Tanya Whitehall walked up the stairs of the science faculty of the University of Lagos. As she walked upstairs, she greeted each lecturer she saw. This was standard protocol in a western university. I think it is every university. If you didn’t do this, it was assumed you were disrespectful and so liable to fail your courses at the end of the semester.
The particular lecturer she was looking for, Prof Adedeji, told her, by phone just that morning, he would be in his office. He was to be her project supervisor for the 9-month PGD programme she was running. She was clad in an orange-white flowery top and black pants with flat shoes.
“Good morning, ma” she greeted the light skinned faculty office secretary.
She had some wrinkle lines at the edges of her eyes and her mouth. You could call her attractive, in a manner of speaking.
“Good morning my dear” she answered the greeting but didn’t make eye contact.
Tanya continued. She wasn’t taken aback, because it was the normal procedure in the reality of Unilag. The students weren’t important unless there was some form of exchange going on. Schooling in a Yoruba speaking state, that exchange would be called ‘egunje‘.
It oiled the wheels of progress when you couldn’t summon the time and persistence, you would have to commit yourself financially so that the regular office duties would be done. Her friend who was currently doing a masters in another department actually commended Science Faculty for being better than other departments.
Tanya thought about the glowing comments of the Science Faculty and snorted in her head at that.
“Excuse me ma, I am looking for Prof Adedeji.“
“You have to call him” she looked up at her for the first time from horn rimmed glasses. “He rushed out of here 30 minutes ago to meet up with another appointment”.
“Ok ma” she answered and turned around.
In Unilag, it was customary to wait for hours on end for lecturers, and at the end of the day, they may not turn up for the appointment. If you didn’t wait, you were termed unserious.
“Can I wait here for him?”
She snorted in response.
Tanya took that as a yes and plunked down on the seat. She sat down and brought out her blackberry phone to update her twitter status with ‘long wait ahead of me, hope today would be successful‘. She slide her hand across the screen very gently and started browsing through Facebook. When her phone started hanging, she dropped it and began day-dreaming about the Nokia XL with amazing camera properties, that wouldn’t hang and had the BBM advantage. Just the thought of the masterpiece that phone was brought a smile to her face. She adjusted her feet, crossed and uncrossed her legs, over and over again till she was comfortable enough.
Bright Okopi was one of those guys from the South-South with barely there dreams. The only important thing about the dream was that it still got him up at 5am, up and about and hustling. He had graduated from the university about 3 years ago and was yet to get a stable job.
Nigeria? It is a nation o, he conceded. The jokers who called themselves politicians were gathering again and instead of telling Nigerian of the developments or manufacturing companies they were going to build to make things better, they were distributing bags of rice as if Nigerians were stupid enough to fall for that trick. Amazingly, Nigerians were still falling. At least that is what happened in Ekiti State. They presented a man who was well read and a culprit and suspect of money laundering a few years back. The man won. The people had voted him in again so he could still continue the money laundering. That is the degree of poverty in this nation. A people who know that you are a criminal would vote you in again because of bags of rice and propaganda.
As Okopi trudged through the mud in Obalende to get a bus, he wondered what his degree as an engineer had accomplished for him. He remembered all the sacrifices he had made through school, how he wrote JAMB 5 times before finally being admitted into UNIBEN to study engineering. He was the envy of many, all through school because he always aced his courses. And when he couldn’t, because of some really terrible lecturers, being a class rep worked wonders for him. He finished with a 2 1′.
Where was the envy now?
He was coming back from another failed interview. Just remembering the disdainful look on the face of the HR told him he hadn’t made it into that engineering firm. His opponents consisted of several creme boys with letters from mommy/daddy/uncle. They smirked at his torn shoes and his shabby suit; it was the best he had but when he looked on their faces, he wished that he had better. He almost cursed his parents for being poor. Only the memory of his pastor telling how important the law of honour was stopped him.
“I no wan add curse to the one wey I already dey”
He muttered under his breath as he adjusted and grimaced, all kinds of smells reaching his nose from the people and his environment in the rickety bus headed for Ajegunle. He lived at No. 14 Gbegiri street Ajegunle with his parents, two siblings and two cousins. They were ‘managing’.
He hated the word ‘managing’ but his circumstances and looks and environment spoke of deep poverty. The people were ugly inside and out and dressed it, looked it, embraced it. They even insulted themselves early in the morning at 6am, at noon, at 6pm and at midnight.
They probably saw nothing wrong with poverty. His pastor said, ‘to conquer poverty, you must hate poverty, not the people but the thinking’.
Poverty is a thinking!
By the word you must rise out of it. He heard the pastor’s voice in his head.
He had only been attending the church for 6 months but having a mentor who believed in him was refreshing. He heard his pastor’s voice in his head say, ‘Christ has redeemed you from the curse of the law, don’t let your environment defeat you. Speak God’s mind, say ‘I am rich’.
He didn’t know how much he believed his pastor or if he believed him at all. He knew that if he made a mistake of screaming ‘I am rich’, all the contrary people around him would laugh till they cried because their environment was screaming poverty, just not with words.
He wanted to but he couldn’t, not yet.
He bowed his head down and muttered “I am rich“.
A dark skinned lady with bright purple eye shadow and bright red lipstick, wearing cranky clothes, asked him, “what did you say?”
He turned and looked out the window saying nothing. The streets of Lagos passed before his unseeing eyes.
Mr Gbolahan Dada sat at his table, reading through 2.0 lenses at the paperwork on his desk. He dropped into the office and would be leaving in another 3 hours. He needed to sign some papers before leaving for Abuja on the 2pm flight. His driver informed him that they would have to leave for 10.30 if they wanted to make the flight. He glanced through, signed the papers and called his p.a to tidy up his desk.
As he walked to his champagne coloured Range Rover Sport. He climbed in and made two calls, one to his wife and the second to his mistress.
He didn’t call mama much these days, his eyes never could meet hers. Her eyes could read deep into his soul. Even though she never spoke a word, he felt judged by those piercing clear sincere eyes.
In the world he now lived in, sincerity was a liability and not an asset.
He shrugged off the bothersome thoughts and comforted himself with the words. ‘Everyone is doing worse these days’.
He remembered Alhaji Sambo who he did business with, the man just took a fourth wife, a 12 year old. No one as much as batted an eyelid when they saw it. They assuaged their consciences with the lie that ‘his customs allow it, let’s live and let live’.
He wished for simpler days when all he had to worry about was if he remembered to spend time with His God?
He shrugged and caught some shut-eye before the next meeting to fulfill his goal of success. He stretched out his white ‘dashiki’ clad body and stretched to catch some sleep in the popular Lagos traffic. Bako would wake him up as soon as he got to the VIP lounge of the Lagos airport.
Tessa Doghor is a social media consultant. She has a B.sc Cell Biology& Genetics from the University of Lagos, Akoka. She writes her novel on her blog:
Other resources can be found at: