…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

Menory Lane - Knowing Nigeria...Lesson 5; duck and weave

Click the Nigeria label to read the entire collection...

As hinted in yesterday's post, running anything other than a household in this West African nation could prove problematic.  Before I continue, let us be clear.  Corruption is a world-wide problem. The further 'West' one is however, the less it is present but it is not absent.  It becomes more subtle, more underground.  

In cultures such as the African countries and many in Asia, gift-giving when approaching those placed higher on the social ladder is an ancient and quite appropriate behaviour. The trouble is that in more modern times (and I count those to be from the age of British Empire) this practice has gone well beyond social etiquette.  In Nigeria it is full blown 'what is in it for me and what can I fleece you for'.  The world has become aware of it due in a large part to the scandalous letters of fraud which have circulated and other such scams.

One cannot live there and be unaffected by 'dash', whether in the giving or receiving of it.  That does not mean that one willingly engaged in the activity.  What happens, though, is that it is asked quite blatantly when out shopping, or trying to arrange an event, or get any sort of work done at all.... "dash?"  Sometimes even the figure wanted is stated.  Over and above cost. Unofficial private tax.  Frequently it was given as self-preservation.  Too many machetes and knives to hand.

I can remember some heated moments in the BICC office when contractors attempted to offer dash in order to buy the work, or policemen made inspections with expectation of extracting dash.

A couple of lighter moments are recalled though.

There was the regular caller who was determined to win over Boss MacLean. I've narrated this before but it bears repeating. One memorable day the large and jovial fellow arrived with his two henchmen helpers, who were carrying a number of paper-wrapped items. They disappeared into the boss's office.  Much jollity, a bit of shouting, and about 20 minutes later they left, with all but one of their many packages still in arm.

Father followed them out then turned to me with a slightly bemused look on his face.  I'd had a lucky escape apparently.  He'd managed to get out of things by keeping only one bottle of whisky as a token apology from the interlopers.  Apology?  Why?  They had 'insulted' by seeking the hand of number one daughter who (my father had managed to persuade them) was already engaged. How much was the offer? I wondered. Three bottles of whisky, three (very expensive) imported fruit cakes, several goats and turkeys!!!

Now this is standard tribal procedure.  However, it was manifesting under somewhat threatening circumstances and clearly with view to currying favouritism in the work market.  Whilst not mentioned, I am certain there would have been talk of finance also.

I know that my father went grey during the few years he worked in Nigeria.  There were many delays caused with steel deliveries or excavations and that could often be eased by dash. Something detestable and totally against the salt-of-the-earth Scottish 'keep it simple keep it straight' principles.  

Occasionally, the 'gifts' really were intended as that.  For example The Turkey.  A single, scrawny item given not long after we first arrived and with the intention that we would 'make him swell' in time for Christmas. (Sadly I do not appear to have taken - or kept - a photo of that bird.) My mother, good farmer's daughter that she was, ensured feed and scrabblings for the unsuspecting creature.  Emmanuel saw to the safety, threatening all houseboys and gardeners and the like in the area that this was Boss's bird and was not to be interfered with.  For two months it gobbled and chased Mac3 round the compound.  

Time came.  Mother and Emmanuel had big debate about who was going to do the deed and how. One favoured the neck twist and the other, straight chop.  Which was chosen I am not sure but I do recall mother feeding the doomed several spoonfuls of brandy. Whether that was to anaesthetise or was some kind of living marinade, I am uncertain. Yours truly wanted nothing to do with any of it.

Christmas dinner with full trims was served for the entire office team in 35' heat with 98% humidity. Complete with crackers and hats. 

Now, as there was a question asked via an earlier comment as to a piece of rock… please check the story out on MY TAKE TOO!!


  1. A fine overview of dash. In my state, one county to the north, we have the former county commissioner and the former county auditor and a multitude of businessmen serving big time for the brass and crass dash enjoyed for a good decade among them. As it said, it remains alive and well.

  2. Do you think the men and women in our governments go to these places to learn how bribe and be bribed, it would explain a lot...

  3. Wow...I just caught up on your Nigerian MacExPat history and am enthralled! What a trying, yet sort of exciting, adventure this must have been!

  4. I wonder what the doomed turkey thought about the delicious elixir it was being given and what it had done to deserve such a treat.

    This was a great overview of the concept of dash.

  5. 'Keep it simple, keep it straight' one reason I am happy working in Scotland.
    Cheers, Gail.

  6. A colleague once told us a story how he had been offered four camels and about twenty goats (or something like it) to sell his wife! I think in retrospect he might have thought it was the better deal, since she left him only a few years later!

  7. I enjoy your stories. Such an interesting and varied cultures. I giggle at some.
    Hubby's job, as a youngster age 8 was to kill the chickesn. he doesn't like meat!

  8. It must have been very difficult to learn to live in a culture with such a different approach to power, influence and relationships. Fascinating stuff.


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