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.