My decision to study quantity surveying led to many experiences that I would not have otherwise had.
The first significant one was that it led to my first ever trip to Lagos in December 1979, when I was about 20 years old. I had been elected the general secretary of the quantity surveying students’ association and the university sponsored me to attend the national conference of the professional body of Nigerian quantity surveyors – the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, (NIQS).
Aside from being my first trip to Lagos, that trip represented a number of other firsts for me: it was the first time I travelled anywhere by air; it was the first time I saw a concrete cloverleaf interchange and ‘flyover’ bridge, because nothing like that existed in Kaduna; it was the first time I saw a really tall building – ‘tall’ being defined as above 12 storeys. The tallest building in Kaduna at the time was the NNDC Building – about ten storeys. It was the first time I saw curtain walling – glass totally covering the exterior of a building.
I spent two days in Lagos, just long enough to attend the conference and come back. That trip was also the first time I ever stayed in a hotel. Prior to this, all I ever did was to stay in a friend’s home, my family’s house or a dormitory. So when some of my wards studying abroad complain to me, “Oh Baba, when we return home from school, we travel economy, why aren’t we travelling economy plus or business class on British Airways, like some of our friends?” – I just smile. I know they are tired of hearing me tell them that I did not own a new pair of shoes until I was eight years old and I did not get on an aeroplane until I was over 19 years of age, so they had better appreciate what they have.
There was a time that one of my sons, said, “Baba, our father is richer than your father. Do not compare us with you. We wore our first shoes when we were eight days old. You wore your first shoes when you were eight years old.”
In any event, my first impressions of Lagos remain quite vivid. Based on the stories I had heard, I was expecting Lagos to be hugely populated by lots of unfriendly and loud people, juxtaposed by a metropolis of skyscrapers like a Manhattan skyline or something like that. Honestly, given the lurid tales which circulated so ravenously in Zaria and Kaduna, I was led to believe that the city would be packed with young women wearing miniskirts and no bras, because that was how the villagers see Lagos, as if it were some huge nudist colony.
Instead, the first thing I noticed about Lagos was that the airport where we landed – the domestic airport – was not like the airports I was used to seeing on television. There were no automated luggage claim conveyor belts, and instead the suitcases and bags were brought manually and placed on the floor. I had also heard about how horrible Lagos traffic was, how people spent so many hours of the day in traffic, even in 1979. But the traffic I encountered was not nearly as bad as I was expecting.
On my first night in the city, I asked my friend whom I had travelled with to take me to the Shrine where the legendary Fela Kuti performed every night. We made our way out to the venue, despite our difficulties navigating the unfamiliar territory, and it turned out to be a most wonderful experience.
We spent the first part of the evening watching the go-go dancers and revellers, and then Fela came out to perform at about 2 a.m., smoking marijuana on stage and doing his thing, criticizing everything and insulting everyone – Fela was not happy with the government, he was not happy with anything, really. We finally got home at about five in the morning and I was floating from the experience at the Shrine. Realize, I had never smoked in my life, not even a cigarette, but I inhaled so much secondhand marijuana that night from the ambience that by the time I came back home I was really floating.
That was my only experience with this kind of stuff.
Culled from Nasir El Rufai’s memoir, “The Accidental Public Servant.”