For some years now, I have been living in Dubai. A 21st century city. A city that works. A city that teaches you about continuous development and improvement. A very futuristic city. With money in your pocket, Dubai is a place where you can get all the pampering of this world – from services to products – they are just a call away from you. But this article is not about Dubai; it is about my trip to fatherland.
I found myself in Nigeria recently and the experience was unbelievably one of the best that I have had in any recent past. Of course, it was not because the infrastructure is better, nor was there any significant physical development, virtually all our infrastructures have gone worse than I left them when I last visited Nigeria in December 2009 – January 2010.
So, the experience was the best in recent time because, it brought me back to planet earth; I saw extreme poverty and extreme wealth. I saw opportunities amidst the lack of adequate governance in Nigeria. For we cannot say there is adequate governance if the roads are bad and people would have to spend more than two hours to cover a distance that is less than 30km. Or if our healthcare system is insufficient and ineffective. Or if schools are bad and the quality of most of the graduates from virtually all Nigerian schools (primary, secondary, and tertiary) is nothing to write home about. And many more. So, what made the experience unbelievably one of the best?
There is no word that can describe the feeling of re-uniting with one’s families and friends after such a long time. Of course I couldn’t see as many as I would have loved to because moving around in Lagos was hectic, but I managed to see most of my family members and cousins. Those I couldn’t see we spoke on phone. Another thing that did it for me were the meals, they were spicy and hot. It was as if the first meal I had was telling me, “young man, welcome back home, this is how I make people do oooh aaah here”. It was hotly spicy and spicily hot.
Some weeks before I left here, I was craving for parties (proper naija “owambe”), I didn’t know God had planned two for me within my own family. My sister and a cousin had their Nikkah (may Allah put His blessing in their marriages), they were a melting point for me to further meet with some people I would not have seen because of my tight schedule.
My children enjoyed themselves in Nigeria, just as they also got initiated to mosquito-bites and malaria. I was very happy when we got back to Dubai and they started speaking confidently but not fluently in Yoruba. No one would have thought a month vacation could do the magic of boosting their confidence in speaking Yoruba. Please allow me to celebrate that “feat” for I am unrepentantly a traditionalist.
I did four states while in Nigeria – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Kwara. What was I looking for? Knowledge. My experience in Lagos with regards to the socio-economic realities of Nigeria wasn’t the best. There are too many social vices in Lagos, their chiefs are drugs (marijuana, alcohol, etc.) and gambling (Lagos Lottery and others). Too many frustrated and depressed people who hang on those two for “solace” – on drugs to be high and forget “their sorrow” and on gambling for “economic empowerment” forgetting that the game-house/casino always wins.
It is not only adults that indulge in these vices, adolescence do too. It was not uncommon to see secondary school kids play lottery and even do drugs. It is my opinion that governments (local, state and federal) in Nigeria have to put proper regulations and adequate law enforcement structures in place to correct this trend. It is not in our best interest to condemn our youths to drugs and gambling for there is no way we can build healthy society when too many people are seeking refuge in them.
But the Lagos’ socio-economic story is not all of woes. The economic potential of Lagos is undeniably growing and I saw people strategically harnessing them. However, most of the Lagos’ economic levers are in the hands of people operating in the non-corporate environment – the traders. They form most of the people whose lives I saw had changed tremendously from how I left them in 2010. Next to them are the friends I have in the oil and gas sector, although things were quite slow in that sector too but they are not doing badly.
A visit to my hometown was another climax of my trip to Nigeria. Moloko, was about the only place I found calmness in Nigeria, not even in my very dear Ilorin nor in Ibadan. Those two cities are now very energetic, trying to match up with Lagos’ energy level. Although they are still very far behind Lagos, they were never as bustling as they were during my recent visit. That said, I would still choose either of them as a place to live in over Lagos if I were to relocate back to Nigeria. Lagos, as currently is, is a suffocating place to live because the energy required to live in that state is just too much – I doubt if I can withstand such energy level.
Something profound happened during one of the meetings I had in Ibadan on a friend’s uncle’s farm. We got talking about the Nigerian economy and those who really control it, and we unanimously agreed that a bulk of the money within the Nigerian economy is in the hands of those with little or no formal education – from the farmer in Sokoto, to the trader in Aba, Kano or Lagos; those guys are wealthy.
It is my opinion that it is so because they are not afraid of failure and they do not overthink the business model nor strategy. They rely on “commonsense” and not some business plan. The commonsense questions they only ask themselves are: do people need this product? Does this product already exist in the marketplace? What is the margin on it? What volume do I have to sell to make it worthwhile? If they have convincing answers to those questions (and a couple of others), they just move in and act. While the “alokowe” in us would be doing some SWOT analysis and trying to preempt the government policies and so on, because we don’t want to “burn” our fingers. It is true that we must be careful with our money, but no business idea ever realised its potential on paper. It does when acted upon. That’s how to give an idea life; that’s how to learn; that’s how to grow.
Another interesting thing I noticed was that, all the entrepreneurs and businessmen I spoke with revealed that their major challenge in their ventures and businesses was human resources. They face a lot of challenges managing and retaining their staff. Staff loyalty, truthfulness, dedication and right attitude towards work are the major problems they face. I think it is so because, most often than not, there are hardly proper organizational structure, proper communication and proper management within most African businesses. Most often than not, the employee hardly see what good the job brings to him other than the wages or salary he receives. And there lies the disconnect.
I left Nigeria with a reinforced conviction that Nigeria remains the best place for an enterprising Nigerian to live in. Yes, there are a lot of challenges to struggle with but I am of the opinion that the opportunities in Nigeria far outweigh those challenges. Nigeria is almost a virgin economy.