It was with great joy that I am happy to pronounce the completion of 21 days of self quarantine which enables me to publish this piece without the requisite eyebrow raising episodes that I endured whenever I dared to say: “I’m going to Lagos for a workshop” last month. I was actually quite disappointed that fellow Kenyans lay on the same judgmental status on Ebola-free-status-Nigeria-as-declared-by-the-World-Health-Organization as the British and American do with travel-advisories-against-bomb-ridden-Kenya but that was a 2014 bee in my bonnet. It’s a new year now.
I flew our national carrier and as much as friends take the mickey out of me for my constant and lavish praise on Kenya Airways, it begs taking note of the fact that there are probably only 4 large airlines worth international salt on a continent of 53 countries and KQ is one of them. In a country like ours that has very few things to be proud of lately, KQ’s pride of place amongst international airlines is one I brag about incessantly. The Boeing 737-800 flight was flown by an all female crew superbly led by Captain Ruth Karauri, a petite and fairly young pilot whose captain role excited several male passengers that formed a long line of fawning fans behind me as my request for the obligatory “Young, female pilot because KQ rocks!” selfie at the end of the journey was happily fulfilled.
It was my second visit to the sun kissed Lagos, a city that I absolutely love for its insatiable spirit of entrepreneurism, boundless enthusiasm and the palpable zest for life that clings on in the choking exhaust fumes and dust polluted air.
Over dinner, my hosts were quick to bring me up to speed on the local vibe. My host’s wife chuckled as she told me about the typical Nigeria’s view of Ebola, “Ebola is not my portion” is the standard response of the God fearing Nigerian, “I rebuke it!” She tells me that spirituality is very high in Nigerian culture; God will protect the Nigerian from all that is evil, which is why their churches are big business. “The ordinary Nigerian’s life has become so debased that all they think about is how God can protect them from insecurity, poverty and terrorist attacks,” she adds. I blink my eyes in surprise. She’s talking about the ordinary Kenyan’s life and doesn’t know it. “Corruption mscheeeeew,” she spits the words out as if they taste like the bitter vegetables that make up the delicious Egusi soup we are consuming, “It is everywhere. From the police on the roads to the staff at the airport, to civil servants in the government.” I smiled as I recalled arriving at the airport and walking towards the car that had come to pick me up. The guard by the kerb gave me a sunny smile worth a million Naira as he pointed out what was quite obvious to me as my ride, “Hallo ma’m how was your trip?” That question asked with a suggestive lilt at the end that presupposed a tip for asking about my wellbeing. “Welcome to Nah-jeria” was the last thing I heard before hurriedly slamming the door on his expectant face. I didn’t have the naira to thank him for the sunny welcome but I appreciated his concern anyway.
Oti, my local and very knowledgeable guide for the duration of my stay, took over the narration of the Lagos vibe the next day as he drove me to the market. I had tucked the Business Day newspaper under my arm as I finished breakfast so that I could discuss the day’s headlines with him. “Legislators spend 682.7 billion Naira (approximately Kshs 341 billion) to pass 104 bills since 2011. A woeful scorecard says the newspaper at a time when the parties were going into primaries in preparation for February 2015 general election. The analysis, it cost 5.73 billion (Kshs 2.8 billion) per bill in this legislature i.e. the running costs of the production for the legislature.” Oti doesn’t think the current government, nor the legislators will come back. He says that there is widespread belief that the government will be voted out, assuming that there is no rigging. The corruption and insecurity are too much, Oti says. I admire his burning African optimism for change. The back page of the newspaper has a commentary by Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa titled “How many more must be killed before we declare a state of emergency over Nigeria?” Mazi’s beef: Some legislators wanted the state of emergency in 3 northern states to be lifted when insurgents have ruled for the last 18 months. He believes the country is in a civil war. How can you declare an emergency over a state and leave all the governors and political structures intact he asks and cites President Kenyatta firing of ole Lenku’s and Kimaiyo as an example for Goodluck to follow. I choked over my fried plantains as I read that last part. Kenya is now cited by a Nigerian commentator as a beacon for “how to manage insecurity”. Right.
It is rather uncanny how our fortunes as Kenyans are inextricably linked to those of our Nigerian brothers. We both have an almost sullen resignation about the cards that life has dealt us with regards to the twin monsters of corruption and insecurity. We both suffer from questionable legislators that purport to fulfill the mandate that they tricked from us with our unsuspecting votes and we both turn to spiritual seed planters to nourish our grief stricken souls as well as fill us with their opiate of hope in a rapidly deteriorating life. But we both wake up every morning determined to see the day through and hope against hope that each new government will make a difference. We both deserve the Nobel Hope Prize if there’s ever one.
More next week about the sights and sounds of Nigeria including my 419-oh experience!