Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Paid or Die Trying

Despite the title of this post, it really is not about the money. Really. After all, how much is the money I am talking about? Like 15% of what I earn in a month. But it's a matter of principle. It's my IT money, refused me since participating in the bloody scheme like 4 years ago. My sweat (and boy, it was a lot!); my reward; my money; MINE. And I am not prepared to allow some greedy b*****ds to reap where they did not sow and swallow it. That is the essence of the title I gave this post.

However as I found out to confirm my long-held suspicions, it really appears that Unilag, my dear alma mater, is wholly determined to fulfil the latter part of the blog title while denying me the former. There is no other plausible way to explain the obstacle course that must be navigated along the way. At first glance, there is little wrong with the process: collect a form from the SIWES (Students' Industrial Work Experience Scheme) office, and take it down to your department for appendage, then take it to Students' Accounts department for another signature, then you return the form to the SIWES office for the director's signature, after which you can go ahead and pick up the cash at a nearby bank on Campus. Pretty simple, eh? That's what I thought too, until I discovered there were snags. Lots of snags.

The first, most annoying, and certainly hardest to understand snag I was made to understand firsthand was the fact that the SIWES Director, who does the final signing, only signs on Mondays and Wednesdays. Now, I can't tell if perhaps on the other days of the week he has severe arthritis, or bad eyesight, or perhaps he shares a prosthetic arm with a couple of other people on a day-to-day basis and only has access to it on Mondays and Wednesdays, but for some reason best known to him and his creator, he only signs on Mondays and Wednesdays. And no, it cannot be because of the number of students that come to sign - they only come in small handfuls at a time. What this invariably means is that if you come around on any other day, you can strike that day off your useful days list. Having gone on a Friday, on the back of special disposition to be absent from work in my case, you can imagine I did not find this information in the least bit funny.

In any case, I requested for the form in order to start the process at least and promptly got fleeced of the sum of N500, which I was told in a pleasant smiling manner was their "commission". If I had an inkling of what I was still to face in my odyssey, I doubt if I would have surrendered the money as easily as I did. So in good spirits, I took the form to my Department for their signature. The Departmental SIWES Coordinator, Mr. U, was absent, having gone for a seminar somewhere in the east, meaning that I could not sign until Monday, when he would be back. But then I got a light at the end of a tunnel - I was told that my HOD could sign on Mr U's behalf. But then someone once said that there is a one in six chance that the light at the end of the tunnel might actually be the headlights of an oncoming train. He was damn right, as I was to frustratingly find out in due time.

So I happily got my form signed by my HOD, and with a spring in my step, I headed to Students' Accounts. On getting there, I met a solid locked metal door which yielded no human or physical response to my knocks or pushes. I looked at my watch, and found out the time was around 2:30 pm, meaning that regardless of the general sheer laziness exhibited by civil servants, there should still be people around. I peeped through the window as far as I could see, to be sure that there wasn't someone unconscious, sleeping the sleep of death or even really dead inside the office. What I saw was a big empty office with all its lights and A/Cs on. Believing that someone was at least surely around, and would be returning sometime soon, I unwisely decided to wait around. After like an hour plus of standing and staring pointlessly, I decided that I'd return on Monday to get the bloody thing signed. That was my resolve until I had gotten to the gate at the other end of campus to realize that I had left my umbrella in my huff. And so I had to go all the way back to retrieve it. I got another supposed light at the end of the tunnel when I saw that the obtrusive door which I had glared at for over an hour was actually ajar. Marvelling at God's mysterious ways, I walked inside to ask how and who I was to sign the form with. The man I met there calmly informed me that it was late, and his oga, who was to sign, was not likely to oblige, given the time (past 4 then), and moreover, I needed to make a copy of the form before I brought it to be signed. Encouraging me with a deceptive train headlight, he told me I had a chance if I could do my copy quickly before his oga left. I immediately dashed down to where I could remember from student days was the nearest place to make a copy, but they had closed, and so had the second nearest. I then had to be directed to a place that was considerably further than I was anticipating, where I had to unnecessarily make 3 copies because of the pricing. Armed with my copies, I sped back to the office to present them. By the time I got back there, I was probably looking shaken and harrassed in the suit and tie I was wearing. But with hardly any emotion, I was told that the person to sign had gone home, and so I had to come back on Monday. Close to swearing (and tears), I went on my way, considering the bright side that I had at least done my copy already.

So, after somehow convincing my boss that I had to get to school again on Monday (briefly was what i was thinking), I was back at the Student Accounts' office to re-present my documents, confident that it would be done within 5 minutes flat. The secretary took a look at my forms and told me matter-of-factly that my passport photos on the forms ought to have been stamped across at my department, and, in lieu of it, her oga would certainly not sign it. It is hard to accurately describe the feeling I got hearing these words, especially as the joker I had met there on Friday did not think it important enough to share the very vital info, and neither were the staff in my department competent or observant enough to. Considerably distressed, I trudged away on the journey back to my department, on the other side of campus. I got my photo stamped, and then proceeded to photocopy it, but surprise surprise, there was no electricity. I encouraged myself with the unfounded belief that there would probably be electricity on the other side of campus where I was to submit the form. Getting there I was (surprise, surprise) disappointed to find out that that was not the case, and had to go through the motions I went through on Friday. I asked to make a photocopy and the person in charge, who was sitting a couple of yards away from me, and apparently has a hearing and vision problem, had to be specially informed that someone wanted to make a photocopy. Sluggishly getting up, she started with the perennial opening statement of the lazy Nigerian businessman: "I hope you have change o!"

Delighted to be able to disappoint her, I answered in the affirmative, pulling out a crisp N20 note. With a why-is-this-guy-disturbing-me look, she said she didn't have N10 change (I had been prepared to make 2 unnecessary extra copies like I had done on Friday). Almost lost for words, I asked her in a tone dripping with exasperation to make 6 copies. I somehow managed to do so without inserting "freaking", the other f-word or "bloody" in ideal parts of the sentence.

By the time I returned to Students' Accounts, I was hot and sticky from all the activity in my suit and tie (this time, I was dressed that way based on the delusion that I would still return to the office) and in a pretty bad mood. I was finally allowed to get my form signed, and as I emerged from the man's office was congratulated by the secretary with an unabashed demand for Five Alive. If only she knew how close I was to throwing out all the morals about respect that I had been taught from childhood and screaming belligerently in her face, she might have passed up on the idea. With very measured calmness, I told her I would return to get it for her once I collect my money. When pigs fly.

So finally (or so I thought), I took the form back to the SIWES office for a last signature. I got there to be told that the bloody Director (who only feels good enough to sign on Mondays and Wednesdays) had been out all day, and no-one knew when he would be back. With steely determination, I declared that I would wait for him. Trying to be helpful, his secretary informed me that the Assistant-Director had to sign first anyway, so I could use the time to get his signature. For once, it wasn't a horror-inducing distance away. I walked to the man's office to meet a queue of about 5 people who were there to see him for IT documentation, and given what I had gone through, I had little optimism of spending a short time waiting for my turn. I was right. It took me close to 30 minutes to get to meet him. Through the time, I wasn't even sure it was a him, as the voice I could hear appeared to be either that of a melodramatic woman, or a bush man with a thin voice trying to sound posh by forcing an accent. Considering that the latter example is normally only seen in Nollywood comedies, I really doubted if it was a he, except the person in question is one that cannot be taken seriously. It turned out to be a he, and he didn't make my impression of him any better by asking me what I thought of the events of Ekiti State. I had gone through hell and highwater to get to this stage, walking up and down in the merciless sun, and feeling incredibly uncomfortable in my unfortunate attire in his electricity-less office, and he was calmly sitting there and asking me about something as off-topic as freaking Ekiti State. I politely said I was just glad I wasn't there in the midst of the crisis (what I really felt like saying was something like: "WTF is my business with WTF is effing going on in effing Ekiti State at this effing moment??"). While I was anxiously waiting for him to just pen his signature, he still went on about the fact that I'm a typical Nigerian, it's our kids' futures we're talking about here, I'm like a man whose hair is being cut and does not care how it looks (so what if I'm effing bald-headed?), bla, bla, bla, and I'm just digging deep into reserves of patience by smiling politely instead of giving him a very heavy shut-up-and-sign slap. Eventually he did sign, and I didn't have to be charged with Assault with Intention to Commit Grevious Bodily Harm.

I walked back across to the Director's office to find out that he was still not around. To pass the time, I decided I really needed something really cold to drink to stay active (alive?) and went over to the mini Mr Biggs nearby. There was also of course the automatic shade and A/C that was assured inside. The ice-cold Coke helped, but the A/C i was hoping for was unavailable because - surprise, surprise - there was no electricity, and a whole Mr. Biggs' generator wasn't working. Nevertheless, I was considerably more refreshed when I was leaving the place, after spending just enough time to avoid getting what-is-this-guy-still-doing-here looks from the staff.

The Director was still not around, so I had to wait in the heat afterall. There was nowhere to sit, so it was another session of standing and staring. Finally, the joker arrived around 20 minutes to four, and I, along with like 4 other people with the same agenda, trudged into his office with relief. I had to wait for the other guys before it was my turn, but for the first time in the day, I didn't mind - the finish line was in sight. But I was horrified to find out that there was still at least a lap to go. The Director took one look at my form, and as his pen was poised to sign, he looked up at me and asked: "Whose signature is this??" I told him it was HOD's. Immediately, he pushed the form away at me with a dismissive gesture. "I don't know him...I don't recognize his signature. Go and sign with Mr. U. That's the only person I know. Take your form and go!"

At this point, I really really felt like taking a shotgun and going on a killing spree, a la Arnold Schwazenegger in Terminator, on everyone in the SIWES office, all the way down to my inept Department's staff. Yes, yes, I know I would regret it after like 5 minutes and go to jail and yada, yada, yada, but at that particular moment it would've given me immense satisfaction. I however instead went all the way back to my department to look for the freaking Mr. U to sign the bloody form. I wasn't too surprised to learn that he wasn't back yet from the course he went for. In my desperation, I decided to call him. Afterall, he was supposed to have returned that morning, and I could perhaps convince him to come down. In his heavy Igbo accent, he informed me that he was in far away Onitsha - Onitsha! - repairing his freaking car. Rather than feel disappointed as I had for a better part of the day, I felt nothing but resignation - there was nothing else to do but wait.

As I type this blog, Mr. U still hasn't returned, and the jokers in SIWES are vowing to stop payments at the end of this month - today. But if they think they are gonna stop me from trying what is rightfully mine, then they really must be joking. If need be, I would employ African science to push my way through or, if not possible, swear for all of them and their generations. I'll keep you posted on what happens. To be continued...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Emancipation of Lagos

Love him or hate him, u cannot but agree that Gov. Fashola of Lagos, being a serving politician, has an uncanny ability to surprise. I say uncanny because while I'm very well aware of his counterparts' prowess at constantly and shamelessly shocking the public, I am talking about pleasant surprises.
For once we actually have a person who went into governance with a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and an apparently strong determination to do it. It is obvious he wants to make Lagos a bit more civilized and sane, but what has differentiated him from his predecessors is that he is actually doing it - and the progress that can be quite easily seen is startlingly pleasing to the senses.
I guess the one that got me the most was the look of Lagos during Christmas - I never ever imagined Lagos would look that beautiful before say, 2050. All this while I'd always advocated that Lagos was nothing but a doomed city with too many conceptual mistakes for it to be successfully made sane, let alone beautiful, and here I was last Christmas licking my lips at the possibilities if this man were to remain where he is for the next few terms. The fact that he won't - beyond a second term at least - gives room for worry as regards the possible actions (or perhaps inaction) of whoever his successor would be, given the general uselessness and myopia of our politicians.
The current state of Oshodi has however made the biggest impression on people without a doubt. Oshodi is the place where everyone who remotely knows Lagos identifies as perhaps the worst area in the city. The place is reputed for everything despicable - daylight robbery, street trading, extreme dirtiness, awful smells, trash mountains, overcrowdedness, crazy parking, traffic, and everything illegal under the sun. But when I heard that it had been cleared, I was eager to see with my own eyes how that was possible. I only heard about it because I have made a solemn vow with myself that nothing, absolutely nothing would make me go through the place (along with Cele, Mushin, Okokomaiko, Alakuko and those places that are far from everywhere) except it is of extreme importance, like perhaps my job depends on it. And because of this vow, I have set my ways in such a manner as to never include Oshodi in my journeys. Consequently I only got to see the new Oshodi very recently while I was in a car with friends. I was so excited to see proof that there is a God in Heaven looking after the hell called Lagos...and we had passed it before I knew. That's how good it was looking, that I couldn't recognize it anymore. So much for savouring God's (and Fashola's) spectacular work.
I got another rude shock passing through Yaba the other day. Everyone knows Yaba for pretty much all of the Oshodi characteristics (if only less pronounced), but recent changes are pretty stunning. The first thing I had noticed the previous weekend was that somebody had finally thought that the headless, limbless sitting figure at the roundabout close to the railway (which used to be a proudly standing representation of a Youth Corper) had suffered enough torture in the hands of the elements and vandals, and it was only decent to remove it. The replacement, a statue depicting the cap and glasses of Bola Tinubu, is somewhat uncalled for, but surely a thousand times better than what used to be there. Yesterday as I was passing through on my way back from work (swearing for tanker drivers over and over again in my mind), I saw the area of the railway which used to house countless illegal shops looking very empty. It's not like I didn't have any previous warning - my sister had told me as much as at Sunday when she went through there, but, like Oshodi, I had to see for myself to fully grasp the effect created. The effect was dramatic, especially as some overzealous destructive persons (could as well have been a tornado) obviously carried out the operation. For a couple of seconds I felt I was walking through a set for the upcoming Terminator: Salvation movie. But I could also actually see buildings that for a long time had been obscured by the ramshackle shops. And Yaba was looking new, and saner, and less congested, unlike the obnoxious place I have frequented quite well for close to 20 years of living in its vicinity. I have no doubt that in the coming months, it would look much finer too.
And so, unbelievably, hope springs (even if not necessarily eternal, depending on the next Lagos State Governor) for this jungle city. God alone knows what it would be like now if just a few of Fashola's predecessors thought - and acted - like he is doing now. And I didn't even vote for the guy.