Friday, 30 January 2015

Who Needs a Business Plan?!

Over a number of years people I know in Nigeria have consulted with me on business start ups. Very often they have found a venture they like or are good at and noticed that it appears to be a profitable trend. Proposals have included farming, shopping malls, business consultancies, wedding planning, event management and transportation. All very marketable ideas. However, each time I have mentioned putting together a business plan a lot of people have hesitated. One person remarked that business plans don't work in Nigeria; you just go for it and try to make the best of it. Needless to say quite a few of these ventures have gone down the pan. 

Typically in Nigeria people have raised money for business by borrowing from family and friends, or getting a loan through a friend who is a bank manager. People have been known to take out car loans and use the money for business. Nowadays, banks are stricter with lending, and micro finance institutions require very detailed business planning. So the benefits of having a business plan aren't just to show you can make a profit. Whether it's a bank or a friend investors want to understand what your marketing strategy is, how much your set up and operational costs are, what your profit projections are  and how the business will be run for the first five years. Of course, this might not be applicable if your proposal is to secure a government contract and abandon it midway after pocketing the money!

Having a business plan is more than just having a document to wave around. It's a sign that you have subjected your idea to a thorough cost-benefit analysis and you have identified the milestones you need to reach to ensure success. It also gives your investors an assurance that you will be accountable and mindful of the risks to be managed. It takes some effort to prepare a business plan but it is well worth it both in raising finance and managing the business.

For Better, or Until the Break Up!

I read a recent news report in which a woman has filed a claim against the estate of her former partner (who has since died) claiming she was misled in negotiating a settlement based on a falsely reported lower net worth. They were in a 19 year relationship but broke up and her partner died a year later. She now wants the courts to review the case and award her a higher settlement. The case has now gone to appeal. 

Negotiating a settlement after the break up of a marriage or relationship is a necessary evil. No one prays for a marriage to end but sometimes you have to plan for the possibility. In principle I agree with the payment of spousal support. If a partner has sacrificed a career or personal ambition to create a good family and home then they should be reasonably considered to have contributed to the income that the partner brings into the household. In some cases where spouses are more of a trophy there may not be so much of a contribution. But that's why there are prenuptial agreements. Whatever people say, love doesn't insure you against future loss. No matter how much love you start out with if things break up the then it can get messy.

In practice though, the laws in many countries are very antiquated when it comes to dealing with spousal settlements. They either cast the woman as a helpless stray who will not be able to survive unless the ex partner supports her; or they offer no protection whatsoever to women who have devoted their lives to bringing up children and maintaining a home. The law in some of these cases ends up fostering a feeling of unfairness and creating further hostility between already unhappy people. 

Unfortunately, religious guidance hasn't always proved helpful or conclusive in resolving relationship disputes. A lot of religious texts do tend to apportion all the power to the man. This is unlikely to help matters in situations where the man hasn't been very reasonable. That notwithstanding there is plenty of counselling about how to have a good relationship but not much about how to achieve a good break up. It will take a shift in legislation and social norms to address the anomalies in break up settlements. In the meantime, amidst all the loving and hugging people better keep a watchful eye on how much money their partners are earning. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

It's What We Believe But Is It Moral?

A lot of us confuse adhering to a belief with being morally upright. There is the assumption that if you are a believer of a widely held belief then anything you do in the name of that belief must be morally right. This is often seen in how people practice their religious faiths. There is the recent opposition to the ordination of female bishops in the Anglican Church for instance. We also have the Charlie Hebdo murders in France to draw upon. In the bible Jesus drew the distinction between morally right and lawfully right when he stopped the stoning of Mary Magdalene, asking the crowd to examine their own righteousness first. Whether you look at capitalism, democracy or jurisprudence; there are a wide variety of belief systems that would probably not be rightfully considered moral.

In our daily lives there are too many instances where we fail to do what is just and fair because we claim to be following a belief. Too many instances where we treat people badly but justify it on being true to a belief. There are times we sacrifice the wellbeing and feelings of others in order to feed our own need for piety. While it is difficult to close every ethical loophole in a belief system it isn't impossible to weigh up our own actions on the basis of what is morally right. Just as Pope Francis is attempting to do in stating that there is a place for transgender people in the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

A Greek Lesson

The victory of the far left party in Greece is evidence that the people can effect change if given the opportunity in free and fair elections. It remains to be seen whether the new government will be successful in favourably negotiating the current national debt. But it is admirable that after a turbulent time in the teeth of a crisis the Greek people were able to hold peaceful elections and change the government without being plunged into constitutional crisis. 

The new challenge will be navigating the murky waters of international finance. The debt currently being serviced by Greece is essentially a loan to guarantee repayment on money's owed to various financial institutions. None of the money will effectively kickstart the Greek economy. So what we have is the EU bailing out a financial system that imprudently made bad loans at the expense of economically weaker nations. I wonder if any nations will be considered too big to fail. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Palestine: Dishonouring the Struggle

It is sad to read about the increasing regularity of attacks in Israel by Palestinians acting on their own. It's tragic for the victims and sadly futile by the perpetrators. Whether it's motivated by vengeance or a sense of frustration it doesn't achieve any benefit. They just feed into the ignorance of extremist Palestine factions who use terrorism as a way to maintain their own relevance and raise funds to continue their dastardly campaigns. The extremists are refusing to learn a lesson most infants learn in primary school. And that is, there is nothing to be gained in trying to fight it out with a bully who is bigger and stronger than you. No matter how hot the tears of righteous indignation and frustration burn. Without peace Palestine will never experience freedom nor vindication. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Whither Nigeria?

At independence in 1960 Nigeria was a country bursting with prospects. It had a glorious cultural heritage. Ambitious and brilliant intelligentsia. Aspiring and smart politicians. And a wealth of natural resources. So what went wrong?! 

There are three factors that might provide some insight into the issue:

Colonialism: When the colonial occupiers left it wasn't exactly with good wishes and grace. They left basic infrastructure mostly designed to separate them from the general populace. And they left an economy that was built to divert resources to Great Britain at minimal cost. 
Military rule: Misrule and the disruption and instability from frequent coups probably proved problematic in equal. The military governments had strategic frameworks in place but very little commitment to strategic development and deployment of resources. They focused on short term gains and populist actions. Balancing the disparity in resource distribution between the north and south became a primary objective for the military. 
Tribal divisions: Tensions built up between a thriving South and a North that was heavily populated and highly resistant to development. Ultimately these played a role in exacerbating tribal and political tensions. Creating the perfect storm for a military coup. It subsequently played out in tribal rivalries in the military junta which ultimately resulted in politicking and prejudicial policy making. 

While some effects of colonialism are still being felt today, it isn't possible to blame the malaise that has set in to the Nigerian psyche wholly or even partially on it. The poor job done by the military of governing, and it's inability to manage tribal tensions remains a significant reason for the current failings. It hasn't helped that the current cabal of politicians have turned corruption into a career choice. It is no surprise that ex military officers have switched to politics in droves. 

There is no question that a democratic system of some sort is the best path forward. However, it is unclear whether our current or future stock of politicians are in fact capable of being democrats, at heart or in practice. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Nigeria: A Modern Day Sodom and Gomorrah

It was Edmund Burke, the 18th century English Statesman who said; "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This precisely sums up the plight of modern day Nigeria.

A country where public service has become a call to loot, embezzle and abuse authority. Where politicians have long since dispensed with the pretence of manifestos and now campaign strictly on the platform of entitlement. Where so called religious leaders live in the lap of luxury while their congregations wallow in poverty. Where law enforcement has become a rental service for the deepest pockets. Where all forms of abuse are tolerated, culminating in legislative proposals to legalise child brides. Where business simply means trawling for cash and very few standards apply. Where even in diaspora the criminality of Nigerians has reached legendary notoriety. In essence, Nigeria is a place led by immoral exploiters and inhabited by a predatory citizenry. 

Just as God said about Sodom and Gomorrah, "the outcry against them (sic) is so great and their sins so grievous". The question now is, "what shall be done about Nigeria?" 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Whose Labour?

The origins of the Labour Movement are rooted in the need to halt the exploitation of workers, and provide a critical mass for negotiating employment terms and conditions. Fast forward to the 21st century and the movement is nothing but a name. In America, Unions are still fighting to escape the greasy embrace of the Mob. In the UK Labour is a political party that pretty much stands for nothing. And in Nigeria, the Labour Congress is a charade where grown men give themselves the title "comrade" while being paid off by the government. 

The only achievement of the labour movement in Nigeria in recent years appears to be to have enabled a select few to get rich on government payouts. There is still no national minimum wage. Manual and low skilled workers receive no protection or support. There is minimal access to equal opportunities in recruitment, or due process in cases of unfair dismissal. Outside of the civil service workers have practically no rights! The award of perks and benefits in corporate organisations doesn't prevent summary dismissals and widespread harassment. 

Maybe one of these days Nigeria will put off celebrating 'Workers' Day' and actually get on with celebrating the worker. In Nigeria we are great at studying things but terribly poor at actually applying best practice to reform and improvement. It's time the Government, Labour Congress, and academicians got together to bring some dignity back to the worker and the Labour Movement in Nigeria. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Minimum Wage Should be the Bare Minimum

Over the years Nigeria has failed to adopt a national minimum wage. The current recommended minimum wage stands at N18000 per month. This can hardly be considered a living wage (never mind minimum wage) in a country where average annual accommodation rents can be in the region of N500,000 a year. In a country with a high rate of poverty, low life expectancy (45 years), high cost of living and minimal access to credit; wages represent a critical means of sustenance for significant number of people. Almost 75% of all those employed are in federal or state employment. 

The low level of wages has social as well as economic costs for Nigeria. Low wages have created, and in fact entrenched a culture of inequality. Employment is seen as patronage rather than paid labour. There is a societal aspiration to be rich rather than high achieving or successful. Corruption, theft and sexual exploitation have grown exponentially as the wealth gap increases. 

The circulation of money in the  economy is unbalanced. Local businesses operate on very low margins because most people don't have the resources to patronise them. This makes it harder for small and medium sized businesses to make a profit, and therefore there is not enough diversity at the lower end of the economy. The lack of spending power means that Nigeria's high population plays almost no role in boosting economic development. Very few Nigerians are able to save money or invest in any viable way. Ironically political instability and poor security have meant that Nigeria has not been able use the low cost of labour to attract foreign investment in any meaningful way. 

In a country where significant oil and gas resources still generate huge revenue, and where legislators are some of the highest paid in the world (one of the few areas Nigeria leads the world) a refusal to adopt a national minimum wage is not only unfair; it is also negligent. Nigeria will need a thriving workforce in the years to come. Now is the time to start developing the framework to make that happen. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

You can dream of a better life
But the world won't change while you're dreaming. 
You can fight by any means necessary 
But change won't happen while you're fighting. 
But you can fight hard to realise your dreams
And one day you will wake up to a good day in a better world.

Economic Growth is Killing Us!

Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing economic growth of around 4.6%. Nigeria is one of those countries that is reporting GDP growth in spite of a high level of poverty. Poverty that is driven by high rates of unemployment and low wage levels. And exacerbated by poor facilities and infrastructure development across the country. However, there is growth in the services and financial sectors. There is some suggestion that there is significant growth in the agricultural sector but that is disputable given the large scale importation of food and the limited investment in farming ventures. There is no reporting of a huge rise in financing for small to medium scale farming. 

The wealth gap in Nigeria remains as wide as ever; and given the growth in the economy it is most likely expanding. So some people are getting wealthier while poverty and underdevelopment continue to plague more of the country. There is very little use in railing against corruption in the country. There is very little appetite in government or big business to tackle that. But I do wonder what is happening to all the money coming from the economic growth. Chances are that it is mostly being spent on luxury and indulgence. There is a boom in high value property development that only a few can afford and often lies vacant for extended periods. A huge amount of money is expended on sending children to study abroad; a necessity given the wretched state of the local education system. A lot of wealthy people send money abroad to invest in property in countries with flatter economic growth but greater social stability. 

So it turns out that rather than investing in local services and facilities (transportation, low income housing, small scale farming, manufacturing) the rich would prefer to buy luxury goods and send their wealth abroad. Is it a surprise that inefficiency, corruption and robbery are now as much a staple as strong economic growth? It is a pity that Nigerians think so little of building up the same place that they are so thankful to for enriching them.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Can You?

You can learn from somebody yet not be inferior 
You can lift somebody up but not be superior 
You can better a person and refrain from being imperious 
You can have pride and still be curious 
You can be developing and still be rich in heritage 
You can be developed and still find ways to engage
You can be human and that doesn't make you intelligent 
You can't stand by in apathy and want to be ascendant 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Fewer Guns More of You

There is no enlightenment in the barrel or butt of a gun. You may use a gun to defend yourself but it won't keep you safe. You may shoot back at those oppressing you but it won't make you equal. You may wave it in the air but it won't ease your fear. You may point it at another person but it won't shield your back. Whether you take up arms in the pursuit of freedom or conquest, the bloodshed never validates your cause. Each time you fire that gun, in fun or to kill; a little bit of you dies as well. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Time to Campaign for Better Care

It is unfortunate that Nigeria has developed a culture that places more value on charity rather than on empowerment. In a country with significant wealth inequalities the privileged prefer to maintain their exalted status and only endow those in their immediate circle of relationships. Charitable work is confined to giving handouts. Very little thought is given to uplifting the circumstances of people's lives or integrating the disabled into the society. Too many people prefer to use the disabled as a photo opportunity rather than catering to their real needs. 

The Federal and State Governments are the foremost culprits in this systematic cycle of neglect and abandonment. Very little investment is made in the care and rehabilitation of people with disabilities. Majority of disabled people are reduced to begging on streets because no provision is made to support them in education or help them into employment. Tragically now disabled people don't envisage any prospect other than panhandling as a means to an income. This has created an underclass of destitution and poverty. 

It's time that the Government instituted a national programme for the care of all children with disabilities. This should include treatment, care and educational provision. Social care and training should be provided for all adults with disabilities. Banning begging and getting beggars of the streets will not change the culture of neglect that has become endemic in this society. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015


In times gone by there was a very strong sense of duty, chivalry and the forbidden. duty is still a highly spoken about quality that is aspired to by all those who wish to make great strides in life. Chivalry is a somewhat sullied characteristic but has been subsumed by the less chauvinistic attribute of empathy. However, it does appear that we have lost a sense of the forbidden. There just isn't the same aversion to taboo that there used to be. 

These days some people are finding it to easy to kill, rape and abuse others. There are people who are trying to advocate for the legitimising of paedophilia; or running around trying to make it harder to report and prosecute cases of rape. All of a sudden the needs of rape victims are being equated with the convenience of those accused of rape.

While a more tolerant and inclusive society is something we must continue to fight hard for, it is important that that doesn't allow apathy to dull our sense of wrong. For every right claimed there must be an obligatory duty to support it. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Not So New Year

There's always a lot of joy in seeing in a new year. Whether that is because of the traditional family or government sponsored celebrations and New Year's Eve parties; or because it marks a common milestone in the lives of many people who we might otherwise have no connection to. A new year represents an advancement for individuals. However, it it's down to each person to determine whether that advancement takes the shape of improvement or entrenchment. For all of us every new year presents us with the dilemma of figuring out whether to pursue success and achievement by either continuing to do more of the same or by making changes, be they radical or subtle. Solving that dilemma ultimately sets the tone for how the rest of our year will go. We can either face our challenges with intelligence and courage. Or we can delude ourselves and continue down a path of futility and frustration. 

Happy New Year to one and all! May your struggles be real making your successes even more satisfying.