The rallying cry for hostile support among the homies rings out at the construction site of the fence of the new market. The contractor has been mobilized by the government to finish this abandoned project but the resident youths of the town have a grouse.

They have not been paid their cut of the mobilization fee.

You see, one does not simply wake up and decide to develop an area in Warri. You have to pay a development levy to the youths of the area, a sort of protection fee, known as “deve” for short. It is assumed that you inflated the contract and used the community name to make money for yourself and thus the community has to receive their share of the booty. Anything deviating from this is akin to copyright infringement.

Welcome to Warri, the land of banter, aggression and drama.

I had a course recently with majority of the students coming from Warri and it struck me how their behavior was so different from that of the people in my current town. They were being themselves but I had not noticed these nuances because while I was in Warri I had become blind to them, accepting them as normal and ordinary. Now, five years after moving out of the city I could look at the inhabitants with fresh eyes and observe what I had not observed before. It seemed like a mini culture shock.

How do Warri people think or behave?

The Warri mentality can be summarized in one word: respect. Funny but true. “Who you be sef?!” is the standard challenge thrown to anyone trying to assert himself or “show himself”. You might be dressed in affluence but really, what have you done to warrant our respect? What gives you the right to strut into this workshop and talk down on us without “showing working”? Have you “blessed your boys”? Have you “mobilized” us? Who made you a ruler or a judge over us?

I think that’s respect even though it seems like the opposite. In Warri respect is earned! You have to be generous and show your contribution to “community development”. You have to be a pastor or an Imam. You have to be a native doctor or have a reputation for strong “jazz” (voodoo). You have to be a scholar (guru) or a doctor or something. If you have these things, your “boys are loyal”.

Loyalty is highly regarded in Warri. If you play your cards right in any of the above respects, especially in “community development” you will have the loyalty of the people. This is one reason some traditional rulers in Warri are no longer respected. You can’t keep stealing the money meant to go round all of us and then expect us to “dubale” just because you wear a crown and fancy robes. We won’t respect you just because you’re older either. Respect is earned and Loyalty has to be paid for. Get with the Warri program.

Respect is even paid down the social ladder to younger people and women who are exceptionally gifted in banter and verbal jabs. “Nor toush Mama Ejiro plantain oh. She get bad mouth.” If you can hold your own in banter you will receive the adulation of the crowd. If you get beaten as a result by the object of your bants, you will at least walk away with your badge of honour in bants tactics.

Another thing highly respected as part of the Warri culture is the culture of hard work. The hustle in Warri is real, perhaps lending precedent to the popular sayings “Warri no dey carry last” and “At all at all na winsh” (something, anything is better than nothing or being the worst at any endeavour). Shoemaker? Small chops seller? Wheelbarrow pusher? Driver? Gardener? Hairdresser? Barber? Vulcanizer? Okada rider? Great! At least you’re not a beggar. Begging is not in the Warri culture (I don’t see Warri people sidle up to your car window to solicit handouts in traffic). At all at all na winsh.

The sex talk that goes on in Warri is another point of note. Perhaps this is not peculiar to Warri but best believe your sexual exploits or failures are already the talk of the town or beer parlor or marketplace. You can quickly earn the reputation of being an “ashawo” (unisex term for slut) just by sleeping with two or three people in the neighborhood. Even those who have just hugged you will chime in around the kerosene lantern sessions about how wack you were in bed. Watch your rep.

The sad part of the sex talk is the resultant sexual curiosity of the teens. Most times they eavesdrop on adult conversation and begin to eye the exclusive fine babes in the neighborhood. The talk normally does not involve contraception (what’s that?) and so you’re likely to see more than the odd pregnant school dropout teen. At that stage, “water don pass garri” and “shakara don end”. (Things have fallen apart and your pride has been shattered)

I’d like to end this with a correction to a common myth. People from outside Warri always react when I say I grew there with an exclamation of disbelief because according to them, I’m too quiet. Not all Warri people are aggressive and loud. Warri is such a volatile place that many times you have to learn how to fly under the radar and take cover when the bullets start flying. “No be by gra gra” and “the rat wey get bia bia no mean say e be senior” (or as Wole Soyinka put it, a tiger does not go about shouting its tigritude). When push comes to shove though, you can be sure the Warri boy or geh will not be so easily trod upon.