The Things I Observed in Nigeria

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Never a day goes by that I don’t shake my head in disbelief. Never a day goes by that my jaw doesn’t drop. There are just too many of these “whoa moments” – moments that make me wonder how, and why, the vast majority of Nigerians are still alive and trudging. I see and hear incredulous and heart-wrenching things — things that make me shed a little tear every now and then.

I also see and hear things that affirm my belief in the resilience, ingenuity and goodness of Nigerians. It is impossible to miss the contradictions. Under these circumstances therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible to not belief in miracle and in the existence of a higher power. Indeed, it is impossible not to belief that someone or something is watching over Nigerians.

Some of the food handling techniques I witnessed in Nigeria would have killed 15% or more of Americans. Eggs are allowed to sit in the sun for days on end. Expired can foods and drinks are sold. I am not even sure if anyone pays attention to the expiration dates. The slaughterhouses are a mess, and so are the handling and storage of raw meat. From morning until closing time or until when the meat are sold, all types of flies and other creatures congregate on the meat.

Flies and other creeping creatures can also be found trysting and defecating on the fishes, vegetables, seafood, and other foodstuff. Some of the food items are even displayed on the ground. It is as if no one is aware of food borne infections caused by such bacteria as salmonella, ecoli, campylobacter, listeria, yersinia, and the Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses.

Most street-side restaurants (Buka) are filthy! A woman could be sweating and at the same time pounding yam or eba or fufu or whatever else. All the while, her sweat and spit are streaming into the food she is preparing. The human sweat and spit is then mixed with the food for customers to eat. Beyond that is the spoons and plates and glasses customers use.

Hundreds and hundreds of customers, every single day, uses the same cutlery without subjecting those cutleries to any measure of hygiene. In that sweltering heat, and under unhygienic conditions, millions of Nigerians, go out every single day to eat and drink. Every time I walk past such bukas, I feel my stomach turn, I feel sorry for the patrons.

The average Nigerian does not have access to healthcare; and even in places when heath services are available, most can not afford it. It is therefore not a surprise that hundreds of Nigerians die every single day on Nigerian roads. Some just drop dead from exhaustions, hypertension, and other diseases that were left undiagnosed or untreated.

And very many others are either poorly treated or improperly diagnosed. Those not dropping dead from health conditions are killed by government agents, armed robbers, assassins, or by street urchins. If you escape any of the aforesaid, the poor condition of Nigerian roads and bridges, and the poor driving ability of drivers along with poor maintenance of vehicles will be the cause of death.

It is said that inflation rate is about 11% and unemployment is at about 6% and some 60% of the population live below poverty line. I am not sure those figures are correct. It is more like 45% unemployment, 35% inflation and 80% of the people live below the poverty line. A keen observer will notice that there are two types of poor people: the miserable and the abject poor.

As far as I can tell, there are more miserable people in Nigeria. It also seems to me as though more than 80% of the country is made up of ghettoes and slums. Some of the well-planned neighborhoods look like maximum security complexes with houses surrounded by barbed wires and high fences to keep away armed robbers and unwanted guests. It must be really difficult to have a good night sleep in such houses.

I sometimes wonder why there has not been a revolution or some sort of popular uprising in Nigeria. It amazes me how millions and millions of Nigerians take this nonsense year after year after year. They must have thick skin and an enduring ability to bear hardship, pain, poverty and misery. Americans complain about every little inconvenience; but not so Nigerians, most of whom just walk around like the living dead.

Their ability to take it in, to stomach things, to look the other way, to forgive their leaders, to seek earthly solution in the heaven is amazing. How they endure such great inconveniences is beyond my wits. I am beginning to lose my mind, but my friends and family act as though it is nothing, as though all is well. It is amazing! It is a totally different mindset.

One other thing I have noticed: it must be good, really good to be a White man in Nigeria. You may have any type of skin, not just the black skin. One.s skin color could be an asset or a hindrance. The way I see it, most Nigerians seems to have great respect for the “white skin,” while they despise their own skin. Someday, some white fellow is going to casually walk into Aso Rock and claim to be the president of Nigeria. I won’t be surprised if Nigerians believe and accept him.

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I.K August 18, 2009 - 5:54 am

the only thing thats going to save Nigeria is civil war, or a revolution of some kind (every great nation has been through this) like u stated, it amazes me how Nigerians survive in that country. even dogs in the U.S drink cleaner water than the average Nigerian, even dogs have more rights than the average Nigerian. ppl r still dying of malaria, typhoid fever, yellow fever in Nigeria (these r things europeans where dying of in the dark ages). With all our wealth and natural resourses, we should not be classified a “third world country”. But i think Nigerians r too scared and too supersticious for any kind of revolution to happen. the government cannot even provide the basic necessities of life for its citizens ( light, water, education, health care, food, etc) and i feel the same way u feel about religion/juju and the rest of that crap, all that shit is man made. i belive in God, but i know u cant find God in any book or church, its a journey to find God and its more about being spiritual than anything else….u know what? i dont want to get too deep into religion cuz i’ll sit here and write a whole book LOL. i consider Fela kuti a prophet, bcuz all the shit he talkd about 30yrs ago is still happening now in Nigeria. Nigeria has gotten progressively worse as the yrs go by and thats just sad. We sit here and talk about how blacks r mistreated in S.Africa, U.S by the white man, but blacks r getting mistreated by blacks in Nigeria. ur article was very insightful and on point (have u thought about writting a book?) u have a way with words that paints pictures. PEACE BROTHER

Godwin Kwushue May 19, 2007 - 7:10 pm

Dear Sabbella,

Your observation that folks in Nigeria respect Caucasians more than even fellow Nigerians of the same status cannot be further from truth but there are also drawbacks and disadvantages that is a direct fallout from the same reason. These guys can not go into any market and buy anything without being ripped off, Nigerian traders always has oyinbo price stored away somewhere in their memory.

Should a Caucasian expatriate working in Nigeria commit a crime the police with make sure they drain him to the last drop as they know he will want to remain and carry on with his well paying job. Were the suspect is a Nigerian, once the issue is settled at the police level it is considered settled once and for all, but with a white man every minute when somebody is broke among those who effected his arrest that fellow will go and knock on his door and ask for more money to take care of his personal problems.

The case is worse with the immigration people, whether you have a resident permit or not is immaterial. Some money hungry officials will show up at you door and make effort to extort money from you, where that fails they will come back a few days later and tell you that their director want to see you at Abuja or they have instruction to bundle you to the airport

Most whites will tell you they have suffered this kind of harassment one time or the other. Those who seem to be an exception to this kind of treatment are those working for businesses own by influential Nigerians or those who are in Nigeria at the instance of an academic institution, a government ministry or a Non Profit

However if you are a black man from the Carribean, America, Africa or other part of the world the police and immigration treats you the way they would other Nigerians or treats you better, I believe it is a feeling of trying to help a lost sister or brother from faraway land I can not really say what it is, but that is my personal observation.

There is no gain saying about the claim that Nigerians at home respects whites living in Nigeria more than some of our so called important people, this may be as a result of poverty but every average human being either white or black has the capability of knowing where their bread will be buttered. White people has this tip giving culture and they do so generously too even for services they have paid for, most Nigerian shoe shine boys, barbers, laborers, house helps, drivers gardeners and even prostitutes will attest to this fact.

A Nigerian who may be earning as much as the white man will sometimes tell the poor man after obtaining his service that I do not have change here I will see you tomorrow. Sometimes where artisans complain that he was not paid enough for his job let alone get a tip he will be told in a rude manner “what did you do after all, is it not just this little thing”. There is a common saying among the poor in Nigeria “that is why oyinbo man different” it is a statement that is laddened with meaning .

Closer home here in the US in order not to give ten or fifteen dollar to a barber, some will go and procure a clipper and give themselves gorimapa cut, instead of giving the job to a trained barber, we want to hold on to everything we do not want others to have anything, the bottom line is that our so called important Nigerians are selfish and they do not deserve anybody’s respect. It is as a result of lack of consideration for others that we do not have good hospitals , roads, pipe borne water and electricity till this day.

Most Nigerians believe that it is only an interview panel headed by a white man that will give them a job based on their ability and merit, where the panel is thoroughly Nigerian extraneous. reasons, nepotism and favoritism will take the place of merit. That does not mean a white man can not do the same thing if he were to be in his country but he does not have serious tie or affinity with anybody in Nigeria, to succeed in his assignment he has to get the best hands, he has to do his job dispassionately. Some Nigerians believe it is only when a white man is the boss that they can get promotion based on their performance and merit otherwise issues like what secret cult you belong to or what clique you belong to, who your godfather is or who is sleeping with who may be the criteria.

When you need to go and sign for an entitlement at the desk of a Nigeria manager he will treat the whole thing as if he is doing you a favor he may even use the power that he does not have and refuse to sign, while most white managers will sign your papers without delay as long as what you have asked for is legitimate and is your entitlement. If you asked most Nigerian workers mostly female they will tell you their experience with their Nigerians bosses. So can anybody give me any good reason why you will not respect somebody that treats you with respect. Respect they say is symbiotic.

We may have to take a look at the way some Nigerians treat their personal drivers, they treat them like human being who shouldn’t have any kind of life outside of the job. The driver will work all week and he will accompany his boss on a journey to the village at the weekend. Then he comes back to start work on Monday without a single day off. If most white bosses travel out of the city with their driver they will tell him to take a day off and arrange some fat allowance for the driver for his effort. But the Nigerian boss will call the driver who is seriously stressed, tired and has just arrived from a long journey to come and take madam somewhere. When the driver complains they will remind him to learn to be grateful that he has a job.

We have all seen the success of white coaches with our national soccer teams, allegations abound that Nigerian coaches collects bribe from mediocre players and get mediocre result from matches while the capable hands who are not ready to grease the palm of the coaches are left to rot on the bench. Now if you ask any good Nigerian football player, they will tell you they prefer a foreign/white coach, the preference is not based on skin type it is based on attitude to work. Nigerians no doubt will like to have a Nigerian as the national coach. The foreign/white coach too respect money and want it but first and foremost he will select the best players and give them the opportunity to exhibit their skills. Where the white coach makes his money is that he will always insist the player use his football manager/agent friend as his agent for his negotiation but this is a win win situation for the Nigerian player and the white coach as no cog has been placed in anybody’s wheel of progress.

Somebody mentioned the issue of Nigeria engineers not being respected as their white counterpart who are mostly graduate of technical schools. However there is something I can not figure out, most of the white workers who built those bridges in Lagos are just graduate from technical schools though they may not be the designers or responsible for the structural aspect of the job. However they are responsible for putting the structures together. But I have not seen one bridge or flyover designed or built by those Nigerians who are claiming to be better qualified

It is in Nigeria you will find a mechanical engineer who can not fixed a simple problem in his car

those who are suppose to go about their work with safety hats on their head and steel toe boots on their feet prefer to wear three pieces suit and put the title ENG at the front of their names but their fellow Nigerians knows who the real engineers are, those who are carrying various tools on their person and are smeared with grease from a hard days job

Every good thing that has worked in white mans country and elsewhere has failed in our country, we are even finding it difficult to feed ourselves something our fore fathers who had little or no education did for ages.

Surprisingly we kept asking why our people are looking at those who has been able to solve better part of their problems with respect

Godwin Kwushue

San Diego.

Reply May 18, 2007 - 11:06 pm

Darling. All I can say is you haven't seen anything yet. You are in Nigeria. When you learn to walk with one foot in the very distant past and another in the present while unabashedly maintaining a distinct set of values for resident Nigerians and non-Nigerians who have become part of the Nigerian system and another set of values for those Nigerians who have been gone too long and non-Nigerians who have just arrived in Nigeria or who honestly reside outside of Nigeria, you would have begun your process of acclimatization. Remember, you must become hardened and insensitive to others although you must show great passion at funerals and in religious gatherings. The word NO must become a key word in your vocabulary. You must not show weakness by saying that you will consider any requests made of you. Just say NO. Apologies can come later if you are mistaken and need to change your mind. If you are unable to do all of these things and more, pack your bags and return to the country where others like you await you and the stories which you will no doubt spend more than forty nights telling. Pele. Hang in there. Ndo. I am still trying to recover.

Michael May 18, 2007 - 2:27 pm

Sabella, I don't know how you do it! Your write-ups always make me think you went to the same "church" with Fela Kuti!!!

The Nigerians that worship the white skin basically are fools.

Warriboi May 18, 2007 - 8:58 am

As sad as it sounds,some pple in 9ja still are in the slave trade era,where they worship the whiteman.I work in an american firm in lagos where most of the managerial positions are taken by the expats and most of the Nigerians suck up to them becos of the little perks which they desire.These 'expats' never even saw the 4 walls of a university,mostly ex-soldiers and the like…which is sickening to say the least.However,if only our leaders will free us from second slavery by spreading the wealth.

Adebisi May 18, 2007 - 1:29 am

To Mr or Mrs "UNKNOWN". Pretty cute of you to make a comment and not leave your name. Anyway that is irrelevant. I have a mixed race son because I slept with a white woman the way white people slept (quite often rape) black female ancetors. So in one way you could call that avenging on behalf of those females. I am very much happily married to a very gorgeous and smart black sister and have black kids with smooth dark "chocolatey" skin like mine. When that white man was messing about with black slaves and others, he wasn't worshipping black skin. So maybe that was me revenging on behalf of my female ancestors, and for that I pour spirits on the soil in their memory.

Adebisi The Conqueror!!!

Anonymous May 17, 2007 - 11:35 am

Adebisi, judging from what you wrote I'd say you too worship white skin. I hear many of you even feel inferior to your own mixed race children. Sad.

Adebisi May 17, 2007 - 8:20 am

Brother, let us not insult Nigerians by saying they respect a white skin more than black – Nigerians respect class based on wealth; either real or perceived. As a matter of fact, it would be wrong to make such a blanket assumption for millions of inhibitants of Nigeria, so I would rather say that many Nigerians respect and worship people they think are better off, either because they live abroad, hold a political post, have money, very well known etc

If I came from the US and married some village girl, of course that family sees it as something big because all they think of me or anyone living in the West, is that we are economically better off than they are. I went to Nigeria with my son who at that time was just about 8 and mixed race. I was driving around one day and had him at the back of the car for road safety purposes. We got to one of the too many police check points where I was ordered to stop the jeep truck I was driving. Because I was wearing shorts and t-shirt, the police must have thought I was the "driver"; his attitude showed that. However he was very friendly and polite towards my little man with as many "well done sir", and "oga well done o" as if those phrases were going out of fashion. Now that cracked me up and I bursted out laughing at him and his colleagues. My son started to laugh too as I pointed out to him that he was being very friendly towards my son while he was stern towards me. As soon as I said that and I gave him my foreign driving license, his attitude changed to that of, "oga you know now, as we dey here so na for ya own sake. Oya my broda, fin us something"… that made me feel sorry, entertained, and embarrased all at once.

My English accent is American but of course I do speak very fluent Yoruba and pidgin English as well. However when I visit Nigeria and pretend to "not be one of them" by speaking English with an American accent, people warm up to you, and for two reasons. One because of the reason I stated earlier, secondly because some are genuinely happy to see a black person come back to their ancestral home – Africa.

Same goes for rich people with people the age of your grandpa addressing you as "sir" which in Nigeria is normally reserved elderly citizens and as a sign of great respect.

I think the bottom line is, Nigerians and indeed many Africans are going through what the great Abami Eda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (RIP) referred to as "SECOND SLAVERY". Only this time around, the plight of Nigerians is self inflicted through our lame political and government systems, by people failing to demand accountability from politicians, by them voting corrupt people into office through greed, by our sometimes destructive attitudes towards social ammnities.

Who will help change the situation? Who knows? Most people who could do it have been "chased" abroad or underground. The honest man is not a hero in my country. The man of change gets killed through contract killings (as a matter of fact I have to be careful with what I write because my black behind might not be safe for writing this)

So yes indeed brother happenings in Nigeria make you open your snout in what Fela called WONDERFULMENT!!! But as for the white man thing… I beg to differ

omobolanle alaketu May 16, 2007 - 7:41 pm

this entry is more than excellent its reach and the sequnce is perfect

Reply May 16, 2007 - 1:52 pm

I enjoyed your article, for it simply was quite accurate from what I saw when I was there for two weeks.

One point I would like to give my opinion is that Nigerians have great respect for "Americans" period–not just the white man, but Americans. I am an African American female, and I maried a Nigerian man. I was treated by family, strangers, and on-lookers with such honor and adoration simply because I am American (who happens to be African American). I was told by my new brother-in-law that they felt their family's level of respect and honor has gone up simply by having an American in their family. I felt honored by that, but I also felt saddened by it as well. To me, that meant that they believed an American was better than a Nigerian, and that is just not true!

Nigerians are very skillful, but I realized that many of them do not know their own worth as far as in the area of their potential financial earnings. My husband had my hair braided when I was there. When he asked for the price of braiding my hair, she quoted him a Nira amount, which was equivalent to $13 US dollars. Now that price include taking out my old braids, the purchase of the new hair that was being used, shampoo, conditioning, and new Micro-twists. I was absolutely shocked! The women who managed the shop was grateful for that amount he paid her (we paid her more than her asking price though). In America, it would be an insult to ask someone to braid your hair for an amount such as that. In America you purchase your hair prior to going to the hairdressers, and you take your own "old" braids out before going. The style I got done in Nigeria would be cost at least $200 or more in America. In Nigeria, four women twisted my hair, but in America one woman would do it, and you would sit for hours until it was finished. I told my husband and family that they "under-charge" for their services. We paid her more, but it shocked me that she was happy about the price she quoted.

I think Nigerin's admiration is high for Americans, for many Nigerians view America as the place to "wipe away all their troubles". We both know that is not true, but to a starving and struggling man, it seems mighty nice compared to their present day-to-day circumstances.


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