Your correspondent managed to be in 3 cities in about a week. Wherever there are Nigerians, there will be stories to tell. (Previous editions of TWOTS can be found here).
Overheard in Houston
1. “The Nigerian people paid like $4,000 for VIP tickets when they came for OTC. And then after a couple of hours, the organisers opened the whole thing so people who paid VIP and ordinary tickets were mixed together“.
Everyone I spoke to in Houston complained about how badly behaved the Nigerian delegation to OTC (Offshore Technology Conference) is every year. Spending money lavishly and learning a sum total of nothing.
But given how a fool and his money are soon separated, hearing this particular anecdote warmed my heart immensely. It would have been rude for the Americans not to oblige those who were desperate to be rid of their money.
2. “They say he owns half of the parking lots in Downtown Houston”
This was me having a conversation with a friend about Hakeem Olajuwon. I have to say that I have never felt prouder as a Nigerian than when I was standing by the plaque to honour him outside the Toyota Centre and read the citation below.
I hadn’t realised the guy was still such an icon in the town. Here’s how someone else described it to me
“He is part responsible for the explosion of Naijas in Houston. A lot of Naijas moved to H-Town from other parts as Hakeem ran riot in those years. The guy as far as Yankee braggadocio was concerned, was considered completely boring and personality-less (as per ansarudeen bobo) so he did not really get the kind of endorsements and commercial fame he should have but they gave him Uncle Bens rice! And had to bring in (Charles) Barklay and others to jazz him up to do post game interviews and hype. But on court he was something to behold and Yankees respected him because he went from fighting on court when he first got to Yankee to super mellow guy with hardcore self developed skills”
You can watch a 40 min YouTube documentary about him here. Houston made me realise we don’t celebrate this guy enough.
3. “The beautiful thing about Houston is that you can choose the level of Naija of you want. If you want full Naija, there are places you can live and hangout where you will be interacting strictly with Nigeria. Or if you want to mix it up like the professionals, that one too is there. The weather is just like Naija too. That’s why most Nigerians who come to Texas first hardly move to other states”
Nigerians in Houston all seem pretty happy.
24 hours in Abuja
4. It was interesting to watch the current dynamics at Transcorp Hilton. The politicians don’t yet know where they stand with the incoming president so they are all currently on their best behaviour. The policy guys are currently the big boys. Indeed a funny story involved someone who is looking to be a minister in the incoming government. Someone saw him at Transcorp and came to lobby him for an appointment in his future ministry. He played along. As soon as the person left, he pulled aside someone and said something along the lines of
“This one is telling me to take his name and help him lobby for appointment for him. When me I am still looking for where to put my name too”
Buhari knows his own mind and no one really knows what’s going on in there. Here’s how a Governor put it:
“All the people coming to visit Buhari are leaving so disappointed because once he says ‘How are you? How is the family?’ that’s it. They will talk and talk and talk and he will just nod and not say anything in return”
Underestimate him at your own risk though.
5. Hung out with a few friends on the Transition Committee. Food was provided and I was happy to be acquainted with pounded yam again. As we sat eating, the APC Chairman, Chief John Oyegun walked in and helped himself to some food. Rest In Peace to the amala that had the misfortune of colliding with him. He devoured it with his bare hands.
As we were eating, an old man walked in and took his seat at one corner of the table and started eating. It wasnt until my friend returned and said ‘that’s Tam David-West na‘ that it clicked. To put it mildly, the pictures of him regularly used by the Nigerian press seriously need to be updated.
As a random aside – it was Ahmed Joda who hired John Oyegun into the Nigerian civil service in the ’70s or something. Between the two of them, there is a very good understanding of the business of processes and it shows in the work of the Transition Committee.
I am hopeful.
6. So many things are not working in Nigeria. The e-passport readers at Abuja Airport are not working. Went to about 3 clubs and restaurants and used the bathroom in 2 of them. The hand dryers were all not working. The doors at the airport with sensors to open when someone approaches are all not working. Much of the air-conditioning at the airport are not working. At the toll gate leading up to the airport, the cameras that are supposed to read number plates are not working either.
It’s worth noting that these things were all deliberately installed. Do we have a problem with technology? Or do we not know how to buy technology that we need? Something makes me think it’s the latter.
I stayed in a nice and small hotel in Abuja. I got into the shower to have a bath and was dazzled by how over-elaborate the whole thing was. The shower cubicle had a touchscreen with about a dozen controls for lights, temperature and even a TV. It was so confusing that when the water started coming out, it was so blazing hot that if I had made the mistake of stepping under it, I would have exited the bathroom looking like Kollington Ayinla. And I couldn’t figure out how to lower the temperature of the water after battling with the controls for about 5 minutes. I gave up and rang the reception who then sent someone to my room to sort it out.
Now, I’ve stayed in some pretty decent hotels and I have never encountered a shower like that before. Perhaps I need to travel a bit more. But what are the chances that if I go back to the same hotel in 1 year’s time, the shower won’t have stopped working and I will be forced to fetch water in a bucket to have my bath?
7. You are sitting in London and hearing there is fuel scarcity in Lagos. Kini big deal? Fuel scarcities are not new and there are ways of dealing with it. But this was different…oh it was different. This was the worst fuel scarcity I have ever encountered in my life as a Nigerian. It was surreal to witness.
I watched Nigerians, who are nothing if not resilient, wave the white flag of defeat to this one. Where does one start? At the magnificent looking Intercontinental Hotel in Victoria Island, I hung out with a few friends for a party at Soul Lounge. They did not put on the air-conditioning. We were sweating. At Terra Kulture, around 8pm, they came to tell us:
“Oga, we are closing down in 30 minutes so we can turn off the gen”
Schools were telling parents to come and carry their children for mid-term one day early so they could conserve power. People were throwing away food they bought with money because there was no light to refrigerate it. Banks were emailing customers that they were going to shut at 1pm to save on diesel. I spent a fortune on taxis to get around and they refused to put on the air-conditioning. Take it or leave it. A business owner said to me:
“We want to tell our staff not to come to the office from tomorrow but they won’t like that. They will rather spend what it takes to get to the office because at least there will be some light in the office rather than sit at home with no electricity or petrol to power their generators”
A friend got into Lagos on Saturday from Houston and proceeded to his hotel in Victoria Island. The generator was turned off at 1am so he spent the night in darkness. I was due to meet another person in (or is it on?) Victoria Island and he said we should meet at Neo Cafe as power was being rationed in his building. In the 2 hours or so we spent there, about 4 customers came in. Each one spent maybe N2,000 and then brought out their laptops to plug and charge inside the air-conditioning – a loss making operation for the cafe.
Why is anyone an entrepreneur in Nigeria? Because they are mad. Shout-out to all the mad people in Nigeria…they shall inherit the earth.
That a bunch of thugs that can do this much economic terrorism to the country is unconscionable. But Nigeria put itself in this position. God only knows how many people died as a result of this complete madness.
The only positive to all this was that I did not encounter even 5 minutes of traffic anywhere in 3 days in Lagos. Perhaps this makes the case for a congestion tax in Lagos…
“You know Diezani’s SAs or whatever were selling appointments to see her for $25k. But it’s not your normal appointment o. You pay the money and they will tell you where she is on the particular day and then you go and look for her by yourself to discuss what you want. The best one used to be when she’s travelling because she’s trapped inside the plane so you can catch her attention. They charged more for that one. You book a first class ticket on the day and airline they tell you she’s travelling and then go and talk to her during the flight. But she spoilt that business for them when she started travelling by private jet”
Funny how she then used this same ‘model’ for the President-elect last week Friday. Tables turn too quickly these days
9. Dinner with a doctor friend:
“That new Gbagada Cardiac and Renal centre built by Lagos State is amazing. It even looks better in real life than in the photos. But they have no staff. They probably have like 5 times the number of medical staff working as cleaners and admin staff there. They spend like a fortune powering their generators to keep all that equipment going and maybe this is why they can’t afford to hire medical staff”
I am paraphrasing but you get the gist. This is the clash between ambition and practicality I was talking about in #5 above. When we were at Intercontinental Hotel, I noticed a friend (who knows a few things about construction) and her husband were pointing at something on the wall and discussing. I went to sit with them and they mentioned that they were trying to figure out what the thing was and what point it added to the design of the building. I volunteered that perhaps the architect put it there to extract a few more millions from them.
The next day, while discussing the sauna like conditions inside the hotel with someone else, he said:
“I am not surprised they turned off the AC. Their electricity costs in that building are completely ridiculous on a normal day because of the way the place was built. The seals are so bad everywhere so they lose a lot of cold air that should be trapped inside the building which increases the cost of keeping the place cool”
If your village people are chasing you on 3rd Mainland Bridge and you jump inside the lagoon to get away from them, that is understandable. But when no one is chasing you and you go ahead and jump in the lagoon anyway…perplexing.
Some of these self-inflicted wounds can be seen approaching from a mile away. But we walk right into them anyway.
10. Maybe because I left on a very late flight but MMIA looked rather quiet and organised. The roof was only leaking in one small spot and aside the fact that we were boiling in the heat (air-conditioning not working), everything seemed ok. But as I’ve said before, the airport is really hopeless and it’s time for a new one.
Lagos state needs to step up to the plate and get going with the Lekki Airport. And I can think of one way to make it happen quicker than currently.
The airport is owned by Cochin International Airport Limited, a public limited company in which the Kerala government has the single largest stake. CIAL is managed by a board of directors comprising political leaders, industrialists, NRIs and representatives of financial institutions. Besides the Kerala government, CIAL’s shareholders include the Federal Bank, State Bank of Travancore, Bharat Petroleum, Air-India, Housing and Urban Development Corporation and nearly 10,000 Non Resident Indians from 30 countries
10,000 Indians in the diaspora funded 38% of the project – more than the state government’s 33%. It was opened in 1999 and remains one of the most profitable airports in India today. It makes intuitive sense for someone in the diaspora to invest in an airport given they are likely to have more experience of using it.
Governor Ambode, sell us a bond and remove this shame of MMIA from Lagos.
11. “Look at those houses. Fashola is building 7 floors and is not putting lifts in them. But the guy is very smart because even if he keeps some for himself and his people, he always makes sure the bulk of it is distributed by ballot. So almost everyone is guaranteed to know someone who won a house under HOMS and that way the gist spreads”
That was my friend pointing to the Ilubirn Foreshore Housing Estate as we drove past it. We can agree that housing was not one of Governor Fashola’s greatest achievements. Nevertheless, HOMS is real so do ‘try your luck’ by entering the monthly draws
I left Nigeria eleven years ago and I have visited almost every year since then. Most years I visit twice. This was undoubtedly my worst trip back home. The sheer mindless suffering and pain that people were going through just to get by on account of the fuel scarcity was painful to watch. This is no way to live. Life ought not to be a pressure cooker where everyone is slowly boiling and waiting to explode.
I hope that the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari brings some real change and succour to Nigerians.