Nigerians are indeed a resilient lot. In the middle of this stinging economy, someone still sells cooked rice in N50 bits and meat in N50 chunks. But before I get to that, I’ll walk you through the journey.
It was my birthday yesterday so I thought to wear a new look. I called an old hair stylist and confirmed he was free to make my hair. I drove up to his plaza on Opebi and while I struggled to find parking space, I called him to assist. Then he said he was standing outside but couldn’t see me. When I inquired where, it turned out he had moved to another plaza on Allen avenue (about 5minutes away). I turned the car around and headed to this new place. While walking me from the car, we had an interesting conversation.
Me: So when did you move and why?
Martin: Ha! This is the second place since Amazing Grace o (the Opebi plaza). I was paying 50k (50 thousand Naira) before (monthly). Suddenly, she (landlady/caretaker) said I should bring 80k. Where will I see that? So I moved to one other place, still on Opebi. We no do 3months, court came to seal the building. I didn’t know there was a problem before moving in. We just came to work one morning and saw government people. It was after that I moved here.
This new place is a whole floor milling with people: hair stylists, nail technicians, boutique operators, make-up artists; were the much I could count. Each had their corners and ‘hustled’ customers. Martins’ corner is well defined and partitioned away from others. His space was well pimped with mirrors on the wall, chairs, a hanging TV, standing fan and the usual accompanying salon equipment.
Barely had I sat when a young lady came with smiles, greeted, and asked if I would be making my nails too. I told a polite ‘no’. Another well made-up face came to market beauty products to me. I said, ‘no, thank you’. Before I would finish my hair, four more people came, greeting warmly first, then marketing one product or service; all beauty related.
It was while I sat in Martins’ chair, that the ofada (a local rice delicacy) matter happened. Martin asked a female assistant to get him N50 rice and two pieces of meat. I thought I didn’t hear right. Who still sells N50 food and how far can that go in filling a man? The food came, covered. Then I ordered for N100 rice and two pieces of meat. It came; concealed in black nylon, placed on a plate with a spoon.
When my hair was done, I grabbed the plate and began to eat from the nylon in complete market style. It was so tasty. Then I ate and I ate and ate and continued to eat until my tummy was FULL. I could not believe I paid N100 for this portion of rice. The beef was sizeable and well-spiced too. It was almost finger licking good.
It was when the rice seller came for her money that I found out the meat was N50 a piece. What?!!! Incredulous!!! People, that’s how I filled my food tank spending N200 in Lagos, Nigeria in the year 2016. I always have a bottle of water with me so I didn’t have to spend on water.
Back to Martins. He used to own a beauty parlour in a fairly big space in Opebi. He had an in-house nail technician and about four hair assistants. He ran his own generator and controlled who and what came in his shop. He even had a small boutique section.
In this new facility, everything is shared: space, water and power. They all use a central generator that kicks in when government power fails. There’s a floor manager to whom they direct all concerns. For the two hours or less that I was there, power must have failed about six times. I heard an assistant grumble about the ‘useless generator that ought to be sold’ and how the ‘useless (erratic) supply’ had damaged two of her plugged phone chargers only last week.
Perhaps the most frightening and singular most important new challenge is that: Martins just moved in with competition and there’s little he can control. This is how he copes in this economy.