Heart of Arts


Toyin Falola


To the acada, concepts like intelligence quotient and emotional intelligence are factors used to understand individuals’ stability and relatability at different extremes and psychological understanding. However, the streets of 9ja have developed some sociolinguistic terminologies to understand other levels of intelligence among the people. You might not have heard or understood what OT means if you are not from the street. You may simply be described as ajebo, those with an affluence background. But the street knows no class of the environment, and even the ajebo have gotten attracted to the word’s usage. I, myself, am not ajebo; like many of the majority of Nigerians, I can confidently say that I am a true breed ajepako, and as such, there is a level of OT I am expected to reach to flow with the street, so as not to turn a victim of it.

OT is the street’s abbreviation for orientation. We understand that without the right orientation for certain things, one may not be able to progress or relate well to particular subject matters. OT depicts the lesson the streets will teach you in Nigeria. You must agree that the ghetto and the places you will most likely find those without much influence in Nigerian society are more than a school. The street makes you unlearn, learn and relearn so that you will be street smart, and OT is indeed the right coefficient for street smartness. Although it simply means orientation, the concept of orientation in this context is wide. The orientation is survival instinct and perception that would allow you to thrive in a very suffocating environment.

Nigerian society has created a wide gap between the rich and the poor, and the current state of things has shown how degenerating it could be in the next couple of years. So, if you are an ajebo, there is a likelihood that you will go to school and move quite above others. If you are ajepako, the likelihood is that you would not be educated, and if you are lucky to be, you must try to make do with the little educational resources and facilities that are below the barest minimum. Hence, you need OT to compete with the wealthy cadre as an uneducated fellow or not too educated. Make your living smartly, neatly, and quickly from the few immediate opportunities you see. No dulling.

The facilities and amenities in the country are limited and widely available basically with people of influence. To get yours legally, you must be smart and have the right OT: you must be street smart. Street smartness is how to navigate societal norms, have an outstanding creative mindset, and throw everything at your disposal to convince people. So, when you as an Ajepako graduate strive for the same job as ajebo graduate that has most likely secured the job before the interview by the intervention of his or her parents or anyone the connection can reach, you must not just be book smart; you must be street smart by showing extraordinary, distinctive characteristics, that are not only convincing but would leave the interviewer with the mind-battle that not hiring you is forgoing a gem. The street called that OT packaging.

In several of the public institutions in Nigeria, a considerable number are from the ajepako social division and, as such, would have to struggle to eat, let alone afford some of the charges in their institutions. So, when there is a party, something the street call owo epo, you see them with some of their native attires and come in like a noble guest. You would have even taken them to the VIP section without being careful. But both males and females will have the right big bags with them, or polythene backs perfectly put in their pockets. So, every food goes in there, and every plate that comes by must not just go by. You will hear, “food never reach this side oh.” That is probably after 3 plates of rice and 4 plates of amala have perished inside the almighty polythene bag. Do you want to hear? They will take as many drinks and water as possible. A sachet of water is now N20; you cannot blame the street. Sometimes, they would go in groups, take their table and establish themselves like an invited egbe, or groups. That is how they food-hunt every party to sustain them for the week. You have told them not to steal, but the street has taught them not to dull. Ja ra e.

OT is the knowledge from the street, and the street as an institution allows you to make what you want out of it. Whether good or bad, it is still an OT. If you have not been a victim before, you would have heard the funny but unfortunate experience of some people that get scammed by individuals, especially in very busy places and environments. If you would go to Osodi, some places in Warri, Sango Ota in Ogun State, Dugbe in Ibadan, Onitsha Market, and other similarly highly populated areas, you probably would need to go with your 6th sense, your OT. Some funny experiences are those that would find their bags, carefully and ‘professionally’ slit with probably blade or scissors, with their things gone. Funny enough, you may not even know until you have reached your destination that your phones, money, and valuables have disappeared. In other cases, you would hear people stopping by Alaba Market, the famous computer village in Lagos, to buy a phone. They would have tested the phone, see it well packaged for them and sealed, only to get home to see balls of fufu in phone casing and cartons, well-sealed and packaged even. When you return there, you will never meet or see the seller; even if you see him or her, your OT must teach you enough not to approach.

It takes OT to be protected from the dangerous manifestations of OT. You would know what to say and what not in the required situation. You would know that the street boys are watching your every move and, as such, no dulling. The street will tell you not to be over-excited about offers, that you should carry your bags where you can always see every part of them, that you should crosscheck your products, and that you should exhibit great care.

Do not get me wrong; it would be wrong or misrepresentation to tell you that the operationality of OT is only in the street. It is emotional intelligence amplified—a little step beyond it and without all the academic conditions.  OT could be seen as the ability to cope with people, not overshare in discussions, and know what to say to draw out needed information from people. OT means innovative ideas that could be manipulated or adapted to peculiar situations. It is the sociological touch to intelligence, and as it is evident that the Nigerian society is one full of many smart but desperate individuals, it allows one to use those resources wisely. This then bolsters the importance of ensuring that educational institutions and other institutions directly involved in the developmental stage of every individual in the country impact the needed OT in people to give them the social skills to cope wherever they find themselves.

Something that could scare one is the OT gotten to sharpen the ability to outsmart others when there are no sufficient resources. When there are limited resources, it is reasonable that everyone becomes desperate to make the most of the available ones or find alternatives where necessary. OT proves that Nigerians are one of the most resourceful populations globally and further shows that the nation is largely underutilizing its adaptability abilities. Over the years, the Nigerian government has failed to create needed platforms and resources whereby these talents would succeed; they have further ensured that people who try to use their OT to make attempts at legit creativity fail at them. Yahoo Yahoo, Fraud, stealing, armed robbery, land-grabbing, corruption, and other vices developed from long-time social interactions are manifestations of negative OTs from the street. Positive OT is what we want, and the nation has to ensure that negative OT does not affect social safety.

As a student of the street, too, I have used my OT to make a name for myself and contributed to the epistemology of Africa. As for you, do you have the OT? If you do, what do you use it for?

*This piece was composed in Mahikeng, the capital of the Northwest Province in South Africa. I am grateful to my host, Professor Abiodun Salawu, who provided maximum comfort, transforming me from Ajepako to Ajebo!


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