Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Lessons Learned In Abuja

So it seems like Abuja is fast replacing Kaduna as my second home. In the last 12 months I've spent more time in Abuja while out of town than in any other city in Nigeria. However, unlike the case with Kaduna, I am finding it a little more difficult to fit into the everyday social lifestyle of the city. Even though, my personality is more inclined towards being an introvert, it still shocks me how individualistic people's lives are in Abuja. And from my little observation, it seems to be hurting most of them even if they are yet to realize that.

Good Children, Bad Adults
The kids seem to be doing better than the adults. For example, I may be standing outside the house within the estate where I stay, a little boy or girl may be passing by and will turn in my direction, smile and say "Good evening sir" and I always gladly reply them "Good evening, how are you?". In contrast, you'll see an adult who by all indications grew up in a village and should understand the social norms of any African community approaching, and even more absurd is the fact that he/she is walking a dog. He will pass so close to you at an uncomfortable proximity automatically assuming you are Ok with his dog being this close to you. So in trying to cut the awkwardness, you say "Hello." He then turns, look you straight in the eyes and then turn again, looking straight down the road and passing away without saying anything.
I was initially confused because I thought it was some form of arrogance. My confusion however is why would working class people living in a middle class neighborhood be this arrogant? I later found the answer, not in the neighborhood but on the streets.

 Traffic Jam Lesson
Traffic jams are now becoming a regular feature on most roads in Abuja especially in the evenings after workers have closed for the day. I came to observe, that most of the traffic jams I find myself are caused by someones inpatient and arrogant actions. The interesting thing however is nobody among the drivers will try to do something meaningful to unjam the traffic flow. The best people do is throw insults around. So one day in such a situation, I saw an elderly man got out of his car and started to direct the traffic, so I also got out of my car and helped him. In less than two minutes, traffic started flowing smoothly again. It was then that it occurred to me, that all that arrogance I have been experiencing from people in the city was actually not arrogance. It was an attempt to hide a feeling of helplessness and insecurity. Once somebody volunteered to step forward and take leadership in a difficult situation, the people willingly follow him.

Road Accident Lesson
In order, to compensate for my less than healthy eating habit while away from Maiduguri, I started some cardio exercise by taking long walks every evening. In one of such walks, an accident between a car and a Keke Napep occurred right in front of me. No life was lost but people were very injured and were lying helplessly on the road. This happened in front of a popular shopping mall but to my surprise nobody was doing anything to help them. You only see people holding their heads and saying things like "La ila!" or "Jesus!". This was really a shocker to me, if the same were to occur in Maiduguri, you would have seen people volunteering to help the victims by at least moving them away from the road. So I decided to take an action like the elderly man in the traffic jam. I stopped a man who is trying to maneuver his way around the victims helplessly lying on the road. I knocked on his window to wind down, but he only angrily looked at me without doing anything. I moved to the passengers side where his wife is, gestured to her to wind down the glass which she did. Before I could say anything he yelled "What!?" visibly pissed off by my action, I replied "When you reach the next junction, you'll see some police officers there, tell them about the accident here". To my surprise, he replied "Ok, I'll do that" and drove on. Then it occurred to me again, that it's really not arrogance that the man was exhibiting but a feeling of insecurity covered in a thin veil of arrogance. He was afraid of taking any action, but the fact that I took the risk of stepping forward and telling him what to do, he was Ok with doing something about the accident.

The Case Of The Missing Manhole Covers
I also observed during my many long walks the missing manholes covers in Abuja. This I have heard many people complain about. However, what came to my mind is not just the criminal act of stealing the covers. It may indicate that there is an informal metal foundry business in or around Abuja and the manhole covers may just be the raw materials for that industry. I wish I could investigate further to see how right or wrong my assumption is. However, a simple solution to the manhole cover problem is for the government to replace the metal cast covers with concrete cast ones. That will not only be cheaper and easier to produce, but it will be of little or no value to the thieves.

I guess, Abuja being a microcosm of Nigeria will be a wonderful place for researching and finding solutions to some of the problems common to every section of the country. Some of these solutions can be as simple as casting manhole covers from concrete instead of iron.