When was your first time in Nigeria and why did you visit?
I first came (to Nigeria) in June 2012 when I started working in the country (with Lafarge). I’ve lived in Nigeria since then; making it a total of four years.
What’s your favourite fun spot in the country and why?
Let me cheat: I have two fun spots. The first of my favourite fun spots is The (New Afrika) Shrine; its ambience, its history, and the vibes (that reverberate) there (at the Shrine) are just out of this planet. My second favourite fun spot is the Bush Bar in Ikoyi (Lagos State). It is simple but it is a good joint to watch football in a great atmosphere; sizzling, tasty suya and good crowd. I like authentic places that tell a story and that you cannot find anywhere else. The two spots perfectly portray that.
What Nigerian food did you eat first in the country?
(That is a) difficult question. (It was) probably dodo (fried plantain).
Which Nigerian local dish do you enjoy the most?
My best ever (meal was the) pounded yam with egusi soup that I had when I went to Idanre (in Ondo State).
You are married to a Nigerian; what’s the attraction?
I married Tosyn (Bucknor) because she is Tosyn and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. (It is) not because she is a Nigerian woman. But if I had to pick some of her traits I love and that I admire in some other Nigerian women, I would point to her independence, ambition, self-drive, entrepreneurial spirit, strength, and energy.
Before you came to the country, what misconceptions did you have about it and its people?
I thought Nigerians were good at football – that was before the Les Bleus (France national football team) beat the Super Eagles easily to reach the quarter finals at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For the rest, honestly, I do not like generalisations or stereotypes. There is no such thing as a typical Nigerian man or woman. How would you compare Gidi people (Lagosians) with Ekiti people? How will you compare Calabar people with Kano people? All I know is that I love Nigerians’ energy, optimism, liveliness and the ambition to do better every day.
Which Nigerian musician do you enjoy listening to?
Fela (Kuti) will forever be number one in my mind. Only a few artistes in history have managed to symbolise a country, its culture and its society at some point in time (like Fela did). Fela did not care about any code. He would not package three-minute tracks but would instead do 20-minute songs with fabulous introductions. He would use beats and instruments peculiar to Nigeria but modernise them, making a great musical revolution while being very acute in his lyrics, criticising his country’s leaders.
He would sing in pidgin English to convey his messages to the masses. And in spite of all those Nigerian ‘ingredients,’ his music was a great export – my mum told me she attended one of his concerts in France. It says a lot (about Fela).
That said, I also like Afro hip-hop songs; I like hitmakers like Falz TheBahdGuy, Reminisce, Phyno, and Olamide. Similarly, I like alternative artistes like Temidollface, Adekunle Gold, Simi, Saeon, and, of course Con.Tra.Diction. There’s so much creativity in the Nigerian musical industry today; it’s impressive.
What Nigerian song do you enjoy listening to the most?
My little secret: Banky W’s ‘Jasi.’
What local attire do you wear the most?
I have several local outfits but the one I wear the most is a simple, plain, black short-sleeved attire. It is my perfect Friday wear.
Have you commuted in a ‘Marwa,’ ‘okada’ or ‘danfo’ (Nigerian commercial tricycle, motorcycle or bus, respectively) before?
I have travelled on many local means of transport in Nigeria and in many other parts of the planet. Meeting people always makes travelling an experience and there’s no better way to meet various kinds of people. I was surprised to discover kekes in Nigeria after travelling in many of their Indian equivalent, the rickshaws.
What would you say are the similarities between Nigeria and France?
They are two great countries with a great history. You can go far back in time to see great kingdoms such as the Benin Kingdom and the French Kingdom. Although not as spectacularly (as in Nigeria), France used to be a melting pot of ethnic groups with different languages and cultures put together in a country and assimilated under one culture created over time and one lingua franca — to bring everyone together.
Also, there is something else about the two countries. They are on the map; they lead and influence their continents, whether it is economically or by their culture. People either love them (Nigeria and France) or hate them, but at least, no one is indifferent to these two countries. There is a great national pride on both sides, and also a tendency to criticise our leaders.
What Nigerian language do you speak?
I speak pidgin small-small, ati Yoruba di e di e (a little Yoruba).
Have your French friends or European colleagues ever sought your advice on how to date a Nigerian lady?
It has actually happened. I tell them to listen to Fatai Rolling Dollar’s song ‘She go run away’ to get a clue.
Have you tasted any Nigerian local drink and what was the experience like?
Of course; it’s palm wine, and I usually order a chapman at bars.
As Lafarge’s Affordable Housing Manager in Nigeria, what do you do?
I help low-income earners to become home-owners. So far, the journey has been great as we have had 20,000 beneficiaries in three years.
Do you have a Nigerian name?
My name is Omowale Ajala. Omowale was actually given to me by my company’s matron and people started calling me that. She has now even adopted me as her ‘son.’ I gave myself Ajala as I have been travelling a lot in Nigeria. I have travelled and worked in 13 states in Nigeria.