What a Peculiar People!

What a Peculiar People!

By Azuka Onwuka
Nigerian flag

There may be few countries in the world where people will eat maggots (larvae of beetles) as a delicacy. Nigeria is such a country. It is not eaten in secret: it is sold by the roadside and advertised as something special. Well-to-do people park their cars to buy it and take it with palm-wine with glee. Our taste is peculiar in this nation.

That is why other countries will throw away the entrails, heads and hooves of goats and cows, but we use them as delicacies: isi-ewu/ngwo-ngwo, nkwobi, shaki, roundabout, bokoto, etc. People gather in the evenings at restaurants and bars to savour these delicacies. They usually cost higher than the regular and nutritional parts of a cow or goat.

In other countries, when they slaughter chickens, they cut off the heads and legs and throw them away. Some crush them and use them for fertiliser or whatever they find them useful for. But in Nigeria, the heads and legs of chickens are never thrown away: they are linked into one another, cooked and fried and sold as “walkie-talkie”.

Now ask yourself why human beings should take delight in eating starch as food or fermented and smelly cassava (akpu)? What type of stomach do we have for heaven’s sake? Even a crocodile would envy us!

What about the hides of animals that are used to make shoes and belts? It is a delicacy here called kanda, ponmo, etc. Something that has zero nutritional value! When a minister of science and technology threatened to ban the consumption of hides and skins because their consumption was causing Nigeria to lose money that it should have gained if it exported the hides and skins or used them to produce leather, Nigerians went up in arms. How dare the minister ban their delicacy, they shouted! The minister beat a retreat and let Nigerians continue to devour their good old cow skins.

Now this. Have you ever wondered why a financially stable woman would spend good money to buy a bra that another woman has worn and discarded in Europe or North America? It is unbelievable! Something that covers such intimate parts of the body! Does she not fear skin diseases? What about the disgust of sharing private clothes with an unknown person? Surprisingly second-hand bras come to Nigeria at a high cost! Women who use them say that they are stronger, firmer and last longer. God have mercy!

But that is not enough. What about buying vehicles that were involved in accidents in Europe and North America but refurbished sent to Nigeria? Some of these cars were ravaged by water during hurricanes and flooding. Insurance companies pay the owners and the vehicles are disposed off, because they will cause the owners problems after such accidents or disasters. But once they land in Nigeria, they become Grade A tokunbo. People buy them at high prices and invite their religious leaders or parents to dedicate them. They buy drinks for people to drink and thank God for them for the gift of a car. Imagine sprinkling water or dry gin in prayer on the engine of a car that is 20 years old, a car that had been discarded by its fifth owner, a car that probably killed its owner in Europe or North America!

To ensure that the public knows that the person is now a car owner, wherever he goes, the new owner proudly swings the key of his “new” car for those who didn’t know to know. He has joined the class of those who no longer have to suffer trekking in the sun and the rain and being splashed water on or insulted by bus conductors.

Because of this, some Nigerians have even relocated to Europe and North America to serve as agents who gather old cars and old items for onward delivery to Nigeria. And markets abound where only fairly used goods are sold in Nigeria.

That same mentality of buying fairly used items has so much permeated the Nigerian psyche that it is believed that it is better to buy fairly used air-conditioners or refrigerators or shoes or clothes or motor parts because they are “stronger”. That is what a bad economy does to people’s psyche. Because of the inability to buy brand-new products, people are made to believe that second-hand or third-hand products are more rugged and durable than the new ones. So people buy tyres made in 2008 in 2018 and call them Grade 1 tokunbo: tyres that had expired over six years ago. The buyers don’t even know that tyres have a life span of four years and should not be used afterwards, no matter how “good and clean” they look.

Having understood the psyche of many Nigerians, sellers of motor spare parts or shoes sometimes pour condemned oil on such motor spare parts or scratch the shoes to make them look like second-hand ones. Such parts from vehicles or electronics are called “follow-come.” They are said to be the original parts from Japan or Germany that came with the car but were removed from other cars. Such parts are believed to be stronger than the new parts which may be from China. The prices of “follow-come” are usually higher than “China”. Interestingly the so-called “follow-come” may be a new product from China that has been made to look old with dark-coloured oil.

Even in the second-hand world, those from outside the country are rated higher than those from within. So a car of the same model and year, used for four years in Nigeria, is rated lower and sold lower than its counterpart used in Germany or the United States of America. The one brought in is the real tokunbo, while the one used here is the “Nigerian drive.”

In all this, sadly those whose name is Tokunbo have been made to share their beautiful name with “second-hand” products. Tokunbo, which is the short form of Adetokunbo (the crown that returned from abroad) or Olatokunbo (the wealth that returned from abroad) is a name given to Yoruba children who are born in foreign lands.

So today you see a Nigerian with tokunbo shoes, tokunbo shirt, tokunbo trousers, tokunbo laptop, tokunbo phone, tokunbo furniture, tokunbo TV, tokunbo refrigerator, tokunbo car! What a life!

Until the mid 1980s, nobody celebrated after buying a fairly used car. What was there to celebrate about buying a car that another person had used and discarded? It was not a sign of achievement. But all that has changed with the dwindling of the economy and the drop in the purchasing power of Nigerians over the years.

It just underscores the reality that Nigerians have probably the most elastic shock absorber and survival mechanism in the world. No matter the situation, they continue to find a way to survive and find happiness. That is why Nigerians say that it is well even in the well!

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