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.