Saturday, October 20, 2012


This is a poem I love love and love.

If you can keep your head when all about you
 are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
 or being hated, don't give way to hating,
 and yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,

If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
 and treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
 twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
 and stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
 and risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings
 and never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
 to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you
 except the will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

RIP Mama Sam,
The memory of the righteous is a blessing (Prov 10:7). Somehow we believe that some people can never die and that they would be with forever. Last week I was reminded  that we should tell those we love how much we love them because  tomorrow is not promised. Mama Sam I'm still trying to come to terms with your loss and I  can't believe you have gone. Sun re oo. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why we should care about Boko Haram

The high costs of food items like grains and tomatoes is one reason Nigeria’s government needs to deal with the Boko haram problem. I read this article and did not think much of it until I went to the market and the money I had to buy foodstuffs was not enough.  The insecurity in the North has caused a disruption in the farming and this has affected the economy. How you may ask? As Simon Kolawole mentions, farmers, transporters and other businesses are hampered. Tell also conducted interviews with some Northern farmers and transporters and they report that their number 1 problem is Boko Haram because they cannot farm or send agricultural produce to the South, and most non-northerners are migrating from the region. Thus the prices of items that make it to the South are increased.  Apart from exorbitant cost of food items, Boko Haram also hinders Nigeria’s economic growth in the area of infrastructural development. The activities of the sect have also caused infrastructural deficits for the Northern Nigeria as properties and roads are destroyed causing gaps. However, the greatest economic cost of BH is the loss of human capital.
In addition to economic reasons we should care about Boko Haram for political reasons.  At the root of the sect’s agitation is grievance. Nigeria comprised multiple ethnic groups and communities that do not see eye to eye. Every community feels aggrieved for one reason or the other. Nigeria and Nigerians have to tackle the issue of our existence as a country. What does it mean to b e a Nigerian? Are there any shared visions or dreams that make bring us together?  Yesterday, it was Niger-Delta militants troubling Nigeria’s Israel, today it is Boko Haram, who knows what group would emerge tomorrow? The political grievance of the sect has to be properly addressed and dealt with. The shoddy handling of the Niger-Delta problem and the throwing-money-at-the-problem syndrome would not suffice in this case and in other cases (I believe that the amnesty program is a fraud and a scam and the “peace” experienced in the region now is artificial)
Finally, we should care about solving the Boko Haram problem because the escalation of the crisis to its present level is an indictment on our enforcement  and legal  systems.  At the initial stages of attacks, members of the sect attacked police officers as retaliation for the treatment meted out to members (it’s a long but expository read). In the last week there has been outrage about the Aluu incident, unfortunately Aluu community is a microcosm of how the government and people of Nigeria treat alleged criminals. There is no opportunity to defend oneself and the first resorts are force and jungle justice.  Thus, the escalation of these crisis should cause a rethink about policing, intelligence gathering and how to deal with law-breakers. Killing them is not always the answer as proven by Boko Haram crisis.
In conclusion, Boko Haram is not a Northern problem. It is a Nigerian problem that needs to be properly and ethically addressed even if it only to reduce the price of tomatoes and beans. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

The economic benefits of conflict

      Historically, conflicts and crisis comprise the process of development and progress in a nation. Usually these conflicts are a means to correct perceived injustice and are not for economic benefits. However, in the case of the African continent, the occurrence of inter and intra tribal raids for slave trade to present day sponsoring of conflict in other African nations by African leaders to internal conflicts (Examples include Ghadaffi’s alleged role in training Niger-Delta militants, the rise of the Niger Delta warlords, Charles Taylor’s role in Sierra Leone’s civil war and Gourevitch’s critique of the humanitarian aid industry) prove that conflict is a lucrative business for its promoters. The existence of conflict and violence is gainful employment for all involved except the victims.
      Lives are wasted for nothing- and I mean that literarily. This begs the questions WHY? I have weighed the costs of a conflict- economic and productivity losses, emigration and capital flight, destroyed infrastructure, systems and values, and no growth- and benefits of a conflict situation – political gains, wealth, increased sale of weapons for manufacturers-and don't understand why individuals engage in this business. The greed versus grievance theory of conflict- in my mind- fails to fully capture the nature of violence and conflict in Africa.  I think there is the added dimension of cruelty. I believe that there is something inherently mean and vicious about our nature. This shows even in our everyday relationships. The other I observed an argument between an artisan and a cook over drinking water!
     Walter Rodney in “How Europe underdeveloped Africa” asserted that as at the time Europeans initially arrived in Africa, the whole continent was 400 years behind Europe. There are no prizes for guessing the gap now.
    As Nigerians and Africans, we rail about the slow pace of development, poverty, high cost of living, and rising food prices but fail to connect the dots on how these events are a consequence of our conflict and violence prone nature. For instance, in Nigeria we complain about the rise in the cost of tomatoes and yam but forget that the prices of these items must rise because the activities of Boko Haram is gradually shutting down the economy of the North. Also I wonder why we gripe about these issues yet are still willing tools in the hands of those who promote violence. We support them and call their activities noble whilst we suffer and they smile to the banks. I imagine what joy a militant derives from killing others or vandalizing property with no substantial benefits to him (he still lives in poverty) whilst his principal enjoys the good life.
     The one solution I can come up with is that individually we need to shed the culture and attitude of my way or the highway (tied to corruption) even if it is for enlightened self-interest.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corruption as a Nigerian character

Photo credit:

Corruption |kəˈrəpSHən|:
- dishonesty, unscrupulousness, double-dealing, fraud, fraudulence, misconduct, crime, criminality, wrongdoing; bribery, venality, extortion, profiteering, payola; informal graft, grift, crookedness, sleaze.
fall into corruption: immorality, depravity, vice, degeneracy, perversion, debauchery, dissoluteness, decadence, wickedness, evil, sin, sinfulness, ungodliness. (dictionary definition)

      It appears that corruption has become a Nigerian character and culture. About a month ago, my sister’s kindle was stolen from a padlocked bag at the Lagos airport. The thief left the case and plug of the kindle in the  though. Funnier thing is, in that bag were 2 sealed letters. The thief opened the letters and seeing it was just letters with no money squeezed and tossed them back in the box. Last Sunday, Simon Kolawole wrote this article on the level of corruption in Nigeria and I could not agree more.
We are quick to rile against the government, elite and bureaucrats who are corrupt yet, we fail to recognize that the rice seller who uses false weights is corrupt, the driver who cheats his boss is corrupt, the mechanic who charges for parts not bought is corrupt. Also, the banker who is involved in sharp practices is corrupt, the steward who inflate the prices of food items for her madam is corrupt, the parents who buy answers for their kids to pass WASSCE is corrupt. Not forgetting, 419, yahoo yahoo and quack doctors.  Collectively, we blame the government and elite for being corrupt and also name them as the cause of the corruption in our everyday lives. I wonder if it is President Jonathan that inspired the Kindle thief. We forget that those who are in government- bureaucracy and political- are a reflection of values and attitudes are a society. The airport staff that stole the Kindle would definitely steal if he/she holds a government position someday and he/she would be worse than the current thief in government. Thus, it is not the “government position” that turns one into a thief overnight. We also blame “the system” for the decadence in our society as if “the system” is comprised of spirits.
Corruption is not just the failure of the leadership but also the loss of our values and ethics as a people. Until we begin to address dishonesty and immorality in our personal lives, there would be no change at the governmental or societal level.
Corruption pays in Nigeria and has sadly taken ethnic and religious dimensions. Case in point- The “church donation to President Jonathan’s town. That was one instance I was sure that everyone would agree was wrong- I was proved wrong.  Now, my townsman and church member is being witch-hunted if he is accused of corruption.  
Apart from the economic costs of corruption for example the $6.8 billion lost in fuel subsidy scam, there are other costs such as relationships that are destroyed, images that are battered and lives that are lost, and the loss of our value system.
I imagine that our ethos and values was not always like this and this raises some questions
1)         I thought that our culture and values promoted honesty and contentment. If it did when did what changed? Is it poverty or just greed? I refuse to believe that poverty and Nigeria’s economic situation is the significant cause of a general change in values
2)         If our culture and values promotes materialism, hence the get-rich-syndrome, how do we address that? How do we reboot and rework our value system? The desire for wealth and comfortable living is not bad in itself, however, there is a problem if the means of achieving our desires does occurs to the detriment of others.
Signing off, this semblance of the loss of our values and ethics is worrisome. I am interested in sharing ideas on how we can reverse this trend because this current trend is not sustainable.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Wisdom of Crowds and the unwise crowd

I read Wisdom of Crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations by James Surowiecki. A recommended good read (spoiler alert: the author fails to state how to build a wise crowd and how the wisdom of crowds applies to nations).
So what is Surowiecki’s thesis? He argues that experts are overrated because with the right conditions, groups are more intelligent than individual experts. He notes that for a crowd to be wise, four features must be present; diversity (different people and ideas. For example, Nigerians from East, West, South, North), independence (A makes decisions independent of B, there is no herd mentality or bandwagon effects at play), decentralization (the availability of local knowledge), and aggregation (individuals’ decisions are collated into a collective decision by a benevolent central planner). Surowiecki says these four features can be used to solve most problems because on average the crowd is always right. Examples of the wisdom of crowds include the emergence of Twitter, Linux and the various Occupy movements. These examples show that the wisdom of crowds truly works.
However, can it work in Nigeria? Do the active Nigerians on social media exhibit the traits of a wise crowd? I’d say not yet. Comments and views of Nigerians on Twitter and Facebook give me no hope. This is because feature 1 (diversity) is present but that is where it ends. Herd mentality is common and individuals who try to deviate from “accepted” views are overruled. As a result, we cannot proceed to features three and four. This practice is sad because: I have observed that the accepted responses or views are incorrect, generation of ideas is stifled and the band wagon is always off point.  If we cannot allow ideas and thoughts to flow without shouting one another down can we effect the change we want? My answer is no because if you look at the thoughts of people on certain issues, it is like we sleep and face the same direction. Nigeria seems to prove that crowds are not wise.
This can be changed. How? It can be changed by Nigeria’s social media activists. We need to change our focus from complaints to actions. Rant all you want, the governor that would be steal public funds would do so with sufficient people who would “convince” you that it is his right to do so. Related to this is I believe that valuable time that can be used to develop solutions is spent on complaining about all that is bad about this country. I think that if Nigeria’s Facebook and twitter activists change roles from chief complainers to chief aggregators of collective wisdom, we may begin to see changes.
It is easy for me to question and state how incompetent the minister of Ministry A is. However, the goal should be how can I as a citizen change ministry A. A lot of us were all over twitter moaning the Dana Crash, some people used social media to organize and provide for people affected by the crash.
It is time we aggregate our collective wisdom to better our society and social media gives us an inexpensive means of doing so. We do not have to meet in Lagos and discuss how things can change. We can do that from the comfort of our beds and homes.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Imagine what Nigeria’s education system would be like; if the over 700 billion naira spent on school fees yearly in Ghana and UK’s education systems was retained here.What would Nigeria’s economy be if the skills of the computer technicians at Computer village are fully utilized? What if we have excellent technical schools to train artisans so that we do not have to “import” artisans from Togo and Cotonou? Would Nigeria witness tangible growth if the informal economy was integrated into the formal economy? Let’s imagine how much revenue is lost from the parallel economies at Balogun, Okrika, Alaba, and Daleko markets.Won’t naira value improve if the loopholes in parallel financial institutions (e.g Bureau de change operations) are plugged so that the remittances and foreign exchange in and out of the country are properly captured? How would it be if our railways were working and if the cost of doing business is not cumbersome?
What if the textile industry in Kano is resuscitated and Ankara is “made in Nigeria”? Or if  factories are built instead of shops and event centers?I wonder how much revenue is lost because Ajaokuta steel mill is under- utilized. What if we produce and export “made in Nigeria” cutlery and crockery?
Imagine what Nigeria’s economy would be like; if import tariffs are not prohibitive such that business men and women resort to illegality and smuggle goods from neighbouring countries; if tourist sites are maintained and advertised so that foreigners visit Yankari rather than Accra?What if Nigerian firms are given chances to provide first-hand services they are capable of, rather than employing the services of foreign companies for equal results and triple fees?Imagine what Nigeria would be if “returnees” are allowed to contribute to their nation and are not belitted for “not knowing about the system?Imagine what Nigeria would be like; if the lives lost to insecurity are saved and live the dream of a better Nigeria.