Journal - Nigeria 5
The following content is from the journal I kept during my work with World Bank. It documents my reflections during a field trip to Nigeria in 2004.
Running Business in Nigeria
Fraud, insecurity, and poor infrastructure such as erratic electricity and rough roads were big obstacles in the business environment. Also interest rates are so high making it such that if people are not using government funds, it’s hard to have ample capital.
I asked my friend,
“If I want to do business in Nigeria, and want to mobilize funds internationally, the first question from funders will be, ‘How can you guarantee the person you are working with wouldn’t defraud you?’ In this case, how can I answer this question?” My friend said, “Nothing can be guaranteed here. The question is 'do you believe me?' Then we can work together. It’s all about relationships.” He added, “Running a business in Nigeria is like giving your life to the people you trust.”
Resources for Change
“Let’s say that I want to change my country and see its development. Then I need resources for mobilizing change. So I start up a business. Can it be justified if I give money to corrupt politicians or civil servants to do business when there is no way to avoid this kind of expenditure in government and administrative relations? Even after I earn money from it and invest it in change and development of the country, is it the right thing to do?”I asked.
“Which one do you want to choose? Being powerless to change the evil or having resources to change the evil?” My friend continued, “You should be very innovative. If you start from the top, you would meet only a few barriers. But even in that case, you should still meet some obstacles, which wouldn’t let you proceed until you satisfy their needs. When you meet those barriers, you have to deal with them and negotiate with them.”
Lagos Where Crime comes Together with Money Flow
“This is a high class neighborhood.” My friend pointed at buildings where the paint was peeling off as we drove by in a car.
“But all the houses are so dirty!” I said to him.
“You’ll be surprised when you see their interiors. People just don’t maintain exteriors to be safe from robbery.” He continued, “You may not want to drive a flashy car in Lagos. Once people think that you have money, you will soon have an unexpected visitor at night. One of my friends even bashes his car himself, so that people don’t think he has money.”
He added, “So, don’t judge people by their cars in Lagos.”
In Lagos, there are many burglaries during the Christmas holiday.
A business man said, “Robbers broke into houses through walls. Some foreign businessmen used to prepare rolls of Naira for them. When they forget to place some cash in their house, robbers would beat them, saying that 'You know we will come, but why didn’t you prepare money for us?' Sometimes, police will come and shoot their guns outside the house. When the police come, house owners are afraid that burglars will take them as hostages. So they help the thieves escape from their houses.”
My friend and I are on the road to the heart of Yoruba land. Yoruba is one of three major tribes in Nigeria along with Hausa and Ibo.
“How could Britons spread over Yoruba land and all over the African continent?” I asked my friend.
He said, “Disputes between tribes left room for Britons to come into the African lands... Central Yoruba people had to fight against Arab-influenced warriors from the north and Ibadan forces on the south. At that time when British people came, there had been a lot of conflicts between tribes. For example, disputes between Ibadan and other Yoruba people had continued for 15 years without a winner or loser. The British said they wanted to mediate the dispute because they want to trade with Africans. Most African tribes welcomed them since they were sick and tired of the long conflicts. So, they let British people mediate conflicts because they didn’t have any problem with the idea of trading with British people. That’s how Yoruba opened their land to the Western. That was the wrong start. African people don’t understand English, and the British made an unequal treaty. When Africans recognized it, they don’t want to trade with the British anymore. But it’s too late. The British used guns which Africans hadn’t heard of, and began conquering land after land. That’s how we lost our lands.”
Where are the foreigners?
I have never encountered any Oyinbos (*white people) in public transportation, rural villages, local markets, street stalls, primary or secondary schools, or health centers.
But I saw a lot of them in high-class restaurants like Chopstick, Mandarin, or Chase; hotels like Sheraton, Nicon, Hilton, Frontier, or Eko Hotels; Golf courses like Samuga and development agencies like UN, IITA; tourist attractions like Guarara Falls; travel agencies like KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways; domestic or international airports in Lagos or Abuja; and Deans of offices in University of Ibadan. They are predominantly in these places.
The Second Bridge
I met a young Indian couple in a Samuga golf link in Lagos. They traveled through many countries from MiddleEast, Europe, North America, and Africa. They now worked at a company similar to DHL in Nigeria. I asked them what barriers to development there were for this country.
The young man said without hesitation, “Corruption of government and dishonesty of people.” “Can you give me an example of corruption?” I asked him.
“Listen to my story,” he said. A government officer showed up in his office with a new BMW car. A friend who was visiting the young man got jealous and asked, “How did you get that car? Your salary is not enough to buy such a nice car.”
“Can you see the first bridge?” The officer pointed out a bridge across a river outside of the office.
“Yes.” His friend looked at the bridge.
“I bought my car when I built the bridge. I took a little bit of money from the construction.” “OK. But I still don’t understand. I know you also have billions of Naira in your bank. Where did you get all that money?”
“Can you see the second bridge?” The officer pointed out to the river. His friend looked at the river, but he couldn’t find the second bridge.
“No, I can’t see any. There is only one bridge across the river.”
“No. The second bridge doesn’t exit. That’s why I have a lot of money in my bank.”
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