Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's a Black and White World

Nigerian lawyers wear black suits with white shirts.  Not necessarily in their offices, but always to court, and usually to public functions for their profession.   This attire is nothing new to them.  University students in Nigeria wear black and white to class every day.  By law school, this uniform has shifted to the black suit and white shirt.  (For my fellow law students, can you imagine dressing like it's OCI every day for a year!?  That sounds worse than firm wear.)

This week is the Annual Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) sea of black and whiteConference.  Every attorney from across the country that can get here is here.  Several thousand black and white clad people everywhere you turn.  The International Conference Center looks like it has been over-run by giant penguins.

The program said the Conference began at 9am.  We arrived a bit before 10.  People were everywhere across the grounds.  I hadn't seen so many people in one place since Church on Sunday and thought perhaps the conference hadn't started yet.  We headed towards the building, stopping to greet people, shooing away photographers, and looking for others from our office.

The International Conference Center is very large.  In the grand foyer, large windows reach towards the sky.  The polished marble floor reflects light coming from the chandelier-like lights high above.  Stairs at each end lead to a balcony containing a concession stand and entrances to the upper level viewing area of the hall.  High-backed, cushy looking stadium seating fills the upper level.  Down below is open to allow customizing the area.

On this particular day, both the foyer and the hall were overflowing with people, chairs, signs, and banners.  korrect chair stencil croppedPlastic lawn korrect chairchairs filled the center of the foyer.  Many of the chairs had "Korrect" stenciled across the back.  One chair actually had the stencil taped on it.    Some people sitting in the chairs were watching video on three large screens at the front of the room.  Others were talking on their phones or to their neighbors, or walking between the screens and the projectors.  More people moved about the room, talking to friends, looking at displays, trying to get somewhere else.  It was too noisy to hear what the person on the main screen was saying.  I thought the screens were showing a video tape of a prior year or something and that the conference still hadn't begun.

I wandered around the periphery of the room with the two attorneys with whom I came, looking at the various display booths.  Most of the booths were publishers for legal texts or providers of legal services, one sold food, another cell phones.  Signs for LexisNexis were everywhere.  Not only did they have a booth, they were a sponsor of the conference.  I didn't see any Westlaw, but Thomson and MathewBender were represented.

We decided to head upstairs and into the hall.  There were as many people coming down the stairs as going up, and often some people would stop to chat with those going the opposite direction.  Across the balcony, people sat at tables or stood along the walls mingling.

The conference had started, it had been going on this entire time.  I learned this when we entered the hall.  Far down below, across the room, the President Forum of Federations was giving part of the keynote address.  He was the 4th speaker on the program, and one of several people to be part of the keynote address.  We stood at the back of the room for a bit, then decided to sit on the stairs, crowded in with others who had chosen to do the same.

Down below were rows and rows of chairs.  The first half of the room had cushioned fold-up chairs.  In the back of the room, the rows consisted of the same plastic lawn chairs as in the foyer.  Both below and above there were empty seats.  One here, another there, all spread out and in the middle of different rows.  I was surprised that people did not climb past others or move down to fill in every seat.  People sitting on steps, so close they were nearly on top of each other; that seemed like Africa.  People leaving empty chairs between themselves and their neighbors, and no one trying to get to those seats; that did not seem like Africa.

We stayed for awhile - what I could hear of the speaker was very interesting.  He was discussing Federalism in Nigeria and concerns about the Federal government taking away State power.  One of his examples was federal hotel licensing.  This hurts tourism and development, because it creates confusion for investors who then have to deal with two separate levels of government when building hotels.  More confusion equals less finished developments.  It all sounded very interesting, and I wish I could have heard more.  But, people were talking all around us, to their friends and on their phones; others were constantly moving up and down the stairs.

We decided to leave the conference.  It was, as the attorneys said, "rowdy."  One of the attorneys, Dr. Y., decided to show me a bit of Abuja.  We went to her place in an area called Gaines Village.  There's security gates just to enter the giant "village."  Inside, almost everything you need.  There's restaurants, a bank, a fire station, and tons of little circular shops made out of mud bricks with thatched roofs.  The shops reminded me of Cheelo.  I don't know if there are any houses in the village, we only saw some of the apartment buildings.  It all looked very nice and very fun.

Next stop, a real adventure - the post office to buy stamps.  We returned to the center of town where the other attorney knew of a post office.  It was inside a large building.  We entered the compound and were directed towards an unfinished parking garage.  Then we were directed into the unfinished parking garage.  As we climbed ramp after ramp, driving past filled stall after filled, we could see workers adding cement to the walls, polishing parts, molding around the wooden support beams.  The garage was overfull, cars had parked in the traffic lanes, behind and perpendicular to the cars in stalls.  We squeezed past these cars, swerved around piles of rocks and continued climbing ramps.  Finally, one ramp short of the roof, Dr. Y gave up and pulled in behind other cars in a parking lane.  We hoped not to be gone to long.  Then we had to find our way out.

We walked to a corner of the garage with three doors.  We each tried a door.  Each door was locked.  The next corner, behind a dusty school desk, stairs!  We headed down, and down, and down.  Finally reaching the ground level, we had to weave between cars and around steel drums to avoid the cement workers.  Dust and debris were everywhere.  We were so relived to finally reach sunlight outside!  Then, we just had to get the stamps, climb back up the stairs, and wind our way down out of the garage.  After all that, anyone who receives a letter from me should feel really special.

The rest of the day was still fun, but nothing quite as adventurous as before lunch.  My first day of work!  It was very exciting, despite involving no work. 

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