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One Chance

Lets go back to December 31st of 1999

What would you do differently if you had the chance to start life from scratch? If you could rub a lamp (or rechargeable lantern) and make a wish, or if you were given an opportunity to change some of your previous life choices, what would you do? If there was a time travel scientist called Doctor Who Sai, and he offered you a chance to travel in his time travel telephone box (not operated by Nitel o), where would you travel to, and what would you change? Would you go back to 1950 and beg your popsie to complete school and go to Uni, so that he would succeed so that you can have a better chance of being born with a silverspoon in Ikoyi?

Or would you go back to 1914 and slap Lord Lugard into a stupor to prevent him from amalgamating the Northern and Southern protectorates to form Naija, and thereby save us all this anguish. Or perhaps you would travel to 2005 and invest your hard-earned salary in 1st Bank and Nigerian Brewery stocks and shares, instead of Transcorp, Finbank and Intercontinental Banks like you ended up doing and loosing your life savings. Maybe you wouldnt have married that girl – you have now found out that she was too good to be true. She claimed she was a virgin and had never seen man, and did not let you ‘violate her’ but on the wedding night, once you straddled her, you almost ‘fell inside”. Now a sex video of her planking different Alhajis has now gone viral. You have also become viral from her infections.

Or would you rather time-travel to 2003 to major in music in school, rather than banking and finance? I mean Tuface and Don Jazzy are cleaning out almost as well as the Jim Ovias and Pascal Dozies of these world (key word – almost). Or you may choose to go back to 1992 to buy 20 plots of land in Lekki Phase One and Wuse, when these were worth half-a-penny. My uncle was offered land in Banana Island in 1996 for 2 million. He decided to invest in Festac instead, and now his house has appeared in many Nollywood movies, as opposed to Fortune 500 or MTV Cribs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer not to dwell on mistakes I have made, or wrong choices when I was younger .Whatever happens has happened, and what  is done, is done. People espouse that philosophy of life where you look forward and regret nothing including past mistakes, writing them off as life experiences. It is even embodied in the French term “Regrette Rien” which means “Regret Nothing”

In Pidgin English parlance, it is called ‘E don happen” so why you wan kill yourself?

However, sometimes, you do reflect on your journey through life, and  try to imagine how much different your life would be if you had passed the right or left fork on the road, and had gone straight instead. Here would be my choices, if I could start again:

  • I would have become an engineer. I was a proficient Lego brick builder as a youngster. I may have made a good civil engineer though a civil child I was not.  In Junior secondary, I was initially great at Introductory Technology, but the teacher put me off because he was always hitting students with the T-square.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the legal profession but there are too many insincere jerks and old school monuments dogging the institution. Besides try watching one of those World War or invasion movies – lawyers are always the first ones to be killed or imprisoned in concentration camps when a dictator takes over a nation. Doctors and lawyers are spared because they can provide anciliarry services.  Nuclear physicists are spared too because of their technological prowess. But lawyers don’t have anything to offer because their talk talk is too much. I put it to you that you cannot kill or imprison me. I will invoke a wreath of Habeus Corpus and have you reprimanded forthwith. 

Even people who studied Yoruba Education in school have a better chance of surviving in an invasion or dictatorship than a lawyer. They could prostrate and plead for their life: Ejo o, e ma bi nu.Ma pa mi, iku mi o wulo fun e (Please o, don’t be angry. I am useless to you dead). The person would be more successful with his plea, if he impersonates Jide Kosoko’s facial expressions.

The worst people are those who studied Philosophy. They would try to rationalize with the arresting soldiers by applying logic: You arrest and kill some innocent victims. I am an innocent victim. But it does not mean you have to kill me.

So engineers are indispensable. They have the pick of the choicest positions and benefits. When I worked at Nigerian Breweries as an intern, I once overheard a manager sigh as he guzzled a huge mug of Harp “The most important people in this company, and the only ones immune from sacking are those who oversee production – the lager engineers. All you analysts, business administrators, interns are on borrowed time here”

Dude, we are all on borrowed time. Nor be you papa company na.

Engineers have all the advantages. There are different kinds of engineers – civic, petroleum, mechanical, electronic, marine,, aeronautic etc etc. There are only 3 kinds of lawyer in Nigeria – charge N bail, baby lawyer and the erudite ones (Gani, FRA Williams, Babalakin etc). Aim to be among the last category.

Engineers rise to the top of their professions, and get to wear jeans and nice yellow helmets even in corporate settings. They use terms like “rig, petroleum, platform,  crank, production.”

Lawyers rise up in the profession, but always usually wear a black wig and gown in a hot court-room. They use words like “adjournment, frustration, lapse, laches, statute of limitation, I put it to you, sue,  please be advised..”

Anyway  I still ended up being an engineer regardless – I am a social engineer, building blocks of hope.  My bic is my spanner. In fact sometimes I introduce myself as Architect Esco at public gatherings. At one recent gathering, the other person looked at me interestingly as I introduced myself as an architect. He was one himself, so he inquired further:  “Interesting stuff. What buildings or projects have you designed.”

I wanted to reply “Motherfuck designing mansions in water logged Lekki, I help rebuild and rehabilitate people through the medium of blog satire”

Instead, I pretended like I had just received an international call, and excused myself “Ehnn, sorry Joe, the line is breaking. What time is it now at Singapore? It must be MTN’s network, please let me go outside for better reception. Please excuse me, Architect Dagbaru”

  • I would have made better choices in my relationships earlier on. I would have bitten the bullet, been bolder and hooked up with Chineze. I would not have stood up Damola on Valentines Day to hang out with the lads. I would have treated Oyin differently and not have taken her for granted. I can remember taking a train all the way from Borehamwood to Swiss Cottage to meet Oyin who was meeting me all the way from Edmonton for a movie at the O2 center. After a huge meal at Weatherspoons, I embarrassingly fell asleep during the movie. Don’t blame me, it was already around 8pm, and besides the movie showing had musical bits in it. It was Gerald Butler’s “Phantom of the Opera.”

Oyin was pissed that I dare fall asleep during our date, even spilling our popcorn all over the place as I shifted in my snooze. My excuse was let me sleep, so I can dream of you.

 Oyin, I apologize. I am also sorry for taking you to my new girlfriend’s house and making out with her in front of you, because I stupidly thought you were over me. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that girls have a secret radar and no chick would like to see her ex with another hotter chick. Sorry, I meant another chick equally as hot. Please accept my apologies for 2011.

  • I would dance with my father one more time, if I had the chance. He passed away a few years ago, and now I realize that all the life lessons he taught me are gems for living.  I recently caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window, and I could see my father’s features creeping in a little. His mannerisms, his modus operandi, his figures of speech are all engrained in me. Miss you Dad.
  • I would have started a business a long time ago. I guess it is never too late, but I am inspired by the life stories of self -made men like Richard Branson and Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs who started really early in life. The former had a paper route when he was barely in his teens and the former was a record company “A and R” by his early twenties, and formed Bad Boy Records when he was just 23.

On a side note, a friend of mine wants to start a clothing company, and has started importing tee-shirt printing and embroidery machinery. He hired me a design consultant because he felt I had a creative spark. His vision was for a urban wear line  with designs that could make a statement, sort of like those Che Guevara revolutionary tee-shirts, or Doc Marten boots with grunge or punk rockers, or how Ben Sherman shirts were popular with U.K chavs, or how college kids like Abercrombie and Fitch and snap back hats. Or like Hawes and Curtis and pudgy Nigerian bankers.

He wanted a line of tee-shirts with a range of designs peculiar to the Nigerian hip fashionista. It had to be cool, but distinctively naija.

My first few suggestions were wide off the mark, and I am sure he is seriously thinking of asking me to resign.

I suggested a T-shirt with an inscription “I am the bomb”. He looked at me like I was crazy. Ha, make Boko Haram catch you.

What about a shirt with the PHCN logo, and then the phrase “I got the power…Not”

I wish I had learnt a special skill. Like I had taken up lawn tennis classes, or learnt how to play the piano, or the Yoruba talking drum. My father really wanted me to learn how to play tennis, as he felt it was a good form of keeping fit and networking for life. I really always wondered what the racket was all about. Besides there were few places to practice in Lagos. I am Igbo, and imagine the ill looks I would  get if I waltzed into the Yoruba Lawn Tennis Club. I wish I could play chess as well as draught. I am a champ at Ludo though. When I throw the dice, I am fairly proficient at getting 2 sixes. Siki one, siki two…oya carry ya seed.

 

And for all the nights and all the fights/

That I had for all this money over all these dice/

All my cars and homes and all my ice/

If I could do it all again, I’d do it all for Christ/

 Mase (From Scratch, 1999)

Gone Till November

Whether na one naira....

Ah, it is that supposed date of champions – the eleventh day of November, the year of our Lord 2011. According to the Chinese calendar (even though I prefer their cuisine to their calendars), 2011 is the year of the rabbit. It is the year of the anu nchi, the okete rat, the oke, the otapiapia. And this is the penultimate month before the year draws to an end.

Why is November very significant? It is seen as the month of stock-taking and inventory. Igbo people especially start preparing for Xmas earnestly around this time. Village homes are retouched, and invitations are sent and received concerning  upcoming Xmas events like the iwa akwa (wearing cloth ceremony), or ibankwus (traditional weddings or ‘black account’ wedding as it is so damn expensive), or other traditional carnivals. Where I am from, we have a ceremony called Mbomuzo. This should attract a global media showcase – it features traditional fireworks, people running amok, masquerades and whips. People gather in the village square and set off fireworks and dance like a crazed banshee. Food is cooked, and everyone goes from house to house stuffing their faces with all manners of delicacies. Long story, depending on whom you talk to, November can be a pre-cursor month to the good  or a stark reminder to some of how bad the year has been.

Crimes notoriously go up around this period. Yahoo yahoo guys get more desperate, and as my spam box can testify, you get inundated with scam emails, sometimes from the same person twice a day. I am getting 419 emails from the supposed Central Bank Governor of Burkina Faso. Only me?

Even our ‘wazzup” brethren, home and abroad are gearing up for Xmas, and November is a particularly busy month. There are concerts and parties coming up, so everyone is trying to make sure they are on point. Plane tickets have to be booked, free cash is needed for tripping in Lagos, and for ‘landing’ Rhythm Unplugged or Caliente or wherever is the freshest place now. People for Jand done dey do 8 a.m to 12 midnight over-time shifts, in their “per hour” jobs. People would buy tickets with stop-overs in Qatar just to get a cheap deal to be able to land Naija for Xmas.

Kidnappers also up the ante around now, snatching people and demanding kings ransoms for stolen relatives. There was a case where one kidnapped an oil worker’s daughter, and asked for 600million naira before she would be released. The oil worker abused the kidnapper: “You can get lost. No be only 600 million. Did they tell you that I am impotent and cannot have another daughter. Ewu!” and slammed the phone down on the kidnapper’s ears.

The kidnapper called him back bewildered: “Oga why you dey talk like this na. E be like say you no love this your pikin”

The oil worker was not swayed “So because na my pikin make I go kill myself? How much her husband go give me when them dey pay dowry for her head? Abeg, abeg, I dey busy”

With that he terminated the call pronto.

The kidnapper called him a few days later, but the oil guy cut the phone without picking it up.

When the kidnapper saw that he was not ready to play ball, his price dropped by more than 3000 per cent: “Oga oya, abeg pay N50,000. We don spend money on credit dey call you. And this your butta pikin dey only chop Indomie noodles for here. We go even charter taxi wey go drop her for your front gate when we dey release am.Abeg, do, make we too chop. Country hard.”

After much deliberation and haggling, the rogue settled for 10 grand, and the guy’s daughter was released to him unscathed. She had even gained small weight, sef. Ogboju pass power.

So how has your year been so far? Have you taken stock? Are there any things you would have done differently? Did you achieve your goals or anything significant? Maybe you got to travel out of Nigeria for the first time and now your Facebook followers have been regaled to tears with photos of you on the desert dunes and gold shops of Dubai. You even brought them some grains of sand from the UAE as a sample. Or you made your first trip to Ghana, and now you insist that everyone call you Kwaku Frimpong. Perhaps this year, you officially became a land-owner in the dire straits of Lekki, albeit in a shanty ridden outpost on the outskirts of Ajah, surrounded by swampy jungles, with your plot land-locked by 2 flooded square meters of land. Or it could be that maybe this year you broke bank and limb to go for your Masters degree in the U.K, even though Mama Charlie and Davido Cameron are desperately trying to get rid of your likes. Or did you marry your aristo boyfriend finally this year? Or you started a business, or revamped your faith, or moved jobs (from banking to wherever – it seems an upgrade nowadays) or your wife gave birth to junior, and he has your big conk and elephant ears. Whatever it is, are you glad with here you are, this November? Whether you own millions or a Yipee tank, at least you are alive.

How has it been for me? Well I am my worst critic. I get sad on my birthdays (except my 18th one where I celebrated my independence) or my 26th one (more about that one in a later post, promise). I am not really a fan of the whole birthday wishes, singing ‘Many Happy Returns’, posts on Facebook and celebratory wishes kind of thing. Girls I have dated used to be amazed at how moody and reflective I got on my birthday. One gave me a gadget I had really always wanted, but all I really desired that day was for my father to remember and give me a call. When he did, it brightened my mood. Sad I know.

So I am not a fan of birthdays. This year has been so and so for me. I brushed up on a new language and how to write it – pidgin English. Let me give you an example. I will translate this into pidgin: Oh happy days, I am mighty glad that I am quite proficient at Pidgin English. Shonkongbelete o, nothing do me for pidgin English,

I do wish my career had gone differently – these days engineers and accountants seem to have more job flexibility. A pharmacist I know, chooses jobs on a whim, and a physical therapist friend of mine works on her own schedule, sometimes on 20 hour weeks, earning up to 150k (dollars) per annum. My godmother passed away this year; it was at her house I had that sliding door/Superman crash that I mentioned in an earlier article. She was a darling. She bought me my first house-coat as a kid, with my name engraved on it, ala Hugh Hefner. She was a very elegant lady, the likes of which are getting extinct in this country. A very dainty lady with a smile for everyone. She never lost her cool, not even when she was very upset. Someone once confronted her with evidence that her son has stolen another kid’s lunch box (bread and Geisha) at school. She simply replied “That is preposterous! As if my son would ever eat fish from a tin – he knows better than that.”

Elbows off the table, she would instruct at the dinner table. She taught me the cursive form of handwriting and how to pronounce words properly, when I was just a little bairn.  The day I heard she died, I wrote 2 of my most popular articles then cried bucket loads for days afterwards.

Rest in peace Aunty C.

How has your year been so far? Me, I have had a life you could write a blog on.

No Vex

Yawa!

Sometime ago, my cousin who lives in England, received an official correspondence from a professional organization that I am affiliated with, addressed to me, because I had used her address as a forwarding address. It was a copy of a replacement certificate of membership which I had ordered from them at a cost off course.

Unfortunately, when my cousin was trying to open the envelope to see what was included in the mail, she mistakenly tore the upper part of the certificate. The next time I saw her, she handed over the torn certificate with an apology and a cheque for 25 pounds for me to order a replacement certificate. I looked at the cheque, and dreamed of all the things I could do with it –  purchase a new bottle of cologne (Emporio Armani Diamonds by Armani, which was new at the time); squander all of it on kebabs and chips and a bottle of wine, buy a pair of slip-ons from Clarks, load my mobile phone and call Naija, enter Poundland and buy 25 bucks worth of candy for people in Naija who were waiting for ‘Janded’ stuff; sow (or sew) it into someone’s life in Nigeria; blow it buying 2 packet shirts at the NEXT clearance sale on Oxford street; renew my subscription to 442 magazine; buy a kpanjo phone without camera from Phones 4 You, and use it as a spare phone to put my MTN sim-card; ‘repatriate’ the 25 pounds back to Nigeria and utilize it on next summer as forex.

As you may have noticed, none of my thoughts went to ordering a replacement certificate. But deep down within me, I knew I could not accept the 25 pound check from my cousin. No be her fault say the certificate tia (tear). But I was amazed at her willingness to take responsibility and attempt to make amends by apologizing and handing out payment for a replacement.

Many people in Naija would label her a mugu, and me a bigger mugu (maga) (the superlative term for mugu is maga) for rejecting the free-fall cheque. In Naija, many people fail to take responsibility for their actions. They just gloss over their wrong-doing, offer lame excuses and throw an abject apology towards the victim if he or she persists for too long. I have even seen where someone apologized, and when the victim insisted on compensation, the person retorted “Fuck you jor”.

The above example is a simple illustration but study our national life. Hardly do you see somebody hold up his/her hand and accept that he or she has erred.

Have you heard of a guy called Lawrence Anini? You have? Okay, what about Monday Osunbor? Maybe or probably not. Do you know why the name Anini would forever live in infamy in Nigerian memories? He was the Jesse James of his time – a reckless armed robber and car tif (thief). He terrorized the old Bendel State, robbing, killing, looting and pillaging. Osunbor was his side kick, and the muscle of the operations.

When they got caught, Anini the ‘strong-man’ of the Bendel State criminal underworld was singing like a tolo-tolo. A forgettable memory of the period following the capture of that infamous gang is NTA news footage of Anini begging for forgiveness from the Nigerian public. This dude who had slaughtered many innocent victims, swore that he had turned a new leaf since his capture, and would be a model citizen if released.

This nigga is talking now about turning a new leaf. But what about people you and your blood gang murdered and robbed. The difference between Anini and Osunbor, is that while Anini was pussyfooting trying to curry public sympathy, Osunbor manned up, and was ready to face the consequences. In fact Osunbor last words were for a message to be delivered to the youths of the time to shun crime and fast money. Today, the name ‘Anini’ is the definitive word for thief or rogue or ole, the same way Indomie defines noodles, Maggi means all kinds of stock cubes, once it is blue detergent powder in Nigeria, it must be Omo (much to the chagrin of Elephant Blue Detergent).

Osunbor is just another Edo surname, confined to the subconscious of Nigerian people’s memories.

And it is not just criminals in Nigeria who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. The ordinary man on the street just wants to gloss over his wrongdoings. And why won’t he? He watches our politicians lie, squeal and tell half-truths, get caught and blame it on the work of saboteurs. No Naija politician has ever resigned out of disgrace or scandal. In fact up to 2004, and I stand to be corrected, Ebitimi Banigo, a former Minister of Science and Technology is the only Nigerian politician to have ever resigned on a matter of principle. Catch a  Nigerian politician on camera with a Ghana-Must-Go bag filled with cash with his pants down being fellated by a ‘runs’ girl in a dingy Abuja hotel, and he would swear that it wasn’t him, and blame it on photo-shop.

Our everyday life is based on passing the buck. You are stuck in traffic on a hot summer afternoon on a busy street in Lagos, and someone upends your car, cracking the bumper into 2 and smashing the brake-lights.

The person gets down from his car, assesses the damage and puffs out his gorilla chest as he mutters: “Sorry o” and he dangles his keys impatiently. Some people do not even cut out their engine, when they come down to inspect a damage that was their fault.

And to him, ‘sorry’ should be the end of the matter. If you persist that you and he exchange insurance papers (if you are brave enough for kasala) or that he pays for the damage, the idiot may further throw you the only apology in the world that sounds like an insult “Sorry na!” Pscheeeww!

If it is a bus or okada driver who wrecked your motor, he may even try to prostrate, and bide his time until back-up arrives. Then you would be royally fucked.

And you are like, dude, the last time I checked, sorry never fixed a Mercedes Benz rear grill. Or a Kia Rio one for that matter.

I was in a car once with my friend’s older brothers, and we were driving into a paid parking lot on Marina when a man in his 50s was backing up from a lot and crashed into our slick Honda vehicle. The man got down, ‘begged’ and tried to convince my friend’s brother to forgo asking for a repair. The gash was really bad, and the car door couldn’t even shut. The man said that he had just come to distribute some wedding IVs for his daughter’s wedding. He then asked us to forget about the crash, and shoved some IVs into our hands, inviting us to the wedding as ‘special guests’ to come and eat, drink and be merry. The wedding reception was at Onipanu that Saturday. We were all weak.

I mean, we like red party jollof rice, but not that much. Please fork out money for our  car repair.

This happened to me, and as the guy kept on saying ‘sorry’ it was really beginning to piss me off. His ‘sorry’ just made me madder like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the below scene from the 1996 classic Pulp Fiction. I double-dare you to say ‘sorry’ one more time

So what is it about our national psyche that makes us reluctant to bear responsibilities for mistakes or wrong-doing? I remember reading an edition of Island News where this 45 year old carpenter was arrested when neighbors caught him sleeping with his 12 year daughter, Can you believe that this brute tried to put up a defence? He first said that he only slept with her after their mum died and he needed ‘companionship’, and he only did it once. He even tried to blame the girl, by saying that the girl was dressing provocatively?! Your own daughter?  This dude should have had a stone put around his neck, and chucked off 3rd Mainland bridge, so he could swim with the fishes.

Or did you guys hear about the LASU dudes that raped a girl. Never ever once where they apologetic for their crime. Please peruse their explanation in this link, and see if you can trace any ounce of remorse or sense of responsibility in their confession.

The part that irked me most was one of the rapist’s cry that “I regret everything because it has landed me in big trouble. Unfortunately, my father is not alive to bail me out of this. Please help me beg Sandy to forgive me.

Note that he does not regret the pain and anguish he had caused the rape victim. Bail you out? We need more fathers like Mutallab’s own.

The Nigerian psyche and cultural inclinations are to think that apologizing profusely, throwing one’s self on the floor, and passing the buck to Satan, claiming that it is the devils work, shows remorse. Someone takes responsibility and doesn’t try to shirk the blame is seen as a hardened criminal. Bystanders would remark ‘This man dey very wicked o’

In boarding school, a Form 3 student was caught stealing a box of Golden Morn and a tin of Nido powdered milk. His modus operandi was that he would wait till it was time for student’s assembly, then scale into the dorms, and break into people’s lockers. The guy was caught by the house captain and taken to the school captain’s quarters where he received a thorough beating from some prefects.

As the thief sobbed uncontrollably and begged for mercy, the school captain asked him” Next time, when you see someone else’s belongings, what would u do?

He replied as he swallowed huge tears “I would run in another direction.”

The school captain further inquired as he brandished a huge scratcher (a cane made up of twisted metal hangers) “What direction?”

The thief answered “The opposite direction!”

He was released with a warning and not forwarded to the house-master for suspension, as was customary.

Another guy was caught stealing a few weeks later. The prefects gathered and flogged him, but he didn’t shed a tear or ask for forgiveness, not even once. As they thrashed with scratchers and belts, dude manned up and didn’t show any emotion. He was beaten to a pulp and then suspended.

It even starts from childhood. A kid was caught stealing meat from a pot of egusi soup, and he denied an intent. I was just checking the temperature of the soup.

Recently, my friend and his wife and kids came over to my place to visit us. His 3 year old son, Rasaki, was a bit of a brat. Remember my 40-inch Sony Google TV? This boy kept trying to climb the glass TV stand, and hold on to the television set. He tugged at it once, and it looked like it would heave over and smash. My girl was gracious and smiley, but I wasn’t finding it funny at all as I swallowed. If that TV got smashed, you could bet your bottom dollar that the boy’s kids would not offer to replace it. Their defence would be ‘Eiyaa, sorry, but he is just a child.”

I had to act fast by tempting him away from the telly. So I called out “Rascal kid, Rasaki, come and take biskit (biscuit).”

He ran towards me….and away from the TV. It worked.

 

 

To the families, I never meant to cause no pain/
I know the truth, but if you want, then I shoulder the blame/

Puff Daddy (Pain, 1997)