Here is an idea of what living in Nigeria is like.
I was in the East over the weekend. At the end of my trip, I was in a car with some of my family members headed to the airport.
We stopped at a police checkpoint and the driver of the car was not quick to wind down. I should rephrase; we were stopped at a checkpoint. The driver eventually wound down and that irritated the security personnel.
“You no want wind down for me abi.”
The driver gave a tight smile and kind of revved up his car as though impatient for the conversation to end.
“Ah Ah, you even want begin dey drive when I never talk finish.”
My husband who was seated in the front spoke up.
“No be so.”
The security personnel looked irritated. He sized up my husband and said.
“Honourable, dey talk to your boy. Make e no do dey hurry when na greet we just dey greet.”
“No wahala officer.”
“Honourable, happy Sunday. Anything for your boys?”
And we drove off.
My brother-in-law then said:
“He couldn’t have done anything to him (the driver.) He has protection from all of them.”
What did that mean? I thought to myself. Did he have some sticker on his car that said he has an affiliation with someone in the army? Was that the protection? Did he have tight police plug that ensures he is never caught in sticky situations?
I did not verbalize my questions.
I simply sighed and said:
“You have to live by your wits in Nigeria and that gets so exhausting.”
Everyone answered in the affirmative.
And then I realized that I had unwittingly said something profound.
Make I calm down from patting myself on the back.
Without the drama of my above declaration, I did sort of coin the Nigerian situation. If a non-Nigerian asked us what living in Nigeria is like, it would be apt to say the following.
“Living in Nigeria is about how sharp your wits are.”
The only way to navigate and conquer Nigeria is to never stop thinking. Never take anything at face value. It is knowing that whatever the official process for getting something done there is always a way to get it faster through the back door.
When my colleague was kidnapped, she said that they had been in a vehicle headed for Lagos. All of a sudden, they saw people running into the ‘bush’. The driver stopped. Some guys that were running paused and said that there was an armed robbery attack ahead.
Everyone was scared and confused at what to do. The driver of the bus took off on foot.
The guys that gave the robbery information quickly asked the passengers to follow them for safety in the bush before the robbers arrived.
A few people ducked in the bus. Most ran into the bush.
Once they were in the bush, the guys kept directing them further in.
Once the road was not visible, they announced to the passengers that they had been kidnapped. They brought their guns out.
Just a little split-second decision of lowering your guard ended into a week-long horror.
The driver might have been in on it.
That explains what I mean.
You cannot stop thinking in Nigeria. You can’t just trust the system or the government and go about your life thinking that your interests are protected.
You have to fight your way through everything.
You know how the Bible says to number your days so that you may be wise? This means that you ought to be mindful of the fact that death is always just around the corner.
Well in Nigeria, you live as though everybody is trying to cheat you so that you minimize the chances of being had.
You haggle through the markets.
You haggle with mechanics.
Then, you haggle with vendors.
When you go to a place with fixed prizes you keep your eyes wide open in case you get fleeced.
Everyone is out to get the best of you.
You cannot be ‘dulling’.
Using an official channel to get, say a passport or your license, means that you are prepared for a long wait. This is because your applications will not be prioritized. People who have paid unofficially for fast tracking will have theirs done at your expense.
You don’t drop applications without knowing anyone.
You don’t just walk into an office to process anything without knowing someone. (I am speaking of public offices)
Information will not be provided to you without ‘following up’.
Merit on its own can never open a door.
Merit must come with a coat of connection and a hat of favour before it is invited in.
If your attention breaks for three seconds when buying petrol, you will be cheated.
I recall something that happened to me twice at Petrocam filling station. I told the attendant I wan buy N4,000 petrol using their POS. -I used it and I was debited. He proceeded to put N1,000 worth for me. I complained and showed him my receipt. He feigned distraction. He then went ahead and pumped some more petrol. Then he called my attention that he had pumped an extra N3,000.
As I drove away and also looked at my meter, I realized that he had cheated me off 1k. He never started to pump afresh from zero because my mind had wandered off.
Living in Nigeria is about living with your wits about you constantly.
It is exhausting even if we are used to it.