My friend Tolu Ogunlesi recently wrote a witty and cynical piece offering a few words of wisdom to ‘we’ repatriates or returnees as we have been termed in recent times. I really shouldn’t be using the words ‘We’ because frankly my foreign accent has long disappeared and so has the relevance of my ‘Oyibo’ degree. But beyond the incessant ranting about where to get good salad, the inability for Nigerians to stand in a queue, or the excessive reminiscing of your ‘away’ days, moving back to the motherland requires more preparation than you can imagine.
Cut Your Coat According to Your Cloth
It isn’t everyone that has a daddy or mummy with a spare set of car keys to toss your way or even spare cash to help you transition into Lagos living with ease. So if you aren’t one of the lucky ones, I suggest you learn the bus, bike and Keke Napep route around the city because taxis and car hire don’t come cheap and you can save the cab fare for interviews and important meetings.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was hiking okadas to Idiroko then getting on the BRT bus to the Island. I remember some of my colleagues asking if I didn’t feel embarrassed about my returnee friends seeing me on a bike. My response ‘is it your money, why you go vex?’ On a few occasions, I had taken the bus to Abuja, a friend found it a little out of place and gave me some money to buy a plane ticket back to Lagos, you know my cheap ass collected the money and took the Patience Ozorkor-home-video-watching-ekenedilichukwu-bus back to Jibowu.
The same goes for the friends that invite you for expensive dinners when you have just arrived and haven’t found your feet yet. You don’t want to find yourself on a dinner table thinking of how to cough out cash you don’t have for food you barely ate and Champagne you didn’t drink; because in Lagos there is no busting out the calculator at restaurants. Leave that to your ‘abroad’ days.
My advice Kobo wise Naira foolish, Lagos is expensive and money goes like piss down a drain. If you don’t have a trust fund or come from a cushioned up family, as our people say, ‘operate with wisdom’.
Keep an Open Mind
Those that came at the beginning of the exodus had it good. They were able to dazzle with their expensive degrees and international career experience. These days every twenty-one year old holds a foreign MBA.
Don’t try to calculate or expect to earn the equivalent working for Merryl Lynch, GE Money or Goldman Sachs in Naira. It doesn’t quite work out the same way. Sometimes you might have to take the 100k on offer, acclimatise with the system and work out your next move.
For those who were poached from ‘overs’, you also have a few things to keep at the back of your mind, the new unit you have been brought to head could lose funding, could miraculously dissolve, or could just go down under because the ‘Oga at the top’ was using the operational budget to fly his mistress first class to Dubai or hired a guy called Carluccio with long greasy hair to redecorate the office. In the end you are given the option to either join your home grown colleagues in sales and marketing or find somewhere else to pitch your tent. Just be open-minded. As a result of the structured life abroad, we come back with very strict ideas of what we want to do, where we want to work and what we hope to earn. Lagos is unpredictable and who says you can’t find opportunity and new purpose with a little flexibility.
Be wise with the accent
Yes the accent thing is always controversial. The fact is that the world is made up of tribes and gangs and we are all a part of one whether we like to believe it or not. Language, accents and dialects are social codes. The way you speak can either draw up a fence or draw people in. In Ogunlesi’s piece he says that:
‘Once upon a time your accent guaranteed you a job, the sort that came with a company car and apartment. Now you have to compete with home grown IJGB(I just got back) accents, picked up from MTV, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Sex and the City’.
This is true to a great degree but be careful that you don’t isolate people with it either. Your foreign accent might be the barrier to top information that could be delivered to you by the office driver or security guard that can save you many catastrophes. These guys are privy to all the phone conversations and back seat board meetings that you can think of. Plus, you just don’t want to attract unnecessary hatred because more often times that not, the accent comes with some kind of attitude. Even if it doesn’t, the general consensus is that ‘you are a snob and think you are better than us’.
Ensure that you learn some quintessential Lagos phrases. You don’t need to be classified as a ‘learner.’
Activate Your Side Hustles
It wont take you long to discover that everybody has a side hustle, we are all CEOs with a laptop and there ain’t no shame in that. The Lord does not give you one skill in case of a depression; plus man shall not hustle by bread alone, especially when you notice there is a constant delay in your salary payment. So as Dizzy Rascal says in his song ‘Fix up look sharp’ or as IsUrBoiWizzzy aptly puts it, ‘Don’t Dull’. Which ever phrase works for you, my point is – please brothers and sisters ‘arrange yourself’.
You don’t have to go as far as selling diesel or Mongolian hair. It doesn’t have to be capital intensive. If you enjoy cooking, you can start a food ordering service for the bachelors in your office, You can put small businesses on a retainer and sort their accounts, you can do business development for start ups, make flyers and logos for people, or Tweet and Instagram people’s products(there is a name for it now; it’s social media marketing).
Whatever skill or hobby that can earn you money, just package it. You don’t want to get to the office, try to log into your computer and voila!! Password isn’t working.
Yes, I know you have spent the last five to ten years living on your own abroad, being independent, blah blah blah. Rent is expensive, especially when you need a two year down payment and security bond. When you get the apartment, it also cost money to furnish. Then you need to ensure you have an electrician, plumber, water pump fixer (who is probably different from the plumber), AC repair guy (because a power surge or power fluctuation might blow up the capacitor or whatever they call it), carpenter, generator guy, welder and PHCN official. All these people need to be on speed dial because trust me you will need them. Also, the newer the house you rent, the worse of it is because the ratio of sand to cement used to build these days is nothing to write home about. If you aren’t sharp enough, rogue agents may just fleece you of your borrowed rent money.
The point here is, if you can avoid the stress and save up until you really need to move, just stay at home. If your parents are lucky enough to have their own house and should it have an annex or boys quarters, you can always do some minor construction work to make it comfortable, a bit more private and slightly secluded from the main house.
Also whilst you are trying to settle in, you don’t need the agro or lectures from your conservative traditional parents about why you can’t move out or live alone. You may never win. Plus traffic, aggressive Lagosians, generator noise and fumes are enough to raise your blood pressure. You don’t need BP issues at any age not to talk of when you are under thirty. You don’t need to be in a bad place with your parents either.
Before I forget, if you a buying a car that isn’t tear rubber A.k.a brand new, please just buy a Toyota.
Learn to Dazzle Because ‘All Na Wash’
Don’t be too self deprecating, it’s a European thing. You have to learn to work a room and warm your way into people. Not saying you should go for a hard sell but you need to put yourself out there. Learn how to ‘wash’, the Americans do it pretty well with their elevator pitches and buzz words.
Look, hype is a global phenomenon, talent is not enough. You, your business, and your work need to be in peoples faces long enough that they start to think you are the only one that exist to do a certain task. Leave the introversion for inside the house. ‘Abebeblube’ is the order of the day’.
Print your business card even when you are job hunting and please never sound like you don’t know what you want to do. It is never a good look.
It might all seem like a lot to take in but don’t get too carried away with the event photos on blogs, Facebook and across social media. Lagosians are big on perception. It is all part of the washing/packaging/jasi. Just because your friend who was working at British Gas call centre with you two years ago now has a store in the mall and is splattered across the magazine pages doesn’t quite equate to the cash. Gidi isn’t all hobnobbing with rich corporate execs, or watching polo and sipping a Bellini from a Champaign flute. Even for those people, gbo gbo everything huzzle ni. They know the market they are selling.
The one thing I would say though is that Lagos is a hustlers paradise. If you are prepared to understand and work your way through the system, you will surely swim.
PS- In a subsequent article I will be offering some words of wisdom to those you want to go the entrepreneurial route.
Wana Udobang is a Broadcaster and writer living in Lagos. She hosts the Drive Time at 92.3 Inspiration FM and Blogs at www.wanawana.net. You can follow her on twitter @MissWanaWana and on Instagram @Mswanawana