The Word On The Streets VI – Fear And Loathing in Las Gidi

We go straight to the point this time. 

1. On my way into Lagos I had the pleasure of sitting next to a rather chatty but good natured Tanzanian chap. So what’s a Tanzanian chap doing in Lagos I ask him? He tells me he works as an expatriate with the company that owns Genesis Cinemas. Apparently he was working in London installing and maintaining cinema screens for Odeon Cinemas when he got the offer to go work in Nigeria.

He tells me they just finished a 5 screen cinema in Enugu and there are more to come. Seeing as it’s not everyday you get to meet a Tanzanian, I steer the conversation away to local politics in his home country and he becomes even more animated.

When this new President was elected I told my Mum the guy was an [insert your choice of abuse here] and everyone told me to at least give him a chance. Can you imagine one day I am with some of my friends in London and they are texting the President and he is replying?! What kind of President is sitting in Dar Es Salaam texting his friends in London?

I have to say I found that totally hilarious. Even more, what kind of serious President carries a mobile phone?

Now they have found oil and they are just going crazy. Julius Nyerere knew there was oil [he mentions the name of the basin area but I’m struggling to remember now] but he knew that if it was exploited, the whole economy would be totally messed up. Now the Americans are building a small community because obviously they have to replicate their living standards back home there. Everyone is going crazy about oil and property prices in Dar Es Salaam are going nuts!

I acknowledge his point and add that this is specifically why the smart Norwegians do not allow any of their oil money make it’s way back into their own economy. All of the money is paid into their Sovereign Wealth Fund which is then invested in other countries. It’s very difficult to build a proper economy when you have all that resource money pouring into your country. Just today I saw this academic paper which shows that from ‘1975 to 2005 the size, diversity and sophistication of industry in Africa have all declined’. In other words, all of the growth has come from booms in commodities.

We wish the Tanzanians all the best as they enjoy their new resource.

2. The delectable Tiwa Savage was on the same flight into Lagos with me. I feel like I owe her some thanks for giving me a shoutout in the song ‘Everything’ she did with 9ice – you know the bit where she goes oko mi, aguntasolo, ma gbo mi l’ena, ma r’oka ife towards the end of the song 🙂 

But liver failed and I let her be.

But tell me something; when celebrities wear outsize sunglasses (sun or no sun) are they trying to hide their identity or draw attention to themselves? I am asking for a friend please.

3. Our hyperactive Aviation Minister is at it again. This time she has given the usual suspects, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, something like 30 days to ‘restore parity’ in the West African region in their pricing. Bear in mind that this ‘discrepancy’ is purely for premium tickets as it’s cheaper to fly economy from Nigeria than it is from Ghana. Presumably the minister is seeking to reduce the price of luxury tickets while increasing the price of economy tickets.

No point beating about the bush, the woman is an economic illiterate. As I got on the plane from London, I looked left and I couldnt see a single empty seat in 1st Class. Nigerians love flying that way. But there are only so many 1st class seats on a plane meaning the demand will probably exceed supply on most flights. So what on earth is an airline supposed to do in such a scenario? Reduce prices? 

Governments like to rob Peter to pay Paul because if done properly, Paul might be convinced to vote for the robber. Or perhaps in this case given that the people the Minister is waging war on behalf of are the well to do, they will donate to the PDP when fundraising season begins. 

I have been looking at tickets to Nigeria since December and consistently Arik has been the most expensive of the 3 airlines flying direct to Nigeria from London. Why should I fly them especially when a delay in leaving Lagos is guaranteed? If she really wants to be useful, why not lean on Arik to learn how to provide decent service to its customers? As opposed to this populist foreigner baiting. 

Under her watch, Sir Stelios has decided to set up his new no frills in airline with its base in Ghana ignoring Nigeria in the process. This is a direct cost of a minister who likes to ‘order’ prices to come down. Businesses dont like such people. 

But na them sabi

4. On Saturday I called a cab to take me from Oniru to GRA in Ikeja. He picked me up at 7pm and as there was no traffic, it took us under 40minutes to get to Isaac John. I had a meeting to attend so I had him wait for me. I left the meeting around 10.10pm and headed back to Oniru in Victoria Island. I got there just before 11pm. I asked him how much and he said N7,500. Sounded reasonable to me so I paid up without haggling.

Next morning I was leaving for the airport and I called the same cab man to take me from the same Oniru to MMIA. He picked me up at exactly 7.30am and we were at the airport in 30 minutes flat. I drop my bags and ask him how much. He says N7,500. I am shocked and I ask him how on did he come up with a pricing policy that charges the same for a one way 30 minute journey and a 3hr+ return journey? He says this is ‘airport fare’ and that’s ‘how they charge it’. I am not in a habit of carrying a lot of naira with me on my last day in Nigeria so I count how much I have left with me and it comes to N5,500. I hand over N5k to him and pocket the remaining N500. 

This formerly mild mannered man suddenly turns menacing and begins to ask me where I plan to get the balance from. I am now getting slightly irritated and I tell him there will be no balance forthcoming so he ought to run along. 

Someday when a metered taxi system is introduced and standardized across Lagos, the time he spent arguing with me over the rest of the charge will automatically become a cost to him and others like him. We ought to at least try to get rid of as much uncertainty in our economy as possible. The technology for metering cabs has been around for ages so we have no excuse really. 

Arguments like that are a nuisance because we are both relying on some (different) abstract notion to price the same service. 

5. Nigeria scares the hell out of me sometimes. Like so many people seem to be on edge because of the dissonance between their situation and the wealth that is daily flaunted in their faces. I ask a laundry man to quickly straighten out a shirt for me as I was about to head out. He returns a few minutes later with the shirt ironed and I hand him N500. He gives me this terrible look that gives me panic before walking out of my room. 

Was N500 too little to quickly straighten out a shirt for me I wondered? I can only imagine that someone had distorted the market for shirt ironing by offering him perhaps N1000 to iron a shirt say the day before. Again, the market for shirt ironing relies on abstract notions so everyone has their own idea of what the value is = wasted time spent haggling getting to an acceptable mid price.

6. The Otunba Tunwase Michael Olasubomi Olayiwola Oladimeji Olaonipekun Balogun, The Olori Omo Oba of Ijebuland aka Sure Banker turned 78 a couple of weeks ago. So one might think he’d be ’rounding up’ his assingment on this earth. Nothing of the sort I’m afraid. 

My friend said he was going to drive me past his new house in Ikoyi and I managed to grab the photo below

Dsc_0024

Without trying to exaggerate, I’d put that front door at something like 12 feet high. The house and the gates are all adorned in his insignia as well. 

His kids are all grown up and very succesful in their own right so who would want this monstrosity after the man is gone? You can imagine that he’d be alone in the house with his wife and a multitude of drivers and servants a la Downton Abbey most of the time. What if they turn on him one day? Not saying it can happen but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility in a land of such wide inequalities.

A friend was telling me that if you drive past Chief S.B Bakare’s house in Ikoyi these days, you can see goats roaming about the compound probably unable to believe their luck at such a gilded existence that they live in. 

But is it my money?

7. Staying in Ikoyi, there’s this bridge coming from Lekki that is under construction by Julius Berger at the moment. What’s interesting about it is that it drops right onto Bourdillon Road (not too far from the Lion’s den) which as you know is a 2 lane dual carriage way. It looks like an interesting traffic experiment in the making but half bridge is better than none I imagine.

I once wondered what the fuss was all about cement prices in Nigeria being so high given that I didnt think the demand, driven by construction, was that great in Nigeria. One tends to judge these things by the skyline of a city and the Marina skyline hasnt changed at all since UBA House went up if I remember correctly. Most of the buildings there now look like derelict eyesores.

But I was partly wrong. Stuff is in fact getting built in Lagos it just depends on where you look. So driving round Parkview on Saturday morning, I counted quite a number of what looked like ‘serviced flats’ under construction. Not just that; builders were hard at work on them on a Saturday morning. This is generally a good sign that not only is funding for the project available, the owners are racing towards a deadline they have set for themselves. 

A friend of mine suggests that Eti-Osa should apply for nationhood from the United Nations and become an independent country. A bit risky given that were a fight to break out and soldiers drafted in from say Alimosho to quell their secessionist tendencies, they’d have nowhere to run to except inside the Atlantic.

But worth a try perhaps. Afterall what goes on there seems to have no correlation with the rest of the country or the state even.

8. Of all the things that have been destroyed by Nigerian govts over the years, none is more heartbreaking than education. They should never have had the power to do this. You hear all sorts of things that just make you despair. A rather succesful businessman told me the lengths he was going to to find half decent staff. I was dumbfounded as I have heard of such practices here in the UK but only during the boom years before the crash. In those days, I’d be at my job and I’d be getting calls and emails from recruitment agents trying to get me to switch jobs. I even once managed to get two job offers at the same time once and play them off against each other to get one of them to raise their offer.

But in those days you knew there was something like an excess of demand over supply. Not so in Nigeria. There is a plentiful supply of labour out there but sadly much of it is not fit for purpose. People have been so hampered by a terrible state education that they are literally hemmed into a life that is less than ordinary. How on earth are people supposed to fight poverty without an education? 

This businessman tells me that he is reduced to responding to client emails himself not because his staff cannot send an email but they do not know how to engage with an email to craft a response. All over you hear the same kind of story. I dont imagine that the job the Tanzanian guy I spoke about earlier is so terribly difficult that it cant be done by a Nigerian, but the fact is that it probably is hence why he’s in the country. 

Little wonder then that expatriates in Nigeria command some of the highest salaries in the world. 

This debasement of education also gives you a new class of people like Boko Haram seeking to undermine the state but incapable of doing it in any sort of seemingly civilised manner. It really is a tragedy.

9. Staying with education, I had the pleasure of meeting with some members of the Afenifere Renewal Group specifically to discuss the recently launched Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) document/roadmap. It was a good meeting (better than I expected) precisely because I found them to be open to ideas (within their bounds) and generally had their hearts in the right place.

But the meeting got off a to a rather boisterous start especially on the issue of adopting Yoruba as the language of instruction for primary schools across the South West. I totally disagree with this policy as the entire idea appears to be largely based on the romantic notion of what went on the ‘good old days’. I suggested an experiment to place an English and Yoruba primary school side by side in a small village and see which one got more patronage from parents. They didnt buy it.

But a bigger problem that troubled was the seeming total belief in the idea that the govt is capable of repairing the mess it caused itself. No politician seeks office on a platform that seeks to debase education in their time in office. If anything, education gets bigger budgets every year but the quality continues to deteriorate. The problem is mainly that politicians really have no incentive, especially in a short termist society like ours, to make public education work. Nothing has happened to rearrange the way these incentives stack up so why are we so eager to hand over more responsibility to the govt in this regard?

When govt fails, it doesnt mean that society is at a loss as to what to do. The vacuum is soon filled by the ‘market’. Because the govt is not able to provide water does not mean the people are going thirsty. People simply build boreholes. 

Recently in India, this report was released showing how the private sector had completely filled the gap created by state failure in the state of Bihar in India. So while the govt was ‘officially’ recording 350 schools in the state, the researchers found 1,574 schools in total i.e 78% of them were privately owned. What this meant, amazingly, was that out of a total of 333,776 school children in the state, 238,767 did not exist at all according to the govt records! Further, the researchers used satellite imaging to pinpoint the location of the private schools in the state, they found that there was hardly a street in the state that did not have a school serving it.

Government is overrated provided it can be convinced to stay out of the way and not cause a nuisance. In India, a 2009 Right to Education Act was passed which required that all ‘unrecognised’ schools be closed down by this year 2012. In other words, what the govt has been unable to provide, it does not want anyone else to provide.

But the Bihar education minister appears to be a smart man as he has given an assurance to private schools that he has no intention of harassing them in the name of implementing this law. And rightly so for the schools have committed no crime other than to provide a service that was clearly in demand. 

In South Africa the situation isnt much different as private schools are now booming especially in areas where the ANC has failed woefully to deliver quality education to its people. 

These stories are important in helping us bust the myth about what govts, especially destroyers like the Nigerian type, can and cannot do. As a friend of mine put it, what the govt is providing is subsidised illiteracy in the name of public education. We must not give them any more power to leave destruction in their wake. The less damage they are able to do, the better for us all in the long run.

So here’s a radical idea for the ‘progressives’ in Yoruba land – introduce a voucher system that follows each child through their education. A certain amount of money will be allocated to each child and the parents then find a school of their choice for the child to attend. The govt then transfers this money to the school. Each child can be given an account number or something that uniquely identifies them. They will have access to the account but cannot make withdrawals from it except to give their number to a school they have decided to attend and then that school makes a claim for the child which is then paid out of the account. The parents will be able to top up this account if they want their child to attend a school that is more expensive than the govt allocation.

Let govt then sit back and try to be a regulator while we pray they dont screw that one up too.

10. Everytime I go back home I wonder if I have the courage to move back and engage with the Nigerian system. But I am grateful for some straight talking friends who tell it as it is. This time around quite a few people asked why I would want to do such a thing.

Men love their country not because it is great but because it is the only they have. So said Seneca. I dont get up everyday wanting to be a billionaire. I’d like enough money to not have to worry about it again but that’s about it I think. But this is just me. There is no doubt that the Nigerian environment provides plenty of opportunities for people to make outsize returns. But engaging with the process does take something away from you. No one should be under any rose tinted illusions about this. 

The day I pack my bags to head back to the country, I will leave whatever things that are dear to me that I do not wish to be corrupted in a place the country cannot reach. 

11. The last bastion of hope for me are some of the young entrepreneurs I have made friends with over the last couple of years and are trying to do nothing but make a honest living. As you know, I am a fan of wealth creation and anyone who is managing to do this in a country like Nigeria as honestly as they can, can do no wrong in my eyes. 

I specifically have a lot of time and love for some female entrepreneurs I have had the good fortune of meeting over time. Some of them sell food but with a focus on the service aspect of things. Some others make and sell clothes after their own design and are seeking to take the business of clothmaking to the logical next step. I also know some who sell lingerie again with a service aspect as a large component of the package. Some make jewellery and all kinds of unique adornments especially for women. And there are many more I can name.

I do not know any other way by which we can defeat poverty other than by creating wealth to spite it. I had dinner with a few of such friends and I realised that such settings gave me real hope about the country.

We sat down and talked a lot about Nigeria of course. But I dont hesitate to tell anyone that this is an aberration. Our contemporaries in other countries are probably sitting down thinking of how to creatively destroy an established way of doing things. One imagines that Mark Zuckerberg didnt spend a lot of time at Harvard discussing the finer points of American democracy with his friends for nights on end.

But it is what it is.

12. Can you think of a reason why NDLEA officials will be on the streets fully armed with AK47s? My friend was giving me a ride home one afternoon and we hear sirens and loud shouts asking us to make room for some vehicle behind us (there was some traffic and they were carrying ‘something’ according to them). My friend rolls down his window and asks one of the men almost pleadingly why on earth they were toting guns openly in that manner?

The NDLEA official was apparently aware of the silliness of it all and only managed a smile back at us. 

This same friend showed me the badly damaged front bumper on his car and told me how his wife was driving the car one day when she ran into traffic that wasnt moving. Next thing this bullion type van hits her and does not stop. She manages to go after them and after reaching them confronts them to let them know what they had done to the car. One of the men in the van then proceeds to pull a gun on her. 

There’s no penalty for bad behaviour to be found anywhere. And we have allowed the people who control the money in Nigeria to also control the guns. Cue bedlam.

13. No point talking about the power situation. It was terrible everywhere I went. I was fortunate to be staying with a standby generator ensuring 24/7 electricity. But whenever I was at home, it was easy to tell how many times the Power Holders gave and took away power i.e the airconditioning would stop working and I’d have to turn it back on. One morning I simply held the AC remote in my hand as I was lying down, so I could play them at their own game. If they were going to mess about with the electricity I was going to shame them by turning the AC back on each time.

Everyone complained about how the power situation had been so bad lately. And I do not know many people who have only one generator before we get to the business of inverters.

Maybe things will get worse before they get better.

14. [Left intentionally blank for the things I desperately want to say but I am unable to]

 

FF

 

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9 thoughts on “The Word On The Streets VI – Fear And Loathing in Las Gidi

  1. I tried really hard to stop myself from laughing. Hard truths we can’t run away from.

    Nigeria yi ti gbogbo wani. By all means move back.

    Cheers.

  2. Stumbled on this just today. Very well written and informative, I’ve sent to everyone I know. Everyone tells tales of someone who just moved back and is “hammering” but seems to leave out the PHCN, education, traffic and myriad of other issues awaiting the returnee.

  3. FF, Truetalk “the people who control the money in Nigeria to also control the guns.”Its so true and sad. Nigerians are oppressed in their own country by money,power and Guns.How bad or worse can it get for things to be better.cheers!!!

  4. Well written as usual FF! ” One imagines that Mark Zuckerberg didnt spend a lot of time at Harvard discussing the finer points of American democracy with his friends for nights on end.” Gbam! This is one thing I keep telling my friends. Ours is probably the only country where the young and old alike spend valuable time discussing national politics everyday, offline and online and the reason is not far-fetched. In addition to robbing us of security, quality healthcare,education, and other basic amenities, the politicians have also succeeded in stealing time that should be dedicated to creative undertakings from us. One may argue that Nigerians are naturally “loud” and “busybodies” but na as dem beat person reach e go cry reach. Check the Facebook walls/tweets of friends from other countries like Ghana and India for e.g. and see if they spend the kind of time we do demanding that the “animals” give us human rights (Apologies Fela).

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, when I grow up, I want to be just like you. :-).

    To the matter at hand though, are you suggesting that government gets out of education all together? I am still labouring under this unrealistic notion of grammer schools & comprehensive, the former would be selective and the latter would be inclusive, I’m old school perhaps but I much pefer government to have a say in the curricula if not the administration of schools. Also, the funding nko? Who’ll take care of that?. The idea of vouchers leaves me a little cold. As for children been instructed exclusively in Yoruba, I’m not sure. A lot has to be done to ensure that our young people do not lose their linguistic identity but English ensures that they will be ready for the wider world.

    Anyways, good write up.

  6. FF and his well marshalled points. How come you didnt measure how the passionate and patriotic people let down their hairs ala thursday night style?

  7. Well marshalled points as usual. Nothing to be added except the fact that you didnt mention how the hair is let down in lagos ala thrusday night style 🙂

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