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

Friday, July 14, 2006

An oware game, football fanaticism and passion-powered people

Oh, it's you again. Quite frankly, I don't understand why you choose to show up at the most inopportune moments to distract me when I am enjoying the scene in the Junction. Well, don't just stand there gawking – take a seat, so that I can resume my observation...

(Max and Zack are concentrating on a game of oware, while Nat is looking on with interest. Max is gloating and jeering, while Zack has a frown of concentration on his face while he stares at the wooden tray with the piles of greyish seeds in each of its hollows.)

Max: Hahahahaha! Zack, you are going down! When I deploy my nuclear warhead (indicates a particularly large pile of seeds), I am going to clean – you – out!

Zack (irritated): I wish you would shut up. This is the reason I'm having trouble concentrating on the game... I can't hear anything with all your jabbering!

Max (smirking): Do I hear the already prepared excuse of a loser? Eh? Hah!

(Just as Zack is about to reply, there's a power outage and the lights go out. After the five seconds of patience required by Junction etiquette, the patrons start getting restive and shouting "Philo, put the generator on now!" Philo, the rather phlegmatic bar owner seems to be taking his time – perhaps hoping that PHCN will save him the bother by restoring power supply soon.)

Nat: Perhaps Philo is also powered by PHCN's electricity, since he also seems to have been switched off by the outage. I'll just go and ease myself while we're waiting for something to happen. (He starts to rise, and in the dim light from outside, Max can just make out that he is about to make contact with...)

Max: Oh, no! NOOOOO!!!!

(But it is too late. Nat's thigh hits the oware tray and sends the seeds flying in all directions. As if PHCN is playing some cruel joke on Max, at that moment power is restored and the lights come on for all to see the havoc that has been wreaked.)

Max (visibly upset): See what you've done! Did you have to be so clumsy?

Nat (apologetically): Sorry, Max... but it was dark! Anyone could have made that mistake.

Max (still upset): No number of 'sorrys' will restore that game back to what it was. And I practically had that game wrapped up too!

Nat (getting irritated): All right, what do you want me to do? Perhaps it would calm you down if I cut you a kilo of my flesh to eat. If that doesn't satisfy you, I can supply you with a litre of my blood to wash it down.

Zack (enjoying himself): Max – you're a terrible loser! I can't believe that you are treating something as trivial as this as if it is a matter of life and death. Come on – it's just a game – and you would have lost it anyway!

Max (bending down to pick up the seeds on the floor): Well, you're saying that now – but look at the way you were frowning earlier as though you wanted your two eyes to meet in the middle. Of course games are serious business! Why do you think that football supporters weep when their team loses and go mad with joy when it wins?

Zack: That's different. You can't compare a highly competitive sport like football where titles, reputations and money are at stake to something as trivial as like a game of oware between two people.

Nat: Actually, I don't get it.

Zack: Get what?

Nat: The fanaticism and devotion with which people follow these sports. I mean, look at it – when I'm playing a game with someone, I get a personal feeling of joy and accomplishment when I win. I have achieved something myself. But these people who follow Chelsea United or Arsenal Wanderers or whatever they're called... when their team wins, what's the personal achievement? Where's the satisfaction of having done something yourself?

Zack: What are you talking about? Can't you take joy in what someone else does? If one of Max's alleged deals actually does materialise and he ends up with lots of money, won't you be happy for him? (Nat nods.) Aha – but what have you personally achieved to make you happy?

Nat: Well, Max is my friend, so it's not unnatural for me to be happy for him, even if my happiness is for a different reason other than personal achievement.

Zack: Well, there you go! These sport fans are happy because their team – which they value above even some of their closest friends – has achieved something worthwhile! Why shouldn't they be happy?

Max (putting the seeds back in the tray): In fact, I would say that for many sport fans, following their team is their religion. Their team is their god, and the stadium they go to watch their team is their holy temple. Have you not seen the way football fans jump up and shout when their team score? It's like a Football Spirit has descended on them.

Nat: But at least, you pray to your God and you talk to your friend. You don't have the same sort of close relationship with your team. How can you really feel anything for something that you aren't really close to?

Zack: Nat, you are over-analysing this matter again. Don't worry about why it happens – the fact is that it does happen. Or what do you want to do – go to a football stadium and tell the supporters that they should go home and stop supporting their team because they don't talk to any of the team members?

Max: (finishing setting up the game) If you tried that, you'd experience the Casting Out of Demons from the Holy Stadium – where you, of course, are the demon. (To Zack.) OK, let's do this again. (Back to Nat.) In fact, it may be the fact that the team are inaccessible that makes them more god-like. You know, when you can't get to something, it begins to assume a wonderful dimension in your mind. Like that girl you're interested in... what's her name again?

(Zack observes the expression of Nat's face change and shoots Max a warning glance.)

Zack: Ol' boy – don't go there.

Max: OK, sorry. But that's the point. You need heroes to worship, not ordinary mortals like Zack.

Zack: And certainly not subhumans like Max.

Nat: But wouldn't it be fantastic if we could get people to be fanatical about productive activities? I mean, what's so special about football that people should be so fanatical about it, anyway?

Zack: It's tradition, Nat. Don't fight it. You can't win.

Max: In other words, people follow football, because people follow football.

Nat: So you're saying that in theory, I could start my own productivity oriented sport – like a sport involving clearing refuse or repairing potholed roads?

Max (chuckling): Yeah, you could – I don't give you much chance of success though.

Nat: Why not? As long as there's activity and there's a winner, what's the problem?

Max: The problem is that you're forgetting the whole purpose of sport. Sport is something you do or watch to get away from work. Road repairing is too much like real work for people to think of it as a sport.

Nat: OK, I'd settle for just getting them fanatical about it, whether it was a sport or not...

Max: Nat, I'd love for people to get fanatical about a whole range of things. For example, I'd like them to be fanatical about the dirt in my apartment so that I could sell that and make millions. In fact, getting people to be fanatical about something is the holy grail of business. But unfortunately, like most holy grails, it's incredibly difficult to achieve this.

Zack: Anyway, what's it to you if people aren't fanatical about work? If someone was fanatical about IT, they'd volunteer to do your work in the bank for free and they'd put you out of a job. So don't rock the boat.

(There is a period of silence, as the game progresses and Max and Zack concentrate on each other's moves.)

Nat: Hm... now that's an interesting thought. A world where everyone did stuff because they wanted to, rather than because they were paid to. Wouldn't that be great?

Max (to Zack): Look out - I think our friend is about to embark on one of his fantasy daydreams.

Nat: What do you mean? People work better when they are doing something out of passion rather than because they are paid to. Imagine paying football fans money to support their team – do you think they would be as passionate?

Zack: Well, if they were passionate already, then it wouldn't make any difference.

Nat: Oh? When you accept money from someone, you sign a contract and lose your freedom to do things as you like. For example, supposing that you were paid by a very fussy team owner to be a football fan. Before, you would have had the freedom to jump up and down and scream at the top of your voice every time your team scored a goal. But once you become a paid football fan, the owner might now contractually oblige you to stand up in an orderly manner, clap politely and express your happiness at the goal in a firm but well-modulated voice for no longer than 65 seconds, then quietly sit down.

Zack: Look at things from the other angle. Passion is not predictable. Imagine if aeroplane pilots did their jobs out of passion and weren't paid for it. What would you do if on the day you were supposed to fly somewhere your flight was cancelled because the pilot had phoned in and said he wasn't flying today because "he didn't feel passionate enough, and he was currently lying down waiting to regain some of his passion before coming in"?

Max: Exactly. The nice thing about money is that you can almost always guarantee that you can use it to get people to do things that you want. That's why I call money "the universal solution to all problems".

Zack (grinning): Well, one problem that money cannot solve for you today is how to win this game. See that pile there? (He points to a pile of seeds.) That, my friend is going to be your nemesis in a few moves.

Max: Hm... you're probably right. Say, do you mind if I go over to the bar and get some more kunu?

Zack: Sure, whatever. Anything to ease the pain of defeat.

(Max goes off, and after a while he returns with some kunu. They resume the game, and shortly after, the Junction is plunged into darkness again. This time, the five-second etiquette rule is thrown to the winds as the patrons voice their complaints loud and long. In the midst of the clamour, a mobile phone light goes on at the table of Max, Nat and Zack.)

Nat: Let's have some light so that Max doesn't bite my head off for accidentally upsetting the game again... hey! What's this?

Zack: Max! What are you doing with your fingers in one of my seed piles?

Max (embarrassed): Eh? Is that where my fingers are? I was wondering where they had got to. (Thinking to himself) Damn Nat! Why did he have to go and interfere? That's a good 1,000 naira wasted on getting Philo to flip the power supply switch!

And I'll leave Max trying to explain his way out of his latest difficulty to a disbelieving Zack and Nat. You want to keep on watching? Too bad, because I'm off, and you can only see what's going on through my eyes. But don't panic - I'll be here again sometime in the not too distant future.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Visions, names and the tricky issue of donations

I know why you're here. And you know that I know why you're here. So why don't we skip the formalities and get down to the serious business of eavesdropping on our Talkative Three?

(Max, Nat and Zack are sitting round a table listening attentively to a fourth man with a lean body and a hungry look. The man is going on passionately at length about some subject.)

Fourth Man: let me just recap why you should sign up for the Democratic People's Convention. Firstly, we have as members people who have not had any past history of involvement in politics and who are therefore untainted by any political scandals or corruption. Secondly, this lack of involvement in past politics means that we will introduce a fresh perspective to politics in Nigeria. Thirdly, we are the fastest growing party in Nigeria today! Fourthly, we aim to have a presence in each of the 774 local governments in the federation by the end of this year.

Zack (sceptically): Hm. This your party, Joe... what did you say your vision was for Nigeria again?

Joe: That's the other thing I forgot to mention. We are a listening party. Instead of imposing our vision upon Nigerians as most politicians have done in the past, we intend to canvass opinion from all sectors of the public. For the first time in Nigeria's political history, the common man will have a voice!

Max (with an amused look): In short, your party has no ideas and is hoping that the common man will provide it with some.

Joe: No, not at all. Of course we have a vision... it is just that we will merge our vision with the vision of the common man.

Nat: OK, tell us about this vision of yours that you plan to merge with the common man's vision.

Joe: Well... uh... first of all, we plan to ensure that there is full employment in Nigeria...

Max (interrupting): Oh? And how do you plan to do this?

Joe: We will... uh... we will set up a panel which will solicit input from the common man first on how to do this. Then...

Zack: You're not serious! You consult the common man for this... you consult the common man for that. Where is the leadership there? If you're elected as a representative of your constituency, I don't suppose you'll consult the common man before deciding on whether you should collect your first pay packet?

Max (grinning evilly): Knowing our good friend here, it won't just be pay packets he'll be collecting. Abi am I lying, Joe?

Nat: And you say that your party members plan to bring a fresh perspective to politics? Can you expand on that?

Joe: Well, we haven't been involved in politics in Nigeria before, so we will introduce different ways of doing things...

Max: Different – not better? Will you just introduce different ways of chopping money that will take it to new heights?

Joe: Max, I can understand your doubts, but by the time I've finished clarifying my party's vision...

Zack (cutting in): Come on, Joe – Max's doubt is well founded. Wherever you go, a smell of dubious deals seems to follow. Wasn't it you that tried to peddle passports to this new country called 'Egobettaria' which you said had an arrangement with the US and the UK such that its citizens didn't require a visa to travel to these countries?

Nat: And there was the time when you were selling this 'special card' with an access number that allowed someone to call abroad for just 80 kobo per minute, but nobody seemed to be able to get through.

Joe: Ah, why do you have to bring these things up again, now? I've already explained that I was a pawn used by big men to do their nefarious work.

Max: Just like you'll prove to be a pawn being used to do someone else's nefarious work this time, right?

Joe: No – I promise you, this is the real deal.

Max (stifling a yawn): OK, spare us the hot air and cut to the chase. Presumably this 'party' of yours needs money. How much do you want, and what do you want to use it for?

Joe (slightly taken aback): Well... it's not that we don't have funds already... as the fastest growing party in Nigeria, we have people from all walks of life joining us... as I've mentioned already, we aim to have a presence in all the local governments...

Nat: Well, he obviously doesn't need any money from us, then.

Joe (hurriedly): No o, I didn't say that o! I was just trying to explain that although we are ramping up membership, any funding we get is absolutely welcome. We will put the funds to good use to further articulate and spread our vision among the masses.

Max: I'm sure we'll be all be happy to contribute...

Joe: Ah, excellent. I promise you, you are definitely on the winning team.

Max: ...except I don't like your party's name.

Joe (taken aback properly now): What?

Max: Well, look at it. Democratic People's Convention. There's already a Nigerian party that claims to be democratic and cater to people. Why should I join you when I can join them?

Joe: Oh... well, I'm sure I can have a word with the Board of Trustees about that...

Nat: Suggest to them that they should change the name to the 'Coolu Temper Congress'. I think there's too much anger and violence in Nigeria today, and a party that appeals to the peaceful nature of people will definitely get my vote.

Joe: Well, that's a strange name...

Nat: Tell them also that a common man said so. I thought you said your party was the listening party?

Zack: No, Nat. As good as your name is, I think that the name 'Coolu Temper Congress' will give the wrong impression of a party that is not in charge, and that is begging people to behave. I think your party needs a name that shows that it is confident and decisive, and that it will not tolerate any nonsense. Call it the 'GBAM! Party of Nigeria'. Yes, that's G-B-A-M followed by an exclamation mark. And tell them that this is also the wish of another common man.

Joe: Ah... yeeeees, I will definitely look into both suggestions. Now about donations...

Max: Ah-ah – don't I get a say?

Joe (with apprehension): Yes, Max – you have a name to suggest?

Max: As much as I see the sense in both of my friends' suggestions, I think that they aren't aspirational enough. What Nigerians will be attracted to will be a party that encapsulates their dreams and hopes... and it's for this reason I am proposing the name of 'Nigerian Settlement Party'.

Joe (aghast): I can't call it that o!

Max: Why not? Let me tell you a secret – it is every Nigerian's desire to be settled. Who can resist the thought of receiving a large sum of money for doing little or nothing? Why do you think people play the lottery instead of working hard to get rich? Settlement is good.

Joe (weakly): But settlement is corruption...

Max: Nonsense! The only reason that settlement has a bad name is because only a few people are being settled at the expense of the many. I tell you, if you party promises to settle every Nigerian, young or old, rich or poor, alive or dead – believe you me, even Ghanaian citizens will be rushing to join it.

Joe (hurriedly): OK, so we'll go with the name of 'Nigerian Settlement Party of Nigeria'. So those contributions...

Zack: Hey! What of my own name – the 'GBAM! Party of Nigeria'?

Nat: Or the 'Coolu Temper Congress'?

Max: I know what – you can call it the 'Coolu Temper GBAM! Settlement Party of Nigeria'. That way, you will accommodate the wishes of all the common men present here.

Joe (looking thoroughly confused): Er... yes, so that's settled. (Brightly) Now to the issue of donations...

Nat: Donations? I thought we'd agreed that you would change your party's name first.

Zack: Since you're so influential with the Board of Trustees, why don't you ring them now?

Joe: Ah, the offices of the party will have closed by now.

Max: Oh, well, no name change, no donation.

Joe: Hold on... I think I have the GSM number of the chairman with me. Let me call him. (He brings out his mobile phone and starts to dial.) Hello... hello, is that Peter? Peter, I have some very important feedback from some potential members. They say... (He is suddenly interrupted as Max lunges for his phone and grabs it before he can do anything. Max puts the phone to his ear and starts laughing.)

Max: Just as I thought! This party of yours is just a one-man affair that exists only in your head... unless you can explain why you're holding a conversation with a dial tone!

Zack (with contempt): I knew right from the beginning that it was just another scam.

Joe (protesting): Honestly, he was there! The phone cut off just as we were talking.

Nat: Then I guess we should have heard an engaged tone. (Wearily) Joe, please do consider looking for gainful employment and stop travelling on this road to perdition. In spite of myself, I worry that one day, you'll meet people who aren't quite so forgiving of people who try to dupe them of money.

(Joe starts to protest again, but takes a look at the amusement, contempt and resignation on the faces of the three and decides that now is a good time to make his exit.)

Nat: Sometimes, you really despair of Nigeria when it keeps on throwing up people like that.

Max: I totally agree. Imagine trying to put together such a cockeyed scheme! I don't know how he thought it would work. Now, the party that we are going to form...

Zack (incredulously): We? Form a party? When did we agree on this?

Max: Just now. Come on – it's a great idea. The difference is that unlike Joe, we'll have an inspiring name and vision to attract Nigerians by the million. And you'll get the chance to be elected to high office so that you can deal with erring weathermen and motorcycling maniacs with the full force of the law. Just think about it...

And we leave Max trying to sweet talk the others into his grand plan, although I personally doubt that he will be successful. Join me around sometime when I take another dip into the world of Pangolo Junction.