Expecting the worst has become a survival strategy to many Nigerians. If the worst is always expected, it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.
The corpulent woman in the comfy chair next to me is snoring a bit, her head tilted to the left. Her colleague behind a desk is checking her Facebook page. It is a Thursday morning at the Ministry of Information. I came to get my press accreditation sorted, but at 9.30, I find only these two civil servants in the office. The Facebook lady has no idea when the officer I came for will be in.
I tweet a cheeky remark about the dedication with which some Nigerian civil servants catch up on their sleep at work and prepare myself for a long day.
I am in the capital city to arrange some documents. Four working days I have given myself to do this, taking into account sloppy service, several visits in vain and time consuming bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. This is Nigeria, abi?
But from the moment Mrs Assistant Director arrives, everything changes. When I tell her what I came for, her eyes do not glaze over. She is genuinly interested in what my intentions are and is helping me find solutions. Within 45 minutes of her arrival, I am in the elevator on my way down, a stamped and signed press accreditation in my pocket, and 200 percent wizer about the procedure to follow to become a resident correspondent in Nigeria. Information I have been trying to get for months.
I still don’t know what hit me. Not only has she proven my expectations wrong, she also saved me just about four days of running around. I have travelled and worked as a journalist in more than fifteen African countries, but never was I served with a press accreditation this swiftly.
As the lift zooms the nine flours down, I contemplate what it means to be a civil servant in Nigeria. To be working in an office where plenty colleagues are not there because of what they know, but who the know. To be bullied by a boss whose only merit is that he is higher up than you. To be systematically under-equipped with even the most basic office supplies.
The assistant director and I had to turn the office upside down in search of a pair of scissors, and by lack of those ended up cutting my photo for the accreditation on a rather scary looking cutting machine, risking the loss of fingers and other body parts. And because apparently in the entire Ministry of Information there is not a single functioning copy machine to be found, she had to send me outside to the courtyard to get my passport photocopied.
There was a grey haired man in agbada who cleverly found this niche in the market has set up his dusty copier under an umbrella, charging 10 naira per page. Imagine being a professional and having to work under those circumstances. It takes stamina and dedication to remain service minded and diligent facing those kind of challenges every day.
As a critic of the many things not working in this country, I feel it is only fair to mention it once in a while when something does work. That is why I dedicate this column to that lady at the Ministry who proved my expectations wrong.
Expecting the worst has become a survival strategy to many Nigerians. It is perfectly understandable, since most of the times they will be proven right. But when instant criticism becomes a habit and you start ignoring or belittling the positive, however small, you become a cynic. As such you risk to become an impediment to the change towards the better you say you strive for. If the worst is always expected, it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.
When I mention my 45 minutes at the Ministry of Information on Twitter and express my enthusiasm about the service rendered, not everyone shares my excitement. Someone suggests I compare my experience with those of local colleagues and the way the Ministry treats them. Surely their experiences would be much less positive.
I say no. I am not going to check this positive encounter with a Nigerian civil servant to death. I won’t argue its occurrence might have been an exception to the rule.
Sometimes, you just have to give credit where credit is due, and leave it at that.
Talk to Femke on Twitter @femkevanzeijl
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