Three years ago, I returned to Nigeria after spending several years studying at boarding school and universities in England and America. Despite living in Nigeria for the last three years, I still oscillate between still feeling like a ‘repatriate,' a tourist and a local. I’ve listed some tips that will hopefully help the newly repatriated feel more like locals than tourists in as little time as possible.
13. BE CYNICAL, DON’T BE NEUROTIC.
With scores of shameful stories of Nigerian madness littering these busy internet streets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nigeria is Baghdad on a Friday in 2002. There is mayhem here gentlemen, but Liquid Lounge is still open for business tomorrow night so let’s not get carried away. Nigeria is fast, furious and frenzied yet, there is often method to the madness if you study the situation. So yes, be cynical, but don’t go overboard with the fear and scepticism lest you stick out like a black sheep in a pool of pristine wool, effectively yet unconsciously making yourself a target for the very things you are afraid of.
12. BUY 250GB EXTRA OF UNCOMMON SENSE BEFORE LANDING
If you’re a sane person in any part of the world, chances are that you are a naïve fool in Nigeria. Many Nigerians are honestly just minding their business and trying to survive. Some Nigerians though are just trying to survive… on your efforts, so don’t fall prey.
Be discerning: sometimes some sob stories are not worth a listen. When I do listen, I factor in how much I stand to lose versus how much the other party stands to gain. For instance, if someone gives me a longwinded tale to extort say N500; N500 might be tollgate money to me but N500 is enough money to make a grown man prostitute his dignity with an obviously fabricated story to a younger girl? He needs it more than I do clearly, so I give the money.
But be careful when someone is disturbingly insistent that money must be given and money must be given from you specifically. A lot of Nigerians are superstitious and while you don’t believe in diabolical practices and voodoo, why don’t you let the witches and wizards play Ludo with someone else’s destiny?
Remember, “…It is our mutual distrust that makes us prudent”-Sheriff O.
11. THE DANGER OF GRAMMAR
For most repatriates, the more frustrated they become, the more eloquent their answers and beatific their speech. In Nigeria, do the inverse; the more frustrated you become, the more ruggedly you should speak. It is likely that your septo-syllabic words are going over heads and out windows, so keep it simple. I know how many times my frustration has mounted to the point where I am lecturing and not getting results, then someone comes and says three words in pidgin or vernacular and the situation is immediately diffused.
If you are not getting through, stop, breathe… and ask to see someone who might understand you better. Or ask someone around to simplify things for the confused person in question. Chances are there will be a passer-by roaming about eavesdropping, waiting for your mounting frustration to explode; Nigerians cannot resist watching a good argument. Try to avoid altercations though, especially on the road and with motorcycle or okada drivers; it’s frightening how quickly a mob can amass. You think you have the capacity to fight… until someone breaks a bottle. All lights are green from then on! Anything. Goes.
10. HONEY VS. VINEGAR
In line with moderating the grammar, realise that in Nigeria people respond to flattery and praises much better than threats. Ours is a society balanced on the tripartite powers of community, religion and our One True God; money, so a little oiling up will serve you well. Someone does something for you, sometimes it serves you well to give them a little jara, a bonus. “Ah madam, take N100 go buy yourself Coke, you don try.” Bottle of Coca-Cola? N60. Two packets of biscuits? N40. A potentially useful future helper indebted to you? Priceless. What a little favour can get you in a minute, waxing lyrical cannot get you in a lifetime.
“A bribe is a Nigerian tip?”- Wendelyn
9. THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS
8. ASSUME THE WORST
As a general rule, this might serve you well, but no one needs to walk about weighted by disillusion. On the road though, disillusion can save your life: assume every vehicle is motored by a blind but mature Billy goat and drive accordingly. Remember that commercial bus (danfo) drivers ALWAYS have the right of way. Additionally, be aware that okada drivers, like mammals without vertebrae, will try to squeeze through every available nook in traffic; all damage to your car will be borne by you, so be vigilant and for love’s sake abuse that horn your car gave you by honking loudly in protest when they get near your car!
I strongly suspect that driving in Lagos is a survival test orchestrated by the gods to trim the world’s population crisis. I often find this scripture comes to mind while driving, “It is ONLY because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed!”(Lamentations 3:23).
“Oh” you say, “… no one would be so silly as to cross four lanes at 120MPH on a busy expressway with neither streetlights on the road nor headlights on the car?”
7. THE FEAR OF LASTMA IS NOT THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM….
…The sycophantic oiling of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, or LASTMA, is. Government workers generally tend to have a collective chip on their shoulders, possibly implanted during the exchange of an employment letter for their dignity. This chip results in, amongst other things, a heightened scent for fear and an infinite appetite for vulnerability. When dealing with government workers do not show fear: be respectful and diplomatic, they love that. The Nigerian ego seems to grow in inverse proportion to bank balance, so remember to stoop to conquer.
When dealing with authorities on the road, leave your doors locked for as long as you possibly can; do not come out of the car if possible and roll the windows down only to a level to permit speaking and listening. I am always paranoid about authorities with guns because the Nigerian police force is infamous for its 'accidental discharge' …of bullets to skull, tires, seats. So play this by ear. If possible, do not stop at all.
6. SPECTACULAR VERNACULAR
I read an article on CNN recently about a photographer documenting the lives of surviving indigenous African tribes. He lamented, saying that most of Africa seemed to be losing its authenticity and ethnicity. I almost wrote in to apologise to him. We are sorry we’d like to use gadgets and read widely instead of roaming around desert loam in snake-skin thongs and bow and arrows, sorry we do not have more interesting images to fill coffee table books decorating the farthest reaches of Europe.
Do all humans not desire the best things in life? Air is free; Apple products are not. I’m always fascinated with the mindset that poverty changes the fundamentals of human nature. Do the poor not desire the same things as the rich? Are the good things of life only for one group of humans, while the rest ought to stay stagnant, mummified in time to feed the consistent thirst for ‘exoticness’?
I say all that to say that although Nigeria is changing rapidly, despite the photographer’s opinion, certain value systems are enshrined and continue to evolve through new expressions. Many Nigerian kids cannot speak their mother tongue, but with the evolution of music for instance--the weaving of our languages into our sound--it seems Mr. Photographer can sleep happy, for some parts of our heritage that he desperately desires to keep forever are preserved.
Trust me: I have heard the technicalities of project financing transactions discussed in Yoruba. If that is not clutching to culture with gusto, I don’t know what is.
If you speak no indigenous languages, try a little pidgin. A well placed, “Say wetin happen?!” can convey a multitude of things; shock, outrage, challenge, defence, or even an honest inquiry.
5. THIS IS NOT A NOLLYWOOD MOVIE
People are not acting out for your benefit. People will be comical, people will be silly, people will be ridiculous but try not to laugh in their faces or openly mock them. This is hard to do because sometimes people act in a way that makes you suspect that someone is having a laugh at your expense; sitting in an MTV van somewhere and giggling privately at your discomfort. Most people are not acting for your benefit. This is not a movie; this is how they speak, this is how they think, this is how they act; if it's different from your ways, for goodness sake (pun intended), hold your laughter until they’re out of earshot at least!
4. THE LOCALS
Give the resident Nigerian-Nigerians a chance and you will be pleasantly surprised. Repatriates tend to move in congealed masses of questionable accents and suspicious, superior snobbery. You lose. There’s a whole ocean out there to swim in and you’re at the shore dipping your toes in the baby pool.
3. THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS
This bears repeating.
2. HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR
This is THE most crucial factor to life in Nigeria. Sure, sometimes we laugh because we are too frustrated to do anything else, but still laugh anyway, because I assure you, in the middle of that horrible situation SOMEONE is going to do or say something so incredibly stupid that the laughter will wade through walls of anger, tears of regret and rooms of fear to reverberate around the air, assuring the world that you are truly Nigerian.
1. OPEN YOUR MIND
I’m always fascinated with Nigerians’ attitude to Nigeria. Two Nigerians travel to India and send smiling pictures of themselves in a rickshaw in Delhi. Two Nigerians head to Japan and Instagram photos of themselves slurping noodles at high noon in Geisha dress. Six Nigerians go to Paris and sip only un café (pure black of course!), read La Liberté and spend time avoiding the Tour d’Eiffel, desperate to assimilate into the ‘local’ culture and be as indigenous as possible. Everywhere else, we immerse ourselves in the culture, keen to blend in and be as untouristy as possible.
Yet we come to Nigeria and absolutely refuse to live IN Nigeria. People will pack their goods, throw a farewell party, tweet about counting days to living in Nigeria… return to Nigeria and absolutely refuse to live in Nigeria. Most people live buttocks in Nigeria and head in the clouds… on a plane headed yonder. Well negro, where you think you is?! Don’t spend your time complaining about the lack of this, that and the other. I don’t know if you know this but…
Nigeria is a third world country. Get. Over. It.
Life is raw, real, manic, panicked. Actions are dramatic, laughter is excessive, people are mental, the pace is dynamic, frustration is chronic, nothing seems to work, the entire nation seems to be stitched together by nothing but sweat and the combined prayer of the heaving masses. There is extreme wickedness juxtaposed with illogical kindness. People are desperate for things you wouldn’t even touch if your family were held to ransom, life is broken into rapid staccato beats of mayhem. It’s a super fast ride and, like a roller coaster, can be the most exhilarating thing you have felt whilst at the same time being the most terrifying and nauseating experience. This is life on fast forward: blink and you might miss it… and miss your purse, wallet and shoes too. So keep your eyes open… and your head out of the clouds.
Welcome to reality.
Wendelyn Okemini is a lawyer who works in sustainable development. She likes writing and is author of the lifestyle blog suitsscandalandthegoodwife.wordpress.com. She is often found daydreaming, dancing or drawing.