“Introducing the newest couple in town…”

The idea of a wedding, to some people and in some parts of the world, is a private and intimate event; two lovebirds surrounded by their closest family and friends. Not so in Naija, where a wedding is a sheer spectacle – in Nigeria, a couple is fortunate if they know up to half of the guests at their wedding. There is no amount of words that can describe the flamboyance and flair or the energy and exuberance that characterize wedding ceremonies in Nigeria, so we wouldn’t even try. As is our custom on Bellanchi, our focus is mischief: an examination of some of the more quirky aspects of Naija weddings.

Introducing the newest couple in town…

wedding 1So what aspect of a Naija wedding party is most memorable? I don’t begrudge peeps whose flat answer to this is: when the food gets to my table; you’d understand why a little later in this write up. Although there are quite a few to choose from, my high point of Naija wedding parties is when the couple dances into the venue. In many wedding programs, this aspect of the wedding is titled the Arrival of the Couple, but don’t be deceived by the blandness. The Arrival of the Couple is a big, big deal. The Nuptial Dance and the Toast are interesting parts of a wedding, no doubt, but they aren’t half as exciting as the Arrival of the Couple. The sheer euphoria that accompanies the couple’s arrival at the wedding party is, in the case of a church wedding, perhaps matched only by the delirium that follows the introduction of the couple to the congregation as the “newest couple in town”.

The Arrival of the Couple is highly anticipated for two reasons. First, it affords the vast majority of guests their first opportunity of seeing the newlyweds. I’d explain. One of our unwritten rules in Naija is that the only people that are expected to attend the religious ceremony at which a couple is married, if there is one, are the couple (for obvious reasons), the officiating ministers (for similarly obvious reasons), the choir and ushers (if the marriage ceremony is at a church), the couple’s family (both nuclear and extended) and a handful of their closest friends. Oh, and of course the photographers. For everyone else, the wedding party – or the “reception” as it is called in Naija parlance – is the soul and essence of the entire event.

Secondly, for some reason I don’t quite get, Nigerians are hung up on who, between the bride and the groom, is the better dancer. In essence, the Arrival of the Couple is a keenly contested, publicly judged battle between the bride and the groom. As with most contests in life, there is incentive to seek an unfair advantage, and I know of grooms that have taken a variety of substances ranging from a few shots of whisky to performance enhancing drugs shortly before they and their brides were ushered in. More often than not, such cheat moves are an utter waste of time. Here’s why: dance is an expression of inner emotions and it is a rarity for a groom to be happier than the bride on the wedding day – don’t ask me why. How then can a slightly intoxicated groom be any match for his ecstatic bride?

The Arrival of the Couple is as big a moment for the DJ as it is for the couple. That is when the DJ has to be at his scratching, turn-tabling (or should I say table-turning) best. God help the DJ whose equipment messes up whilst the couple is dancing in; if he hasn’t been paid in full already, he might as well kiss goodbye to the balance.

Beautiful Chaos

Chaos is an integral aspect of weddings in Nigeria, but ours is of a beautiful kind – a rioutous mix of people, colours and attires. The large number of guests –– is only half of the story. Chaos, it seems, is part of the Nigerian DNA. If there’s no chaos, it’s not a Naija wedding.

Where on earth did all the food go?

wedding 4It may have missed out as my choice of what’s most memorable about Nigerian weddings, but food remains hugely significant. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. 1. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that you’d get anything to eat at a Naija wedding. This is not about having more guests than anticipated. It is Naija economics at work here. Naija economics is a theory that seeks to explain the impact of peculiarly Nigerian behavior on market fundamentals. Through Naija economics, we can understand why, at Naija weddings, even when there is more than enough, a combination of our ingrained scarcity mentality, hoarding and a lopsided allocation of resources results in there not being enough to go round. That it’s an expensive, big society wedding seldom makes a difference. The assumption, from the onset, is that the food wouldn’t go round, so even before the first pots and coolers are opened, some food has already been stashed away, probably never to be seen again. Every savvy Nigerian knows the first rule of enjoying a Nigerian wedding: ensure you’ve had a good meal at home before setting out. That way, if the food gets to you, it’s a bonus. If it doesn’t, you’re irritated but not angry.
  2. The quality, quantity and variety of the food you are served at a Naija wedding is a reflection of who you are or who you know. I can bet my life that you too have attended weddings where you’ve had a plate of bland tasting jollof rice shoved at you, only to look on in quiet rage as steaming bowls of goat meat pepper soup or platters of grilled fish and chips are handed out to other guests around you. There’s nothing unusual at our wedding parties for a few guests to have second or third helpings whilst others do not even smell small chops. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that you are as important as any other guest. If you do, you’d be taught a quick and unforgettable lesson in humility.
  3. Nothing illustrates the chaotic character of Naija wedding parties better than when refreshments are being served. There was a time I used to think this chaos was the mere result of poor planning. I now know better. You and your caterers can plan to the last detail. All it takes for all the meticulous planning to go right through the window are one or two Big Aunties that get impatient with the seemingly slow pace at which refreshments are being served and so decide to visit the service points to find out what is going on. From there onwards, it’s chaos.

 Plastic bowls! You could have saved us the trouble

Once upon a time in Nigeria, newlyweds received nice, fancy items as wedding gifts. These days, except the bride is Goodluck’s daughter, the cash a couple gets sprayed whilst dancing is likely to be, in aggregate, the most valuable thing they get at or from their wedding. It beats me why MCs still insist on asking whether any guests have gifts with them that they wish to give to the couple. Trust me, half of the beautifully wrapped parcels that guests deliver to the foot of the stage where the couple are seated are pots and pans. The other half are food coolers. Again, a free tip for about-to-weds: don’t expect to receive many valuable gifts; the vast majority of them wouldn’t be worth the trouble of transporting them from the reception venue to your home.

Oh my gosh, is it Christmas?

No Naija wedding is complete without the distribution, by family and friends of the couple, of memorabilia. A wide range of freebies are handed out to guests; everything from cheap plastic wares to customized, gold plated iPhones. I have not been fortunate enough to attend a wedding where iPhones have been handed out, but considering the pandemonium I have seen associated with the distribution of handkerchiefs and plastic pens, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the scramble to get such iPhones often degenerates into brawls.

And finally, the Vote of Thanks

For soon-to-be grooms, a quick word of advice: don’t waste your time preparing a speech or thinking up some witty lines for the Vote of Thanks. No one listens to these things. Everyone’s too busy eating, or taking pictures or hustling for freebies. At my wedding, I thought I’d pre-empt the audience by opening with a remark about how no one pays any attention to what the groom says; I doubt anyone heard that too. It’s the same with the Chairman’s Remarks. Honestly, other than the prospect of using this as a clever way of extracting from the Chairman a wedding gift that is better than he would have ordinarily given, why does anyone still bother with having a Chairman at a wedding?

There’s no end to the oddities of wedding parties in Nigeria. This much we all agree on: there’s never a dull moment. I’m sure some of you have even better stories to share.

Follow us on twitter @bellanchi.

Photo credits: Ayede Film and Photography. To check out their website, click here

PS: It has been a struggle, amidst the depressing events in Nigeria in the past few weeks, to find the inspiration for lighthearted stories, which are the essence of this blog. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the abducted schoolgirls and their families #BringBackOurGirls.

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How to enjoy living in Nigeria

You’re still in Naija? Wow!

I don’t know how you do it; I’d have gone crazy living in that country.

If you had the opportunity to live elsewhere, would you leave?

 I get it all the time – family and friends abroad questioning the rationality of my decision to continue to live in Nigeria. I’m sure you do too. I often ask myself the same question: why I choose to remain in this dysfunctional place. It’s a question I have not been able to answer and doubt I ever will.

 What I have zero doubt about is that I love living in Nigeria. The trick to enjoying living in Nigeria is living in Nigeria long enough. You get better at it with time.

 Here’s what I think you need to do to be able to live happily in Nigeria:

 1.            Invest in good generators

Treat your generators as if your life depends on them. In reality, it does. Forget comfort and quality of life. Your sanity is what is at risk here. Don’t be deluded into thinking you can get by with one generator. Or one generator and an inverter. You can’t. You’re better off having only one functional kidney than having only one generator. Think about it: of what use is an inverter during a weeklong blackout? Your generators are indispensable.

Do not expect the power situation to improve. Further down, you would see why you should, as a general rule, expect nothing. Call me a terrible cynic and mutter “God forbid bad thing” under your breath, but Nigeria may never have regular power supply. Surely, you have seen that old newspaper cutting about a 1985 deadline for power cuts. I won’t even go into talking about how a generation of kids that shouted “up NEPA!”, each time power was restored, are now grown up and have kids that shout the exact same words.

Set aside a fixed percentage of your monthly income for the running and maintenance of your generators. Many of us don’t pay tax anyway, so quit grumbling about having to devote your hard earned resources to generating power. Yes, electricity is the responsibility of government, but don’t be silly. Even Aso Rock – the seat of the federal government – depends on generators. If it provides any comfort, think of the money you spend on your generators as the tax you pay to the government.

2.            For entertainment, look no further than Nollywood

It’s been a bad day. After getting reprimanded by your boss for letting a deadline slip, you call it a day and head home. But it’s one of those days when the whole city grinds to a halt for apparently no reason. After spending almost two hours in traffic, you have a headache by the time you get home. To relax, you decide to watch some TV before going to bed. You pick up the DSTV remote control and skim through the Guide. You are on a long thing. Why not just watch Africa Magic?

africa magicHold on! I know a lot is wrong with Nollywood; trust me, I can write a book on the subject. I am as irritated as you by the overacting and plots that are as obvious as a freeway. It upsets me that Nigerian script writers cannot tell the difference between comedy and farce. But we have to be realistic here. Living in Naija is so stressful that the less application of the mind your choice of entertainment requires the better for you.

Why compound your headache trying to figure out what Neo is fighting against in The Matrix? Do you really want to spend the few hours of sanity you have in a weekday unravelling the meaning of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Why bother with the suspense, convoluted plots and sophisticated dialogue of western cinema when you can enjoy a simple, delightful story of lover boy Ramsey Nouah falling in love with delectable Genevieve? Get off your high horse, pick up the remote control and change the channel to Africa Magic.

Same applies to music. I love alternative rock, but I must admit that it does not deliver the instantaneous, quick fix high that I get from Naija hip hop. I am no psychiatrist but I am certain of this: there is no kind of depression that a playlist comprising of Iyanya’s Kukere, Davido’s Skelewu, KCee’s Limpopo and Wizkid’s Caro, played loudly on a Saturday morning, cannot cure.

3.            Private or nothing

The only institutions that work in Nigeria are private owned. The sooner you accept that reality, the better for you. You have to be terminally ill and not believe in miracles to decide to go to a public hospital. Forget the myth about most people not being able to afford private healthcare in Nigeria. Many desperately poor Nigerians wouldn’t touch a public hospital with a ten foot pole. And it makes no difference to them that the private hospital on their street is little better than a shack. In a typical government owned hospital in Nigeria, you have to buy everything yourself – be it drugs, blood, IV, gauze or plaster. You end up paying as much as you’d have paid in a privately owned hospital. So what’s the point?

If it matters to you that your children graduate in your lifetime, you had better send them to private universities. If you can’t afford private tertiary education, please ensure that everything else is private: crèche; daycare; kindergarten; primary school; secondary school; summer school; extra mural classes; everything! PHCN has been privatised; the refineries may be next. Don’t be left behind in the private revolution. Embrace the private sector or perish. It’s as simple as that.

4.            Know the people that matter

Whoever invented the expression “well-connected” must have been a Nigerian.

In Nigeria, a simple phone call to the right person can get your son admitted into his university and course of first choice even though his scores were fifty marks lower than the cut-off, or result in a tanker of diesel being delivered to your home, notwithstanding a crippling, three-week long, nationwide scarcity. Being well-connected to those that matter can be the difference, after a blowout of your neighbourhood’s transformer, between enduring several weeks of blackout and the transformer being fixed by PHCN the very next day. On more than occasion, a contact on my mobile phone has spared me from spending a whole day at LASTMA’s office and forking out a N25,000 fine. One phone call to the Right Person, another phone call from the Right Person to LASTMA’s Oga At The Top and my impounded car was released without me parting with a dime. 

Knowing the right person can even result in the award of a multibillion Naira contract to the company you incorporated yesterday. In Naija, you can go to bed broke and wake up a billionaire, literally. Why on earth would anyone not want to live here?

 5.            Act like a Big Man and show off while you are at it.

 Nigeria is a showman’s heaven. There is nothing we don’t use in posing. Tinted car windows; bluetooth headsets; Blackberries; Brazilian hair; sunglasses, Ipads; contact lenses; number of followers on Twitter – name it! If you’re the notice me kind of person, Nigeria is made for you.

 Although you may not realise it, you are a Big Man. Being a Big Man is very relative. There is a guy in my neighbourhood who supplies me cooking gas. He rides a motorcycle. He is a Big Man. He does not have to trek or jump on buses like many others on the street. You should see him astride his bike; you’d think he owned the street.

 If you can afford an SUV, get one. If you cannot afford one, get an SUV all the same. You will find a way to pay for it. SUVs not only elevate you into the league of Big Boys, 4WD suspensions are your only chance against the potholes on Nigerian roads. Holidays are not for getting rest. They are for taking pictures that you’d show off on twitter and Facebook.

 In Nigeria, you are only respected if you are a Big Man. You’re a Big Man only if you act like one. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

 6.            Acknowledge that there is a God

 For a Nigerian, nothing is more reassuring than knowing you have someone up there, looking after you. If not by God’s grace, how do you think you’ve been able to escape being killed by witches, road traffic accidents, “brief illnesses”, ritual murderers, armed robbers, kidnappers or plane crashes? In a city like Lagos, leaving your house in the morning and returning home safe at the end of the day is a little short of a miracle. If you don’t believe in God, to whom or what do you attribute your continued existence in spite of all odds? Fate? Yes, I know you are a rational, thinking being. This is why I should remind you of this statistic: the life expectancy of a Nigerian male and female as at 2013 are 49 and 55 years respectively. Should we then say sir that you only have 49 minus your current age in number of years to live? Oh, you’re over 50? Sorry sir, you are now officially in extra time. Aha!

I can understand why atheism or agnosticism can be attractive to the intellectual in the western world. There’s a certain predictability to life and death. Airplanes don’t just drop out of the skies. Gunmen don’t wipe out entire communities in a single night. Serious diseases are likely to be diagnosed early and are well managed if not cured outright. In the advanced economies, it is very easy to think one can do without God.

In Naija, you have no choice but to acknowledge and seek God. It is the only way you can find peace. The alternative is to live each day fearing it would be your last and sleeping at night with one eye open.

7.            Have little or no expectations and learn not to take anything for granted

Do not expect that there would be electricity when you get back home after a long day at work. If there’s none, you won’t be disappointed. All you have to do is take off your work clothes, wear something more comfortable, get the jerry can out of the boot, pour fuel into your generator and power it on. On the contrary, if there is electricity, you are delighted. Not only are you spared of the hassle of fuelling the generator, you can do without buying fuel tomorrow because you haven’t had to use the fuel you bought today. Now you can turn on the air conditioning and settle down to a nice Nollywood movie in your well chilled living room.

Do not expect the internet connection to be fast or the security guards at your place of work to be efficient. Do not expect that your newly hired driver knows how to drive or that your housemaid would not steal from you. If he can drive and she does not steal, you can count yourself amongst the luckiest Nigerians on earth.

Expecting things to work in Nigeria is a highway to frustration and disillusionment. If you want to be happy in Nigeria, don’t expect anything. And don’t take anything for granted. That way, you are overjoyed when power is restored and stays on for the rest of the night – it typically doesn’t last longer than an hour –; you are relieved that the Okada that was going the wrong way only caused a minor dent – imagine what could have happened to the pregnant passenger if you hadn’t slammed on your brakes –; you are grateful it was only a small amount of water the impatient driver splashed on you – you would have been soaked to the skin if you had been a few yards closer –; you are even happy that although it was a lackluster performance, the Super Eagles didn’t get beaten by the Mauritanian minnows.

To be happy in Nigeria learn to appreciate and cherish the simple things of life.

I am on twitter @bellanchi

Post script: A version of this post was first published as a note on Facebook on July 31 2009. That it remains as relevant almost 5 years on is a testament to both the enduring nature of the principles and how little Nigeria has changed.

Who wants to be a Policeman in Nigeria?

If you manage to put aside, for a second, your revulsion for him, it’s quite easy to feel some sympathy for the Nigerian Policeman. Think of him standing under the scorching sun, dressed in a uniform that is threadbare, bearing arms that are only marginally more sophisticated than dane guns, knowing that he is despised by the rest of the world, and it’s hard not to be moved to pity.

Having sympathy for a Nigerian Policeman, my friends, is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. They should be envied, not pitied. I didn’t realize it until very late, but now I regret not joining the Nigeria Police Force straight out of University.

I’m sure you’ve started wondering whether I’ve lost my head. Relax. I haven’t. Here’s why joining the Nigerian Police may yet be the best thing to happen to you.

Get paid for doing (almost) nothing

Come on, I hear you say, our policemen are paid peanuts. But pray, how is their situation any different from many others? The guy at the construction site that mounts bags of cement on his back and carries them all the way to the third floor from dawn to dusk also doesn’t earn much, but guess what, he works freaking hard for the little he earns. And that’s where being a policeman is so darned attractive: there is no other job in the world where you get paid for doing next to nothing.

I know some of you would argue that that is a harsh assessment of the Nigeria Police Force. I’d ask you one question: do you honestly believe that there is one person in this country that has chosen not to live a life of crime for the singular reason of being afraid that he would be found out by the Nigerian Police and brought to justice? I think not. Many Nigerians do not steal due to their moral convictions; others for fear of being lynched by an irate mob or being caught by the OPC. No one steers away from crime because he is afraid of the Men in Black. No one.

We have no expectations whatsoever of the Nigerian Police. They are not expected to prevent any robberies or solve any murders. Think about it: have you ever heard of a Commissioner of Police being sacked for incompetence? It is perfectly normal to read in the newspapers about how “the policemen on guard at a bank were overpowered by the superior firepower of the bandits and thereafter promptly took to their heels”. Those policemen would not have to face a query the next day for abandoning their duty post. They are more likely to be commended for doing the sensible thing, and their superiors are sure to join them in thanking God for delivering them from certain death.

The job of a private security guard in Nigeria is way more precarious. It makes no difference that he was unarmed and had been beaten to a pulp by the robbers; the security guard on duty is always the first person arrested by (guess who?) the police in the aftermath of every robbery!

I challenge you: name one other job in respect of which there is no such thing as a performance evaluation index. Even PHCN, as egregiously inept as it is, is expected to provide electricity. We still expect politicians, as notoriously deceptive as they are, to deliver on electoral promises. We expect nothing – absolutely nothing – of our Police. Why on earth wouldn’t I want to be a policeman?

Guaranteed ancillary income

One of the biggest delusions in Nigeria is that our policemen are wretches. Nothing could be further from the truth. And Tafa Balogun is not my reason for saying so. It’s true that the pay of our policemen (particularly the rank and file) is meager, but what about the fortune they make on the side?

I am still waiting for the results of a research into how much in revenue the Nigeria Police Force derives from extortion. Up until the Inspector General of Police banned them, illegal checkpoints on roads were to the Nigerian Police what the oilfields in the Niger Delta were to Nigeria: a freaking goldmine. I would not be surprised if in the heyday of illegal checkpoints the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of policemen manning checkpoints spread across the country raked in tens of millions of Naira every single day. Add to these the tidy sums of money illicitly collected in order to grant detainees bail as well as to investigate crime and/or prosecute offenders, as well as the extra subtly obtained via the now infamous “oga, any tin for de boys?”, and the Nigerian Police could well, in spite of its poor budgetary funding by the Federal Government, be (along with the FIRS and the Nigeria Customs Service) amongst the wealthiest agencies of government in the country! This much is certain: amongst government agencies, as far as internal revenue generation is concerned, the Nigeria Police Force is a brilliant model.

Enjoy unlimited perks

From free rides on commercial buses and motorbike taxis to being able to go about your business freely on an Environmental Sanitation morning, the perks you enjoy as a policeman in Nigeria cannot be numbered.

If you still aren’t impressed, how about this: in the days before prepaid meters, the only house in my neighbourhood whose connection was immune from the itchy fingers of the NEPA officials, regardless of how much was owed in unpaid bills, was that in which Sergeant Akpan lived.

Be a VIP’s VIP

It is only those who cannot see beyond their noses that look down on Nigerian Policemen. It is only commonsensical that in a country in which insecurity is so rife, a policeman is a Very Important Personality, not least to the Very Important Personality he is assigned to protect. Without the armed escort services so efficiently provided by our policemen, prospective foreign investors and the holidaying kids of the Nigerian elite would be stranded at the airports on arrival. The most important person in that Toyota Hilux on Warri-Sapele road transporting expatriate workers to an oil facility is the armed Mopol seated on the front seat next to the driver.

There’s nothing funny or ironic in the refrain “the Police is your friend”. Indeed they are. You only need to be in certain situations to realize this. A policeman in tow on your next visit is all it takes to get a refund of your money from that pig-headed tailor you gave fabric to six months ago, who had refused, despite several entreaties and as many threats, to return your fabric or produce the dress. A thieving housemaid; a dishonest cashier; your father’s funeral ceremony in the village; being assaulted by the neighbourhood thug; a rebellious son; a fraudulent business partner: all of these make you truly value the Nigeria Police.

Beats me how anyone can think of our policemen as nobodies!

Live above the law, feared by all

All over the world, the police are a bully. Do not be deceived. Beneath the veneer of civility of your average Metropolitan Police PC is an arrogant, mean streak. A policeman anywhere in the world would love to see you screwed, trust me. On this score, the Nigerian Police are certainly no exception.

However, Naija policemen aren’t just bullies; they live, to a large extent, above the law. Although more and more policemen involved in extrajudicial murders are now brought to justice, there’s a lot they still get away with. I can’t recall ever hearing of policemen being dismissed or prosecuted for torturing a suspect in custody. Yet we all know that torture – by torture I mean real torture and not child’s play like waterboarding that the Americans make so much noise about – is the unwritten first chapter in the Nigeria Police’s manual on Standard Procedures for Interrogation of Suspects. It beats me how we fail to see the irony in the law being broken by those that are meant to enforce it, but a police van driving against traffic at high speed on a one way street draws neither stares nor protestations. We are all, it seems, agreed on the fact that the Nigerian Police are exempt from the Highway Code.

As a Nigerian Policeman, whilst it is unlikely that you scare criminals any more effectively than a bad horror movie frightens movie goers, everyone else – the ordinary, law abiding citizens – are scared shit of you, and that, my friends, is all that matters.

Oh, the joys of being a policeman in Nigeria!

I am on Twitter @bellanchi.

Er… in Lagos, what we call madness is quite different o …

One of the things I love most about Nigeria is its differentness; that peculiar quality that is the reason why everything that is abnormal and unacceptable in every other place in the world is normal and acceptable in Naija, and vice versa. Without doubt, there’s a lot that is quirky about us. Let’s take four completely random examples: traffic, mental illness, potholes and ghost workers.

It’s not every town or city in Nigeria that has traffic congestion as a problem, but what we lack in traffic in the sleepy, rustic towns in the South-West or their far-flung counterparts in the North, is more than compensated for by the sheer monstrosity of Lagos traffic.

There’s no logic or pattern to the traffic in Lagos, for sure. Or else, how do you explain how an accident occurs on the Mainland-Island axis of the Third Mainland Bridge and the holdup is on the unconnected Island-Mainland axis? Or how a single broken down car on a four or five lane road results in a tailback that stretches several kilometers? It defies logic.

The Englishman’s idea of heavy traffic is a niggling nuisance, that slight inconvenience that makes a journey that should have taken five minutes last for fifteen minutes. Heavy traffic is supposed to be the exception to free-flowing traffic, not the other way round. Heavy traffic is such a routine feature of our lives that we don’t even bother to use the adjective “heavy” in qualifying the word. There’s barely a need for that; everyone knows what you mean when you say “there’s traffic”. That itself is so annoying.  I don’t know what the excruciating minimum of one hour thirty minutes it takes me to get to work every freaking day is called, but it’s certainly not “traffic”.

In Las Gidi, that you wake up early is no foolproof guarantee against heavy traffic. Guess what, you’re not the only smart fella that figures that getting out of bed a little earlier would save you some time. Sometimes, in a strange reverse-psychology-sort-of-way, waking up late is actually the trick! But then, that’s if you can get away with not being at your work desk by a set time. That it is a weekend sometimes makes no difference. Trust me, the traffic on weekends in certain parts of Lagos are as bad as weekdays. Because everybody thinks that everybody has been so stressed out by the hassles of the week that they would want to stay indoors, everybody ventures out, and then everybody’s on the roads!

It’s a bit of an irony that Lagos Traffic Radio 96.1 FM has been such a hit. It’s the one radio station I will never tune in to. I struggle to imagine what it can tell me about Lagos traffic that I did not already know!

If you lived in Western Europe, you wouldn’t need to be a psychiatrist or social worker to have come across bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. It is very likely that a former highschool classmate or nephew or colleague at work suffers from these or any of the hundreds of other mental illnesses known to science. In Nigeria, the only form of mental illness we have (or perhaps more accurately, acknowledge) is madness – stark, raving lunacy, the type that invokes an image of dishevelled hair, partial or complete nudity, making conversation with oneself and a wide, crazed grin.

Now this has to be a mad man, right?
Now this has to be a mad man, right?

Some people argue that it’s because we don’t pay serious enough attention to mental health in Nigeria that it appears that Nigerians don’t suffer from borderline or antisocial mental illnesses. I’m no psychiatrist, but I disagree. I think it’s a function of the sheer challenges of everyday life in Nigeria. Our being so hardwired doesn’t help. Perhaps, if we refused to get inured to frequent power outages or weren’t so enterprising in our use of inverters and generators, and allowed PHCN’s ineptitude to get to us, we would only end up suffering from mild achluophobia. Nigerians are tough cookies; but even cookies crumble. Unfortunately, when we do cave in, we break down completely.

I know one or two people that I genuinely believe to be mad. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on whose point of view is in question), for as long as such folks stay off the streets and keep their clothes on, we would never consider them mad and they would never get the benefit of medical help.

Where is the road?
Er … where is the road?

You are unlikely to find a single pothole on a typical Nigerian road. No, what you’d find in abundance are pits, ditches and gullies. And not by the roadside; right in the middle of the road! When the noun “pothole” was invented, it was contemplated that this word would describe a hole or depression in the otherwise smooth surface of a road, caused by wear or weathering. You don’t need a dictionary to be able to tell that a pothole and a pit can’t mean the same thing. In the case of the former, there’s the road and then, like a pimple on skin, there’s the pothole. In the latter case, the pit is the real deal; next to its awesomeness, the scattered bits of road here and there look pathetic. Frankly, it beats me how we even have the nerve to call the craters in our roads potholes. For goodness sake, that’s as disrespectful as saying to a tiger “hey, kitty”.

The only countries in the world with roads that rival ours in decrepitude, I daresay, are countries in the middle of, or recovering from, civil war. They too have roads riddled with craters; only that in their case, they have been caused by bombs and heavy artillery rather than criminal neglect. The last time I drove from Lagos to Ibadan, I thought I’d somehow been sucked into a virtual reality car racing game; an evil, terrifying game with a single objective of avoiding death by dodging the potholes, sorry I meant craters. The potholes (oops, well, allow me to keep calling them that to keep things simple) literally popped out of the road ahead of me like a clown in a jack-in-the-box.

Pothole: Spot me if you can

I remember once seeing a “road closed” sign in Cambridge. The sign said that the road would be closed to traffic for a period of time to allow repair works. I scratched my head as I continued on my way to class. I simply couldn’t see what about that road needed repair. It was as good as any road in Nigeria, and that, my friends, includes newly built roads; the only ones in Nigeria where you just might find a pothole, in the true sense of the word.

Finally, to ghost workers. You know your country is in deep shit when there are more ghost workers than there are workers. Really, how do 45,000 ghost workers get on a payroll in the first place? According to the Minister of Finance, the government has so far been unable to trace the officials responsible for these scams, which have cost Nigeria over N100 Billion. Come on guys, who’s kidding who? These ain’t no ghost workers; it’s an elaborate, mega, big time racket.The very word “ghost worker” suggests a rarity, an anomaly. It’s supposed to describe that odd name or two that gets smuggled into an organization’s payroll; that non-existent nondescript Mr. John or Mrs. White that somehow slip in through the safety nets. Not 45,000 names. To use the term “ghost workers” to describe a fraud of such proportions is a big joke, one that even the rogue top shots that have made a cool N100 Billion from it must find utterly hilarious.

Naija! We no dey carry last sha.

I am on twitter @bellanchi

The hippest hobbies to have in present day Nigeria

If you think the fact that you play basketball for leisure would earn you points with the chicks, or that swimming is a cool thing to do as a hobby, move over, you’re so 2000 and late. If you still consider bowling hip, you must be terribly old school; even salsa isn’t regarded as that fashionable anymore! If you have an eye for detail, you’d have noticed an upsurge in certain hobbies, particularly amongst young, upwardly mobile Nigerians.

Here are my pick of the snazziest things to do for a hobby in present day Naija:

Following Tennis 

Caroline Wozniacki at the 2006 Wimbledon girls...

There was a time the only thing we knew about lawn tennis was that our fathers enjoyed playing it with their friends on Saturday evenings at the Senior Staff Club. Now, every young Nigerian adult follows tennis and claims to have been following it before God created man. These days, you’re likelier to find out first on Twitter or Facebook that Djokovic defeated Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open men’s singles finals than on ESPN.

If you’re at a social gathering, and you hear expressions such as “match point”, “tiebreak”, or “open era”, or names like “Rod Laver”, “Roland Garros”, or “Caroline Wozniacki” in conversation; don’t act like you don’t know what they’re talking about – it’s just Nigerian tennis fans name–dropping.

Learning a Second Language

Throwing a bit of German, French or Spanish into the mix is so cool right now. But learning a second language infers you speak a first. That’s why it’s amusing to see folks who are still struggling with English try out their hands on more exotic languages. I mean, what’s your business with Portuguese, when you still don’t know the difference between the verb “lose” and the adjective “loose”, or confuse “I’m” with “am” or “their” with “there”?

Not to digress, there are lots of real advantages in speaking a second language, and I can understand why everyone is in a hurry to learn one. These days, being multilingual could prove your edge over lots of other suitably qualified candidates in getting a plum, international job. Also, a holiday in Barcelona (see Travelling below) is likelier to be less of a hassle and so much more fun  if you can speak some Spanish.

Wine Tasting

English: A wine tasting at Hanzell Vineyards, ...

Now, this is the finest of the lot. If you want to be considered amongst Nigeria’s crème de la crème, and wine tasting isn’t one of your hobbies, your other name must be “Joker”. To belong to the exclusive category of those who spend their evenings trying to “find the expressiveness” of wine, the first step is to become a member of a wine tasting club.

 However, I must sound a note of caution: wine tasting is a hobby only the most urbane venture into. It’s a delicate and intricate art. It’s not something you rush into. Abroad, people go to wine schools to hone their skills. If sophistication and moderation aren’t your things, wine tasting isn’t for you. I mean, how can you succeed at this hobby if your speech and walk are going to turn slurred and unsteady after a few sips of wine? You also have to reside in Lagos or Abuja if you must make wine tasting a hobby. Osogbo or Onitsha simply won’t cut it; it’s not Bacchus or Eva you’d be tasting, remember?

Photography

Before we get into this, a caveat: please do not confuse the serious, elevating art of photography with the crass mundaneness of “snapping pictures”. This is not about taking pictures of you and using as your BlackBerry display. Photography is much more serious business. But it’s also a hobby you can pick up and learn quite easily. All you need is basic equipment and knowledge, and you can begin clicking away. You’d get better with practice. You can share your pictures on social media; you can even begin a photo blog (see Blogging below).

Photography is also a smart hobby to have in a country where it’s so difficult to make ends meet. Whether you’re hired to do a pre-wedding shoot or cover a birthday party, there’s a lot of money to be made on the side by being good at taking pictures. Whoever it was that said you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure, clearly didn’t have photography in mind.

Travelling

 

English: Plane

There was a time the Nigerian idea of a vacation didn’t extend beyond jetting off to the United States of America or United Kingdom to spend a few weeks with relatives, spending all the time not spent with those relatives in the shopping mall, and returning to Nigeria with a truckload of baggage. That has changed. Modernization has brought enlightenment, and it’s no longer strange to see a Nigerian middleclass family travel to Brazil on holiday. I have friends who have been to China, not to purchase mobile phones to resell in Nigeria, and to India, not because they needed to have an inexpensive surgery.

Nigerians have broken free of the traditional notion that you only visit countries where you have friends and relatives. These days, if you go to MMIA on a Friday evening, you’re likely to run into many young couples on their way to a weekend getaway in Accra. Likewise, newlyweds now find the idea of a honeymoon in the Gambia as appealing as one in the Caribbean. Travelling to places in Nigeria you’ve never been to isn’t such a bad idea too; just don’t think of going by road!

Blogging

So is there still anyone in the world who doesn’t blog? Before this post was published, I would have stood head high, with a smug smile on my face. Sadly, I can no longer do that. So why does blogging make this list, if it’s become so commonplace? Well, considering the rate at which folks are falling over themselves to begin writing a blog, there was simply no way of keeping it out.

Writing a blog is a great way to network; you get to build relationships with readers and other bloggers. Blogs continue to shape mainstream politics and media; bloggers dictate trends. This is not to say everyone is called to be a blogger. There are blogs I’ve read and wondered afterwards why the authors would subject readers to such punishment and themselves to public ridicule. But then, a blog is a personal journal, and you’re free to do anything you want with it. After all, no one is under compulsion to read your posts, abi?

Appreciation of the Arts

This is where art connoisseurs, literary enthusiasts and all the pretenders come in. Few things are as fashionable in present day Naija The Mona Lisa.as attending book readings, poetry recitals, art exhibitions, and the like. Book clubs are being established faster than they can be stocked with books. Nigerian authors now get rock star reception at book signings. It’s nice and fancy to be able to say you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of poems; or that you were a bit surprised that Alan Hollinghurst’s “The Stranger’s Child” didn’t make the Man Booker Prize shortlist; or that you were delighted Mario Vargas Llosa finally won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

When I was in secondary school, writing poetry wasn’t considered cool. Now it is. We folks that were dismissed as “arty-farty” ten years ago are now glowingly described as “cultured”. But earning recognition as a lover of the arts is no mean task. The Nigerian literati are a close, elitist circle. Haven’t you noticed that it’s always the same faces you see at literary events?

Jet skiing

It may still be more popular amongst expats and the spoilt grownup kids of Lagos’ super rich, but jet skiing is fast becoming the fad. The jet ski has replaced the sport bike as No. 1 on the Alpha Male’s Top 10 Toys for Impressing the Girls. Visit a private beach in Lagos on a weekend or public holiday, and you’d see what I’m talking about. You’d think you were in Florida or on the set of Baywatch.

English: Jet ski near Palace Pier, Brighton So...

 The average price of a new jet ski is US$12,000 (almost N2,000,000), so maybe you shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to jump on the bandwagon. The good news is that there’s also a thriving secondhand market in jet skis. Who knows, with more people taking up this hobby, the Koreans might just start manufacturing cheaper, “built for Nigeria” jet skis.

 

In the Future…

Don’t be surprised if 5 years from now, bungee jumping, surfing, skydiving, sailing, scuba diving, and mountain climbing all became terribly popular hobbies in Nigeria. As we all know, Naija no dey carry last. After all, it’s not as if we don’t have bridges, waves, skies, seas or mountains over here. Or is it adrenaline we haven’t got? In a country that has no coastguard, trust me, it takes a lot of adrenaline to get on a speedboat or jet ski. So which new fancy hobbies do you have?