Last week I had the chance to leave my little Nigerian bubble and step out into the real world for a bit. I went to clear sports goods I bought for friends at work from the airport customs. Before I proceed let me remind you that the Nigeria you think you know is just a small part of the real big picture.
Three weeks ago at the airport when I came through from my recent trip to Europe I was stopped at customs for possessing six packs of chocolate (bought for my office mates). The officers said the items were dutiable because they were new and in commercial quantities. Of course they were in commercial quantities there are 50 people in my immediate office team. That day I was so angry I walked out on them after telling them I could not be restricted in my own country when no one had disturbed me in a foreign country. I just found it really upsetting for some reason and the blank stares I got that day were those of surprise at my audacity and annoyance.
This week it was time to go clear my sports wear. I had sent them by air freight because I was overweight on my flight. They had landed right in the import warehouse, properly labeled as personal goods/items. I contracted an import duty agent to help me do the running around to clear the goods. That was when the circus dance began.
From the inspection, to the security, to the bomb threat, to the valuation (the queue there was amazing), to the exeat, to the standards organisation of Nigeria, we were on a roll. It wasn’t the sheer number of signatures and stamps that had to be collected over two whole working days that was the problem, it was the amount of begging, teasing, joking, pleading and public relations work that had to be done at each stage to convince the gods of Nigerian customs to do their jobs. I felt sorry for my clearing agent even though I was paying him. He walked 30 km in 2 days I advised him to buy a bicycle. I kept reminding him to keep hydrated and took water breaks for him. He smiled through it all and said that was life for him.
The short periods I walked with him he knew everyone on the street. Every greeting he threw was met with a cheerful reply, “Oga when we go see?” – the standard sentence when a Nigerian is asking when you’re going to give them a gift or money for no reason. Anything for your boys? – I heard this so many times my soul was sick. This was just a clearing agent. He wasn’t a manager or anything. He did not have a car or a wife or a house of his own. He was a hustler and yet every gateman, messenger or cleaner, and even some officers had to ask him for money.
My experience with the customs clearing process and the begging involved made me slightly less than amused when the trending topic of Twitter this week was Service for RTs. The idea was to ask for something on Twitter and negotiate how many RTs you would amass before you were given this service, gift or employment opportunity. It’s nothing new and it’s not even peculiar to Nigeria. White people been asking for thousands of RTs for dates and get-off-school-assignment-free days and such like. But when Nigeria Twitter entered the game, the game changed. In fact it was no longer a game.
From outright requests for money to sexual favours from ladies to music studio sessions and radio airplay, Nigerians went in hard. I think I’ve seen no less than 50 unique request types in the last 3 days. To say it was appalling would be a disservice to the word appalling. I was turned inside out. It was not a joke anymore, we were asking for really serious things related to life, sustenance, business and survival. After it lost the joke factor, I recoiled from what I was seeing, recognising it vaguely as something familiar from my country but rejecting it as something alien.
Dear Nigerians, can’t we just settle for working hard instead? Can we put in the work to think through the steps required to achieve our dreams and focus our efforts on that instead of begging on Twitter and in real life? I’m sorry if I sound judgmental but that’s not my intention. I believe no one can judge you more harshly than you’ve judged yourself already when you decided you were worth a marketing stunt for thousands of RTs instead of deserving the satisfaction of reward for honest intelligent work.
While we’re at it, can we please cancel the rag day idea in our universities? What is the meaning of dressing up like a clown and entering the town to ask car owners in traffic, police men, okada riders, nursing mothers, and tailors for money to further your education? How does this compute in your brain’s CPU? How does it add up that you are in an institution of higher learning but you got the day off to dance on the streets dressed like a clown for money?
I will not go into the aspect of girlfriends and asking their boyfriends to meet their needs in the sex-for-favours barter.
Can we raise our heads in pride and respect for honest intelligent hardwork again?