It’s not a secret that Nigerian slang is always evolving, with new words and phrases constantly birthed, and even rebirthed. It’s exciting, especially if the user knows when to draw the line between a Nigerianism and actual English. Roll your eyes all you want, but I’m a stickler for proper usage of any language and the grammar that governs it. Before I digress, I’m specifically thinking of the term ‘corporate begging’, and what it means in our own strain of English. It roughly means begging for money or favours by someone whose outward appearance suggests he or she is above that.
Now, if you’ve ever been to a crowded ATM in a big city, you most likely must have met a ‘corporate beggar’. I have, and each and every encounter is an unpleasant one, like chalk squeaking on a blackboard. I personally see it as laziness and the death of spirit so bad that one would resort to begging. Don’t get me wrong: I give alms and Zakat as prescribed by my religion. I understand and sympathise with the ‘less-privileged’ (I dislike that term for the sheer elitism it conjures up). But dressing up in fine digs and accosting hard-working people for crumbs is not a profession.
There are more shades to this culture of begging, all colouring our society. Being an environment that doesn’t really recognize tipping as a form of gratification for services rendered, especially in the hospitality industry, I must say it’s shocking the height with which workers in the sector ask – and sometimes even demand – for tips. For ‘bouncers’ – those muscle-bound giants meant to make us feel safe at restaurants, gardens, events etc. – they’ve developed a device that’s subtle-yet-irritating: They smile and say to patrons as they leave ‘Show us love, boss’. Most times, I feel embarrassed by it all, when hefty able-bodied men ask me for tidbits. But when you discover the size, or lack thereof, of their pay, the irritation becomes pity.
At restaurants, shoddy service, dawdling serving staff, and insanely high prices almost guarantee no tip gets to workers. But some are so brazen that after being particularly rude and ineffective, they actually ask for tips in the most offensively direct way. Then at banks, too, security guards scramble around any customer they sense is loaded, so they could have a ‘happy weekend’ (another Nigerianism for a tip or gratification), for doing absolutely nothing, other than greeting you. The same applies for the guards on duty at companies and residential areas loosely called estates. They smile widely and welcome you, but immediately frown or become abrasive the moment you look like you ‘speak too much English’ and don’t ‘shake body’.
My policy regarding that is always ‘keep your greeting, and I’ll keep my money’. You know, my hard-earned money, which as a poor writer isn’t that much to begin with. I did a little math, using the barest of figures and smallest of estimates. If one would tip every such person he encounters on a daily basis, and there are roughly ten of such, with a modest sum of N200, that would be N2,000 naira every day. Five days a week, of four weeks in a month, and you’ll see it amounts to a pretty penny.
How wrong you are if you think I won’t mention the worst: Our friendly neighbourhood police. I mean, not all of them, but you know. At checkpoints they can be friendly, jovial, clownish, rude, menacing, or even dangerous, depending on who they’re interacting with, and what the response they’re getting is. My particular non-favorite checkpoint in Abuja is the seemingly impossible-to-disband one just before the bridge that links Wuse 2 to Zone 4. A particular elderly gentleman among the cops leans into cars so far that he might as well smooch the poor driver! In the end, it’s all for a ‘happy weekend’. I mean, ‘your boys are working!’ One once called me ‘Oga Yellow!’ on account of my light complexion. Yes, laugh, but at least they didn’t ask me to come down for a body search.
Laugh at that, but when you look at the wider implications, it’s all not funny. The economy does no-one any favours, and pushes people to all kinds of behavior. Yes, there’s no excuse for some things, but really, the salaries some of these low-level staff in the hospitality industry is sometimes the price of one meal at the establishments where they work. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a couple of friends for dinner to a swanky restaurant in, say, Wuse 2. Their workers need to be trained, and paid properly. They are people, for God’s sake, with dreams and aspirations.
As for the larger picture, a system where local businesses or medium enterprises should pay a certain minimum should be created and policed. A whole generation is being wasted as people begging for ‘love’, or a ‘happy weekend’. Now more than ever, we have a dire need for an even newer, more self-respecting Nigerian who sees dignity in labour, to emerge. We also need more self-aware and distinctly Nigerian words and phrases to permeate our popular culture. But as I wonder if that could possibly be in my lifetime, yet another Nigerianism pops up: ‘E go hard’.