Male manicurist

Nigeria is broke I heard, well to many poor Nigerians, the country has always been broke, I suppose now with the reduced oil revenues, it is hitting home more than usual.

Somewhere in Sabo, waiting for a friend was a Hausa man sitting beside me with a thin wood separating us. Too quiet so I started to chat with Musa.

The conversation flows easily so I asked what his job was. He is a manicurist. “Really?” I thought that was interesting.

He was very happy to tell me how good business has been but at the time he had no customer so I thought I could get my nails done too.

“Ha, only male.” He said with a smile.

“What’s wrong with female nails?” I showed him my finger nails so he could see I just had them done a week prior, that I was only curious and wanted to see how good he is given the service only costs 80naira.

Musa was really sorry that it has nothing to do with me, he looked around as if to say, in another circumstances he could have done it but definitely not with so many people around to judge him or question his faith.

So I left him off the hook, and he told his story.

Musa is 41 years old, up until 3 years ago he was in Port Harcourt doing the same job, most of his clients were women, he makes enough money that he was content with his life.

Then his sister sent for him to take up the Nigeria government sponsored pilgrimage to Mecca. He could not say no to the juicy free offer. So he said to me “I’m Alhaji now” with a grin.

“That’s great” I congratulated him.

He looks energetic and outspoken but with his new title comes change in lifestyle, so he is no longer able to do female nails as that is against his renewed belief/title.

“Is that why you didn’t return to PH?” I asked. Alhaji nodded in agreement.

There are more clients in PH than Osun but decided to stay in Osun as living among people who share his believe system is better for him.

“How would you say your life now compared to when you were in PH?” I asked. Alhaji Musa went shy and looked away, then shrugged his shoulders. He changed the subject by pointing to the elderly man in the crowd to be his brother-in-law.

Here I wonder, only if Nigeria government could do a survey of all that they have sponsored for religious trips to get firsthand feedback to see how useful the program had been.

To a lay person like me, it’s still unbelievable that a country with 60% living in abject poverty spends about 1% of its annual budget on religious foreign trips – just doesn’t add up.

Thousands of Christians are also sponsored to Jerusalem yearly.

Sometimes I wonder, do we have to think hard to know where budget cut should go?

I think Muslim and Christian Pilgrims Welfare Boards should go if we are truly broke as a nation. Religious should be private affair which should be addressed privately.

Here’s an idea – How about spending the same budget on getting rehabilitation for those who sleep rough on our streets? God in His throne would be super pleased.

One Nigeria

Sometimes the phrase ‘One Nigeria’ is true but it requires a bit explanation otherwise not many Nigerians believe the saying in the slightest sense.

Reading through President Buhari’s speech, he talked about various issues his administration would tackle right away –  security and corruption top the list. Admittedly, these are very important and I suppose President could not have listed all that the country needed to improve on otherwise he’d be on the podium for days.

My take away from reading the speech was that by tackling corruption, education sector is included given this area of our lives is corrupt-riden as is.

I was expecting President Buhari to talk a bit more about education sector in Nigeria particularly our public schools. He nonetheless touched the area with a simple sentence to acknowledge he is aware of the need for improvement.

“For the longer term we have to improve the standards of our education” – PMB.

Somehow, I had naively thought he would spend at least a couple of minutes on this to put mind of the public at rest, I was wrong.

I thought one of the best and sure way of improving standard of living for the 60% poor is by improving the education in our rural areas.

Most of our rural areas already have primary and secondary schools built between the 50 and the 60’s. We still have people living in the same villages only that most of the school buildings are now shell of their past glories.

There are many ways refurbishing rural schools would help. This would mean among other benefits that children can be educated in the village or close by so they live with the family therefore eliminating expensive alternative of going to school in town while parents remain in the village to work.

I think if there’s one area where Nigerians from south to north could agree need improvement on is the standard of our education especially in the rural areas.

I am hoping there is a robust plan in place for this.

Between the government and oil marketers

Mrs Okonjo Iweala’s latest speech explaining Nigeria’s debt to the oil companies and how marketers despite being spoken to still shut down the country is an interesting one.

So, the main reason Nigerians have been subjected to long queues at the filling station was because government owed oil marketers ₦200billion, ₦159 of which is for foreign exchange differential – Whao, what a country indeed!

I think Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has sacrificed a lot but there is something seriously wrong here. Just listening to the video clip makes one cringe that there is a way that Nigeria turns smart, honest people to a complete joke.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala claimed the government has not done anything wrong. In the same vein, she acknowledged that there was a fraud going on in the oil industry (well, Nigeria foetus knows that). But why do we let this lie for such a long time?

And for a country who chose to refine its oil overseas, why did no one thought of the impact of exchange rate before naira was devalued?

Then it makes me wonder, how many people in the government are involved in this oil business in the first place, just seems we are going in circles.

Enjoy the clip: 0 to 6:43 is worth the time I think.

 

 

 

Underdevelopment as a result of cycles of violence

The talk about poverty has gained momentum in the last year, we talk about how the rural areas can be better developed, government deservedly gets lion share of the blame for mismanaging nation’s wealth however, we rarely talk about how our many royal families have contributed to the underdevelopment in their various regions.

Poverty and violence go hand in hand. In recent years, the commonly talked about violence in Nigeria is Boko Haram, however, before BH became globalised  there has always been less talked about violence in many of our regions contributing to underdevelopment.

On a Facebook forum the other day a picture of Oba Adesoji Aderemi was pulled up. He was the king of Ile Ife from 1930-1980. As usual, everyone said what they thought of him – in general royal families are celebrated, such was the attitude.

Then a lady asked – How come Ile Ife is so underdeveloped given all the privileges it has enjoyed over the years?

Ile Ife town has the second university in the southwest, founded in 1962 currently have about 35,000 students from all over Nigeria.

Prior to the university, Ile-Ife has for a long time enjoyed other privilege such as Isakole (proceeds from land lease) from neighbours.

This is a very important question that I have always thought not enough attention was given.

Not too surprising, most commenters decided to talk about the significance of Ile Ife to Yorubaland, all the glamorous bits that are in total contrast to the reality on our streets.

To the lady who did not shy away from asking a difficult question, I explained that it is true that our past history is distorted, sometimes hard to know what to believe. However, one of the reasons why Ile Ife remained underdeveloped despite a 50+ years old popular university in town was largely because of internal conflict that was ‘renewed’ in 1981, a few months after the sitting Ooni of Ife Oba Sijuade became king.

I shared a bit of what I witnessed and how growing up in the area has changed the way I view of our monarchs. How fights over land ownership has gotten the best of our elders, they kill, grab the land and sold on.

While many of the killings did not make it to the media outside of the region, words do get round hence investment is rarity in the area.

Here’s what one of the forum members had to say:

“I can’t even believe grown adults raising money to buy weapons to fight Modakeke. My dad gave hundreds of thousands of naira for weapons then. He abandoned the whole thing when he realised that there was no accountability on the money raised. He raised the issue of accountability in the palace and Ooni suggested that he should not talk about accountability so abstained from their agenda.”

To this guy I was grateful, not many people can be this honest even when not much is secret.

The second question was whether anyone has ever been arrested and brought to justice for the killings of the innocent farmers during and of Modakeke and Ife crisis.

To my knowledge, no one has ever been arrested let alone tried for any of the deaths.  The number of people that have been murdered both in towns and villages are in hundreds and counting since 1981.

I heard it’s all complicated.

Is it really?

I suppose what happens in a small town of a few thousand people is a reflection of our country as a whole – absolute power.

This time too shall pass

Nigeria is a peculiar country. If swearing works, many of our lawmakers would be crippled and covered with boils by now. We sure know how to shower curses of all kinds on them and families especially during hardship such as fuel scarcity.

My sister thought it was really hard in Ibadan, commercial vehicles are doubly expensive, so are groceries. She managed to get some petrol today for ₦300/litre.

My father in Osun echoed the same, it is really hard he said. He managed to get some fuel for his motorcycle for ₦200/litre today. He spent time talking about the long queue as fuel was only in a couple of stations.

My cousin in Jos was convinced this is the worse fuel scarcity she has ever witnessed. She noticed it more because her little enterprise has suffered a bit as people are very cautious on their spending, but she is doing okay.

Well, what I have found in Nigeria is that this time also will pass and if this problem is not tackled from the source, fuel scarcity will happen, again and again.

To my knowledge this is not the worse in the history of Nigeria fuel scarcity – though expensive, and takes long hours of queue at the filling stations but people still get by somehow and vehicles are still on our roads.

We forget easily after ‘patch, patch’ solutions is applied only to keep people quiet  a while another sabotage is cooked up.

After 1993 presidential election was annulled, we had a similar situation just before General Babangida stepped down for an interim government Chief Shonekan.

So I reminded my father of 1993 fuel scarcity and how he was surprised that my sister and I walked about 15 miles from town to the village – during that time there was no fuel at all – the little that was available was out of reach even with cash to pay, so people did what they had to do to get to their destinations.

Time has changed now, but what remained the same were the people in power. Many of those that were in power at that time, 20 years ago controlling the nation’s oil blocks are still very much the same set of people as today.

We fear to suffer yet we suffer everyday.

Maybe we can afford to endure more so this problem can be sorted once and for all in the way that would leave us all happy – I mean fix our own refineries and reviews terms and conditions for oil block ownership.

Consumer extortion or Callertunes?

The first time I heard ‘ilekun ayo mi ti si…’ (the door of my joy is open..) while calling my sister instead of a normal ring tone, I thought she had ‘upped’ her game in the religion department. So now callers are entertained with upbeat christian tunes while they wait – not bad.

This was a couple of years ago. She didn’t really mind the callertunes but she would have preferred to be the one who asked for it.

I was happy it was only my MTN contacts that had this callertunes as it gets really boring, every other phone has random songs on them. Before long all of the major phone providers joined the game.

I found this a bit unsettling as the service was imposed on people without them asking for it and were charged 50naira/month for the service. This is chicken change if one had requested for it, but it is robbing the poor when they have no say and they have to get out of their way to remove the service only for it to be put back when the next month comes by.

One time MTN was doing another shuffling, so they put a muslim call out for prayer tune on my sister’s phone – that was the first time she thought of really visiting MTN office to lodge a complaint, she would love the tune to be removed and also made it clear she didn’t want the service – that lasted a month, now it’s back on.

People should not have to be charged without their consent in the first place especially for services they neither needed nor of any benefit to them.

Sometimes I wonder, why is it that the poor masses are always the easy target to prey on?

I have had the same MTN number for going to 10years now,  I used to use it often so on their bundles, so now, even if I didn’t use it for months, I rarely have issues with them – they don’t put callertunes on my phone.

Once I had to make a call so to stop all unsolicited text messages to my phone, their customer services were helpful and they granted what I wanted.

A handful of my friends too didn’t have this callertunes put on their phones.

Is this customer profiling? How do they do this, isolating people who could kick up fuss and only extort people who don’t have neither voice nor money?

My parents are both on MTN and now on the annoying callertunes too, neither wanted it. My father had once complained to their custom service that he would like the callertunes be removed, they did – now it’s back on. Taking 50naira/month from him and millions of other Nigerians without their consent.

Looking through my mother’s phone, loads of pop culture messages, sometimes she jumped up thinking she heard her phone ringing but often times, it’s another unsolicited messages – it is insane this is allowed.

I must say that mobile phone has transformed our society in a massive way and I am grateful for this but I do think businesses need checks and balances and customers’ interests need to be considered too.

As it stands individual complaints has not yielded desired result.

So I wonder, whose job is it to protect customers’ interests in the case of mass extortion such as this?

We do have Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson – is this what she can help with given the scale of the issue?

Reshuffling the deck to tackle economic disparity

I am no Economist. I do love data analysis as it helps to put situation in more objective perspective.

Reading about Nigeria unemployment rate to be at 6.4%, naturally I thought someone must be having a good joke at the expense of the general public. Then I read the reports produced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that backs this up, according to the report, unemployment isn’t our problem based on sampled survey of 33,300 private households and 199,800 individuals conducted in all of our 36 states over a period of two years.

So the real problem we have is underemployment, meaning most people of working age already are involved in one income generating activity or the other, all they had to do is work some more per week.

Lots of energies devoted into explaining the definition to the aggrieved Nigerians. There, I understood why Nigerians reading this report were upset, why did it focus on one aspect of underemployment definition of part-term employment? Why not talk about those who are working full-time but the salary isn’t just enough to meet the basic needs?

Statistical analysis will tell exact tale one sets it out to tell.

So a question was posed – how many people do I know of working age that aren’t working?

For some reason, I prefer to answer this question as opposed to wasting time reading report that justifies Nigeria unemployment rate is currently at 6.4% while stats on income disparity was out of the equation.

For example: I know a friend who has a teaching degree & law degree. She recently says she’s looking for a new job as her current one where she works from 9am to 6pm, Mon to Fri and occasional weekend at a private law firm in Ibadan pays ₦15k/month. She was excited to get the job mid last year with the hope of building up a career. While it is exciting to have this opportunity, she relies on her partner to foot the bill most of the time despite her working full-time – her take home after transportation has been ₦1,500.

She is 35 years old. Which category can we put this lady? Underemployed?

During the last university lecturer’s strike that lasted 6 months, my nephew took up a job at an IT office assisting graduate students to type and make photocopies, he was paid ₦7k/month. With being sensible of legging it halfway, he spent ₦3k/month on transport. Many of his age mates slept rough on campus to safe on transport, well, I don’t think one has to go that far to teach youths how tough Nigeria is so for him he was a lot more blessed than many of his age. If he had to contribute towards rent, he wouldn’t break even. He was 19 years old at the time.

Some real people story are more pitiful than others, actually both people above are still very lucky as many who have worked really hard to get any form of qualification are really struggling, evidence on the street.

I think people who are in key positions in Nigeria should be mandated to go on the streets to observe people as they go round their businesses before deciding where it’s best to focus data collections as to get better understanding on the best way to help common man on the road.

The so-called underemployed Nigerians, even if they had to work 24/7 – their lifestyle isn’t going to be any different – maybe reshuffling income deck so it trickles down fairly to working people is a better way of helping the masses, therefore where Nigeria National Bureau of Statistics should shed more lights.

Ekiti Splash World

In my waka-about last month, here’s what I found – a spectacular park where children and adults alike can have fun away from the city.

It was a nice surprise as I was at Ikogosi Spring at the time but thought I’d take a stroll around the area. Workers were not on site on this particular day but there was a guard who was as excited as I was that we have such a great project in the area.

Fantastic that the whole construction is good size meaning all ages will be welcome to fool around for the day.

My joy was quadrupled when the guard said this construction isn’t government-owned, indication that it will last for a very long time. Am hoping we will have one like this in Osun soon too – hopefully!

It will be open by December, I was told.

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Errors of the fortunate

This past week I have learnt a few new lessons.

Earlier on in the week, I  saw a clip online about a public figure who really wanted to see first hand how rural Nigerians live. She didn’t have to travel far away from the city.

At the pond-like stream, she was shocked to learn anyone could be drinking from such a dirty open water that villagers had to step inside before collecting it in their buckets – alum is used to clear up the discolouration before drinking.

The lady  turned sideways to confirm once again from a man from the crowd:

“Are you sure this is where you all fetch drinking water from” The man nodded several times to confirm.

The lady politician was physically sick, not sure what she was thinking but I can see she was profoundly affected at the thought.

Is she going to do all in her power to get everyone in her office to make occasional site visits to people they claim to represent?

I wasn’t too sure what to make of the lady’s attitude but it definitely revealed another side of Nigerian leaders to me.

This lady, born to a high-profile Nigerian politician, at 10 years old left the country to a UK boarding school and from there to Oxford university. After her graduation, she returned to take a political office.

She has lived most of her live in Nigeria but yet had ‘no idea’ that less than 20 miles from the comfort of her home, there are many people deprived of basic need such as safe drinking water Or did she know all along but chose to ignore?

…………….

The other eye opener this week was when Senator Ben Murray-Bruce  tweeted about the importance of government setting minimum wage:

And again this is one area in Nigeria that has left room for employees abuse especially in the private sector.

So I shared my experience of a family member who had a BA in Economics. After her service year, she applied for various jobs mainly in public offices. I remember that was the time Osun was accepting applications for all sorts of jobs from teaching to administrative roles. Some, if not all of the jobs required application fees. She did went to a couple of interviews in Osogbo including oral and written ones. In the end, nothing came out of it. Her impression was that there were too many people for the advertised roles – just like immigration job death trap saga.

Anyways, in the end, she took a teaching job at a private primary school close to her home in Ibadan for ₦6k/month. The decision to take on this job despite the low salary was because it was still better than staying at home.

Here after reading Senator Ben Murray-Bruce tweet, I imagined a future in Nigeria whereby there is a minimum wage acts to protect the masses.

Currently, there is no such employees protective law, so every employer sets their own wage structure and because of the shortage of job in public sectors, and limited financial help for small business, people are at the mercy of their employers even if they only break even.

Two different issues here but I can’t stop thinking the of disconnection between the public and the leaders is unbelievable. I think of a possible future whereby leaders make occasional visits to local people to see first hand the reality on ground rather than relying on sugar-coated news reports that bear little resemblance to the reality of people’s lifestyle – this I believe will help address our social issues in a more humane manner.

Nigeria class warfare: Right vs wrong

Soon to be President Buhari has a lot of work in his hand. We are counting on him to fight corruption. We have other issues that need to be addressed along, one that is very important is for everyone to learn to work together for the common good.

I thought Senator Ben Murray-Bruce speech was very good.

He talked about issues that many would shy away from. The fact that his grandmother’s village had no safe drinking water when he first visited assures me he is aware that millions of Nigerians are still in this similar position.

He talked about compassion for the ‘least of us’ stressing the fact that educating selected few in world-class universities is not enough as the millions left behind are big in number, enough to make a mess of the few elite ones.

We already see this at work. I saw it myself during my visit to Kano a few years ago, I bet most of those reduced to begging on the streets are the same ones with the guns today.

One of my favourite points was the 1% of national budget on pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem – God help me whoever thinks this is a great idea? I bet both countries would be praying we’ll never wake up to see how ridiculous this sounds especially for a country that can’t pay salary of workers.

And the part where he talked about the government officials allocations – ha ha, now we see why there is too much blood shed to get into office. 469 public officials to fly first class when not in private jet – incredible. God bless BA and Virgin.

Orisa oke ma je k’eni t’ogo ko gbon, k’eni o gbon le maa ri tu je bii isu (May the God in heaven keep the stupid ones ignorant so the wise can ‘eat’ them up like yam).

I don’t believe a word any politician says anymore, I believe their actions, however, someone who actually could articulate his ideas to a big audience like this is worth listening to.

“Nigeria is too poor for the leaders to act like multi billionaire and Nigeria is too rich for people to be so poor” Ben Murray-Bruce.

Good speech overall, Mr Senator.

Most Nigerians already are tax payers, maybe not to the earthly purse

Nigerians have always being tax payers, this may not be that obvious but really they do – government agents from local to federal level need a lot to learn to make sure taxes go to the right purse.

When I was little in the 80s, in the then Oranmiyan local government, almost every adults pay their taxes, even the non-government staff.

People like my father makes his payment without any reminder, it was a flat rate for farmers. For the traders, it is mostly collected in the markets.

The other way to make sure fewer people slip through the net at the time  was to make it mandatory that all school children produce parent’s tax receipt in the beginning of academic year.

This system was far from perfect at the time, in fact it was open to lots of abuse and double taxation as people sometimes get taxed twice if unable to produce receipts at check points, however hard a lot of people paid up.

The biggest factor that contributed to people’s resistance is  that there were no public improvement whatsoever to show for the government revenues so over time, taxation of public stopped altogether.

Fast forward a few decades later, despite the population increase, it seems the percentage of people paying any form of tax in the same area has reduced significantly. Today, only tax paying adults are registered businesses and civil servants.

The myth of taxing poor masses

The poor masses wanted to pay taxes,  lots of challenges for sure, however, if this hasn’t stopped Lagos state from collecting taxes within the state, surely Osun can do the same.

For example a friend in Ogun state got taxed flat rate of 10k naira/annum for dried food stuff shop. People with similar source of income in Osun got off with paying no tax.

As it stands today many small enterprises in all of our towns are not paying any taxes to the government because no one is asking them or the misconception that everyone is poor so exempt from tax.

However, this same group of poor masses somehow are very happy to comply with the religious rule of 10% earnings tithe and sometimes, they do accept more or less according to individual economic blessings.

I wonder, if Nigerian churches could be so clever to instil in people the need to secure their ‘heavenly home’ through taxation, surely it should not be hard to convince the same group of people to pay towards improving their earthly surroundings.

From what I know growing up in the area, people’s resistance to paying taxes has nothing to do with being poor,  if there is more transparency in the collection and spending of people’s  contributions – they will happily obliged.

If any government is able to educate the people of Osun state on the importance of taxation, it will be Ogbeni Aregbesola as people love and respect his work.

Home grown solutions to Nigeria socio economic problems

Thinking about socio-economic issues,  I recently realise there are many Penkelemesi (peculiar mess) in our culture that must be addressed to give room for bigger economic improvement.

This is even if we have ‘perfect’ government with minimal corruption related to management of public funds.

There are lots of assumptions made on behalf of many poor Nigerians yearning to make ends meet. The assumption that people can always make the best decision especially when it comes to prioritising is not exactly true.

The more I think about it, I realise people do indeed need education not just about how to best invest their capital but most importantly is how to separate business accounts from personal ones.

Philanthropists, activists and lots of Western sponsored NGOs may genuinely want to help so wealth can be spread a bit better across our regions but in Nigeria for some reason we are blinded to the reality of how wealth created must be retained in business for higher turnover to occur.

Take for example this exchange I had with a friend recently.

About a year ago, Kola stood as a guarantor for a bank loan so a friend could increase his business capacity. The bank had trusted his judgement given record of long business with the bank and the bank knew he has assets they can rely on, so loan was approved for Kola’s friend to expand his business.

Commercial bank interest rate in Nigeria is in excess of 20% – clear sign for common man with no connections never to knock on their doors as it is out of the reach for small to medium size owners with no tangible assets. However, medium-sized business do get this high risked loan as there is more to gain with volume, so this was the case for Kola’s friend.

The way Kola talked about his friend’s commitment to grow his business and the fact he has worked really hard to get it off the floor is something many investors would be interested to support.

Earlier on this year, the friend was supposed to start the repayment back in instalment, the bank made a reminder call of their agreement. In February Kola’s friend disappeared leaving the bank no other option but to chase Kola to find his friend or his assets could be confiscated.

Kola was seriously worried. What he saw about his friend the week after his bank loan was approved was total change of lifestyle. Before the loan approval, he only had a truck for running his business, however weeks into the loan, he bought two cars, one for himself and the other for his wife – this was done to compliment the sudden growth of his business to the people around him.

Story such as Kola’s friend is very common in Nigeria, whereby people treat money loaned to them as ‘earned’ only to satisfy the yearning to fit in.

Maybe, there is other way to help people before given financial help – education on lifestyle.