Something always unsettled me about life in the UK but I could never put my finger on it. In almost every way, the UK can be like living in Nigeria but with more sanity. I have access to Nigerian food, family (through frequent travel by both parties), and even more owambes than I knew what to do with. It certainly wasn’t the weather; when Lagos heat starts like this, you will just know the last person who went to hell forgot to shut the door behind them.
And then it hit me! No ladders! I hadn’t seen NEPA ladders since I got to this country. If you grew up in Mainland Surulere, you knew that the sight of some young boys running down the street alerting neighbours about the approaching NEPA van with their disconnection team was a common one. Depending on the neighbourhood and which of the resident young men happened to be home at the time, sometimes the disconnectors were successful; other times, they left with their ladders forcefully worn around their necks. Either way, there was always a trusty neighbourhood reconnector with exemplary shin grip and a pair of pliers to take the pain away later that evening.
Nothing quite as dramatic here. You don’t pay, and the electricity goes off at source, and doesn’t come back on until you pay. It sounds boring, it lacks the flair that Shuaibu “omo ri-waya” The Reconnector used to bring to these occasions, but this singular act – automation and the removal of human interaction from financial interactions – is one of the key factors responsible for a drastic drop in corruption in countries committed to growth.
Tolled passages work on a scan system and payment is deducted directly from your bank account or pass key upon entry. Parking fines are automatic, with fines being added for late payment, sometimes ultimately resulting in points on your licence. The day of the dreaded parking warden is coming to an end as more car parks are equipped with digital time-monitoring facilities. If you are unlucky enough to be caught by a speed camera, it’s worth hoping there is no film in the camera or you will find the fine dropped in your letterbox a couple of days later with a clear shot of your number plate and, quite possibly, your Speedy Gonzalez face visible too.
“Computer says no” came into banking slang almost two decades ago when banks started automating the loans process. When banks saw the amount of bad debt they had incurred due to irresponsible lending practices, they started to review their processes for lending and expecting repayment. Banks did away with loans agreed over champagne and sushi and implemented a water-tight lending system where all loans have to go through the bank’s computer systems.
Today, there are only three possible outcomes when applying for a loan. An “Approve” result if you enjoy a good enough credit rating with the bank to have the loan amount and term approved outright; a “Decline” if the bank does not believe you worthy of the loan; or a “Refer” if the bank needs more information to process a response. A “Refer” response means your banker must manually support the application with further proof of viability and the ability to repay. Any attempt to broker a loan outside of these laws are regarded as illegal and might earn the banker a conversation with the Police or even a jail term.
In Nigeria, on the other hand, we deliberately infuse human interaction in all our dealings to foster bribery, corruption and loopholes. We have Yellow Fever traffic wardens where traffic lights should be. We eschew review groups such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, so that instead of improving on our customer service and ratings, we can continue to have buckets in restaurant rest rooms and food coming out an hour after order.
The men with the ladders will leave your electricity connected with a N3,000 tip – that will not go toward the original amount owed which called for disconnection in the first place. We don’t fight, we ‘settle’. We live to LIGHT another day.
I continue to reiterate: oyinbo have nothing on us. They are not more honest, they are not less corrupt, and they are not better at customer service than we are. They put structures in place that minimise abuse and maximise efficiency, thereby creating systems that work.
It is not abracadabra and Amadioha has no say in the matter. The more we distance ourselves from corruption and accept payments and fees as part of any civilised society, the quicker we will start to see the change we kinda, sorta clamour for.