Thursday, September 27, 2012

HOW TO SHOW NIGERIAN LOVE

To quote D'Banj, “love is a beautiful thing”.

I have not met the man, but I know he meant Nigerian love, which is a species totally different from the heresy practised by oyibo people in the name of love. Our love is not of short-lived flowers and long meaningless walks in the park. As a person dedicated to your hustle, I have undertaken to provide wisdom that will protect you from falling into such heresies.

This is how to show Nigerian love.

Nigerian love is pragmatic. Words are a waste of time. Every true Nigerian knows how little the words ‘I love you’ mean. Except of course you are in Europe and need to quickly marry someone to get residency. Nigerian love is a very material concept. When you hear rich couples attend events and say those nebulous words, ‘I love you’ to each other, what they do not tell you is how they really say it. God will judge them for trying to mislead new couples.

Cook for your man. Nigerian wives know this already. But lovers need to learn: A thousand words cannot work the magic of one pot of egusi soup, complete with meat, ‘assorted’ and okporoko. Present it steaming with semovita or if you can, pounded yam. You will not need to say anything. He will wear a smile that says ‘I know you love me’. His friends, on learning that the wondrous dish was made by you, will proclaim, ‘O boy! Dis girl like you well well o’. In Nigerian pidgin, to like ‘well well’ is to love practically and ‘o’ as an intensifier for ‘well-well’ has no real English equivalent. The closest I can say is that it means love to a superlative degree.

Cooking for him entitles you to show your love in another very important way: checking his phone. So, you have cooked for him and he has shown his gratitude by sweating profusely and promptly falling asleep on your couch. This is the time to dive for his phone and read all his text messages. You will find something. If you don’t, go through his call records- you are likely to find calls to or from an Amaka after he said he needed to rest last night. Whether you choose to further show your love by harassing him about it immediately, or choose to hold onto it as part of your arsenal during your next big quarrel is up to you. You know what works best for your man.

Loving Nigerian men always pay. There is no exception to this rule. Not even if she has watched plenty DSTV and pretends that she wants to split the bill. If a Nigerian girl offers to pay reject it like Jesus rejected Satan’s evil temptation with bread. Don’t even act like it is a discussion. Ignore her attempts at checking her purse and quickly settle the bill. This is true love. This also applies if she is out with one, two or three friends. Whether you choose to show your love quietly, by excusing yourself and going to settle the enormous bill, or with panache, by screaming, ‘How much is MY bill?’ is up to you. You know what works best for your woman.

As a loving Nigerian woman, never ask who his female friends are. Even if you find him in a compromising situation with a woman who refuses to greet you. Nigerian love ignores such things. It makes excuses on his behalf- she may be his colleague, business partner or member of his prayer group. Nigerian love is good like that. This doesn’t however mean that you can do the same. Nigerian love has very gender specific rules. They do not apply both ways. The only exception to this rule is if the Nigerian man does not ‘pay’.

Deny her the company of any male who is not her relative. This is important. In Nigeria, a jealous man is a loving man. If she is on the phone, watch her demeanour. If she is excited, ask her who it is. By ‘who?’ you mean all the details- name, gender, nature of relationship, process and length of acquaintance, subject of conversation, the whole works. She knows this. You own the franchise of her happiness and no other man is allowed to make her laugh on the phone. If you fail to do this, even she will begin to doubt your love. You cannot afford to let this to happen.

Never ever, as a Nigerian man do stupid things like go into the kitchen to cook. This is forbidden territory. Not even if you are starving and she is on the bed complaining of cramps. There is no better way to truncate your romantic hustle than doing the dishes after she has spent hours making your favourite dish. This is like jumping into a river with concrete slab tied to your neck. There is no recovery from it. God will judge all the foreign film makers who have introduced the dangerous illusion of this being a romantic thing. In fact when you answer the door and it is your neighbour asking if you have a baking tin or big pot, vehemently deny knowledge of anything that goes on in the kitchen and ask her to hold on for your woman. It will be a tragedy for you to introduce doubts about your masculinity in your woman’s mind. May God protect us from tragedies.

It is my hope that as you enjoy foreign romance movies or romance novels, you do not get carried away by them. Stick to my advice and God will bless your romantic hustle.

 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Survive a Road Accident in Nigeria (as happened on September 15, 2012)

The road home is clear. These twenty kilometres are so familiar it is easy to go into auto-pilot and drift into thoughts only my head can manage. I have had a long day- work, a reading, and dinner with a dear friend.

There is a lot on my mind. On the road I drive through the bends and turns that lead me to the wide Umar Musa Yar'Adua express way. In my head I take the bends and turns that lead me through the maze that is my mind. To painful decisions I must take, long overdue. To thoughts of all the things I planned to do before I turned thirty. To the fact that I turn thirty tomorrow and have done none of them. I try to find my way back to the beginning of things; to discover how I got here, this lonely cold place I cannot recognize.

I am tired. I shake myself awake. My body fights back- it demands rest and it demands it now. Five more minutes, I tell myself, five more minutes until I get home. I reach the express. Some parts are lit, some parts are not. I drift again and in one second it all happens. I run into a curb at one of the points where the road bends suddenly. Instinctively I step on the brakes. It is too late. I lose control of Sylvanus, my old tired car and we are screeching at a 45 degree angle. I hit something else and my head slams into the steering wheel. My head spins and suddenly everything is upside down- my body, Sylvanus and my thoughts. Sylvanus comes to a halt by the side of the road. Upside down, I feel the blood filling up my mouth.

It is fear that actuates my body, makes me ignore the pain and crawl out through the shattered glass. Fear that a fire might break out and I might get trapped in a burning vehicle. I drag myself to the side of the road, my white caftan soaked in blood. I feel open flesh hanging in my mouth. It is 2am. I am cold. Alone. In pain.

Writers who try to describe blood must not have bled like this. Real blood pouring from ones body does not smell metallic. It smells like fear. Like death.

The first car that stops is a green taxi. I am lying on the gravel with my right hand up in the air, calling for help. The taxi reverses, stops and suddenly drives off. I think of crawling back to the car to see if I can find my phone. I am too scared of a fire and too weak. Slowly as I slip in and out of consciousness cars begin to stop and voices begin to multiply.

“Do you know anybody’s number?’  someone asks, from a distance almost as if he is afraid to come close. I shake my head. He is shouting. Everyone seems to be shouting.

“My phone,” I manage to say, “in the car. My phone.”

I am afraid the phone might have flown out of the car during the crash. Someone finds it.

“Your wife, what is her number?” A man assumes I am married. I shake my head. Suggestions fly over my head. My father’s voice, on discovering I was not quite acting like a virgin, plays in my head: “I was not up to your age when I got married.”

“His brother.”

“His family”

A police van stops. They do not come close. They make radio calls that have nothing to do with an ambulance or first aid. I know at this point I must do something or bleed out in front of passers-by arguing about what to do.

“Call Achile,” I say to the man holding my phone, spitting out a glob of blood. I try to get up. They all scream at me to lie back down. They try Achile. He is asleep. They try Al-kasim. He is asleep.

Suddenly I feel like this is it: I am going to die out here alone. My parents are nearly 200kilometers away and the only other relatives who are in this town, are strangers to me.

“Garki hospital!” I call out as the police and others argue. “I have a card in Garki hospital”

Nobody is listening to me and I am fighting to retain consciousness.

After a few minutes, a man who I later will learn is Group Captain Onyike, orders the policemen to stop what they are doing and take me to the Air force Base where he lives and where there is a hospital. I am put at the back of the police van like a ram that has been knocked down by a car. I am handed my phone and they drive off.

I am afraid that I will lose consciousness completely and nobody will know where I am. I manage to send messages to a few people and tweet with the only information I know. That I am at the back of a police truck headed for the Air force hospital near the airport. I pass out.

Group Captain Onyike makes sure I get treatment. I come to and the doctor is able to get a friend, Salisu on the phone.

In the morning, the worst has passed. I am stable. Kasim, Musa and Achile are around and are taking care of things. I open my eyes and I see the dear friend with whom I had dinner last night. I am not sure how she knew or who called her. As much as I did not want her to see me like this, I am grateful that she is here. And I cannot stop my tears from rolling. But for the quick thinking of an air force officer, she might have been the one to tell stories of my last words, my last thoughts, my last feelings.

This is how to survive a road accident in Nigeria: Pray. Pray that someone with quick thinking and hospital contacts runs into you. Do not expect the police to know what to do. Do not expect emergency services. Just pray.

Friday, September 14, 2012

HOW TO BE A NIGERIAN MECHANIC

Life is nothing without you. People may run away from you, despise you, but in their hearts they know, they need you. You are the one who saves the day: the woman stranded with an overheated car in a hold up, the lover whose car threatens to truncate his hustle, the transporter who needs his cars back in the road to make money. You get the desperate calls, you see their worried faces. You arrive and gaze like a prophet into the engine. You spend more time than it actually takes, but you get it done. Like magic, the car comes back to life. People don’t think about you unless they are in trouble. I am here to give you the prominence you deserve and teach those who intend to learn the trade just what they must do.

You need to appear dirty. A mechanic gains nothing by having presentable work clothes. How else will the car owner know you have worked on his car if he doesn’t have grease stains on his seats, steering wheel, dashboard, everywhere? 

As a mechanic, you must prefer women. Not the restless, jobless ones who pretend to be men and try to truncate your hustle by coming to sit with you in the workshop and ask, ‘this one, na wetin; that one na wetin; show me wetin you change’. Not the ones who want to follow you to where you bought the spare parts. Those ones are bad market. You must avoid them like a debtor avoids his creditor. When they come tell them you are busy. The women you must prefer are good trusting women who call you to take their car. Those ones call to monitor progress only asking: ‘dat one na how much?’ And that is all you need to hear, ‘how much?’ That is what puts a smile on your greasy face. That is when you invent parts and problems that do not exist and inflate the prices of the ones that do. This is not wrong; your conscience must not judge you. She is only paying for the ease with which she does business with you. After all do people not go to hotels and buy a bottle of beer for as much as 1,000? Why don’t they complain? God will judge those who sit in their offices and say bad things about you.

The people who come for regular checks or servicing, these ones are not your main target. You do not make much from the engine oil and oil filter. People who are very careful about their cars like that are usually stingy. But you need that steady flow of money, so keep them. However there is a way to deal with the really stingy ones. Just notice a problem. Tell them that, it is not so serious, but in the near future it will need to be worked on. Even though you have told him that it is OK for now, you have already planted the seeds in his heart. Forget to tie some bolt or tie it loosely. In about a week it will come off and his car will stop on the way. He will call you and describe the problem to you. This is when you will remind him that you had mentioned it before. He will feel guilty and foolish. And when a stingy man feels guilty, he temporarily stops being stingy. 

If you finish fixing a car in the evening, never call the owner. Try all you can to make the car stay overnight. Especially on a Saturday. Especially when Sikirat, the daughter of the woman selling agbo, who is your new girlfriend has told you of this gbedu she needs to attend. You need a car for this. The customer will understand when you tell him that you do not like to rush your work. The problems of the car were so much that you had to ‘drop engine’. He may grumble, but Sikirat will get driven to her gbedu and will show her gratitude afterwards. Try not to bash the car or forget Sikirat’s things in the back.

Spare parts are where to make a killing. Nnamdi your favourite spare parts dealer knows how this works. He knows that you have certain customers who always demand to see receipts. He knows to ask you how much to write, or even give you a blank receipt. Nnamdi and his boy Emeka don’t care as long as they get paid. You laugh when the receipt-demanding customers stare hard into the paper to make sure they have not been cheated.

When a customer complains about how expensive the spare parts are, tell them, if they like they can go buy it themselves. Tell them where they can get it- all you want is to fix the car. Say that in fact if he buys the spare parts he will lighten your burden. Most people will be satisfied that you are not trying to cheat and just give you the money. But some are stubborn and will visit the spare parts dealer. Don’t panic. Nnamdi and Emeka know how to deal with those ones. They will have so much problems that eventually they will realize that they were kobo wise Naira foolish. You don’t like Nnamdi and Emeka, but they understand the business.

To keep a new customer, especially the ones you think will not be stingy, you must impress them. Fix their problem quickly and tell them that in fact you noticed that three bolts were missing which you replaced. Tell them the implication of those missing bolts. It is God who made them come because it might have caused bigger damage. But you are not charging for the bolts, just being a good mechanic. As they struggle to count the cash, tell them how some mechanics are shoddy like that, forgetting to put back bolts and all. You are not like that. You take your time and solve both seen and unseen problems. 

When a customer comes the first time and you want to keep them, never tell them how much your ‘labour’ or ‘workmanship’ is. Tell them, ‘Oga, just gimme anything’. He is bound to be grateful for all the extra things which you emphasize you did for free; for saving him from his last evil mechanic. He is bound to be generous. Even if he isn’t, you have already made a killing from the spare parts. 

As you work, I pray that God will intervene in your greasy hustle and bless it, immensely.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

HOW TO WRITE A NIGERIAN CLASSIC

(The Gospel According to Prophet Sule as penned down by his dubious self-appointed scribe Elnathan)
You are a critic. A fiery academic. Nobody is spared from your acerbic tongue. Usually people will shy away from saying unflattering things about masters like Soyinka and Achebe because they have earned a place is history and all but no, not you. Achebe is overrated. You nod your head while you say this- a confident almost defiant nod.
You are upset about Nigerian literature. This is the real reason you are so bitter and so merciless when you critique works by Nigerians. So you take the bull by the horn and you decide to write your own books. You are not doing badly- as a Nigerian academic, students must purchase your books. The competition you entered for the last time did not even as much as shortlist your book. And you see the winners- none of them would pass a course if they were your students. But this is not why you will declare that no book that has won the biggest Nigerian literature prize has become a classic. It is not why you think giving so much money to one undeserving writer is bad. You do it because deep down you love Nigerian literature.
If you don’t do something fast, something terrible will happen. Nigeria may disintegrate in 2015 without a modern classic. This is serious enough to make you return to your vomit. To make you lie between the legs of the woman you called a slut only 5minutes ago, drooling. It is all for Nigerian literature. You will enter the prize and win. And everything you have been trying to teach lazy unskillful Nigerian writers will be learnt through your book. It will be celebrated even 50 years after, and if at that time any upstart rises to call you overrated, God will judge them mercilessly. This is how you write a classic: start out intending to write one. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Beyond Boko Haram: Towards a more Peaceful North

The heat of the Sunday sun is sweltering. I have wound down all four of my glasses but I feel trapped in this boiling box that is my car. I am driving slowly between Makera and Kakuri in Kaduna looking for a cybercafé to send an email to a friend. As I move from the point where Makera becomes Kakuri, I can literally see the street change from shirts trousers and skirts to caftans and hijabs. I know that this is the case in much of Kaduna, but to see the difference in so short a distance is disconcerting.

I was born in the capital of the North. The state that once represented everything positive: developed, cosmopolitan, progressive. Today, having returned to live in Kaduna after a few years away, I have become a witness to the shameful dying spectacle that the North has become.

In some sort of self-inflicted religious apartheid, our cities, notably Jos and Kaduna- once quiet and integrated- are now religiously-exclusive, passive-aggressive (sometimes openly aggressive), mutually-suspicious contiguous communities. True some might argue that this quiet separation that has created Muslim and Christian communities has its positive effects, but it is not without obvious dangers. Sadly because of the increasingly widespread attacks of Boko Haram, no one is talking about the issues germane to the North, pre-Boko Haram. In fact some have cynically implied that the Boko Haram attacks (that affect everyone) have reduced the perennial Muslim-Christian crises. We must however look at the problems we have, beyond Boko Haram.

What separation has caused is a heightened otherness- convenient for trading blame and the spread of dangerous rumours and propaganda. One of the things I am grateful for is that I grew up not in a homogenous community but with Christian, Muslim, Hausa, Yoruba, Nupe, Igbo, Ibibio, Edo, Ebira, Urhobo, Tiv, Idoma, Igala and Fulani neighbours (in addition to the large numbers of people from the indigenous tribes of Kaduna). I did not grow up wondering if Muslims were good or bad people, if Southerners were good or bad people, because they were all around me and I did not suffer from the suspicion that is the product of ignorance. As a result it is hard  for me to contribute or even listen to talk about how Muslims or Southerners are ‘our’ problem. The violence that has forced people to live separately is capable of creating even more deeply rooted violence. Children in Kaduna and Jos now grow up in exclusively Christian or Muslim communities where it is easy to speak disparagingly
of people of another religion or culture; where it  is easy to blame them for the problems that is common to everyone; where the only debate is ‘Us vs Them’.

The violence which living separately is quietly breeding is further worsened by the irresponsibility of leaders from the North. Leaders who have benefitted from the perpetration of poverty and dependence and the divisions that have prevented Northern Nigerians from demanding good and responsible governance from their leaders.

The problem with poverty, which in my opinion is more acute in the North than in the South, is that it looks for enemies to blame and lash out at. That is why poorer communities generally have higher crime rates, more domestic abuse, more rape, more senseless rumours that lead to violence. There can be no quick fixes to decades-old problems and because change can be painful and demanding, the few but immensely powerful persons whose power derives from this current unacceptable situation, will fight any move to fix the North and liberate its people mentally and economically.

We must expect this while we chart a course for the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of women and young people in our communities.

What we must begin to do is to invest in the North and insist that those who seek our support for votes equally invest in the North. When we have industries, and businesses- real investment as opposed to the embarrassing poverty eradication schemes which governors in the North now bandy about like Keke Napep and motorcycles- then there is a possibility that people will be able to empower themselves and have a stake in developed, stable North, so much that they will be  able to fight from within the forces militating against peace and stability.

While the current situation of separate religious communities is unfortunate, there is no quick fix for that either. The mistrust and mutual suspicion is deep and can only change over time and years of education and re education. We can achieve this if we start now teaching the next generation that the other is not the enemy. That  the enemy is poverty and bad, wicked leadership.  That we cannot all be Muslim or Christian. That no one is evil simply because of his/her religion. That every human being deserves to be treated justly and with dignity. That violence and oppression only begets more violence and oppression. That respect begets respect. That the construct of superiority of tribe and/or religion is only useful to those who seek to perpetuate themselves in power to the detriment of ordinary people.

I believe that real economic empowerment and re-education will make our cities have more tolerant, more cosmopolitan and more secure communities. The fact is that we are weaker, easier to exploit and attack, when we are hungry and dependent. In the end we have more in common than divide us, more common enemies to fight than differences.

We must as individual Northerners must look inward. Agriculture must be supported, not on small subsistence scale but on a scale that is capable to empowering poor farmers, their families and employees. Northern politicians and self-styled philanthropists should be judged based on how much concrete, sustainable development they have brought to the North. We must begin the critique from within.

I want to be able to drive through the Muslim Tudun Wada and Rigasa in Kaduna and not feel afraid. I want to be able to invite my Muslim friend who lives in Badiko to the non-Muslim Sabo where I live and not be scared that if a crisis breaks out, I alone may not be able to save him. Today I cannot. Tomorrow can be better.

 I think it is time that social movements for change are led by serious professionals who are able to think critically and apply pragmatic, tangible solutions to solve our real problems. Top on the list of those problems are poverty and inequity. Without equity and economic empowerment for all groups in the North- whether they be poor farmers in Borno, religious or ethnic ‘minorities’ in Kaduna or ‘settled’ Fulani in Plateau- the bitter, dangerous feeling of intra-regional marginalization will fester and lead to more crises.
Much will depend on the sincerity and courage of those who will tread the path of change that has littered with empty words and impotent schemes. I think, it is possible.

h

Thursday, September 6, 2012

HOW TO GET (AND KEEP) FOREIGN FRIENDS



You love all things foreign. But despite the repeated olive-oiled anointing your pastor gave you and your passport, you failed to get a Visa. You failed thrice- to America, Canada and Britain. You lost a lot of money trying. After the long grueling processes, nothing. Not even when you genuinely secured admission to some small college in London. Or took loans to make your bank account like a solid how-the-hell-can-I-disappear-in-your-country account. God will judge those people who saunter into your country when they please but make you scream your life history at humiliating interviews through a glass that looks like those in prisons in American movies. If only they would have the decency to give you a Visa.

God knows you have tried.

You can still mix with Americans. Imagination is a powerful thing. You can have a taste of Canada and all those creamy countries whose visas you have coveted. All here in Nigeria. Granted, the foreigners who come here may not always be the cream of the lot, but beggars cannot be choosers. You will manage the ones here in Abuja. You will enjoy their company so thoroughly that your Visa rejections will cease to hurt. After all, is it not people that make a place? My job is to help you learn how to mix with and enjoy the company of foreigners from creamy countries, right here in Nigeria.

You need packaging. Don’t look like something they will be scared of. Wear nice clothes and nice foreign perfume. Something they can relate to. Have a business card that says you do something important or interesting. Nothing introduces you like a nice glossy business card. Work on reducing that heavy accent.

You need to know where to meet foreigners. I can tell you about Abuja at least. Go to play readings and art exhibitions organized by embassies. It doesn’t matter if you do not really care about plays or if you think Australian art is just a waste of space. Join the hash. The hash is plenty of white people running or walking, wearing similar colors, drinking plenty beer and doing things you will find very strange. Don’t be a bush person. Google the hash and learn their terms. Find out what ‘Hares’, ‘On-on’, or ‘Down-down’ mean. Sometimes there is a small fee you pay. Don’t be stingy. Pay up and mix with foreigners.

Watch foreign channels and foreign news to get great conversation starters. So say you meet someone from Belgium, begin by asking her if she is from the Flemish, French or German part. That tells her immediately that you know her country. Then add some random bit of news you recently Googled like, ‘So what’s this I hear about Brussels planning to fine offensive language?’ She will be pleasantly shocked and proceed to give you a lecture about her country, which will soften the ground for future engagements.

When speaking to a foreigner, don’t scare them away with your bush views and thoughts. To maintain foreign friends you need to have foreign thoughts and habits. When you meet British people for example tell them how much you love tea. Say it as if you have always loved tea, as if what you sucked from your mother’s breast was steamy tea. You will be shocked at how quickly you will bond. It doesn’t matter that it only recently came to you as a rude shock that neither Milo nor Bournvita is tea.

Do not do stupid things like admit that you really do not like homosexuals. You will be blacklisted and all hopes of getting a Visa, or foreign friends, will be lost forever.

Never ask for favors. That scares them away. Don’t ask for a job or a loan or a lift. As much as they may appear to be in this country to help poor black Nigerians, they do not want needy black friends. Buy your own drinks.

Say you are a poet. Apart from being sexy, a poet is always considered a higher human species. It does not matter that until you read this article you might have asked if Wordsworth was the name of a store. Don’t disgrace me. Read. You will see how their eyes will light up once they realize you appreciate the sophisticated things of life.

When you attend a social function organized by white people, do not show up like you do to your Uncle’s house, empty handed. Go with something. A bottle of wine. A box of chocolates. That is proper behavior.

Never, in a moment of frustration, talk about leaving the country. This is disastrous to any friendships you may want to cultivate. Especially if your target works in an Embassy. They will avoid you like flies avoid Kerosene. Pretend like if heaven was outside Nigeria, you couldn’t care less. They will feel safe.

Make statements that show you have respect for animals. If he talks about his pet or frets about not finding food for the cat, Archibald, that he brought from Connecticut, be attentive and sympathetic. Remember the cat’s name. The next time you meet ask, with a big smile on your face and a hand on his shoulder: ‘How is Archibald?’

While you are doing all this be sure to avoid fellow Nigerians, like cockroaches avoid light. They understand your hustle and will do their best to truncate it. You cannot afford that. You cannot afford some nosy Bulus telling your oyibo friend, Mr. Carter whose dog Quentin, you religiously ask after, that during Christmas in your village in Kaduna South, you routinely welcome visitors with peppered dog meat.

There is so much I can tell you, but try these. Before long you will have so many foreign friends, that memories of Visa humiliations will vanish from your consciousness. And who knows, you might even stumble upon someone- from the Visa section of a cool country- whom God will use to finally bless your hustle.