Thursday, 29 April 2010

Nigerian impressions

A few days ago I was writing in my diary: “I am willing to bet anything that there are many kind, gentle, smart Nigerians who are so irrespective of interest or duty. It’s just that I haven’t met them in the short time I have been here. However, I do see an incredible number of alfa males, with puffed-up chests and hard or arrogant looks. The violence is palpable- you feel it everywhere.” Well, I met the nice guys here in Abudja. But I have to say: Nigerians are something! Smart, very smart. But My God, what an ego!! But also many really good men and therefore also modest, kind people.
It is true that many of them have emigrated. A newspaper here was even saying that all intelligent people have left the country, leaving the country on the hands of cupid, greedy and violent leaders!
As New York is definitely NOT America, the same way Lagos is not Nigeria. At the end of my stay in Lagos, exhausted and exasperated I was writing: “Two days of driving in Lagos have opened a window into their character. It is not their abilities- most certainly not, otherwise there would much more people killed than the aprox. 200/month; NO. It is not the fact that they are not trained, because they are not- in Nigeria you don’t need training or pass an examination to get a driver’s license. You pay 5,000 nira (about $ 40) and you get it. It is the absolute DISREGARD for all the rest of the world you can AFFORD to disregard. If your car is tougher and you don’t care if you scratch it you disregard everyone and you drive wherever you see a space. Or stop in the middle of the road even if you discomfort hundreds others. And if they happen to be in an armored vehicle, then they weave and blast the horn for everybody to get out of their way because they are ARMOURED.”
The MACHO attitude is fundamental characteristic in Lagos. The ‘tough guy look’ is, it seems, a defense mechanism, still useful and an absolute necessity until very recently. A year , two ago , weapons and armed assault was commonplace in Lagos. An argument on traffic issues was resolved with guns being drawn out and often…used. The macho look ensured survival. A normal look meant you were a sure victim. You had to look the part. Many people became the part and cannot get rid of the role they played.
An interesting phenomenon: here few motorcycles have rear view mirrors. THEY DON’T NEED THEM. They don’t care if they discomfort you by cutting in front and they believe they are so fast and nimble you can’t catch them. Or that you will break not to scratch your car. And I have seen at least ten bykers pounding their fists on cars.
Nigerians seem to be very proud of their country. And more recently they seem to realize they also need to care about it. It is endowed, indeed, with great mineral resources and agricultural potential . But they mismanage in an exemplary way their resources. Actually I think the term ‘resource curse’ was coined on their situation… And it seems they have several million cattle but there are no Nigerian dairy products, and even the juice sold in stores is made from a concentrate imported from other countries…while their fruits rot…Although the biggest economy in West Africa they have a big issue on reallocation of wealth: 75% of the population is under the poverty level.
They are one of the largest oil producers, but their two refineries are out of business, and the fuel comes from refineries owned by Nigerian oligarchs but located out of the country! The local investment climate must be very unfriendly…! Actually it is estimated that out of the 1.3 trillion dollars sitting doing nothing in trust funds in the Channel Islands, a good portion comes from Africa and of course, Nigeria…
I try to discern, as part of my job, a possible civic movement on which to base an advocacy strategy for a better trade and transport environment. In Lagos I am regarded as a strange animal. No one here does ANYTHING if there isn’t an immediate profit. Nobody thinks in long term or civic duty…
In Abudja, things are more nuanced! Industries, businesses are here more mature, closer to the political center and the value of lobbying and a large power base is appreciated.
Same when I talk about the ‘legal way of doing business’. Sorry! You don’t get it! It all comes down to maximizing profit. To do business, legally or illegally you have to pay bribes!! The only rationale here is the quick buck: how much bribe versus how much profit. More than 80% of the containers arriving in Lagos contain contraband or even if not they are not cleared until a negotiation on the tax is achieved. And it can last weeks, months, depending on the demand for the product and storage costs… The best comes afterwards…the latest technique is to introduce in the container a prohibited item. The container is confiscated according to latest norms. Later it is auctioned and it gets awarded to the right guy, who pays for it less than the tarrif due.
Nigerians are proud of their ‘democracy’. Well… Poor Plato…Rule of law is somewhat of a mess. The Parliament hasn’t passed a significant law in the last 20 years!! For example the customs law is the same since 1958!! It is totally outdated, it doesn’t respond to any international agreement adopted by Nigeria. Everything works by ‘executive order’…And it is the same in all sectors…And their parliamentarians are paid huge salaries.
To work in this country you have to understand the system…A law or an international agreement, etc, doesn’t have the same value as in a rule of law country, in the sense that a law represents the expression of a political interest at a certain moment and that’s it. Next moment, another policy…

1 comment:

  1. what a huge amount of fear behind this aggressiveness... I'm thrilled