There is something I am very proud of – I will explain it to you. In my dealings with people of other nationalities, I have noticed that many of them cannot believe how knowledgeable and exposed Nigerians are about world matters, technology and current affairs. Not all about Nigeria is terrible or backward you see; we live in a country where the media is not restricted. You can get on Facebook in a jiffy once you load up your BIS with phone credit. You can voice away your frustrations with government on Twitter as well. Heck, I have seen many movies at Silverbird way before they came out in England.
We are well on our way to becoming exporters of entertainment, fashion and music, but we have imported well too. Obviously there is still wide-spread poverty in the land, and there are people who live below the poverty line, but fortunes will change. President Jonathan, please do not become Saul.
When I was residing in England in the mid-noughties, I became very good friends with a chap who was in a tribute rock band and performed at gigs part-time. He was really awesome with the electric guitar, and was an awesome drummer as well. When I first heard his band play, I told them that they reminded me of Muse. He told me that I was one of the most dynamic persons of color he had ever met (no disrespect of course). As his band-mates and I chatted about the state of rock and alternative music, the look on their face was priceless. Blame it on lots of MTV in the 90s.
I have been at rock concerts where I was the only dudu in the room. I got some funny stares at first, but I didn’t ‘send’ them from now till tomorrow. After a while, as the music began to jam and alcohol and marijuana exchanged hands, all their fears and inhibitions evaporated. Me, I was solely there for the music.
My foreign friend was quite right – I see myself as a man of many tastes, and not only when it comes to music. I try to remain world-savvy, and read a little bit about everything as possible. I frequent Barnes and Noble and other book stores where you can read for free, as often as I can. The other day, a book called ‘The Last Days of Camelot’ (about the Kennedy Administration) shared my table along with the latest issue of Esquire and another travel book on running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain (one of my dreams). I am as much at home at a Creed concert carrying a fit lekpa lass on my shoulders, as I am at an nkwobi joint somewhere in Aguda, tackling a tough piece of ponmo while trying to protect my crisp white shirt from stains and also drinking fermented palm-wine from a calabash.
But as layered as I am, I am a product of Nigeria – arguably the greatest nation on earth. Despite the odds, we shall march on, pursuing the Nigerian dream of – bread, peace and freedom.
However, in my short travels out of our country, I have come up against the brick walls of stereotypes sometimes formed by an ignorant belief of what is seen in the press. Between 2000 and 2010, Nigeria took a beating on the world stage as people in the west cringed at the following – the Mutallab incident, our sick ex-president’s wife ruling by proxy, the high scale corruption by a former vice-president and ex-governors and electoral fraud on an institutionalized scale in 2007
Did I care? In my last job in Jand before I moved back to Nigeria, I had managed to make honorary Nigerians on some people in my department. I weaned an Irish lass onto jollof rice, until she was cooking it at home without the recipe and visiting Obalende Suya for take-aways. I put some Jamo dudes onto D’Banj’s “Booty Call’ which was a hit at the time. I even got my Somali friend to speak a bit of Pidgin English with the greetings ‘wetin dey?’ which he perfected to a tee, with the finger-snap handshake. It was as if I was willing people to appreciate Nigeria’s greatness.
I once worked part-time in a call centre that took midnight calls from punters. There was this day, I was racially abused by a drunken irate customer who called me a ‘paki’ (racial slur used for Indian/Pakistanis).
Following the company procedure for harassment, I terminated the call and logged a report to my team manager. A counselor was called from HR and my manager came over as well with a cuppa for me, trying to find out whether I was too offended to continue work, whether I wanted to go home for the day or whether I required counseling. Counseling ke? How about I cancel my shift.
I was upset – because the ignorant customer had used the wrong racial ‘slur’; I was upset that he didn’t call me a ‘nigga’ which I am fine with by the way. In fact if he had called me a ‘Nigerian nigga’, I would have still provided a service over the phone. I mean, get it right, or get lost.
Despite all that has happened, I still try to represent my country wherever I find myself. It has not always been easy. The one thing that saddens me is that II get the feeling that Nigeria expects me and every other youth in this country to hang in there while she sorts herself out at her own pace. It is just like that scene in ‘Last of the Mohicans’ where Daniel Day Lewis‘s character screams out to his love interest as she is taken away by the bad guys ‘Stay alive, I will find you…’
1. My 11 year old nephew once told me that an oyibo kid had asked him this question which gets a 2nd Class Upper in ignorance for me: ‘Is it true that in Nigeria and Africa, kids to go school riding on elephants and other animals? That would really be fun.’
I told my nephew to give him the following answer at school the next day ‘Yeah it is true. Matter of fact, my uncle has a Jaguar right outside’
2. A middle-aged Scots lady who was a co-worker, sprung this gem on me at an after-work drinks session. ‘Esco, you seem to really like Lion Bars and Rolos. Do you enjoy our candy here? Do you lot have chocolates and confectionery in Nigeria? Did you even know what it was before you got here?
Everyone from work looked at me with anticipation, as the music in the bar seemed to slow up for a second. I replied dryly ‘We did not have any Opal fruit, so I made do with normal fruit which I picked as I swung from vine to vine in the forests of Nigeria.’
Everybody laughed, and the woman did too –though uneasily. That was me off her Christmas card list for secret Santa.
3. At the company annual party, people in my department gathered around a table and we played a game where everyone had to come up with a different party trick. One girl balanced a row of champagne glasses and made a fountain. Another man shuffled cards and guessed correctly which one was picked out every time. It went round until the chap just before me was clueless so he decided to recite a sentence where all the words started with ‘F’: ‘Fat Frank’s father fried five fat fish fingers for five famous friends from Farnham.’
It was now my turn as the last person, and everybody turned to face me. Men, I could not think of anything. Then I made up something quickly…
‘Baba Bolajoko beat Bisi badly because beautiful Bisi bought big bad bananas.’
You could hear a pin drop. The members of my team all looked at me, like they didn’t have a clue on what I was on about. Na dem sabi o.
4. My work team also had a this thing where we had to cook, label and bring a dish from home, so that after work on Friday, we would all have a buffet as part of Happy Friday. I wanted to showcase Nigerian food, so I decided not to go the easy route by cooking Uncle Bens Rice and a pepper-less stew. Besides Ashok, my Indian co-worker said he was bringing basmati rice and byriani. Lily O’Connell who was Irish was also bringing Guinness. So why should I cower? I made pounded yam and okra soup with ponmo. I labeled it Mash, okra casserole and cow feet.
No one went near my food through-out the party except for one Ghanaian chap who loved food and ate with his 10 fingers.
Well, at least I didn’t sell out