Thursday, December 29, 2011

How To (Mis)Govern Nigeria

How to (Mis)Govern Nigeria and Get Away With it

first published at http://dailytimes.com.ng/blog/how-get-away-misgoverning-nigeria

Begin the celebration of your victory by acknowledging it as an undeniable act of God. Tell your opponent that power belongs to God and this year God doesn’t give a shit about him. Establish this fact by holding special lavish thanksgiving services where you thank God that due, only to his special and mighty grace, you escaped being caught for rigging or killing opponents or manipulation all of which you must swear you never did. God doesn’t like those things.

Renovations! Your predecessor dirty saboteur that he is, messed up the accommodation really badly. I mean he made the official residence totally uninhabitable. You must renovate your official residence at an amount that you can use to build a new residence. It is not your fault. They should blame the last bad belle. This is why you always preach about maintenance culture. Nigerians lack it. Let them pay the huge bill for the renovation and they will see how well you will maintain yours. If you can, let the money be used to renovate your personal house (because you are too cool for government house) and perhaps even get paid for living in your own house in office.

It is important to declare that the wind of change will come sweeping. How do you achieve that? I don’t know. Don’t be asking me hard questions like that. Just say it. It is good enough. But if you insist, there are things you can do to appear like there is a wind blowing, whatever that wind may be. One way to do this is to create what we call an Agenda. 3 point, 7 point, 11 point, it doesn’t matter. You may even christen your Agenda and give her a name. Call her, the revitalisation Agenda. The resuscitation Agenda or other such synonyms. Agenda na Agenda.

It is ok to be narcissistic. Repaint old projects with your smiling face. Commission plenty worthless, glossy books about your achievements, hard back books containing empty speeches you have and will make, and if your are narcissistic enough, a book about your regalia and cuisine. There are plenty hungry writers for hire. It is quite easy. If you are Governor, every state project must carry a large photo of you looking straight at your subjects so they know the secret behind this whodunit. Then let there be a smaller photo of your deputy by the side. The Deputy’s photo must always be on the left and smaller so they know who is boss. If it is a Federal Project, look for a huge photo of Mr. President and then yours, a smaller one by the left where your Deputy is supposed to be.

Make sure every small project is commissioned at an expensive elaborate ceremony, where a separate contract is awarded for the commissioning ceremony itself. This is how a country is governed.

So, you have no projects, no thanksgiving services and nothing to show for it. You are getting nervous because some nosy people have started raising hell in the papers which if not for that nonsense free speech you would have banned. They are talking on TV shows, criticising your God-anointed government and saying there are no roads, no hospitals, no schools, no electricity, no water. God will judge your enemies and devote a special part of hell for them. But before God does that you need to take care of the situation here on earth. Just like you took care of the elections. You can thank Him later. What you need now is a smokescreen. Some toys for the people to play with so they don’t bother you so much. Give them something to fight about. This is fairly easy. The country is full of people who like to be defenders of their tribes, defenders of their cultures, and everyone’s favourite, defenders of their religions and Gods. So, find a common enemy. Someone we can push the blame to and call their acts, dastardly acts, call them enemies of progress.

Like who? Ehen. Good question. We all know those gay people who are, yes, abnormal. Create a law banning them. What? We already have a law banning homosexuality? So what if it’s already illegal? Just create something that will give the Christians and Muslims something to cheer about. They are the majority, no other religions officially exist. Tell the gays, we know you are already illegal, but we want to make you even more illegal, and anyone who sympathises with you! Gbam. The holy people of this nation will praise you for coming to the rescue of God’s law in this particular serious issue. No, sir, God’s law doesn’t affect corruption or fornication with girls. As long as you are not gay, sex is fine, 13 year old, 14 year old, your sons wife, the neighbours wife, the secretary, the Youth Corp members. This is not covered by God’s law. Confused? It is simple, straight sex is good. Gay sex is bad. Gay anything is bad. Unafrican. Immoral. Yes I said it, unAfrican, we never had a single homosexual in African culture, all those stories about ‘yan daudu in Hausa culture and homosexuals in other cultures are all lies, perpetrated by heretics, agents of white people to destroy us. God will not let them.

You see in all that confusion, no one can possibly realise that not a single thing has been done, that prices are going up, that electricity is horrible, that roads are still the death traps they have always been. Before you know it, it will be election time, and God who did it for you before, will do it for you again. Do I hear an Amen?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ONCE UPON A LOVELY IGBO GIRL WITH NO MAKEUP


I can’t remember her last name or where exactly we met. Just a smile that started from the eyes and spread to the rest of a smooth brown face, and a name, Ngozi. I have always thought it was Ngozi, even though now that I think of it, her name could have been Njideka. But it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter the last time we met, in a hospital ward a few years ago in Kaduna.

I was making my way through the confusing, identical wards, looking for a relative of mine, avoiding the grim stories on the faces outside the wards. Sometimes I couldn’t help looking; the faces said many things, asked many questions: Why aren’t the drugs working. Will we find the money for the operation before it is too late? Where will we find the money? We are in God’s hands. I wish we came a bit earlier. Why me, why her, why now...

It was her face I saw first as I peeped in the dreary sunlit room that reeked with a smell we described growing up simply as hospital smell- a mix of strong disinfectants, antiseptics, the metallic smell of blood, food, and bananas. She had put on weight but her fuller cheeks had done nothing to alter her face. It was still the same lovely brown face without makeup. Her lips were a light shade of pink and her nose, was pointed and had a little mole on it.

She was sitting on the bed and looked at me with a familiar smile. I smiled back and walked toward her to say hello and long-time-no-see and sorry-I-didn’t-know-you-were-in-the-hospital and God-bring-vitality-back-to-your-body and sorry-again, all at once. She didn’t have many visitors like the others. During the awkward silence that followed the shock/awkward reunion/prayer for good health, I wondered whether it was rude to ask why she was in the hospital. Perhaps this lovely Igbo girl with no makeup read my mind, or maybe it was just coincidence that she then decided to adjust her sitting position to show me what brought her there. I noticed the bandages on one side of her chest where a breast used to be. She caught my eyes as it widened, involuntarily at the sight of her chest. She smiled a smile that said, I know, I couldn’t believe I lost the breast too and looked away. Just then I heard my name from across the room. It was my aunt standing by the bed of the relative I came looking for.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, walking away in disbelief. I greeted my aunt who asked in Hausa where I knew her from. I realized then that I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. ‘From school,’ I said, preferring the burden of a lie to the complication of explaining why I stood for so long by the bedside of someone I wasn’t sure where I met. It could have been the external examinations I took when I was trying to switch from the sciences to the arts many years before. Or maybe the friend of a friend. We didn’t ask each other where we knew. Our eyes met, and we just knew. It didn’t matter where we met.

I waved her goodbye as we were leaving but she was busy with the nurses and I decided I would return to see her the following day. On the bus home, I wondered what it meant, to lose a breast. Would she wear a normal bra, stuff the other with some padding? How would she feel? Is she married yet? If not, how will this affect her. These were the questions I slept with; the same questions I woke up with and pondered as I returned to the hospital the following day. Walking to the ward, I thought of how she turned away when she saw that I had seen why she was there. I would sit with her and talk when I got there, I told myself. I would not walk away again if she turned her face, even if my aunt called me. I would not let my eyes go wide with surprise or dim with pity; I would smile, like she did, from my eyes, from my heart.

I reached the hospital the following day and Ngozi’s bed was empty, a dreary green sheet spread over the space she occupied the day before. I asked my aunt and she gave me the details with her arms across her chest and pity on her face. Discharged. Breast Cancer. Very friendly, wallahi.

This October, the month set aside as Breast Cancer month I have been thinking of Ngozi, who might have been Njideka. Ngozi who could have been a friend of a friend or an old classmate. I never saw her again. I do not know if the cancer stopped, if she found a way around the bra or gave up altogether, if she had supportive family and friends, if she found someone to still love her or knew that she was still beautiful. I wish now, that I had sat down a little more with her that day or knew where she was so I could visit. This October I remember the lovely Igbo girl without makeup who had breast cancer.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Women Whose Men Were Taken

THE WOMEN WHOSE MEN WERE TAKEN. (A VISIT TO ONE OF KADUNA’S INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS CAMPS)
I walked into the camp not expecting to feel anything new. I was born in this once peaceful, cosmopolitan town, and seen it quickly turn up dead bodies, some burnt, some cut to pieces because they belonged to the wrong religion or tribe; I saw it ultimately become a town of religiously exclusive, non-interacting communities- wholly Christian or Muslim. Seeing displaced persons would not make me lose any sleep, after all I had once been displaced by violence myself and in a sense, most people had been displaced, having to move to communities whose religion they belonged to, at least nominally. So I went in with some researcher friends of mine when they asked me to come along.
The smell from thousands of bodies crammed into a small space greeted me as we drove in. One of the leaders of the camp welcomed us and started showing us around. Hundreds of children ran around, unattended. Old men sat on tattered mats, staring at us. Women in hijabs sat in groups, some staring at us, others minding their children. Cooking was done not far away from open sewers and the flies buzzed all around, not minding the heat from the cooking.
The first hostel, an open hall without beds or even mattresses housed 130 widows and their little children. All of them victims of the April post electoral killings in the South of Kaduna State, mostly from my village Zonkwa, Kafanchan and a few other surrounding villages.
They took us to the store to see what they had left of their food supplies. Rotting tomatoes on the concrete floor, about five bags of rice some oil and a few other items. It was here that we heard the stories. The stories that made me finally feel something.
The killings in Zonkwa, they maintained, were planned, premeditated and not a spontaneous reaction to the violence elsewhere. The killings were systematic. Women and children were spared and in fact hauled off to the police station by the very men who were doing the slaughtering. For the boys, most under the age of 10 were spared. The man who was our guide said, his son, who was 12, was killed. A woman, whose quick thinking saved her son, lied to her attackers that her son was 9.
Many of the victims knew their attackers, some even by name. One of the girls whose father was decapitated and had his stomach torn open said she saw who did it. She knew him well. He was her history teacher. She said to the teacher as he attacked her father, ‘please sir, spare this man, he is my father’. The teacher ignored her, and went about the business of cutting her father open. We were told, that he apologised to the girl after he had finished.
The women were very nice to us, even after we told them we only came to ask questions and not to render any form of assistance. The women leader in the camp said, ‘We are very happy, it doesn’t matter. Whoever takes interest in our plight enough to come here and see how we are faring is welcome.’ She said it with a broad smile on her face and wished us Allah’s blessings.
The men explained that it would be difficult to return to a place where the men who slaughtered their children and men still walked around confidently, without any punishment. The State government he said, tried to force them to leave the camp, even though what was offered to those who had lost homes , businesses and loved ones, was 15,000 naira. ‘What can we do with 15,000,’ one of the men asked.
As they spoke of how they suffered in the crises, how they were killed and how the charred bodies received a less than dignified mass burial, I wondered how they would feel if they knew I was in fact from Zonkwa, from the same village and tribe as the men who took the lives of their loved ones and literally, shattered their lives.
‘We the common people have no problem with each other, it is the politicians and tribal elders who instigate the violence,’ one of the camp heads spoke in impeccable English. He added that they wanted justice and did not get it at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry. One of the lawyers who was on the opposing side during the commission’s hearings, was now the Attorney General, in charge of implementing the report, he complained. He was bitter about the violence and contrasted it with the violence in Jos: ‘This is not like the case of Jos. We the Hausa Muslims in the South do not get involved in the politics of the indigenes. We do not seek elective positions. We do not drag power with them. We are farmers and traders. In fact, when there is dispute between the tribes, we are sometimes called upon as neutral arbiters. Why the killings?’
I heard the names of people I knew as they spoke of their frustration in finding justice. I felt so close to the issue, so ashamed that all this was carried out by my kinsmen, perhaps even, by some of my relatives.
As we were about to leave, the phone of one of the camp leaders rang. To our amusement, his ringtone was the popular Dolly Parton song, ‘Jolene’. He was slightly embarrassed. We smiled shyly as Dolly Parton begged Jolene not to take her man and I, standing there, lost in thought wished that somehow I could have done something, begged my kinsmen to save their men. Nothing, not even a need for reprisal, justifies slaughtering your neighbours.
We have gone on for too long, ignoring the need for justice after riots and killings. Consequently, we breed a whole generation of bitter people among both Christians and Muslims, who hearts know only, a desire for revenge, for some form of justice. By sweeping it all under the carpet, we set the stage for further killings and broaden the base for potential killers and arsonists. People don’t forget when they watch their parents decapitated in front of them. People don’t forget when they watch their sisters and mothers gang raped. They don’t forget, especially when they know that the men who did it, walk and breath, even more freely than they do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A FOREIGNERS GUIDE TO DRIVING IN NIGERIA

How God has blessed you since you came to Nigeria! You have settled in, you know the local joints, which bars sell point-and-kill catfish and which bars don’t. Even though you swore you were a vegetarian, you have tasted the goat head meal we call ‘Isi Ewu’ - that messy mound of smashed goat skull, flesh and eyes. It was more spicy than you ever imagined, but you endured it, even took a photo for your friends back home and put it on your Facebook profile to prove you were blending with the Africans. This place is growing on you. Now you need to buy a car and drive it yourself, to know the city better. You have driven in the worst parts of New York, so Abuja can’t be that bad.

First thing you need is a licence. Don’t sweat. It is not that hard. All you need is money. Don’t be prudish and insist on following the normal process of a driving test to make sure you can actually drive, vision test- to make sure those blue or green eyes of yours actually work, and all the other formalities. Believe me, no Nigerian has ever done a driver’s test. So listen.

There will be that guy who will be smiling at you more than necessary, hanging around like your owe him something when you get to the licence office. He is the guy that can get you the licence. Just a few thousand on top of the five thousand regular fee, will do the magic. He will even bring the forms to your office if you want, for your finger prints. Then he will tell you to follow him for the photo capture. Don’t mind if it is after office hours. Your licence will be genuine. You can get it in a few days if you ‘mobilise’ the guy enough.

Now you have hit the road. If you think all the traffic lights are working then you have not been in Nigeria long enough. Our traffic lights come on only on two occasions: when they are brand new and on special occasions, like when the President is visiting with some foreign dignitary. So watch to see if it’s on or off.

At intersections where there are no traffic lights, no one has the right of way- the rule is ‘first come, first pass’. Honk wildly just in case some drunk or blind fellow is speeding past. In fact honk wildly always, we have no laws against honking. Honk when you are overtaking, or even when you are just tired or irritated. It has been proven to relieve Nigerian stress.

You will see the roads sometimes painted with white lines to signify lanes. They mean nothing in this country. They are cosmetic, to make the roads look beautiful like the ones in foreign movies. Swerve from lane to lane as you please especially when the guy ahead of you is driving like a snail. Sometimes you can create your own lane especially when there is a lot of traffic. The side walk is not for walking, you can drive on it to beat traffic. Just don’t be the first to do it. There will always be that first guy who goes off the road because he is just too cool to wait. Follow that guy. Now that you have passed the 10 or so cars in front of you, you need to get back on the road. Wind your glass down and put your hand out and look in the eye of the guy on the road where you want to enter. Raise your hand and implore with your eyes for him to let you enter in front of him. He will look at you. You are white. He will pity you and let you get back on the road. Don’t despair though if there is that stubborn fellow who will ignore you. There will be that woman behind him who will let you pass. Honk and wave in the air when you enter. That is how to show gratitude.

There are no speed limits in Nigeria. The rule is drive but don’t bash anyone. Learn to scream at other drivers. Learn to use your open five fingers in someone’s direction, to say ‘Your father!’ when someone has just tried to run you off the road. It will make you feel better. Learn road cuss words like, ‘Yeye’, ‘Oloshi’, ‘Ewu’ or the very efficient ‘God punish you.’ You will need it.

Now, in your country you have rubbish like breathalyser tests for driving under the influence of alcohol. That is strange to us. No policeman has heard of that here. Our culture permits drinking and driving. You can drink all you want as long as you reach home in one piece. If a policeman stops you, be afraid only if you do not have change to give him. When you actually beat the traffic lights and you are stopped by those guys in dreary orange uniforms, they will ask you to park and let them in. Don’t let them into your car, they will only waste your time. This is where some spare change and Nigerian pidgin will save you. Call him, ‘Officer’, in the most Nigerian accent you can manage. Smile. Don’t appear afraid- like dogs they can sense fear. Greet him. Ask him how work is, they family. Ignore the huge frown on his face, it is for show. He will talk big about arresting you and all that. Don’t give in immediately. Tell him, ‘Bros, make we settle now.’ He might be stubborn at first but it will work wonders. His heart will soften at the prospect of some extra money to augment his miserable salary.

Most people have no proper vehicle insurance in Nigeria, so if someone bashes your car, insist on cash or if you have the time, that they take you to their mechanic. Otherwise just go fix your car by yourself. Never, I repeat, Never allow the police to get involved. They will complicate matters and you will only waste your time and lose money in the process.

At night, nobody is arrested for traffic violations. The only cops on the road are patrol cops. They don’t care about your driving.

You can park by the side of the road without consequence. Nobody cares.

Your choice of a country without speeding tickets or DUI charges is wise. God be with you as you discover the hidden wisdom on our roads.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to make a blockbuster Nigerian movie

So you want to be a film maker. You don’t want to be like those broke ass, scruffy looking white guys who show up at film festivals begging for their movies to be shown. You really want to make this money. Not in 10 years. Today. 

The first thing is to get a good script. This is where a successful Nollywood movie will begin and end so pay attention. You don’t need any intelligent, mind boggling plots. The easier the better. Remember that your audience doesn’t care about twists or multi-layered conflict.  

Let the story begin with a happy family or a rich family or both. Show a huge mansion and please tell your camera man to always take many shots of the car park where there will be expensive cars. Let him linger there for many seconds even if there will be nothing there. Don’t forget the car park scene. Something has to happen in the car park, preferably with the Hausa guard or gate man looking foolishly after which he will run and open the gate. Good, before I forget, the gate man should never be played by someone who actually knows how to do a Hausa accent. Find a Yoruba man who has nothing close to a real Hausa accent to do that generic silly Hausa accent popularised by lazy Nigerian comedians where the Hausa man says ‘I’ when he means ‘you’. He must never be sensible or normal, always foolish and comical.   

Scenes must be long and winding. No need to rush through the story. The audience loves it when there is dreary music playing in the background while the camera follows the car as it slowly approaches the house, honks, and waits for the door to be opened. Especially if it’s a nice car. 

No complicated professions please. If they are rich, let them be business men with oil companies or some undisclosed business or professionals- bankers, lawyers, doctors. If they are poor let them hawk in the market or work as labourers. No regular civil servants, no geologists. It is either really poor or really rich.
The slap. There has to be the classic slap, don’t miss this. The person slapped has to hold his or her face and look back in shock saying: ‘You slapped me?’ as if he is still not quite sure if the slap actually happened. Have two or three of those scenes and you are good to go.

No Nigerian movie is ever complete without the wicked mother or mother-in-law. Please get someone with an already wicked looking face like Patience Ozokwor to play the part. This character must never be a complex or rounded character. She must just be hateful, vengeful, back-biting, destructive all throughout the movie. These days a wicked sister or sister-in-law will do if you can’t afford Patience. I hear she has increased her fee.

Now maybe you want to give your unsophisticated audience some action. Do a court scene. Make sure it is nothing like the real Nigerian courts. After all who wants to know what our legal system really is like? Dress the female lawyers in male lawyers clothes. It doesn’t matter. Let them call a magistrate ‘My Lord’ instead of ‘Your Worship’. There must be no mention of complex things like affidavits, motions or written arguments. Everything must be argued orally and lawyers must shout at the top of their voices and be angry with each other. It is not important to do any research for legal terminology. Just let it have a lot of action and shouting. Perfect.

Please note that all cultists, kidnappers and bad boys wear tight tops, black or red berets and are chain smokers who are obsessed with sucking in as much smoke as possible in one drag. The more the smoke, the better.

From the beginning, it is important to let the audience know how the movie is going to end or give them a fair idea of it. Sometimes use the soundtrack to do this where the movie is summarised in one or two of the songs. If a person is wicked, let them be wicked from the get go and let the audience just wait for when the wicked person will be exposed. If the person is a child of God let them be so from the beginning perhaps with many tests to his faith.

The movie should have marriage or barrenness or children or in-laws as the theme or sub-theme because this is your audience’s preoccupation in life- they can relate to it.

Rich men must always be dressed as if they are going for events even when they are relaxing at home. Never use any family photos on the walls. This is wrong.  

If you decide to do a flashback to twenty years ago, let people have the same hairstyles, drive the same cars. It doesn’t matter, your audience won’t notice.

Spice it up with that nice guy or girl who just came back from America with a horrible accent to prove it.
All cults should dance around bonfires wearing rags and paint their faces many colours. There are no sophisticated cults. Cult meetings always happen in the bush and at night.

Ah, don’t forget the soliloquy where a character talks to himself and tells himself what he must do to overcome his predicament or complains about her lot in life. People always talk to themselves. 

Other scenes that must be copiously used are: the police scene where no one looks like a police man, the robbery/ kidnapping/ accident scene where the camera is always shaky, the native doctor scene where the native doctor always has white chalk around one eye, is always slim with a little pouch and never wears a shirt, the hospital scene with a  doctor who is always a really bad actor and the awkward love scene where if they ever actually kiss they do it like people who have never kissed before.

The name of the movie must be an easy summary: ‘Stupid’, ‘Why Me?’, ‘Aki and Paw-Paw’ (really just a silly movie about two midgets doing nothing), ‘Wicked Sister’, ‘Bad Marriage’. ‘End of Kidnappers’. People need to know what they are buying. 

The movie must end with people crying and being remorseful and repentant. Plenty crying. Add a confession by the wicked mother-in-law or mother to it for flavour. Plenty hugging and forgiveness. A lot of mention of God. Perfect ending. To God be the glory.

Now chop your single movie up into three pieces. Call it Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 respectively. This is the only way to recover costs. Don’t bother about the rest like marketing and sales. Trust the guys at Alaba or the experts at 51 Iweka Road Onitsha.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A FOREIGNER GUIDE TO SHOPPING IN NIGERIA

So you survived. You decided to stay at least for a while. You are renting a house with a generator and you take your anti-malaria pills regularly. Sometimes on a night out you want to enjoy the breeze and you wear shorts so your carry your insect repellent spray that makes you smell like agro-chemicals. But you will stay in Nigeria. God will bless you.

But there is a problem. You have been going to the big mall with bright lights and straight colorful aisles complete with signs and directions. What is the use of leaving malls in your country with all the processed food and come here to the same thing? After all, this is Africa where everything is as God made it abi? So you need to conquer your fear of savage Africans, kidnappers, suicide bombers, and those guys killing each other in the name of foreign religions- all those things they wrote in your travel advisory. It’s time to fold your sleeves and enter the market. But wait! Not without these tips.

You might want get rid of that ugly, wide brimmed hat and dark sunglasses. It makes you look like a tourist with plenty of foreign currency. Consequently you will pay 5 times the amount for anything you buy. Be wise. You will not lose your skin. Use a little sunscreen if you have to. You are already white; don’t attract more attention to yourself. You might want to avoid open shoes- not many markets have their paths paved with concrete.

If you don’t like being touched or heckled, then you will need to get used to it very quickly. Your arms will be held, your shirt pulled, you will be dragged. If you are white, (or even almost white), you will be called ‘Oyibo’ in the market and whistled at. Don’t go feeling like a celebrity with paparazzi all around and lose yourself. They don’t love you. It’s your money they want- they do it to us too. Just keep moving until you find the item that you are looking for.

Someone will follow you and ask you what you are looking for. Ignore him. You need to find your own way. You may get lost but all will be well. Learning a few words of pidgin might help and even if they laugh at your pronunciation, it will give you leverage for your bargaining.

Now, you have found the item you want. Don’t try to be too friendly or smile. Don’t take his friendliness for niceness. He is not nice. There are no exceptions. You ask, ‘How much’. (It might help to ask for the market price of the item you want to buy from your driver or security guard before going to the market). He will look at you and without any fear or shame mention an amount that should give you a heart attack. The temptation will be strong but No, don’t do it- don’t do a mental conversion to dollars or pounds or whatever superior currency your country has. That would just mess things up in your head.

Whatever price he tells you, divide by 4 if it is an item of clothing, electronics (or if the man is Igbo). Divide by two if it is a food item (or if the man is Hausa). Now the mentality of the Hausa Muslim trader is quite different from that of the Igbo trader. If the market is in the north especially, the Hausa Muslim trader is likely to come close to the actual market price after one or two tries accompanied by a plea in the name of God. (This is changing with a few Hausa traders who live and trade in the South. So in the South treat them all the same.)

Don’t be afraid to call a low price. Never buy at the first or second store except it is a food item and you like what you see. Leave the store if you don’t get the bargain you want and try as many stores as you have the time for. After three or four stores, you will begin to have a fair idea of the real market price.

Sometimes you will ask for an item that the store owner doesn’t have. If he has to leave his store to get it, ask him not to bother. The idea is simple: he will get it from another store and usually add his own little profit to the market price. You have legs, walk out yourself and look for it.

Even if you have struck a bargain, do not be afraid to abandon it if at any time before you pay for it you have a feeling the price isn’t right. If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t right. Don’t be fooled by words like, ‘this is the last price’, ‘even I didn’t get it at that price’, ‘you can’t get it anywhere for that amount’ or my personal favorite ‘I am giving you this price because it is you’-as if the bugger ever knew you before!

You will be sweaty, your shoes might get muddy, your shirt and hands will have the finger prints of scores of traders, you will nearly lose your voice haggling, but it will be rewarding. At home you will lay out the items you have bought and cherish them, knowing how much work it took to get them at the right price. As you step into the shower to wash off that sweat and dirt, you will feel a sense of fulfillment that no mall with artificial lights can give you, a sense of achievement. You will say to yourself, thank God I came to this wonderful country.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

HOW TO MAKE IT IN NIGERIA


To make it in Nigeria is not as hard as it seems. A lot of poor people are deluded into making an investment in colourful motivational books- RICH DAD POOR DAD. HOW TO BECOME A CEO. HOW TO GET (AND STAY) RICH. Crap like that. Recently I met a level 12 civil servant in a bus reading HOW TO BECOME A CEO. The more sensible Nigerians are putting their money where their mouths are. I limit my theories to the legal means as there are countless illegal means of making it in Nigeria.



If you are of Northern Nigerian extraction, it is fairly easy to become rich. There not too many educated, smart Hausa/Fulani Muslims who have nothing to do or are not very comfortable. Become Hausa Fulani. You are asking how? Simple. Deny your minority tribe and speak the most fluent Hausa your tongue can allow. Wear a caftan and please wear a cap. A caftan without a cap says you are just a visitor trying on these clothes. Change your name if you have a strong ethnic name. Pick a nice Arabic name. If you have tribal marks that tell your tribe however, I am sorry. But even then, there is hope. Become a Muslim. No, not one those nominal ones. Donate to the building of a mosque. Say the full guttural version of Salamu Alaikum when you greet your superior Hausa/Fulani privileged neighbour and he will take note. NEVER, I repeat NEVER, speak your language in public where the Hausa guys are. It is bad for business. Never say anything bad about any one Hausa Fulani and always say bad things about your tribe and other Northern minorities. If you stick to the rules, word will spread like wild fire that you are a Hausalized Muslim. You can be trusted. You will be fine. Marry a Hausa Fulani woman if they will let you. It is an added advantage. (More than one wife can be an added advantage but never, never marry a woman from your tribe AFTER you have married a Hausa woman. It is an insult. If you have to mix tribes, let the Hausa woman be the new wife and favour her in public.) If you have to drink alcohol NEVER do it in public. Denounce those who do. It is not that the rest don’t drink, they just don’t like to brag about it.



If you don’t care for politics as such and you do not want to be a muslim, there is still hope for you. Start a church. But wait. Don’t rush it- there are too many ordinary churches out there with 12 members. You want to be like the guys with private jets, gold cuffs and greasy perms. So, go to the school for miracles. Now this may or may not include getting the local babalawo to back you up, seeing as there is a lot of competition in this business and you will need to once in a while perform a REAL miracle. Take public speaking classes. Have a good, personal God-saved-me-from-the-devil story. If you don’t have one, make one up- how you were barren for 12 years and God said if only you will save souls for me I will fertilize your womb, or how you led a gang of thieves or were in some underground blood sucking cult, but Jesus saved you. Find a niche and expand from there. And based on where you are know what rules to make for your church. Don’t go opening a new church in Jos or Kaduna and forbid the drinking of alcohol. Or in Portharcourt or Lagos and forbid the wearing of trousers or makeup. At least not when you start. But take the miracles seriously. There is so much disease and suffering in Nigeria you are bound to have a mammoth crowd with one miracle a week.



There are all these white people wanting to soothe their consciences and sleep better at night who like to throw money at Africa. Then there is the UN which makes sure that most of it goes to consultants and meaningless NGO’s. Start an NGO. It’s simple, but it’s tricky. You need to have evidence of all your projects, so invest in a good camcorder and other multimedia stuff. If you don’t want too much work, do something nebulous like an NGO for good governance or do something that no one really expects you to do like electricity in Nigeria. Befriend people in the UN, USAID, UKAID, DFID. Once you get hitched it’s paradise. An NGO has many benefits. It is one leg into these bigger ones like the UN. So, from NGO, you can become consultant (where you do little and earn much) and then you can get full employment with them. Also if you make a lot of noise with government, you can get political appointments or contracts. Find out from your insider sources what the UN and DFID have decided to fund in any particular year. So if its HIV, do a HIV NGO, if its Climate Change, same thing. Always leave room for more things. Remember, document everything, even a handshake with a street child. NGO’s are good, plus you get to pretend that you are saving the world. Now one small thing with these NGO business. But it’s dangerous if you want to live and breathe in places like Northern Nigeria. You can however be discreet about it. Don’t say I told you this, but the more open you are to alternative sexuality the better. You can be trusted and you will either get a cool job or get nice funding for your NGO.



Join the PDP. Now any Nigerian with common sense knows this. However if you live in Northern Nigeria, you must know when to pretend to get angry and decamp to APC or whatever other mushroom 'opposition' party is in vogue in your state. Ultimately however, the big money comes from the PDP. Once you are in, work from your ward. Get a patron, a godfather. Be loyal, but not foolish. Spread your loyalty as widely as possible. When your godfather goes down, you don’t want to go down with him. Mostly though be loyal to the party. Attack people in the papers you are sure aren’t in the PDP or who like to criticise the PDP. Like Buhari- easy target. It gets you points. Make posters with your money even if the candidate doesn’t ask and print boldly at the bottom ‘COURTESY ALHAJI SO AND SO’. The candidate will see it. Your reward will be in PDP heaven.



Now, this last one would have been illegal but thankfully the federal government has recently okayed it. Find a cause. Become a militant. Blow important stuff up. Now a religious cause is ok, but it makes you lose sympathy in Nigeria. Don’t blow anything up for God. We already have enough reasons to become militant. Give your movement a name, a really sexy one so people will feel good when they call it. Like Inter-ethnic Movement for the Annihilation of Corruption. People can relate to it. You get sympathy. Find a mythical spokesperson whose name can’t be traced to any ethnic group like Papa Kalaka or something more queer. Send out really cool emails written in impeccable, flowery English and talk of things like ‘subjugation’, ‘marginalisation’, ‘deprivation’. Blow things up, but don’t kill civilians. Very soon if you blow the right targets, the government will issue you a public apology for an offence they aren’t sure of and you will be flown in to Abuja for discussions. Your juicy amnesty package will be announced and you will keep in touch with the Presidency. Don’t disarm completely though, you may need it to remind them when they forget the monthly payments. I mean, you get to keep your arms and get cool stuff, like overseas trips and jobs for your militant boys.



These are just the more prominent ways. If you are perceptive you will find more. Good luck as we find our way to riches in this great country called Nigeria. To God be the glory. And may He bless our collective hustle.


Friday, May 6, 2011

ENCOUNTER

She saw him across the room

White shirt as always

He hadn’t changed

As their eyes met

She saw questions form like cornrows

In his eyes

And one by one she wanted to plant the answers:


"Yes I have put on weight

"No I do not use the perfume you sent me

"Yes this is my third Margarita and I have room for more

"I have started smoking again

"I let my hair down, I did the ponytail only because you asked

"Yes I took off my braces, I don’t care anymore

"No, I no longer shave down there, I hate the ingrown hairs

"Yes I have had sex since you left

"Yes it was you who left

"Yes the sex is better

"No, I do not wake up at night thinking of you..."


She wanted to blurt out all the answers

Instead she just said ‘hi’

And turned away.


Friday, April 22, 2011

BUHARI, THE MANY NORTH'S AND JUSTICE

I have read many articles, intelligent and painfully ignorant, about the current crises, which any Northerner or perceptive observer could have predicted. I am neither shocked nor confounded by the riots and the killings.


I choose to ignore the ignorant comments especially from people who live on the other side of the Niger behind computers and blackberry’s who have no clue about the complexity of this ‘North’.


This crises is a bit different in my estimation from the other mindless religious conflicts that have visited the north. For the first time in the North(especially the Muslim North), I heard young uneducated men expressing hope that for once there is a worthy man on the ballot; that at last their time has come. For the first time, there was actual trust in a person to whom they bequeathed all their dreams. This man was General Buhari. Anyone who speaks Hausa and knows the Hausa speaking people will know the importance of the concept of ‘amana’. Trust. It is the one thing that is cherished above most things in the Muslim North. It is not uncommon for you to meet a Hausa petty trader to give you goods without money or collateral, regardless of whether he knows you or not. In fact I still remember how my mother at the market in U/Rimi in the North of Kaduna city, would stop a Hausa motorcyclist (she always insisted on a Hausa man) whom she had never met, give him her shopping sometimes worth thousands and describe her house to him. She would pay him and not fret about the things reaching home. My mother always only bought meat from Hausa Muslims because she trusted that it would be fresh and that it was not a dead animal. In Hausa communities, shops would be left open when people went to say their prayers. Amana. Trust.


This is the trust that has been squandered by Northern leaders, notably in the past 12 years-members of the PDP led ruling class, and before that, military and traditional leaders. These Northern leaders have destroyed every level of trust given to them without questioning by their people. One man seemed to rise above all the filth, above all the distrust. They noticed his lifestyle. They didn’t see flashy cars in his drive way. They didn’t see his kids drive around town recklessly with loud music spending plenty money on their pre pubescent girlfriends. They didn’t hear scandals of massive overseas accounts. They met him at petrol stations. They saw an honest, straightforward, religious man. So when they went to the streets, they went first after their own leaders who had squandered this trust and those who they perceive had abetted them. Sadly, as with all mob actions, it provided the perfect cover for criminals, miscreants and those with sinister agendas (and there are plenty in this North- politicians, thieves and fundamentalists). So eventually, churches were burnt and innocent people killed.


However, the man is a Muslim and unapologetically so. He has not been afraid to express his ‘Muslimness’ in public. This alone is enough to constitute a problem in the North. For we are not one North. We are many North’s. There is the Muslim North. The uneducated rural North. The aristocratic North. The cosmopolitan North. The Christian North... each with its own interests and sometimes as different from each other as people from different countries. The marginalisation of minority groups in the North has also hurt Buhari who is seen as the face of the oppressor by at least some in the Christian minority. The countless religious crises have divided the North and created mutual suspicion, further highlighting the fact that the idea of a single united North is a myth. Some have suggested that Sardauna created one North and that we only recently created divisions. This is far from the truth. The facade which was One North was in fact a mix of dominant and dominated people, peace existing only because the quiet grievances of minorities like non Muslims had not concretised into vocal movements for the exercise of rights. The Jos crisis is a classic example of the manifestation of decades of frustration among the minorities. That manifestation though reactionary is more than a knee jerk reaction. It is minorities paranoid about the increasing dominance of the majority and taking rash actions to hold onto power, land and resources in a region where the dominant sentiment among minorities is that if you are not Hausa Fulani or Muslim, you will be marginalised.


The decades of injustice meted out on Nigerians by their leaders have made eventual violent reaction inevitable. The many poisonous variables in our polity which have been allowed to interact under the lazy watch of Nigeria’s thieving political class have fixed themselves firmly in our polity. What we are now dealing with are just the early warning signs of a cancer that is malignant. Our mutual suspicions make us easy to exploit and set against each other, so that while we are fighting over whose god is bigger, our government loots the commonwealth. Where there is no justice there cannot be peace. An aggrieved man is many times an irrational man. It is wrong to always judge a reaction, which is unplanned, when you do not judge first, the action, which is planned. A reaction is many times worse than an action, for it is delivered without a sense of proportion, only a sense of wanting release. There is usually more passion in a reaction. He who sets a ball rolling should prepare to follow it wherever it rolls to.


This government has a choice. To move beyond its rigged landslide victory and actually give its citizens a semblance of justice. To move from the hawks that now have it by the scrotum, namely PDP party investors, and work for its citizens- give them roads, electricity and rule of law. To provide infrastructure and stop the massive looting of government resources that is now going on. Or. To oversee the early days of the disintegration of a Nigerian state that has miraculously held on for the past 50 years.


Friday, April 8, 2011

THE CORPORATE AFFAIRS COMMISSION- A CASE STUDY OF INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE IN NIGERIA. (1)


The chart at the bottom shows Nigeria's ranking (WORLD BANK GROUP) in ease of doing business. Nigeria is 137 out of 183. It means that we rank among the most difficult countries to do business in.

I am concerned about starting a business which, as far as legal and administrative processes go, begins at the Corporate Affairs commission (CAC). The CAC is a torturous hell-hole and a reminder of why we are called a third world country. To get a name approved for a company or business name takes these days anywhere from three days to two weeks. The premises of the CAC and the air would make you forget that all the hundreds of well dressed men and women running from pillar to post are actually trained professional- advocates and solicitors. Inefficiency, 'system failures', disorganization all account for the length of time it takes to start a basic business entity in Nigeria.

The above is no breaking news. In fact each time I complain, I am told by mycolleagues (quite unfortunately) to just get used to it and move on. However, there has been recently the movement of the stamp duties section, without which a company cannot be registered, to a different part of town in Abuja. This means that as a lawyer incorporating a company in Abuja, you will have to go from one part of town to another over a period of between two weeks and one month to get a simple company registered.

My opinion is simply that you should not need a lawyer to get a basic business unit registered. Most processes at the CAC are still done manually and the many computers in the building are as worthless to the computerisation of the process as external hard drives to a man seeking internet connection. People should be able to buy a scratch card, search online for the availability of their proposed name, and register it online with the same scratch card, without having to leave their homes. This is doable, afterall, people register for O'level examinations in Nigeria online- a far more complex process than the registration of a basic business entity.

Lawyers have no business standing in queues and struggling for sheets of paper like touts at the CAC. I am sad each time I go there and observe just how cheap and unprofessional it makes us look.

Nigeria is not a serious country, yet. Perhaps someday.

Elnathan.

Ps. The table below shows where we are today from a survey of 183 countries around the world. Things are getting worse every year.



REGIONSub-Saharan Africa
INCOME CATEGORYLower middle income
POPULATION154,728,892
GNI PER CAPITA (US$)1,140.00
DOING BUSINESS 2011 RANKDOING BUSINESS 2010 RANKCHANGE IN RANK
137134down -3
TOPIC RANKINGSDB 2011 RankDB 2010 RankChange in Rank
Starting a Business110109up -1
Dealing with Construction Permits167165up -2
Registering Property179178up -1
Getting Credit8987up -2
Protecting Investors5957up -2
Paying Taxes134131up -3
Trading Across Borders146146No change
Enforcing Contracts9797No change
Closing a Business9995up -4