“No Nigerian arrangement is permanent unless that which has been arrived at by negotiated compromise. This fundamental principle is more than a habit. It is deeply rooted in the way of life. It is a religion.” – Peter Enahoro, “How to be a Nigerian”.
“No condition is permanent” this is the phrase that defines us as Nigerian. If Nigerian is a pizza, this phrase is like the pineapple to the Hawaian – it is everywhere. It is pasted on the windscreen of the danfo bus I am sitting in. It was also painted above the notice – “If I am driving recklessly, please call 080-a-number-that-will-probably-never-ring-when-dialed”- on the trailer the danfo just drove pass as it meandered through the thick Lagos traffic. Perhaps it attests to our unique national optimism that we can allow incompetent drivers on the road and expect other road users to make sure they drive safely, but I digress. My thoughts are interrupted by Sunny, the bus driver, who I now know has 3 wives, 2 girlfriends and 7 (soon to be 9) children, a group he will like me to join in the capacity of “his extra tyre”. “Can you see that?” He points at a 2017 Porsche Cayennes with the same conviction he did when he asked me to be his “extra tyre” saying that he’ll one day upgrade his battered 2003 model Toyota bus to it. . He says “Don’t worry, I will buy your own. Colour porpu! Walahi o ma fit e. Shey you wi be my extra tyre?”. I ignore him and finally he says “aunteee, no condition is permanent o!”. To him that sealed the validity of his aspirations as he reminds me that he once drove a similar car when he worked as a company driver. Now, he owned his own bus, run down as it may be, and tomorrow he’ll own his own Porsche. His confidence was like someone that of someone who had just presented a full business plan, starting capital and profit projections.
No condition is permanent that why the musician whose voice is crooning on the airwaves reminds us that “Ti o ba n rise mase pe padi e lo le”. An admonishment that the mighty may still fall and so he ought not to call anyone lazy. Perhaps this explains the corruption. It is the reason why the man in the Porsche tipped the policemen heftily as they hailed him chanting “my honourable…..shon sa” for doing a job they’re paid to. Maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps every time the bill to raise the national minimum wage comes up for voting, Mr. honourable-with-the-Porsche remembers how fickle his political life span is, how he’ll forever be hailed as honourable and that he will always be one from whom a hefty tip is expected. Hence, he heeds the advice his colleagues gave him at the beginning of his tenure- “alawe, remember that no condition is permanent”- and votes nay. He reminds himself that at least the lootable portion of the national cake remains intact and he can always rid his guilt with hefty tips that guarantee he will always be remembered as a kind man.
“No condition is permanent” is what I hear myself say, as I walk pass a pot hole on my way back home, and I almost bite my tongue in contempt of the phrase. It is my fifth interview in 3 months and unlike the others, I did not have to endure the scrawny look on the secretary’s face when she tells me the position as been filled and the nasty attitude which she responds with when I object to the transport fare I wasted to attend their scheduled interview. The interview held and I attended it looking dishevelled. Oh no, I did not leave my house looking that way. In fact, I must say I survived the treacherous journey as I navigated the meander littered with pot holes to make it out of the the Agege municipality, a ghetto I call home. As surreal as it may seem, the gator lines that framed my white A-line skirt weathered the storm of dusty danfo seats, and the weight of the child bearing hips of the woman with whom I shared the front passenger seat of the danfo bus. Oh….I was not late. In fact I arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule but I arrived soaking wet. I still feel the interviewers eyes on me when noticed the extra weight of my skirt now visible in the giant mud map that made it hard to believe it was once white. Three to four footsteps from the bus stop and a car navigating its way through the potholes of Sani Ali street took a dive into a pot hole leaving me soaked, a gift of the silent conspiracy between mother nature, the bad government and the car-owning-upper class Lagosian.
This piece is inspired by the Peter Enahoro’s “How to be a Nigerian” (Recommended by Oluchee). A book first published in 1966 which lends it well to what Chris Abani refers to as the Noir era. Aptly titled “How to be a Nigerian”, it was written 6 years post independence which is enough time to evolve from shadows of colonialism and the both world wars and settle upon our national identity. The book itself testifies to our struggles to emerge out from colonialism as it was published by The Daily times and printed by Caxton Press, both figments of our colonial past that no longer exist in Nigeria. But as they say, no condition is permanent. Today we talk about how the literary world is littered with the likes of Kachifo and Okada books. In noir Nigeria, perhaps, what we can agree 53 years later is that the one permanent thing is our piety to the notion that “NO CONDITION IS PERMANENT”