Friday, 28 December 2007

Twas the night before XMAS.....

and all through the house, Iyawo was pacing like a cat on a hot tin roof. What could be the cause of this behaviour? Was she worried about Santa not delivering her presents? Was she now worried that not getting me a present - "after all what can you get for a man who has everything?" would come back to haunt her in less than 24 hours. Note to Iyawo - you can never go wrong with Halle Berry. Even for the men who have everything.

It turns out that she is fretting about the number of guests who will be descending on our humble abode for XMAS. See as a Muslim, XMAS for me is all about eating orishrishi, yanfu yanfu and the same goes for my family as we celebrate with our Xtian friends. So Iyawo has proposed that we get a few close friends and family round for some nourishment and good times. I had accidentally mentioned this to my sister and this is when the palaver started.
Ring, ring. Hello.

Sister :Toks you know that your second cousin's, sister's brother's aunt that you have not seen in years?.

Me: erm yesss????

Sister: Well she is coming to your house on XMAS.

Me: okayyyyy. But it is just her right? She will not be bringing her husband and children and that her cousin that always causes trouble?

Sister: Of course not. Don't be silly. She will not bring the cousin that causes the trouble. ...its the other one. Bye

Me: Hello?? hello??

Ring. Ring.

Me: Hello

Stranger (but related in some way or other): Uncle T. How show? So what time should we be there tomorrow? Aunty K said like in the afternoon but I wanted to be sure sha.

Me: We who? Is it not just you? (whoever you are)

Stranger (but related in some way or other): Uncle T. Very funny. See you tomorrow.

So it was that I started to sensitise Iyawo to the possibility that just maybe there might be more than ten people coming over. Then I dropped hints about twenty. Dark mutterings about thirty. Coughed out fifty just to over exaggerate. Needless to say after having planned a meal for a dozen. Iyawo was a bit stressed about the imminent arrival of four. This necessitated several emergency trips to Shoprite. I can honestly say that what I was seeing in her eyes that evening was definitely not love. I have seen thatlook before. On CSI. On Crime & Investigations. On Sky News. But definitely not on XMAS eve.

Naturally yours truly slept like a baby that night. Peaceful are the innocent. Abi no be so?

Come XMAS day the place was like Grand Central station or Cele bus stop at closing time. At one point I banned the guards from ringing the bell any further. Just bring them in. Oh Iyawo was in such a state. Counting left over chicken pieces and cornering me at every opportunity to ask exactly how many branches there were in the Toksie family tree. Food was evaporating off the table like no man's business. (Note to anonymous - we had rice, fish, lasagne, chicken, beef, small chops etc. - Naija stylie). Me I just took the serene view that when food finishes, it finishes. How for do? But Iyawo likes her organisation oh. Things have to be just so. She even stressed the chap doing the cooking so much that when she told him that he could have a drink she came back later to six empty bottles of Star beer (and a much more relaxed chef).

And still they kept coming. From the main cooking we then moved on to throwing the sausages that were left in the freezer on to the barbeque. Another pot of rice hit the stove. Another glass of wine hit the back of Iyawo's throat. Another dagger in my heart (thanks God it was only metaphorical). This was a good time to escape outside with awon boys. These are the Muslims who drink and smoke (but out of sight of Mama Toks obviously). Champagne was uncorked and gist began. This is where we were till 11.30 when the last guests finally departed. Forcefully. If I might say so myself.

By this stage I was well over the limit having consumed a small glass of champagne and a drop of Baileys on the same day. Talk about living dangerously.For me this was really pushing the boat out. My yearly alcohol intake in one go. Iyawo looked at me with a new found respect (at least one of the four Iyawos that I was seeing at this stage anyway) My eyes were not the only thing that were rolling. I was lilting from side to side. It had been a great night.

Iyawo was adamant the next day that she would prefer XMAS abroad next year. Or at a friend's house. Any friend. As a matter of fact they could be perfect strangers as far as she was concerned.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Merry XMAS to all....

We had friends and family around yesterday and it was fab. Our first XMAS in Naija in our own home and it was just so nice. The chefs made some food that was just off the scales. The lasagne was truly historic. I have put a CCTV camera on the fridge to keep an eye on the leftover just to make sure no one gets their grubby mitts on it! You know how these children are oh.

Have a great break.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A week in the life.

So yesterday over to VGC for the Kids XMAS party. I love kids. ReallyI do. But just my own :->. Not 200 of them. Screaming, shouting, fighting. Being kids. I mean grow up! Actually it was quite good with all the bouncy castles although they could have had more things due to the large number of kids. Anyway, I ended up in the queue for popcorn. Now when I say queue I mean there was a main queue and then several tributaries. The good thing was that the two guys serving the popcorn were strictly serving the people in the main queue. But it did not stop the chancers from trying their luck. Kids and adults (mostly their nannies).

Now being a big guy it is not very difficult for me to oppress. I mean when I frown face even grown men fear. But you think these kids gave me face? For where? I mean one kid even moved my leg back so that he could insert himself in front of me despite all my grumbling and clearing of throat! He was like- yea whatever.

After about 30 minutes of queueing -note to organisers - two oldish popcorn machines to serve 2009 kids is not a good idea- I was just about to reach the front of the queue when this "lady" came over, saw her son on the side of the queue and started asking why he had not been served. One of the nannies in front of me had the "nerve" to tell her that it was because he was not in the queue. Cue (pardon the pun) explosion. How dare you tell him he cannot be served because he is not in the queue? Is it not only popcorn? What is the big deal? I was going to explain the big deal to her and point out that she was setting him the wrong example but thought ah what the hell. Save the ammo for bigger battles so I let her continue to hiss and cuss and prattle on whilst her son remained unserved.

Over to the girls school to watch the XMAS play. Arrive to find two leather chairs at the front of the hall behind which the standard folding chairs were lined up. What are the folding chairs for I asked? VIPs my daughter responded. For a school play? Am I not a VIP with the amount of cash I am forking out to the yeye school? A memo is winging its way to the Headmaster tomorrow. What message is this sending to the kids?

Over to my parent for a visit. My father says my son has been telling him all about me. What did he say I ask? He said you had not been feeling well, he replied and when I asked him why he said "don't you know he is an old man and he makes funny noises when he walks "and then proceeded to demonstrate my funny walk. So what are we going to do my father asked him? "Oh he is okay now we have given him medicine!"

And so it goes.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Proud to be Nigerian!!

Even here in chilly London I cannot get it, or him, out of my head. It just keeps popping up like that leftover in the toilet bowl that lacks the substance to get sucked down the drain. I mean how dare he? At the time I was apoplectic. I could have bust a blood vessel. Since then I have calmed down but not enough to forget.

So here's the deal. You grow up in Nigeria before the oil hit big time and the train went off the tracks. You have a great family and social life. You go down to the beach on the weekends. You go for drives with your dad in his convertible. Lagos is light. Life is great. It stays in your mind.

Fast forward several decades and you now have kids of your own and you say to yourself - I must give them a sense, a taste of what it is like to be a Nigerian. Regardless of where they eventually settle in the world they must have a sense of their Nigerian identity. And so you all end up in Lagos. And every day you are trying to show them this , tell them that and the other so that they get it. So that they understand. So that they are Proud to be Nigerian.

In the meantime, everyday you turn on your radio and local TV to be greeted by a barrage of false American and British and God knows what other accent. However, there is one that truly stands out. This chap on Grilla FM. Is he for real? Iyawo reckons he might just be doing it to take the mick. I don't think so. I think he sees himself as the bees knees. I think he wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and taps himself on the chin.

This guy has the most strangulated, over reaching "upper class" British accent I have ever had the misfortune to come across. Morning after morning on the drive to school we tune in hoping against hope that at some point he will come out and say - just kidding oh my people. How ya body? But no. He continues to murder the English language at every turn.

And then the final straw. He is interviewing some chap and he has the audacity, the alacrity, the bloody nerve to ask the chap if he is proud to be Nigerian???? He then claims that he himself is very proud to be Nigerian!! All the while continuing to speak in his awful !£%£$^$&% accent. Whaaat?? How can you be proud to be a Nigerian when it is quite obvious that you detest being a Nigerian if you cannot even be bothered to speak naturally? To communicate in your own tongue?

His is not the only example of the dissing of our culture, our values, our heritage. It seems more and more is disappearing every day. We are dying a slow death. How sad. For me, for my children, for their children. Will there be anything left?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Buyer Beware.

One of the things we did not bring back to Nigeria with us was a car. There was just nowhere to fit it even if we had stood it on it's head. So we had to buy one here. My cousin recommended a dealer (D1) who proceeded to deliver a fleet of different models for our consideration. My father in- law also recommended a dealer (D2) from whom he had purchased various cars over the past 15 years.

Once we had settled on a car - with the dealer recommended by my cousin, my father in law insisted that we must at least visit the other dealer for comparison and we did so. It was a most impressive showroom and as a matter of fact there were several of them - all impressive.

We decided to go for a test drive in one of their cars which apparently was the same year as the model and year we had settled on. On first inspection it was clear that there were differences between the two cars even though it was claimed that both were of the same year. I then decided to do something I am not sure a lot of people are aware of. I decided to check the VIN on both cars.

The VIN or Vehicle Identification Number can be found in several places on a car -on a plaque under the windscreen and on labels on the driver side door and in the engine bay. Once you plug this number into google it will direct you to a variety of sites where you can get the history of the car. Some of these will give you basic information for free and ask you to pay for the full history of the car including if it is registered as stolen, damaged, write off etc. Some even have maintenance details of the car and details of the previous owners.

A cursory check on the two cars on our list revealed one (from D2) to be a 1999 model and the other (from D1)to be the 2002-3 model as claimed. A call back to the dealer who had advertised the 1999 car as 2002 elicited a surprised response and a promise to get to the bottom of this "mystery".

Yesterday my father in law rang me in a panic. He had just bought a car from this dealer (D1)and suspected that all was not well - hmm. It turns out that exactly the same thing had happened. He had been told the car he was buying was 2002-3 when in fact it was a 1999 model!! He is returning the car today.

You have been warned.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

I can't quite put my finger on it.

There's just something about this lady that is reaching out to me. I can't quite put my finger on it (for Iyawo and legal reasons) :->. Thanks to Funmi for the link.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Just like riding a bike..... ish

I am in pain. Severe pain. The sort of pain women complain about during childbirth. Only I do not have access to an epidural. Or a doctor. no. It's just me and good ole Paracetamol. See this is what happens when vanity and ego overtake common sense. Some weeks ago we had the pleasure of having Laspapi round for dinner during which he casually mentioned that he played five - a- side football every Friday. He looked fit and well and I took this as a good sign that the Friday kickabout was doing him good.

Since then we have exchanged emails and I have made enquiries about the game stating categorically that:
- I have not played in at least five years

- My current fitness leaves something to be desired

- Constant travelling does not help

- My advancing years could be an issue etc etc.

I feel that I gave him enough clues for him to be able to say. Toksie you are absolutely right. You continue to stay at home of a Saturday evening eating spring rolls and sipping on fruit cocktails. Sure, make the occasional trip to LaCasa to "work out" and all will be well. But no. The mails came thick and fast. Oh everything will be alright. We are all old men. None of us is fully fit. You will fit right in. We will play at the right pace.

And so it was that I donned my trainers (white of course) and headed off to the Astro turf pitch last night. The first clue that all was not well was that there was no sign of my "mentor". Maybe he is running late I thought to myself as I watched a bunch of fit Arabs\ Lebanese blast the ball about the pitch. Thank God I am not playing with these guys. He'll be here any minute now with the rest of the geriatrics, I try to convince myself, and we can get on with it. It wil be more about skill than speed.

Seconds turn into minutes and thirty of those later I found myself being fitted into an orange jersey and lining up with nine other players - none of whom was a day past 30. Some of them looked fit and muscular enough to play in the Premiership. Unfortunately there was no hiding place. This was five a side. There were nine of them and well you don't have to be a scientist.

For those of you not familiar with this brutal sport here is how it works. Unlike regular football, there are only five players per side, normally there are plenty of subs to allow players to rest, it is played on a smaller pitch than the standard which is normally Astro Turf. Oh and the game tends to move very quickly indeed. Especially if you are forty something and your knees are shot and your groin muscles are em tight. (Bill Cosby to David Letterman. I pulled a groin muscle last night. Dave to Bill. Was it yours? Classic). Anyways.

I look over and notice there are no subs, and no Laspapi, on the bench. I am run ragged. My breath, when it comes, is coming from somewhere near my ankles. I can tell because I am bent over double on my knees and can feel and hear the blood pumping through my veins. From my toes. We are three minutes into the game. I have already dispatched a bottle of water and now realise the foolishness of quaffing that bowl of jollof rice and efo stew earlier in the afternoon to "beef" up my energies.

I rain curses on my tor"mentor"'s head as the ball continues to whizz past me like the okada men on the Lekki Expressway. I eye the referee so ferociously urging him to blow his whistle for half time he must think I am trying to pick him up. Eventually there is only one thing for it. My turn to be the keeper. I wheeze as I stumble towards the post, my vision blurred from sweat and light headedness.

The keeper is none too pleased as he later confides that he is suffering from the excesses of the previous night. Too many drinks, too many women, dusk turns into dawn etc. Damn those were the days I think to myself... as the ball whizzes past me into the net. Note to self. Concentrate. And er stand up. I use the post to leverage myself into a standing position and then miraculously feel my second, or is it fourth wind, appearing. I decide to go for it and call back the fairly grateful keeper and I make my way on to the wings where I give a display of left sided play those young whipper snappers will propably not see again for some time ( I reckon it will take at least two weeks for me to feel my knees and toes again).

Much to my relief the referee finally blows. I muster all my strength to run to the drinks cabinet, give high fives to one and all and make for my departure until I am told it is only halftime. We still have another half to go. Has it just been fifteen minutes?

From the look on their faces I am pretty sure those guys had never seen a grown man cry like that before. Wait till I get my hands on that Laspapi who never did show up. He won't even be able to whisper to the girls when I finish with him.

Oh and by the way we lost. By one point. And I saved four goals. Let in three. Scored none. Came close though. Twice. So there.
I'm off to rest.

Moments with Moe

I arrive home to find Moe wandering around the garden. In his hand is a two way radio. Finally it has arrived after two months of waiting. Finally they can communicate with their HQ and their armed patrols if we ever come under attack. But why is he wandering around the garden? " Moe, which one you dey do? Why the wandering?" Moe tells me he is looking for a signal for the radio. Say what? Moe believes the radio to be like a mobile phone and that he needs to find a sweet spot from which he can make his emergency transmissions should the unexpected ever happen. So you plan to be running around the garden looking for a signal if we are ever attacked? "Oga, it is for the best." I break it to him gently that a good radio in working order should be able to pick up a signal from any part of the compound. He does not seem convinced. I leave him to it and only pray that should anything happen they will at least grant him the courtesy of time for him to run to the magic spot in order to make the distress call.

As we are finishing off our discussion there is a high pitched wailing on the radio. It is a female voice and is clearly in some distress. We both stare at the device in his hands waiting for the next transmission. It is not long in coming. The next thing we hear is the chorus to the Rihanna song, Umbrella. It turns out that the damsel in distress was actually singing (or screeching). On a two way security radio. I wonder how the armed response responded to that?

Scene 2. Moe approaches me in his usual manner which is from the side. Regardless of which way I turn he meanders around to try and stay out of my line of vision even though he is trying to engage me in conversation. It is like something out of Miami Vice (the TV series not the film). Those old enough will remember that Castillo (the Head of the Dept.) would always be facing the wall, the door, or gazing into the far distance as he had conversations with Crockett and Stubbs. Anyway, finally we get ourselves into a position where I am staring off into the far distance (damn if only I had been prepared and had put on my linen suit and white shoes)and he begins to talk.

Moe -Oga, em I just want tell you say there was shooting in the area four days ago.
Me- oh really?
Moe- Yes as a matter of fact it was very close by. Even sef the other security man wanted to run to the back of the house.
Me - the back of the house?
Moe- yes, you know that place on the other side of the front of the house wey you been tell us about? (okay I deserved that.)
Me - oh yes. That back of the house. Why would he run there?
Moe - Because he dey afraid.
Me - but if persons enter the house will they not also go to the back of the house?
Moe - na so I tell him before he come calm down. Then I pushed the panic button and the armed response came.
Me- ok. How long did it take?
Moe - about 20 mins. They then said that they would charge me, that is you, for false alarm.
Me - but why if there was shooting? I beg please press the alarm anytime something like that dey happen close to the house. You have it with you now?
Moe- No it is in the security shed on the shelf.
Me - How do you plan to press it from there if something happens?
Moe -I will run to get it.
Me- Before or after you run to the garden to radio for help?

It goes right over his head of course.He looks at me , once , twice and then shuffles away.
And so it goes.

And yes I am taking my prayers more seriously.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

History repeating itself??

Have just returned from a week in Abuja (after a week in Uganda which I will blog about later) where I continue to notice a decline in what was once a very beatific and civilised part of Nigeria. I cannot recall the total number of near misses I saw but do recall seeing some very serious accidents one of them which looked particularly nasty. It would seem that the bad driving habits in Lagos are now making their presence felt in Abuja. When I first visited Abuja about 6 years ago I was gobsmacked that such a contrast existed to Lagos within Nigeria. Over the years I have started to notice the deterioration in the public facilities (what has happened to the street lights and traffic lights?) as well as a rise in the type of crude, rude, aggressive behaviours one had learned to associate only with Lagos. Even something as simple as entering the gates of the Transcorp Hilton is now laden with threats, swearing, aggression and fisticuffs as traffic from three or four different directions all want to squeeze into the single lane entrance. Some of these cars are bearing the elected "leaders" of our great society who continue to set a great example for one and all.

Speaking of which my spirit has been high and my morale boosted after weeks in the doldrums. Promised myself I would not comment until it was over but never expected to have to wait this long. The stress was unimaginable. I called it a cancer on the soul and Iyawo labelled it a darkness of the heart. I of course refer to the case of the vile Etteh(gate). Every morning I would wake up and rush to the TV to see if she had resigned or been sacked or something just to show the world that there was a modicum of sanity in this country. I found it absurd that the dispute was around due process rather than the fact that someone was prepared to spend between N500 -N650m to"refurbish" a couple of houses. F*** due process. Charge her with obscenity. Charge her with idiocy. Charge her with greed and stupidity. Insolence and alacrity. Whatever.

In the meantime it is repeated to me several times by different people that her pursuers are not doing it for moral reasons but more for the fact that they were either not cut in on the action or that they want to send a message to someone. Apparently the money issue is nether here nor there. After all, they say, what is N500m? £2m?? Oh please. A lot of them would not get out of their beds for that sort of loose change. If that is the case I plan to start my campaign for election very shortly. Watch this space. I already have a slogan - Toksie for Speaker of the House. He promises to only spend a miserly N100m refurbishing his house. (and then in small print - "every three months"). He will also not waste your money on a body massage machine as he already has one called Iyawo. Instead that N98m will therefore be spent responsibly on something that will benefit all members if his constituency - a bullet proof Range Rover with Tinted Winders and 23 inch spinning alloys, with satellite navigation and a 10 CD changer. To be used for Official business only. Catchy eh?

To cap it all I had a meeting with a mole. Let's call him deep throat. He tells me that all is not well with our democracy. Gee, really? Go figure. Apparently the powers that were still feel that they are the powers that are and the powers that are, are much too reserved to take full control and unless something happens shortly then it could all fall apart and we could end up where we always end up historically if you get my meaning. He tells me however that all is not lost yet and there are moves underway to re-balance the situation and blow me down with a feather if I did not see a headline the next morning confirming one of those moves.

Will history repeat itself? I hope not but this is Nigeria.

Please do not forget to cast your vote for the next Speaker of the House of Representa Thieves.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Youth entertainment in Nigeria

Oh these kids of today. They do not realise how well they have it. 24 hours TV, fifty + channels, cinemas, shopping malls etc. Back in my day (hey you at the back don't start nodding off!) .... Anyway I am amazed at the choices available to the kids today. With the access to all this media and stimulation one hopes they pick up on the positive messages rather than get sucked into the more questionable stuff on offer. Trust me it is all out there.

My inspiration for this blog was a chance meeting with a chap called Denrele (pictured above with you know who - for more photos go to her blog) who hosts a lot of programmes for an outfit called Soundcity. These programmes are then aired across the local channels in Nigeria - AIT, NTA,MITV, Silverbird (I tell you again these kids are enjoying oh). The last week spent in the company of Denrele has been a real eye opener. The guy is a whirlwind of activity and nervous energy but in a very positive and nice middle class sort of way.

Oh how I wish my parents had allowed me to pursue my dreams of becoming a musikshan so that I too could get to dress like him.

Speaking of choices the elder daughters had a little outing with their chums from school at the weekend. First they went to Silverbird to watch a film and hangout and then they went to Cactus for lunch. Imagine. An outing for me back in the day involved being dressed up in some outfit that glowed in the dark and being taken to some aunty\ uncles party where the only entertainment would involve kicking bottle caps around the chairs whilst trying to stay out of my mother's range of vision knowing full well that if I caught her eye it was truly game over.

What do you think of today's feast of entertainment for kids in Naija today?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Ahh. Domestic bliss.

So we were very lucky to find our house in Lekki. Much praise to the Almighty Allah for his guidance to this place. As is usual the minute I walked into the house for the initial viewing I knew it would be our home. I have this knack, vibe, feel,gift, call it what you like, for this sort of thing. My job is to find the place. Iyawo's job is to pimp the place out and she has done a mighty fine job on this one.

So after all the palaver with our shipment from the UK we finally moved and and got into the Lagos life. I was saying to the kids yesterday I cannot believe that people actually waste time and money going to the cinema when there is so much free entertainment to be had. For us this starts at home.

At the front of the house are the Hot fuzz or Halogen Security to be more precise. We have three of them. Let's call them Larry, Curly and Moe. I only pray that we never get attacked and find that this is our first line defense otherwise our asses would be grasses. L,C, M believe that their objective on taking the job was to get as much sleep as possible. Last time I was in London I got a call from Iyawo in the night to say that she was worried that she could not see any of the two on night duty. Turns out they were in the security hut -securing the perimeter with both eyes closed. Let me give you an example of what we go through.

One day I said to Moe,
-when was the last time you actually patrolled the compound?
He looked at me blankly.
Oga, you mean walking about?.
Okay, no point getting technical and spouting military lingo.
- Yes, walking about.
- Oga we walk around all the time.
Me- Okay, when was the last time you walked about to the let's see now, the back of the house?
Furrowed brow.
- Back of the house?
-yes, you know the place on the other side of the front of the house.
Oga you mean to go around the side and then around the back?
- Yep and if you are feeling really adventurous you can also go around the other side of the house and back to the front again.

I can see all this registering and a cloud forming in his mind. I guessed he was thinking to himself "chai, this job is tougher than I expected oh!"

I asked Larry one day what he would do if we were attacked. Did he have any direct connections to his office? Could he summon an armed patrol? Did he even have a mobile? He replied that he planned to ring the doorbell to let us know we were under attack. I slept much better that night for sure.

All this harassment has paid off dividends as they have now been issued with trenchcoats and batons.All they need now is a whistle and I can go to sleep and even leave the front door open knowing that the Halo boys are out in force.

Inside the house things are just as amusing. We have two Togolese ladies. Well one lady and one crackpot. The elder is a professional cook. She gets up at 6.30 every morning and is still cooking at 7 pm at night. All sorts of things are always bubbling away on the fire. Sometimes I wonder exactly how many people we are feeding as it is not unusual to have three pots of stew on the go. If not for my strict discipline and rigorous exercise routines (up and down to the fridge- works wonders I tell you) I am sure I would have gained so much weight. She goes around singing or humming gospel songs and is happiest just pottering around in the kitchen.

The other one is a different kettle of fish altogether. As a matter of fact I cannot actually guarantee that she is altogether. She laughs like an hyena, sings like she is being strangled and causes more trouble than our youngest ones. As a matter of fact she probably encourages more bad behaviour than good. She only (badly) knows one nursery rhyme in English which we have had to ban as it was driving everyone round the bend what with the wailing tone, the mispronounced words, the made up words and the never ending crescendo. It was just too much to bear.

All this reminds me of the summers I used to spend with my cousin when they lived in Bourdillon in Ikoyi back in the days when Ikoyi was still a proper suburb. Everything ticking along very nicely. A steady hummmm vibe. Our two young ones spoiled rotten with all the attention they are getting, food on demand, play on demand, noise galore. Ahh Domestic bliss indeed.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Complicity. Another in the lecture series.....

So this morning on the way to drop the kids off at school we are as usual greeted with the long queues of traffic down Admiralty Way. As we meander our way through we are not surprised to see the usual lawless drivers switch lanes into oncoming traffic and bulldoze their way down to the gate and on to the roundabout. Oh never mind they must be in a hurry.

All of a sudden to our right we see that an okada with an Oyinbo male passenger is speeding down the sidewalk horns blaring. Other okadas are making their way through traffic easily enough but this particular one is on the sidewalk. Two chaps are walking on the sidewalk when the okada comes speeding up to them and blaring his horn for them to move out of the way. They refuse and he makes a show of going around them on the grass and then flinging abuse over his shoulder. They respond and he then pulls up, jumps off the bike and attacks them physically. Meanwhile, the oyinbo passenger sits quietly with a fixed smile, grimace, on his face. I wind down the window and a couple of cars start blaring our horn in support of the poor pedestrians. The okada on realising the strength of support for them beats a hasty retreat but not before I can ask the oyinbo man if I would be allowed to ride on the pavement and attack pedestrians in his country. Naturally there is no response.

Two days ago I had a meeting at the Eko Hotel. Those familiar with the hotel will know that access is now restricted to one gate whilst they put in a paid parking system at the main gate. This work had naturally led to a queue of cars snaking their way in through the one gate. After about 10 minutes in the queue I am less than amused to see a 4x4 whizz around in the outside lane and then try to squeeze his way into the entrance just ahead of my car. Naturally I am giving him the evil look which normally makes people consider their choices in life but he is not getting the message. I then notice that it is one of those private security vehicles they is used to shepherd scared oyinbos from the airport to the hotel and in the back of this one was said scared oyinbo.

I got out to have a word with both driver, escort and passenger. I asked a few questions which I thought were particularly apt such as:

- Is it because you are carrying oyinbo that you think you have the right to drive like this?
- Does this mean that he has more pressing things to do than us that have been waiting patiently in the queue?
- Do you think they would let you drive like this in his country?
- Mr Oyinbo, would you allow him to drive like this in your country?
- Mr Oyinbo when you get back home are you not going to regale them with tales of the reckless driving and horrid traffic conditions you encountered on your extremely lucrative first class, money making business trip to Lagos?
- Mr Oyinbo are you going to mention by any chance the part you played in it?

As with the man on the okada he again displayed the frozen grimace of a deer trapped in the headlights.

I reckon this must be the look of those guilty of complicity. Or shame. Or both.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

This is why people turn to drugs....

Last weekend the car is looking filthy and we are on our way out to a function. I had noticed that the petrol station next to Shoprite offered a car wash service. I had also noticed a place on Admiralty Way where they were also washing cars. So I set off to wash the car. All was well with the world. The sun was shining. The AC was blasting along with the music. "We are the world, we are the people.." Classic. I love it. No, just kidding.

Anyways, I decide to try the place on Admiralty before making the long tortuous journey to Shoprite. The follwoing then occurs:

Me driving up and immediately being approached by one of the five men sitting at the gate.

Me: Oga is this a car wash?

Man: This place? Indicating the area where I am parked which is wet, has a hose connecterd to an external tap and some washcloths.

Me: Yes.

Man: Oga we don't wash cars here oh.

Me: But I saw a car being washed when I drove past half an hour ago.

Man: Oga oh yes. But we only wash our own cars.

Me: Oh okay. Do you know anywhere near here or do I have to go to Shoprite.

Man: Shakes head. No place around here oh. Oga, you want to wash your car?

Me: Thinking no I came here to seek intelligent life forms. Yes I want to wash my car.

Man: Oga we only wash our own cars here.

Me reversing. Then tap tap on the window.

Man: Oga don't you want us to wash your car?

Me: Look my friend you said you only wash your own cars????

Man: Oga we can wash your car oh.

He then proceeds to explain to the other guys that the man sitting in the dirty car wants to get his car washed. After much nodding of heads he is joined by another man and they proceed to give the car a mighty good clean.

Till now I still cannot work out the logic. Maybe drugs would help.

Monday, 1 October 2007

One good deed.....

Having grown up around policemen I am very much of the follow the rules, zero tolerance, no rubbish mentality. It has therefore not been easy for me to settle back in Lagos. I wanted to say us but Iyawo seems to be taking a more philosophical view of things that I am (at least she was).

My number one bug bear is the way people drive in Lagos. Numerous times over the past month I have found myself on the road directing traffic to clear jams caused by one moron or another driving the wrong way, blocking a major junction, buying stuff whilst parked in the middle lane or just being a total jackass. Iyawo has watched with alarm as the Igbobi College, Yaba boy (Up IC) within me has resurfaced with some vigour. She keeps warning me about my BP (blood pressure) which I can assure you at some points over the last month must have gone stratospheric whilst arguing with some muppet in a 4x4 who thinks this gives him the right to rule the road.

By the way, to the idiot in the Hummer H2 that tried to climb over the central reservation on the Lekki express yesterday and duly got stuck, it was only Iyawo's intervention and the fact that we were late for a function that stopped me from delivering what would have been a fine sermon on the fact that at some point any sense you might have had been overtaken by daddy's money as you looked far too young to have bought that car yourself - legally. There must have come a tipping point in your young unformed mind where you thought "mmm, too much traffic on the road. Obviously all these other fools do not have access to this two ton jeep disguised as a "sports utility vehicle" and its superior handling skills. After all is this not what the Americans use to conquer in Iraq, Afghanistan and all those other rough terrains? I beg let me just climb over this pavement into oncoming traffic jare and really impress this my 16 year old chicko". I was somewhat saddened that on my return trip three hours later your car was nowhere to be seen as it would seem that you had finally managed to get some traction (or area boys) to get you out of the .....

Two weeks ago I almost killed a man whilst trying to do my duties as a good citizen. On this particular day my blood was boiling as mayhem and anarchy was ruling on the Lekki expressway (on two occasions it has taken over three hours to get from our house to Shoprite, a distance of less than 2 miles). We decided to take a short cut rather than face the long drive all the way down to Exxon just to turn around to get to VI. The first argument was with a chap in a 4x4 who having overtaken the traffic waiting to turn then cut in from the outside lane into oncoming traffic and tried to insert himself between the 2 inch gap between the rear bumper of our car and the front bumper of the car behind which was determined not to let him in. After much revving of engine he then proceeded to slam into us at which point I ejected myself from the car to have a few choice words. To my amazement he then turned around and started abusing the other driver for not letting him in and having the audacity to block him off. After much wasting of spittle and some very strong language we all proceeded on our merry way. Throughout all this Iyawo was in the car reading a magazine and telling me afterwards to calm down as I was breathing hele hele by this point.

Less than a few hundred yards later a danfo zoomed past us facing oncoming traffic, finally met his match in view of the fact that a huge lorry was heading towards him with no apparent intention of stopping (or no brakes as it is sometimes hard to tell which is which). Realising the error of his ways he then proceeded to literally jam himself into our front. First I wound down the window to warn him to no avail. So I decided to take drastic action. I opened the door to go face him mano to mano only for an okada driver to slam at speed into the open door catapulting driver and passenger over the handlebars into the (thank God) soft grass on the other side of the verge. The driver lay motionless whilst the passenger had somehow landed on his feet and was still holding on (and listening) to his Sony discman. I swear this can only happen in Lagos.

At this point even the danfo driver had stopped as a crowd quickly gathered (mostly other okada drivers). The following scen then unfolded:

Me: Sorry oh my friend. Are you okay?
Okada driver : no response, but slowly moving about gingerly.
Other Okda drivers : Oga wetin now? You want to kill him?
Me: Were you even there? Did you see what happened?
Other Okada to Okada driver : Oboy , how are you feeling? Oya move your legs. Oya check your ankle? Ya neck unko? You break ribs? You see well? Any blood? Crack ya wrists. Having ascertained that it was most likely the okada man would live they then turned their attention to his prostrate bike.

The steering bend? E dey leak petrol? How about the exhaust? Any sand don enter? The clutch still day? I bed check am well, well oh?

Once the roadside MOT had been passed they then reunited driver and motorbike. I made a contribution towards his speedy recovery, bid the still grooving passenger a fond farewell and so we departed. But not before the danfo, which immediately it looked like there were no casualties to gawp at jumped in front of us and sped off.

The moral of this story? Damn I wish I knew. Welcome to Lagos. Y'all drive safely now.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Its been seven hours and fifteen days.

Things are settling down. We are getting into our groove. The nightly gun fire has disappeared to be replaced by the banging of drums. Empty oil drums that is. There are OPC providing unofficial security in the area and apparently this is how they communicate with themselves. At 2.30 this morning Iyawo literally flew out of bed when the drumming began. As I say it is a lot more defined now that the guns are silent. Yours truly being the man of the house, defender of the weak and protector of the brood muttered platitudes from deep in slumberland whilst she canvassed the place to make sure it was still secure, the kids were still asleep and the guards were awake. Of course if there had been any real drama I would have been all over it like white on rice. For sure.

We are now starting to fall into the rhythm of life in Lagos. Most of the handymen have now taken their ounce of flesh and gone. At one point we were like the home for motherless handymen what with a carpenter, electrician, plumber, generator repair, pool man, mesh man, painter, brick layer, welder etc all over the place. Finally, Iyawo gave the green light that the place is fit for habitation so large sums of money have exchanged hands and all have departed. Some with tears in their eyes. Some will take early retirement. Oga are you sure there is nothing else? Yes there is. It's called bankruptcy and let's not go there.

Things are not going well on the school front. Firstly, the rah rah international school for the big girls has no school uniforms. We have been trying to obtain these for weeks but they still have not arrived. So the kids are having to do with a mixture of second hand stuff or attire that is either too small or too big. Interestingly, the school apparently threatened all students that they only had two days grace for not wearing the full uniform before severe sanctions would be imposed. See the logic? Also despite the heat they are banned from carrying\ drinking water during the school periods. Refreshments only allowed at lunch and after PE. Needless to say I will be popping into the school next week to have a word. Or two.

Things are even more of a disaster for the younger ones. Firstly the promised "special eds" unit that led us to register our daughter at the school over the summer has not materialised. The person who was to set it up has been relieved of his duties and is now back in the UK. On the first day of school Iyawo asked her new teacher (the one we met a few months before who was "specially trained" had also left) where all the teaching materials were being that the classroom was totally bereft of anything including, er books. Apparently these things were held in a special unit. I assume they are only brought out for photo opportunities? Further alarm bells start ringing when in casual conversation our son mentions that his new teacher (less than a week remember) told him that unless he prays his mummy and daddy would die!! Now I had only recently noticed that the school has a strong Christian slant but I did not expect this. When Iyawo arrived at the school one morning she found the classrooms empty as apparently all the teachers were in a prayer session. Is a school the right place for this?

So the kids start at their new schools next week. We checked it out on Thursday to be met with such activity filled classrooms that our heads were spinning. Iyawo was almost in tears such was the stuff on offer. Books galore, activity sets, games. The whole place was filled to bursting and as they are Montessori they seem to have a very clear idea of how to look after and develop the children. We took the kids there for an initial assessment yesterday and after one day the Head had more of an insight into the kids than the other school had given all week. Not that they had given us any feedback whatsoever. So the message for future returnees is be careful.

Meanwhile my cousin has just arrived with her son who is going to start boarding at Greensprings. She herself is coming back in October. More and more Nigerians are returning home. There is a light flickering at the end of the tunnel. Jeremy posts pictures of the new local airport and my heart soars to the heavens. This is what we can do wen we put our minds to it. I hope they maintain it. The Lagos state government is finally clearing off the rest of Bar beach. One day I stopped there to buy fruit and veg and the next day all the stalls were gone. There are more policemen on the street than ever. We have had electricity and running water for 95 % of the time. The only fly in the ointment has been the traffic on the inappropriately named Lekki Expressway.

Overall things have been much better than we expected (or is that because we had already prepared for the worst). To top it all of Iyawo is performing tonight at the Muson. Her first show in Nigeria in a long time. I will post some pics as soon as they are available.

More on our Niaja move to follow.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

A six gun salute welcome to Lekki

I sit here in the Virgin lounge at MMI airport waiting for my flight to London and reflecting on our first week in Lekki. I won't bore you with the palaver of retrieving our goods from the shipping company not only because it is tedious and predicatable but also because it might lead me to tears. Again. And no one wants to see a large black man crying in public. Especially I suspect the Virgin lounge staff.

I jokingly told Iyawo that I had to make this trip just to get internet access. It is not like I have not tried but the shuttle between Cool FM internet cafe, Eko Hotel "Business centre" and the Protea "Business centre" had become a bit tiresome. So it was that I set out to acquire a Starcomms line for internet access. This is where I ran into my first barrier. The lady in the shop in the Palms was serving three of us at the same time and as such was unable to give me her undivided attention to explain the various plans, phones, devices etc that was on offer. Besides which she needed a utility bill from me showing my address. Having lived in the house for precisely 24 hours I explained that this might prove difficult. I gave up in frustration and rang Jeremy who put me in touch with Direct on PC.

A few calls later and there is a chap in my house with a wireless device connected to my PC and forty thousand naira changes hands (why does it never change hands into mine?) and off he goes. This was four days ago. Since then I have probably had two hours where I have not had to reconnect and reboot the PC. Yesterday when it rained I actually just left it running a loop where it was trying to connect for several hours. The kids are not amused that they are being denied Messenger which was one of the terms of their agreeing to the relocation. (They are also less than amused having picked up the schedule to arrive at the Palms to watch a film only to be told it was not showing!) It looks like it is back to Starcomms and their dial up service.

So the goods were finally delivered at about 6pm in the evening. Obviously there is no more discreet way to move into a neighbourhood than for a forty foot container to arrive at your doorstep at that time of the day. Needless to say sleep was at a premium that first evening. What really surprised me though was the warmnt of the welcome from the people in Lekki. I mean the gunshots rang out all night (and to be honest every night since). Now I am pleased that they are so pleased to see us but I feel it might be time to put a cap on it (pardon the pun). Sometimes the shots sound like they are coming from right outside our gate which was a bit worrying before we had the security boys in place. Actually it is no less worrying as all the security boys are armed with is their mobile phones.

My uncle had arranged for the police patrols in the area to pay a courtesy visit on a daily basis but I feel they have given up now. See they were supposed to come over whist on their patrol and sign in to prove they had been. On the first day I was therefore pleased to see the boys in black carrying their trusty rusty rifles at the gate. I went out to meet them and the conversation went thus.

Senior officer - who might you be?

Me - Introducing myself

SO - we understand that we are to sign here daily?

Me - yes that is my understanding

SO - that would mean driving here daily?

Me- i follow your logic and i like it

SO - this requires petrol for the car

Me - staring blankly

Junior officer - as a matter of fact it requires more than petrol. For example I have just had to pay the vulcaniser to fix the tyres.

Me - is there no central depot where you can get petrol and fix tyres?

SO & JO both stare at me as if I have dropped from the sky wearing an aluminium thong

SN - oga let me make it simple for you. If you take care of us then we can take care of you otherwise if there is any problem and you call us well we might not be able to make it ........

I have not seen them since I assume on the basis that I have not been home all the other times they have been round and they have taken this as a sign that I am avoiding them. As if.

On the other hand I accidentally pushed the button on the Alarm Centre remote and they are outside the gate in two minutes asking if there is any problem. Result.

The other thing we have all noticed is the Nepa situation. Touch wood my people but in the last week we have not been deprived of electricity for more than 5 -6 hours max. And four of those were on a single day. Funnily enough I had read on laspapi's blog something to the effect that there was now a huge improvement in electricity in Lagos but this only made the residents more nervous. I fully buy into this mentality as Iyawo and I keep thinking that at some point they will just take light for 6 months to compensate.

I know that a lot of people are moving back to Naija or thinking about it so I will focus this blog now on what life is like for new arrivals like us trying to settle down in this strange place called home.

Meanwhile my congealed omellete and nuclear hot meat pie beckons. Ciao.

Friday, 17 August 2007

p.s Some numbers please.

Does anyone have a number and address for Halogen security and also the same for the companies that sell and install the 1000 litre diesel drums? Thanks

Soon come I beg oh.

It all started about a month ago with a funny burning smell and then a strange grinding noise and then nothing. Reboot after reboot failed to solve the problem. And that was it. The end of our fantastic journey on the super highway. Gone. All mails, docs, files. Gone. Sitting on 10mb of broadband and nothing to do. So we all sat around looking at the real possibility that we might have to, gulp, talk to one another rather than spend all hours on the computer, on the internet. Oh dear. Thank God for television:->.

So anyway. The computer packed up. The new one was already loaded on the boat and so we were IT less. We are now in Lagos but the load is still at the port and trying to do stuff from Business centres and Internet Cafes where the definition of broadband seems to be anything above 64k has proved to be a challenge but not for much longer. News reaches us from the "agent" that further to the mobilisation that was mobilised out last week our goods will indeed be mobilised to our still empty house next week. Oh goody. It has only been sitting at the port for three weeks so not bad eh?

Anyway, on behalf of Iyawo and myself apologies for the long silence and soon come oh. With gist galore.

Also on my part thanks to everyone for all their suggestions on where to get various bits and pieces and how to do various bits and pieces in Lagos. All the advise has proven invaluable.

I could not end however without saying. Man who? Chelsea rules. Ok?

Saturday, 7 July 2007

This post is titled Poles Apart. But blogger refuses to let me type a title!

Ah the big day has finally arrived. The boys have shown up on the doorstep ready to deprive of us of all detritus of 30 years of international wanderings. And my shoes. It is very easy to work out the Alpha Male, the leader of the as he struts into the house asking questions, pointing hither and tither. I am however drawn to the silent blond boy at the back. He has the look of the newbie. Not confident enough to speak his mind or voice an opinion. But it is easy to see that he is confident within himself. It takes Iyawo all of five minutes to work out that he is Polish ( another talent she has which I lack).

Let me demonstrate my grasp of humanity. In the lift at the Eko a month ago with Iyawo and the little one and in walked in about four Air Stewardesses on their way back to the airport. The little one got started on his rolling his eyes and acting cute business which all women seem to love (I beg he did not get it from me oh). They soon start oohign and aahing and asking him all sorts of questions. Time for Dad to step in and show son how it is done. "So where are you guys from, Ghana?". Iyawo replies before they do. "No South Africa." Imagine African man that cannot tell difference between Ghana accent and SA accent. Things got a bit silent in the lift after that.

Anyway back to the move. So on day one things go swimmingly. I was amazed how fast our things were disappearing into the lorry. I wondered how come we were told it would take 5 days to move when half the house was gone in one day. Things slowed a bit on the second day but we were still getting closer to the bare bones. It was the third day that things took a turn.

As soon as alpha male stepped off the lorry I knew he was unhappy. As he was an Arsenal fan I thought he might be concerned about their upcoming relegation battle this season what with Thierry va va vooming off to greener pastures. But no. It turns out that the tables had turned so to speak. Whereas the last few days it had been two Brits and one Pole. Today due to a scheduling catastrophe we had two Poles and one Brit. One very unhappy Brit. He promptly dispatched the Poles upstairs whilst he stayed downstairs and regaled us over and over with how unhappy he was with them. Their greatest offence being that they did not speak English. Actually they did, but not in the Essex way. Now these guys were not illegals. They had actually been transferred from the Polish arm of the moving company.

Less than an hour later another van pulled into the drive and we were greeted by another chap who had apparently been summoned by Alpha Male to help him out. So there you have it. A rebalancing of life's forces. We then endured hour after hour of grumbling, mumbling verbiage about how the suits in the office were idiots and how could they have made such an error and thank God that Alpha male 2 had shown up otherwise Alpha male 1 would have had to have lunch alone and surely the world would have come to an end. Meanwhile upstairs the Poles worked their way through several bedrooms all they while communicating in a very guttural, under breath sort of way. I hate to imagine what they were muttering.

The next morning things were back to normal. This time there were no Poles to be seen. So what happened? "They've been sent on another job." So what do you have against them I enquired?" "I just don't like them" came the reply. "They come over here, they take our jobs and they do it at a lower rate making life harder for us". So ever the advocate of the dark side I put forth the following for discussion. "Imagine your office in the US, running short of manpower, put out a call to the UK office for some hardy men like yourselves. In return they were prepared to pay you less than they would pay the home grown staff but for you it was still double what you currently earned and of course there was the bonus of being in the US of A? What would you do?" Silence. Then alpha Male 1 replies "well once you put it like that I guess I can see it from their point of view." Alpha male 2 nodded vigorously (obviously overcome at the depth of my reasoning).

So there you have it. I have single handedly built a bridge across Europe. Now for the Middle East........

Friday, 29 June 2007

No one said it would be easy!!

So let me start by saying that even a rose needs fertiliser to grow right? Horse manure in the ground. Beautiful rose in the summer. (I assume that in between you need to sprinkle rose seeds or something like that otherwise it would be just like horse manure for ever right?) Life is like that. Right now we are in the smelling horse manure but no rose in sight phase of our move.

Firstly, the shippers. They have given us varying timescales for the move ranging from 3 to 8 weeks from London to Lagos. Eight weeks? Were you planning on driving? So now they have said it only takes three weeks by sea. So what happened to the other 5 weeks. Admin. apparently. Hmm. Due to company policy I have to use them so no way out. Then they say that we will need a 40 footer and a 20 footer for our load. Now I am the first to admit that I have a lot of shoes but damn. So I ring around friends that have moved back in the past year to check it out and it turns out that most of them struggled to fill a 40 footer. Some of them even had cars in theirs which we are not. So again back to the shippers who say that it is because the rates to ship to Nigeria are high. Wth??? However, if I wanted it shipped to NY it would be much cheaper and probably faster. Now my geography is a bit rusty but I am damn sure NY is on a different continent and whilst it would be quite nice to ship the stuff to NY I would find the commute a tad difficult every morning just to change clothes for work. Either these people need to get off whatever medication they are taking or I need to up my dosage but somehow we are not on the same flight plan.

We now move on to the issue of the clearing agent. Apparently if I have lived in Nigeria for more than 90 days over the past two years I cannot bring in any new stuff as this would mean I was going to become resident\ or am already resident? or was it President? (the agent in Lagos is French and we were on a GSM line so I could only make out half of what he was saying and of that half I could only make out a third due to this accent). Considering that I have spent at least two weeks a month in Naija over the last year then I have definitely blown the 90 day rule whatever it is. He wants to know if I will be bringing any new furniture or flat screens. Apparently I am not allowed leather? I guess this means I will have to leave the chaps behind? And the vest?

I should point out at this stage that details are not my strong point. I am a big picture kind of guy. I want to move to Naija. I give you a call. Some men show up and take my stuff, we shake hands and when I arrive in Naija in 4 weeks - presto bingo, my plasma screen is on the wall and Chelsea are on to their next Premiership cup. This is the way my mind works so all this detail is sucking the very life out of me. Aba kilode?

All is not well on the Naija end either. Landlord has not received his funds. Said funds were transferred by my company two weeks ago. Only one slight problem. The person who did the transfer henceforth referred to as Ode, didirin, olodo etc forgot to put ladlords name on the transfer. So a bank in London is sitting pretty and gaining interest on said funds whilst landlord is keeping the recharge boys in Lekki very happy with international calls to your truly. "Toks I've just been to the bank............"

Let me not even start on the "agents" as one of them is a "lawyer" and I would hate to start life in Naija in front of the beak answering to a defamation and libel charge. Is it actually possible to do that to estate agents?

Meanwhile Iyawo is out shopping for even more stuff that we won't be able to fit into the container. I hope you can understand my thinking maybe I should just plant myself in the manure instead?

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Under normal circumstances.

Yesterday and today have been a bit surreal what with driving through the near empty streets of Lagos. At once happy at the lack of the usual traffic stresses and strains but tinted by the sadness of the fact that it had to come to this.

Today I made the fatal error of going to Lekki second roundabout to pick up something only to get stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. It was caused by the poor souls queuing for petrol who having queued in the usual Naija style i.e. not in a line but side by side not only blocked off the three lanes on their side of the expressway but then meandered across the sandy central divide and proceeded to block all three lanes of the incoming expressway as well. Oh what fun we had sitting in the sweltering heat. These sort of thing gives one time to ponder -what planet are these people from? Is there a logical reason or anywhere in the world where you would decide without a second thought that it was okay to block oncoming traffic, on an expressway,just because you could not be arsed to queue properly?

We were eventually saved by the might of the highly unpopular boys of the Nigerian Police Force. I say boys because when I first saw them marching purposefully towards the head of the traffic I thought to myself - these chaps look very young. However they soon made swift work of totally clearing at least a single lane on either side. and we were on our way. r not quite. I was surprised bit not shocked to see a transport lorry drive past into which they all scrambled and headed off leaving those still stuck behind to their own devices. Under normal circumstances you would have expected them to hang around to ensure that all the traffic was cleared. No?

Yesterday feeling famished I stopped off at a local fast food place in Lekki Phase 1 to grab a bite to eat. I queued about a foot behind the chap in front of me and waited for his order to be dispenses. Behind me walked in two ladies. One walked around the chap to the edge of the counter and tried to get the attention of the lady serving. The other first stood to his side and then somehow inserted herself between him and me- literally and figuratively stepping on my toes. I did not say a word and waited for the chap in front to finish getting served.

The lady who has inserted herself then moved up to the counter and started to order. The waitress then pointed out that I was next in line (good girl). The lady then turned around and eyed me like she was seeing me for the first time. "Him?" she asked. "Yes me" I responded. "Was I invisible to you before?". Her response "why are you disgracing yourself?" "aren't I allowing you to order?" See me see trouble oh. What I wanted to say was "you better step back before I bxxxx slap you into next Wednesday" but being the English gentleman that I am I just headbutted her instead (just kidding). I actually said "Madam there is no need for us to argue. Have a lovely evening". God the restriant however the resettlement might not go as smoothly as I had imagined. It is one thing to get aggro from area boys but aggro from area girls?

Standing at the counter at the Virgin desk at the Hilton on Monday checking on flights back to Lagos as I did not want to get stuck in Abuja should the threatened strike commence on Tuesday. I had arrived that morning meaning to stay for two days but was nervous about that extending into a long weekend - in hindsight it was a good move on my part. Anyway I asked to be booked on the last flight that would be leaving at 7.45pm that evening. After a few minutes I could sense that the agent was flustered. "I cannot close the booking" she told her friend. Is it the last flight? another agent asked. "If it is then it has been cancelled." Why cancelled?" I asked. We don't think there will be enough fuel to get it back to Lagos he replied. So I got on my soapbox and made the following speech " Are you telling me that due to an imminent strike that has not yet even been confirmed you are saying that Virgin Airlines is already running short of fuel? Under normal circumstances (see it all started on Monday with that phrase) I would expect a reputable "world class" airline like Virgin to have a fuel dump\depot storage where you would have at least a week\month's supply of fuel in case of emergencies and in times like this". One of the girls looks up at me with pity in her eyes and says do you not know you are in Nigeria? There are no normal circumstances here. I had to settle for a Tuesday flight.

Virgin got their revenge by putting me on a plane I am sure was piloted by a trainee. I have always wondered why the following announcements are never made on board airlines. "Welcome on board ladies and gentlemen. Relax and enjoy the services of XXX Air. My name is Bob, your Pilot. This is my first flight since graduating from flight school. Do not let the fact that I am a trainee or that I was bottom of my class disturb you in any way as I am ably assisted by co-Pilot Jim who has vast experience of flying having repeated the course four times. So sit back and relax and I will be hopefully speaking to you again after hopefully taking off safely".

We were thrown all over the sky and once almost out of the sky. The plane danced around with such force that it was as if it was actually being manipulated by a hidden puppet master. It got so bad that we had the usual holding of breath, screaming and the strong silent ones who just kept checking their watches and calculating how much of the 55 minutes was left. Under normal circumstances you would expect an announcement after the drama was over but .....ah well you know the drill by now.

Monday morning I was at a meeting with a Telco in Abuja which as usual was in half darkness and littered with the ex civil servants who are still employed there in various states of slumber. Some had gone past the state of slumber, given up any pretense of work and were in deep sleep. I was walking towards the room of one of the Directors when I heard someone trying to get my attention. Adjusting my eyes to the gloom I managed to make out a man approaching me. "Sir, I hope I do not embarrass you with what I have to say as I mean no offence and under normal circumstances I would not be in this position. However my wife is currently in hospital and I do not even have the transport money to go and see her let alone pay for her treatment. Is there any way you can help me?" I fished out some money from my pocket all the while wondering how a nation with such a wide abundance of natural resources could not provide any relief for the common man. A common man who had to sacrifice his dignity at the feet of strangers.

Oil has been discovered off the coast of Ghana. I mean big oil. Huge reserves. Their President has said he looks forward to the economic changes that the revenues from this discovery will bring. Somehow this makes me very sad. I like Ghana and Ghanaians. They are nice, happy, humble people. They drive on the proper side of the road. They queue. they very rarely pay social visits in the middle of the night armed with guns. I dread what is to come. How long before the first Hummers hit the streets?

I also wonder what the impact of this find will be for Nigeria. I was speaking to a contact at Shell following the announcement that Shell is cutting their workforce in Nigeria. Why the cuts? He tells me that three years ago Shell was pumping 1 million barrels but now they are lucky to pump 200,000. So I imagine that if all the oil companies continue to have problems in the Delta I wonder how long before they decide that it is just not worth it anymore. What is the tipping point? When do you decide to make do with less but constant and safe in Ghana versus more but dangerous and deadly in Nigeria? Does Nigeria have a plan for when the oil runs out? Under normal circumstances you would think so. But then.............

I would like to end with a joke. When I arrived in Abuja I saw a sign that Nigeria was bidding to host the Commonwealth Games. Here's the joke. Imagine the headlines on CNN. Nigeria bids to host Commonwealth Games. Denies rumours that winners of all key competitions have already been decided and notified. Boom and Boom.

Off to London tomorrow and under normal circumstances how was your week?

Saturday, 16 June 2007


I have never felt as elated about the future of this country as I did yesterday when the Supreme Court ruled that Andy Uba did not have a right to be Governor of Anambra State due to one small itsy bitsy technicality which both himself, Obasanjo and INEC had somehow managed to overlook. Anambra State already had a Governor. His term does not run out till 2010 and so the elections in the state were a farce.

To add even more joy, Andy Uba then called a Press conference in Abuja ( I wonder whether he first went to see Yar Adua for special dispensation and was told "no show") in which he handed in his resignation with immediate effect and bowed to the Supreme Court ruling. I mean is this a new Nigeria or what? Would the same thing have happened at the last election or would Uba not have hired some area boys to burn down the Supreme Court?

I know I continue to bang the drum but slowly and surely it will stop to be business as usual and this thing called democracy will start to spread it's wings and exert itself. I can feel it.

On a separate note Lagos itself is pumping with adrenaline. Maybe it is still the honeymoon period for the new Governor but there are so many projects going on and so much activity that I cannot wait to see the comparison in 4 years time. There is just this whiff of change in the air. Of optimism. Of hope.Don't get me wrong it is not all rosy but somehow it is not all doom either. I hope it does not end in disappointment.

On a final note. Watch out for Yar Adua. Something tells me all the kings horses have underestimated his resolve. I see something behind those steely eyes that gives me a feeling that there are going to be many surprises from this man along the way.

Now back to my palaver with my prospective Landlord and his "agent".

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Decisions. Decisions.

1. Which internet service provider to use? SWIFT or STARCOMMS
2. Which phone provider to use?
3. Where is the best place in Lekki to buy diesel to stockpile?
4. Which security outfit is the best? ( I would prefer the ones that sleep during the day not through the night)
5. Where does one buy DSTV? ( I need to watch Chelsea win the Premier League. Again.)
6. Is there a place where you can hire a car ( and driver)? and I don't mean by the hour.
7. Best place to buy electronics (TV, stereo etc)?

That's it for now but I am sure there will be more.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Signed. Sealed. Delivered. I'm gone.

So the letter finally arrived in the post. We are off to Nigeria for at least a year. No more Virgin flights every month. No more 'chilling' in the lounges. No more microwave foods. No more tears down the phone (from me obviously. You think those people miss me when I am gone?).

We are off to Lagos. The home of the brave and the land of the er braver. Everything had been going so well. Iyawo and the smaller kids had come around last week to have a look at the school and I had shown them around the house that we will be living in, in Lekki, etc etc. We were very nicely getting into the groove of "living in Lagos" whilst safely ensconced in the Eko Hotel(lol). Then yesterday I had a meeting with a lovely lady whose child has autism to enquire about care for our daughter (more on autism care in Lagos later) and she not only bust my bubble she practically blew it apart.

This is how it goes. I meet up with her in her very swish place in Lekki and we are gabbing away about autism and the facilities available in Lagos etc etc when she casually mentions that they are selling their house and moving to VGC as the husband is prepared to spend every penny available for the treatment of his son. She had recently come back from a treatment centre in SA and that whole trip had cost over N2m (ouch). Anyway I then mentioned that we had found a home just a few streets down from her and there was this silence (which for her was unusual) followed by "are you sure you want to live in Lekki?" I explained that it was based on
the fact that the kids would all be in schools within a mile radius of the house. She was then glancing back and forth at her sister -in-law like should I tell him or should I leave him in peace.

Finally, she blurts out, "what about the armed robbers?". I tell her that I am not sure where they go to school. She does not see the humour in this (but I hope you do dear reader). She then proceeds to give me a litany of the things she has been through including but not limited to:

- snatching of her brand new X5 at gunpoint at her gate after she came back from collecting her child's birthday cake (they did not even have the courtesy to let her take the cake out of the car first)
-attempted snatching of her Jeep at gunpoint as she drove to church with her kids in the car
-attempted break in to her property
-several attempted robberies on her street
-robbery of UBA bank on Admiralty way etc etc
- lack of police presence during any of the above although the alarm centre (private security firm) could mostly be counted on to respond

This was all very sobering and brought me back down to earth with a bang. reading about armed robberies in the paper and actually sitting a foot away from a victim are two totally different things. So I asked her for the name of her agent to go and see some places inVGC! I rang the agent and had a long chat about the pros and cons of living in VGC. Yes it is a beautiful tranquil and safe environment. Yes they have their own transformer so NEPA is not an issue. Yes there is a park and a sports centre and the kids can ride their bikes on the roads. All good and dandy. Then the kicker. Casually she says "of course you will have to leave home at 6am to get your kids to school on time!"

So it looks like it will be yours truly and the armed robbers fighting it out for supremacy in Lekki where you can sleep till 7am and still get your kids to school on time.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

How I invented COOL TV.

After my time, or term, at the Police College in Ikeja, it was still felt that my attitude was not quite right. Coming from a conk middle class Yoruba family there was not much in the way of flexibility in the attitude department. Any slight change in attitude was met with concern, suspicion, alarm and of course the trusty belt\whip\shoe routine. Having exhausted herself on the belt\whip\shoe agenda my poor mother had resorted to hiring the junior alfas from the mosque to do the whipping on her behalf. These very same people who were teaching me about the love that Allah had for me would arrive at my home to beat the hell out of me and then have the audacity to sit down to a hearty well prepared meal, bid me adieu and be on their way back to the mosque in time for the evening prayers. Now I cannot read or speak Arabic but I am damn sure in those prayers is stuff about loving your fellow man, treating him like a brother, do onto him etc etc. For sure.

So anyway, after a rash of non acceptable behaviour comprising playing football with my mates after school, coming home late and allowing my grades to drop to C level (or is that sea level) it was decided that the best option for me was to change my environment. Now by this I imagined that I would move from the rough and tumble of Igbobi College (up IC) to the more genteel and slightly camp confines of Kings College. They of the white uniforms and jackets and slightly snobby attitudes. But no way. My mother had a more drastic change in mind and so it was that I found myself trussed up in a polyester safari suit, nylon shirt, rayon socks and patent leather shoes on board a flight to the USA (I was an early starter in the fashion stakes). Looking at myself in the mirror before I left I was just thinking how hot I looked with my bad self. Looking back now I realise that I was actually more than hot. I was flammable. This was in the days when they still allowed smoking on planes. One stray spark from a cigarette and home boy would be telling another story today. If at all.

Ah Cincinnati Ohio. What a lovely place. All rolling hills and cool fresh breezes. My aunt that I was going to stay with had registered me at a local high school. I was so nervous on my first day but was lucky to meet one of the nicest people I have ever come across in my life. One of those teacher\mentors that basically save your life. He looked after me for the two years that I was enrolled and I must say that it is probably very hard to find teachers like that today. His care was absolute. I cannot count the number of times I would hide out in his office, chatting, gossiping whilst he hand wrote thank you letters to all the donors to the school of which there were hundreds. Every single one of them got a thank you note. Handwritten. Every year. Respect.

I graduated with very good SAT scores and was then shipped off to Nashville for University to live with my uncle - the disciplinary dentist. And his wife - the disciplinary dentist. Needless to say I had the best teeth in college. I am sure even some horses would have traded gnashers with me. However, there was a fly in my ointment. My uncle and aunt were from the old school. TV was strictly a no no during the school week and only for a few hours on the weekend. Radio was okay and it was whilst listening to radio shows nightly that my already overactive imagination really shot into the stratosphere. In those days they would do dramas, comedies. musicals on varying nights on the radio and I really do think that not being fed the visuals via TV allowed me to build up quite a treasure chest of images, plots etc.

Regardless of this however my addiction was to television and being denied it only made me hunger for it more. What was I to do? The minute I go back from college it would be staring at me - calling my name, teasing me, testing me and after a while I came up with a plan. The way my relatives checked to see if I had been watching TV when they got back home in the evenings was to touch it, feel it, see if it was warm\hot. So I had to find my way around that. Oh the nights I spent in my room, working on formulas, hypothesis, etc - even Einstein would
have been proud of my dedication to cracking this conundrum.

Toks minus TV does not compute
therefore Toks must = TV
therefore Toks must find way to watch TV
however TV must remain cool.

Hmmm. The answer came to me in a flash. It was a moment of divine inspiration and goes to show that one must always pay attention to adults as there is so much that one can learn from them. One Sunday my aunt cooked a pot of stew. As it was a very hot day and we were going out she decided it was best that she stick it in the freezer before we left. Suddenly it all made sense. I could not wait for the following day to try out my plan.

As soon as I got back the next day I emptied out the fridge and stuck the TV in there. It was only a small portable so no problem. I then monitored the temperature on the TV over the next few hours. Over the next of days I then calculated exactly how long the TV had to be in the fridge in relation to the arrival time of my aunt and uncle. Within a week I had got it down to an art wherein I could come back from school, watch TV for say an hour, freeze it for a time and then place it back on its stand with enough time for it to return to "room temperature" within a few minutes of their arrival. Voila. The advent of cool TV.

There was one downside. My aunt could never work out why her food kept going off all of a sudden and I do feel guilty at the number of times they had to call out the Fridge repair guy who funnily enough could never find a problem with the appliance. Ode. Didirin. Did he not know there was an evil genius in the house?

Next up I am put in a dormitory on campus to prepare me for the "real world". With real girls. My own TV. My own bank account with actual money. Oh yes, Allah Akbar. God is indeed great.