Just another Naija Day

Last night was a little unusual for me. Instead of sitting up until midnight, checking my emails and social media updates, or reading for inspiration, or even trying to beat the evil genius that controls all the best words in the Scrabble game on my iPad, I was sleeping. Not just any sleep, but the sleep born out of deep frustration. The one that shuts down all the negative thoughts going round in your head; the one that promises that everything will be better when you wake up.

It had been one of those days that knocked all my hope, optimism and enthusiasm sideways, and left me feeling flat. I got home around 6pm, stripped off my suit, kicked off my shoes and lay staring at nothing in particular, as the golden light faded between the blinds. I prayed that sleep would come quickly; to silence the voices of irritation and disappointment, and to restore my faith. 

For those readers who know me well, this morose condition will come as a surprise; a rare moment of weakness, when I can’t see the brighter side of anything. It’s rare but every few months it happens – and I let it happen, knowing that I’ll bounce right back. So, what could possibly cause this pothole on my otherwise silky-smooth emotional highway of life? And how does it grow to become a crater that threatens to engulf me, at least for a few self-indulgent hours?

Okay, enough of the drama. It’s time for me to introduce you to the one thing that can reduce me to this comatose state – it’s called a Naija Day. I coined the phrase about four years ago, when I needed something to describe that one day when absolutely nothing seems to work. And since the experience was unique to my time in Nigeria, it was the perfect shorthand. Some of my friends have heard me use the term and can get annoyed by the negative connotations of their beloved country. So, to all of my Nigerian readers, let me apologise in advance – it’s just my way of having fun and making light of the dysfunction in the society. And, besides, if you’ve grown up with these inconveniences all your life, my experience may seem to be an overreaction.

During my first year of consulting in Nigeria, I stayed at the Presidential Lodge in Calabar. The grander side of the compound was reserved for visiting governors, senators and the president himself. I would spend a week or two on the other side, with the consultants, investors and lesser dignitaries. It wasn’t fancy but it was comfortable, safe and quiet, and the food was good. When I started to live in the city full-time, I continued to make the lodge my home away from home; but it couldn’t last. 

I found a house, paid two years’ rent in advance (yep, that’s how it works here) and started buying furniture and other home comforts. Six months later, I was still at the lodge. One day, it occurred to me that I was scared; scared to death of leaving because now I would have to face what one friend called ‘the real Nigeria’. By that, he meant the Nigeria where you have to generate your own electricity, pump your own water, shop for food without a decent supermarket and employ your own gateman, cook, cleaner, etc. I could handle most of it but providing my own utilities seemed a bit daunting. 

I asked lots of questions and learned about generators, inverters, UPS, stabilisers, boreholes, overhead tanks – everything I needed to survive in ‘the real Nigeria’, a world away from the Presidential Lodge, but just 10 minutes down the road. Apart from a few minor mishaps, I thought I was doing quite well, until one day it happened. I woke up one rainy morning, completely unaware that I was about to experience one of THOSE days.

First, there was no electricity. No problem, just put on the gen. The gen won’t start. Maybe it needs fuel. Oh, my neighbour had borrowed my petrol because, according to him, I always had more than enough. That’s okay, I have enough hot water, let me grab a shower and get out of here. No water. 

“Okon,” I shouted at the gateman, “there’s no water.” 

Okon looked bemused. “No sah, no wata sah.”

“Why is there no water,” I asked. 

“No light to pump it, sah,” he replied

“I know that, Okon, but we always use Mr Bassey’s big gen to pump. What’s happened?”

“No wyah, sah,” said Okon, a faint and very annoying smile curling his lip.

“Oh, for God’s sake!”

To cut a long story short, our wire that connected the borehole pump at the front of the compound with the generator in the back yard, was not ours at all. It was borrowed from ‘one man down the road’ who had decided to reclaim it. Luckily, an electrician had just finished working in one of the apartments, so I despatched him and Okon to buy wire to make the connection. When they returned, they got to work while I waited anxiously for my shower. The wire was too short to reach and they went back twice before they got enough to finish the job.

While I was waiting, I noticed all my neighbours heading out to work and smelling sweet! What treachery was this? Was I the only one without water? By now, my PA had arrived for a lift to the office and she was giggling at my indignation. Patiently, she explained why I was the only one waiting to have a bath. “Everyone else has buckets of water stored – they’re always prepared. It’s only you that insists on a power shower.” It was a valuable lesson, one that would be reinforced throughout the day.

And what a day it was. The mobile telecoms network, MTN, was down, so I couldn’t make calls, send texts or use BBM. The office wi-fi was down for some other reason. The office generator had broken down and it was stifling hot inside our building. And so it went on. I learned from days like that and found new and ingenious ways of insuring against disaster – a backup for the backup; a Plan B, C and D.

And yet, with all of that insurance against having a bad day, yesterday still happened. I won’t bore you with the details but I was deeply disappointed. I retreated from my airless office, the result of not having air-conditioning for two days running, and was welcomed by a feebly rotating fan at home, powered by an inverter whose batteries were depleted by the 48-hour blackout. With the ongoing fuel shortage, I decided not to use the remaining few litres in the generator. My dinner was a bit suspect after 10 hours in a warm fridge. You get the picture.

I woke up in darkness and searched for any device that would display the time. 10.40pm. My Naija Day was almost over. I checked my phone and saw the bank alert showing that money, owed since December 2014, had finally hit my account. It wasn’t enough but it was more than I had at the beginning of the day. I thought about everything that had happened and knew that it could be a lot worse. I considered all the people that have a Naija Day every day and still manage to smile.

That’s when it hit me. My worst days are someone else’s best days. I have the resources to come up with plans A-D. So what if they occasionally fail? These Naija Days have taught me patience, humility, resourcefulness and gratitude. I can escape to London or Kingston for a dose of convenience, efficiency and order, whenever it gets too much. And, deep down, I have this knowing that these Naija Days are preparing me for the next phase of my life, when who knows what tests will come. 

“Ah, those Naija Days,” I will say, “they were the making of me.”

50 thoughts on “Just another Naija Day

  1. Michael, you are SO right. We often have these Naija days (unlike you, no apology for that expression, I’ve been here long enough – 12+ Years- to use it!). And then we see some of those guys in the street who have nothing, and we realize that we actually have so much! Even if it doesn’t work! It helps to change our mind set- assume we have nothing, assume no water is normal, and when we have it, we are not just satisfied, we are DELIGHTED!

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    1. Ah Trevor, so I’m not alone! Yes, sometimes it really gets you down but you have to remind yourself that you’re still relatively privileged. Please click ‘follow’ to receive more posts. Thanks for the support.

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  2. Michael, I was reading this and giggling as it definitely didn’t sound like you. I agree that you are being prepared for the next phase of your life, so here’s to learning those essential lessons. Take care. M xx

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  3. I totally enjoyed reading it😂😂! A naija day is the only way of life some pple know and live all their lives! Thank GOD yours is just occasional!

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    1. Hi Julia, I guess we all experience the world differently. I’ve had lots of frustrating days where things are not going right, but the Nigerian version has been quite different for me – a lot more extreme. I’m definitely writing about my own experiences, so I don’t expect them to be universally accepted. That’s why I inserted a caveat, that those who have grown up with these inconveniences will probably see my experience as an overreaction.

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  4. Wow! What can i say? If you skillfully articulated this story to hold the reader spellbound, well, you got me. Eyes fixated on the screen till the last word, before i regained consciousness and released the breath that i held for ‘God knows how long’.
    On the Nigerian factor that you apologized for, no hard feelings at all because, instead of breaking us, it makes us resilient and formidable.
    Proudly Nigerian!!!

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    1. Thanks Peace, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. It’s definitely made me more resilient, even though I’ve had just a small taste of what so many people go through every day. They say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

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  5. Michael….Nice reflection of your Naija Day, you had me cracking up 😀….anyway, there was a man who was down to his last wit and thought things couldn’t be any worse for him, so he tried desperately to enjoy his last food source, a single banana. When he was done eating he said this is it, things just can’t get any worse for anyone( his Naija Day I guess)…..so he disposed of the banana peel to the ground, feeling really crappy; as the banana peel fell he walked away, head held low; then he looked back, he saw someone picking up the peel and devouring it like a tasty meal……

    When are you going to escape to my side of the world, Florida if it gets too much for you? 😊

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      1. Orlando is just a 2 hr car drive away from my home in Palm Beach. Let me know your travel plans as it gets closer.

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  6. Funny that some of us are privileged to not know what you went thru. Pretty humbling I guess for you. I love the fact that rather than get angry, you soberly reflected on the brothers and sisters who go thru this everyday. On a lighter note- now you can see why no Africans died on the titanic. We always have plans A-Z.

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    1. Hey bro. Yes, humility and patience are two gifts I’ve received on this journey. Truth is, inconveniences aside, I’m quite insulated from the kind of hardship most people endure every day. Thanks for checking in!

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  7. Mike I live in Ghana and unfortunately we too have Naija days but maybe they are less intense. But I feel your frustrations too because Ghana is slowly following in the footsteps of Nigeria. Having been in Lagos for a long weekend, I am actually proud of Lagos StTe and all it has achieved. Hang in there bro, as you said your odd Naija day is the norm for some people.

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    1. Thanks Elaine. I agree, Lagos has come a long way since my first visit in 2007. It’s the only part of Nigeria that’s not heavily dependent on government, so business continues to thrive. Traffic aside, I could live in Lagos.

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    1. Hahaha! I know exactly what you mean, especially since you’re responsible for other people’s experience of Nigeria, not just your own. Thanks for visiting. Please check out the other articles you may have missed.

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  8. I remember in the Jamaica during the 1980’s we would shout out “B Sick Unit” whenever the light goes out. That was a term we used because of the excuse of the B-6 unit breakdown at the time. In New York it is usually the subway. The worse part is that no information is given before hand even though they have the information. Thus, you would board a train when you could have taken a longer route but reach home quicker. I remember once I used my lunch time to run and did not eat any lunch. On the way home the train was stuck on the express track over one hour. At some point I felt weak and the place started to seem dim. I was praying for the train to get into a station but somehow I did not make it before I realized I was on the floor in a deep sleep and people helping me to seat vacated by a kind passenger. that was when I realized I just fainted.
    So you see, regardless of where you live there are issues that get under your skin. Over the years I have learned to be more calm and relaxed with these things because there will always be others going through a lot more hardship than I. Though sometimes I fall short of control, lol. Bad experiences combined with the good will always help us to appreciate whatever we have. So do not feel that experience is endemic to Nigeria. Big cities all over the world have problems that create the same effect on certain members of its population similar to what you go through. The situation may be different in absolute terms but the frustration, exasperation and anger is the same. the only difference is that some never find a way to rationalize things like you.

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    1. Ah, my brother. You have no idea. Things go wrong everywhere and frustrations abound. But until you’ve experienced a day when nothing works, you’ll never understand. As I speak, airlines, banks, telecoms, water, etc are all shutting down because of the fuel crisis, and each has a knock-on effect on the other. I’ve experienced the everyday setbacks you refer to, in London, Kingston, Toronto, etc. You need to come and experience this, then decide how similar it is.

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      1. I experienced black out in New York. Jamaica is nothing compare to this. As for frustration and the level of bad experiences, it is all a mental thing. For example in New York, the things the people on the subway go through with delays etc., on a daily basis is far worse than those on the commuter trains but hearing the commuter trains riders complain you would swear the subway is a piece of cake.
        I understand the level of frustration that must have been. however, the comfort a man have in his life will exaggerate the level of discomfort he feels, lol.
        Not belittling your experience my brother, just making light of it. Keep posting, you are very insightful, informative with a clear, concise and intelligent way of expressing yourself. You should have been a writer. Think about it seriously.

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      2. Taylor, you’re so right. I am used to a lot more comfort these days, so anything less can be jarring. The beauty of Nigeria is that no one can get too comfortable. Even guys who have apartments in Manhattan or houses in London’s Knightsbridge can not buy or build a house anywhere in Nigeria that has 24-hour electricity and running water. Being rich here just means you have more options to escape hardship!

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  9. The trouble about these Nija days is that they are the symptoms of Nigeria’s malaise. This country has the potential to rival India but Is held back by lack of investment in its infrastructure caused by corruption and the shortsightedness of its leaders. Nigeria could be such a beacon in Africa and the world if it took a more enlightened and long term view, invested in its people and developed a manufacturing base, but no it’s rulers and those in positions of power are busy stuffing their pockets with more money that they and their generations to come could never spend whilst the country struggles to develop. Sad very sad!

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    1. Too true Charles. That’s the root of the problem. You’ve been here, so you understand. Some of my friends are saying how similar these frustrations are in London, New York, etc, because they’ve never lived in a dysfunctional society. I’m glad to be here, it’s toughened me up and made me grateful.

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  10. Hahahaha! Michael, I always imagined this would end up in your book. I’m a bit surprised to read this preview here. Naija day, huh? It’s the kind that leaves you depressed for a while and give you a preview to how others live. If it taught me nothing at all, it taught me gratitude and ability to appreciate everything.

    I am happy that most of my stressful Naija days are in the past. I learnt my lessons from them and I am grateful for the little things now. The courage to face each day in its imperfect state is what makes most Nigerians successful when they leave the country. Wherever they are, they will survive and that’s why regardless of the hardship, Nigerians are the ‘happiest’ people on earth. 🙂

    I loved this piece 🙂

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  11. This is a new side to you that I am getting to know. In my head I had assumed wrongly that you were immune to the conditions that bring about the “naija day”. It sure feels good to see you as a true and fellow comrade. We can only pray we do not have more naija days than we can handle. You need to start setting up a “Plan when all plans fail” plan! Trust me, things could get that crazy at times.

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    1. Thanks bro, this is good advice. Unfortunately, no one is immune. Consider this: the richest Nigerian is the richest man in Africa, yet there isn’t a single neighbourhood in Nigeria that can guarantee light and water if he decides to live there. We are comrades indeed.

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  12. Another well written piece. We go through life taking so many things (and people) for granted. Norms we grew up with are now major inconveniences, plus as we age we seemingly become more inflexible. Thanks for the reality check. Fortis

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    1. Thanks Adolph. This experience has taught me how much I used to take for granted and to be grateful for whatever I have. For example, I appreciate our way of life in Jamaica in a way I couldn’t have if I hadn’t spent time in Nigeria. Please keep reading; I always value your perspective.

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  13. The daily experience of the common Nigerian are bad days of the privilege few. but then we don’t loose focus on the lessons it holds true to all of us.

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  14. Sadly, an average Nigerian’s familiarity with such conditions is thought to be ‘normal’. A repulsive mentality. Many years back, a national orientation programme was set up to change attitudes, behaviours, perspectives and norms occasioned by past colonial rule,poor educational background, low self esteem and class imbalance. Where are we today? Guess it’s normal for us to make the best of situations and keep going. Call it ‘Naija mentality ‘. Hello Sharon, long time!

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  15. Hi Michael, this piece had me bowed over in laughter. Thank you. Since moving to Nairobi my friends and colleagues here always look puzzled when I say “O its nice in Nairobi, systems work” they don’t get it because they’ve never had a ‘naija day’. Glad to hear you’re hanging in there with plans A-D.
    First time on your blog, and I’m hooked…

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    1. Hi Tolu – so you’re one of my Kenyan readers! With readers now in 22 countries, I’m always trying to figure out, “Who do I know there?” I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Please go back to ‘Life after death’ and the other articles, and tell me what you think. I’m interested in your view of ‘Above the clouds’, in particular. Keeping enjoying that Nairobi life! M xx

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