Hey Nigerians! Beware of ‘associations’, they are evil!

Every Nigerian, as an end consumer of products, should beware of associations. Or ‘societies’. Or whatever name they call their evil gathering. Why? Let me share an experience with you all.

On getting to Benin after two and a half weeks of a good combination of filth, despair and fun in Okada (location of the orientation camp), my first challenge was securing an apartment. I had the option of staying in one of the many Christian lodges but the price was quite too heavy for me. Of course, the price I mean here isn’t monetary, but the freedom to do things how and when I want to do them.

I have a very fluid daily routine that requires the absolute freedom and control that comes with living in one’s apartment. There are nights I just wanna leave the lights on and read, and there are nights I want a humid darkness and play loud music till sleep eventually beckons.

The laws and endless ‘fellowships’ that comes with staying at the lodge are flagrant and burdensome, in my opinion, so I stayed away.

I lodged in an affordable hotel the day I got into Benin and immediately commenced my search for an apartment. I didn’t want much: a decent sized room, proper ventilation and a good bathroom. That’s all. So, wrongly, I assumed my search should be easy and fast.

As is the case in Lagos and presumably other states in the country, there are two ways to go about the search for an apartment:

1. You walk around preferred neighborhoods yourself and look out for any sign of “house to rent”.

2. You meet an agent who, usually, has a good number of opportunities or connection that helps him/her locate you one in no time.

In my case, I combined the two. I walked in the evenings after returning from my PPA (as that afforded me the opportunity to get to know the new environment) and also hired an agent that eventually got me an apartment.

It is my encounter with this agent that actually triggered my long fear and hatred of ‘associations’ in Nigeria. Hiring an agent, I was told, requires that you purchase a compulsory registration form before going to inspect properties. One of the many conditions you must consent to in the form includes, boldly, the payment of ten percent of whatever it is you eventually pay to the landlord as rent when you finally find one that you like. I was later told some even demand 20 percent.

The ten percent payment sounded like a fair deal to me because of the amount of stress the agents save people, and the fact that every service comes at a cost. But, regardless, in my typical Nigerian nature, I teased the agent and appealed for a cut. The man, surprisingly, silently dragged me into his shop and told me something that I found interesting.

Oga, no be say I no fit give you cut o. In fact, if I get my way, I no go dey collect registration fees because the thing dey always drive many customers. But we get association and na dem dey control price. Dem get informants everywhere and if dem here say I dey give people cut, dem go call me thief and lock my shop”, he said.

I thanked him, paid all that was required, signed the form and left silently. I left with a worrying thought on how associations like his, controlled by greedy and insecure people, often defraud the public and render the essence of market competition useless.

Here was a man ready to offer the service in another way in order to get in front of the queue as far as demand is concerned. His ‘no pay before inspecting properties’ offer will of course entice a lot of people as it makes economic sense in the event that they do not like the properties inspected. They can leave without any worry. It was a risk, but one the agent was willing to take to, as said earlier, get ahead of others and make his service more appealing. And that is the whole sense of competition. The desire to outdo one another by different service providers birthing innovations and juicy deals for customers/consumers.

It is this desire that often lead to great inventions and creativity in the production of goods and rendering of services. And all we, end consumers, have to do is watch while they fight and decide the winner with our cash and who we give it to. Everything free and fair, no rigging.

But these associations seek to kill that. The chairman or woman and a host of others are okay with the status-quo and are hell bent on not giving change a chance as that will inevitably threaten their position and eventual profit. Why allow others inspire a change that we will be forced to obey when we can just come together and bully everyone into maintaining the status-quo?

Rate-fixing. A crime. A fraud. And that, primarily, is what a lot (meaning there are exceptions) of these associations stand for. They are everywhere now: Barbers, pepper grinders, Napep drivers etc.

In the end, the agent got me a decent apartment and he told me to pay less than I should for agency fees on the grounds that I would recommend him to my corper friends in Benin who might also be seeking an apartment.

He’s a smart business man, but, like many other smart businessmen in Nigeria, his association won’t just let him be great.

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