The last time I was in Enugu, like 8 years ago, the owner of the hotel I stayed in asked, upon us checking in “where is your mopol?” Well Ok, I had a British man in tow. We didn’t have any MOPOL (armed mobile police), but we managed to survive for about 5 days. And we enjoyed the place. Sleepy town, good people. Very service oriented.
But Enugu is now on steroid. Not in a bad way. And anyone who can get involved should. I want to presume that the entire SouthEast of Nigeria is on the uptick.
The first thing I noticed this time is that the general scare and lockdown in the rest of the country was missing in the SouthEast. At least in Enugu. I couldn’t believe the ease with which people accessed shopping malls and hotels. There was no unnecessary air of suspicion and it was touching. But after two days in Enugu I realized that every citizen in this place had a kind of paternalistic ownership of the town and ensured that things went on normally. Enugu, unlike Abuja where I live, is not an orphan. Enugu is taken care of by those who live in Enugu. Hence, the peace, relative security, neatness, and general tranquility of the place.
A number of stereotypes about the Igbos are wrong, if my visit to Enugu is anything to go by. For example, as against the stereotype, which I’ve heard from Igbos themselves, about the Igbo person being aggressive, a visit to Enugu shows this to be false. There were no rowdy bus parks where ‘agberos’ shouted and quarreled and fought all day (and I ensured I went inside the ghettos). On many occasions, I watched in amazement as cars skirted in silence around broken-down vehicles in the middle of the road. In most parts of Nigeria, that would have elicited a ‘waka’, or a dress down of the ‘useless’ driver who was busy taking it easy trying to get his car to work, or move. These people were actually quite gentle, reserved, considerate.
And the honesty. Twice I experienced it. I took a taxi to the Shoprite Mall in town. The fare was N300 and all I had was N500, which I handed to the driver. He had no change. Then he suggested he should come and pick me when I finished. He already had the N500 with him. I protested that he may waste my time. But he promised that whenever I called him, he would be there within three minutes. He was a young driver. So I left him. After about an hour, the driver himself called me to inform me he was now within the mall, waiting to pick me up. He just needed to work for that balance of N200. On another occasion, an older taxi driver asked me to ‘give him whatever I had’, as he refused to name a price for his fare.
I sat at the first floor of ‘Celebrities’ eatery, staring out of the wall-to-wall window, and watched a blind beggar being led by a boy. They didn’t dress like northerners but could have been. But what shocked me was how frequently people wound their car windows down, or went out of their ways to give them money. I thought ‘didn’t they say these people could never joke with 1 naira?!” However, going into and out of Enugu, I realized the people there are not given to flying much of business class. Only one guy sat there on the way to. And two on my way fro, including one prominent preacherman from the Southwest. Maybe they are just a rational lot, who knows?
The service orientation of the Igbos, and the enterprise is legendary. That one is not in question. But the precision with which you will get service in the SouthEast of Nigeria, given my Enugu experience, has even improved. And charges are not out of the roof. Hotel rooms and food are fairly well-priced, even cheap (no igbo man will patronize you if he thinks you are ripping him off I reckon, so you better be rational). And rooms are well-maintained. We know the Igbos own the hospitality sector almost all over Nigeria – and a little bit beyond. The rest of Nigeria have so much to learn from these enigmatic people. I watched in amazement as slim, and smartly dressed young boys and girls, making their ways up in the hospitality sector, or maybe just moonlighting on a holiday job, carried out their functions with smiles on their faces and every seriousness the job deserved. No one needed to be lectured on how to do things properly, world standards.
Hmm. As a social scientist, I think about these issues quite often. I project into the future, even though the future is never predictable, but deductions can only be made. The people of this region, well-traveled, well-focused, ambitious, studious, even very handsome and beautiful, are on their way somewhere. Elsewhere in Nigeria, some leaders still allow multitudes of children to walk the streets, tattered and unkempt, in the name of religion, and they feign helplessness against the power of Madrasa teachers. Not acceptable. In my own Yorubaland, I don’t think we have a mass movement of any sustainable sort going on. The civil war may have been a catalyst, much as it was painful. Something is certainly missing. What is it that makes the SouthEast a buzzing business hub, and now tranquil and friendly, but makes Ibadan a place where you would find people shouting at the top of their voices, quarrelling over nothing? No culture is perfect, but the custodians of society and culture should ensure they tinker with it from time to time.
If there is any region more aligned with the future in Nigeria, I wager it is the SE. Many of their young people who went to the USA are now back, picking off government jobs at the highest level and deserving it. Nothing anyone can do. The rest of the country didn’t have that strategy, wittingly or unwittingly. Some stayed put counting sheep in the civil service. Some didn’t bother much aligning with western education. Now we all have our just desserts. In the race for capital, which is a worldwide race and is still going on, the SE is way ahead. That is why Southeasterners own 75% of Abuja, and in Lagos they are no pushovers. Ditto Jos, Kano, Kaduna, Ogoja, Ibadan, Iseyin, up to Ghana, Cameroon, USA and China! I look at sports and 90% of Nigerian football squad is Igbo, or close to it, in the track and fields, the same people, even an Igbo lady just won a medal for Nigeria at the commonwealth games, in small and medium enterprises, in the sciences, finance, IT. Sometimes, some people from there who like to rub it in are justified, no matter how bad some feel about it. It is the reality. Can everyone else just strap up and contribute?
Anyway, there you have it. I passed the governor’s convoy at Chime Avenue. No siren. I asked the taxi driver. He said it may also be the governor of Ebonyi State, who lives in Enugu, but that Sullivan has warned him not to use sirens. I land back in Abuja, and within 5 minutes, a convoy with Taraba State plate numbers and blaring sirens was chasing other cars off the road. Inside Abuja town it was like bedlam. Too many big men.
I start to think. Is there something about people moving out of their territories, or culture shocks, that makes them become misunderstood? It is the same friendliness I see in the north that I also saw in the East. The only difference is the sophistication of the place. Also, about governance; it is true that we cannot all be satisfied, but are Nigerians making a sport out of pooh-poohing their leaders just because whatever largesse was shared did not reach them personally? Some will call Chime’s achievements ‘elitist’ as well, even though truthfully, we don’t see much of that in the SE. The last Anambra elections had politicians sharing motorbikes, not rice. I think Chime’s people appreciate the roads and the order in town. Maybe we also have a political lesson to learn there as well.