to people from both ends of the spectrum before making a decision. If you take advice from someone who lives in Lekki and works on the Island, you might get a nasty surprise when you do get there.

16. I spent one week in Lagos and I estimate that I spent at least one full day of that stuck in traffic. 

I know a guy who recently sold on his 7 year old car [equivalent of 35yrs old in England]. I was surprised at how quickly he was able to find a buyer and the buyer was clearly going to carry on using it despite the grief it had caused my friend.

There lies your answer to the growing menace of traffic in Lagos; cars never get taken off the road…they are simply recycled back into the system. Then try to imagine the number of cars that are being brought into Lagos everyday to add to the existing ones.

Some people think building new roads or widening existing ones is the solution. Good luck to them. But a civil engineer once told me that research has shown that whenever a road is widened to ease an existing traffic problem, the traffic simply grows to fill up the new road within 1-2 years.

They are currently widening the Victoria Island end of the Lekki-Epe expressway where the 1st roundabout used to be.

I stand to be corrected on this, but I could not find one single piece of sustainable development going on in Lagos state. 

17. A few months ago the staff of Virgin Nigeria [now Nigerian Eagle Airlines] discovered that their salaries had not been paid on the day it was meant to be. There had been no advance warning…they simply werent paid. Eventually they got paid that month’s salary 1 full month later and have been in arrears ever since.

As I type, they are awaiting their November salaries.

This note will never end if I carrying on talking about everything I saw in my 1 week out there.

Here’s wishing you a very prosperous 2010….especially to all of my friends , who through no fault of their own, have been turned into hustlers in the madness and chaos of Lagos. God bless you.

FF

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