Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

'Old Major', last minute planning and demonstrocracy

Hello again. You join me for another encounter with our three social commentators who have decided that the ambience of Pangolo Junction's interior is not for them this evening, and instead they are enjoying their kunu on the veranda outside the bar.

(Max, Nat and Zack are watching with interest the progress of a tarpaulin-covered lorry as it tries to negotiate round a treacherous looking pothole in the muddy road outside.)

Nat: Just look at that... do you think it will make it?

Max: No way! 'Old Major' has claimed smaller vehicles as 'sacrifice' in the past... why should this one be exempt?

Zack: Well it's already managed to negotiate its way round half 'Old Major' already. Who would have thought that this heap of junk would have made it this far?

Nat: It just goes to show how superior Nigerian technology is. The vehicles may look dilapidated, but there's a ruggedness beneath that rusty exterior that gives them the ability to handle all kinds of terrain.

(Just then, the lorry lurches sideways and totters over the edge of 'Old Major'. It pauses for an instant, as though contemplating its fate in the world, then slowly topples into the pothole with a resounding crash.)

Max: And 'Old Major' claims its seventeenth victim this week. Now that just goes to show how even more superior Nigerian potholes are!

(As soon as the lorry comes to rest in the mud, the tarpaulin cover is whisked off and scores of men jump from the lorry and scurry around trying to turn the lorry the right side up. Their efforts do not seem to be yielding much fruit, and they are not helped by the lorry driver who curses and yells at them all the while.)

Nat: What's his problem? All the cursing in the world won't put the lorry back up. And it's not like those men put the pothole there.

Zack: Oh? If I was the guy, I would be at them with whips and koboko. In fact, that lorry's crash is a true metaphor for the Nigerian situation.

Nat: Huh? What do you mean?

Zack: Look at those guys! All the while when the lorry was creeping its way round the pothole, those people in the back were saying 'I dey kampe'. It's only now that the worst has happened that they are running around like headless chickens trying to fix the problem. That's how things are always done here – left till the last minute until it's too late!

Nat: But then don't you think that the driver is at least as guilty of Kampeism as the passengers? I'm sure he must have thought that he would have no problems negotiating 'Old Major', when the wiser thing to do would have been to stop and call his passengers to help him gently manoeuvre the lorry round?

But you're right about it being a metaphor for Nigeria. We have leaders who we gladly and blindly follow until they lead us into the nearest pothole of disaster. Only then do we launch into full fire brigade mode to try and rescue the situation.

Max: Nonsense! I think you guys are looking at the situation in a distorted manner.

Nat: What do you mean?

Zack: Yes, how can leaving things till the last minute be a good idea?

Max: Well, look at it this way. Let's say you need to have to prepare for an event. You have two options. You can choose to spend a month planning and endure the stress that comes with this planning for all that period. Or you can simply relax and take it easy until one day before the event so that you only have one day of stress while you go into high level emergency mode to save the day. Of course, any sane person would choose one day of stress to a month of stress!

Zack: As usual, your argument has so many holes that it is more hole than substance. First of all, what is the guarantee that you will even be able to plan the event with such little time left? Secondly, even if you are able to plan the event, what is the guarantee that it will be to the standard that it would have been if you had left enough time?

Nat: And what makes you think there will only be one day of stress? What of the stress that will linger for long after the event, when you have to deal with angry participants who have had to endure a substandard event? And this single day of stress – for all you know, it might be so much to deal with that you'll end up in hospital with a nervous breakdown!

Max: Chill, my friends. First of all, time is not an issue. If there's not enough time, then you can always postpone the event. (Zack starts to protest, but Max raises a hand to silence him.) No, no Zack – don't talk to me about hard deadlines. No deadline is so hard that it cannot be shifted with a goodly wedge of cash.

Secondly, so what if the standard isn't up to the standard you would have achieved if you had more time? Do you want to plan the event to 100% perfection? Is this even possible? The important thing is you're able to get the very barest essentials ready for the event to hold.

As for stress after the event, I have the universal solution – cash to pacify the irate participants. And since I also use this universal solution to shift the deadline, there's no chance of me having a nervous breakdown.

(While the friends are talking, the traffic begins to build up round the overturned lorry which the men are still straining to get upright. There is an angry honking of horns as cars find their way blocked.)

Zack (disgustedly): So what you're saying really is that your disorganised approach is better because it will give you less stress, even though it will still give you more stress when you look at your bank balance?

Max: Come on, Zack. It's impossible to plan for everything. Who knows what could happen to us next? A meteor from outer space could strike us all dead! The ground could open up and swallow us all! A pestilence more virulent and deadly than Ebola could break out and kill us all! What would all your meticulous planning do then? I say it's better to develop the skills to deal with unpredictable situations rather than trying to plan for all of them in advance.

Zack: And please tell us how you would deal with the unpredictable and impossible situation of the killer meteor. Perhaps you would offer it cash not to strike you dead?

Max (grinning): Well, I can't tell you, I'm afraid. Remember, I don't waste my time with all that 'planning ahead' stuff – I deal with situations as they happen. So go and use your organisational skills to arrange for a meteor strike if you really want to know what I'd do!

Nat: I still find your argument dubious. If everyone only reacted to things at the last minute instead of being proactive and planning ahead, nothing would ever get done, because we'd all be waiting for something to react to.

Max: Ah, but you see, the world is one giant chain reaction! There's always stuff happening to us – a scientific type like you would call all that stuff 'stimuli'. So there's always stuff for us to react to. Even all that planning ahead that you and Zachariah are preaching about, you only do it because you're reacting to some information that you've obtained.

And the beauty of reacting to stimuli instead of planning ahead is that you only react to what's necessary! You only scratch yourself when you itch. Zachariah only joins the mad craze for technology and picks his phone up when he hears its Nigerian national anthem ringtone. And the government only repairs roads when enough irate lorry drivers crowd round the State Secretariat threatening to burn it down unless the government retires 'Old Major' once and for all!

Zack: I can't believe you're suggesting that the government should abdicate its responsibility of repairing the roads until it is reminded to do so by its citizens! Do you have any idea of how much damage unrepaired roads cause to cars? How much time is lost in traffic jams due to potholes on the road?

Max: OK, Zachariah. Let's say you are Supreme Life Dictator of Nigeria. You have all these potholed roads to fix. How will you decide which one to fix first?

Zack: I'll carry out a survey of all the potholed roads to determine their usage and how badly damaged they are. The more heavily used a road is and the more damaged it is, the higher a priority it will get in my schedule of repairs.

Max: That's actually the worst possible way you could decide which the most important road to fix is!

Nat: Why? Sounds reasonable enough.

Max: The assumption that Zack is making is the more people that use a road, the more they will benefit if that road is fixed. What if the many people using the road aren't necessarily inconvenienced by the potholes? They might be people who have all the time in the world, and don't mind the time it takes to get to their destination! Or they might be people who drive 4x4 SUVs.

No, the better method is to employ the time and tested way of demonstrocracy and let the people provide the stimulus to the government to let it know what needs to be done. The reality is that the people who are really most badly affected by the bad roads will be the people who will be prepared to spend the most time, energy and money to move heaven and earth to get them fixed. They will send letters to newspapers; they will pray and fast; they will petition their representatives; and if all that fails, they will organise a demonstration around the State Secretariat threatening blood and thunder if their road is not fixed. Such people should have their dedication and zeal rewarded with repaired roads.

Zack: Yeah, that's right... let the people with the loudest voices, the most violent hoodlums and the fattest wallets get the best roads. Demonstrocracy? More like bribocracy... or thuggocracy!

Nat: You'll never be able to plan anything with that style of government. The competition to get the government's attention will turn ugly, with competing groups of thuggocrats and bribocrats spoiling each other's efforts so that it becomes more difficult for a group to present its case for a repaired road.

Zack: And when these groups realise they have the power to force the government to do what they want, where will they stop? Today, repaired roads... tomorrow, the keys to the vaults of the Central Bank!

Max: Zachariah, you're going into hyperbolic overdrive again. I never said anything about them forcing the government to do what they want... the whole point is for them to persuade the government that they are the most deserving lot of the groups who want their roads fixed. What's so wrong about that?

(The situation outside has worsened. Under the cover of darkness, the lorry driver and his passengers have sneaked away and abandoned the lorry in the middle of the road where the traffic jam they caused has swollen to truly disruptive proportions. There is much swearing and shouting by irate and frustrated drivers who have been caught up in the jam.)

Nat: Well, if ever you decide you want to be a demonstrocrat, you'll never need a more convincing scenario than that chaos outside to convince the government to fix 'Old Major'.

Zack (gleefully): What I'm more interested in is how Mr. Deal-With-The-Problem-As-It-Happens is going to manage to pull off an escape trick in his Lexus.

And we'll take our leave with Nat and Zack revelling in Max's discomfort as he tries to decide whether to brave public transport or to wait until the jam has dissipated. Join me next time for another instalment of goings-on at the Junction.


  • Don’t they get tired of drinking

    “The vehicles may look dilapidated, but there's a ruggedness beneath that rusty exterior that gives them the ability to handle all kinds of terrain.”
    That’s just like Nigeria itself…..I prefer looking at the lorry as the metaphor for Nigeria instead of the Lorry’s crash!

    The character Max seems very smart (if not the smartest out of the 3), but he has some pretty wack ideas and also his moral standards are questionable I think.

    Great write up as usual!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 03, 2007 12:59 am  

  • Hi, Nilla.

    Max told me to forward this response you your latest comment:

    "Of course I'm smarter than Nat or Zack. In fact, I'm the smartest guy I know! That's why the ideas I come up with are superb -which I'm sure is the word you wanted to use, not wack."

    As to my moral standards... well, when having moral standards starts paying N100,000 per day, I might think of getting one or two myself."

    By Blogger Atala Wala Wala, At January 03, 2007 5:25 am  

  • LOL!!!!

    So Max is too big to tell me that himself ehn!

    Tell him hi :-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 03, 2007 6:42 am  

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