My earliest memory of fighting for my right was when I was about 4 years old. I knew there was only one appropriate haircut for me and indeed anyone with a head at the time, the style was called ‘Tyson’. It was named after the then boxing sensation, Iron Mike Tyson. On this particular day though, the barber not only did not serve me ‘Tyson,’ obviously on instruction, he took everything off or reduced it to the point I felt every hair on my head had been taken off. That was the hardest I ever fought and the longest I remember ever crying as a child. I had control over my hairstyle ever since.
It was not until I was 18 that I had my first fight against an institution. I had gone to the bank to ask them whether it would be possible to make withdrawals from my account whilst in school. They said payments could be made into my account from anywhere in the country but withdrawals could only be made from their branch — where I opened the account. I said in that case, I’d never have use for the account again because now that I was going to resume school, it’d be of no use to me if I could not make use of it in school. I told them I wanted to close the account. They told me to go bring a receipt of my house rent and utility bill.
That was easy. I went home and wrote myself a receipt from one of my dad’s housing receipts and also picked up a NEPA bill. I took them to the bank and expected things to go smoothly. Obviously not expecting that a kid like me was already paying rent, they did not expect that I’d have the rent document, so quickly too. But I had it. The bank officer asked why the name of the company on the receipt and my name were the same thing? I said it was a wrong question to ask. I said the issue was whether the receipt was fake or original. He refused to close the account.
I was not pleased. I decided I was going to see their manager. They refused this request. Then I saw a phone number on the desk for complaints. I went out to a public phone booth and made a call. It was about N50/minute at the time. I was shocked to see I was now connected to the headquarter of the bank. I thought the number was going to connect me to the manager of the branch, here I was speaking to the HQ. Even better. I narrated my story. They said that was no issue and instructed that I return to the bank. I informed them that it was now past banking hours. But they insisted, saying they were waiting for me.
They indeed were. When I returned to the bank, I was ushered straight to the branch manager’s office. Interestingly, he wasn’t discussing the issue with me. He was just looking to have a conversation about my interests. There was a lot of talk about the future too. I think I said I didn’t intend to speak to the HQ. That all along, I asked to speak with him and also believed the phone number would lead to him directly. Moments later, he apologized for everything that had happened and told me the account had now been closed. When we were done, the staff members were waiting for me. It was handshakes for everyone. But for my size and age, you’d have thought I was a visiting regional manager. I don’t think that experience ever left me.
This was about a decade before I had a long public spat with an airline. That is another story altogether. This was long before the days of social media. I believe if social media was a thing at the time, I probably would have had to send a private message to the bank’s handle or do a direct post to the timeline.
I do not know what the average reader is able to pick out of this. What I do know is, a lot has since changed since this experience. The world has changed immensely and Nigeria, for all its challenges, has made extraordinary leaps on some fronts. Negativity bias blinds the lot of us. Quite a lot of things that have since become the norm now were either a privilege or outrightly not even possible.
The real lesson for me at the time is, information is the ultimate weapon but there is no victory without thoughtful action. I took out my time to be clear as to what was needed. I went out to get it. When the institution refused to play its part, I used the information that was made available, made a call and articulated my point. I remember even serving a motivation, telling the receiver I intended to open a new account with them in a new city. I fulfilled that promise about two decades later. It is not like I owed them anything.
These days, having been encouraged by the fearlessness and bravery of others before them, especially young people who deployed social media to good effect, many have now found their voice. It is quite impressive to see. It would be beautiful if it did not come with a tragedy. When you pay attention to a lot of the conversations online, they come off as empty and hollow. You’d be better served with some silence, no matter how loud, against the noise you’d get exposed to.
People, obviously bereft of how anything works, yet hoping that just by getting some insults across will somehow get those with the voices of reason to disappear. So that the weakness of ignorance, on account of its loudness, will prevail. Sadly though, ignorance often comes off worse off. Always has, always will. Those who want to change themselves learn about themselves, those who want to change a system, combine what they know about themselves with what they know about the system. There are no alternatives.