Manage It Like That (MILT) — A Nigerian story

Everyone in Nigeria has heard or experienced the phrase “Manage It Like That”. Except you have just dropped out of the abroad into Nigerian airspace, it is virtually impossible to have regular interaction with Nigerians over the course of 24 hours without interacting with this phrase, either verbally or in action.

If you are the (un)lucky human who just fell into the Nigerian airspace, and on account of that have never experienced “Manage It Like That”, introductions are in order. If it’s night in the sky, look over the city you’re about to land on. Is there light? No? You will have to learn to manage it like that. If it’s daytime, it’s only fair to warn you that the motif of dirty roofs you just saw on the outside borders of the mega city you’re about to make an acquaintance with is not an an art project. Na there we dey live. Manage it like that.

If you slept through your flight and missed the welcome in the last paragraph, well, prepare for the smell as you emerge from the plane into our terminal. It’s terrible, a mixture of fermented urine, unclean toilets and humans with selective interactions with baths — the smell is almost toxic. But you will not die, nobody does. Just manage. Welcome to Naija.

A group of Nigerians in different stages of managing (Credit: 36ng.ng)

MILT — A Definition

Manage It Like That (MILT) is a Nigerian phrase that expresses the heart and soul of service delivery in Nigeria. It means take it as you see it, and means just that. The word ‘manage’ implies “this isn’t ideal, we know, but by all means make do, because we’re not about offering a substitute”.

Did you order food from the restaurant and got a wrong order? Sorry. But you can’t be so wicked as to expect the poor restaurant to absorb the loss and replace your order. Just manage. It’s not like you’ll die eating fried rice instead of the jollof rice you ordered. Rice is rice, please.

You’re used to Uber in other countries. Nice clean vehicles, friendly drivers. Well, welcome to the Nigerian Uber. It’s not clean, but come on, it’s not that dirty. Manage. What is that smell? Oh, it’s a goat in the trunk, for the family party tomorrow. It just got picked up. What? You are going to 1-star? Don’t you eat goat? You’re just wicked. And you call yourself a religious person. Are you the first person? Can’t you manage?

I believe at this point, MILT as a concept has been explained. Let’s move on to more scientific matters, like measuring this fantastic concept.

Measuring MILT

To measure MILT, you have to use the MILT Index. MILT Index is a measure of average periodic exposure to MILT within a location, and ranges from 0–100, where 0 = excellent and 100=terrible. To understand how MILT Index works, let’s take a country like Singapore, where things just work. Things work so well in that country that the people don’t have much to complain about. Because they really don’t need to manage much, their MILT Index is like 0.8. Not even up to 1.

Now if you’re in a war zone, you have to make a lot of compromises. This means people in the war-torn areas of Syria will have a MILT Index in the region of 95.

There is also the MILT Acceptance Value (MAV), which is the amount of MILT a person is ready to accept. While this is generally related to the MILT Index, its a value of its own. People from countries higher on the MILT Index are likely to have high MAVs, because they can’t come and kill themselves. But because this is a personal value, there are sometimes people who choose not to take nonsense, so would have lower MAVs. Those people are special of course.

It could be argued that the average Oyinbo person has low MAV because they grew up in countries with lower MILT Index, whereas, the average Nigerian has a high MAV, because our MILT Index is exceptionally high (about 98/100). The higher the MILT Index where you come from, the higher your chances of having a high MAV. It also means that the higher the MAVs of people in a country, the higher their score on the MILT Index.

MAV is also measured from 0–100.

Why Nigerians have higher MAVs

For us real Nigerians, managing is what we do. A few reasons for our high MAVs include situation, poverty, lack of consequence and religion.

Situation — If you stepped of out your home in the morning and discovered that the 10 minutes of rain you had last night had flooded your compound and street, do you call the Fire Service to come rescue you and your family, while waiting for the Works Department to unblock the drainage and…wait, I’m just kidding, which Fire Service?

You simply identify the stones your neighbours put in the water, hop gingerly, one step at a time. You manage till you get to your Toyota Corolla. The flooded road to work is littered with all kinds of cars that “water entered their engines”. Only high cars and Toyotas can manage. In the words of the ancient Greco-Roman philosopher, Small Doctor, if you don’t have Toyota, hide your face.

You sha managed to get to work. There’s no light and because of rain, diesel was not supplied, so you have to use small gen, meaning no air conditioning. What can you do? You can’t come and kill yourself, so you manage. The wifi is connecting, but no internet. Maybe the rain knocked out the mast. Again, what can you do? You bring out your phone and connect to your personal hotspot. God dey.

Poverty — doing things properly is expensive. Because people are continuously struggling with their hierarchy of needs, there is pressure to just get by. If you’re getting kicked out of your house in a month, your are more likely to tolerate poor service from your new prospective landlord/lady.

We are of course the poverty capital of the world, newly crowned and shii, so this poverty impacts of the education system, which in turn affects everything.

Lack of consequence — as a Nigerian, ask yourself, what would happen if I break the law? The answer mostly is “Nothing”. You can jump a red light, build a house without an approved plan, hire unqualified people to work in a health care facility and owe your staff salaries and nothing would happen. Even when an agent of the law apprehends you, you are confident in the ability to sort yourself out.

Recently, my driver overshot the airport pickup zone by a little bit and was immediately swarmed by ‘agents’ for breaking the law. My car was booted and they asked me to come negotiate my release. Of course I was upset! They weren’t even asking me to pay a fine, they were asking me to come and settle. One of them walked up and asked me to leave the front passenger seat and go to the back, so we can drive off and negotiate along the way.

The first thought in my head was, good. Once we drive off, my driver will not stop till we get to Lekki, 40 minutes away, then I’d kick him out and he’d learn his lesson. The second thought was to call a few military friends in the area to come and scatter everything, since everyone wants to be foolish. Over time, I had been nice to a few of these uniformed guys, and they have told me how frustrated they are that every time I have trouble, instead of calling them, I would resolve the wahala. These guys actually beg to come and beat people up for me, and here I was with the perfect opportunity.

I left the car, got in a cab and went home. The next day, my driver went back to the airport and paid the fine, got a receipt and took the car. Not calling those guys still pained sha.

Religion — this one is sensitive because Nigerians love their belief systems. But religion is actually really bad for us. We all know the religious people who say “God forbid” or “That’s not my portion” when you talk about home safety and servicing a vehicle so it doesn’t kill it’s occupants. “It is well” is actually a variant of MILT!

I know a person who lost a family member to medical malpractice — when friends discussed potentially bringing a case against the hospital, he said to let it go, “it is well”.

A contractor who worked for me once came to drag his worker out of my site. When the contractor told me that the worker, who lived with him had allegedly raped his sister, I was of course all militant and ready to help him get the guy arrested and charged. Just as we were leaving the site, the contractor’s father called. The painter’s family had come to beg him, and his religion says “vengeance is mine”. The rapist was let go.

So Nigerians are the problem

Yes.

Nothing works in Nigeria. Nothing. But the worst part of the entire faulty enterprise is our ability to absorb the poor infrastructure, services, injustice and just manage. We manage at home, we manage at work, we manage in places of worship, we even manage in hospitals! Our walls are crooked, our roofs are terribly done and leak, our window panes never align properly, our plumbing never doesn’t leak, and let’s not even talk about tiles being laid in straight lines.

We know all these things, but instead of actively trying to fix the problems, we manage. We manage it like that.

Now I’m not Jesus. So I’ve done my bit of MILT, most times, just to save myself unnecessary headache. So I also contribute to the problem.

Can you reduce your MAV?

Good question.

There are actually some good people who have managed to reduce their MAVs despite the high MILT Index of Nigeria. I must warn however, that the price for this is high. Reducing your MAV in Nigeria requires you to actively not take nonsense. And if you think this is easy, let me quote what colleagues told the airport security guy who returned a bagful of dollars he found in the airport bathroom: You’re mad.

A friend of mine got into a legal fight with a bank which had ripped him off. The case ran for years and the bank fought really hard. They also ensured the guy couldn’t land a job for a while, to pressure him to give up. His family, friends, church, everyone told him he was crazy for not accepting to chop nonsense like everyone. Then he won. A month later, the guy left Nigeria.

Have you ever tried to tell a Nigerian that driving one way is wrong? They will curse your mother in the village. Remember the girl who dared to tell the world her lecturer wanted her to exchange sex for marks? Remember how Nigerians abused her? Like, is she the only one?

You see, simply standing up and displaying a low MAV will turn Nigerians against you, possibly including your own family.

If you ever want to experiment with death, try using a zebra crossing in Nigeria.

Try laying tiles straight in Nigeria

I will tell you my experience. I was renovating my home and this guy swore he was the best tiler East of the Lekki Bay Area (cool name credit: Loy Okezie). He showed me pictures of work he had done, so I decided to try him.

When I saw the first set of tiles laid, I died. When I finally came to, I simply told him to take the entire thing down. He laid it again, better than last time, but still bad. I came back, told him to take it all down. Of course he trotted out the usual Nigerian refrain: Oga, you can just manage it like that. Ah, I was going to kill that guy, but grace is sufficient.

So I made him do the tiling 4 times. I had to buy everything twice, but I was intent on teaching a lesson. By the fourth time, the tiling was done decently. There were a few dents, but they were ‘manageable’ dents.

Of course I kept that guy long enough to spread the rumour that this oga is harsh and will make you do one job 10 times until it’s done. That is how I got my artisans to deliver quality work on my project.

A few weeks ago, a squeak was coming from the right side of my vehicle. It was there for a few days — a most discomfiting sound. Our usual service center couldn’t detect the fault with their machines, but my driver said going to another shop was a waste of money, so we should manage. This guy has worked with me for almost 7 years, and knows I would rather have that thing fixed, even if it cost a fortune, yet he still asked that I manage. I made him take it to another shop of course. The new shop couldn’t find the fault, but they suspected something was loose in the rear seats, so they took the seats out, lubricated and reinstalled them. The squeak stopped.

Imagine if I had agreed to manage. I would have been enduring headaches. The curious thing is that my driver is a guy I have trained to avoid short cuts over the time he has worked with me. He doesn’t drive against traffic or jump red lights. He obeys stop signs and slows down at zebra crossings. If a guy like that still tells me to manage after all these years, you know, this MILT thing is a spirit.

It’s a cycle

My belief is that if Nigerians collectively start demanding better of themselves, beginning from small things, we will ultimately grow.

Because, it starts from managing small puddles in the compound, to managing the squeaky gate, to managing the potholes on the street, then flooded streets and dirty highways. If we accept bad roads, we inevitably agree to accept a broken country.

Every single time we accept to manage something, we pass up the opportunity to fix a problem. And a million unfixed problems is why Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. It is because of the damn too high Manage-It-Like-That Acceptability Value!

When will it stop?

I don’t know.

Murtala Muhammad thought flushing our historically inefficient civil service would lower our MILT Index. It didn’t end well. Then Buhari (version I) came with koboko and WAI, trying to whip Nigerians into shape. That didn’t end well either. By the time he was overthrown, people threw street parties.

The one person who seemed to really understand the MILT situation was The Evil Genius, who pretty much formalized our MILT culture, allowing Nigerians to display the worst possible versions of themselves without consequence, and Nigerians loved that. By the time he left, our MILT Index was a solid 100.

People don’t want to pay tax because the government isn’t working, and the government says they aren’t working because the people aren’t paying taxes. The thing though, is that some of us have tried this tax paying thing for years. What are we getting out of it? Nothing. We build our own roads, provide our own water, provide our own power and still have to pay NEPA for the privilege of providing our own power.

Personally, I’m too deep in the system to stop paying taxes. I’m easy to catch, so I probably won’t stop paying or anything like that. But if people plain refuse to pay, our government should understand, please. After all, we’re Nigerians — government can Manage It Like That.

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