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.


if you must eat a frog

Meet Jide, a company executive, who works in Lagos. He is in his early thirties and is happily married with two kids. Jide travels to Nairobi on business. He gets to meet Rahel, a tall, beautiful Ethiopian woman at a meeting and strikes a conversation with her during a tea break. They find out that they are both staying at the Crowne Plaza. They meet up for drinks at the hotel bar later that evening. She’s wearing a short dress that shows off her svelte figure and slim legs. The banter progresses into very engaging conversation. Jide thinks there’s something flirty about the way Rahel intermittently brushes, away from her face, her dark, lustrous hair. He orders a second bottle of wine. We can all tell where this ends.

Before we go any further, let’s establish some ground rules: we would leave morality out of this conversation. I took off my moral hat before penning the first word, and I expect that – if you subscribe to any moral values – you’d put them away for just a bit. This is going to be a purely rational enquiry into infidelity.

If you ask me, I’d say I perfectly understand why Jide cheated on his wife. If the circumstances – the person, the place and the time – are right, any man OR WOMAN (deliberately emphasized so that we can immediately discard that silly notion that men have a greater predilection to infidelity) would cheat on their partner.

But whilst I get the randomness and spontaneity of anonymous sex with an attractive stranger, there are some types of infidelity that I struggle to comprehend. One such example is Wedding Eve Infidelity. Stories abound of grooms-to-be that bed anything from their fiancée’s best friend to a stripper on the night of the eve of their weddings. Like a testimonial match, such rendezvous are supposed to be a Player’s farewell to the Game; the final act before the curtains fall – a swan song of some sort. In reality, such guys would probably only last their honeymoons before they cheat again. In my view, there’s something fundamentally wrong – and by “wrong” I do not mean a moral wrong – with a groom-to-be shagging, the night before his marriage, someone other than the woman that he is to marry. I mean, what’s the point of entering into a legally binding monogamous relationship when you have no intention to ever be with one woman? You might as well stay single and free. Why complicate things by getting married? It’s plain stupid.

That’s why I have a certain admiration for players and hustlers in their purest forms; the ones that are self aware enough to accept that they are not cut out for monogamous relationships and do all that they can to avoid them. Joe Player who is upfront enough with the naïve, beautiful girl that has been crushing on him by letting her know he’s only after a good lay, and ravishing Tina Hustler who would screw anything if the buck was right. I love such folks for their honesty. Next to them, many of us cut poor, pathetic figures: the analyst who lies unashamedly – going as far as swearing by his forefathers – that he does not have a girlfriend just so that bedding the Youth Corper recently assigned to his office is less complicated; or the businessman who religiously removes his wedding band the instant he boards a plane on a business trip and stows it away. Really, how low should one have to go in order to get laid?

Another variety of infidelity that bewilders me is that which does not discriminate. It is true that some folks have unusual levels of libido, but even that cannot be explanation for the Company MD that sleeps with everyone from the front desk officer to the service girl at the beer parlour across the road.

There should be loads of women (and men) in the world every man (and woman) should find not even remotely attractive. And their zero sexual appeal should have nothing to do with them being your fellow chorister, a friend’s husband, your girlfriend’s best friend or falling into any of those other categories of the opposite sex that are by social norms ordinarily out of bounds. It should be because they do not – and simply cannot – appeal to you. Finish.

I went for a friend’s bachelor’s party sometime last year – I have since decided it is the last I’d ever attend. Everything was fine until the girls that had been organized for the bash arrived. I have seen a lot of ugliness in the world, but never in such numbers all at once. I made a quick exit. I don’t think the other guys shared my sentiment. For many of them, not taking a girl – any kind of girl – home from that party meant a night wasted.

Indeed, there is evidence that not all men or women possess the capacity of being able to discriminate in their attraction to the opposite sex. I sympathize with the women who are unable to feel completely safe leaving their boyfriends or husbands with any other woman and the guys that are constantly worrying over who their trophy girlfriends might be screwing. It must be quite distressing to a wife when even Comfort – the housemaid who you can tell from the lingering body odour where in the house she’s been – is a potential threat.

Similar to infidelity that doesn’t discriminate is that which involves a downgrade. I’d share with you a friend’s philosophy on adultery: she must be such a babe that if my wife ever runs into her, she (my wife) would be like hmmm, I see. In other words, he or she must be such a hottie that your spouse wouldn’t have to struggle to make sense of why you done it. If you can manage to rein in your self-righteousness for just a second (can I hear indignant protests of cheating is not justified under any circumstances already?) and not burst a vein, you too would see the beauty in this principle, which I’d brand Thou Shalt not Lower the Standard.

As much as we are led by music videos and fashion runways to believe that there is an infinite supply of beautiful women in the world, in reality there are only so many of them. Thus, if (i) your spouse is a dead drop beauty herself and (ii) you are faithful to the commandment Thou Shalt not Lower the Standard, your chances of being unfaithful to her are as limited as your options. And that, my friends, is why you should marry a Halle Berry. Admittedly, there are some things that rank higher than physical attraction in the choice of a spouse, but if your reasons for marrying him are nothing more than that he is caring, or you had to console yourself with “well, she’s the homely type” before you could pop the question, then you’ve signed up for a lifelong struggle against flesh.

So was there any other way Jide’s night could have ended? Certainly. At the end of the day, everything – including whether or not to walk away from the titillating prospect of a one night stand – is a choice, and we are responsible for the choices we make. The easiest way was to never have suggested hanging out in the first place. From there on, it was only going to get more difficult.

Now do I expect this commentary would result in one cheat less in the universe? Of course not. That was never the object of this piece and it is fantasy to imagine that a half-serious take on infidelity would turn a serial cheat into Guy Faithful or make Miss Slut turn from her easy ways.

I only ask one thing: if at all you must eat a frog, pick the juiciest of the lot, okay?

I am on twitter @bellanchi