First of all you never really have a choice when you are choosing whether to come back to Nigeria or not. But for the purposes of argument let’s assume you do. Today I will be telling a story for you about the things you should be ready for when you “decide” to come back to Nigeria.
Tunde woke up to the boom of an explosion in the neighbourhood. Heyyyy God, Boko Haram has reached Port Harcourt?! was his first waking thought as he jumped and reached for his wife in bed, whether to protect her or to hug her to allay his fears, he would not admit to himself. Honey, what was that?! he asked as he realized somewhere in the back of his mind that the clearance for their matrimonial bed was not high enough for him to roll under. It must be the transformer again, she replied, turning over to continue her morning sleep.
The same transformer they had just contributed money in the neighbourhood to purchase to alleviate the suffering of months of running the generator for power had just failed, four days into its useful life. The whatsapp group chat for the neighbourhood, established after the husband of a politician had been kidnapped in their neighbourhood was abuzz immediately. Some of the men on the group (strangely no women were invited to join the group) shared theories of what could have happened to the transformer. Someone said the transformer was actually not a new one but a refurbished one and that the coil had given up on them when everyone had loaded onto one phase.
Tunde shook his head, put down his phone and continued brushing his teeth. Now that the black market was holding sway again, his running costs for the month would outstrip his budget and he would not be able to meet his savings target for the month. He probably would have to dip into his house savings to get by again as well as meet some long deferred commitments and promises to help. This was becoming the norm rather than the exception. What were the rules in Nigeria? Were there any? Surprises came so fast and thick that calmness was the new surprise.
Surprise! Your cable TV has been tossed even though you renewed and reactivated your account three days before the time. Surprise! Your car radiator was leaking. Surprise! Your generator starter rope had cut in your hands on the tenth starting attempt in half as many days. Surprise! The annual rent was due in a month and this time it was 1 million, not 850k. And oh, there was a new noise in the car today. You knew you should not have bought fuel at that dodgy filling station last week but you didn’t want to queue at the majors or try the black market either.
Tunde’s two years since starting a new business had revealed so much to him that he felt he had learnt ten years worth of business acumen and stakeholder engagement. It was no easy matter to simply start a car wash in the neighbourhood. After buying the land he had to pay the local youths for protection, employ some of them, monitor them to prevent them skimping on the soap and dashboard polish, and be sure they were not rude to his clients while he was away. They could not know how much he was actually making from the car wash either. He put his nephew in charge of the ticketing stand and every ticket sold was receipted without any amount written on the paper, so no one would alert the career kidnappers to the new kid on the chopping block. Sighs.
What was he going to do with his money in this Port Harcourt? In his mind, he still had to drive a modest car (read, tokunbo Corolla) so as to keep up the image of a young, up and coming, hustling young man. He had decided against building a house long ago, thinking it would be much better to buy out one in any of the many housing estates springing up under private management these days. Not like they met his specifications for his retirement home, but it was so much less stress than fighting off local youths, petty building thieves and snooping spies looking for “the oga wey get this fine house“.
As Tunde stepped out of the house to kick his car, he noticed the mosquito nets done for the verandah two weeks ago. The carpenter hadn’t incorporated a spring for the door. He had also left gaps everywhere until Tunde had instructed him to use a foam sealant to keep the bugs out. Even at that, the door of the net did not lap well at the top or at the bottom. The material chosen by the workman for the nets had been the type that mysteriously kept out the air. The heat generated by his generator in the back verandah and the outdoor split unit of his parlour AC in the front was enough to simulate a cake baking industrial oven. His mechanic was a totally different story along the same theme. What was it about Nigerian workmen – tailors, masons, carpenters – that made them unable to learn their trades properly? Funny enough the only set of workmen he had respect for was the vulcanizers. They would patch your flats with eba and saliva right before your eyes.
Marketing his car wash and getting it out there was also much harder than he thought. Internet ads? Everyone was on the gossip blogs. Radio ads? People had no way to immediately act on his call to action. Remote/online payments were unreliable and subject to the distrust of many Nigerians because of the yahoo yahoo fear (and also the “cowrie is best” mindset). TV? Everybody only watched cable TV and the monopoly running the nationwide cable TV was reaping the benefits of overhiked profits due to everyone jostling to get on their platform. So Tunde had to make do with word of mouth marketing.
Word on the streets was he was the best car wash and detailer in town. People came from far and wide for his signature treatment after he started putting a secret car freshener in his clients cars. You had to be more than intelligent to win over customers in Nigeria. You had to be fast in delivering your services as well because Nigerians were so impatient (so many things “buffering” the loading of their lives – slow internet, traffic jams, poor telephone coverage ) that you needed to wash each car virtually at the speed of light to have anyone satisfied (not impressed) by your service delivery.
How would he expand his business? How would he be able to remotely replicate the success of his base car wash in 30 states in the country? The short time he had been in business in Port Harcourt, he had been hospitalized twice for heart palpitations and high blood pressure. This money he was working so hard for (with almost all of it was going to school fees for his 2 primary school age kids), would he be able to retire with the love of his life to enjoy it in their twilight years? His heart skipped a beat again as he pulled into the car wash parking lot with his thoughts of the average life expectancy of a Nigerian man was 41 years. He was 39 now. Should he make a will already?
Maybe staying back in Canada all those years back would have been a better idea. At least now his kids would be Canadian citizens with less travel restrictions and a better chance at a good life than the one he was giving them now. But then, did he really have a choice at that time?