Journal - Nigeria 6
The following content is from the journal I kept during my work with World Bank. It documents my reflections during a field trip to Nigeria in 2004.
Structural Adjustment Program by the World Bank
The 9 years of the Structural Adjustment Program was the time when the middle class was massively wiped out in Nigeria. Numerous people in the public services lost their jobs and they had to be self-employed. That’s why there are so many small, small businesses in this country. There are endless small vendors along the roads, selling stuff like toothpaste or snacks.
An old man came toward our car, and started singing sonorously. My friend took 10 Naira out of his pocket and gave it to him.
The old man said to my friend, “God bless you.”
“That’s our social work. If the elderly don’t have children who can look after them, the community takes care of them. Though they don’t get plenty, they get enough to survive. So, there are no old people’s nursing homes here.”
In the Eyes of an Artist
Odeh is an artist.
In the eyes of Odeh, my frustration, disturbance, and sadness was shown as a big teardrop.
(Note: Fulani is a tribe that raises cattle. The male Fulani follow the cattle around the bush, and female Fulani milk the cattle and sell the milk as cheese. Younger ones do babysitting or household work. The Fulani are also Islamic teachers. They were responsible for establishing the Sokoto Caliphate (*religious kingdom) two centuries ago. As a group, they are divided into “Town Fulani” and “Cattle Fulani". Town Fulani are politically very successful because of the support of Caliphate.)
As the cattle grazed in the pasture, I approached the flock, and they quickly scattered. In the midst of them, came out a herd boy. He gathered the cattle together. When I asked if I could take a picture of him, he posed for a picture holding a cow.
“Why aren’t cattle afraid of the boy? Why are they ok even when the boy touches their bodies?”
“He’s Fulani. Fulanis live their whole lives with cattle. They follow cattle from savanna to the forest during the dry season, and from the forest back to the savanna during the rainy season. Every year, these people walk across the country from north to south and from south to north. So they know their way very well all over the country. So people often ask them for directions when traveling...”
Pastor David said, “When a person asks a Fulani how far is it to get to a certain place, Fulani would say, 'Oh, it is just over there. You are almost there.' So, the person would be encouraged and keep walking. But the place where a Fulani said 'just right there' is hardly seen. After a three days' walk, the person may finally get to the destination. For the Fulani who walk six months in a row, thousands of miles running through land, a three-day-walk distance would be “Just over there.”
Real is different from right or wrong. There are things that are hard to accept but exist in the world. Thus, dealing with reality doesn’t start with judgment but start with evaluation about what’s on the ground.
In the Cross River State of Nigeria, the Booki women have more than one partner. A woman may say “This man looked after me when I was sick or that man helped me to cultivate my farm. So I like both of them.” This would be perfectly accepted. When the woman already has a partner but falls in love with another man, the only thing the current partner would ask is “Do you still care for me?” If the answer is“Yes,” then everything would be ok. With Christian value or Western value, this wouldn’t be accepted.
In Western societies, however, no-fault divorce is accepted.
“In my friend’s family in Britain, one day a wife said to her husband, ‘I don’t want to live with you anymore.’ When the husband asked, 'Did I do something wrong to you? Why do you want to divorce?’, the wife said 'No reason. You didn’t do anything wrong. But I just don’t like you anymore.’ So they got divorced. However, among Booki or Yoruba, no-fault divorce can not be understood.”
Should these different values be judged by other values? Can we say which one is superior? If individuals are happy in their own culture, should it still be changed? Change agents must be careful of “cultural imperialism.”
How to Pass the Airport Gate
I was inside of the Lagos airport. Mr. Yim wanted to get into the airport to see me off. But people who don’t have flight tickets and passport are not allowed to pass the gate of the airport. At every gate, security men stop people and check passengers’ passports and tickets. Mr. Yim had neither passport nor ticket, so I thought that he couldn’t come into the airport. But I saw him approaching me. I was surprised.
“How could you get in?”
“It was easy.” Mr. Yim answered,“The gatemen stopped me when I was about to pass the gate. The gateman said, ‘Show me your passport and ticket.’ I told the gateman ‘I don’t have them,’ and they responded ‘You cannot go.’ I told them, ‘I am here to see your GM (General Manager)’. They again asked me ‘What’s the name of the GM you want to see?’ So I told them, ‘Mr. Tunde.’ And they said ‘OK. Pass!’ So, I could come in.”
I asked Mr. Yim,“Who’s Mr. Tunde? How did you know the GM?”
“I have no idea who’s the GM here... The name, Tunde, just popped up at that moment. Actually, a CCTV repair man visiting my company today was Mr. Tunde. The security men may not know anything about their GM. Or because there are many government departments and many GMs in the airport, any one of them could easily have been Mr. Tunde!”
With the name of an authority figure, many things can be done very easily. Rules are strictly applied to ordinary people who have few connections with people in power while exceptions are wide open for the privileged.
I couldn’t get a seat to fly out from Nigeria. I had an open flight ticket from Lagos-London, but on August 12, 2004, British Airways and all other airlines to Europe were fully booked until the first week of September. The earliest seat available with my BA ticket was September 22 from Abuja Airport or October 9 from Lagos Airport.
“Two percentage of Nigerians have passports. And at this time of the year, almost every passport holder wants to get out of this country.”
“So, how can I fly out now? I finished my project in Nigeria and I cannot wait until the end of September. Is there any way that I can confirm a seat?”
I tried all official alternatives. I visited three BA offices 7 times: the Lagos headquarter, the Abuja office and the office in Lagos Airport. I emailed to BA official sites in Nigeria. I called my travel agency in Korea. I tried to upgrade my tickets. I tried to get endorsements to transfer my ticket to another airline’s ticket. I tried to buy a completely new ticket of other airlines to London. But all these options are not feasible unless I paid around $2,500, which is not affordable. So, I went to the airport every day and stood waiting for standby! There are 50-70 people on the waiting list every day, and I couldn’t even be on the waiting list due to the level of my tickets. BA would even return people holding confirmed ticket to the nearest hotel as a result of overbooking. All the efforts during two weeks failed. I was completely frustrated.
“You could use the unofficial way.” People cynically said, “In the proper manner, there is nothing that can be done, but there is nothing that cannot be done in this country.”
I got a seat after my friend’s assistant gave $200 to an officer at the airport.
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