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3 Pictures, 3 Stories, and 3 or More Vital Lessons
With courage to hold your ground or back-off, may serendipity smile on you.
And so I was at the bank the other day. With my face mask on and having observed all other COVID-19 safety protocols, I was duly in the queue, patiently waiting my turn. The staff was attending to their teaming customers quickly enough. With a little patience, it will soon get to my turn.
My e-book app was on hand to help kill time. With my eyes momentarily off from the glowing screen, I sighted another customer sitting in front of the service desk. Emblazoned in black over a flaming bright yellow denim jacket were these captivating but to me dubious words. “SCHOOL RUINED MY UFF”. I interrupted my reading and grabbed a few frames with my camera phone.
I then approached the guy in yellow, “My friend, sorry to border you, I’m just being curious, please can you tell me the meaning of these inscriptions on the backside of your jeans jacket.” Calmly, he replied, “I don’t know.” To his nonplused response, I queried, “Really?” Again he repeated his brisk reply, “I don’t know.” I then returned to my position on the now thinning queue. Whatever this mobile graffiti means, I will find out later.
A few minutes later, the guy in yellow came upon me, confrontational and spoiling for a fight. “What do you mean, taking my picture from behind my back?” All my entreaties as to the harmlessness of my intentions were lost on him. “If I had wanted to do you hurt, I won’t have approached you or even get close to you. See, your face did not show in this picture now.” He was not done yet, I failed at placating his anger.
By this time, the security man and other customers' attention were fully distracted. All eyes were now on the two of us. My attempts at reasoning with him were futile. He will seize the phone from me, I must delete the pictures or he will call the police on me to explain what I was planning to do with the picture of the emblem he proudly bore on his shoulders.
He has gotten the duplicitous attention he sought, now he wants to foment trouble with the guy who showed the feeblest interest in him. The young man was of a type that defiantly expresses his fashion taste or lack of it by complementing his flaming yellow with torn and dirty old denim pants. He was ready to fight. The bully has got hold of a victim. His glamorous sun-bright yellow denim jacket did not screen his crude innards.
The bank officer appeared just in time to arrest the threatening fight. Security was everybody’s concern, but that was not the first time I’ve had to take pictures from inside the bank hall. On one occasion I did so with my kids. On another, I asked if it was OK to take photocopies of the foreign currency the bank issued me (for proof of their veracity).
A gentle but stern rebuke from the bank’s officer was all it took to douse the flames of impending trouble. His address to me was, “You ought not to snap any shot inside here…” To the guy in yellow, he said, “… look there is no point making trouble here. Your face did not show in this picture and there is no way you can prove to anybody anywhere that this is a picture of you.”
Visibly shaken, my relief came when my banking officer appeared just in time on the scene. What fight was this guy spoiling for in the first place? What is even the great deal about the yellow jacket or the crypt on it? Now emboldened by the banker, I now dared the denim-clad man to call the police on me. Perhaps help will come to our aid as we learn or try to hold our own ground more.
Then I remember mine is a country where the government seems at war with the people. The hapless citizens return the same favor to the government while being at war with one another all over the land. Following the angry suggestion of the guy in yellow, I eventually googled the phrase and several images of this beautiful yellow denim came up.
In 2005, while at work, I took several pictures of the unsalutary conditions of Nigeria’s Niger Delta riverine ramshackle dwellers. Alas, one lady (not in the shot) took offense. She threatened to call “our boys” to seize my camera. “Why are you taking our pictures?” Knowing how volatile this environment could be in terms of communal antagonism against oil exploration activities, I quietly withdrew from the scene.
My intention was to show to the world (or to so much of it I could ever hope to reach) the unbecoming existence of these beleaguered people because of the harmful effects of oil exploration activities on their environment. It was the soldiers deployed to escort and protect our crew that saved the day for me from the threats of the young woman on that day.
Like unrestrained wounded dogs, some Nigerians will lash out at those trying to assuage their pains. Come to Nigeria. Here, some citizens will unjustly lord it over others so long as they can get away with it. You won’t stay here for long before you discover that in Nigeria, often, the people are their own worst enemies.
Gravity — Because What Goes Up Must Come Down
If you drive or travel along any road in Nigeria, on any day you will never cease to be amazed by the unending streams of wisdom scribbled on the various models of vehicles plying our ramshackle highways. Most of the time, I never had the chance to grab shots of these mobile wise-graffitis while driving. But, occasionally, the traffic slows down or I am being driven. On such occasions, I quickly grab a few shots from my camera or camera phone.
On that day, my handy Panasonic Lumix camera was ON. I snapped some of these uncanny wits and hilarious wisecracks that help to keep Nigerians the happiest people on earth despite the bumbling afflictions of this infamous land of misrule.
Driving from Ore to Benin City, we were soon trailing a lorry on which I caught sight of this writ; “WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN”. It was as if the writer was taking a jab at the venerable Sir Isaac Newton. And that Newton was not the first observer or discoverer of the law of gravity. The renowned scientist only packaged it better by encoding it in the laws of motion of my first Physics lessons. For, after all, packaging, they say, is everything. Apple iPhones stand apart from my old rusty Samsung Galaxy S3 (now retired). Don’t worry. I am contented and happy.
Before he had the time to zoom past this lorry, I told my driver, Francis, to slow down. He immediately eased down on the accelerator. This enabled me to fill my camera view-screen with this shot. Hardly have I finished grabbing this series of shots when a police officer appeared from nowhere and waved for us to stop.
With the self-assurance that we were not over-speeding, Francis eased out of the highway and stopped the car. Ordinarily, the police officer ought not to have stopped our vehicle, because of the speed we were then maintaining. This was even more so as they did not stop the lorry immediately ahead of us.
Police officer: “I noticed you were taking our pictures from your car. Why did you take our picture?”
Me: “Officer, we were not taking pictures of you or your people. We are not even aware that there is a police checkpoint here. In fact, we are surprised by your unexpected dashing out into the road to stop us. You can even look at the picture I just took. In fact, I’ve been taking this and other similar shots all along the way.”
I now showed him all the sets of pictures I recently took. Apparently convinced by my explanations, the police officer now asked for my name, my state of origin, where we were coming from, and where we were heading to.
Me: “Officer, we are returning home from where we went to drop off my daughter at her school.”
Police officer: “Where do you work? Can I see your company‘s ID card?”
Me: “… I don’t travel with my company’s ID card on personal business.”
The officer now checked our vehicle documents and driving license. “All correct” and almost set to let us go, he was enthralled by my petite but capable Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS10 camera.
Police officer: “This your camera fine o. How much did you buy it.?”
Me: “Yes, it is. I spent almost as much money to fix it (when it got damaged) as the initial purchase price. So, this camera cost me roughly $700.”
Police officer: “That is a nice camera you’ve got. Can you help me get one like it?”
Me: “Actually, this camera is already old now. You may get this type or a similar one for about $250 equivalent in Lagos or Port Harcourt. Better still, you can send somebody to buy it for you from the US.”
Continuing for some minutes more, the police officer eventually let us off. As we were about to drive away, I gave him 1000 naira. Uncharacteristic of his trade, he did not solicit any money from me.
Police officer: “I hope you are not bribing us o ?”
Me: “Do you call that a bribe? I freely gave you the money without your asking for it. Is that what you call a bribe?”
Much later in the day, after arriving at Port Harcourt, I had time to pour over the pictures. Unknown to me, the police officer was partially captured in one of my shots. Only God knows what would have happened if he has seen the picture when I briefly scrolled him through my shots on the road earlier that day.
History is filled with examples of heroes who made their marks by doing the opposite of what was expected or commanded of them. Dietrich von Choltitz became the Saviour of Paris after courageously disobeying Adolf Hitler’s order to destroy the city during World War II. So, knowing the rules will help you know when it is better to break them despite all the risks.
There have been cases when disobeying orders helped to save lives and even averted the Mutually Assured Destruction of nuclear weapons fuelled World War III. However, the people referred to in these examples did not go against their orders because those orders were illegal. They disobeyed, because obeying those orders put lives at risk. They disobeyed because they felt that the risk taken by their acts of disobedience was worth it.
How we so much need to be wary of blind, unquestioning obedience.
Peace, yes, peace. But, if life has taught men and nations anything about attaining and keeping peace, it is in this, to keep your peace you must prepare for war.
Bullies will bully you if you are sheepish. Be it against bullies in the classroom, microaggression at work, global terrorists, or national bullies, turning the other cheek often embolden the bully. Pursue peace, but you must be ready to fight back.
If we don’t take risks, we won’t win. Both for ourselves, for our loved and even for our nations, if we do not take calculated and reasonable risks, we cannot hope to win. Photographer TYBello’s timely photo of a bread seller who photobombed a celebrity’s shot turned the fortuitous bread-seller into an instant celebrity and winning model.
An amputee water seller became a social media celebrity. When the picture of this never-give-up lady appeared on the web, offers from far and near soon came to her aid. What would have happened if this water seller had lashed out at the photographer who took her shot on that day?
Not everything is worth fighting for. Be wary, but prepare for those who will fight just because they know how to fight. Pick your fights if you must and know when to retreat. But it is only as you stand your ground that help will come your way.
To date, I still do not know the meaning of “SCHOOL RUNINED MY UFF.” And what does it matter that I don’t?
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Originally published by the author on Medium
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