Aug 27, 2013

Modest Jobs and their Benefits

Pride and self-esteem is a virtue. If however, it becomes a reason why your desired progress in life will stagnant or slowed, then there is no wisdom in your kind of self-esteem.

Many people loathe kick-starting their lives with modest jobs despite the profit that such jobs present to those who engage in them. This is, apparently, due to pride and so-called self-esteem. Some university graduates will not start from humble beginnings, preferring to start at a big bank, oil-producing or servicing company, federal government agency or ministry, Non Governmental Organization  … “The biggest man you ever saw was once a baby.” People fail to realize this. In the end, many years would have been wasted waiting for a white-collar job that may never materialize.

If you are a university graduate and choose to start from a small job such as running a business center for somebody, you could learn a number of things that may include the ability to relate with your superior and side-kicks. In the course of doing such a job, you could also meet people that could serve as your spring-board to bigger employments.  Such minor jobs are also information channels that bring news of employment openings whenever they pop up. News will not get to you in your living-room where you sit and just irk your mum.

The financial benefits, no matter how trivial, also go a long way. They will provide the means with which to afford new dresses (even if from hand-me-downs) that help you look attractive which is also important when you appear before a panel of interviewers. You will also be able to buy toiletries and pay the Okadas to move you to locations of these interviews.

There is the issue of responsibility. The mere fact that you go out when others are going out in the morning and come back with them when the sun sets is enough to change the way people perceive you –you are now a “real-man.” Compare that with the image a sit-down-at-home fellow creates in the minds of people. You will clearly see that from the way people relate to you.

Taking a contrary decision however means that you will continue to be a liability to your own parents at a time they should have been concentrating on your younger siblings.  Eventually, you will become a nuisance, a situation that now place you at a status worst than the one you feared. 

Undermining America’s Integrity from Within

Many of us have often argued that when it becomes imperative to set a prototypical nation to direct our exploration for a better nation, it is wise to set a modest target that is achievable and continue from there at the right time rather than starting with a towering goal that will not be attainable. By that, we feel that nations of the BRICS are just ideal enough as models. People are, however, more satisfied jumping over a lot of nations, in-between, to land in the United States of America (USA) – in their minds, they have built a view that the US is the sole land of impeccability.

In Nigeria, it is sad to note that our mountains of woes, rather than decline, are some what on the increase everyday. While we remain upbeat for a president that will swoop on corruption, for instance, the expected messiah comes around to grant amnesty to the few cases of successful prosecution of corruption. While we remain optimistic for a leader that will come around to banish mediocrity out of the perimeters of our nation, he comes around to base his appointments purely on the criteria of who will help him to win the next election.
One problem for which Nigerians have waited for a President to heal is the problem of 4-1-9 (scam). It is an issue that has eroded the reputation of the country remarkably that folks around the world perceive every Nigerian squarely through the prism of deception.

Recent experiences of mine have demonstrated that the issue of organized swindling is not unique to Nigeria however. Criminals are everywhere around the world, just that the intensity of crimes varies according to the nature of determinants in different locations. I have come to realize that Mr. Impeccable is not excluded, that he is not all round, after all.

Sometimes in September 2012, Adams, my brother, told me about an investment opportunity online and in the US. It goes by one of those flashy names like Earth and Heaven Millionaires, 1 Million% Royalty, Just-Been-Quenched, etc. Adams as my referee was to be rewarded with a certain percentage of any investment I make. It was the reason he worked hard to encourage me to join. I too will be paid that referral commission (as it is called in that world of cash illusion) for any individual I introduce to the millionaire makers.

I had just finished paying an old bank loan and was, hence, eligible for a new loan. The new loan I intended to use in roofing my house that I have started building with the previous loan. There was a strong temptation to invest that money; the commission they gave will double my investment in just a month. I will withdraw the capital and my dividend becomes the new capital -too good to be true but very tempting. When the loan was finally issued, I went ahead to use the money for the initial goal it was meant to accomplish so that the online investment in far-away lands became the opportunity cost; something in me kicked against the use of that money in an investment with the character of fantasia.

I however went ahead to take another loan of N100, 000.00 ($630) from the thrift in my workplace. I went through a complex chain of processes and finally invested the money. That was after agreeing to the company’s disclaimer that made it impossible for me to find any illegal redress in the event of any “unforeseen” outcome.

A few days before my investment was due to mature, I logged in to the company’s website but was re-directed to a formerly unknown website. The owner of the company had “retired” and had subsequently sold the company. At that point, the dilemma was either to agree to the terms and conditions of the new company or forfeit your investment. The terms and conditions were, perhaps, the only thing that has not changed from what the old company offered. To cut a long story short, I never withdrew a nickel from my investment but had to pay my loan issuer.

While I was waiting for my investment to mature, I was introduced to another company also in the US that offered better a percentage of your investment as commission. I sold my electric power generator and invested the money in this generous company; electric power supply had become fairly stable along my street and the power generator was dormant. The investment turned out to be the worst. The “business relationship” was just one directional in every respect as they had no phone lines with which to be contacted and never responded to any emails until all investors got tired and gave up. We invested in the bogus companies because there were people who were already reaping from their investments made as soon as the companies became known.

In December 2012, I was awakened by an annoying phone call in the middle of the night. The voice from the other end of the line introduced himself as the Head Consultant of a book marketing company in the US. His company had seen my book on Amazon. He was calling to propose the marketing of the book. I accepted. They waited for three months to allow me raised the money with which I paid an initial installment to enable the book marketing, by email campaign, to commence. This was not without regular calls to ensure I was working to fulfill my pledge of buying their “service”. Sadly, my email campaign couldn’t commence as previously agreed.  Since I was certain that was the agreement, my will to pay what was left was severely damaged.

Recently, I discovered with shock, a forum campaigning against that very company for ripping authors around the world.  I then sent an email to them with a link to that forum and requested an explanation. It turned out to be the first time they have refused to respond to my mail.  Except when I sent my email during the weekends, my mails were always responded to within twenty-four hours. It is gone two weeks now.

In Nigeria, 4-1-9 thrived as a result of a chronic legal compassion, nourished by generations of laid-back authorities or perhaps because those who live in a glass house should not throw stones. During the era of Nuhu Ribadu as the boss of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), he meant business and scammers left the country to operate from neighboring lands. Since Ribadu also caused nightmares to authorities, some members of which had been arrested and put in the dock, the subsequent administration of late Umar Yar’adua ensured that Ribadu did not continue as EFCC boss. Now “yahoo-yahoo” boys have returned to Nigeria, operating alongside their counterparts in the Presidency, Senate, House of Reps, Ministries and agencies in all tiers of government and also the private domain.

Across the Atlantic however, the law is remarkably alert and without sympathy. It is the reason some individuals have developed sophisticated legal armors. Those that have failed to develop these complicated ways of evading the laws are, without doubt, the ones in prisons and penitentiaries across America.

In 2012, Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of the American State of Illinois was jailed for fourteen years over issues bordering on financial crimes. I learnt two things from this: firstly, that despite the tough laws, the manic-desire to make money by hook or by crook also dwells in the US. Secondly, I have also learnt that the law, in the US, is over and above everyone; it could not even spare a serving governor.

With my credit card and from the heart of Africa, I have bought many things successfully from the US. The few cases of gall and wormwood have however taught me that America is not as flawless as many of us have often thought and I will have to be cautious with some Americans.

The online investment companies may have found safe indentations where the laws cannot venture into but while they hide in those recesses however, they are also working to diminish the attractive image of the US in addition to eroding the absolute trust with which the world has held America.   

Aug 1, 2013

Femke Becomes Funke: Celebrating mediocrity

By Femke Van Zeiji
Femke van Zeiji
The writer, in her penultimate piece, shares her view on mediocrity within the Nigerian space.
I used to think corruption was Nigeria’s biggest problem, but I’m starting to doubt that. Every time I probe into one of the many issues this country is encountering, at the core I find the same phenomenon: the widespread celebration of mediocrity. Unrebuked underachievement seems to be the rule in all facets of society. A governor building a single road during his entire tenure is revered like the next Messiah; an averagely talented author who writes a colourless book gets sponsored to represent Nigerian literature overseas; and a young woman with no secretarial skills to speak of gets promoted to the oga’s office faster than any of her properly trained colleagues.
Needless to say the politician is probably hailed by those awaiting part of the loot he is stealing; the writer might have got his sponsorship from buddies he has been sucking up to in hagiographies paid for by the subjects; and the young woman’s promotion is likely to be an exchange for sex or the expectancy of it. So some form of corruption plays a role in all of these examples.
But corruption per se does not necessarily stand in the way of development. Otherwise a country like Indonesia—number 118 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, not that far removed from Nigeria’s 139—would never have made it to the G-20 group of major economies. An even more serious obstacle to development is the lack of repercussions for underachievement. Who in Nigeria is ever held accountable for substandard performance?
Since I came here, I have been on a futile search for a stable internet connection that does what it promises. I started with an MTN FastLink modem (I consider the name a cruel joke), and then I moved on to an Etisalat MiFi connection (I regularly had to keep myself from throwing the bloody thing against the wall), and now I am trying out Cobranet’s U-Go. I shouldn’t have bothered: equally crap. And everyone knows this. They groan and mutter and tweet about it. But still, to my surprise, no one calls for a class-action suit against those deceitful providers.
A one-day conference I attended last year left me equally puzzled. Organisation, attendance and outcome left a lot to be desired, if you ask me. But over cocktails, after the closing ceremony, everyone congratulated each other over the wonderful conference—that started two hours late, of which the most animated part was undeniably lunch, and in which not a single tangible decision had been made. This left me wondering whether we had attended the same event.
I thought these issues to be unrelated at first, but gradually I came to see the connection. Nigeria is the opposite of a meritocracy: you do not earn by achieving. You get to be who and where you are by knowing the right people. Whether you work in an office, for an enterprise or an NGO, at a construction site or in government, your abilities hardly ever are the reason you got there. Performing well, let alone with excellence, is not a requirement, in fact, it is discouraged. It would be too threatening: showing you’re more intelligent, capable or competent than the ‘oga at the top’ (who, as a rule, is not an overachiever either) is career suicide.
It is an attitude that trickles down from the very top, its symptoms eventually showing up in all of society, from bad governance to bad service to bad craftsmanship.
Where excellence meets no gratification, what remains to be celebrated is underachievement. That is why it is not uncommon to find Nigerians congratulating each other over substandard results. It is safer to cuddle up comfortably in shared mediocrity than to question it, since the latter might also expose your own less than exceptional performance. Add to this the taboo of criticising anyone senior or higher up and it explains why so many join in the admiration of the emperor’s new clothes.
I have been writing this column for the last year, and after ten months I realised my angles were getting more predictable and my pieces less edgy. I figured newcomers do not remain newcomers forever and therefore decided to round up the ‘Femke Becomes Funke’ series this month, a year after it started. Ever since I announced the ending, tweeps have been asking me to change my mind and in comments on the columns and through my website I get songs of praise that make me feel my analyses of Nigerian society are indispensable. If I had no sense of self-criticism, I might be tempted to reconsider my decision to discontinue the series and start producing second-rate articles. Who would point this out to me if I did?
The hardest thing to do in Nigeria is to continue to realise there is honour in achievement and pride in perfection. I imagine the frustration of the many Nigerians who do care for their work, who take pride in their outcomes and who feel the award is in a job well done. When you know beforehand that excellence will not be rewarded, you are bound to do the economically sane thing and limit your investments to accomplishing the bare minimum. This makes Nigeria a pretty cumbersome place for anyone striving for perfection.

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