Tag Archives: Lagos

“If your name is not on Google, I don’t do business with you”

Below is a two minute video following up on Vocal Slender, the guy from the BBC Lagos documentary who was a trash scavenger and rapper. H/t to Jonathan.

It includes this wonderful piece of unintentional commentary on risk management for people who do business in Lagos.

“If your name is not on Google, I don’t do business with you, because I can’t find you.”

“How to (attempt to) talk your way out of extortion in Lagos”

Katie Rhine, a an anthropologist from University of Kansas and my moral compass/guiding light/model researcher/inspiration in Nigeria, tells us how to avoid being extorted on the road in Lagos. She first explains how to avoid getting pulled over in the first place, and then offers step-by-step instructions to diffuse the situation. Some excerpts:

Step Six: Ask the police man, “Well, what can we do?” He will say he has to call his oga [boss]. He will ask you for an exorbitant amount of money [Say 50,000 naira (~$420)]. Tell him that the government gave him this job because they have complete faith in him that he is a responsible and competent person. Tell him that there is no need to call his boss. This is also a good time to try and let him know that you too would have to call your oga at the top [boss], and neither of you want to delay one another, when the matter can be settled between the two of you.

Step Seven: Pull out the wallet you keep inside your dashboard explicitly for these occasions. Keep a few thousand naira in there at most. Show him this wallet and tell him that this is all the money that you have, and even then, you can’t give him all of it, because [and point at your fuel gauge] you are going to need to buy petrol along the way (or any other need for this money that you can think of). And, in addition, this isn’t even your money. It’s the money your boss gave you in case an emergency happens on the road. In fact, you are going to have to account for that money when you reach the office, but you think you can take care of that inconsistency. Offer him 1000 naira.

Step Eight: He may tell you that that is not enough and that you should carry him to the ATM machine to take out money for him. In this case, you should tell him that you don’t use those things. As a foreigner, say they won’t work for you. In fact, your employer takes care of these needs and doesn’t leave you with cash. Try not to let the negotiation to reach the point of going to an ATM. Tell him to please just take the money you have.

Step Nine: Give whatever money is in your wallet. If you only lose 2000 naira or so, you should feel ok about yourself. You tried.

Apply to be an affiliated researcher or intern at Lagos think tank

If you are looking to be affiliated with an institution while conducting research in Lagos, I strongly recommend considering the Center for Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA), a think tank in City Hall (centrally located on Lagos Island). CPPA is looking for interns in masters-level programs, doctoral students, or affiliated researchers who possess strong statistical and data management skills and are able to assist with statistical analysis and conduct statistics-related trainings with their staff. They are also looking for people with strong writing skills. In return, CPPA could provide a small stipend for interns (doctoral students must be self- or grant-funded), office space (their offices are gorgeous, air conditioned, and have fast internet) and research support, such as contacts and advice. Periods of stay for visiting researchers and interns range from 3-12 months. There might be opportunities for travel within sub-Saharan Africa, which would be financed by CPPA.

CPPA especially welcomes interest from people who do research on one of their focus areas:
-Food and agribusiness
-Political economy
-Health policy
-Local government

I have worked with CPPA, and it’s a great professional environment with enthusiastic and smart colleagues. If interested, contact Dr. Pacheco: adeola.pacheco@cpparesearch.org, and info@cpparesearch.

Happy new month

Lagos State Governor Babtunde Fashola extolled against what he sees as wasteful spending among Lagosians in a recent speech:

It is waste of a degree that, if we curtailed it, will provide enough in savings to fight and reduce poverty. I cannot categorise all of it, but we live through it every day and I will only refer to some examples to illustrate what I mean.

Are you aware that each text message you send costs N5 on average? How many text messages do you send to wish people a happy new year, happy new day, happy new week, happy new Friday, happy new Sunday and happy new month?

How many people did you send them to and how many days a week do you send them? Please do the arithmetic and see how much it comes to in a year and how much food it could have provided for your family. How many people did you invite and feed at your child’s wedding or the funeral of a deceased relative?

Could you really afford it? How many of the people you invited are your relatives, friends or people you know? Would the wedding or funeral still have held if you invited fewer people? Did you borrow money for the event or were you broke or short of cash after the event?

Could you fairly and honestly complain that the economy is bad if you make the choice to be extravagant? Beyond a grave, coffin, shroud and officiating minister, what does it take to bury our dead? How many of your cousins, friends, relations have come to seek assistance for as little as N100, 000 to start a business from you?

As governor, Fashola might not need to text people happy new year to maintain social bonds. But for most Nigerians this is a credible and relatively inexpensive way to signal an investment in a relationship. How will a young man get that N100,000 loan from his uncle if he hasn’t stayed in touch over the years? Maybe the funeral thing is more complicated, but Fashola’s stance on SMS greetings seems privileged and wrong.


What is illegal in Nigeria?

An excerpt from a neat article on Chinese in Lagos from Irene Yuan Sun in the Nigerian Guardian: (H/t to Eliot)

I played along, relaying the question [from the Chinese man] to the Nigerian in English. After all, I wanted to get my interview.

“Blue jeans are contraband, so it will cost N5.5 million,” the Nigerian explained, in English.

I relayed the information back to the two Chinese men, who were taken aback at the steep price. They asked me to double-check, and indeed, the price was N5.5 million. The Nigerian re-emphasised that the importation of blue jeans is illegal.

Later on, I looked into the history of textile import regulations in Nigeria. [...]

[In 2010], the government announced the lifting of the textile import ban and replaced it with tariffs of 10 – 20 percent. The logic was that if textiles were going to flow into the country anyway, Nigeria as a country should benefit by collecting tariffs [...]

However, as the situation I happened to walk into illustrates, laws that exist on paper are often ignored in real life. Most Chinese businesspeople I spoke to as part of my research believed that the textile importation ban is still in effect. And in a way, they are right: as long as customs officials continue to demand side payments for legal products to enter, they have no choice but to pay up.

“Quiet little groups of the culture set”

Teju Cole has an article on “The Oases of Lagos,” thoroughly covering all of my Lagos hang-out spots. Here’s an excerpt on Bogobiri, a boutique hotel where I can now feel cliche for spending so much time:

In the afternoons, quiet little groups of the culture set sit with their computers and coffees, taking advantage of the free WiFi and enjoying the tranquil, alternative Lagos, an echo of the hipster hangouts of Islington, in London, and Brooklyn. If the hotel bars at the Radisson Blu and the Eko Hotel are the places to find wealthy and eager-to-be-wealthy businessmen, then Bogobiri is where one is most likely to encounter graduate students in anthropology, independent filmmakers or owners of fashion houses.

H/t to Katie.

Lagos drama

More than a year has passed since the following event happened. I’ve held off on writing about it for fear the person discussed would see the post, but I think that risk is now small and I think there are lessons (that I discuss at the end) that others can learn from this. Though this experience was extremely scary, I do have a bit of fondness for the story because the culprit is a European, not a Nigerian.

Before I started my Lagos fieldwork a friend did me the favor of sending out a mass email to his friends to see if anyone was willing to rent a room to me for a few months. A European man responded, saying that he lived by himself in a large house in a high-end housing estate, and would be happy to let me stay in one of the bedrooms for free. I was thrilled. Lagos is expensive. This offer was to save me thousands of dollars.

The house was nice and my room was perfect. The European man had an interesting background working in Africa for the past two decades. He had almost been killed in Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. He had been shot at in Maiduguri, imprisoned in another West African country. He had crazy stories that he shared with me in the evening. After two or three days at the house, though, I realized this man was a little odd. He spoke English fluently, but his comprehension was not good. He was insecure about this, and so rarely let me speak. He was not talkative in a quirky way, he was talkative in a super weird way. He would, no exaggeration, talk at me for an hour or more, where the only noise I would make was “mmm hmmmm.” I didn’t understand this man, having never met anyone like this before.

Prior to my arrival in Lagos, Boko Haram had sent this man videos that threatened him by name. As a result, the Nigerian government provided him with a personal police officer/body guard/driver. The European man rarely left his compound, but when he did his full-time police officer would drive him in a police truck. I rode with them twice, and it was so uncomfortable. The European man treated the police officer like a child. He patted him on the head, an extremely offensive action in Nigeria. He yelled at him whenever a commercial came on the radio, as the police office was supposed to be in charge of changing the channel whenever the music stopped. The European man yelled, or rather screamed, at his other staff not infrequently. When I first arrived at the house the security guard picked up my suitcase and carried it literally one step inside the house. The European man screamed at him at the top of his lungs, saying that he had not asked permission to enter the house. It was insane. This screaming happened frequently for all manner of reasons. The man was clearly living in a state of fear, but if he was going to get hurt it would be at the hands of his staff, not Boko Haram.

I had already started to consider moving out, but had no place to go. About five days into my stay I was taking a taxi to a meeting when I realized I had left my wallet in the house. The European man had asked that I keep him updated on my comings and goings so he would know if and when he should be worried. I didn’t mind doing this, and actually found it a little comforting that someone was keeping an eye out for me. I texted him something like “Just FYI, I left my wallet at the house. I’m coming back now to get it.” When I arrived at the house the European man had left his neighboring office and was waiting for me outside the house. He started screaming at me, telling me that I had to stop bothering him. I think he had not understood my text, thinking that I had asked him to come to the house to help me get my wallet, or something like that. Maybe he didn’t know what “FYI” meant. He was just screaming and screaming at me and not letting me say a word. “I HAVE A JOB. I AM BUSY. YOU HAVE TO STOP BOTHERING ME.” After a minute or two of this he stomped inside and crouched in front of his safe and started fiddling around with the lock. I had no idea what was happening, but in my frightened mental state imagined he was getting a gun.

I ran upstairs, got my wallet, and left. I was shaking. I asked the taxi driver to drive outside the estate and just wait. I sat in the car with him for 30 minutes, and then asked him to take me back to the house and wait. I had to get my stuff and leave. It had been raining, and the house was dark. The generator was not on. Whenever the European man was home he turned the generator on, so I assumed he wasn’t home. The guards let me in. I didn’t tell them what I was doing. I went into the dark house and called out the name of the European man, just to make sure he wasn’t there. No one responded. I ran up to my room, feeling my heart racing. I turned on my cell phone flashlight and threw my belongings in my suitcase, packing in probably 6 minutes. I ran downstairs. The police officer and security guard had seen the man yell at me, and saw me with my luggage. They realized I was moving out. “You can’t move out,” they told me, “Mr. _____ will be so upset.” They were trying to be nice, and what I was doing–moving out without saying goodbye–was probably a locally offensive thing to do. I told them I didn’t want to bother the man anymore, but they were gently insistent that I stay. “You should at least go say goodbye to him,” they said. I said he wasn’t home, but they said that he was. He had been inside the house while I was packing, and just sat in some dark room quietly. This fact freaked me out beyond words.

The door to get out of the compound was locked. I demanded they let me out, but they didn’t move. They watched as I walked inside the security house, took the keys off a table, and unlocked the gate. No one stopped me. I ran out to the taxi and, shaking, had the driver take me to a hotel. I didn’t leave the hotel for two days.

Complicating matters, the European man had asked that I bring him over some iPads and iPhones. I had given them to him, but he had not yet paid me. I was owed thousands of dollars, and was spending $2000 to stay at a hotel for two weeks. I sent the man a nice email apologizing for moving out in a hurry, and asked for the money. I received no response for 7 or 8 days. I then sent a slightly more aggressive email and his (very nice) assistant appeared at my hotel after a week with a money-changing man. They came up to my room, and the money-changing man literally emptied out a backpack of Naira on my bed. Thousands of US dollars is a lot of Naira, as the largest bill is $6. I felt like I was in a movie.

Thank God I have never seen this man since I left the house.

I think there are some lessons from this experience. One lesson I have taken away is to get out of a situation when you have the first hunch it’s bad. Another: there are some really weird expats in Africa and you shouldn’t think everything will be ok just because a person comes from a culturally similar background. Also: I was so lucky that I was able to afford to stay in a hotel for two weeks. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would have been had I been financially unable to get out of the situation.