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.

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Ehen, who kom carry last na?

The parable of the workers in the vineyard is one of the stories in the Bible that baffles me most. For the sake of those who don’t know the story, here’s a quick narration: a landowner goes out at the break of dawn and hires some workers for his vineyard. They agree a daily wage of a penny. He sends them off to the vineyard to begin work. A few hours later, he runs into another group of people standing idly in the market. He hires them and sends them off to the vineyard to join the first set of workers. This sequence of events is repeated over the course of the day, with the last group of workers hired late in the evening. Nothing remarkable, I agree, but only until the day is over and it is time for the workers to be paid their wages. For some reason, he decides to pay the workers in inverse order of the time of their hire. He pays the set of workers he hired last a penny. Those he hired first also receive a penny. Predictably, they are upset, and not unreasonably so. Surely, it was unfair that those that had worked longest should receive exactly the same wages as those who had worked for less, right?

***

Life too, as many of us have now found out, is often not fair. We like to imagine that people always get their just deserts. That the smartest guys end up at the top; hardworking people achieve success in the end; and the wicked will eventually get their comeuppance. It doesn’t always work out like that. If there’s one thing life seldom gives, it’s what we think we or others deserve.

***

Remember Bayo that was in our class?

Bayo…? That had two extra semesters?

Yeah, that’s him. I ran into him at the bank. He’s done very well for himself o. He’s into real estate development.

Really?

Yeah. I saw him off to his car. The guy drives a 2013 G550 mehn.

G what! You’re joking. The same Bayo?

Many of us still react with an emotion that ranges from mild surprise to utter disbelief when we are confronted, in later years, with the success of people from our past. They might be a former classmate at secondary school; a fellow analyst at the firm where we got our first job; or a girl that lived on the same street as we did twelve years ago. Whoever they are, there’s that common denominator – we knew these people when they were nobodies, and not just that, at the time we knew them, there wasn’t the slightest indication they would turn out any good.

Remember that efiko† in your university days; the one who won all the prizes at the Convocation and was the darling of all the lecturers? Where do you think she is now? In a top job at a big multinational earning twice the pay of her contemporaries and higher up the ladder than co-workers twice her age, right? Wrong. Majority of the career high-flyers I have come across in my professional life were not top-of-the-class students. Wait a minute, don’t get too excited, they were not stupid either.

Well, here we are, all these years later, comparing notes, unpleasantly surprised by how well those we had written off as ne’er-do-wells have fared.

***

Rotimi was that guy every girl wanted to be with and every guy wanted to be like. He was a good looking bloke – dark and tall, with an athletic build and boyish looks. His parents were well to do. He lived in a BQ in the Staff Quarters, drove a very clean Corolla and was always impeccably dressed. He had swag – not the in-your-face type that some of us find obnoxious – but a charming, likeable kind. As you’d expect, Rotimi had the pick of the best chicks during his undergraduate days at Ife. When I found out that he had been with Solape – a sweet, pretty 100 level law chick I was weighing a move on – I was very upset at how life and circumstances made it so easy for some guys to have all the chicks whilst the rest of mankind roasted.

Fast forward to present day. Wole – a friend from Ife – is getting married and I’m at The Haven, the venue of the wedding. I am threading my way down a narrow aisle – distracted by a girl in a red dress across the hall – when I bump shoulders against someone coming from the opposite direction. I look up to apologize and recognize the face. It is Rotimi, as devilishly handsome as ever.

Wassup. How you dey? I say. My tone is measured. I haven’t completely forgiven him over Solape.

Hey! How’re you doing man? he replies, clasping my hand enthusiastically. Long time.

Yeah I reply, noticing only then that there’s a woman standing behind him.

He draws her closer. This is my wife.

I burst out laughing. Okay, seriously, I don’t laugh, but I don’t know how I am able to keep myself from laughing.

Your wife I say aloud, stretching out my hand. What! How? Why? But I don’t say these aloud. Hi, I’m Tola.

My name is Fisayo, pleased to meet you she replies. Her voice is laced with a distinct Yoruba accent.

She is all smiles as she shakes my outstretched hand. But the smiles do not help the situation. I know that not everyone is pretty and I do not – okay let’s change that to try not to – judge people or discriminate against them on the basis of their looks. But I think everyone should look a little nicer when they smile and no one should turn up at a wedding slovenly dressed. I cannot believe my eyes.

Later on, I am seated at a table with friends, exchanging banter. But my mind is elsewhere. I am thinking of what on earth could have made Rotimi – the bad ass, smooth talking ladies man from back in the day – end up with a wife like that. Did she get pregnant? No, it couldn’t be: what would he have been doing with her in the first place. I am generally not superstitious, but I can’t help wondering if she had laced his food with a love potion, the way they do in movies on AfricaMagic Yoruba. I shake my head in disbelief. What was the point of dating all those gorgeous girls at Ife if this was going to be his last bus stop? I can make no sense of it.

Surely, I’m not the only one here that has a story like this to share. I know you must have run into an old flame at some social event, hand in hand with her beau, and come away from that encounter immensely pleased that she didn’t, if appearances are anything to go by, get an upgrade after dumping you.

There was a spring in my step as I left The Haven later that evening. It had nothing to do with the Moet I’d had at the wedding, even though I’d had quite a bit. It wasn’t the pleasure of catching up with old friends and former classmates. This is why I was thrilled: I may not have had an illustrious record in the dating game, but if there was a Girlfriends and Wives Contest that day, I could decide to show up without my babe and still finish ahead of Rotimi.

***

Would you have imagined, back then, that that your roommate at Idia Hall who was notorious for being an aristo‡ would be happily married today, with a devoted husband and two adorable kids?

She didn’t contract HIV?

Nope.

Her womb wasn’t damaged by all the serial abortions they said she’d had?

Nope.

Her husband doesn’t know or care about her sordid past?

Sorry, darling, no again.

It’s not fair!!!

Say hello to life.

***

I am no Bible Scholar, but I’ve been told that the meaning of the parable of the workers in the vineyard is this: the decision of the landowner – who represents God – to pay all the workers the same wage was an act of mercy – to the workers that were hired later – and not injustice – to those that were hired first. In other words, it is up to God who He decides to show mercy.

Perhaps there’s logic to the events in the other stories after all. Bayo may have struggled to remember what he had just read the instant he flipped the page, but what does that have to do with an eye for opportunities and good judgment, which are integral to succeeding in business? Here’s what I tell every young, bright-eyed student that asks for my advice: read your books, but don’t imagine for one second that good grades would give you anything in life more than bragging rights amongst your peers and a shot at a decent first job. It was possible that Rotimi had finally realized that meaningful relationships didn’t have to be hinged on physical attractiveness. Perhaps Fisayo had some extraordinary virtue I knew nothing about that compensated for the sloppiness. Plausible, hmm? To be honest, not that I care. The next time I see Tony at a client meeting dressed in an oversized suit – the same Tony that made some of us not want to come to school on Out of School Uniform Day because his older siblings that lived in Yankee sent him box loads of baffs♠ – I will still smile smugly, adjust the lapel of my tailored jacket and say to myself ehen, who kom carry last na?♦

I am on twitter @bellanchi

Efiko – Slang meaning “nerd”.

Aristo –  Slang for a young girl or woman (usually a student) who regularly has sex with older married men for money. Could also be used to refer to such men.

Baffs – Slang meaning “nice clothes”.

Ehen, who kom carry last na? – Roughly translated, spoken cheekily: “so who finished last after all?”