Midnight in Ebonyi.
It is midnight in McGregor College, Afikpo, Ebonyi state. Can you believe it? I am lying on this bunk bed, staring at the iron bars above me as if they are prison bars. They might as well be. I am shaking my head and asking questions of God. My mattress feels permeable, I can feel the iron beneath it. Somebody spread their underwear opposite me. The room reeks of damp underwear and over-worn shoes. There are maybe 30 other bunk beds in the room I am in.
Welcome to Midnight in Ebonyi! Take a seat. You know the drill. Read my unfiltered thoughts as I embellish them with good music. Today, I have featured the best songs from the first half of the year. Mohbad’s Feel Good is not on the list, but it is the theme song for my camp experience. Because on God, emi ti gbera la ti 4:30.
I came all the way for NYSC and this place is as bad as I feared. I am not meant to be here, this was supposed to be straightforward. We have no sockets in our rooms, our bathrooms are far away and I have had to learn how to use a pit latrine. Our mandatory, daily schedule runs from 5AM to 10PM. There is a lot of standing and marching. Sadistic soldiers are always in our business.
Also, you think you know what the future of Nigeria looks like until you spend some time in an NYSC orientation camp. You think you know what the range is with education, employability, misogyny and poverty until you sit in a room with fellow Nigerian graduates. It is unbelievable how far our offline society is from what we and our homegirls consider acceptable. Nigerian Twitter, especially, does not speak for Nigerians.
I flew from Abuja to Enugu, then I took a bus to Afikpo. Have I told you about the Igbo obsession with white, gold and bold fonts? I noticed that while I drove to the park last Wednesday. Oh I thought this apparent obsession was peculiar to Enugu. I would know. I have been to a few states—FCT Abuja, Oyo, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti, Kwara, Delta, Rivers. Oh I was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
I was born in Rumuodara, Port Harcourt. I moved to Rumuagholu when I was 5. I did Primary School in Rumuodumaya. Yes, everywhere in Port Harcourt has “Rumuo-” in it. Yes, I am a Port Harcourt boy. I lived there for 16 years. I spoke pidgin, walked barefoot and punched right back. I knew Duncan Mighty and Timaya early. When I choreographed to Keffee, I wore beads, a white singlet and a pink “George” wrapper.
I was already a nerd. My Primary 5 teacher called me “Chuka Obi” because I was good at Math. Somehow, that strength disappeared after Primary School. I was class captain. I won because I was the only 9-year-old crazy enough to show up on election day with a full manifesto. I was a bored kid, with a big library of books to read. I wrote music and made up scenarios to entertain myself.
After school, I walked to that Rumuokoro junction before taking a bike to Oro-Aka street in Rumuagholu. My house was the last one on the street, I walked all the way with my big bag. I took responsibility. Once, I obsessively saved money to buy a PS1. Just before the sum was complete, I played football in the parlor and broke this decorative orange my mother had placed on the dining table. I was so remorseful, I gave all my savings to her as compensation. The orange I broke probably cost N500 but she took all my money. What a woman.
I grew up to be responsible, self-reliant, and honest. Those are the good things. I spoke my mind and was rarely chastised for it. My mother would not let me say “shut up” to my sister because she did not want me to “kill her morale”. I suppose there is some lesson there. Yemi Ojudu-Akindolire raised no pushovers. The environment was enhancing too. Everyone around me was an open book. Nothing prepared me for Akure.
Akure and the culture shock.
We moved to Akure in 2012 and the worst years of my life followed. Someday, I will summon the bravery to tell you about it. But some major part of the crisis I faced was because of something I now call a culture shock. I got into a lot of trouble, with a lot of people, because I was too straightforward. I spoke my mind, interpreted words and scenarios literally. I did not perform modesty. And my conception of respect did not involve gestures as much. That was the PH way. I said what I wanted to say and thought everyone was doing the same.
But as I discovered, Yoruba people can be quite pretentious, performative. Various cultures have their good and bad, I suppose. Even the Yoruba language is very figurative, you mustn’t interpret literally. Beyond this, Yoruba people can be difficult to read and trust. Maybe because they are easily capable of saying two opposite things at different occasions.
Yoruba people use hints which you must follow to avoid problems. Sometimes, you must insist on helping after a Yoruba woman has asked you not to worry. You must apologize some more after she declares that there is no grudge. I learnt. I am learning. But I am slow. Or maybe I am protesting. I still want things to be straightforward.
Yoruba men are typically better with women for ascertainable reasons. They can take hints, they can manage situations with cheap apologies (as opposed to some problematic attempt at a consensus on wrong and right). And when push comes to shove, they can tell very believable lies. The Yoruba man’s approach is — what would make this woman feel better right now? Fools like me want to say “the truth” and make a point.
Oh I like to make a point. It is one of my greatest pleasures, weaknesses. I will now proceed to stuff your throat with some of my new theories about success — very repetitive stuff, unrelated to anything I have said today.
Success, privilege and luck.
Many people work hard, obey the rules and declare that they are successful because of these things. They often conclude their life’s story with a tired variant of “I did it, so you can”. But that is bullshit, isn’t it? Success is more complicated than hard work, clarity, talent, and those easy-to-abbreviate words motivational speakers throw at us. Also, success typically involves more than one person. No one is solely responsible for their achievements, so every time I read “self-made”, I sneer.
For you to get anything remarkably right, a number of things (that often do not depend on you) have to go right (in addition to your hard work, clarity and talent of course). These range from good old privilege to sheer luck. If you want to be good at school, it helps to be born by stable, educated parents. If you want to invent anything disruptive, it helps to be free from black tax, to be born into a family that can fuel your audacity. And sometimes, it just helps to be at the right place at the right time!
But the ubiquity of privilege and luck is often a difficult truth to accept. Because we fear that acknowledging this makes us less, threatens the power of our will and extinguishes our many efforts. Overall, it makes the grass to grace story less interesting. But this is not so. At least, it should not be.
When people ask me about school, for instance, I tell them about “the best you can do”, “what you can do to put yourself in pole position”, “what you can do to improve your chances”. Because there are no guarantees! I could tell you how I did everything at university and you would still fail to achieve anything close. Maybe because I went to a better secondary school, or because my first year roommates were supportive, or because I was fortunate to run into the people I made friends with. Or maybe because I was lucky in a few important exams. It is impossible to ascertain all the contributing factors, to download my entire experience.
By failing to recognize the extraneous, the uncontrollable, many successful people fail at giving useful advice.
Success and bad advice.
Even when our success is a product of factors we cannot ascertain, we often formulate them out of thin air. In retrospect, we make things seem more deliberate than they actually were. We make disconnected happenings seem concerted so that our story is interesting, impressive. If a monkey hit gold on the stock market, it would write a book flooded with advice for veteran brokers. I don’t remember what this mental bias is called but it exists. My point here is—more stories/advice should include mention of luck and privilege.
The other extreme is advice that is hinged on extraneous factors alone, with no mention of quantifiable effort. That too is bad advice. When people ask you how you did something difficult, they don’t want to hear “God did it!” They want to know what you did.
Another kind of bad advice is advice so generic, it is vague. Here, people simply throw trite expressions at us, with no context whatsoever. People say “work hard” or “be diligent”. Well, in what direction? What do I need to do today, this week, this month, to move me closer to this goal? Doesn’t everyone work hard? Isn’t “deliberate success” more detailed, comprehensive?
The final type of bad advice I can remember is advice so specific, it is distant and useless. It often sounds like “wake up by 4AM!”, “say this every morning!”, “dress this way!”, “study this way!”. It is often based on a person’s individual experience and may not even be connected to their eventual success. But it is bad advice because it is unlikely to help anyone else. Ultimately, we are different people. Different things work for us. So it is responsible to introduce context, or to say “this is why this worked for me”.
Success and institutions.
Another reason why the “I made it, so you can” narrative is dangerous is because it is often used to gaslight and silence. Meanwhile, we must not use our individual success stories to whitewash real institutional problems. I complain about inequality, mediocrity and hardship all the time. Yet, for most of my life, I have been male, intelligent, good-looking, middle class, able-bodied and talented. I have some privilege. The problems I complain about, they do not affect me the most. All the time, I could care less.
It doesn’t matter that I emerged victorious from both University and Law School, I still recall them to be horribly mediocre institutions. I argue that if a school system fails the average student, it is a failure. People should not need to be genius to do well at school, they should not need to be extremely self-sufficient with photographic memories and divine understanding. It is school, not Hunger Games. Black people do not need to be exceptional to be accorded dignity. Women do not need to be modest to be respectable. We need institutions to work for everybody.
The problem with most of us is — we cannot see beyond our individual experience, we are blind to our privilege and we prefer to blame others for their mishaps. We also think that an attack on a system that produced us is an attack on us. And often, people who succeed in spite of a bad system convince themselves that they succeeded because of it. Or that they did so because of their exceptional industry or talent. Well, the latter is sometimes the case. But these people often take their delusion further — they silence and shame everyone who isn’t (as) victorious. They conclude that everyone else can be as successful with as much effort. “Oh stop complaining, just put in the work!”
If a system is faulty, some people will invariably bear the brunt. You being the exception is not (always) your doing. Your story is also not the epic you think it is. If the Nigerian economy is crumbling, some people will be poor, unemployed. Even if we were all qualified for jobs, if there are not enough jobs, some people would be jobless. Do you understand? Institutions matter. The way the Nigerian Law School is set up, from the very beginning, only a few students stand a chance of doing well. And if the Council eventually says “only 20”, it would be only 20, even though it could be 150, or 1000. And it is unhealthy to say “just be part of the 20!” when we can also come together to question the stupid system.
This brings me to my next point.
Exams and difficulty culture.
This year, only 14% of candidates passed JAMB’s UTME. Some immediately blamed “this generation” of students for “pressing phone”, not focusing on schoolwork. You believe that 86% of people who sat for UTME failed it? And this failure is their fault, not JAMB’s? Not our system of education maybe. Now that’s some dumb, diabolical shit.
But here’s the more insidious angle. There would be more controversy if 86% passed. Our daddies would foam at their mouths with talk about how standards must be dropping, how JAMB is now “dashing scores”. Because how can all those people pass? It is written—many must fail. For success to feel whole, for victors to seem like they “worked hard” for it. Hard work is imperative. And apparently, not everyone is capable of the hard work true Nigerian success requires. Ah, ours is hard oh, the hardest work in the hood. Difficulty is good. And few successes = meritocracy, good standards.
Before Isa Hayatu Chiroma announced that there were 20 first-class graduates from the Nigerian Law School, he mentioned how his administration had returned the standards of the Bar. They made us stand throughout his excruciatingly boring speech. I was shaken, seething. Three years ago, there had been 161. Two years ago, 147. I remember the pandemonium. How was it happening? What was going on with this new DG?
Now, 161 was 2.75% of the 5,846 that sat for the 2018 exam. Only 2.75% of students who sat for that exam scored more than 70 in 5 courses? Even that is unlikely, it should be more! Yes, even after difficult exams, a maddening schedule and an absurd grading method. But our daddies thought it should be less. So this year was satisfying. 20 is 0.35% of the 5770 people who wrote our exam. Ugh! Yummy. 1326 (22.98%) of us failed. Orgasmic! The Bar is back! Hallelujah!
And the 432 of us who made that Second Class Upper, we remind everyone that we are only 7.5%. Because we are desperate, like the average Nigerian, to make our achievements look like luxury. The fact that only 7.5% achieved this feat must make it even more meaningful, treasured. It doesn’t matter how hard we all, individually, worked. The exclusiveness of our final results tells the final story. It is a wonderful culture.
I detest unnecessary difficulty. If you are in the business of complicating simple things, I dislike you. I want people, especially, to be easygoing, straightforward and trusting. So ma’am, if you play “hard to get” with me, you lose. You and the men who “enjoy the chase” are mad. Or maybe I am just spoilt.
Maybe I am just spoilt.
I am spoilt, I guess. I know what true female desire looks like. I know what it feels like to be cared for, admired, loved. I know how a woman looks, what she does, when she likes me. It makes it difficult for me to hopefully “apply pressure”.
I prefer to believe that a woman either likes you or not. I prefer to believe that persistence is futile, clownish. When things become slow and quiet — when she replies messages late, or with sparse, measured words, when she hits you with that “I’ve been sleeping all day”, it is time to go away. Alaye, who the fuck sleeps all day?
This ushers me into a new matter I would like to address today — money. Yes, mullah, dough, ego, owo. I think more about money these days, a by-product of growing older I suppose. Or a product of seeing it in every conversation. The conclusion is often thesame — men need money to attract women, women want money from men.
Again, maybe I am spoilt. Most of my life, I have not considered money a tool for attracting women. I use money to do stuff I have to do, then I save the remainder so I can do other stuff I have to do in future. For most of my youth, I have thought — I’ll just talk to her. Maybe I have been privileged to possess attractive qualities so I have not had to compensate with possessions. I have surely been privileged to have female friends who were on my page. They didn’t seem to care how much money I had. They didn’t ask me for money. So when I heard stories about “2k urgently” women, I was puzzled.
But we are changing, aren’t we? Maybe 24 is that age. We are all out of school. Years ago, we were all sent pocket money. Spending to impress was genuinely absurd, unjustifiable. Now we (are expected to) have jobs. Women want to know what you have going on. Like Chris Rock said, “can you facilitate a dream?”
Can you facilitate a dream?
Meanwhile, I now find something pleasant, empowering in giving money away to women. When Burna Boy says “because you be my Odo, I put something for your aza” or when Rema says “take all my money, nothing concern me”, it does feel thrilling. Giving away your Mastercard because you are confident is a patriarchal high. And for me, it feels even better because my flex demands no reciprocity. I expect nothing in return. No babe, I’ve got this. But I still struggle with how much money dominates conversations.
Somebody explained that the BBN show exposes Nigerian men for the “I can take care of you” frauds that we are. What do we have or do when we are not spending money? Or boasting about it? And how do we feel about ourselves when we have no money? Do we feel worthy of respect and love? Or do we become irritating, seething “what your daddy cannot do for you”, “she came to the date to eat”, “all she wants is money” misogynists? It is what the country is turning everyone into, isn’t it? Rabid spenders, earners and customers. Is money this important everywhere else? We are poor, aren’t we? This is why Nneka has “no romance without finance” in her bio. This is why ChiChi is calling herself “high maintenance”.
Yet, I refuse to do the hypocritical shaming that other men casually do. Not because I am “different” but because I see through it. We shame women for wanting things we cannot afford. The man who cries “gold digger” often has no gold. Once he hits it, he goes after the very women he used to shame. We want women to want us because of our possessions. We just don’t want them to want more than what we have!
Men can be very insecure. Our insecurities exacerbate when we try to be enough for, or desirable to, everyone. But it is impossible. As I have always said, no matter what we acquire or become, we will never be enough. The good news is this — we do not need admiration from everyone, what we need is love from a few good people.
And people want what they want. It is not our business to judge wants. If you cannot give people what they want, move away, don’t start a pointless rant.
Yet, I cannot accept the possibility that I am only loved as long as I provide. It feels wrong, bland. I am a person, a full person. And I prefer to see myself as an end, not a means to one. I prefer the simple, intimate things. I have always thought — I could make all the money in the world and I would still want to sit in a quiet room, with my favorite person and my favorite movie.
I have always thought that the backbone of romance is company. I don’t think friendship and romance are complicated. And the latter must entail the former. When all is said and done, do they want to sit and talk to me? Do they enjoy sitting in the same room to theorize or gossip for 4 hours?
Oh there’s something I call the 4-hour rule which effectively defines my relationship with people. We are not friends until we’ve had that 4-hour conversation. There are certain things we must see the same way. We must find each other interesting, talk must flow.
I also fear that trying to impress women with money is a trap. In fact, I have always been cautious of all kinds of show-off targeted at women. And people often lose me as soon as they expect me to impress them, or “prove myself”. I prefer to be my average, assured self. And some energy is difficult to match. The man who entices with money, can he always spend it? Also, does it feel right, satisfying? The idea that a person is with you because of your possessions. Not because they are in love with something permanent — like your company? Aren’t you going to spend a lot of time together? Or would you need to always show up with a gift? Or whatever you used to get them.
Okay I’m done. And please don’t get any of this wrong. Being called stingy is one of my greatest fears. I give. I am learning how to gift. As in May, I will give out more this month than I will spend on myself. Hell, Nigerian romance is inherently expensive, billing is unavoidable. You know, it’s all about the “little things”. I just don’t enjoy money talk as much as you people. It doesn’t matter that much to me, even though I sometimes pretend that it does. I just never want to be desired because of my possessions. I prefer to be modest, ordinary on dates. I prefer to be who I mostly am. I prefer to say — Sade, my papa no get. I no get. Do you want to talk or should we go our separate ways? I am not a Yahoo boy, I am more of a nerdy, Medium boy.
I am a writer. I will always write. Before I ask my wife to marry me, I will tell you all about her. When my daughter is learning how to ride a bicycle, when my son is sprawled on the floor butt-naked, I will write to you about them. Decades from now, I will still write to you. My writing is not a phase, it is not something I did on my journey to becoming a lawyer. I will not abandon it for more rewarding endeavor, nothing is more rewarding. Also, I do not write to compensate for anything. I am not the guy who writes because that is what he can do, all he can do. I strive for the full human experience regardless. I can do more.
My writing experience has been beautiful, fulfilling. Especially because of the way I do it. Whatever that happens in my life can become better when it is written about. I come here to breathe, to bond, to influence. Yet, my writing can be harmful. Somebody takes my writing too seriously and tries to manipulate me. Somebody thinks I am writing about them. Somebody disagrees with something I wrote and attacks me. The opinions I share here, are they mine? Yes, they are. But they improve. Opinions are meant to improve so it is okay if I say something different tomorrow. It is okay if I return to edit an old post. These stories I tell, are they all true? Not exactly. Sometimes, things happened the way I say them. Sometimes, I have mixed many of my experiences together to make a point, to communicate a feeling. Like a comedian.
I hope that I muster the courage and discipline to finish my books before the year ends. I have 10 chapters of a tell-it-all to complete — work I began in 2019. I have 3 more poems to add to a 50-poem anthology. Everyone says I should write a book, I feel very unqualified. Besides, it is far more difficult to write now, but I will try. My new job is breathing down my neck, it will continue to. The next phase of my life requires even more dedication and industry. So I know that I will write less. This might be the last thing I would publish here in a long time. If I write, what I would write would depend on my mood. If I become happy, I might finish I just want make we vibe. If I become angry, I might publish How Law School Failed Us. Of course I haven’t said all I want to say concerning Law School. There is so much to reveal.
Everything has changed.
But something oddly worrisome about this second article is— some part of me is afraid to write it! Because I worry about the consequence of going against such an institution, in the brutally honest way I typically do. I dread what it might mean for my job, career. Everything has changed now. I called myself a “bad bitch” on LinkedIn the other day and immediately got into trouble. I must now mind my social media activity. Maybe I would need to watch my Medium posts too, I don’t know. Maybe I would need to be private and minimalist, maybe I would be forced to anyway by a demanding schedule. I am that lawyer now — the one I wrote about in Midnight in Ibadan.
Around me, everything has changed. Everyone is looking for a job and a house now. Everyone is away and busy now. Everyone is looking for meaning now. Casual sex doesn’t feel as great anymore. Bad decisions hurt a lot more now. I am a full adult now. And the most ghetto thing about adulthood is constantly having no one to blame but yourself. No parents, no school, just you and your overwhelmingly important decisions.
I know you want to hear about Law School. What did I think about my Law School results? A lot of things at once. Disappointment, gratitude, anger, indifference. But I saw this coming and told you about it in Midnight in Abuja. I’m sorry if I let you down. Haha, I’m not. Fuck off. Did you read Alone, in this, together.? I am my own hero. Because I know. I know about the hurdles I scaled. I know what I ticked in my journal.
Throughout the Call to Bar ceremony however, the dominant feeling was relief, happiness. For others mostly. People were so happy. Look at us, we did it. All these people I had known for years, all of us — connected by thesame journey to the Bar — were finally at our destination. With the whole of my heart, I congratulate every Esq. I genuinely wish you the best.
Damn, it’s 4:30 already? Behind my window, somebody is blowing a trumpet! A fucking trumpet! What in hell?
Goodbye, I have to go now!