The Word On The Streets II

Everytime I go to Nigeria, I always try to wear my amebo journalist’s cap. This trip was a really short one but all the same I ‘overheard’ certain things.

1. Nigeria is a country blessed with beautiful women. Take any sample of Nigerian women from any subset and you will easily pick out a few remarkably good looking women. There are beautiful women on television, billboards, at weddings, on the streets….name it.

Bearing the above in mind, it is safe to conclude that the female air hostesses who work for Arik Airlines are NOT Nigerians. To stave off an internet lynching, I will say no more on this.

2. Staying with Arik, I wonder if Nigerians are snobbish when it comes to choosing what airline to fly with? Got to the airport on my way to Nigeria and was told my flight was going to make a 1 hour stopover in Abuja. As much as this was a bit of a nuisance, in fairness it wasnt that bad as it meant we were to land in Lagos at 6.30am as opposed to the normal 4.20am. Lagos being what it is, nobody leaves their house to come to the airport at that time of the day. 

The reason for the disruption was easy to figure out….they were clearly struggling with low capacity usage on their flights hence the need to merge the Lagos and Abuja flights on that day. This was confirmed by the fact that no one was heard screaming at the airport and the scales section where we Nigerians usually weigh our oversized bags was virtually empty when I got there. 

On the flight back, I was the only one on my row of seats in the middle aisle. As soon as the seatbelt lights went out, yours truly promptly pulled up all the armrests and voila, I was in business class. 

Now I am thinking if Arik cant fill a plane at a time when no right thinking Nigerian will gamble on flying with BA, it’s either that their prices are not competitive or Nigerians havent warmed to them. They were the cheapest when I booked my ticket so I wonder…………

3. Everytime I go to Nigeria, the cost of moving back home for a returnee appears to have gone up by N10m or thereabouts. Saw a 4 bed house somewhere in Lekki around the 4th roundabout. Nicely built and tastefully finished. I was told it sold for N60m. Move to Dolphin estate in Ikoyi and the same house would sell for anything up to N100m.

There’s so much money sloshing around it’s unreal. Government money has effectively become no one’s money in Nigeria…so he who finds it, gets to keep it. Probably the only way left for people who have this kind of government money to spend it, is by buying up properties all over the place. 

We really havent got a clue how corruption is damaging us in that country. EFCC? Fuggedaboutit. We are not going to win the war against corruption using Nigerians on a salary to chase people who have almost unlimited resources. I think our thinking and government structure must change for us to even begin to deal with this scourge. 

What we currently have is a situation whereby the allocation for a state is effectively handed over to the governor every month for him to do as he pleases with. The temptations to steal are just too high. And when people in or around government steal, ordinary Nigerians cannot afford to live in the decent parts of town.

4. It’s one thing to write and read about sycophancy, it’s quite another thing to see the very thing in action. Hear what someone told me about his trip to Abuja to see a government minister about a contract:

“As I was sitting in the guy’s office waiting for him to answer me, one guy just came in and without even sitting down he just started hailing the minister ‘..Your excellency, ever since you ascended to this high office, this ministry has never witnessed the kind of development and change you have brought here. God will bless you and continue to elevate you sir….’ …..I was just sitting there and watching the scene..I couldnt believe it. And the minister was obviously enjoying it cos the guy was smiling. In his mind he knows that he can make you very rich with one contract so he’s thinking I might as well give it to the person who swells my head.

“Another time I went to Abuja and as soon as I saw the minister, the guy said ‘I am going to Kaduna, follow my entourage’……what are you going to do? You no go follow?”

Or how to win government business in Nigeria.

5. There’s a lot of good stuff happening outside of Lagos. The widely held impression is that Gov Fashola is the best performing governor in Nigeria who uses other governors to wipe the floor. I dont think this is very true. For a start, most of the national media are based in Lagos so he tends to get the best coverage when he does anything good while the others only get a mention when they do something silly.

One name which I keep hearing for good performance is Sullivan Chime in Enugu state. I havent been to Enugu in many many years but those who have tell me he’s doing good stuff out there. If anyone’s reading out there from Enugu, please correct me if what I’ve heard is wrong.

I think as Nigerians who have grown up in a very mobile age, we have to be willing to look outside of Lagos for a lot of things. When I spoke to people about the senselessness of some of the costs of living in Lagos and the option of moving elsewhere in Nigeria, the response I usually get is that ‘you will be bored in all those places’. This to me is a good sign as it means people acknowledge that they can have a life elsewhere but their only objection is the boredom. 

So if you want to get people to move to Jigawa state which I hear is a really easy place to do business with the government, maybe you should open a few night clubs there.

6. One of the things that might encourage people to move out of Lagos in the long term is the rail network currently being built/rebuilt from Lagos to Kano. Two contracts totalling N24bn were awarded for the work; Lagos to Jebba for N12bn and Jebba to Kano for another N12bn. As I understand it, work is at an advanced stage and ‘self diagnosing computerised’ locomotives have already been brought into the country. 

For someone like me, if I could find a way to get from say Sagamu to Victoria Island in 1 hour, I’d happily live there and commute. But that’s just me. It will be interesting to see how the train service plays out when it starts operating by the end of the year as I understand. A few of the locomotives which have been brought in to the country are strictly for cargo freight. Will also be interesting to see how the trailer drivers of this world react to that.

7. Saw a plan for something that’s supposed to happen in Lagos in the next 3 to 4 years. I was stunned I must say. The project will almost completely transform Lagos state. I toted up the figures at something like $1bn….amazing stuff.

Sadly in the Lagos of the future, there will be no room for poor people. No wonder people in government were pissed at the BBC’s documentary.

8. So I was the MC at my friend’s wedding. First of all the job is way harder than I thought. It took me forever to shake off the nerves so much so that 3 ‘well crafted and rehearsed jokes’ I had been honing for a couple of months now, never made it out of my head where they had been stored. 

So I wont be yabbing MCs anytime I attend a wedding again. 

But what I didnt fail to notice was the disconnect between the older generation and my generation. Almost as if we’ve grown up so fast but in their eyes we remain little children. The Chairman at the wedding basically took the programme and told me to cut out half of the items on the agenda. I protested in vain. And when I went ahead and allowed the chief bridesmaid to give her speech which she had taken time to prepare, he immediately summoned me to query why I had allowed it despite him telling me not to. As far as he was concerned, young people cant handle the most basic of tasks without guidance.

My conclusion is that it’s not just IBB who thinks my generation cant run things in Nigeria…he was just silly to voice it out in an internet age. 

What this also tells me is that, if we think we are good enough to guide Nigeria in the right direction and we believe we have better ideas for our country, we might as well start believing in ourselves. There are not a lot of people out there who believe in us.

9. The vast majority of my friends on Facebook are people whom I’ve never physically met. I have managed to transfer some of these friendships to phone calls, emails or even physical meetings over time. 

A couple of days before I left for Nigeria, a friend on Facebook whom I had never met or spoken to at the time sent me a message wanting to discuss the 2011 elections specifically relating to Pat Utomi. Anyway he rang me and I told him I was actually due in Nigeria in a couple of days. Would I like to meet Pat Utomi while I was around? I told him I was barely going to be in Nigeria for 72hrs but I’d meet with Prof Utomi even if he wasnt running for President. Somewhere along the line, he had discussed some of the stuff going on on Facebook with the Professor specifically what the ‘internet militants’ were saying about his campaign.

Long story short, he set up the meeting for Friday at 2pm and I got there at 1.30pm. Pat Utomi was in some meeting somewhere on the island but he duly arrived at 1.55pm and we had a meeting for over an hour. 

What did I think of him? He came across as a very decent man. Perhaps too decent for what we know about Nigerian politics. Is he serious about wanting to be President of Nigeria? I think he is BUT it’s not a do or die affair for him. He seems to have a full life outside of politics. Can he win? I think he will struggle to win a free and fair election even, but stranger things have happened.

I will very easily vote for him. He is yet to win the nomination of the Mega Party and he told me they intend to have a free and transparent presidential primary as a way of winning over Nigerians as opposed to what is likely to obtain from the PDP version.

I will have more to say on this matter later but one thing I am clear about is that, when we vote for a President next year, we shouldnt just vote based on our current circumstances, we ought to vote based on what we want the country to be in the near future…..as opposed to looking backwards, we should try to look forward with our votes. 

In that sense, a vote for Pat Utomi, if he gets the nomination, is not a wasted vote…..assuming there’s such a thing as a wasted vote in the first place.

He gave me a book as I was leaving his office and I asked him to autograph it. He wrote ‘To Feyi for the things we seek for the fatherland’. Amen….yours truly is now a Comrade 🙂 

To my friend who set up this meeting, thank you….sincerely. 

10. I am hearing that our much villified churches are fine tuning plans to play a very active role in the next elections. To the point where the big Pentecostal churches will come out to endorse a particular candidate even. 

Whether they manage to agree on a candidate or not, I think it’s safe to say they are going to behave differently during this elections. I even hear there will be Sundays when congregants will be asked to come to church with their voters card and asked to show it openly. It is unclear whether a penalty charge will be added to the tithes of those who are unable to show their cards but I am all for anything that helps to raise awareness before and during the elections. 

The more aware people are, the harder it will be to rig.

11. Everywhere I went in Lagos, I never stopped hearing this song. It’s not exactly a new song but now I cant seem to get it out of my head. First thing I did when I got back into London was to download it officially. I have promised not to illegally download any Nigerian artiste’s song again as long as it’s available to buy on the internet 🙂 

12. The lack of ‘adehun’* is alive and well in Nigeria. The night before I was due to leave, I told the driver who was to take me to the airport that I would be leaving the house at 7.30am and he said no problems.

Next morning at 7.30 the dude was nowhere to be found. He turned up around 7.45am and I asked him where he had been. 

Driver: Mo sare lo ra akara ni Obalende ni [I quickly went to buy Akara in Obalende]

Me: O lo ra akara? [struggling to contain my laughter] [You went to buy Akara?]

Driver: [Laughing] Beni [Yes]

Me: Akara na wa da? [So where’s the akara?]

Driver: Mi o ri ra…ojo to’n ro yen ti le won wole [I didnt get to buy…the rain had chased the sellers away

*If you dont know what Adehun means, you need to ask your nearest Yoruba speaking friend.

13. At the wedding on Saturday, a room with 2 screens and drinks had been prepared for the guests who were itching to go and watch the Argentina match. I managed to join in for the second half of the game….boy, it’s been a while I watched a Nigerian match in Nigeria. It was full blooded as expected and I cant count the number of times someone tripped off the TV in their excitement when a promising Nigerian play was developing. 

Then there was the usual were ni bobo yi o [this guy is nuts]……bobo yi o mo gba anything walahi [honest to God this guy cant play jack]….fun ni yellow card jo [give him a yellow card please] etc….all of these delivered at the highest possible voice pitch the person could muster and arms flailing wildly. 

A white couple who were visiting Nigeria for the first time joined us during the second half and I kept stealing glances at them. Initially the guy seemed terrified when people would jump up and down screaming at an overhit cross. But by the end of the game, the guy himself was nodding his head when a cross went into the box and holding his head in his hands when Kalu Uche attempted some silly first time shot when he should have taken a first touch in the final minutes. 

Welcome to Lagos…..where nothing is done in half measures.

14. Finally, I love my mother to bits. There is nothing she could have given me in life that she hasnt. She sacrificed everything to ensure my siblings and I, got a decent education. I always maintain that the blessings that have meant the most to me in my life have been channeled by God to me through my mother.

In light of this, I am struggling to find a way to tell her that I wont be bringing back ogi for her anytime I go to Nigeria again. The hassle I get at customs over the thing is unbecoming. The last time I went home, after I had been harassed by one woman, I made a point of giving money to the guy who had been appealing to her to take it easy and stop being uptight. 

This time around I was determined not to pay a kobo to anybody. So when they started their wahala, I simply told them I was going to leave the thing behind as I had no money to give them. After about 5 minutes of this standoff, they let me be and allowed me to take it with me.

There you have it…..72 hours in Lagos.

Congratulations to Sele and Enimien whose very special day I was proud to be a part of.

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