The deadline for getting the Central Bank mandated Bank Verification Number was looming and I didn’t have the funds for a trip to Nigeria in my budget. The alternatives for me were London and Leicester which would have also cost money I didn’t have; so I reckoned, I’d just wait for a few more weeks when I was scheduled to be in Houston and do it there.
On the appointed day, I walked into that office, and in one glance, I realized that the operators of the BVN service had managed to recreate Nigeria… thousands of miles away. I didn’t need to go to Nigeria. They brought Nigeria to me.
Fast forward to a month later, I was in California and had to accompany my cousin to get her passport renewed at a Nigerian High Commission pop-up in Los Angeles. The organizers set up in a large hall, but with the littered chairs, trash strewn around the room, and loud rowdy adults, there was no doubt that my people had done it again. Goodbye Los Angeles. Hello Lagos!
Now before you turn up your nose at this incredible feat, I’ll have you know that it is not easy to ensure that you don’t leave your country behind. So here are 7 ways to recreate Nigeria irrespective of where you are.
Ignore the Basic Rules of Social Etiquette
There is no place like home and certain basic concepts of social etiquettes, like queuing, are not Nigerian. You’re bound to miss all the rowdiness that reminds you of home. The first way to recreate the Nigerian experience is to ignore things like order and queues. Nothing speaks Nigeria louder than chaos – even when it can be avoided. When someone tries to suggest that you’ll probably get things done faster, and more effectively if there’s a queue, remind them of who you are. Tell them your status in the Nigerian community and your proximity to the organizers of the event or gathering. In the absence of those, just elbow your way to the front of the queue. Don’t they realize you don’t plan to spend the whole day trying to get a passport?
Simple things like throwing trash in the bin as a matter of rote can’t exist when you’re trying to recreate the Nigerian experience. Candy wrappers must be left on the floor and plastic bottles tossed aside as soon as you’re finished with them. While you’re at it, ignore personal space and don’t forget to give unsolicited advice to the person sitting beside you whose phone call you managed to hear because well…Nigerian voice.
What is a gathering of Nigerians without loud and raucous talking? Every Nigerian gathering is characterized with noise. Even moments which call for solemn and quiet contemplation have the standard high-pitched screaming. The appropriate evidence that you are not complicit in the death of your spouse is loud dramatic wailing. If you choose to quietly grieve, you probably killed him. The louder you are, the more Nigerian you are. Yell! Yell Louder!! Then look for TomTom for your persistent sore throat.
To recreate the Nigerian experience abroad, you have to forget that the walls are thin – cardboard and wood – be loud, be loquacious, and be wildly expressive.
The last time the Nigerian Embassy came to Los Angeles for the passport pop-up, they used a hotel room. Add the recreation of Nigeria in a tiny space and BOOM! The hotel managers had to ask our people to leave.
Bring Ethnicity Into Every Conversation
Another important thing to do when you want to recreate the Nigerian experience is introduce ethnic differences in every conversation. There’s unity in diversity… or something like that, and Nigerians thrive on the division fomented by that diversity. Ensure that the ethnic differences are highlighted and everybody bears the banner of their tribe.
At the OIS office in Houston, the front desk officer looked at me and pointedly stated that she had been attending to only Yoruba people all morning.
“Why be sey na una just dey come here since morning. Na Yoruba people dey carry all the Dollar go Naija”
The deadpan expression on my face was not a clear enough indication that I just wanted to get my business done as quickly as possible. She went on to show me the hand written list pointing out the Yoruba names that populated the list.
“Where should I sign, ma?”
I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
If There’s An Easier/More Logical Way of Doing Things, Ignore It
Good things come to those who wait. The road to salvation is crooked and thorny. So in trying to replicate an accurate Nigerian experience, please ignore the easier way of doing things and stick to the more convoluted and illogical route.
To register people who have come to get their BVNs, ignore the fact that they have already filled out an online form; ask them to re-write their names… on paper… in 2015. Then ask them to wait for the guys inside, who will then proceed to ask them to say out their names, as they now input it in the computer… ALL OVER AGAIN.
Repeat the process, until there’s enough time spent to justify having to spend 5 hours carrying out something that should be over in 1 hour. When all participants are sufficiently frustrated and angry, pat yourself on the back for a successful recreation of the Nigerian vibe.
It’s amazingly easy… our ability to make things ridiculously and unnecessarily difficult.
Be Rude, Discourteous & Unprofessional
In trying to recreate the Nigerian experience, it is important that you realize that courtesy and professionalism ought to be thrown out of the window.
“Sir, we are not playing here now. After all you too can see. Abi can you not?” – Her words, punctuated by eye rolling, were sputtered between the loud chewing of rubberised gum.
The man had come from a city four hours away – stating that he had been there the previous week and was told that he would get his BVN via text or email. When he did not receive the text, he had called the number on the OIS website to no avail. Afraid of the impending deadline, and not knowing what to do, he made the drive back to Houston… just to ask the question that could have been done over the phone.
Having sat there for over an hour, watching this front desk Lady ignoring the permanently ringing phone, I felt sorry for the man.
Her response to why she wasn’t picking the phone was spat out in between loud smacks of gum chewing. After that, she yelled to her supervisor to come and respond to the man.
No apology. No professionalism. No finesse.
It was a pure, unadulterated Nigerian experience.
Complain about Food (& Wear Inappropriate Clothing)
Food is a very essential part of our existence as Nigerians. Food is not just fuel for sustenance. Food is the index of all things cultural. Can you cook food? Can you serve food? Can you find food in the desert? Are you able to ensure that food never runs out?
What is a Nigerian gathering in diaspora without someone complaining about the nature and quality of food? Long reminiscent moments are spent on musing over the absence of ‘good food’ with an adequate reminder that ‘Salad is NOT FOOD’.
To recreate your perfect Nigerian experience, have people constantly remind you that if it’s not “okele” it is not worthy of its title as food. And what is a Black Tie event if you’re not going to accept the fact that Agbada, Kaftan and gele is part of our culture… and our culture acquired passport and visa to come with us.
Introduce Yourself By Your Academic Qualification or the Name of Your Child
And the last but not the least on my list of how to recreate the Nigerian experience in the diaspora, is the trumpet blowing of academic qualification.
Gather round, let’s talk about all our many degrees. Oh you don’t have a PHD? Well, maybe your cousin’s aunty’s brother’s nephew twice-removed does. There is no greater stamp of the Authentic Nigerian than the certification of qualification.
Prof, I hail oh!
Now, in the absence of academic qualifications to establish your presence, don’t fret. You can always identify yourself by the name of your child. How else will you know it’s a Nigerian gathering if people identify themselves by their given names.
You have neither children nor a litany of academic qualifications? Well…*stares at Mirror and weeps* I have no words for you
At the end of it all, there is an argument for the preservation of culture and the propagation of our way of doing things. But, I strongly believe that we need to leave the bad and cleave to the good. Before you succumb to the temptation of comparing yourselves to Pakistanis and Indians (as I’m sure you will), I’ll leave you with the words of my father:
“The people at the bottom of the class? Is that your reference point? Do the people who came top of the class have two heads?”
When you find yourself doing any of the above listed things, quickly catch yourself and think “top of the class… ALWAYS”