Thursday, June 24, 2010

And My Name Shall Be Called…

I am in search of a (new) name. Of course, this is no reference to my birth name. Changing that will involve placing one of those copious, inconspicuous, newspaper box adverts with the accompanying observance to concerned parties to ‘take note’. This exploration is one that seeks to ride on the trends of present times with particular regards to professional name tags.

You still do not comprehend my harangue? All right, you will agree with me that you would look like something from the medieval ages if you find yourself within the confinement of a corporate organization asking for the ‘Personnel Department’. Nothing could be more démodé. To put yourself in a comprehensible stead, you would need to ask for the ‘Human Resources’ or more stylishly put, the ‘H.R.’. Remember, pronouncing this (particularly the ‘R’) must be accompanied by a twist of the tongue or better still, a bite of the same.

This also explains why a 21st century entrepreneur will in fact be primitive to bear a ‘General Manager’ or ‘Managing Director’. They are now CEOs. The corporate world is replete with these chic name tags. A receptionist at a client’s office once gave me her business card. Below her name was printed ‘FDO’. Out of curiosity I queried her for the meaning of the acronym. The look on her face suggested I must be vieux jeu not to know the decryption. She cheekily replied, ‘Front Desk Officer’. Nowadays, you will be quite offensive to refer to a ‘Personal Assistant (PA)’ as a messenger.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this paradigmatic shift is copyrighted to corporate business outfits – you might be shooting yourself in places you least imagine. I once boarded one of the Lagos new transport scheme vehicles – the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – where a passenger addressed the driver as a ‘driver’. He (the driver) literally spat into the air making a collection of it with his face. He rebuffed to be called a driver but (take a deep breath) a ‘pilot’. My ears tingled not believing what I heard. A ‘pilot’? It really made me feel ‘on board’. Alas, that euphoria was short-lived when realization made me discover that the inside of my ‘airbus’ was filthy enough to make a dunghill green with envy. The interior works also grimly shone with accumulated dirt where the possibility of contacting diseases like Tuberculosis dwells in zenithal realms. Moreover, I was puzzled: How would the tout-like bus conductor be addressed – Land Host(ess)?

What is more, our neighbourhood schools, a lot of which are hardly known on adjacent streets, have now gone ‘international’ (American, British, Indian, Turkish, etc) or ‘Montessori’. Who would want to register their children/wards in ‘ordinary’ nursery, primary or secondary schools? Not even a ‘college’; that’s so archaic.

I grew up in an era when all tailors were ‘London-trained’ even when majority could not differentiate between London and America – anywhere outside the shores of Nigeria was either abroad, overseas, London or America. Much later, tailors ganged up and rejected that name tag – ‘tailor’ – with many of them cloaking themselves as ‘Fashion Designers’. In present times, you will indeed be old-fashioned to be looking for a fashion design outfit. They’ve now been re-christened ‘Coutures’ and ‘Cloth Lines’. In the same vein, barbers and hairdressers are now professional ‘stylists’ and/or ‘cosmeticians’.

Events and programs were in ages past ‘sponsored’ but today they are now being ‘powered by’ sponsors. Moreover, the same events no longer have ‘Masters of Ceremony (MCs)’ as their coordinators but ‘Compères’. Likewise, entertainers and musicians are in today’s lexicon, ‘artistes’ who ‘drop’ ‘single’ albums all over the place like the stool of a bird in flight. You will wonder if all comedians used to ‘sit down’ to craft and ply their trade as all are now ‘Stand-Up Comedians’.

A more precarious side to this new name trade is the involvement of quacks parading ‘selves as professionals also adopting these voguish tags. Or can you comprehend a hospital attendant who runs a neighbourhood patent medicine store and swanks him/herself as a ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse’? Our urban centres are sated with middlemen charlatans gadding as ‘estate agents’. Many individuals have fallen victims of ‘trial-and-error’, ill-trained so-called technicians who carry about as ‘computer engineers’. They operate a mobile office instituted in a bag containing all sorts of odd-shape screw drivers, cannibalized hard disks and other hardware and all forms of pirated installation CDs. In addition, informal thrift operators have turned to ‘Financial Consultants’.

Interestingly, the religious circle is not spared. Clergymen are no longer common ‘pastors’. Depending on the image to be portrayed, this league of individuals now vary from ‘set men’, ‘(arch)bishops’, ‘general overseers (GOs)’, etc. Another occupying development is the ‘ville’ suffix to many names of businesses, organizations and institutions.

In light of the foregoing, you would come to agree that I need an urgent name change before my profession goes the way of ‘dinosaurian’ extinction all because I refuse to go with the times by adopting a ‘cool’, ‘happening’ tag. I solicit for help as I’ve failed to come up with one that would be catchy and acceptable. If you care to assist, mine is one that is exclusively civil out of the engineering profession. This is an SOS call before the maiden species of engineering turns old-hat.

Send me a name!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Towards 2011 General Elections

There comes a time in the life of a nation or group of people when imminent change is either desired and/or thrust on same. Instances abound in history: From the German theologian-led Reformation in the 14th century; the revolution in France against the Bourbons from 1789 to 1799; the dismissal of racial segregation and political/economic/legal discrimination in South Africa to the dethronement of despotism (and other forms of absolutism) particularly across the African continent; the list is inexhaustible.

Whether these crusades were individuals’ ideas or hatched on the platform of social mass movements by pressure groups is inconsequential. What counts is the fact that the people were either enlightened or oppressed in a sufficient manner to rebuff subjugation and status quo.

In Nigeria at the moment, the sensation you get (which is almost tactual) is that of great displeasure of the populace towards their ‘leaders’. This disapproval has no ethnic, religious or cultural affiliation as leadership has failed across the entire nation – corruption in the North has a hardworking companion in the South, bad roads exist across all the geo-political zones while leadership at all levels reeks of incompetence and corruptness. Though they might appear helpless, the people are beginning to realise that indeed true power lies with them and they can choose to vest such power with any individual(s) they so desire. 2011 elections present to them an excellent opportunity to sack sleazy and effete leadership in order to reinstate service and accountability. It is all for them to lose this momentous chance.

Indeed, 2011 might not be the El Dorado when milk will begin to flow from our taps and honey, fall as rain. Howbeit, it presents a rare opportunity to mark the beginning of a most desirous change. I believe a group of people pivotal to this cause are the elites. Of course, this is no reference to political autocrats (who christen themselves democrats) who have held this nation down in the dungeons of self-aggrandisement. I am referring to that supposedly eroded (but emerging) middle class, particularly individuals who fall between the 20 to 45 years age stool. They enjoy superior intellectual, social and economic status. They have the numbers. They hold the ace! Alas, these people by their inaction and residing in their ‘comfort zones’ have fortified the chains binding us.

In a power failure situation, they generate their own power. Public water works are more of relics of the past; hence they sink their own boreholes. With the decay of public schools, they enrol their wards in expensive private schools. They flee from our abattoir public hospitals to patronise prestigious private ones either at home or abroad. Of a truth, expecting government security agencies to provide security is akin to suicide. Hence, they engage private security outfits. On election days, they sit at home to watch the charade called elections. They stay away from the murky waters of government and politics, desiring to be ‘home and dry’ with no wet feet. Yet, at the slightest chance, they complain (still within their ‘comfort zones’) about government, politics, education, security, health, etc. They are eager to blog, write, comment, criticise, condemn, write off or complain about any social ill. Interestingly, that is all they do!

I believe certain issues must be addressed by this class of people (who hold the ace) if indeed we are to experience the change we long for after the 2011 elections would have come and gone.

doubt, it is not out of place to criticise government behind a computer screen, through the internet portals or on the pages of newspapers. While this has its place in social crusade, it should not come all its own. It is a shame to this generation of people when individuals a la Wole Soyinka, Anthony Enahoro, Late Gani Fawehinmi and Abraham Adesanya and many others (in their 70’s) are still at the vanguard of social protest against appalling leadership. They take to the streets under the scourging sun while this class of people watch them on TV. Our ‘comfort zones’, we must leave and engage our ‘leaders’ where the rubber hits the road. Howbeit, it is comforting to discover that this is changing going by the recent rallies successfully executed by various youth fora. It is soothing to see celebrities and VIPs lending support to these mass meetings. Nonetheless, care must be taken not to be carried away by staging euphoric protests as these on their own do not guarantee change. When push comes to shove, how many of us are ready to do what really counts and stay on course to see this country through the change we desire? Mail bags of foreign consulars are bursting at their seams with our HSMP, Canadian Immigration Residence/Work Permit and US visa lottery applications as we are ready to take off at the least harassment or discomfort. We should be wary of individuals seeking cheesy recognition.

We must take active participation in electoral processes. Pressure should be sustained on the National Assembly to amend essential sections of the electoral act before the elections with preference given to true independence of INEC, independent candidacy, resolution of electoral disputes, penalties for electoral malpractices and participation of the myriad of Nigerians in the Diaspora.

Enrolment on the voters’ register is indeed a step to take in the right direction. We must get involved in grassroots politicking not necessarily as politicians but in procedures and decisions that throw up political candidates. How many of us know (either by name or face) our councillors and local government chairmen? In the build-up to 2011 general elections we should lend a voice to deciding whose names get on the ballot papers and who eventually secures our votes. Fundamental to this is the facilitating of town hall meetings. Aspirants should be called on to present and defend their manifestos. We should be spared mundane talks about provision of roads, pipe borne water, etc as campaign items – not in the 21st century! Let us engage all political aspirants (councillors, council chairmen, state house members, governors, presidents, senators and representatives) in deliberating on real issues – diversification of the economy, IGRs, healthcare, taxes, pension reforms, education, infrastructural, agricultural, industrial and manpower development. The media (particularly TV and radio stations) have a key role to play in facilitating live town hall meetings. Someone once suggested political aspirants should be subjected (during their campaign tenure) to the drills and rigours of the Mark Burnett’s The Apprentice. Let us know what businesses they have managed, associations they have led and ideas they have hatched, successfully.

Before and during elections, creating awareness among the general public and monitoring elections cannot be overemphasised. The populace should know that true power lies with them and in their votes. The political cabal may want us to believe our votes do not count – you wonder, why do they kill and maim for it? Nevertheless, through effective monitoring they would be made to realise one man’s vote can be deciding. Volunteering to ensure the elections are what we want, must involve registering with non-partisan pressure and monitoring groups. On election days, let us employ all possible technological facilities (pen recorders, camcorders, phones, cameras, etc) to monitor elections. Intellectual strategy and scheming is our key weapon.

‘Area boys’? We are the real ‘area boys’. We do it in style!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Angst of a Generation in Transit: I Remember

I belong to a generation of Nigerians I would like to refer to as ‘transitional’. We were birthed at the threshold of a country’s descent from the sturdy, high grounds of magnificence as it began another into the peaty waters of obscurity. Our predecessors were spoilt and overwhelmed by the rents of an oil-rich nation to the extent a government arrowhead had to declare they had no idea of what to do with the wealth in the nation’s coffers! The forerunners imperilled the emergence of an African power, by engaging in an unprecedented squandering of public till, civil wars, coups, counter-coups, ethnic, political and religious vices.

Terms a la austerity and ‘structural adjustment’ that were hitherto alien to a top-notch nation eroded the middle class stratum and commenced the eventual journey into socio-political and economic anarchy. I can remember clearly, economic situation was so bad in the early 80’s that families had to queue up to receive rationed essentials like groceries, toiletries and basic food items. In fact, many families had to lock these items up in bedrooms in order to ensure shrewd consumption.

I was born, schooled and lived a better part of my growing up years in the city of Ibadan – a city that premiered the first TV station in Africa, the first tallest building in Nigeria, the first university, and many infrastructures, investments and industries of great impact. It was home to several conglomerates, famous book publishers in the league of Evans, Longman, Heinemann, and Spectrum and research institutes like CRIN and FRIN with the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo dictating the velocity of development for the western region, using Ibadan as the launching pad. Tunji Oyelana, Wole Soyinka, Mike Adenuga, Akinwumi Ishola, Mike Nwangwu, Reuben Abati, Bayo Faleti and many other prominent personalities had their roots in this city of copious hills and valleys. At the moment, Ibadan is a shallow apparition of its once brilliant self. The same could be said of not a few cities in Nigeria.

Growing up, our aspirations were anchored on values that have no semblance with what obtain in present times. During pre-high and high schooling, what we prided ourselves on was the type of books read (academic, fiction and non-fiction) and the number of times they were re-read. Amongst favourite authors, series and titles were Mabel Segun, Sidney Sheldon, Charles Dickens, Nick Carter, D.O. Fagunwa, Stephen King, Akinwumi Ishola, Enid Blyton, Kola Onadipe, Danielle Steel, Adebayo Faleti, Eddie Iroh, Enid Blyton, Mills and Boon, Béllò àti Bíntù, Archie, The Hardy Boys, Táíwò àti Kéhíndé, Bumble Bee and African Writer series, Ògbójú Ode Nínú Igbó Irúnmalè (A Forest of a Thousand Demons) My Father’s Daughter, Eze/Akin/Sani Goes to School, Silas Manner, etc.

Electricity supply was almost constant. Our sanity was in one piece as we were saved from the noise and pollution from generating monsters. Generators (often referred to as ‘plants’) were used only by the society’s high and mighty. Television was not sophisticated but was fun, learning and entertaining with super-engaging (local and foreign) soaps, comedies and cartoons like Matlock, Wonder Years, Famous Five, Terrahawks, Basi and Company, Checkmate, The New Masquerade, Bàbá Geébú, Flaxton Boys, Fraggle Rock, Ifá Olókun, Some Mothers Do Have Them, Jolly Train, Fawlty Towers, Friday night Indian movies, The Village Headmaster, Òyìnbó Ajélè, Super Ted, Mirror in the Sun, Ilé Ìwòsàn, Schools Debate, Voltron, Rent-A-Ghost, We Can Tell You A Story, Kóòtù Asípa, Atom Ant, Do Your Thing and of course the ever-scintillating, Sesame Street.

Other indoor activities meant making our toys from paper, cardboards, newspapers, crayons (I remember the big, fat wax ones) and other materials. I had an indoor, self-built aquarium which was seeded with fishes I caught myself. Headrest and TV covers were knitted during our pastimes. House chores were apportioned and done without delay.

Outdoor activities were fun, likewise. We got our hands dirty on a farm, reared pets and livestock within premises that were not completely paved and heavily spotted with both crop and ornamental vegetation. Parents had interests in what we did and happened to us – school assignments were done with prompt supervision. We were not left alone to our own devices – when parents had to be absent, an older relative was always around to take care of us. Holidays were spent in rotation from one cousin’s to the other. Birthday parties were fun with jollof rice, moinmoin in abundance and Green Sands Shandy drink to go with. Souvenirs were toffee candy, whistle-shaped sweets, cabin biscuits, plastic miniature animals like gorillas, elephants, etc.

Both public and missionary schools served as the melting point where the wards and children of the society’s lofty and lowly shared common experience. Teachers were revered either out of respect, fear or both.

Manners were explicitly imbibed with ‘Thank You’, ‘Please’ and ‘Excuse me’ being regulars during conversations. We were taught to leave our seat for standing elderly either in a bus or a public waiting area. You dared not eat without a glass of water in close proximity. And of course, talking with one’s mouth full is often accompanied with appropriate punishment. If we had to eat in between meals, parents or guardians must be in the know. Being hard working, truthful and trustworthy were not negotiable. In fact, they were values to be proud of.

I am not attempting to sound like a grumpy, old fellow that had seen it all, but alas it is painful to witness how this endowed nation plunged into the abyss of subversion having savoured remnants of the “good, ol’ days”. Ours is a generation that was handed a country that was set on a journey with no clear destination or road map. At the moment, we are caught in a web of psychological confusion, mental frustration and economic agitation as we live in a contradiction of what we grew up learning and the present complexities of an incredibly materialistic, self-centred, insensate and hollow society.

I remember!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Independence Day: Before the Celebrations

Almost half a century ago, the colonial frontiers of the British government were rolled back and the freedom to attain sovereignty was accorded the geographical enclave called Nigeria. 49 years ago, Nigeria had all the makings of an uplifting tale: an emerging socio-political and economic African (and possible world) power with all the trappings that made the not-too-willing colonial masters break their siege on Africa’s most populous and promising nation at that time. The extrapolated trajectory of this country’s future made even the most affluent nation in Europe and the Americas green with envy. Everything looked possible, but alas 49 years thereafter everything went awry.

Many Nigerians reminisce the emotion of great delight and patriotism that engulfed them as they watched the British sentinels lowered the Union Jack while the green-white-green striped flag climbed in its stead. With the rising of their symbol of independence rose the promise of a future with endless possibilities. 49 years later, most of those senior citizens could only stretch their memory band to relive the ‘good old days’ in order to escape the misery of the present as they continue to gape at and question what went wrong with a country that had it all. For many Nigerians who never witnessed this symbolical event, they might have been saved from such agonies of past-present comparison (or better put, contradiction). Howbeit, the horizon holds no promise for them either. 49 years subsequently, a nation that was expected to dictate the socio-political velocity of a continent is still bugged down with the basics of starting a journey to nationhood.

As a young Nigerian, though I may not have been opportune to live in the ‘good old days’ but I have heard, read and before my very eyes, seen how a country with utmost potentials crescendoed to lofty crest of fete and how it unfortunately descended to the miry trough of discomfiture. Ours is a land where the only thing that is predictable is dashed hope, where certainty only spells uncertainty and the future indeed is what it is – futuristic! Of a truth, we may have enjoyed occasional stints of resplendence and (inter)national honour that once in while prop our self-pride and patriotism as Nigerians, often times the norm is that of failed governance, collapsing institutions and infrastructures, shame, sectarian violence, political murders and assassinations, malformed morals, corruption and other brothers in arms. Week in, week out, searching for a pint of good news is akin to looking for a pin in a haystack. Even those events we usually fall back on (like watching our national football teams play) in order to temporarily drown our despair have conspired to add to our gloom.

Of course, I ca n hear the ‘positive’ Nigerian telling me if I look around enough, I would definitely find reasons why I should roll out the drums on the eve of another Independence Day celebration. While I may not be the most optimistic, patriotic Nigerian that constantly hopes against hope in the face of almost a failed nation, I have often times stuck my neck out for my dear country in spite of realities that do not support this stance. True, I can count (on my fingers, though) a number of instances and individuals that have brought our dear country to brilliant limelight as they stamped their clout on the world stage.

Indeed, what shall I say of literary giants à la John Pepper Clark, Dan Fulani, Ken Saro Wiwa, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Helon Habila, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Mention must be made of music icons in the league of Fela Kuti, Stephen Osadebey, Batili Alake, Àsá, King Sunny Ade, Beautiful Nubia, Dr. Victor Olaiya, Lágbájá, Dan Maraya Jos, Bobby Benson, Comfort Omoge, Tunde Nightingale, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Roy Chicago, Onyeka Owenu and many others. I shall not forget to list many accomplished individuals in their various fields of endeavour and who through intelligence, initiative and industry have brought pride to our collective existence as a nation: Adeoye Lambo, Oluchi Onweagba, Mary Onyeali, T.O.S. Benson, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Hakeem Olajuwon, Nuhu Ribadu, Philip Emeagwali, Dora Akunyili, Aminu Kano, Nwankwo Kanu, Richard Mofe Damijo, Okonjo Iweala, Wande Abimbola, Sheikh Adelabu, Gani Fawehinmi, Aliko Dangote, Ben Enwonwu, Justus Esiri, Murtala Mohammed and many others. In fact, the list is endless.

However, on scrutinising this catalogue there exist a couple of discouraging issues. The very obvious is the fact that these names are always recurring in our register of (inter)national honours. That is pointer to the reality that we (as a nation) have not moved forward and if we had, many a time we have retraced our step backwards from a much desired destination. Secondly and not too evident: most of these people achieved based only on their individual efforts that exclude an enabling environment that should be a given in their homeland. This can be extended to explain the reason why many Nigerians have resorted to self-help: A situation where every individual battles to meet their needs in order to ensure continued existence. Therein lies our problem (and probably, solution) as a nation.

Individual efforts, self-help/-government can only ascertain individual achievements and most assuredly a disjointed and disorganised society where everyone aims to preserve self. Everything rises and falls on leadership! Until we get the leadership project right, we may continue to wallow in abject failure as a nation and possibly proceed on a retrogressive trail. As Nigeria prepares for another general election to change leadership batons at various levels of government, this serves as the ultimate poser: ‘What manner of leaders do we desire?’ Of a truth, a leader cannot be different from the society and process he emerges from. We must tinker the process that produces leadership. It will be foolhardy to expect our situation to change either by expecting a credible leader to emerge by chance or through our usual laidback attitude. In fact, it is folly!

While we may not be able to correct the leadership errors of the past that have maintained us in a state of doldrums and subnormality, we do have the opportunity to determine our future by addressing the national leadership of the present. A word of advice to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua: As he prepares either a we-have-reason-to-celebrate or this-is-a-sombre-time-for-reflection Independence Day celebration speech, let him be aware that the onus lies on him to determine how we celebrate next year (and many more) Independence Day.

Being honest and possessing an amiable mien are not the fundaments of leadership. You can be the meekest and most incorruptible individual and still be an off-beam material for headship. Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Moreover, courage is a principle he may want to adopt. A leader must always have the courage to act against an expert's advice. Whoever is providing leadership needs to be as fresh and thoughtful and reflective as possible to make the very best fight. Most importantly, vision is key to the success (or otherwise) of a leader. A leader is a visionary and not just a propagandist of mere agenda or beautiful catchphrases.

While I am still in a confused state of either ‘counting our blessings’ as a nation or switching to a reflective mood on Independence Day, I would want to implore Nigerians who are jaded by the present conditions to take active roles in determining the quality of leaders that will take over the reins of affairs in the coming years. If we fail to do so, I will be saved the hassle of writing anything different from this, in the years to come, except maybe changing the ‘49’ to ‘89’.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dear Sir

The New MD/CEO
Inter-Lagoon Bank PLC
Plot 419, Distress Avenue
Victoria Island

18th August 2009.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your SMS and subsequent email assuring me of your bank’s financial stability after the CBN’s ‘Hammer of Thor’ struck the bank’s executive ménage relieving its directors of their most lucrative positions and the CBN’s consequent ‘dole out’ aimed to address your insolvency.

You may want to know that I received your missives in good health as I have developed a thick tegument and a vibrant lion’s heart to trounce such occurrences. Who could do without these anyway, if survival is vital in a country like ours? I am convinced without the minutest of doubt that both the SMS and email were not meant for measly customers like me because the information was disseminated en masse for a commercial purpose. Sir, be aware that this memo is neither to spite you nor ‘our’ bank. In fact, your new role in cleaning the augean stables is one no one will envy or touch with a long pole. I can only wish you the best and pray you succeed.

My no-brainer position in your bank’s scheme of priority customers have been reiterated many a time and via diverse means. Not a few instances abound. Whenever I have issues, your ever-sassy customer relation officers only warm up to me (or do otherwise) as a function of what my account balance reads at the particular instant of time. Moreover, several times when many individuals (including my humble self) highlighted (often times on the pages of newspapers and through various means) unwholesome bank practices, manipulated share prices on the floor of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, unrealistic profit declarations that do not match with realities of our economy (particularly in the manufacturing sector), unhealthy inter-bank competition and rivalry, unsustainable banking operations and expensive corporate governance lifestyle, debasing marketing strategies and many more; we were treated like an infant’s fart.

I also remember with pain when all banks went on rampage to secure our meagre funds through all means devisable. I joined the bandwagon (against my convictions) to purchase your bank shares and many others. Alas, I had my investments reduced to a paltry figure. During the run, I observed with dismay how you gave loans to your cronies to cash in on short-term gains because you issued their share certificates without delay while those of long-term investors like us are still in transit many years after. Their voracity eventually crashed the stock market. It seems to baffle me why would and should I ever matter to you or your bank at this point in time? As a matter of fact, it leaves a suspicious taste in the mouth.

As much as I would have loved to play a role (major or minor) in rescuing ‘our’ bank out of its present financial ‘kettle of fish’ and doldrums, regrettably I am handicapped beyond imagination. My salaried job which is presently my only source of income has merely guaranteed me peanuts with a safe abode under my mattress or sometimes my pillow. Unfortunately, the prevailing global financial meltdown (which the CBN once claimed we are immune to) has done exactly that to my remuneration – melted it. My salary now perfectly fits into my back pocket. You would agree with me that it would not make any smidgen of sense to drop this trifle into your bank coffers where predators, waiting (in the forms of VAT, hidden bank/transaction, ATM and other undefined charges) will further ravage whatever is left to nothingness.

Other businesses that could have brought me immense prosperity and whose subsequent returns could have accrued to your bank’s purse never saw the light of day. No thanks to the stringent conditions given by the bank which snuffed life out of my numerous business proposals when I came knocking for loans. The impossible interests requested for snuffed life out of the brilliant business ideas and the collaterals you asked for dealt the final blow – the only thing you did not ask for was my life. It is heart-rending however, to discover that most of your bank mega debtors that have brought it into this pickle secured these loans with no collaterals. It is more painful to observe how the CBN doled out many parts of a trillion naira to correct a few individuals’ (trusted with public funds) inadequacies and exuberances. It looks like robbing Peter to pay Paul. These are monies that otherwise could have been used to address issues that will directly impact the lives of not a few Nigerians in the infrastructure, power, education, agriculture, health and manufacturing sectors.

Of course, I do consider your bank not to be the only scourge creating its present condition. Many ‘culprits’ should not go absolved. First is the CBN itself – the supposed watchdog – who cannot claim it was oblivious of the rot being exposed now. Moreover, the piecemeal audit and exposure of the banks’ true conditions is not without some clandestine schema (of which you played into its gallery). Rating outfits that led you on a deception trail should also be blacklisted. They enjoyed the funfair while it lasted. They created a mirage of confidence that never existed either through their ignorance or deliberate cover-up. Also on the malefactor list are the ‘big boys’ – the mega debtors. They borrowed money to execute awry, failed businesses that left you the lenders to lick both your wounds and theirs. In addition, the arrogance with which they carry themselves should tell you that retrieving the borrowed funds from them will be almost impossible.

Do not be deceived by the harangues of the toothless bulldog tagged the EFCC aimed at helping you recover your funds from the untouchable ‘big boys’. It is all part of the script. Moreover, the Federal Government has also placed itself in a position where it cannot afford to throw stones because it resides in a glass house – otherwise where would the funds for the 2011 elections come from?

Sir, if indeed I matter in your bank scheme of operations I would like to lend my layman ‘non-expert’ advice aimed to help retrace ‘our’ bank steps from ignominy to fete.

Douse the voracious thirst to be the biggest – it has been proven now that the biggest is not the brightest. Flee unhealthy inter-bank rivalry – it will grind all involved to nihility. Do not covet accolades and approval from rating agents. Remember, once beaten, many times shy. Be reasonable with your lending rates – your mega debtors never argued the inordinate interests you slammed on their loans. They could not have or otherwise you might change your mind. Directly empower the manufacturing sectors while reducing investments into rent-seeking sectors and high-risk-high-yield businesses like the one that is almost causing your ruin. Trim down operational/overhead costs – flashy cars, glamour, expensive globe trotting, reality TV shows and adverts, imposing office buildings and exotic locations. In the present world of high-tech automation, banks can function well in small well-serviced office spaces. Play down on expensive corporate governance lifestyle. Finally, be open at all times. Say it as it is even if your balance sheets are more of a red colouration. Remember, public trust is the greatest asset.

Accept my widow’s mite.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Decade of Democracy: The Proverbial Elephant

Various opinions have indicated what a decade of democracy in Nigeria means to diverse individuals. Like the proverbial elephant visited by some blind men, one cannot but be overwhelmed by the many-sided, manifold interpretations of “10 years of democracy in Nigeria” as given by these individuals. Happy reading.

Adamu Bebi

Profile: Adamu is a Special Adviser to the Personal Assistant to the Senior Special Adviser to the minister of state for enjoyment matters and sundry. Prior to his appointment, Adamu was a tanker driver with a long-distance haulage enterprise and a leading, staunch supporter of his state governor during the electioneering in his local government.

His take on democracy:

“I zink democracy has come to stay in our country wezer we like it or not. I just want to use zis offortunity to imflore my feofle and pellow citizens to be fatient wiz government. A journey of a zousand mile starts wiz a step.”

Romanus Uwaeke

Profile: Romie (as popularly called) is a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from one of the state-owned universities. After fruitless job searches, Romie now runs a private phone call centre.

Hear him:

“Abeg Oga. Which kin yarn be dat one? You dey ask me about 10 years of democracy in Nigeria? As you see me so, I be graduate. I leave school 4 years ago. Since that time, I waka tire I dey look for job. Na hin I come think make I no waste time dey look for wetin I no fit get, na so I start this phone call business. God dey bless me I don put phone charging business join am. Demo what? Na ‘dem all crazy.’ Me I no send this government or this country. Abeg, bros make you carry this your interview go somewhere else. Make you no disturb my business.”

Senator Ojuoriolari Olowolagba

Profile: A retired school principal, Senator Olowolagba who once lived in a commune facility with his wife and 6 children before his (s)election to represent his district is now a proud owner of several vehicles and real estates which dot exotic portions of the FCT. He is often rumoured to be a stooge of Alhaji Lateef Omilabu, his state political godfather.

He has this to say:

“Thank you. You see, we have made progress. This is not where we were 10, 15 years ago when we were still in the iron grip of the military dictators. For many us, our monthly pensions were more of privileges than rights. We were dying in our thousands. But as fate would have it, I can tell you confidently that things have improved. And in confidence, I can also tell you as a senator of the federal republic (sitting up, with his voice lowered and an impish grin on his face) things have more than improved. I now have a chieftaincy title to my name, I married my third wife just last month and I go for regular medical check-ups abroad, among other goodies.”

Mrs. Adeola Martins

Profile: Mrs. Martins works with a human resource development outfit.

Her contribution:

“Excuse me; I don’t think I want to indulge you. Are you a journalist of some sort? I don’t want my comments to be that of one of the numerous faceless Nigerians whose opinions only adorn your newspapers but never count. However, if you may know, this government sucks. Do you say we have a government, when I generate my own electricity and water, provide security, send my kids to expensive private schools, patronise expensive private hospitals and many more? Spare me; I’ve got better things to attend to.”

Chief Edosa Omoigbe

Profile: Chief Omoigbe is a foremost newspaper publisher.

He speaks:

“My brother, I will say it can only get better. Democracy is good for business. Going by the copious congratulatory messages placed by political hobnobs preening their political benefactors (for the most frivolous reasons which range from coronation, marrying a 5th wife to 419 days in office); we’ve never had it so good. In addition to that, our bank accounts now burst at their seams courtesy of “open letters” warring factions of socio-political organisations flood our newspapers pages with.”

Madam Aminat Usman

Profile: Madam Aminat owns a stall at a local market where she sells foodstuff and other sundry items:

She expresses herself:

“Me I thank God for this democracy o! Before before, na only big men fit use telephone but now people like me fit say ‘hello’ too (she laughs heartily). I just want dis government make dem no forget we poor masses. Things too cost. Make dem reduce price for petrol and kerosene, give our pikin free schools and drugs for hospital. We also need cheap cheap house, water and light. If dem do all these for us, we go happy and our lives go better.”

Ronald Uhkile

Profile: Ron, a barrister also expresses his mind on “Democracy at 10 in Nigeria.”

In his words:

“You’d agree with me that within the last decade as compared to the hitherto years of ignominy, Nigerians have been privileged to express their fundamental human rights. Political activism and “oppositionism” (whatever that means, these lawyers sef) have taken centre stage. Though the high-handedness employed by the two democratically elected presidents in dealing with some issues still portray we’re not yet there but we’re making progress. Our election tribunals have experienced “rejuvenism” and the court has made ordinary people’s votes count and indeed is the last hope of the common man (only God knows how many times that phrase has been mentioned in the last 2 years).”

P.S.: Barrister Ron fails to mention how he was transformed from an ordinary, “charge-and-bail” lawyer to one who can now change his grimy cloak and wig, move to an upscale office downtown and replace his rickety, smoke-puffing, 1985 model Honda Accord car. All thanks to the several election petition briefs he has to hold for aggrieved election candidates or those instigated by him.

Professor Jade Ososalo

Profile: Professor Ososalo a seasoned poet, writer and human rights activist, is a fellow at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs.

He bellows:

“You call this a democracy? I’d rather define this as autocracy devised in the dungeons of military aristocracy. Democracy stems from the mutual agreement of a people thereby producing binding terms otherwise christened a constitution. Our “constitution” is a lie against itself and the people whose testament it is meant to represent. It was spuriously and cunningly cooked by design and forced than our throats when military shenanigans decided to transit and change uniforms from khaki to babariga. Tell me, what has changed? What’s the disparity between then and now?”

Olaniyi Kolawole

Profile: A veteran journalist, Olaniyi is the Chief Press Secretary to one of the state governors.

His take:

“The problem with a lot of Nigerians is that they are determined to see no good thing about this government. They take the slightest opportunity to slight government and its workings. Without gainsaying, this regime has relentlessly doled out dividends of democracy to all strata of the society without prejudice or discrimination and is still positioned to do much more in subsequent terms of which we’re sure of a return. We appeal to all impenitent critics, opposition parties and so-called activists to be very careful so as not to pull down this nascent, democratic experimental set-up. Our plea is neither a sign of inaptitude nor compromise but of reason as government likewise will not stop at crushing all evident enemies of democracy.”

NB: All above-mentioned individuals are fictitious. Near semblance or real existence of these is mere coincidence.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Her Excellency, Mama Ebe

We all called her Mama Ebe. It was much later I got to know “Ebe” is the abbreviated version of her last child’s name, Ebenezer. She was the cleaner assigned (by the maintenance outfit) to manage and see to the cleanliness of the staircase hall of our end of the office building. A woman of diminutive but plump stature, at an initial encounter, Mama Ebe would come across as someone with not so much of a fascinating personality. However, on a close study I must confess I have met not many individuals like this cheerful, pleasantly optimistic, hardly literate, elderly woman (probably in her late fifties).

The ever-cheery cleaner did not consider it a bother to greet or pass a word of admiration (or prayer) to people, passers-by and colleagues for the umpteenth time within a day. Even when we marched across the floor area she would have painstakingly cleaned during her mopping sessions, she would graciously remove the patches of stains without any complaint, murmur or scurrilous scowl on her face as was usual of other cleaners. Instead, Mama Ebe would step aside with a big, warm, hearty smile on her face to allow passage for the pedestrian and with a compliment to complement (pardon pun):

“Enjinia, iyawo ati omo mi nko? E ya’se o.” (Engineer, how’s your wife? And baby? Have a splendid day at work.)

“Enjinia, Oluwa a bukun fun wa. A o ni p’ofo. Yio dara o.” (Engineer, God will bless us. We won’t be losers. It shall be well.)

“E kaabo. E rora sa. Alaafia o.” (Welcome sir. Peace.)

In her characteristic manner, whether she was cleaning the window panes, sweeping and swabbing the floor, dusting the balustrades or sitting idling in her make-shift abode tucked under the staircase, her sonorous voice could be heard within the vicinity as she either hummed or sang most times, hymns.

Many a time when most of the cleaners had either closed for the day or skulking somewhere (within the premises) avoiding duties, Mama Ebe was customarily seen doing multiple rounds of cleaning even when it seemed not necessary. This baffled me and I made a mental note of casually asking her. The opportunity was made available when I had to make a trip to Mama Ebe’s end of town which coincided with her close of work. In her amiable manner, she asked if I was going her way as I reversed out of the parking lot. Mama Ebe stayed in a semi-slum part, uptown. In spite of the inconvenience encountered navigating through that end of town, I willingly gave her a lift.

After exchanging some pleasantries, I led off the “interrogation” in vernacular as we headed towards the suburbs.

“Mama, hope you had a good day at work. Please if you don’t consider it a bother, why are you often cleaning the staircase hall many times daily even when it appears it is not required?”

Mama Ebe beamed in her typical fashion accompanied by a chuckle that could only come from the depth of a heart that is at ease.

“Enjinia, ise ti won sanwo e fun mi ni mo n’se.” (I’m doing the work I’m being paid for).

“But Mama,” I interjected, “you do it with more than required commitment, at least compared to what your colleagues do.”

She sighed and replied. I tried as much as possible to translate and sum up:

“Engineer, you see, that’s why I’m a cleaner. What you observe as clean is not always so. Often times, though my physical eyes may be feeble, I can observe through my third eye as every speck of dust, every mote of debris travels and settles on the floor or window panes. And since it’s my duty to get rid of these I do it without hesitation. More so, I’ve learnt early in life that never let a mole of task accumulate to become a mountain of duty, which is more difficult to handle. In the same vein, frequent removal of specks of dust will eliminate having to remove almost permanent stains from floors and windows if the dirt is left to accumulate. So you could see I’m even making my task easier when I clean frequently. This I do with utmost commitment not because I’m better paid than colleagues or I seek a wage increase. Neither am I doing this to spite nor put other workers in bad light. It’s a standard I’ve set for myself. It’s my own definition of excellence. After each round of cleaning, I step out of myself and critically look at the work done. I query: If I were the employer, would I be satisfied with the quality of work done? Remember, what’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well. It’s only at one’s duty post, one could be judged lazy or otherwise.”

As we got to her neighbourhood, Mama Ebe insisted I pay her a visit and more importantly drink a glass of water all to express her gratitude. I indulged her. I parked by the road entrance leading to her quarter – vehicular access was almost impossible. Judging by the avalanche of greetings from various neighbours, Mama Ebe was certainly a well-known and respected figure in this hood. She equally responded with much zest showering her usual prayers.

After opening the door to her apartment, she stepped in murmuring obviously a word of thankfulness to her Creator. I was inquired to take a seat in the living room while she got some drinking water. Obviously, the not too spacious living room did not spell any jot of affluence or form of magnificence going by the scanty furniture, unpainted walls, bare floor and an old piece of electronic. But one could almost grab a feeling of tangible tranquillity and decency. Though the fabric of the curtains and furniture was almost worn out, they were clean and evidently well-maintained. Other items in the room (wall photos and calendars, books, a cupboard and utensils) were also neatly arranged. I took my leave after drinking a glass of water she served in a manner that was befitting only for a king. Unknown to her, this grateful woman had made a lovesome lasting impression on me.

Ergo, months later, it was with great shock and a seared heart I received the news of the death of Mama Ebe as a result of a late diagnosis of severe diabetes conditions. I cried at the demise of a woman who taught me excellence is not copyrighted to the heights or berths of nobility but it can also be redefined and expressed on dirty floors and window panes – the duty post – of an uneducated, benignant woman. Their bona fide “Excellencies” are those individuals – grand or lowly, schooled or crude, enabled or disabled – who daily make every effort to accomplish not just what is obligatory but also go the extra mile in doing more than required in spite of the incentives or limitations.

I also learned from Mama Ebe that fulfilment may not necessarily be experienced through wealth accumulation or possession of goods. Howbeit, it will never elude a self-contented heart, affluent or not.

May her ebullient, contented and excellent soul, rest in peace.