Life Abroad

Nothing Going On But The Rent

This piece is going to offend a lot of people, but we have been dancing around it for too long and it is high time someone confronted the issues.

I was in church last Sunday and a visiting pastor was seriously upsetting me. But he is a pastor and you don’t let pastors upset you, or the thunder might shake the sky and lightning might dash out of nowhere and burn you to ashes. Still, I was fuming quietly (I hope God didn’t here me). Many others had come before him to jump to similar conclusions and it was beginning to get to me.

The pastor had gone into the typical mode of all Nigerians who come visiting America. They look at the way we live and suddenly get all uppity and judgmental. We never have time for ourselves, they say. We work around the clock. We’re under a lot of stress. We’re this and that. The part that really pisses me off is this issue of paying or not paying bills. “Oh, you people spend all your money on paying bills”.

Okay, I admit we set them off on this tangent with our complaint to them back home that we have bills to pay and that is why we can’t send them all the Dollars they crave. Still, they never seem to remember when we actually send the Dollars. They only seem to recall our complaints that we have bills to pay.

Let me start of by saying that one of the chief problems plaguing Nigeria today is that the average Joe on the street does not pay his bills. Oh, you think we don’t have bills in Nigeria? You may be thinking so if you have not matured enough to assume the responsibilities that should make bills come your way. People get loans in Nigeria too. They use variations of the credit card. They owe money and have to pay back gradually. Just because it isn’t made so public does not mean it is no bill.

Let us first list out the most common of these bills we pay in America and then address them one by one:

Electricity

We all know the value of electricity. We all come from Nigeria where it has been termed a luxury not for the common man and so it is only available when there is enough leftover juice from the important parts of town.

So, we have electricity bill in America. Are you expecting it to come free when you don’t own a personal dam? It comes to the tune of your usage monthly. In America, the only time the electricity blinks is when there is an ongoing rain or snowstorm. And if it goes out, there are workers and supervisors in the crazy inclement weather working around the clock to find and fix the problem.

When power goes off in Nigeria, if it was ever on, employees have to be bribed by neighborhood residents to come look at it. And God help everyone if it is a fix that requires a part. It’s either you put the money together in the area to buy the part or wait until a year later when money is allocated to the problem via a contract. And then the money mysteriously disappears while the problem remains.

Nigerians find it almost impossible to pay their NEPA bill. If NEPA doesn’t have money, how will it supply electricity? Even when they pay, the money is used to do other things, rather than service the customers. The noisemakers who talk about electricity bill in America should first go and pay the bill they owe in Nigeria before making noise.

Rent And Mortgage

These rabble-rousers do have a roof over their heads, don’t they? I mean they don’t live under the bridges in Lagos. It is only an infinitesimal number of people in Nigeria who are house owners. We all rent. We all know how much of the rent in Nigeria gets paid with Dollars from America. And this is not to offend any sensitive spirit out there. It just gets infuriating, that’s all.

We pay rent in America just like you pay rent in Lagos. While you pay annually in most cases (I remember scavenging for all my debts whenever some rents were due in Lagos), we pay monthly because the system is designed to be convenient for you. And the amount we pay here sounds like a lot because of the crappy exchange rate, not because it is so much.

As for the mortgage, house ownership is a pipe dream for many in Nigeria. They barely earn enough to keep body and soul together till the end of the month. The few who manage to build a house have either worked all their life to make the money legitimately. Others merely wangle their way through some shady deal or the other to grab a shortcut.

Here in the US, if you have the money in bulk, you can write a check and the house is yours immediately. Many Nigerians here go that route as they are in the high net worth category. The average Nigerian here just like the average Nigerian back home earns a monthly salary and cannot afford to plop down the $100,000 it will cost to buy a modest house. But the system comes to the rescue again. You can “buy” the house with a bank loan. You usually have some 30years to repay this loan, but if you have excess income, you can pay it faster. Now, it makes sense to “buy” a house and stagger the payment across several years so that by the time you retire (and an average human being works for more than 30 years) you will have a place of your own, right? Or you chaps throwing stones in Nigeria would rather be renting a place after retirement and the steady income has ceased? This is not a bill. It is a lifesaver!

Automobiles

Buying a car in America works exactly the same way the house mortgage works. Write a check and drive off in your car. If you can’t afford to go that route, finance or lease it. Financing means you having the bank pay for it while you pay the bank over a period of 5 years after which the car becomes yours. A lease means you’re renting it from the dealership at some agreed monthly rate. If you still like the car after a year or two, you can buy it a significantly reduced price. Many in America don’t “own” a car. They just lease, changing cars every year or so.

In Nigeria, you’re doomed to forever chasing the Molue or Danfo bus unless you can pay a million or two for the car. I mean cash. Who will accept a check from you? You have to drive to the dealership with the money smoking in the trunk of your car. Many have been driven to defraud or rob banks just to become members of this elite class of car owners.

And you poke fun at us in America for paying the car bill monthly? You don’t know what you’re talking about, friend. Go grab a bus or something.

Gas

What is there to say about this? It shouldn’t even appear here because only a near-insignificant handful cook with gas in Nigeria. What gas? The same one we flare away at all the refineries, wasting billions of Dollars annually? We use kerosene stoves that sometimes get filled with adulterated incendiaries that then explode in our faces, killing or scarring us for life. And no one is sued or fired or blamed for it.

Companies in America have pipes in building that pump metered gas into your residence. You use a lot, you pay for it. You use a little, you pay for it. It is business, mere buying and selling same as you do at Oshodi or Oyingbo Market. You don’t buy the pepper or cow leg and walk away like your father set up the market, do you?

Telephone

This is another non-issue, as the folks in Nigeria have since discovered GSM mobile phones. Can you make the call without credits? No. And how do you get the credits? You pay hard cash to the hawkers of recharge cards. Oftentimes, you buy a recharge card a day. There have been days you have been forced to buy more than one a day.

This appears to be the only way the phone companies can ensure Nigerians pay for the service they crave so much. I mean, look at what happened to all the land lines. You think they have ceased to exist? Okay, in many cases, they have. Nigerians have either cut the wires or stolen the equipment. But where these exist undamaged, many do not pay for the service, citing a reason or another (some justified, others not so). NITEL is owed billions of Naira by subscribers who want to continue using the phone but have one reason or the other not to pay for it.

The phones are in place in America. Every home can have one. It is not considered a luxury. If you have a credible record established with the phone company, you get your phone connected and receive a bill itemizing all your calls at the end of the month. If you are not in good standing, you either pay for the service ahead or they ask you to give them a security deposit, usually a $100 (returned intact after a year of credit building). Either way, you can always get a phone. You can even hook up services that sell you credits ahead much like the ones in Nigeria. If we didn’t have the phones working and paid for with one of those monthly bills, how do you think your middle of the night calls will get a response?

Water

The taps in Nigeria never run. Well, here in the US, the taps never stop. Every tap in every home runs. The showers run hot and cold. The water does not come out brown from the pipes or sporadically, depending on some whim. You guys who whine don’t think you should be paying for such a service? Why don’t you just relocate to the village where the river runs through your back yard and the river goddess sends no bills?

Insurance

This comes in different flavors here in America. Medical, automobile, property, life… The only one that’s compulsory is the automobile insurance. And even that isn’t, really. You can choose not to drive. You can always take the abundantly available public transport to wherever you have to go. But if you do decide to own a car and drive, then you have to get the insurance – not for your benefit, mind you. It’s just in case you hit a pedestrian or another car. That’s why you have what is called Liability Insurance, a package very popular among Nigerians in America. It simply means your insurance company takes care of the damage to the other car if you’re responsible for an accident. When you choose the full coverage, you and the other parties are covered according to the agreements of your package.

Again, this is only in anticipation of the unexpected. You pay money to this agency monthly so that it will respond as agreed whenever the unpredictable rears its head. You get sick and your medical insurance kicks in at the hospital, the dentist, the chiropractor or the imaging service, reducing your out of pocket payment to a bearable amount. Property insurance works similarly. Life insurance… These things are not perfect, but they are in place and they do work.

Look at Nigeria where these things are not properly promoted or structured… The family’s breadwinner passes and the wife and 4 kids are thrown into despondency. There is no mechanism in place to protect them. Drivers run from the scene of road accidents because they cannot afford to fix the Mercedes Benz’s headlamps they just smashed or cannot pay for the hospital bill of the girl whose legs they just broke. The Government does not have public options as backup for a people caught in the disasters of life such as collapsing houses, markets going ablaze, accidental discharges… Why is it not logical for us to pay for these insurance services, considering the benefits they have? Hello? You have no answer?

Credit cards, Cable television, Internet Service, etc: A luxury, that’s what things like these are. People get into it by choice. Many live their lives without using credit cards. There are several ways of establishing the much touted credit history in America without piling on a ship-load of debt. Basic television service costs nothing and a television bought for $100 will receive the same images and sounds that are available to the High Definition widescreen that cost $6000,00. What Internet? There are people living without ever setting their eyes on a web page.

What else do you have to say? Taxes? The taxes we pay, added to the different types of insurance make it possible for certain facilities to be available so that some of your wives can come from Nigeria to deliver in America and then claim the husband ran away in other to partake of Medicaid.

Unlike in Nigeria where the corrupt NEPA official is not really going to fix the downed line until he has been settled, and electricity can be discontinued without any explanation, there are services that cannot be switched off here in America, especially in the heart of the cold winter. Electricity, gas and hot water are among these. Death will fall like rain from the sky if they switched off these services, so even if you owe them $10K, the law insists they have to keep on providing these services, while they work with you to figure out how to recover their money.

So, the next time you come to America to point fingers at us for having bills to pay, ask yourself what these bills really are. They are payments for the necessities that make life worth living for any human being anywhere in the world. If you’re not paying them back home, then it explains why you’re not getting those services because nothing in this world comes free.

And one final mystery that seems to escape you… People who have dependents in America can add their names to their tax papers, and the government helps by reimbursing them minimally for taking care of these dependents. That means the taxman is a little considerate of the additional expenses your bear (Oh, I know you don’t even know the meaning of tax in Nigeria!).

Now, Nigerians in America work extra hours to earn more Dollars so that they can send money to the family back home. That’s one of the reasons why we seem to always be on the move. We don’t spend the money on ourselves. We send it to you.

Since the dependents of Nigerians in America are mostly in Nigeria, we cannot add your names to the tax papers to get something back from the taxman, no matter how small. We don’t look like we deserve the reimbursement. Don’t forget the more money you make, the more taxes you pay in any civilized society.

You get where I’m going? The income from the 2 jobs is accrued under one person’s name and the taxman does not see any dependent, so he assumes the chap is spending the $50K per annum all by himself. So, he takes even more taxes from him. Meanwhile, the poor chap has sent most of his income to mama and papa and the other family members to start a business or pay the school fees or something.

You see the kind of trouble we’re in here? We send you money, then we get penalized for making so much money – money we didn’t even keep! Really, the next time you want to throw barbs at Nigerians living in America, consider briefly the stress they have to put up with just to be able to send you that $100. What did Gwen Guthrie say in that song? Ain’t nothing going on but the rent, folks.

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