Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A matter of life and death in Abuja

So just go back from Abuja today. Went there yesterday for a conference and decided to stay somewhere different. I tell a lie. I knew that my chances of getting a room at Hilton or Sheraton was zilch. This is how I ended up at the Rockview Hotel. I had stayed there last year and had found it to be comfortable, good value for money etc, etc. The chap at the front desk said that they had no rooms but they had a suite available which could be mine for the right price (for him). After we exchanged banter for a few minutes, we then exchanged “handshakes” and the suite was mine. People let me tell you say that now I know why those politicians never want to leave power.

This suite was massive. I mean I travel a lot but have yet to come across something of this size oh. In it were, two TVs, DVD player, surround sound system, CD player, 2 fridges, 2 bathrooms, a four piece dining suite, a three piece leather living room suite, a king size bed and a PC. Literally thirty seconds after getting into the room I heard a ringing noise. So JJC that I am na him I begin carry phone for living room (still ringing noise), bathroom (still there) , bedroom (nope still ringing) until I realised that it was actually the doorbell. Yep. There is a doorbell. It actually makes sense now that I think about it because if you were in the main bedroom or the master bathroom you would never hear someone knocking.

Anyways, lo and behold there was a guy there telling me he had come for the turn down service. I told him “Oga look I have just entered oh, there is nothing for you to turn down, turn up or turn over so you better turn around and go back where you came from”. The man then started to pull a tray from the trolley he was pushing. I now asked him “Oga wetin be that?. I no order room service oh”. “Oh this is complimentary” he replies. “Compli wetin?. Are you sure? I no go pay if it appear for my bill tomorrow”. So by now he has deduced that I am not a politician or a man of dishonest means. He can sense that I am not used to the finer things in life. So with pity he then explains that all the guests in suites get the same thing. So what was the compliment. Well, a bottle of beer, bottle of malt, bottle of sprite, bottle of water (large), a carton of juice and some very chunky very cold pieces of watermelon, pineapple and paw paw. Man, I was all over the fruit like Chelsea on Spurs! The fruit tasted out of this world. People, if Halle Berry (Iyawo keeps warning me about this woman but I won’t listen sha) herself had been rubbing me down with baby oil I could not have felt better (obviously only one way to find out). Kilode? Eminikan tan?

So imagine that I am in one of the discounted suites and getting all this. Imagine what the people in the Presidential suite get. So now I fully understand what he meant when Baba said that these elections were a matter of life and death. Me sef don ready to die for my country oh.

Some pointers in case you do want to stay at the Rockview. Make sure you specify the new one (there are two). Do not try and pay with credit cards (90minutes to check out) and whatever you do, do not send your clothes to the laundry room to be ironed unless you do so two days in advance (otherwise take an iron with you). You have been warned.

Next time - the Presidential and Local primaries. Oh what fun. Lots to tell.

Monday, 5 March 2007

A case of two robberies. Naija style.

So I am in the Business Centre of my hotel when I overhear the following conversation behind me. It would seem that this chap from Italy arranged to come to Nigeria for a business meeting. Being that it was going to be his first time in Nigeria he was extremely nervous. He therefore arranged for a car from the hotel to come and collect him from the airport.

He arrives at MMA last night to be met by a chap with a sign bearing his name. He duly follows said chap, after ascertaining that it was the hotel driver, to the car park where he gets into the car only to be joined by another chap. He is therefore hemmed in, in the back seat with the driver up front. He quickly deduces that this is not kosher and asks some more questions that the real hotel driver would have known the answers to. As could be expected the robbers did not have the answers but they did have a fourth man join them whom they picked up not far from the airport.

And so it was that this man had all his worst fears confirmed as he was stripped of 18,000 Euros, passport, mobile, credit cards etc. He was then driven somewhere and the robbers kindly hailed a cab for him (what true gentlemen) before legging it at double speed in their car. He went on to explain his predicament to the taxi driver who in his mercy took him to the Sheraton from where he was able to contact the hotel.

Meanwhile, back at the airport the real hotel driver was in a state as he could not understand how the passenger had not yet come out of the arrivals hall three hours after the flight had landed.

Moral of the story – do not let your name be written on a placard because what the robbers do is copy it down and then place their man closer to the entrance than the person that is actually supposed to be meeting you. They then steer you away from the main entrance, into their car and off you go. Also, always have the mobile number of the person that is collecting you.

Anyway I can just imagine the tales this chap will have to tell when he gets back home to Italy. Ah well, as they say in the film Blood Diamonds – TIA- This is Africa. Sxxt happens.

I will be writing our erstwhile Minister for Aviation, FK, to find out why it is not possible for the hotels to have their actual booths inside the newly redecorated lobby to avoid this kind of image damage exercise. Also why the outside cannot be more lit up and the touts moved back from the entrance gates. More suggestions welcome.

The second robbers are our good friends at NEPA. In case you are not aware, anybody in Lagos that is enjoying more than three hours of constant electricity at the moment is living the life of Riley, (or Jimoh, Musa or Francis, more appropriately). It is so bad that most households and businesses are running generators for twenty to twenty four hours a day? Naturally they are not built for this sort of usage. Our house alone is littered with the ghosts of four. One of them bought just a week ago went kaput and the seller then told my family that the kick plate had broken. After a week??????

So at my hotel on the mainland things are not much better. I was actually frightened yesterday that at any moment something in my room was going to burst into flames such was the off\on on\off, high current , low current rhythm of the power (either that or I could start charging people to come in for a disco). The generator outside has been moaning since I arrived on Friday and yesterday it decided to give up the ghost. There was lots of warning with about 30 outages per hour. I kid you not. It was so bad I could not dare to plug in anything electrical in case it melted or exploded. Since my stay here about a month ago the hotel has now installed one hell of a drum to hold diesel for their generator. This thing is the size of a small bungalow. I am damned sure that they are not making a penny in profit during this period and might actually be better off chucking us all out and shutting down.

So I made a trip to the lobby to ascertain exactly what was going on. (I am actually getting quite good at this investigative journalism stuff. Before I was just an amateur poke nose, amebo (whoops power just went) but now I see myself as a professional busybody. All I need now is a raincoat and you can call me Columbo).

Naturally it turns out that he who pays the most gets the most. NEPA is rationing electricity because there is a shortage and this is fair enough. However the only people that are getting their rations are the ones that appear at NEPA offices bearing gifts. My mole tells me that a big hotel on the Island is currently gifting them to the tune of about N200k per week. This does not guarantee 24/7 power, just a period for the generator to rest before kicking back into action. And of course they still have to pay the legitimate NEPA bill through the front door (whoops lights have starting to dim again. All sorts of things clicking around me as the current fluctuates. Thank God there are no fluorescent bulbs in this place). It’s just gone again.

When the generator broke down yesterday morning (thank God I was out) they rushed down to Nepa with N10k to buy 6 hours of electricity to give them time to fix it. Apparently there was not a flicker during that period.

So there you have it. A case of nightime robbery and a case of all day robbery. God help us.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

30 minutes in Lagos and already......

We landed into MMA in Lagos at 5.30 in the morning for some stupid reason(I must be getting senile) I was expecting to be tucked up in bed at the hotel by 7am especially after my luggage was delivered in record time. I mean I was out of the airport in less than half an hour of stepping off the plane. The newly found efficiency at MMA and the newly installed plasma screens combined to lure me into a false sense of civility.

This rapidly evaporated over the next two and a half hours spent in traffic. Most of that was on Awolowo Road just trying to get on to the bridge. Naturally there was the usual mix of aggressive driving, sirens of all sorts, official and unofficial traffic wardens (please when driving past make sure you tip the one armed guy that keeps traffic flowing on that stretch of road. He does a fantastic job.)

As we were just getting to the bridge some moron in a brand new car tried to cut into the traffic from the outside lane. Unfortunately he did so in front of a huge 4X4 which promptly took off his front bumper. Naturally grammar started. The 4X4 guy must have told the idiot driver to get stuffed because he just got back in his car and drove off whilst Mr Brand New Car was left to count the cost of saving two to three minutes waiting in the queue. Where is Take That when you need them? “Have a little patience” indeed.

So it was that we were on the bridge when I heard the familiar siren of one of Lagos’s new phenomena’s. The professional beggars. Professional in the sense that they are uniformed- crisp white shirt, caps, green khakis and black shoes. Usually they would be surrounding some poor sod who would be sat on a chair right on the white lines dividing the traffic maintaining a sorrowful gaze whilst all around Okada boys zoomed hither and thither.

I was expecting to see the usual chap sat in the chair with his huge testicles out for all to see. Now I am not sure that if I had testicles that huge I would choose a bridge on which to display them. Has he never heard of porn videos? Or Nollywood? Anyways I was surprised to see some poor kid , no more than ten years old sat on the chair looking miserable. As we were stationary this gave me an opportunity to do my journalistic piece on behalf of all my avid readers (yes, both of them). Shio.

I called over to the lead beggar as it were and the following conversation ensued.

Me : What is wrong with the boy?

LB : Perplexed that my window was down but there was no visible currency in sight however playing along in the hopes that there would soon be crisp notes fluttering out the window any minute. “Oga na sickle cell dey worry am.”

Me: Thinking - hmm I can see how roasting him alive in the hot sun totally consumed by car fumes will cure him. “So what are you collecting money for?”

LB : “We want to help him. He has to go to hospital to get his blood changed every week.”

Me: “Which hospital?”

LB : Looking confused. Roll of eyes, licking of lips, slight cough. If this guy was on a lie detector the needle would be flying off the page. He looks off into the distance and then says “That one over there?”

I follow his gaze and all me I can see is water.

Me: “Over where?”

LB : Looking even more uncomfortable “The one over there by CMS

Me : “Ah hah. I see. What is it called?”

LB: After long pause and now desperately trying to get his colleagues attention for help “I cannot remember”

Me: Thinking. So let me get this straight. You take the boy to the hospital every week to get his blood changed but you cannot remember the name of the hospital? Hmm. “Okay, so what do they do for him?”

LB : “They change his blood every week”

Me : “And how much does that cost?”

LB : Brightening up now that we have come on the to subject of currency. Mumbles “Two hundred” and then decides to go for the jackpot “N250,000.”

Me : “So you collect N250k every week for that poor boy to go and get his blood changed at a hospital you cannot name?”

LB : His confidence plummets once again. He can see the money disappearing before his very eyes.

Me: “Well okay. Good luck to you” and I wind up.

Now before you start thinking I am some heartless bastard you might want to read one of my earlier posts about “adopting” the young boys that hang around the Eko Hotel and giving them money everytime I see them. What I am not prepared to do is pay this muppet to exploit some young kid. Our society is already doing enough of that.

So within 30 minutes in Lagos I am already forced to start making life and death decisions and checking my morals and principles. I’m off to bed.