Posts by Kenneth Igiri

A Helping Hand

My son recently started picking up his feeding bottle by himself. The problem he has is he tries to get the water out without tilting the bottle. I found that when I help him lift the bottle, he simply let’s go of the bottle entirely. To me this implies he gets back to depending on me.

There is something else he does that is even amusing. He started walking about two months ago but often when you take hold of his hands he let’s himself go and you eventually have to lift him or let him crawl. Of course I know this particular one is one of his games but there is still a point to this.

The two scenarios I have briefly described are pointers to a real life lesson. There are cases where someone you are trying to help is better left to grow the muscles he or she needs to survive and thrive. Often when try too hard to lend a helping hand we rob that person of the opportunity to help themselves and to grow.

When we do help, we must do so like fellow humans who will one day have to part ways with the one in need, or who understand that we may not always be in a position to help. The one in need must know that we are neither omnipotent nor ever present.

Lagos is Not

No one sits in their shops here waiting for customers to come to them. Everyone goes out looking for customers. Even taxi drivers at the airports have agents “hustling” for passengers. Those who sit in their taxis waiting to be called find themselves at the back of the pack if even they exist. Lagos is for hustlers.

On these roads, no matter how civilized you look, how well dressed or educated you are, no matter what class of vehicle you drive, when you get on that jungle called Lagos roads, you have yo have your mouth ready to fire: “What are you driving?” “Who are you?” “Are you mad?”. Some go deeper: ” You dey craze?” “Commot for road!” and so on. Lagos is not for gentlemen.

The mass of people milling on the streets is intimidating. The rush of motor bikes back and forth is scary. No driver waits for you to cross over to the other side. The walk rate is fast paced so much so that you think the person coming towards you is after you. And in all these, you have to be conscious of you pocket, your wallet and your mobile device. Lagos is not for the fearful.

With almost 20 million people stretching this city to its limits, every contractor, salesman, shop owner, hawker and everyone else selling something seek marginal profits and large turnovers. The competition is waiting for you to make a wrong bargain and the customer is ever ready to move to the next shop. Lagos is not for slow thinkers.

If you are coming to this city, be prepared.

African Technology

I watched a bottle of LIKEM salted Garri when I thought about what a change a Garri Dispenser might make. I have seen Cereal Dispensers which made me think of this. You know the civilizations of the world which we consider more advanced than we appear to be gained traction in terms of development because they focused on solving the problems the found in their environment. Those in the norther hemisphere encountered extreme cold and found the need for clothes good enough to keep warm in. when horses could no longer carry them fast enough, they decided to build engines to move their carriages faster. When the ran out of things to do on earth, they started flying upwards and diving to unbelievable depths of the sea.

When someone in Africa mentions technological development, we are often thinking about catching up with the west. We are thinking of making cars at a level of technology that the West surpassed in the eighties. We are thinking of meeting up with them. Maybe we can, maybe we can’t. Whatever the case may be I believe the effort may be more appreciated in the long run if we focus on our strengths and produce things we need, things closer to our culture, things that match our strengths. I once saw a take-away pack on Facebook made of leaves, the same kind of leaves used to wrap Moi-Moi or Ofada Rice. In another video I watched some demonstrate a machine for “de-husking” coconuts. The interesting thing was that these videos were from Asia not Africa! I am sure smart folks out there are doing similar things in Africa so I am waiting for advanced machines that can harvest yam, or palm nuts or cashew nuts. I think such technologies will be more aligned to our way of life.

Motivation

They say the most hard working people are not always the richest people. Often an example used to buttress this is a truck pusher on the streets of African cities sweating morning after morning behind his locally made wooden truck on car tyres. Hard work, little gains. He experiences this morning after morning and does not stop because he has no other option. He must wake himself up and get to work without being threatened with retrenchment if he fails to make it to work.

The kiosk owner at the corner of the typical African street is in a similar class. Every single day when I set out to work between 7:00 am and 7:30 am I find they are already set, fully awake and ready to receive customers. They are their own boss and they realize no one is going to call them to ask why they were not at work or why they are late. If they ate absent, they simply lose customers.

 

 

Both the truck pusher and the kiosk owner are self-driven, self-motivated. Its not a function of ones role, social class or nature of business. It I simply an attitude. Dramatic things canbhappen when such an attitude meets opportunity. What’s your attitude towards your day job? Are you being pushed like the truck or are you self-driven like the truck pusher?

I personally think that a person who cannot succeed at working for someone else may experience difficulties working for himself.

 

The Tango of Two

Quarreling can be quite exciting. A great way to exert energy and let go of all that stress from the office. The eruption of adrenaline like the Maelifell of Iceland. Could be a wonderful repeatable feeling if there is always someone to share it with, someone who would respond in a manner required to fuel the rush.

You see, to quarrel, you need a minimum of two people otherwise, the discussion would be on a slightly different topic: Insanity. If your spouse explodes at you and you are absolutely silent, you would have succeeded in truncating his or her zest for a rush of adrenaline and kept the peace while at it.

I remember a school mate of mine who was asked by a suspected cultist in his own room: “Are you mad?”. His simple response was “No. Why do you ask?”. Simple answer to a simple question and a classic case of ‘… A soft answer turns away wrath…’. An answer at the upper end of the emotional number line would have appeared an indication of the state of mind referred to in the question.

You can really be the wise one in your marriage. The one that cuts off the unnecessary adrenaline. The one that plays sane and answers softly, “No, I’m not mad”. The quarrels begin to disappear in a relationship if only one party is allowed to rant. When those out-of-the-ordinary moments come round again, remember, ‘It takes two to tango’ and “A soft answer turns away wrath”.

Outside the Tent

I heard a message from Dr. Mensa Otabil last Sunday which made me reflect on the scope of our thinking. I would like to call it something like “Thinking Outside the Tent” much like “Thinking Outside the Box” but illustrated in a different way.

The reference for the sermon was Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis when God promised him descendants as many as the stars of Heaven. While Abraham sat inside the tent he could not see what God was talking about. The limit of his sight was the roof of the tent which could have been about four feet away from him while seated. Outside the tent however things looked completely different.

 

 

Outside the tent, the nearest star would be measured in light-years. A light-year The distance covered by light in one year. Light travels at 3.8×10^8 m/s (a bit of physics there). You will agree that the difference in the scope of Abraham’s thinking and faith inside the tent when compare to outside the tent is like comparing specks of dust to mountains.

Let’s bring it home. We are simply taking about changing perspective but not just changing but enlarging our perspective. Sometimes that change requires actual physical relocation through travel for example, it may mean reading a book and getting more education. However it is interpreted, we find that our lives can take a massive leap forward if we can step outside the tent we find ourselves confined in.

 

Evaluating What We Really Own

Certain events in our lives force us to think again about our intrinsic value as people. Take for example you are passing through town driving a Ferrari or a Bentley. There is the temptation to assume that everyone staring at you is actually admiring you as a person. This cannot be true, they would admire anyone driving that sort of car. The object of affection is not you, its the car!

Assuming every Sunday you shared $100 to needy folk in your church. You find that someone always goes out of their way to come say hello to you. The respect is very intoxicating but make no mistake, the object of this reverence may not be you, it may be your deep pockets.

When we lose something material in our lives – a house, a job, a car etc – it is indeed a very painful and difficult experience to go through. It often feels like you have fallen from a certain “height”. However painful such an experience is, it forces us to look again at our intrinsic value. Without the peripherals, what are we really worth?

A healthy view of ourselves is essential in order to properly manage our lives and relationships, to value what is really valuable and to manage our pride. We must see ourselves as we really are, without those things that can be taken away from us in the twinkling of an eye.

Nigerian Passport

I will never forget the face of the middle-aged immigration official I met at JO’burg International Airport back in 2013. I had gone there with a few colleagues from different countries (Ghana and Zimbabwe) and we were on our way back from Capetown and needed to board the flight at JO’burg airport bound for Accra, Ghana.

This slim light skinned fellow kept me at his desk asking a series of questions aggressively apparently trying to make me confess some wrong I had done. It got so intense he actually threatened to take me to the interrogation room! It had all started when he ask why I was in South Africa and I happened to mention “… came for a training …” . He had a problem with that because my passport had a Visitor’s VISA. Well I didn’t know there was a training VISA did I ? (Ha Ha Ha). This delay nearly cost me the flight and my Zimbabwean colleague queried where I was all the while.

A few blocks after I had left the Immigration Officer I realized what had just happened: prejudice. The officer saw a Nigerian passport and all his senses came alive! He had to make sure he wasn’t letting a drug dealer or scammer get past him. Sad to say some folks have made us very notorious for evil. If you know someone out there who is ding something fishy in a foreign country or to a foreigner, you should let them know they are making like a little more difficult for those who just want to mind their business and earn an honest living.

I do hope it gets better.

To Count or Not to Count

It is typical in business circles and otherwise to verify cash when someone drops it in your hands. This is how we behave in Nigeria and I have seen the same behaviour in other nearby cultures. It is not an issue of whether you trust the giver or not, it is simply for the avoidance of doubt.  Well, at least that is my interpretation. In certain cases, we actually do not trust the person or do not want to risk trusting the at the expense of possible loss. Come to think about it, you would be embarrassed to call your trusted friend back some two hours after he gave you money just to tall him the money wasn’t complete. It it better to verify there and then.

In some cultures however, counting money when it is given to you is an explicit sign of distrust. I witnessed a Zimbabwean hand over a large amount of money to a South African Chauffeur and the gentlemen clasped his fist tightly, his eyes fixed on the givers face rather than on the money he had just collected! I later asked the Zimbabwean why he didn’t count the money that was when I learnt it was rude to count money given to you. Trust is a culture  in those parts.

Fast forward. We find in our experience that it is not a very wise thing to do business on the basis of trust alone. Ideally, trust should be a fundamental value that supports every relationship but we find that those who choose to deal based on trust in certain societies simply find themselves on the receiving end of the moral and ethical failures of normal human beings. Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end or are you always extra careful in your business deals even with close friends?

Sustainable Economies

 

In ancient Jewish culture what we currently call an employee was called a slave! It may sound offensive but close observation shows that this is very close to the truth if not a perfect fit. The difference between that culture and the present dispensation designed, largely by the West is that the slave is expected to work for cycles of seven years and have the chance to be free each seventh year. If a Jewish slave remained a slave for more that seven years it was purely because he chose that life.

In contemporary Igbo culture among the traders it is common to find a similar practice. A young teenager works for an experienced trader for six years or so and at the end of the period the master is expected to settle him: give him sufficient capital to start his own business. While staying with his master, his is clothed and fed entirely by his master and paid little of nothing as wages but it only would last a comparatively short time.

In contemporary society we fine slavery still predominant in a modified manner: nice suits, car loans, mortgages, and good wages on a monthly basis. The master expects the servant to work for thirty years or so to earn a significant amount of money called a gratuity (and subsequently pension). For most people that may be the only significant amount after thirty years. The interesting thing is that such slaves also train their children to become slaves for the most part and are very happy when their children enter the Slave Market (I think some people also call it Labour Market).

 

 

I am happy for everyone who gets a job, but I do think that if we look at the bigger picture, after ten generations if will not be possible for everyone to land a ‘middle class job’! The jobs are simply not being created fast enough. We must have a mix of the Jewish/Igbo economies alongside our contemporary ‘Labour Market’ scenario, an economy that trains people who are thinking about capital at the end of six years rather than gratuity at the end of thirty years, people who are learning on the job to build their own business not in order to land a bigger job.

Our generation of middle class folks need to make a deliberate effort to train a generation of children who think about capital rather than wages. Our school teachers should no longer ask the ‘What Do You Want to be When Your Grow Up?’. This presupposes an already defined ‘What’. Rather we should ask ‘How Do You Want to be?’ prompting the child to create something new. That is one way we can help build sustainable economies.