Bookshops in Nigeria

From the BBC:

Thousands of people across social media have been posting about Nigeria’s literary heritage after a journalist asked acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if there were any bookshops in her country.

Journalist Caroline Broue asked Adichie if people read her books in Nigeria. Adichie replied, “They do, shockingly.”

Broue then asked: “Are there any bookshops in Nigeria?”

The author of Americanah and Purple Hibiscus replied: “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question.

I’m not sure why it should reflect poorly on French people that a solitary journalist asked if there were bookshops in a country where the traffic lights barely work and you can’t drink the tapwater.

I confess, I don’t recall seeing any bookshops in Nigeria, but I daresay they exist. The closest I got to one was a book stall in the corner of the waiting area of Port Harcourt airport, which was stocked in its entirety with religious books, self-help manuals, and combinations of the two. Titles like God and Your Business and Success Through Worship were typical, and something the expats noticed was if you saw someone reading a book it was a good bet that it was the bible.

Some wished to remind people of Nigeria’s literary heritage, by citing writers and poets such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ben Orki.

I don’t see why French people should know these authors any more than a Nigerian should know of Johnny Hallyday. Perhaps a journalist should have known better, but then…well, she’s a journalist, isn’t she?

But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.

One solution is to stay well clear of ignorant foreigners, particularly those invited to ask questions at cultural evenings hosted by the French government. I don’t suppose anyone forced her to attend.

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Africa is…different

At the weekend I was discussing Trump’s “shithole” remarks with a friend, and mentioned something a lot of people don’t get. The third world is not like the first world but with poorer people; the third world is an altogether different place (the ZMan remarks on this occasionally).

In order to illustrate the point that Africa is very, very different from anywhere else I showed my friend some news articles I’d posted on my blog back when I lived in Nigeria. One should understand that I didn’t go around specifically hunting for such stories to paint a slanted picture of the country in which I was living. Instead, I took them from a company’s internal intranet which featured a page of local news items that a Nigerian employee had assembled from various media outlets. I don’t believe any further comment is necessary to illustrate my point, so I’ll just post the stories as I found them. Continue reading

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On those African students in the US

I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets like this in the aftermath of Trump’s “shithole” comments:

I have no doubt this is true, but what few seem to be willing to do is examine why that is. Of course, a lot of people scratch the surface and say it’s because the US is getting Africa’s best and brightest, but nobody I’ve seen has gone any deeper than that. So I will.

What I’m about to say will vary from country to country, and even region to region, but it will be broadly true across Africa. As with anything of this nature, exceptions abound: I’m talking in the general sense here. When people talk about America getting Africa’s best and brightest, what they really mean is they’re getting Africans who had the resources and connections to first get educated and then get themselves across to the States. It may be nice to dream of some utopia whereby these lucky few include those born super-bright in a mud hut to a peasant farmer, but it isn’t true. In much of Africa, getting an education requires money and connections. The same applies for getting a certificate at the end of said education, and if you have money and connections you can get this certificate while still remaining spectacularly dim.

So who has money and connections in Africa? Well, first and foremost it’s those who make up the ruling elites and their relatives. You can be sure those who run any given African country have their kids in the best schools money can buy, often overseas, and have the means and wealth to get them into an American college when they’re done with high school. In other words, a portion of those Africans supposedly outperforming locals in American universities will be there thanks to the graft, incompetence, and corruption that have made their country of origin a shithole in the first place. And there is absolutely no guarantee they will be particularly bright, regardless of what pieces of paper they hold.

You then have the relatives of those who are not directly involved with the running of the country, but nevertheless do very well from the status quo. These will be well-placed “businessmen” who have clawed out some advantage for themselves using bribery, threats, and skulduggery. They too are responsible for their country being a shithole, and their children direct beneficiaries of the practices that have brought it about.

Finally, you’ll have the relatives of people who have earned their money legitimately, or through sheer hard work and a lot of luck have managed to get an education and a ticket to the US without resorting to lying, cheating, bribery, murder, and thuggishness. I know a few like this, and they do exist.

So what’s the split between those three groups? I have no idea, but you can be sure there are representatives of all three from every African country, and it will vary between countries. What I’d like to know is how many of these Africans I’ve seen proudly declaring their “shithole” origins are in the US as a direct or indirect result of relatives who are the root cause of the problems back home? How many African students who have taken to Twitter to denounce Trump have family members in national or local governments which are riddled with corruption, or hold cushy positions in state-owned monopolies which extract extortionate rents from ordinary people? It won’t be all of them by any means, but it will be a lot of them, and it might even be most of them. And as for this:

Nigerian-Americans have a median household income well above US

Nigerians drawn from the wealthiest few percent in Nigeria are wealthier than the average American? Who would have guessed?

The number of African students studying in the US and their relative wealth is not the boast people think it is. It is in fact, in large part, a reflection of the very problems Trump was referring to.

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Blue on Blue

This is amusing:

An internal investigation has been launched at the Detroit Police Department after two different precincts got into a turf war as they converged on an east side neighborhood.

Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a “push off” on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles.

But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground.

FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other.

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

The first question asked by the investigation team ought to be why are police posing as drug dealers? If they have resources to spare capturing people who show an interest in buying dope, Detroit must be in much better shape than I thought. Or is this just an easy way to get arrest numbers and conviction rates up, rather than catching those who have made Detroit the city with the second highest murder rate in America?

Anyway, this reminded me of a story I heard about when I was in Lagos. All expats working in my company were issued with an emergency radio thing, a bit like a walkie-talkie but also with a GPS tracker and a panic button. On this device we’d receive regular text messages warning us of any incidents we ought to avoid, and one day we were notified of a shoot-out at a crossroads near a supermarket popular with expats. The next day I got more details from someone who worked in security.

Apparently the army was doing something – marching, protesting, who knows what? – and had blocked a road. A well-to-do woman in a fancy car decided she wasn’t making a detour and ignored the road block. This enraged one of the army officers who stopped the car, dragged her out by the hair, and pistol-whipped her. Only it turned out her father was an admiral in the Nigerian navy and when she called daddy he dispatched a unit of marines to the scene. From there the whole thing escalated into a shooting match between the Nigerian army and navy, right there in the middle of Lagos. Apparently there were casualties, but as is always the case with these things you’ll never get the full story.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking Africa is like Europe only less developed and poorer. It isn’t. Africa is…well, different. I expect Detroit is, too.

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Fresh Outta Lagos

In late 2010 I took the opportunity to go to the MTV Africa music awards which were being held in the same Lagos hotel I was living in at the time. Afterwards I made the following remark:

Clearly everyone who was anyone in Lagos’ media industry was attending this event, and they’d all donned their most fashionable clothes for the occasion…this was an event of some importance to the kool kats of Lagos.  At 7,000 Naira ($46) per ticket for the standing area, and 15,000 Naira for the seats, those in attendance were drawn from the lucky few of the city’s 15m (or whatever) inhabitants.  The minimum wage in Nigeria is 18,000 Naira per month.

The highlight of the night was a chap called Chuck D, former front man of Public Enemy, who came on to perform.  Unfortunately, he is 50 and looked like somebody’s dad.  But he turned out a reasonable performance which made sense to seemingly everyone but me right up to and including where he urged everyone in the place to “fight the power”.  There is something highly ironic about an American rapper urging a concert crowd made up entirely of Nigeria’s wealthy elite to fight the power.

I was reminded of this when I heard that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – who is worth three million quid – addressed the crowd at Glastonbury, tickets for which cost £238 plus a £5 booking fee. In his speech, Corbyn said (emphasis mine):

Is it right that so many people in our country have no home to live in and only a street to sleep on? Is it right that so many people are frightened of where they live at the moment having seen the horrors of what happened at Grenfell Tower? Is it right that so many people live in such poverty in a society surrounded by such riches?

I want to see a world where there is real opportunity for everybody in our society. That means sharing the wealth out in every part of our country, and looking to global policies that actually share the wealth, not glory in the levels of justice and inequality, where the rich seem to get inexorably richer and the vast majority continually lose out. The desperately poor live on the margins of society which is basically known as the fourth world. Surely we can, as intelligent human beings, do things differently and do things better. And when we’re here today in Glastonbury, we’re doing things differently, we’re doing things better and we’re seeing that inspiration.

The Glastonbury crowd responded to these words with rapturous applause, same as the Nigerian elites did when Chuck D told them to stick it to the man.

I suppose Nigeria and the UK are not the only countries where the wealthy and privileged get together and pretend they’re on the side of the downtrodden masses, but I am nevertheless surprised at how universal such delusions are. At least the Nigerians laid on cheap beer.

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Dodgy Traffic Police

Today’s re-posted blog entry is from November 2011 and concerns corrupt traffic police in Nigeria and Russia.

Today I got pulled over by a dodgy traffic policeman for the first time since I came to Lagos over a year ago. I wasn’t driving (I never do: a pale face behind a wheel may just as well be replaced with a sign saying “Free Money Here” as far as the Lagos traffic police go), and was sat in the back reading.

A scrawny, unshaved, shit of a man with a uniform he’d been potholing in banged on the bonnet of my car at a place where the traffic police have been doing a lot of document checks of late. With Christmas coming up, they are looking to maximise revenue. Here’s how the conversation went.

Policeman: Give me your documents.

(My driver handed the policeman the documents. He looked at some of them, wishing he had learned to read before joining the police.)

Policeman: Hey! You have not signed this one and this one!

Driver: And?

Policeman: Who is the owner of this vehicle?

Me (winding down rear window): Me.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents.

Me: Oh.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents!

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: You did not go to the vehicle administration centre.

Me: (silence)

Policeman: I said you did not go to the vehicle adminstration centre.

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: Then you should answer me.

Me: If you want me to answer you, first you must ask a question.

Policeman: I axed you a question.

Me: No, you made a statement.

Policeman: Did you go to the vehicle adminstration centre?

Me: No.

Policeman: Then who registered your vehicle?

Me: The garage from which I bought it.

Policeman: Do you know it is a criminal offence not to sign a paper?

Me: Okay.

Policeman: You need to drive around the corner and wait for me there.

Me: Fine, but I need my documents back.

Policeman: No, you don’t need them. Drive over there.

Me: Not without my documents.

Policeman: You need to follow me to Ikeja (some place miles and miles away).

Me: Fine. But first I’m calling my company security team.

Policeman: Okay, call who you want.

(I call my company security, who dispatch an intervention team consisting of a high-ranking policeman and a bit of muscle)

Me: Okay, I’ve called my security department. We’re gonna have to wait here until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: No, you need to come with us now.

Me: Sorry pal, this is the procedure I’m told to follow. Now I can move the car off the road a bit, but I cannot and will not leave the scene until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: Are you giving me instructions?

Me: No, I’m just telling you what I am doing.

Policeman: Are you resisting arrest?

Me: Nope. Just sitting here in my car, waiting for the intervention team.

Policeman: But you cannot wait here, you will cause an accident.

Me: Okay, we’ll pull off the road just over there. But I’m not going anywhere else until the interven…

Policeman (throwing my documents through the window): Get out of here!

I was as calm as a mill pond in June. My driver (a local) was as calm as St. George’s channel in January with gale warnings in Lundy, Fastnet, and Irish Sea. He kept arguing with the policeman, demanding he be spoken to properly, asking him what our offence was, and generally acting exactly as this illiterate halfwit in a beret which had once cleaned up an oil spill wanted him to. The key to these situations is to show firstly that you couldn’t give a fuck, and secondly that you have all the time in the world.

I learned this in Russia. When I used to get hauled over for speeding, I’d apologise and get the topic onto football ASAP, trying to be as friendly as possible. I once managed to get let off a fine and a confiscated car by doing this when I’d been pulled over for speeding and they found my insurance had expired. But if I’d done nothing wrong and they were finding spelling mistakes in my documents, then they were in for a long wait.

Firstly I’d speak to them in Russian. If they didn’t let me off, I’d wait until they filled out the whole form and handed it to me to sign, at which point I’d ask for a translator. “But you speak Russian!” they’d say. “Yup, but I don’t read it. Sorry. Translator, please.” At this point they’d usually say “Okay, but our translators come from the FSB. You know FSB? Bad guys. If they come out, you are in trouble. Okay, I will call them.” So I’d pull out a book and start reading. I’m not half as thick as I look. I know full well that if an FSB translator is hauled away from his Sunday lunch to attend a call from a road policeman, there had better be a bomb, a body, or Boris Berezovsky waiting for him when he gets there. If he finds a dishevelled, vodka-soaked traffic cop needs a hand shaking down a Brit who has done nothing wrong, I know who’s going to be directing reindeer outside Yakutsk for the rest of his career. I knew this, and so did they. They never made the call for a translator, and after a few minutes of watching me read, they told me to clear off.

There’s a reason for this. Corrupt police, like school bullies and muggers, want an easy fix. The last thing they want is to put in effort, or else they’d have proper jobs doing something productive. The reaction they are hoping to induce is panic followed by a desperate attempt to get out of the situation by paying them off. I don’t know what the rate is, but I’ve heard of people paying $100 and more to escape the clutches of the Lagos traffic police. If they see somebody is not panicked, they will try to bait you into a confrontation. Once you’re in an argument, which with a Nigerian policeman would be described as heated after the first sentence, you’re playing into their hands. Having failed to find an original offence, you’re likely offering them another on a plate. It’s a lot harder to manufacture an incident with somebody who is largely ignoring you and meekly saying “okay, sure” when you accuse them of committing a criminal offence by not signing a paper. That puts the ball back in his court, because he now needs to do something about it. But what he really wants is for you to offer to do something about it by handing over a fistful of cash. By not doing so, you’re making him work for his money and that isn’t what he joined up for at all, oh no.

Also, as one of my colleagues pointed out today when I told him the story, by occupying himself with me – and getting nowhere – he is missing out on lots of other “customers” who are driving by unmolested. I’m taking up the lucrative spot in the road which he uses to shake people down. If he’s not making money out of me, he’s losing out. Not being completely dim, he realises this and lets me go. It was the exact same in Russia. So long as I was sat in the front seat of the patrol car reading a book and waiting for a translator, they couldn’t process anyone else. They have probably been at this game long enough to know how much they can expect per hour and how long they have to extort cash out of somebody before they start cutting into their revenue stream. If you can front it out this long, you’re probably home free.

Of course, this all depends on whether or not you have done something wrong. If you have, you’d better cough up – some now or more later. Hours and hours later, on the other side of town. What’s bad about Lagos, and I never saw this in Russia, is the traffic police and other authorities will simply pull you over and declare you have jumped a red light or made an illegal turn. Complete lies of course, but it’s your word against theirs and – their superiors being in on the racket – you’re never going to win.

So was I in the wrong today? Initially, I thought I was. When I got back to the office, I looked at the documents. One was a receipt from the registration centre, the other was some form I filled in at the garage. Neither am I obliged to carry in my car, much less sign them. I could have thrown them in the bin at any point and been no more an outlaw than before. I don’t know whether this policeman was genuinely ignorant – I’ve seen cleverer looking farmhands in West Wales – or if he was trying it on regardless. I suspect the latter, given he made sure he got rid of me long before the intervention team arrived. Either way, all pretty unpleasant, but compared to some of the stories I hear from my colleagues involving the traffic police (or impersonators), I got off lightly.

*Nigerian police motto. Seriously.

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Of Sub-Letting and Scams

Back when I lived in Lagos I had an English friend who was married to a Nigerian-born British lady. Because of this, they interacted a lot more with the locals than the rest of us expats. We lived in a compound on a private island in accommodation that by any standards, let alone those of Nigeria, would get called luxury (lest you think we were spoiled, one of the issues that plague developing world cities is that there are generally two types of housing: total shitholes and ludicrously expensive luxury apartments).

My friends got chatting to some Nigerian neighbours and discovered that one of their income streams was sub-letting council properties in London to other Nigerians. They’d gone to the UK, got themselves a council house or flat, rented it out to somebody else, then came back to Lagos. When my friends started getting cross at this, the response of their neighbours was along the lines of:

“Why are you mad at us? Why aren’t you mad at the idiots who put this stupid system in place that allows Nigerians to get council houses and rent them out? Frankly, we can’t believe that they let us do this!”

They had a point. One of the worst aspects of the British welfare system isn’t that so many people game it, but that it does not adequately provide for many of the deserving poor either. Yet we’re always being told it’s a funding issue, rather than an organisational one.

I was reminded of this story when I read somebody on Twitter saying that in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, some poor sod is going to have to work out who was actually living there. I don’t know the mix of private and social housing in the block, but you can be sure that sub-letting of council flats was going on. Although disallowed, the practice is widespread, particularly among immigrant communities. Even identifying the dead might be difficult if the person living in a particular flat wasn’t the person whose name is one the lease. No doubt insurance claims will be affected as well, assuming they even had any.

This in turn reminded me of something else, bringing me back to Nigeria again. On the only occasion I flew from Lagos to Port Harcourt, i.e. an internal flight, I was surprised to find my boarding pass – handed to me by a Nigerian who was assigned to “look after me” – had somebody else’s name on it. Apparently middle-men buy up all the plane tickets the moment they’re issued by the airline and re-sell them at a marked-up price. That this is allowed to go on says everything you need to know about Nigeria, but it’s not just a cost issue. It occurred to me as the plane lurched and weaved its way towards Port Harcourt that if it crashed nobody would have any clue who was on it. There was no record of me being a passenger, some chap with a Yoruba name was supposed to be in my seat. People would assume he’s dead, which I’m sure would open up all sorts of opportunities for additional scams.

I’d not be at all surprised if opportunists seize on the Grenfell Tower tragedy to perpetuate various scams, either.

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What are the police for?

Back when I lived in Nigeria it was fun on slow afternoons to browse the news reports online. A lot of them were unintentionally amusing (see here, for example), but some gave an idea as to the regularity with which vigilante mob-justice is seen in the country. It was not uncommon for a newspaper report into some alleged crime to end with words to the effect of:

A mob formed, and the miscreant was beaten to a pulp.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, consider this report:

A police corporal, Olufemi Ajayi, was yesterday set ablaze in Ayete, Ibarapa North Local Government Area of Oyo State, by an irate mob, after he allegedly shot and killed a commercial driver at a checkpoint.

Ajayi, who is attached to Igboora Police Station, allegedly shot the victim, Mr. Emiola Kolade, after a minor argument.

Kolade died in a hospital in Igboora.

An eyewitness, Alhaji Salau Adele, said: “It all started at one of the many illegal checkpoints on Idere-Ayete road, when the corporal flagged down the driver and demanded a bribe. The driver gave him N100, but the policeman said the money was too small and refused to accept it.

“This led to an argument between the two. We heard a gunshot later and the driver was found injured on the ground. The policeman tried to escape, but he was caught.”

It was learnt that the policeman was beaten and set ablaze by the mob.

Let me take a step back from Nigeria for a minute. Back in early November I wrote a post on the matter of Swedish policemen resigning by the lorryload in which I wondered to whom Hillary Clinton would turn to enforce the law in American cities should she be elected (now a redundant question, thankfully). In the comments underneath “Duffy” made the following remark, which hitherto had never occurred to me:

Here’s what many people often seem to forget. Police are there to protect us from criminals. But they are also there to protect the criminals from mob justice.

When I thought about this comment later on, I realised that in the absence of a justice system that is seen to be working, the mob steps in. Then last week I came across this article:

We have often suggested that, if we wish to know what is coming politically, socially, and economically in jurisdictions such as the EU and US, we might have a look at countries like Argentina and Venezuela, as they are in a similar state of near-collapse (for the very same reasons as the EU and US) but are a bit further along in the historical pattern.

Such a bellwether was seen in Argentina recently. Although the event in question is a very minor one, it is an illustration of the social tipping point—the manner in which a government loses control over its people.

Briefly, the events were as follows: Two men on a motorbike cruised a posh neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, seeking opportunities for purse-snatching. The pillion rider dismounted and snatched a purse from a woman. Bystanders saw the act, ran down the thief before he could re-mount the motorbike, and knocked him to the ground. Other onlookers (very possibly fed up with street crime caused by economic hardships) joined in. In a fury, they beat the thief senseless.

A policewoman managed to calm the group and handcuff the thief. Twenty minutes later, police assistance and an ambulance arrived.

Furious neighbours complained bitterly that the police had protected the thief but are generally doing little to protect law-abiding citizens.

It’s not quite Nigeria, but it’s heading in that direction. The entire article is worth reading, particularly its description of the 6-point process which leads to such incidents occurring.

Around the same time we had this comment thread at Mr Worstall’s in relation to the UK:

The State’s “legal protection” benefits the middle classes and prosperous working classes far more than the wealthiest.

In the absence of a State the wealthiest could easily afford to hire whatever protection they needed – they did, after all, do this for centuries and even millennia before “States” started to appear with their “legal protection”.

And:

Police forces are relatively modern. Under Good Queen Bess, for example, if you were wealthy your only chance of getting around London without being set upon by pickpockets and cutpurses was to surround yourself with an armed retinue. State protection came in maybe under Robert Peel but it’s not the wealthy who benefit most from it. The very rich still have bodyguards. The police drink tea in their huge office buildings.

And:

The rich would sort out their own guards if the State left the scene. It’s the low income communities which most benefit from the Rule of Law. Bring in effectively policing to a pit village in Durham and kick out disruptive children from schools and those who want to get on in life have a chance. Take the State away and a local strongman and his gang will take over.

And:

In my experience of a few years living in a village with lots of City fat-cats, they get better policing because they hire private security instead of relying on the public sector police who exist primarily to protect criminals from their victims.

My point in all of this, in case you were wondering, is that for policing to work a critical mass of ordinary, law-abiding people across both the middle classes and working classes must see them as being on their side against the criminals. Not necessarily on their side per se, just on their side against the criminals. It doesn’t really matter what the rich think, they can hire their own security and/or lobby government to have the police look after their interests as first priority. It is the masses that need to be kept on side.

Clearly this has failed in Nigeria. It has failed in Argentina, and the results in either case weren’t pretty. When London descended into rioting in 2011, the police stood by idly as property got trashed and businesses destroyed. When I saw this happening I wondered who the police were actually serving, because it sure as hell wasn’t the ordinary citizen. The comments at Tim Worstall’s, although perhaps not representative of Britain as a whole, suggests there is some disagreement as to whom the police actually serve. If this attitude is reflected in the broader population there could be trouble brewing.

It’s worth keeping this in mind when looking at the United States, too. Over the past few years there has been an increase in rioting: firstly that connected with the shooting of black folk by policemen, later the election of Donald Trump, and more recently people with unpopular opinions speaking at universities. More and more often the police are standing by idly as property gets destroyed and people’s lives put at risk.

If the police in Britain and the USA want to remain relevant, they had better make up their minds whose side they are on and inform the law-abiding masses of their decision, preferably via demonstration rather than empty speeches. The criminals might want to urge them to get on with it, because the mob is probably closer than they think.

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Root Cause Missed

There’s a reason for this:

A software engineer from Lagos, Nigeria, is claiming that he was made to sit a written test by US airport immigration officers because they weren’t convinced he was telling the truth about his skills.

According to social networking site LinkedIn, Celestine Omin, 28, landed in New York’s JFK airport last Sunday after a 24-hour flight from Nigeria.

After being asked a series of questions by a US Customs and Border Protection officer, he was taken into a room for further checks.

The practice of forging credentials and passing yourself as something you are not is rife among Nigerians, more so than among anyone else. Mr Omin might well have been the real deal but far too many of his countrymen are not, hence he’s been hauled aside for extra questioning.

He says he was then given a piece of paper and a pen and told to answer these two questions to prove he is actually a software engineer:

I’ve done exactly that with a Nigerian claiming to be a piping engineer with 15 years’ experience. The results were laughable. I can well believe the Border Protection people didn’t cover themselves in glory in Mr Omin’s case, but the root cause of the problem does not lie in the USA.

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A Follow Up

In attempt to address some of the reoccuring themes in the comments to my previous post, I’ve decided to write a follow-up.

Firstly, I did not write that post for the benefit of only Nigerians.  I don’t write for a particular audience, I write primarily for myself.  Insofar as I have a readership, I have an idea that it consists mainly of people who have known me in the past and a smattering of people who are interested in the oil and gas industry.  Other than that I have no idea who reads this blog, or how many of them there are.  I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, and I’ve never tried to slant a post in order to appease or anger a particular set of people.  I just write what I think, based on what I’ve seen, and present it as my personal opinion, nothing more.

With that in mind, let’s put to bed the idea that I am lecturing Nigerians on the state of affairs in their own country.  I put the article on my blog, and a whole load of Nigerian websites republished it without my permission.  This doesn’t bother me as they did credit me as the source (swiping my photo too on some occasions), but this article was not written with the intention of informing – or misleading – a Nigerian audience.  Some commenters claim I am saying nothing new, and they’d be correct.  I wouldn’t expect any expat to spend a mere 3 years in Lagos and be able to tell a Nigerian anything they didn’t already know about Nigeria.  Like I said, I didn’t write it for Nigerians, I wrote it for myself and anyone else who happens to be reading.  And for those who aren’t Nigerian, there was an awful lot of new stuff in there.

I note that some people have complained that I have not offered any solutions, just a list of problems.  There are two reasons for this.  For a start, I have no idea whatsoever what the solutions would be.  And also, it is hardly the place of an expat assigned for 3 years in Nigeria to start offering solutions to the country’s problems.  That would be arrogance in the extreme.

Secondly, I do appreciate that I only spent time in a very small part of Lagos and barely saw anywhere else in the country.  I cited security reasons to explain why this was the case, and a few commenters seem to think these were exaggerated.  Now I’ll admit, I could have explored more of Lagos than I did.  Our company security protocols were far more strict than those of other organisations, and objectively there were opportunities for me to have got out more.  But let’s be honest here: there is no chance a foreigner can go off exploring Nigeria on his own.  A foreigner driving himself about in mainland Lagos would be putting himself at serious risk of being car-jacked or robbed.  This is no mere paranoia, the statistics support this.  All the Nigerians I knew advised strongly against any expat going to the regional cities on a private trip.  I was invited to a wedding in Owerri and briefly looked at the possibility of going, before quickly abandoning the idea.  For a start, the guy getting married – who was from Owerri – was nervous about making the trip himself!  Returning from Lagos to a regional town is a signal for the local criminals that a “rich” guy is coming.  I know a guy from Warri who never goes back for much the same reasons.  If Nigerians are abandoning their regional cities due to the levels of lawlessness, what chances does a foreign tourist have of showing up and enjoying a weekend away?  Even foreigners travelling in groups would be a target for any number of dodgy officials, corrupt traffic police, area boys, and other criminals.  During my time in Nigeria one of my compatriots, a telecoms engineer, was kidnapped and murdered in the north of Nigeria by Boko Haram or one of its offshoots.  I’m sorry, but anyone who suggests I could have just taken off and explored Nigeria either doesn’t know the place very well or is being disingenuous.

On that note, I am quite prepared to believe what I experienced in Lagos was not representative of the whole country.  Contrary to what some people think, I am not a professor submitting a thesis to accurately describe every aspect of life in Nigeria.  I’m just a bloke who lived there giving my opinion based on what I saw.  However, I don’t believe that anything I’ve written is specific to Lagos and cannot be found across most if not all of Nigeria.  If there is a city, region, or state where everything I have described does not exist, then please feel free to point this out in the comments.  But I’m going to remain pretty skeptical of comments which claim my remarks are not representative but avoid citing any examples.

Thirdly, I am a Brit and British English is my first language, and the language in which this blog is written.  As I said, I don’t write for Nigerians, I write for myself.  The term “lad” in British English is not derogatory, and nor was it used with such an intent in my post.  The term “lads” in this context is a term of endearment used to convey friendship and warmth, and is a common term of reference in the UK.  There are few terms of praise in the British oil and gas business greater than being described as part of “a good bunch of lads”.  I suspect most people know this, but unfortunately one of the traits of a minority of Nigerians – and again, they are far from alone in this – is to seek offence at every opportunity, especially if this allows them to embark on a rant against “racist” British, colonial overlords, etc.  It is pretty tiresome.  The term “lads” is not racist nor derogatory, and those who think otherwise might want to consider that three of my lads were Scotsmen.

Finally, I do appreciate the comments, especially the many positive ones.  I am always glad when my articles reach out to somebody, and I value and greatly appreciate both your readership and the feedback.  Many thanks to all of you who read and commented on my piece.

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