HOW TO SURVIVE IN NIGERIA TODAY: A LECTURE DELIVERED AT THE 2014 IGALA MERIT AWARD DINNER AT TRANSCORP HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA ON TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2015

cropped-theophilus-abbah.jpgProtocols

Mr Hillary Amodu, an enigmatic and zealous young man, who is behind the classical Who is Who in Igalaland, invited me to give a talk as guest lecturer at this august occasion. Unfortunately, he gave me a blank cheque – without a specific topic. What I’ve chosen to discuss here are my own thoughts on modern Nigerian and how the Igala man can play successfully in this new environment. For those who are expecting an academic lecture, they will be disappointed. But I hope they wouldn’t be too disappointed to eat the sumptuous dinner at this world famous Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.

Nigeria has changed. I don’t need to engage in any laborious academic enterprise to gather empirical evidence to support this position. I have anecdotes, my personal life experience, to authenticate this assertion.In 1987 when I completed my secondary school education, the concept of curriculum vitae was not popular, if it had a role to play in the process of gaining employment in Nigeria. As soon as I arrived in Kano, my uncle directed me to what was called Labour Office. I met a tall, huge man with a forest-like groomed hair who forever continued to chew what I didn’t know. The strange man gave me a form to complete. Thereafter, I joined a crowd at the Labour Office every morning to listen to announcements of vacancies in various sectors in Kano.

My hope of securing a job was bright, because three or four times in a day, the tall, huge man with the forest-like groomed hair who forever continued to chew what I didn’t know emerged from his office to announce job openings. The address of the location would be given to a dozen job-seekers. They would go for an interview. The next morning some would return to the Labour Office. Few would not return. What’s happened to those who never returned? They had secured a means of livelihood. They had been employed. One morning, this tall, huge man with the forest-like groomed hair who forever continued to chew what I didn’t know emerged from his office.

“Shorthand Typist!” he shouted.

I was jolted. Nervously I jumped from an improvised wooden seat under a dogon-yaro tree.

“Shorthand Typist!,” he screamed again.

I rushed out. Six other anxious persons had rushed to answer the call.

We were given an address, NEM Insurance Company Limited, 65, Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kano.

The seven of us were interviewed for the position of Shorthand Typist. I excelled. I was picked. I had obtained a job. The Branch Manager, Mr Sunday Oyebisi, did not come from Kogi State, he was not an Igala man; he did not come from Olamaboro Local Government Area; he did not come from Ogene-Igah; he was not from the Abbah Family. Based on my performance in speed and accuracy in Shorthand and Typewriting, Mr Oyebisi employed me.

To many young ones in this hall, this sounds like an old woman’s tale. It sounds like the biblical story of Moses pointing a rod at the Red Sea, and the red barrier instantly parting into two to allow Israelite pass through its belly. But, it did happen to me.  Today, I don’t think there is an active Labour Office. Over the years, I have become a Labour Office of sort. I receive C.Vs everyday. I recommend young Igala graduates for jobs. Many return to pour their disappointments on me. Few secure jobs. But I become as frustrated as many, because I get overwhelmed. I’m unable to do much most of the time. What can a newspaper editor do to help owners of more than a hundred CVs in his office drawer?

In spite of the gloomy atmosphere I’ve painted, good things are happening in our country. We have more billionaires; young persons are building mansions; instead of Tokunbo cars, more young people can afford brand new cars; banks are exploding with huge bank deposits by young people; more companies are being registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); more young men pay their ways to fly from one part of the world to another on holidays; young people are buying state-of-the-art electronic and communication gadgets; young persons are acquiring eye-popping designer wears; many Nigerians are living the 21st Century life of luxury and pleasure; foreigners are trooping into our country, calling it the land of opportunities; and parents could, on their own, take their children to educational institutions abroad and pay the fees in hard currencies.

Therefore, though Nigeria has changed, all one needs to do to cope is actually to change.The following are my thoughts on how to get ahead in today’s Nigeria:

  1. Good Education:It is increasingly difficult to find a place for primary and secondary school certificate holders. You need at least a degree that you can defend. In 2010, a young lady on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was posted to my desk. She studied English Language. I gladly received her because I was in dire need of a staff who knew how the language is used. I needed a proof reader. But, to my dismay, this graduate was a disaster. I was afraid of telling her, but my Primary Six certificate of 1982 had more integrity than her degree. Good education requires knowing your subject matter. There are no jobs for graduates. This is bad enough. If you have an opportunity but fail to defend your degree, it’s worst. Recently, I sent three graduates to the publisher of an online newspaper for consideration as reporters. I was confident that one of them would get a placement. But when the publisher called me after the interview, he regretted that none of them could defend their degrees in Mass Communication. This is a disaster. No uncle or daddy can help if you cannot defend your qualification.

2.Be Competitive: That is, it is good to know what your peers know. Then, take a step further. I learnt this lesson in 2006. The Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, where I served as General Editor thought me this. We were going to start the Daily edition of Leadership. He said, Theophilus, do you know what we shall do? I looked at him blankly. He said, ‘Let’s look at the best newspapers in business reporting, political reporting, feature writing, column writing. Let’s examine their strengths, and then surpass what they do. That’s the only way we can survive.” He added that to get ahead in Nigeria is easy. People are lazy and complacent. If you do a little more, you achieve significant results. What this thought me is that, whatever we do we must approach them with a sense of competition. In business, academic, politics, or whatever. You must not shy away from being competitive. So, we must learn to do something extra, something that would give us an edge.

  1. Think. Be Innovative. At Apple, the late Steve Jobs invented not only smart phones, but a slogan that has become his brand. He said, ‘think different.’ Grammatically, this is a wrong expression. The word ‘different’ is an adjective, while ‘think’ is a verb. Going by the rule of collocation, an adverb of manner should qualify the verb ‘think’. We should derive an adverb from the adjective ‘different.’ Therefore, Steve Jobs should have said, ‘think differently.’ But his wrong grammatical expression is amplified for good works. The innovations he made to the world of word processing and telecommunication cannot be equalled, perhaps, until another generation. How did he achieve it? He had time to think. I read a Time Magazine cover on Steve Jobs. Watching television was not his first schedule when he wakes up in the morning. Checking his facebook updates was not his first task. Responding to text messages was not. Steve Jobs took time to meditate. He spent time to think. Why? Innovation.Creative people build new things out of old things. The Chinese came to Nigeria. They went into villages to discover that kerosene lantern were indispensable. They went back to China to produce battery lanterns, then rechargeable lanterns. Today, these are indispensable in Nigerian town and villages. To survive in today’s Nigeria, one has to be innovative. Add value to old things.
  2. Commercialize Your Talents: God has given everyone talent to profit from. But most people don’t value their talents. I never thought the pranks by my primary school mates which sent us roaring in laughter can produce money. Today, Basketmouth is surviving on the free gift, his skill of making people to laugh. I was a singer. I didn’t know what potentials of money-making there was in singing. But 2Face knows. We all have talents. If you work hard on your talent, treat it in a business-like manner you can make money. I say hard work because without it you can’t excel. I began to write short stories while I was in secondary school. It was a talent I needed to work on. I did. Today, that skill has enabled me to work as a journalist. I’ve written a novel. It takes dedication and focus to write a novel. If you want to make money from your talent, you must work hard to make it attractive to have people pay for it.
  3. Fly to Cyberspace: There’s a new world called Cyberspace. Its population is more than the continent of Africa. Over two billion people are in the space. Now people are eating and drinking from that space. Linda Ikeji lives big on her blog, made up of gossips. Jumia is a virtual shop. You can learn anything in the Cyberspace. You can sell anything there. With little capital, it is possible to start any kind of e-business there. Publicity is easier, without paying N600,000 for a full page advert in a newspaper. When my father died in 2012, I wrote a tribute in the newspaper. It was well read. But when I put that tribute on my blog and facebook, the kind of responses I received were overwhelming. That’s the power of the new world. Time cannot permit me to take you through this world but you must open your mind to know the potentials there.
  4. Networking:You must look for people of like-minds; no one is an island to himself. Every man needs another man in order to survive in today’s world. But for you to survive in a network, you must add value to the group. If you’re a hanger-on, definitely nobody would want to get along with you. I observe that many youths today are hangers-on. They drop the names of big politicians. They claim to be agents of politicians. I know a popular politician from Kogi State who does what I call pay-as-you-go. You rent a crowd for him and he pays you. After you’ve rendered the service, you are no longer of any value to him. He treats them as hangers on. No more. To succeed in a network, meeting people, sharing ideas, you must render the service that is good for the network. I’m an investigative journalist. I do investigative stories, hence investigative journalists in other parts of the world contact me when they intend to do stories on and about Nigeria. I get paid for most of the stories. I don’t ask them to send me dollar, I don’t tell them I’m so poor I needed support. Most times when people find themselves in a network, they become beggars. They’ll not be able to cope. They’ll drop out. Networks are not for beggars.

7.Integrity: There’s a book I read five years ago. It’s called The Speed of Trust. It says success depends on the integrity of the individual, because we need people to be able to survive. Our behavior can attract people; it can also drive people away from us. Recently I asked an electrician, an Igala man to fix security light in my house. He told me each of them cost N9,500.00. I gave him money for three. When I returned from work at night, I saw what he did. He fixed a lower quality. I insisted that he must change them to the one we agreed upon. Upon reaching the market, he called me to say the price of the one we agreed upon was N10,500. I asked him to buy it. We achieved the brightness I envisaged when he fixed the brand we agreed, and I paid him generously. But, a week later, I went into the market to buy some energy bulbs. I saw the security light, and priced it. I was shocked. The trader told me the one my brother, the electrician, collected N10,500 for would actually go for N5,000.00. That moment, I wrote him off my radar. I never consulted him over my electrical problems. This is how we lose friends and money. In business, it is said the customer who repeat sales is more important than a new customer. If your habit drives people away, so you lose opportunities. In an anti-corruption age, integrity is priceless.

  1. Enterpreneurship: As a commercial school student at Nsukka in the 1980s, I encountered an age-mate who taught me what I have encountered many years later. He asked me why I left Benue State to study in Anambra State. I marveled at his question, because my father thought it was the best thing for me to attend a commercial college, instead of a conventional secondary school. My Igbo age-mate did an arithematics which proved that my salary as a secondary school leaver, after spending five years, would be nothing compared to what he would earn after serving a master for four years and owning a shop. I thought he was stupid. But later I knew that he had a good sense, except that without good education it is difficult to excel as an entrepreneur. In today’s Nigeria, one must learn to start an enterprise, no matter how small. Then, build on it for growth. It is what government is preaching. But we have to move beyond theorizing. We have to practicalize it.
  2. Be Determined: No demon can stop a determined soul. You can’t achieve anything if you’re not determined. Jesus says, if you have faith like a mustard sea, you can say unto ‘this’ mountain, be thou removed and cast into the sea and it shall be so. To succeed, it’s not godfather that you need. Though they help, you must be determined. There’s the story of a king. In his domain, there was a dragon that required the sacrifice of a young lady every market day. On one market day, the diviner said the dragon had asked for the king’s daughter, a princess. Saying no to the dragon would attract a disastrous consequence. But the king said no. And to press home his point, he went after the dragon and determined to kill it. That would be the only way for his princess and him to survive. With a cutlass, he went after the dragon. With courage and determination, and without a sophisticated weapon, he successfully killed the beast. That’s the strength of determination. Don’t give up when you lay your hand on the plough. You can’t survive by giving up easily.
  3. Pray for Luck: Some have argued that hard work is everything. This is partially true. In 1995 I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria with a Second-Class Upper Division Bachelor’s degree and the best graduating student in my department. When I went to meet an uncle in Lagos, brandishing my good result, he was impressed. But instead of praising me to high heavens, he added that I should pray for luck. In life, luck is vital. But one becomes luckier if one works hard. It is very frustrating to work hard and be unlucky. This is beyond man. So to survive in Nigeria today, one needs prayers, a divine touch in one’s enterprise. Prayers should be unceasing.

 

BY THEOPHILUS ABBAH,

EDITOR, DAILY TRUST ON SUNDAY. theophilus abbah

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