Last Monday morning I’d just crossed Conduit street when I saw a warden about to write me a parking ticket. I ran over. “Stop! don’t give me a ticket,” I shouted. “I’m a great friend of the Yoruba people. I love Lagos. Nigeria is my favourite country.”
He stopped and looked up, his ticket-writing arm suspended in mid-air. “How did you know I am a Yoruba man?” he asked, a huge smile of amazement on his face.
“I was a friend of Mko.” I said.
“You knew the Chief?” He said.
“Did I know the Chief,” I said. “He and I were like that.” I held up my crossed fingers. “Mko Abiola – God rest his soul.” I said. “He was a great man.”
“Yes. He was a very great man,” he said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“You’re from Abeokuta?” I asked.
“Oh, you really know Nigeria,” he said, with an even bigger smile. “How did you know the Chief?”
Chief Mko Abiola was a billionaire businessman and philanthropist who won the first free Nigerian elections in 1993, only to be thrown into prison the next day by the military strongman. He remained there for three years, until President Clinton and Kofi Anan negotiated his release. But, on the day he was due out, he died in his cell from a “heart attack”.
“I was the Chief’s personal life-insurance salesman,” I said. He laughed and put his arm round my shoulder. I sensed I wasn’t going to get a parking ticket.
“You do know, John, that three years later the family’s own head of security killed Mko’s wife? I read in the paper only last Tuesday he had been sentenced to death after a fast-track trial – that lasted only 13 years!”
“The wheels of justice go slowly in Nigeria,” he said.
“Remember this, John.” I said. “Never have bodyguards. They always end up killing you. Personally, I’ve let my whole security detail go. Who wants to be shot in the head in the bath? That’s where the chief bodyguard of President Karzai’s brother shot him last year in Afghanistan? Well, he might have been on the lavatory, but it was definitely in the bathroom area.”
His attractive female colleague walked over and joined us. “You could go on safari in that car of yours,” she said, pointing to my giant Land Rover Defender with the 4 huge headlights on the roof.
“What is this?” she asked, pointing at the three-foot-high chimney shaped thing on the bonnet.
“It’s my snorkel! I can drive underwater with it.” I said. “I never go over Westminster Bridge any more. I just drive straight through the Thames!”
“We could go round the world in it!” she said.
“What’s your name?” I asked”
“Comfort.” She said
“Comfort? This is your lucky day! This car’s built for Comfort! Are you a Yoruba lady by any chance?”
“How do you know that?”
As I drove off, my two new parking warden friends waved goodbye. You don’t need to have a PhD in Nigerian politics to avoid a parking ticket. “Are you a Yoruba?” usually does the trick.