Let’s begin with a little definition. In Abuja, walking, strolling or jogging are terms that apply only to people who have cars. If you do not own a car, respect yourself and call what you do by its rightful name: trekking.
Everyone who knows Abuja knows that the city is built to keep out the evil people who trek. And the residents largely comply with their hostile attitude to trekking. Sometimes however, a non-car owner will need to trek. This article is for you. It is written to help those without cars, (especially those who have no idea when God will bless their hustle) retain some respect in this trekking-hostile city.
When you hang out with friends or colleagues who own cars, or go for meetings, always be the last to arrive. If you arrive first the people who come will ask the inevitable question: “Where did you park?” or the more confrontational “I did not see your car outside.”
It is one thing to labour under the harsh condition of car-lessness in Abuja, it is quite another to be subjected to the humiliation of explaining that state of affairs before an audience. You do not want to make a long speech apologizing for not having a car and having those stares of pity or worse, of shock, before watching your reputation suffer instant decline. So, come late when people are already way into whatever it is they are doing. They will accept your apologies for coming late. We are afterall, Nigerians- we invented late coming.
Leave last or first, but never when everyone else is leaving. You don’t want people to treat you like a charity case and start casting lots over who will give you a lift home as though you were an abandoned baby found in a rubbish heap. You can’t win in that kind of situation. If you accept their offers of a lift, they will give you those looks and probably avoid you next time so they don’t have to drop you off. On the other hand if you insist on taking a cab, they will think you are a pompous pauper “with nothing to show for it”. So, sneak off while the ovation is loudest and say you have a family emergency. And it will not be a lie because really, not having a car in Abuja is a perpetual family emergency. If it is a meeting, let them leave before you. Tell them you have another meeting at the same venue and you want to just wait. Then sneak away after they have driven off.
I know the question on your mind now. What if, while you are trekking, someone that you know sees you or drives past? I understand your worry. Trekking is evidence of extreme poverty in Abuja and poverty is the only criminalized state of affairs in this city. People would rather strike deals and hang out with militants and criminals than chat with poor people who trek. In fact, if you tell anyone that you are going to walk to any distance beyond a few hundred meters they look at you like you are about to slaughter a baby. There are several ways of making sure that trekking does not truncate your hustle.
1. Wear earphones. It does not matter if you have an mp3 player connected or a phone that can play music. With earphones you can pretend you do not hear when someone you know is honking or calling out to you. Downside: this does not always work. Nigerians are very nosy and a complete stranger will stop and tap you to say: “Heys! Person dey call you!” God forbid that this should happen to you.
2. Carry your real shirt in your bag but wear a jersey or t-shirt and sneakers. This way you can always claim that you are doing some exercise. Or that you just wanted to take in some fresh air. Downside: Because Abuja is always sunny, humid and hot, nosy people will counter by saying: “Haba, under this hot sun?” How to fix this? You can claim you have been in an air conditioned office all day and you started feeling sick from all the cold. Of course the average Nigerian is a medical doctor and they will ask if you are “ok” because we all know that Nigerians like to sit in offices at 16 degrees. You will assure them that by God’s grace all is well and walk away before they embarrass you further.
There is of course also the knotty situation of having a not so nice car. It would seem that Abuja residents judge a person with an old rickety car worse than they judge a person without a car. Because without a car you can pretend that your car is with the mechanic or you are about to get a new one but with a rickety car, there is no salvation. They won’t even ask you questions that you can provide lies to. They will judge you, right there in front of you. And there is no comeback from silent judgment.
What to do? Perform only necessary trips with your rickety car. If you have to, apply the rules above about coming late and/or leaving early. Alternatively, park about 100 meters away from everyone else so that they don’t see you coming and when they ask that question packed with potential embarrassment: “Where did you park?” you can point in the general direction of the car without being too specific. On days when you can’t do any of these, respect yourself, take a cab and tell everyone that you borrowed your car to a friend. Everyone loves people who can borrow their cars to their friends and people will fall over each other to give you a ride home.
I wish you well as you navigate the tricky terrain that is Abuja. Ultimately I pray that God blesses your hustle and you are able to permanently save yourself from the suspicion of extreme poverty and buy a decent car. And do confident things like drop the key to your fancy ride on the table when you meet people.