Bobby Super

****
I had never been a one barber guy until I met Bobby. That was when I first moved to Surulere. It had been two years, and in that period, no other barber had touched my hair. It was Bobby or nothing. Before then, getting a haircut or shave had always been about convenience. Sometimes, I would recline at my desk at work and run my fingers along the sides of my face. I would get irritated by the straggly beards, and decide to get a shave on my way home. Other times, I would be out somewhere, spot a barber’s shop and decide I might as well get my hair cut. My hair clipper was always in the backseat of the car.

****
Meeting Bobby was fortuitous. I was on my way home from work one evening when I realized I hadn’t made enough copies of some court processes that I had to file early the next morning. I needed to find somewhere I could make extra copies that evening. I began to drive slowly when I turned into Ajao Street, hopeful that there would be somewhere to make photocopies in the shacks that lined the road. I parked my car on the other side and darted across the road. I walked slowly, parallel to the road, keeping an eye out for those “make your photocopy here” signs. I could see a store that sold stationery, another that sold bootlegged DVDs, but nothing that looked like what I was looking for.

I decided to ask someone. There was a man standing in the doorway of a shop to my right, his back to me.
“Excuse me,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder.
He turned around. He was about my height, slim and light complexioned. He had jet black hair, neatly styled into waves and a full, lustrous beard.
“Please do you know if there is any business center around here?” I asked. “I need to make some photocopies.”
“Ah, sure,” he said. “Let me show you.”

I followed him to a tin roofed shack, a few metres away. I stooped to peer inside. In the dim light, I could make out a young girl seated on a stool, slumped over a copier, asleep.
“Hello!” I called out loudly. “I want to make some photocopies”.
The girl rose up groggily from the stool, rubbing her eyes.
I turned to the man beside me. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied with a smile, and then very quickly added: “Sir, that’s my barbing saloon there.” He pointed to the shack where he had been standing when I first saw him. “Anytime you need a fine haircut, I’m here for you.”
“No wahala,” I muttered, beginning to turn back.
“My name is Bobby,” he said, stretching out his hand.
I hesitated, wondering what the formality was all about.
“Nice to meet you,” I finally said, grasping his hand.
Bobby didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t introduce myself.
“Nice to meet you sir,” he replied, flashing a smile.

****
Bobby’s place wasn’t far from my house, so I decided, the following week, I might as well try him out. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, but the exuberant way he welcomed me immediately quashed my doubts.

I was struck by his dressing. He was wearing a slim pair of corduroy pants and a button down collar checked shirt, neatly tucked in. His shoes were once white sneakers. His red nerd glasses finished off the distinctive look. Although none of what he wore looked expensive, I could tell that deliberate effort had gone into his appearance.

The barber’s shop was small – its dimensions no more than 10 feet on either side. It was sparsely furnished: two barber’s chairs equally spaced apart in front of a rectangular mirror on the wall; and underneath the mirror, nailed into the wall, a wooden slab that served as a makeshift shelf. Bobby shared the shop with another barber – a much older Yoruba man he called Baba.

Bobby was very meticulous in the way he went about cutting my hair. First, with an elaborate sweep, he spread the barber’s cape over me and then deftly fastened it around my neck. Then he arranged my haircutting kit – hair brush, duster, combs and aftershave – carefully on the shelf, like a surgeon arranging his tools. He spent almost a minute sterilizing the clipper, even though it was mine. I found it all slightly irritating. But I was impressed with the cleanness of the shave when he was done.

I was also impressed by his English. It was near faultless. He never used a wrong tense or pronounced a word wrongly. I asked him once how much education he had, and immediately regretted asking the question. He launched into a nearly 10 minute long account of his life: how he was born in Benin in the early 80s to a single mother who sold bread on the streets; how she had slaved away to see him and his siblings through school; how he had written “JAMB” 5 years in a row since leaving secondary school, and failed each time; how he had started “this barber work” as a means of earning a living whilst he saved up for the cost of the application forms as well as private tutoring; and how it remained his dream to be a university graduate someday. He wouldn’t have stopped, if not that there was no hair left to cut.

After that encounter, I knew Bobby would take a mile if I gave him an inch. So I deliberately avoided conversation. As soon as he began talking, I would bring out my mobile phone and bury myself in my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I showed no interest in anything he said; grunting monosyllables in reply to his pointed questions. He seemed to figure out that I wasn’t interested in making conversation, and his chitchat dwindled as the weeks went by. I came in, usually after giving him a call first to check that he was around and there were no other customers waiting; got a haircut and a shave in 10, 15 minutes; paid him; he thanked me and I left. It was extremely efficient.

Bobby was also a salesman; there was nothing he didn’t try to sell to me. This week, it was a leather clipper satchel bag, the next week it was some revolutionary shaving bumps lotion. I bought most of what he pressed on me; it was hard to resist his insistence. It wasn’t until I saw on Konga the same clipper he had sold me a few weeks back for half the price he had sold it to me that I realized he had been shafting me.

I was upset about it and challenged him the next time we saw. He protested and swore he hadn’t cheated me. That the clipper he had sold me was an original and that his gain on it was a mere thousand Naira. But he had a sheepish look about him and kept apologizing. I calmed down and sat down to get my hair cut. At least he didn’t give me shaving bumps, I said to myself.

****
I first met Bobby’s girlfriend a few months after I started using him. He didn’t have to introduce her; I knew, from the way she strutted around, and the deliberate way he acted around her, who she was. I also knew from the minute I set my eyes on her that I didn’t like her and that she was the wrong choice for Bobby.

I don’t know if my dislike had to do with her appearance – heavy makeup; fake eyelashes; blonde-dyed hair; lots of bling-bling. She couldn’t have been older than 17 or 18 and it wasn’t even 9 in the morning. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that she came into the barber’s shop and didn’t greet a single person – not even Baba. Bobby asked that I excuse him and took her to a corner. In the mirror, I saw him bring out a wad of money and press it into her palm. I shook my head in pity. I was certain this fake, snotty girl would only be a liability to a young, hardworking man struggling to better his life. But it was none of my business, so I reached for my mobile phone on the shelf.

****
I arrived at the barber’s shop one wet Sunday evening, and was surprised to find a guy I didn’t know standing over Bobby’s barber’s chair. I stopped in my tracks.
“Bros, you need haircut?” the strange man asked.
“Where is Bobby?” I asked.
“Bobby?” he repeated, a confused look on his face. “I don’t know who is Bobby”.
Baba wasn’t around to ask; he didn’t work on Sundays.
“Bros, try me. I dey barb correct.”

But I was no longer listening to him. I whipped out my phone, and soon had one of Bobby’s weird highlife caller tunes blaring in my ears. I had his number on my speed dial.
“Hello sir,” I heard Bobby chirp.
“Where are you? I’m at your shop.”
“Ah. I’ve left that place sir. I now have my own shop. Give me 5 minutes; I’m coming to get you.”

I stood at the entrance, my clipper bag swinging in one hand, waiting for him. The new guy must have figured out that it was no use, and was now seated on the barber’s chair that used to be Bobby’s, quietly observing me. I stepped out of the shop as soon as I spotted Bobby’s yellow smiling face bobbing along as he jogged across the road towards me.
“Good evening sir,” he said, immediately collecting the clipper bag from me as was his habit. “I’ve left this place o. I now have my own barbing saloon.” His face was flushed, whether from excitement or breathlessness, I couldn’t tell.
I asked him where this new place was and whether I needed to take my car. There was no need to take the car, he told me. It was nearby and besides the road was bad.
“So you moved to a new place and didn’t think you should let me know,” I said, as we crossed to the other side of the road.
“Ah, no o,” Bobby protested. “I Whatsapped you. You didn’t get my WhatsApp?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know whether to be amused or irritated that he felt it was okay to send me a message on WhatsApp instead of calling.

We soon turned into a side street. It was riddled with puddles. I treaded carefully to avoid flecks of mud splashing on the bottoms of my pants. We passed some kids making a racket as they played football in the yard in front of a house. Their hands and feet were encrusted with mud. We kept going. I was getting irritated. Maybe I should just have allowed the new guy cut my hair. We came upon a refuse dump that gave off a terrible stench. I plugged my nostrils with my thumb and index finger as we went past. I had never been to this part of Surulere before; I didn’t even know it existed. I was just about to ask where the hell we were going when we arrived at a wooden stall. Bobby stopped in front of it, turned towards me and announced with a smile: “Welcome to my barbing saloon sir.”

His new place was about half the size of the old one. It was like a box. In one corner was a wooden chair, facing a small mirror. In the opposite corner was another chair, and behind it a hairdryer and wash basin. Did he also plan on having a hair saloon for women in here, inside this shithole that could barely take two people? I couldn’t believe it.

I sat down without saying a word, staring at my angry reflection in the mirror whilst Bobby got my things out of the clipper bag. The chair wasn’t high enough – all I could see in the mirror were my head and shoulders. Why would he leave the old place for this? As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t progress. It was like an oven inside the stall. It had no window and there was little the lone fan mounted on the wall could do. Bobby wiped the sweat from my head intermittently, with my face towel, apologizing profusely as he did. Although I was seething inside, I still didn’t say anything. I just wanted him to be done so that I could get out of there.

When he was done, I didn’t wait for the customary brush down before stepping outside. He joined me shortly and handed my clipper bag to me. I gave him the five hundred Naira note I had removed from my wallet whilst waiting.
“Here’s my complimentary card sir”, he said handing me a card in return.
The edges of the card weren’t evenly cut, and its cardboard was of an inferior quality. Splashed in bright gold lettering were the words “Bobby Super Barbing Saloon”; the ink of the letter “n” in “saloon” smudged.

I looked up from the card to find Bobby looking intently at me, a glint of pride in his eyes. I knew the proper thing to do was to congratulate him. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I nodded, brought out my wallet from my back trouser pocket and carefully tucked the card into one of the slots.

****
I don’t know what it was that made me stick with Bobby after he got his own place. But I was back there the following weekend, and the one after that. The things I hated most about the new place were having to park my car some way off and finish the rest of the journey by foot because sections of the road were in very bad condition and the cramped, airless inside of the barber’s shop.

He shared the stall with a hairdresser called Ada. I found out that that they had pooled resources together to acquire and furnish the stall, and also shared the costs of fueling and maintaining the generator. The generator couldn’t power the clipper and hairdryer at the same time, so whenever there was no power and they both had customers, someone had to wait for a few minutes for the other person to be done. Each time, Bobby would plead with Ada that he was almost done and that she should give him a few minutes. She usually agreed, grudgingly.

Bobby told me about how opening his own barber shop was the best decision he had ever made. Back at his former place, he had to remit as much as half of his daily earnings to the owner of shop. Now he was making enough money to be able to save some.
“That’s if your babe doesn’t collect everything from you,” I quipped, unable to help myself.
Bobby doubled over and roared with laughter. He looked both surprised and delighted that I would make such a joke.
“Sir,” he began, when he finally stopped laughing, “But you understand these things. You know your boy has to represent.”
“No problem then,” I replied. “Give her all your money and be drinking garri.”
Bobby laughed again, a hearty laughter that seemed to come from the inside of his belly.
“Sir, I can’t lie,” he said, in a quieter tone. “I love that girl.”
I didn’t say anything else after that, and he cut the rest of my hair in silence.

Bobby practically lived in the barber’s shop. I was surprised when I called him at past 9 pm on a weekday and he said he was still at work and I could come over. He was as bright and chirpy as ever when I arrived. As he took my things out of the clipper bag, several voices outside chorused “Bobby Super!” He acknowledged their cheers with a raised fist. Apparently, that was now his nickname in the neighbourhood. I caught a glimpse of his grin in the mirror. I was genuinely glad for him.

****
Bobby had just started with my hair, one Saturday morning, about a month after he opened his barber shop, when his girlfriend appeared in the doorway. There was something ominous about her manner.
Bobby immediately leaned closer to me and whispered, “Please sir, can you excuse me for one minute?”
I nodded. He switched off the clipper, set it down and quickly stepped outside. They stood facing each other, in hushed conversation. I decided to check what was happening on Twitter. I looked up from my phone a few minutes later. They were still talking.
“Guy, hurry up abeg,” I snapped. Did he think I had all day?
Bobby hurried back inside.
“Sorry sir.” Then to Ada: “Please help me give her a chair to sit on.”
Ada carried the other chair outside. Bobby’s girlfriend sat on it, waiting for him to finish. I wasn’t in a hurry though. I deliberately asked Bobby to go over this and trim that; I wanted to keep her waiting for as long as I could. As I stepped out of the stall, I glared at her with disdain. She glared back at me, fearlessly.

The following weekend, I noticed something odd about Bobby – a distracted air about him, like he had something on his mind.
“Is everything okay?” I asked him, as I retrieved money from my wallet to pay him.
“Yes sir,” he replied, forcing a smile.
“Are you sure?” I pressed.
“Yes sir; no problem sir,” he said, this time with a more convincing smile.

****
“Where’s Bobby?” I asked Ada, as I stepped inside the barber’s shop. “I’ve been trying to call him, but his phone is switched off.”
“Haa,” Ada cried, “They’ve arrested Bobby o.”
“What do you mean? Who arrested him?”

I listened in silence as Ada narrated how Bobby had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and procured an abortion for her at a backstreet hospital. The abortion had gone awry and almost resulted in her death. Her dad, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, was livid and had gotten Bobby arrested and locked up at Area C. According to Ada, he had been in detention for almost a week. I asked her what efforts had been made to get him out on bail. She said his roommate and some friends had been to the police station, and were asked to bring N500,000. The policemen claimed most of the money was to offset the medical expenses of Bobby’s girlfriend, who was still under admission at the General Hospital. The demand had been negotiated down to N100,000, but amongst themselves Bobby’s friends had only been able to raise a fraction of it.
“What about his family?” I asked.
“He no get family for Lagos,” Ada replied.
I shook my head. I had been so right that that bitch was only going to get him into trouble.
“This is serious,” I muttered, folding my arms over my chest.

Ada and I stood looking at each other in silence. Although she hadn’t said anything about whether I could help, I could tell from the expectant look on her face what she was thinking. But there was no way I was getting involved in this. I didn’t even have to think about it. This wasn’t my problem, and I wasn’t going to make it mine.

It was a good thing too that I had always kept conversation with Bobby to the minimum – I would probably have been the first person he would have called after his arrest if he knew I was a lawyer. Then I would have been forced to go to the police station, and argue with the policemen that bail was free until I was hoarse. Eventually, we would have come to a compromise. Then I’d have had to fork out maybe N50,000 of my own money to “settle” the policemen and then chase after Bobby for reimbursement for the next two years.
“Well, they have to release him eventually,” I said, breaking the silence. “They can’t keep him locked up forever.”

My parting words to Ada, as I turned around to leave were: “I would check back next week.”

****
I suspected that something was wrong, when I saw, from a distance, a group of people huddled in front of the barber’s shop. Then I realized that the barber’s shop wasn’t open – I could see the giant padlock on the barricade across the door. What the hell was going on?

When I got to closer, I saw that everyone wore long, mournful faces. One of the women was in tears. She looked familiar – yes, it was the tailor from down the road that sometimes came around the barber’s shop to chat with Ada.
“My God,” I heard one of the women cry, “they just wasted that boy’s life.”

I didn’t have to ask who she was talking about. Bobby was dead. The circumstances of his death were unclear. One version of the story was that he had been tortured whilst in police detention and bled to death from internal injuries. The police maintained he had suffered an asthmatic attack in the middle of the night, had been rushed to a nearby hospital, but was dead on arrival. No one believed their story. Someone talked about how Bobby had tried to persuade his girlfriend to keep the baby. But his girlfriend, Aoise – who had only just finished secondary school – had said her father would kill her.

Later that night, as I lay in bed thinking, I reached for my phone on the bedside table. I opened WhatsApp and navigated to my chats. My heartbeat quickened as I scrolled down. Would I find a message from Bobby informing me of his arrest and pleading for help? There was one message from him, but it was sent several months back. I had never opened it. It read: “Gud evening sir. Just 2 inform u i now have my own barbing saloon located at Banjoko Street behind Celestial Church. Thanks for ur patronage. Bobby”.

© Olutola Bella June 2015

Post script: We’ve been thinking for sometime about what to do with this blog, what else we could talk about, without losing our identity. Since we enjoy telling stories, we’ve decided to add short fiction to the offering on bellanchi. We hope you enjoyed this story and would be glad if you shared it with your friends.

“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.

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.

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?”

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

gingering your swagger without tears

It wasn’t that long ago that Naija was swept by an epidemic called swagger. There were so many Nigerian songs about swagger, you couldn’t listen to a rotation of 10 songs on primetime radio without at least half of them having swagger as their theme. But it was no surprise that after tiring of crooning about girls and champagne, Nigeria’s hip hop artistes turned to swagger. For that opportunistic class that is not known for its creativity, swagger was the next logical thing. Ironically, swagger – an attitude whose very essence is its distinctiveness – almost became commonplace.

I am sure there were people, in the height of swaggermania, who didn’t even realize “swagger” was an English word. It is forgivable (okay, on second thought, maybe not) to have assumed it was one of Nigerian urban culture’s many slangs. Although inspired by its equivalent in English lexicon, the Nigerian swagger has acquired a life of its own. It has as much arrogance (possibly more), but of a kind that is charming and enviable, not the unlikeable and put-offish attitude the Englishman’s version of the word seeks to depict.

Possessing swagger has since displaced being a smooth talker as the No. 1 attribute of a ladies’ man. The more serious, marriage-seeking sisters may not yet rank it as important as traditional eligibility criteria such as being responsible and God fearing, but I have it on good authority that a lil’ bit of swagger is now a common feature on many single women’s lists. After all, what woman doesn’t like a man brimming of self-confidence?

Now that having some swagger has become as essential as having an education, here are a few tips on how to step up your swagger without breaking a sweat.

jazz things up with a jacket

I love the TV series Suits, not for its drama, but the bespoke suits on array. There’s nothing, I repeat, nothing, like a well-tailored jacket. Forget wristwatches and shoes; a jacket is the only item of men’s clothing that is able, singlehandedly, to make a man look like a million dollars.

I’d tell you a short true story that illustrates just what a jacket (or a lack of one) can do. I got to make the acquaintance of a fellow that never took off his jacket. It didn’t matter that he was in a sweltering room and was drenched in sweat; this chap clung to his jacket like his life depended on it. The first (and only) time I saw him without a jacket, I finally understood why he never took his jacket off. He looked small and insignificant; almost pathetic. He lost most of my respect that day.

I agree with you that suits are a relic of colonialism and that it’s madness to wear them in the oppressive heat of the tropics, but of what importance are those when dignity and respect are at stake? Guys, I’d give you a piece of advice for free: you’re better off sweating like a pig in a jacket than not wearing one.

I must however sound a note of warning: better the man that weareth no jacket than he that weareth an oversized or ill fitting jacket. There’s a huge difference between a jacket and a coat, and it’s not just in their spellings. The next worst thing to wearing an ill fitting suit is wearing one made of shiny, satiny fabric. Don’t be fooled by celebrities that wear such stuff; being a celebrity buys one certain immunities. Trust me, the only reason P. Diddy and Mase got away with the things they wore during the shiny suit era was because they were P. Diddy and Mase.

short skirts & high heels: a deadly combo

Never underestimate the power of high heels. Give an average looking girl a pair of high heels and she’ll be transformed, before your very eyes, into a babe; put a good looking woman on them, and you have a goddess. There’s a certain sophistication and elegance only killer heels can give.

For sisters that are closer to the ground, high heels are lifesavers. The effect of high heels on petite women (or more appropriately, petite women on high heels) is astonishing. Other than the power of the Most High, I do not know of anything else that has the capacity to exalt valleys.

Short skirts and dresses, nice legs and high heels work wonders; they combine to devastating effect, as would an Andre Iniesta through pass to Lionel Messi. It takes a very disciplined man not to let his eyes linger on slim, smooth legs delicately poised on a pair of killer heels. There’s a girl in my office who put high heels to good use. I must confess, even I couldn’t resist checking out her legs once or twice (okay, maybe more than once or twice). Fortunately, she made the grave mistake, on a certain dressdown Friday, of not wearing high heels. When I saw her in flats, I wasn’t impressed. She had stepped down, literally, from the lofty heights in which I once held her.

For some lucky career women, the elevating effect of high heels doesn’t end at merely adding a few inches. Sometimes, all it takes for career advancement is catching the fancy of your ogling male boss in your deadly combo. Sisters, I know those things make your feet hurt like hell, but trust me, you are better off not getting off them.

always wear sunglasses

The eyes, they say, are the window to the soul. That is true, and it is for that reason that there is no easier way of hiding nervousness, anxiety and such other niggling inadequacies than behind a pair of dark sunglasses.

In addition to hiding away your insecurities, a pair of sunglasses can transform your look from just there to wow. You only need to put on a nice pair of shades to feel as if you’re the baddest dude or hottest chick in the freaking whole wide world. Even marijuana doesn’t deliver a high that quick.

For those concerned about the dent a pair of designer sunglasses can put on the wallet, fear not. They don’t have to be Ray-Bans or Oakleys. Cheap, nameless, purchased-in-Lagos-traffic sunglasses have no less an effect on upping one’s swagger. No one wears sunglasses with the price tag hanging from the frame anyway, so what’s the point of designer sunglasses? However, if you’re going to opt for a counterfeit, please be careful in your choice of (i) the counterfeit sunglasses themselves, and (ii) where you wear them to. Whilst you may get away with a nice looking pair of “Ray-Band” sunglasses at Bar Beach, your reputation is likely to be irretrievably damaged if you wore those same sunglasses on the red carpet at a premiere of a Nollywood blockbuster.

You can rock your shades anywhere anytime. There was a time it was criminal to wear sunglasses at night or indoors. Fortunately (or unfortunately for those that are sticklers for the fashion code), those days appear to be a forgotten past. As long as you’re not wearing sunglasses in a movie theater, trust me, you will not draw stares.

don’t even think about stepping out of your house (bedroom) without wearing makeup

It’s amazing what makeup can do. It wasn’t until I went through a makeup artist friend’s album that showcased before and after pictures of her clients that I fully appreciated the incredible, transformative power of makeup. Along with Satan, hallucinogens and the wonder bra, makeup ranks amongst the biggest deceivers of mankind (or maybe I should say “man” instead). I have seen girls with makeup on and seen them without wearing any makeup, and each time, I was left scratching my head and doubting whether they were the same persons.

Don’t overdo the makeup though. The purpose of makeup is to conceal blemishes and enhance features, not to transform you into a scarecrow. If your spots are of the kind that cannot be masked by a few layers of makeup, then I’m afraid that you have no choice but to become a nocturnal creature, restricting yourself to going out only after dark, and avoiding, as much as you can, places that are well lit.

Also, please don’t wash off the makeup until you’re alone. If you’re spending the night at his place (and he is not your husband) ensure you go to bed still wearing your makeup. Tales abound of men (even fiancés!) that changed their minds and fled the instant the makeup came off.

accessories are the ish!

Accessories can make a world of difference. A pocket square, boutonniere, bow tie or lapel pin could well be the difference between seeming ordinary and looking dapper. Likewise, it’s often that clutch bag and bead necklace that is the deciding factor between who makes it into the centre spread of Thisday Style and who doesn’t get past the media card of the photographer’s camera.

However, as with most things in life, the trick to accessorizing is moderation and good judgment. The accessory must suit the occasion. That it’s okay for Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to turn up at his office on a Monday morning wearing a polka dot bow tie, doesn’t mean you too can do the same. Trust me, you would be taken for a clown, and if there’s any attribute clowns aren’t known for, it’s swagger.

finally…

It would be dishonest if I ended without pointing this out: swagger is not made for everyone. It comes naturally to some, others have to make an effort to acquire it, and there are those that simply do not and cannot have it. For that last category, I’d be honest, I’m afraid not even the above tips can help you. Remember that boy or girl that was in your class in primary school, who always came last in ranking, irrespective of the army of lesson teachers and marathon extra coaching their parents procured? Well, the same way those chaps just didn’t know book, some folks simply aint got swag.

post script: bellanchi apologises to its readers for its lengthy absence. We (the blog and its author) are a new and reluctant convert, but if you find this blog interesting, you can now follow us on twitter @bellanchi.