Monday 2 August 2010

The Helps

My friend who lives in Polegate has a house with a gate. The gate is not the ten foot, black metal, iron spiked, barb wired affair that one sees so often in Lagos but it is a sizable gate by English standards.

The first time I went to her house, we drove up to the rectangular brown gate, my friend got down from the car, undid the latch and pushed it open.

Later, I said to her, "In Nigeria, a gate man would have done that."
"What is a gate man?"
"Someone who opens the gate for you to drive in."
"That's all he does."
"Why can't you open your own gate?"
"It's effort."

She looked at me like I was crazy. I looked at her like she was crazy and then I understood why she was looking at me.

In my house, as in many other houses in Lagos, there exists a man, who lives in a hut beside the gate, whose sole function in life is to open the gate for cars to drive in and then close it behind them.

I explained to her that the gates in Nigeria were really heavy not like the flimsy ones in England, hiring gatemen reduced unemployment and if ever armed robbers were chasing you home (which is not unheard of) the gateman would be there to open the gate and slam it shut behind you, except in this last scenario, I've never heard of a gate man who has moved fast enough.

Anyways, my friend's Nigerians are crazy and lazy look made me start thinking about all the other things the middle classes are helped with in Nigeria. We have maids to sweep our floors, maids to raise our children, washermen to wash our clothes, washermen to iron our clothes, drivers to get us from point A - Z, cooks to make our meals, cooks to reheat our meals, with all the helps we have, one has to wonder what the middle classes do. I haven't lived in Nigeria for a while but I hear they sit in traffic.

A well known radio presenter once said that he loved Nigeria because there was always someone to help with the simplest of things. Yet, the question needs asking: who is helping the helps? Why are some born to open gates and others to drive through them, some to drive and others to be driven, some to cook and others to eat.

I know that even in the most developed countries, people born into certain social groups are less likely to succeed economically than others, my problem with Nigeria is that where others have a glass ceiling that they can crack with effort, we have a reinforced concrete barrier.

The helps need help.


  1. my take on this is the end the day it’s just a job.. on one hand having ‘helps’ gives them employment, no doubt...ppl need their service and they need the payment….but the one thing I have a problem with is they way employers treat them….employers shouldn’t rob them of their dignity. I saw u commented on my ‘men of a lesser god’ story…yeah, it was abt a similar thing u talking abt here. I’m not too sure I agree with you in the ‘reinforced concrete barrier’ thing…sure the cycle continues…but also with effort ppl are climbing upwards.

    you write really really liking this blog

  2. thanks addy. Your story had such similar themes to this post. It was weird.

    I agree people are climbing up but how many can push through? It's even worse if you don't live in a megacity like Lagos. In smaller states, there are fewer opportunites for advancement when one has higher education, talkless of a man or woman without a degree.

    I think the concrete ceiling is still there o.

  3. we'll get there. some helps are being helped. as they say, rome wasn't built in a day. dito on the way some of them are treated. there are so many thing wrong in nigeria and only God can help us. but i do agree 'asbtw', these things need to be talked about and need to be at the forefront of our minds. otherwise we get desensitised. and also, very well written. D

  4. I see the point you're making here, but I think you need to read the book, "Outliers: The story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell. It will give you a good understanding of how one's background shapes one's life's situations.


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