Opinion: Tribes and prejudices – My experience with an Igbo phone repairer

by David Olamide Craig

nigeria

So perhaps there is some truth in the prejudices you have heard. Perhaps Yoruba men are randy. Perhaps Ijebu men are stingy. Perhaps Efik girls are good in bed. Perhaps Fulani men love their cattle more than their wives. Perhaps Igbo men are shifty. Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.

We are all prejudiced.

Most of us do not know it for a fact, but a true fact indeed it is. For merely by reason of who we are, the places we grew up, what foods we ate as children and perhaps even those we feel compelled (either by a culinary bereft wife, the only nearby bukka, or a diet dictating disease) to eat now that we are older, by whatever we inherently are, we are prejudiced beyond the realms of our own consideration.

While most of us may admit nothing of the sort, sometime or the other we may have shocked our own sensibilities when we took a characteristically tainted view or a traditionally skewed position.

Perhaps prejudices are borne out of our communities’ innate need for self preservation. The propagation of the species seems to be a fundamental priority and as such those who have had experiences that put them in peril or danger or at a disadvantage, recount such experiences to others in a bid to protect their kith and kin or at least prepare them in the face of similar circumstances. So, we build folklore around our predators, the plants that give one diarrhea, the swirling river that once took a young child and unfortunately, sometimes also, our fellow human beings.

It was a sunny Abuja afternoon and the rocks glistened in the sweltering heat of the capital city. My task that day was simple enough; replace my mother’s phone battery that had inadvertently gone dead from three years of daily charging. The G.S.M village as it is fondly called was more of a shanty street market located under a sturdy bridge that ran from the busy intersection at its north face to the quietly imposing dome of the National Mosque that shone in the almost desert like heat, at the east.

It is my assumption that any of all of Nigeria’s 300 plus tribes could do what was done here with equal dexterity as the one nationality that was overwhelming represented under this nondescript bridge, but the Igbo men who had made this their trade and who eked a living here daily had clearly found their niche. Anyone else stuck out like a sore thumb.

The fascinating exchange of commercial banter was all too familiar to me, having grown up in Lagos myself and I quickly made my way to the center of the colorful milieu to find someone to fix my phone problem. No sooner had I walked into the market than I was besieged with a dust storm of would be consultants offering me their own version of the services they had conjectured I needed, based on some clever observation or more randomly on whatever was first to pop into their heads and out of their mouths.

‘ Blackberry Bold Oga?’
‘ Case for Nokia Lumia?’
‘ You wan flash your phone?’

I settled for a younger fellow, one who in my opinion, (an opinion that in hindsight I realize was wrong) was less likely to have become hardened by the faltering Nigerian economy and as such was less likely to ask exorbitant fees or produce substandard merchandise.

He began to greet me and it was then that I realized that perhaps I was not that much different from my uncle in Ibadan, who because of the unfortunate and unspeakable things that he witnessed during the Biafran war, was convinced that “…gbogbo won ni o da. Igbo ki’ s’eyan gidi…”

His accent was thick, laced with a typical eastern drag, and he drew each syllable longer than necessary and ended each phrase with a high intonation, typical of the Igbo style of pidgin English. I found myself careening precariously over the edge of civility, almost lifting my hand to cover my nose at what I reckoned to be an overzealous dousing of cheap cologne and the occasional whiff of whatever he was trying so unsuccessfully to conceal.

His name was Chimdi and for the moment he was my I.T consultant and I, his client.

As we made our way to his ‘office’, a small bench and table dotted with all manner of makeshift improvisions and a few legitimate tools, he asked me to sit, but only after a flamboyant show of dusting the dingy wooden contraption with a dirty brown handkerchief. Chimdi was apparently quite knowledgeable about the phone I had brought him, taking it in his hand like an old friend and unfastening its clasps in two swift movements with a contrived screwdriver lookalike. He laid the pieces out in a neat file and there in all its gore and glory were the innards of my mother’s phone on display

‘Na battery I come buy O, this boy’ I said tersely ‘this one wey you don open the belle of my phone down’

‘No worry Oga!’ he said smiling, ‘I just wan check maybe the chajin point still dey work’

Oh I see! I thought, he’s not half bad after all.

Chimdi then went on to perform an exhaustive trouble shooting procedure on my mother’s phone and by the time he was through he said, almost with a flourish,

‘Bros, the board of this phone don burn. E be like say una dey use generator charge am abi?’

I nodded furiously, as one would, when a prophet (or Shaman), tells you exactly what you did twenty minutes before he set eyes on you, or what thoughts you had hidden away in your heart.

‘Ehen! I talk am!’ He said jubilantly. ‘The light when dey comot for gen dey spoil all the small IC when dey inside all these big big phone dem’.

‘How much is a new board’? I asked

‘E get two types bros! The China one dey, na N3,000 and the Finland one dey na N8,500.’

I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle at the way he said it: ‘Eeeit taassaand fiiife’ and when I laughed he hastily added,

‘Oga, because say na you , bring N7,000’

I already began to feel like we had a relationship, he had taken me into his counsel and was giving me a discount based on our burgeoning friendship. I smiled again, engaged him in some meaningless haggling and finally settled on his offer.

I asked him to give me the Finnish answer to all of my mother’s problems.

‘I dey come oga. Make I go bring am from my brother shop’

He gathered the disemboweled phone from this work table, carefully placing each piece in a waist bag and skipped away with a smile of satisfaction on his face. He returned almost twenty minutes later with a little green circuit board in one hand and my mother’s phone, all assembled and ‘functional’ in another. My initial anger at being kept waiting dissipated slowly but surely as he explained to me that his brother’s shop was on the other end of the market and since it was such a way off, he decided to fix it there, seeing that his brother had better ‘instruments’ than he did. He showed me the ‘old’ integrated circuit board in his hand and pointed to an area where the silver on the green had burnt away, supposedly by our constant charging with the generator. Finally he plugged the phone into an electrical outlet and by Jove, it worked! Now, that all but erased the guile I had in my heart towards him as I clapped him on the back jocularly, beaming about what a great ‘engineer’ he was.

If he had stopped there, perhaps he could have had me, taken his ‘sevin taassaand’ and waited eagerly for the next ‘client’. But Chimdi, (maybe because he was greedy, maybe because he thought me naïve or just maybe because, as I had thought earlier, he was young and inexperienced), decided to milk me for some more loot!

Bros. You go add ‘one taassaan’ for me O

I looked at him quizzically. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Workmanship’ he said matter of factly

And then it all came to me, almost like an epiphany.

Needless to say, I created no small ruckus as I realized what was happening under my very nose.

When all appeals fell on deaf ears, Chimdi opened my phone as instructed and it was clear for everyone to see (for at that time, a small crowd had gathered) that the board in my phone and the board in his hand were so strikingly different that they perhaps were from different phone manufacturers all together.

Chimdi never took out my board in the first place.

He began to recover quite impressively when he said,

‘Oga, no vex, na another phone board I carry come, ya own dey ontop my brother table. Make I go bring the one when I comot for your own come.’

He would have gone swiftly, had I not caught him by the collar and insisted on following him. He tried again, this time with a quiver in his voice.

‘No need bros, make I go quick come back.’

I was resolute.

The crowd, not one to miss out on a good story, especially one with the possibility of a lynching, followed hotly as Chimdi lead us to his ‘brother’s’ shop.

As I had guessed, there was no brother’s shop. There was no board supposedly forgotten on his work bench. There was however, a large wooden crate of old phones and phone parts collected from all kinds of phone models in their glittering silicon glory, splayed in different states of disrepair. It was from here that Chimdi picked up the board he triumphantly brought to me as my own.

So perhaps there is some truth in the prejudices you have heard. Perhaps Yoruba men are randy. Perhaps Ijebu men are stingy. Perhaps Efik girls are good in bed. Perhaps Fulani men love their cattle more than their wives. Perhaps Igbo men are shifty. Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.

One thought has lingered in my mind though, and however hard I tried, I could not shake it. He did make the phone work after all! Shady or not, Chimdi was actually good at what he did.

Ah! So perhaps then, there is more to the story than the prejudices we have heard, perhaps what these prejudices are, is fear. Perhaps we are scared of what we don’t know, and afraid of what we don’t understand.

Perhaps we should form new prejudices. How about Yoruba men being romantic, and Ijebu men being thrifty. How about saying that Efik women are wonderful cooks or that Fulani men are brave warriors. Perhaps we could think instead that Igbo men are industrious? Perhaps, Perhaps? Perhaps?

 

Postcript: Chimdi and I are now best of friends and I go to him for all my phone dilemmas. If you are ever at the GSM village in Abuja, you should give him a try too.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (3)

  1. U no go afternoon school at all cos u sabi blow grammar well! 4 dis small phone mata???

  2. Beautiful write-up…brillant!

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