17 February 2010

Why do we... - The Whys of Nigeria - Part 1

I was at the airport waiting to pick up friends who were arriving from the United States of America when pictures of people bellowing at their driver came to my mind. I began to imagine myself doing the same. Interestingly the scene had not played out. It was just my mind playing on me. Why? It got me really thinking. I guessed I had seen too many of such scenes acted out in Nigeria that I was becoming an unwitting extra in this tragic but common picture.
I decided to pursue other things that happen in Nigeria – the good, the bad and the ugly to find out why they are so. You may call it The Whys of Nigeria’. Let’s start the journey.
  1. Why do people shout at their staff – There are many possibilities why this is so, chief of which is communication problems between employer and employee. An employee may get his wires crossed because of illiteracy or because the employer has not properly communicated what was on his mind. Sometimes the result of poor communication is an expensive mistake on the part of the employee. Given that in Nigeria, employers cannot be wrong, they vent their anger on the poor employee by shouting or sometimes cursing.
Sometimes, certain employers just shout because they could. Or because Nigerians, generally love to shout even when they are not angry. Often it is also because of the way employees behave – their nonchalant attitude to work, wastage and lack of initiative. Whatever the reason may be, it is inhuman to treat another human being to a shouting abuse.
  1. Why do we linger at staring at people – You are at a traffic light and another vehicle came up beside you and stopped. Anywhere else in the world, you steal a quick glance almost by reflex and look away immediately. Not so in Nigeria, here, people stare and continue to stare, even when, as they say, the eyes of both of you become four. It is the same scenario if you enter a bank, go into a shop or a reception area, you are automatically feasted upon by the eyes of everyone present. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, it is obviously more helpful if you are interesting i.e. you are properly dressed or appear to have money.
Perhaps, Nigerians look and linger because we are naturally very inquisitive people who will not allow anything to pass our notice. So we linger in order to press out the last detail to complete the picture we are forming in our minds about the person. We also do so to appraise, people, what we call size up in Nigeria. I also feel that because of the huge level of poverty, any little thing becomes a revelation, an opportunity to compare, to dream and hope for the same. So a person who turns out in immaculate attire easily becomes an object of veneration and fantasy and we do not mind even if our eyes become four with the person, the feasting must be completed.
  1. Why do we starch our clothes so stiffly – I can understand why everyone wants to stand out in a crowd; must their clothes also be in a permanent state of military attention to achieve this?
I do use the mild spray starch on some of my clothes, but in Nigeria, I have come to realise that starching your cloth is not a half-hearted matter. I have been intrigued on many occasions when I saw people turned out in desperately starched attires whose sharp edge can effortlessly slice off the head of an elephant. To some people, it does not matter whether it is traditional attire or western, all must be starched and they must be starched stiff.
I really do not understand the reasoning behind this heavy starching and I am not going to give it a try.
  1. Why do we have excess luggage when travelling – I once sat beside a Scottish gentleman on a flight from London to Lagos. We got talking, and once he felt relaxed with me, he excitedly asked me the question, Why is it that Nigerians almost always pack excess luggage when flying? I responded by saying that I too paid for an excess luggage.
The issue of excess luggage is as Nigerian as Lagos is Nigerian. We pack a lot of things into our luggage because there are just too many people for whom we have to buy gifts given the extended family system and because it is expected. We also like to take the maximum advantage of things, so if the luggage allowance is 32kg, a Nigerian believes, this must not be allowed to pass, therefore, his bag must be exactly 32kg or slightly more. We also find ourselves caught in this matter because we choose not to prepare for our journey in time, do not weigh our luggage, assume that we will be all right, and then find out at the airport that none of the assumptions line up to reality.
At the former hub of British Airways in Heathrow Terminal 4, a special section is reserved for weighing the luggage of passengers traveling to Nigeria. Interesting!
  1. Why do we say 'You are welcome' when welcoming people – Still on the airport thing, have you noticed that whenever you arrive at the airport, everyone you meet - immigration officers, custom officials, cleaners greet people by saying ‘you are welcome’.
In its right usage, ‘You are welcome’ is a phrase which is said in response to someone who had thanked you for something. You may also respond by saying don't mention it’, or ‘no thanks are needed, or ‘my pleasure’, or ‘I was glad to do it’. For example, if I say ‘Thanks for the gift’, the response can be, ‘You are welcome’.
No doubt, wrongly using ‘You are welcome’ as a form of greeting people on their arrival is because people think the phrase could be used interchangeably with the simple ‘welcome’. It is more probable that ‘you are welcome’ as a greeting is a literal translation of the Yoruba ‘e kaabo’.
  1. Why do we like Jollof Rice – A few years ago, I found out that Jollof Rice most likely originated from the Wolof people of The Gambia. There, it is called ‘Benachin’ meaning ‘one pot’ because in their version of Jollof Rice, everything is cooked in the same pot including the meat.
Irrespective of where Jollof Rice originates and never mind that ‘Jollof’ rhymes with ‘Wolof’, Jollof Rice has been claimed by the larger and more aggressive Nigeria as its own.
Given the population of Nigeria, it is not unlikely that more Nigerians eat Jollof Rice in one day than Gambians do in two years. Although, there are several regional meals that defines the different ethnic groups in Nigeria, yet no event is complete without an adequate supply of Jollof Rice. It is the delicacy for children and young people. It is the delicacy at weddings, christening, funeral, Christmas, on all occasions. Nigerians love Jollof Rice, period.
I’m not sure why we do, except for the fact that I know if it is well cooked, Jollof Rice dishes especially when cooked with firewood is mouth-wateringly tasty.


Wale said...

Why...do you not make this a regular column in some Nigerian newspaper? Very nice.

Sola W-W said...

These observations are so true!
Personally, I think it's like asking, "Why are Nigerians so Nigerian?"

Anonymous said...

True observations; it only goes to show our disrespect for moderation.

Gege said...

i've asked myself these questions for many years. finally a blogger had put my thoughts on paper!

Anya Posh said...

I believe people starch their clothes to avoid excessive wrinkling especially since NEPA/Generators are not always reliable. That means a properly starched agbada can be worn up to three times without needed a touch up from the pressing iron!