It has taken me a while to realize this, I m not as shy or withdrawn as I thought I was. It might just be that I am not “Nigerian” enough. I am not loud enough. I am quite patient even when visibly perturbed. I don’t engage those who are serving me in shouting matches designed to ensure I get better service. I do love a good debate but will hardly raise my voice to explain my point. I do not like pushing other people or engaging in a show of stamina to get what I want. In fact, I venture to say I am normal and perhaps a lot of people in my country just exhibit certain over assertiveness that often times borders on the aggressive. Heck, I have watched more than a couple of nollywood movies and seen in real life that some Nigerians are just way too aggressive with the kissing. Have you ever watched a snake swallow a mouse? That’s what it looks like sometimes. Its almost like Jim Iyke wants to swallow Mercy Johnson whole and she keeps battling to prevent herself from being consumed as a main course. What ensues is a mortal kombat of the tongues and lips clashing in a war that would turn even the most warlike people to pacifists. Since I am not a kissing expert, I will rather comment on the hustling spirit that accompanies this exchange of saliva. It is this hustling spirit that sometimes makes the stereotypical Nigerian man or woman the most un-gentle person you might ever come across. This is the nature of the phenomenon we in the fatherland call gra gra.
Gra gra is the assertion of one’s right or wrong as the case may be for the sake of self-gratification. Gra gra is an aggressive pursuit of one’s goal without thought or consideration for order, etiquette, a higher law or even God. Gra gra is a culture and way of life in itself. It is the harbinger of chaos. Chaos in motion being a phrase that best describes Nigeria. Gra gra is the impatience to wait for your turn, it is the glorification of wanting everything here and now and never later. It is akin to a glorification of premature ejaculation, that instant derivation of pleasure at the detriment of your partner’s sexual fulfillment (word to wise, Viagra or burantashi might be your friend). Not that I would know about such things, I am but a young man.
Gra gra is something I grew up seeing. I remember when I was a kid and people would queue for anything be it fuel, to deposit or withdraw money from a bank, to wait to see the doctor or even to use the toilet, it was inevitable that as the crowd grew and the people in line grew impatient there was surely to be pushing and everyone will rush in front of the line, each person trying to assert physical dominance over the next person in order to ensure that they got what they came looking for first. Ever heard of the phrase “a camel passing through the eye of a needle”? That is the scene that ensues when gra gra is in full effect. I could only imagine how each person felt with their bodies pressed against the next person and the heat of the sun upon them. I wondered if they got some sort of thrill from the surely stale smell that would attack their nostrils from the contingent of this very august crowd who refused to make use of deodorant or the much maligned and mocked binta sudan, traditional perfume of the hausa-fulani sect. I wondered if the mingling of sweat was an altogether worthy sacrifice at the altar of self-fulfillment. Surely the hustle and bustle of merging with a crowd and pushing and pulling your way to the front of the melee must be some kind of bonding experience and ritual rite of passage to be counted worthy of being called a Nigerian.
How is the situation today? In many ways, Nigeria has improved. People are more predisposed to follow queues patiently and those who skip the queue are loudly and quickly reprimanded by the people in the queue. Gone are the days when the hubris filled and confident masters of the domain called the big men and women of our dear nation would see a queue and walk to the front of it, get attended to while the poor wretches in line could only murmur disapproval. I guess those are the perks of democracy. This is not to say that the wealthy and seemingly connected folk do not still get preference in the country when it comes to services. That spirit of looking at the person you are serving as opposed to doing your job impartially as a provider of services is still very alive. Wear an agbada and go to a bank on one day and on the next day wear your most scruffy clothes and notice the difference in the service you receive. Try the same thing at a restaurant or any service related place in Nigeria, I bet you service delivery would be night and day.
Anyways, the gra gra in our society although largely evolved has retained the essence of its core tenet. Selfishness. People might not gather in crowds for the most part to vie for services and hence push and pull at each other to get the service they want first, although this might still happen. You might see this in a bus stop where the crowd waiting for the bus is large and perhaps it just started raining or the particular bus comes infrequently and hence in typical lagosian fashion a cluster fuck of competing bodies trying to enter the bus so they are not left behind. In the ensuing confusion of course some wallets are lost and some people are pickpocketed. The new gra gra or not so new gra gra is evident everywhere.
It is evident in the loud and verbose churches that litter our nation where it seems it is a competition for who shouts and sings the loudest, who prays the longest and who dances the most vigorously for God’s attention. In essence, na by gra gra dem dey try go heaven o. Yes I know the kingdom of God suffers violent and the violent taketh it by force and that David danced like a madman (picture a gospel Terry G, “can someone knack Akpako for Jesus, will you ginjah your swagga for the lord?”) which pleased God. Gra gra is evident in our education system, people rushing their children through school wanting them to finish primary and secondary education as soon as possible to cushion the wait for university admission, NYSC and eventually the wait for employment. Of course they want their kids to finish university at 18 if possible so that by 22 they can be employed. Gra gra is evident in the corridors of power and the political scene. It seems every administration comes into office with one goal and one goal only to “eat” as much as possible, to steal as much funds from the public as possible to gain enough wealth to buy the obscenely priced houses of Abuja, London, Dubai etc. Gra gra is that urge for a region such as my very own Arewa to say it is ‘our’ turn to rule not because the leaders of Arewa have any grand plan for Nigeria just so they can chop more money. Gra gra is evident in the populace too. We are all trying to succeed as quickly as possible; we have thrown values to the wayside. Many people don’t care who they cheat, steal from or kill to get to the top. We have a group of youths who are scrambling on the ladder of success who are admiring the master thieves of Nigeria’s destiny and waiting for their turn to get there and chop as well. It’s like we are a whole nation rushing on our way to perdition.
Although I have alluded to being the gentle type who is not a fan of gra gra, I am a product of my environment. I might not push with people to get on a bus because of my nature but best believe that I have as much of a hustling nature as every Nigerian out there. We can’t help it, many of us grew up in country where being patient and waiting for the system to do its job meant that you were liable to die a young and quite bitter man or woman. We grew up in a country where the education was not so great so we had extra lessons after school to augment our learning. We had poor health facilities so every parent became an amateur pharmacist. We grew up where salaries were not decent enough to ensure a good standard of living and one could not look forward to their pension so had to save for grey years. Many of our parents as well as some of us are engaging in 2 or 3 businesses in addition to the day jobs to put decent food on the table. Gra gra might not be a great thing but in the grand scheme of the world, it has made Nigerian people one of the most entrepreneurial, we are everywhere in the world doing one business or the other. It has made us able to adapt to any environment, if visa dey to Antarctica, my brothers will be there selling heat to the penguins if it made business sense. In some ways I wish gra gra was not necessary but in a country like ours he who does not hustle for his own success is praying for his failure.
What do you think is the underlying cause of gra gra in our nation? How can this nature be used for good? What are are your thoughts on the phenomenon of gra gra and how do you see it evolving?