The Office (1)

I was watching the US smash TV series “The Office” some weeks ago, when I had a eureka moment. How about an article about the diverse characters and nutters that make up a typical Nigerian office’s workforce. And why not? I have been blessed (depending on how you look at it – maybe I am bad at committing to one place or I have gotten the sack everywhere I have worked) to work in a multiplicity of corporate (and not so corporate) environments.

My folks pushed me towards the door, as soon as I had turned in my final dissertation in for my first degree. No food for lazy man. I scored my first intern job in an alcoholic beverage corporation whose main product rhymes with Aguda (figure that one out). I was the archetypical intern. On my first day, I was pointed to an old dusty steel cabinet to sort out files and records which looked like they had been scattered by a 5 year old. You should try arranging folders with Nigerian names alphabetically. Folder 53456 is UWABUNKEONYE, Folder 53457 is UWAILOMWAN Folder 53458 is UWEMEDIEMOH……..Not to come across racist but the Urhobo names were the hardest..

I mean I have worked in companies where everything was rationed, even the stapler clips. I have been employed at an outfit where one chap was a perpetual latecomer. Considering where he lived, there was no way he could make it on time to work. He knew this, his manager knew this, the director knew this, HR knew this. But the guy’s matter tired everyone. This company was located in Apapa, and this dude lived all the way before Alaba. Due to the incessant traffic on that Maza Maza/ Mile 12 axis, and the terrible roads, he usually got to work around past 9.

So he asked (no instructed me) to do him a favor. Since I usually got to work around a few minutes to 8, I was to switch on his computer, and take out a black suit jacket which he kept in his desk drawers and hang it on his chair. This would give the impression to whoever inquired that he had arrived work on time but “was not on seat” because he had momentarily stepped out for “inspections” or “breakfast.”

He was soon found out when a director came looking for him one morning. Someone in the office mentioned that he had come in but not briefly stepped out. The director did not become a director from being fooled easily so he decided to wait this one out. When the late-comer had not come in at 9am, he (the director) tried his mobile number and the following conversation ensued:

Director: Latecomer (not his real name), this is the Director of Marketing. I have been in you office for the past 20 minutes looking for you. Where are you?

Late-comer: I am around sir. I just briefly stepped out.

Director: Is that so? Briefly stepped out to where, pray tell?

Latecomer: I am in the Logistics Department where I went for inspections.

Director: Oh, I see…I spoke to Mr. Lucky, the logistics manager like 30 minutes ago. Please put him on the line for me. I want to ask him something.

Latecomer: Err…actually sir…

The next thing in the background, the director heard a hawker panting as he said “Oga, I no fit find 5 naira change for the Gala o. My sister wey dey sell orange talk say she got get change. Abi you wan buy pure water join?”

Busted!

The director said “Oh you are still on the road to work, buying Gala on company time abi? I will take this up with Human Resources. Please see me when you get in. I am recommending you for summary dismissal.”

Story. You won’t believe that Latecomer did not get fired eventually. He actually remained in that office for an additional 5 years until he moved because the banking sector had taken off.

Rumor was that maybe he had naked pictures of the Human Resources director smashing a Youth Corper in his office or something. He was just unsackable..

Watch out for Part 2.

Writing Services Offered

I offer writing services for blogs, websites magazines, newspapers, columns, businesses etc. at very competitive rates.

Here are a summary of the kind of writing services I provide:

  • article writing for media prints
  • contents for blogs, websites and online journals
  • blog posts
  • press release writing
  • ghost writing (including songs, lyrics, scripts and poetry)
  • speeches
  • columns for magazines and newspapers

Clients are assured of a fantastic service as my writings are all original, well-crafted, fresh and professionally edited, without copy and paste jobs or plagiarism.

If interested, contact me at woahnigeria@yahoo.com or on Twitter @EscoWoah

The Snake, The Rat, The Cat, The Dog

Scrappy doo - but scraps won't do

Our dear country Nigeria is a cauldron of extreme loves, habits, cultures and sensibilities.

Nigerian cuisine is no different. Many types of meats and plants are consumed here – roasted on a spit, fried with different kinds of fats and oils ranging from mmanu groundnut-nut to ororo and epo, or are ground into powdery forms and are used as stock to garnish dishes.

Nigerians would consume most forms of meat, or fish, or snail – mammals, reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans (crabs and lobsters) are fair game. I have even seen someone wait on the rain, not for water or irrigation, but so that he could get his hands on a kind of edible termite which loses its wings after a heavy storm. People gather the termites, roast their abdomens and stuff their faces with them. Yes, even Atom Ant wouldn’t be safe in some parts of Nigeria; neither would any of the characters from the movie “A Bug’s Life.”

So we like animals as a source of food. What I am now interested in asking is: Is Nigeria a nation of pet-lovers?

In Western countries, people keep pets for companionship, even housing and feeding them like they would do their own kids and in some extreme cases bequeathing an inheritance to them worth millions of dollars. Dol wetin?

This is definitely alien to the traditional Nigerian man.

Oyibo people love their pets so such that many prefer them to humans. I was at work somewhere in London some years back, when our manager asked someone why she hadn’t shown up to work for 4 whole days. The person who missed work said that her cat died a week ago and so she had been depressed and couldn’t work. The management empathized with her, and offered to refer her to Human Resources for counseling of bereaved employers. I was like what the…I mean, my catfish once died but I still had to turn up at NYSC Orientation Camp.

Oyibo people even have their pet dogs or cats sleep on their beds. Some rich people even build a large dog-house as huge as a BQ in Lekki Phase One for their pets.   

In this country, Bingo the dog belongs outside. If it is lucky or if its owners are minted, it would have a rudimentary shed built for it that would offer scant shelter from Nigeria’s extreme sunshine or monsoon rains. Bingo can expect a staple diet of remnants from the kitchen, including chicken and fish bones which have been stripped of all calcium and flesh by the house owners, eba, amala, fufu and even agonyi beans. Most Nigerian families would not care to buy Pedigree Chum or our local Jojo Dog Food for their dogs.

In Naija, if Bingo wants a dog-house as big as a BQ, it better know how to fetch lucrative multi-million naira contracts, not just sticks or Frisbees, and it should be able to catch and apprehend AK-47 wielding armed-robbers and thieves in the dead of the night. Or it would have to be able to make its owners a fortune by entertaining crowds like the Chuckle Hounds.

This is a far cry from my days on the Lion King

No doubt, the inflation and the cost of living severely prevent most pet-owners from taking already hard enough having to cater for the needs and health of yourself and your family without having to buy canned pet food or take your K-9 to the veterinary’s for his anti-rabies injections.

Apart from that,  pets may poo all over the place until they are trained, they climb the furniture and slither about.

In the olden days, dogs were bought to consume human excrement. Wait until the United Kingdom’s RSPCA catches them! Sad but true.

We may love pets but feeding them is no joke. Even trying to secure scraps off bones and flesh from your local ele eran for your dog is costly business. Unfortunately, we Nigerians eat almost all the parts of a cow or goat, so unless your dog likes cow or goat horn or hair, there is no free animal part to get off a butcher.

And buying the pet cans of Pedigree Chum, Whiskas, carrots or sesame bird seed requires deep pockets, the type only people who steal government money may usually have. How many pet-owners, faced with the option of buying Jojo Dog Food for Lassie their dog, or purchasing a carton of Indomie Noodles for the child’s dinner would buy the former? Is a dog man’s best friend? Well I don’t think so, unless your name is Tarzan and you live in the Jungle. Or unless you are making a fortune exporting 404 meat to Europe and North America from your base in Calabar.

I have seen people feed their pets substances that the pets themselves never knew they could consume. In Naija, I have seen pets eat foods that will confuse the biologists on the National Geographic and Animal Planet channels. Canivores have been transformed into herbivores due to Naija’s harsh economic climate.

Oh so you think that a cat can never be convinced to eat roasted agbado (maize)? Think again.

Some years back, I was working at an office somewhere in VI. Sometimes, I would get to work quite early to beat the morning traffic, so I would go to this small provisions shop right next to the office to get a Coke and some biscuits. The shed was owned by this huge black Yoruba woman who had a huge gob on her and was always mouthing off to customers about her business.

One particular day, I noticed a cage at a corner of the small shop, with a large white rabbit in it. I asked her about it and she said, it belonged to some expatriate who normally stopped by her shed for a quick cigarette. Apparently the expat had to go on a business trip to Holland, and had begged the lady to help him keep and look after the pet rabbit for 3 days.

Three days had turned into three weeks, and the expat had not shown up or returned to collect his damn bunny. The shop woman said that anytime she tried the number, it was switched off so the man wasn’t still back from the Netherlands.

While the woman cursed and cursed the expat in her local dialect, I looked at the rabbit and gasped as I saw a quarter loaf of Agege bread in its cage!

I was like wow! I turned to the woman and told her that she really shouldn’t be giving the rabbit white bread, as it was processed food and could kill it.

The woman sighed and shrugged her shoulders. She retorted that the man only dropped money enough for three days, and she had had to feed the rabbit from her own pocket. Fair point.

She then asked me what type of foods rabbits ate. As soon as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized how unrealistic I sounded: “Lettuce, carrots, cabbages…”

 The woman looked at me with an irritated expression on her face as if to say “Fuji cabbage…”

Taking a blunt stick, and poking the distressed rabbit through the cage hole, the woman proudly told me that she had been feeding the rabbit agonyi beans, a delicacy which she claimed the rabbit now loved and looked forward to. I then noticed the red palm-oil stains on the bunny’s otherwise snow white fur. At that point, how I wished I had the services of Dr. Doolittle so I could know what this rabbit was thinking.

I have seen someone feed their pet parrots – Harry and Harriet, udara (agbalumon) seeds! Talk about bird seed! Harry later died, leaving Harriet a widow.

Imagine giving the stray horses on Lekki road a lump of sugar while stroking their mane. The agitated horse would be sure to kick lumps out of you.

Like everyone, I was amazed when I saw pictures of the stranded whale carcass being carved into chunks on Oniru beach about a fortnight ago. I know about point-and-kill catfish, but this is pointless. Whales are mammals, by the way so the people actually ate whale-meat! Ewww!

 

 

 

Moby Dick don enter naija o

 

Some pets have been known to turn against their owners due to ill treatment. I even know Nigerian pets that “rack” Naija sense. It must be something in the water.

There was a time a friend of mine was travelling out of town for a week, so he left some money for the gateman to feed his 2 dogs – a pair of Alsatian breeds. Soon as he was out of the door, the gateman pocketed the money, and only gave the dogs some remnant chicken bone on the 3rd day. Then the morning of the day, the house-owner was due to come back, the gateman decided to buy some cheap food from a nearby buka  for the dogs to give some semblance that he had been feeding the dogs.

As soon as the gateman stepped into the dog cage to feed the dogs, one of them, a very feeble female called Sheba quickly snuck behind him and bit his bum -without barking or giving inkling as to its intent.

The gateman had to use the remaining money to get a rabies shot at the doctor’s. That is what I call canine justice.

But the weirdest case I ever heard happened somewhere in Lagos. There was this family that had a dog called Diego had started becoming a bit erratic. It barked at visitors, was aggressive if someone was eating a steak at the dinner table and didn’t throw it the bones; it even stationed itself at the gate, putting its snout under the gate to bark at who knows what passing by on the street. It even got irritated by gushes of wind. It even barked at the rain once, and nearly got electrocuted snapping and growling at a NEPA power cable connected to a sparking transformer as it bit at it furiously. Atomic dog.

Then there was a day when a business partner came to the house somewhere in Surulere to see Raymond, the dog’s owner.  At the gate, the visitor asked whether Raymond had a dog. Being the confident owner, Ray replied in the affirmative, but proudly assured the now shaken visitor that the dog will not bite him because they were together. He told the visitor to walk behind until they were both in the house.

Diego who had been watching the proceedings, from his spot under a car in the garage was already growling. He then bolted from under the car, and bit, wait for this, Raymond! The dog was now officially uncontrollable!

The visitor dashed into the house when he saw Diego biting Raymond, and shut the door. Ray was trapped outside with the errant dog; Ray was mighty embarrassed.

Ray had had enough and the next morning, he called his driver and instructed him to take the dog to Kuramo Beach in VI, where some people were in the business of putting down dogs and making them into pepper-soup. He also handed the driver some cash to pay the dog-bashers.

The driver drove down to VI with the dog in the back-seat. However, when he got to the beach, he decided he could make a quick buck by releasing Diego, driving away and keeping the money for himself.

He did that, and drove off. He had a couple of errands to run in Lagos Island and Ikoyi. He then went to pick up the children at school around 2pm

When he got back to the house, Ray was on the dining table eating rice and chicken.

He looked up from his meal, and stared directly at the driver, as he asked him“Oh you are just coming back now. Did you give the dog to the dog-killers to kill? And did you pay them the money? I hope the money was enough?”

The driver lied “Yes sir. Dem kill the dog for my front, and I carry three thousand give them.”

At that point, Ray visibly frustrated, sighed and looked at the driver again, as he pointed “If dem kill am for your front, then what the hell is the dog doing here!”

Diego was lying under the dining table, with a half eaten bone next to it. Please refer to the lyrics section at the end of this article.

 

 

  

Get at me dog

 

 I hear that Diego inspired the storyline for the horror dog movie “Cujo”.

The economic hardship in Nigeria has made families look for different ways to survive. The middle class is being eroded, and the worldwide-recession, bank crisis and crash of the stock market have not helped matters. If people cannot feed themselves, how can they have any regards for pets or animals? Economic hardship can turn your bosom friend into your enemy. The crab in the bucket theory? Some Naija people may take this too far.

I mean, when does your pet hamster begin to look more and more like bush meat (ara oke) to you?

 It is not an excuse though.

A cleaner that used to work for my uncle once told me that he used to catch pigeons, kill them, fry and eat. I was shocked, and wondered how he managed to trap them. He said he would mix granulated sugar in a bowl of water and place it on a verandah.

According to him, and I stress that, the pigeons would fly in and take sips of the water. Later on, when they flew elsewhere and drank water, it would taste bitter because they were used to the sugary water. So they would fly back to his verandah, gathering in flocks as they tried to sip out of the sugary water. He claimed that at this point, he would pick them easily as they would offer little resistance! Keep this dude away from Trafalgar Square, I say!

Of course, there are Nigerians that love their pets.

I know a landlord that never charged rent for the use of his Boy Quarters. All he asked was that Major, his dog was fed and groomed daily by the tenant. The only thing was the Major was thick set, heavy Rottweiler with a bad temper, big sharp teeth and a long leash. Well the BQ was in Abacha Estate, Ikoyi.

And of course to some Nigerian people, a pet is a status symbol. If you owned an ekruke (local dog), you would not want to take it for a walk. But watch some people walking their Spaniels or Bulldogs!

I remember back in the days, when some people would lie that their mongrel dog was half or quarter Alsatian. Some people used to lie that they had “police dogs” or “German Shepherds” which you would never get to see when you stopped by their house. I remember someone claiming his dog was half Alsatian, quarter Doberman with a little bit of local dog (one-eighth according to him).

I highly doubted that when I saw the way the dog demolished left-over fufu on the kitchen floor.

Give a dog a bone/

leave a dog alone/

let a dog roam and he’ll find his way home/

 DMX (Ruff Ryders Anthem, 1998)

Bosses from hell

You came late eh? Oya kneel down and fly your hands

   

In the chick flick “The Devil Wears Prada” the main character Anne Hathaway is confronted with one of the ultimate career dilemmas: you have just landed your dream job, but you have a boss who must have originated from the deepest pits of Hades.   

We have all been there – everyone can relate to Ms. Hathaway’s grueling experience at the hand of Meryl Streep’s character. You will have sympathizers sigh at your tales of suffering, as they shake their heads pitifully before they give you sledgehammer advice: “The economy is tough – at least you have a job. Be thankful and suck it up; besides you are only with your boss from 9am to 5pm.” From Monday to Friday, that is only 40 hours out of a 168 per week, not including time spent commuting.   

There are also occasions where a boss is as unpopular as Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal. Everyone in the office knows she has just driven into the building long via internal email alerts long before she walks through the doors.   

In our dear country, bosses from hell thrive like flies in a carcass. Nigerians love shows of power and authoritarianism is rife.   

The Nigerian boss is a special physical specimen. If you use Nollywood as a visor, you form a mental picture of a file-clutching, pot-bellied, grey suit wearing man in his late 50s with a thick Lord Lugard type moustache.   

One who comes to work late and leaves early and actually does the least amount of work for the renumeration he commands. The type of sturdy, world-weary man that barely grunts greetings in reply to his office juniors, as he walks briskly to his office, followed nervously by his driver bearing his suit jacket and briefcase. His first executive order is usually for his secretary to bring him tea and the dailies. His office had been cooled to perfection for him, with the air-conditioner switched on by his secretary, in scant disregard of the environment or power-saving.   

A female boss from hell is an unknown species – unmarried or barely married. Loves to work long hours. Her professional and person relationships with others are two extremes on the totem pole. The type of woman to send her assistant to her son’s primary school to drop treats for him, and fire the assistant two days later for over-staying her lunch break by 5 minutes.   

A friend of mine once worked for a huge corporation in the FCMG industry, where the HR manager had an acute case of “aka gum.”   

The aka gum syndrome is a condition where the sufferer is very miserly or stingy with resources, even those that do not belong to him.   

He got absolutely angry that office juniors and non-managerial staff were drinking “company tea.” The tea, along with coffee and biscuits had been freely supplied by the company for workers to enjoy in the morning. Dude, tea is such a basic thing to be spiked about.   

This HR manager sometimes refused to replace tissue paper in the staff loo, if he felt that the last set of rolls finished too quickly.   

He manned the door of the office or put up a chair against it to prevent late-comers from sneaking in. He once snuck out of an AGM meeting several times; to check if a serial offender had left his PC on when stepping out of the office.   

You left your computer idle for approximately 2 seconds..

   

On the day, he resigned to take up a new appointment, nobody turned up for his send-off dinner. Everyone claimed that they were ill or under the weather. To be fair, there was an apollo epidemic around that time.   

Do men or women make better bosses? Most people believe that women bosses are more prone to emotional stress and more likely to take out marital problems and PMS hormonal changes out on staff under their control. What about single and menopausal female bosses?   

The world has long had a history of bosses from hell. From the feudal lords who reigned over serfs in the middle-ages to present day suit and tie bosses.   

Leona Helmsley, an American hotelier and socialite was famously known for sacking hotel staff for the smallest and flimsiest reasons such as a misaligned lampshade.   

Henry Ford used his henchmen and secret police to spy on employees. He hated unionism and used tear gas, scare tactics and a private army to deter them.   

It also gets close to home.   

I have a couple of friends that worked in a law firm somewhere on the Island where one of the partners was a very difficult woman. Sometimes, she could be heard from her office upstairs shouting at staff on the telephone, when she could have simply called them up to her office.   

Her pet peeves were spelling mistakes in reports or write-ups or even slight punctuation errors. She would rant and complain about a lawyer’s writing style or the format for the letter for hours, even making one particular associate re-print a letter up to 15 times. She employed Word spell-check and a large Oxford dictionary to catch out offenders. She monitored every single correspondence with clients handled by her associates, even refusing to entrust some senior associates with up to 15 years experience with some ordinary tasks.   

It was not uncommon to see workers spending hours formatting an internal report for a 30 minute meeting just not to run foul of Ms. Boss from Hell.   

When she chided a staff member via email, she copied all the staff. She also blasted staff at meetings in front of everyone, regardless of the erring staff’s position or level of seniority in the office.   

 She once shoved someone away for leaning on the venetian blinds in the over-crowded meeting room.   

Her method of laying off staff or getting rid of workers was through a process similar to the Japanese ancient traditional act of hara-kiri.   

In feudal Japan, where a warrior was disgraced or defeated, he “lost face” thereby feeling extreme shame. As a result, to assuage the shame he performed an extremely painful act of ritual suicide called “hara-kiri” (disembowelment) where he cut open his abdomen with a short blade.   

After giving the erring associate a public reprimand, she would ask him to resign by turning in a letter. This involuntary act of resignation absolves her of the one month’s notice requirement and also gives her a kind of moral legitimacy. Well, you jumped, I didn’t push you to your death; I just watched.   

You have all been removed from the Circle of Trust

   

At least 15-20 staff of that firm have resigned, been retired, sacked or have left that firm due to her attitude.   

There was also a female Managing Director who went through personal assistants like water. She dismissed one P.A. for getting engaged without telling her, and laid off another because she did not “feel her vibe.”   

Many people can put up with any level of harassment and rely on their monthly pay check to put the smiles back on their faces at the end of the month. What about when a boss from hell fails, refuses or neglects to pay salaries frequently. The boss of all bosses.   

 It is a different kettle of fish, when a boss especially in a “one-man business” sort of enterprise elects to pay staff peanuts. Worse than this, is the flagrant disregard of our labor laws, due to non-enforcement of employment laws due to the wide spread unemployment, desperation of job seekers and economic hardships.   

Some bosses do not pay their staff salaries at all. You join a company and you are given training, then you resume your duties. Your bank details are collected by the Human Resource Department or as is the usual practice, an account is opened for you bringing your number of bank accounts to about 5. Your first salary is paid, and then you get into the company system working putting in between 40-60 hours per week, including weekends and public holidays. Then you hit a wall. You insert your ATM card into the ATM machine at your local bank on the last Friday of the 2nd month, and see the balance: zero naira.   

This process continues on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th month. Meanwhile your boss carries on like nothing is wrong, even adding a new flash automobile to his fleet of wonder on wheels. Some co-workers even spread rumors that he has been sighted painting the town red, having a blast at exclusive restaurants, travelling to the South of France for weekends, and chasing tail all around.   

When some members of staff confront him, he becomes aggressive and reacts like he is annoyed about their effrontery. He still expects them to show up at work even if they have to beg, steal or borrow.   

I know a situation where the boss was not paying salaries to every worker; just those who curried favour with him or performed office-snitching on his behalf. He was also paying one particular girl who he was sleeping with an additional allowance.   

There is a company in Lekki which carries on the business of ATM machine installation, repairs and maintenance. The boss there has unenviable track record of not paying staff their salaries. Sometimes staff are summarily dismissed for the pettiest reasons when the arrears owed them have accumulated to heavy sums.   

Sometimes, some ogas are just plain bullies who love humiliating junior staff.   

Some years ago, a recent graduate friend of mine with a degree from a University in England resumed for work at a multinational manufacturing firm somewhere on the Mainland.   

On his first day, the HR manager gave him a tour of the firm’s premises, and took him to the department he was supposed to work under and introduced him to the manager in charge there – a grouchy man called Mr. Laja.   

While the HR Manager was there, Mr. Laja asked the graduate (Toby) what his major was in school. Toby proudly replied “Project Management and Finance from the University of Liverpool.”   

 As soon as the HR manager had left and was out of sight, Mr. Laja asked him “Shebi you know how to sort files?” and gave him the key to a filing cabinet that looked like something from the National Library and Archives.   

Toby sorted files for weeks and weeks; he would get to work, take off his suit jacket and tie and sort out dusty files which had been previously arranged by a whirlwind. He might as well have studied Library Science. Well, at least he got some experience for his CV.   

Some bosses are just plain bullies, who look for weak prey.   

A girl called Dee resumed work at a telecommunications firm in the VI area as a HR officer.   

On her first, second and third day, nobody assigned her any work, not even her manager. She shared an office with the other HR staff while her manager had his own office next door. She decided to read the company’s website, arrange her desk, help with any small tasks she could, but she was generally idle.   

On the fourth day, she was reading the company newsletter to update herself on happenings, when the manager poked his head through the office door and saw her: “Oh, so you are idle, eh? Ok go to Tantalizers and get me a Tanta-roll.” One Tanta-roll.   

She had a car, but it was around the lunch rush-hour where there was bound to be loads of traffic.   

As if he read her mind, he said “Take an okada. Be back here on time, because I don’t want the office empty.”   

She was not thrilled at being “messaged” but she thought to herself: it is alright, it is just like a coffee run. Interns and new staff do coffee runs at times.   

Well that is what she thought.   

The next day her boss sent her to get more Tanta-roll.   

Then it became a daily ritual to send her at 12 noon to get all kinds of bites from eateries far and wide, from Tanta-rolls to meat-pies, yam pottage, egg rolls, beans, bread etc. Soon everyone in the office was also chipping their money once it was 12 to send her to Tantalizers.   

She once stained herself with a large “map of Nigeria’ red stain on her crisp white shirt from palm oil leakage while juggling takeaway packs of yam-pottage and other foods, and trying to hold on for her dear-life on a speeding okada.   

That was the last straw – she devised a plot to go to the loo once it became 11.45 and stay there till way past 12 noon. After then, she would come to the office, grab her jacket and announce that she was off for lunch.   

She did this for like 3 days in a row, before she noticed that her boss had now assigned chap doing his NYSC attachment to do the “Tanta runs” instead.   

The very next day her manager put his head through the office door and said “Dee, bring a laptop in tomorrow, we are going out for a meeting with a client at Ikoyi Hotel.”   

These are little examples, but I am sure that everyone has had some kind of experience. There are certain people in this country who due to cultural influences, believes that a boss, particularly for certain industries, has to be unapproachable, authoritarian and aloof. It is the same kind of people who call the bad guy in the movies “the boss” and believe an office manager just has to be like them.   

    

He tried to get this job at Calvin’s record shop/  

He was in it to win it, but the boss fronted and said/   

Sorry Warren G but there’s no help wanted/   

    

Snoop Dogg (Vapours, 1996)

Talk Talk

pic taken from http://www.main.nc.us

 

The art of “mis-yarning” is as old as language itself. From biblical examples (Moses took credit for a miracle and was subsequently prevented by God from entering Canaan) to historical accounts and even to the stuff of Roman legends. 

In Greek mythology, Cassiopeia the queen of Argos mis-yarned by bragging that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than a goddess and was punished when the goddess sent them a Kraken (a sea monster, not  a type of Danish cookie) to torment their island kingdom. 

Nigerians love to talk – we babble on our smart phones in traffic at risk to our own safety, we reluctantly switch off our handsets ready for air take off, only to turn them back on as soon as the plane’s tires touch terra firma. Some also talk in the cinema, spoiling the enjoyment of more serious movie-lovers.  

I mean who would be more interested in Angelina Jolie’s hair-do or hair-color, than in following the intriguing plot of the movie she is starring in? I was at Goldenfowl Cinema in Victoria Island recently to watch Salt, and a teenage girl in front of me kept talking during the movie, about Ms. Jolie’s hair. Someone on her row got fed-up with the distraction and asked her to hush. The girl got upset and started mouthing off, ruining the movie for us all. Now that is adding Salt to injury. Ok bad joke. 

Way back at University in England, the librarian almost put up a “Not More Than One Nigerian Allowed” sign after he got tired of breaking up gatherings of shouting Nigerians camped outside the school library, chatting on top of their voices and shouting without a care. Our compatriots simply moved to the law library to continue. 

So we are a bit chatty, but so are many people of Latin or Negro descent. 

We also sabi mis-yarn well well

Definition of mis-yarn from the Revised Pidgin English Dictionary (2010 Edition). To mis-yarn; to speak nonsense (verb), or any form of absurd or foolish talk (noun), informal or empty talk or opinion (noun), nonsense. See also bosh, opata. 

Ok let me totally rephrase - we Nigerians can talk smack

How many times has someone commented on your personal business or choice of fashion or any lifestyle choice of yours in a public place, and to the hearing of all not even originally privy to the conversation? Ah Alex, what is this? You have added (weight). See your bele

Or chei! See big pimples on your face. Stop eating gra-nut. 

It would interest you that I am actually allergic to nuts. 

The above are little examples. 

Or the guest who told the bride on her wedding day that he had not had a bite to eat since he came. Well, he didn’t exactly tell the bride, he sort of shouted it out to the audience at the reception including the enemies of the couple, and the bride and groom heard too. 

 Miffed at being overlooked by people who were serving only those they knew or were related to or those wearing aso-ebi, he cursed aloud “I have not been served anything since I came.  Not even a grain of rice or a drop of water. Everyone sitting around me is eating and drinking. This is not a wedding, it is a funeral!” 

Someone should have told him that  actually funerals these days are like banquets for kings. So much food, so little tears for the deceased

The funny thing is that sometimes this mis-yarn happens on live TV too. In 1988 American folk songstress called Tracy Chapman (a bit like Asa) released a single called “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight” which became a hit around the world. 

Some years later, a little known Nigerian by the name of Eddie Salt (not real name) recorded a cover of the same song and shot a video for it. Eddie Salt was like your typical late 80s to early 90s Nigerian singer – he had very wet Jeri Curls, he wore costumes that glittered and he looked like the sort of dude who adds “pretty’ or “prince” in front of his government name. 

In an interview on national TV, Eddie was asked what inspired him to record a cover of the song. The look on his face was as if he didn’t know what the interviewer was talking about. The person interviewing then asked Eddie if he was aware that song had been recorded by a popular American artiste called Tracy Chapman. 

With a face as straight as 12 O’clock, Eddie said he had never heard of Tracy Chapman and that he was not aware that she had recorded “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”. He further claimed ridiculously, that someone had hinted him recently that someone may have copied his song, and that infact he could not wait to see or meet this Tracy Chapman if it were her! 

To be fair, Tracy Chapman had probably never heard of Eddie  either

 But what gets my goat as well is when Nigerians do not take the environment or circumstances into consideration before they mis-yarn. I mean, there is a time and place for everything, right? 

 Wrong. 

Some years back, I had to travel to Aba in Abia State around Christmas time with my niece. I decided to go by luxury bus, so I took XYZ from Jibowu which was going to Aba via Owerri. The journey was smooth enough and we got to Owerri around 5.30pm. About 85 per cent of the passengers dropped at Owerri, and the driver decided to wait for about 45 minutes to refuel the bus and to eat. 

 By the time we left Owerri, it was really getting dark and the bus had about 20 passengers onboard. We got to a place about 30 minutes from Aba, when the bus started having problems. The driver would start it and when he tried to accelerate, the bus engine would stall and quit. He would try to restart it and the car would refuse. 

It was dark outside, and to make matters worse, we were in an area which was notorious in the past for armed robbers. There was no street lighting, the road was deserted save for a few cars passing by and we were surrounded by thick forests and owls hooting. Think Road Trip meets Tales by Moonlight. Oh my days

It was very dark because the bus’s lighting was also failing. Some kids started crying because they were hungry and exhausted from travelling all day. A toddler threw up on a passenger a row beside me. The toddler’s mum blamed XYZ. The passenger’s smart agbada was covered in Cerelac. I was worried about my niece’s safety. 

Then to front row of the bus, stepped up a man dressed in yellow polyester short -sleeved suit. He started preaching and talking about his ministry. In a thick Ibo accent, he relayed a story about how a year back, a bus carrying passengers to Port Harcourt got involved in an incident: “Just as the bus was approaching the hamlet of Isiala-Ngwa, the devil struck 20 yards from the toll gate. BOOM! The vehicle ran into a petrol tanker, and everyone on board the motor perished! Their families did not celebrate Christmas that year again!” 

Everyone’s mouths were agape with terror. Even kids too young to fully comprehend started crying aloud. And I am like dude, of all the times and places to tell this story! The man ceased the moment by handing our fliers and pamphlets advertising his church and ministry. Let’s just say he ran out of fliers

To be fair though, there are sometimes when your mis-yarn occurred because you meant to say something but it came out with another meaning. There was time I interviewed for a position with an oil service firm in VI. The chap doing the interview was a French middle-aged man whose English wasn’t so good. We had already discussed my professional and academic experiences as well as what the role entailed. 

To break the ice a bit, he asked me what my interests were. I also asked him what part of France he came from, and what sport he was into. I was hoping that he was into football so I could talk about French football clubs I knew about like PSG, Marseille and Monaco. He however said he was into rugby and used to play rugby back in college. 

In a spot of madness, I said “Rugby is a physical game, you have to be fit to play.” I didn’t know why then, but the guy looked at me in a weird manner and laughed uneasily. What I meant was that rugby was a tough sport and playing it generally required top physical fitness. The guy obviously thought that I meant that there was no way he could have ever played rugby because of his large gut. Talk about the phrase “pardon my French.” Sacre blue! 

Needless to say, I never got that job. I did receive an email thanking me for my interest… 

But seriously, there are levels of mis-yarn where the mis-yarner has done so out of lack of exposure or out of complete ignorance. 

I was at a wedding once where the MC was  a  40 something year old  chap who was dressed in a red suit made out of linen, white snake skin shoes, suspenders and a bowler hat, all in 60 degree weather. The guy talked in a loud voice and was very brash. 

 After “Item No 7” on the menu, it was time for the couple to cut their wedding cake. The MC called out the couple and the baker of the cake. He then announced that he needed about a dozen girls from the audience who were virgins. I kid you not. These were his words “Please finally all I need are 11 or 12 single virgins. I am giving you 5 minutes, come and witness the cutting of the cake” 

Well, no girls came out and I don’t think it is just because they were shy.  Maybe12 is a lot to ask for. 

Mis-yarning also occurs in customer service situations. I was once at a “Miss Little” branch in Aba, behind a man and a woman who had come on a date. When it was time to order, the woman started going through a verbal rundown of items on the menu board one by one. 

She asked cashier, “How much is your chicken pie?” Getting irritated, the cashier replied “ The price is on the menu board, but it is N200.” 

Pointing to the menu board again, she asked “What is tasty fiesta?” 

The cashier visibly expatiated said “It is made out of eggs.” 

She replied “Oh it is akwa. Interesting. I can see salad. Is it ugba?” 

The cashier replied dryly “No it is oyibo salad made out of lettuce and carrots and not cassava and palm-oil. Please make your order. People are on the queue.” 

She was about to order when something on the menu board caught her attention “Which one is Ice Cream Sunday (sundae). I doesn’t know about it. Is it because today is Sunday?” 

Cashier: “It is ordinary ice-cream. Please let me take your order.” 

The woman’s date just looked on quietly. He looked like he was calculating the bill in his mind, and praying that she wouldn’t do anything rash with her order. 

Stubbornly, the woman continued “Mba, I want to know what is in that ice-cream sunday. What is in that ice cream sunday?” pointing with her finger to the menu board which had a picture of the item. 

The cashier replied smartly “It is a trade secret.” 

I couldn’t hold it in when I heard that, and I laughed out loud. I agree that a customer needs to know what is in a product, though not necessarily how it is made but the cashier’s answer was funny. 

The lady eyed me maliciously, but that seems to have shut her up as she made her order and freed up the queue. 

 Sometime in the mid to late 90s, there was a popular night program on DBN called “The Night Shift” where callers could make a request from a list of movies in a line-up. The movie with the most votes was shown to the public. It was a hit program because they showed the latest movies. Oh, the sweet days before Silverbird, eh? 

There was this nice looking lady anchoring the program then. She used to get hit on by male callers. She once had a chap ask her for her phone number on live TV to which she declined politely even though she looked a bit embarrassed. These were the days before GSM mobile services, so she would have had to give out her home number.  All  of the male audience were waiting. 

On another occasion after reading out the line-up of available movies, she told a male caller to make his choice. He said “You.” 

At least, he knew what he wanted

What about when the mis-yarn is directed at your loved one? 

A lady brought her 4 year old son to cut his hair at a salon close to where I live. The child was shouting and thrashing about, clearing terrified of the sound of the hair clipper. The barber could not get him to sit still and the kid kept on pushing the clipper blade away. 

The child’s mum couldn’t get him to calm down and gave up. 

The fed-up barber screamed down the kid’s ears “Shut up or I will barb you gorimakpa!! Then rub your head with palm-oil.” 

Everyone in the salon went quiet with surprise. Even the child’s mother was too weak to say anything. 

Maybe she thought that the threat was also directed at her perfect Brazilian lace -front wig

   

“Zip up your lip before your lips zip you up” 

E-40 (Record Haters, 1996)