By Malam Ali Garba
We live in the age of unreason, an age where everyone expects some form of improvements in their lives while at the time being oblivious of their responsibilities. Everyone has developed the ‘entitlement mentality’ – he/she is entitled to some favour, job, benefit or otherwise preferential treatment. Consequently, everyone is on ‘autopilot’, as it were, and waiting for a ‘second person’ to act so that their problem would go away. A problem is always associated with and blamed on a ‘second person.’
Rare is the individual who blames himself/herself for a problem and takes the courageous next step to solve it. The vast majority blames others and waits for these others to change. Many others await the arrival of the Messiah or some form of a miracle or a Jegaquine drug to solve their problems. And so, where we should work we pray, and where we should pray we complain and where we should both work and pray we do nothing at all but despair.
Take commercial and industrial activities in Kano, for instance. In the last several decades we have experienced ‘boom time’, ‘bad time’, and, in recent time, we seem headed to ‘burst time.’ In the Boom, the Bad and the Burst times three unreasonable species (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly) co-exist and combine to create a situation therein. First is the specie called customer (the Good), who demands for quality and functional goods consistent with his perception of their value in use. The customer is unreasonable and often unpatriotic for his demands and more often buys from alternative sources, including and especially from overseas. The customer will go to any extent, including paying outrageously higher prices, to obtain what he wants. This action of the unreasonable customer is causing the extinction of many business firms that has failed over the years to give him the desired benefits and quality leading such businesses from boom to burst.
Second specie is the businessman (the Bad) who is keen to reap much where he/she has sown little. The unreasonable Kano businessman makes little investment in technology and methods of doing his/her business, engages not with or seeks to refine his tools of trade, has no symbiotic relationship with his powerful stakeholders, and seeks only short-term and maximum profit.
The businessman also cares little for the laws of the land and stands accused for conniving with and bribing government officials to avoid taxes, levies, fines and punishment. This action, in part, has recently led to the extinction of a government but is, ironically also, leading to bad times and possible burst time for the businessmen.
The third specie is the government (the Ugly), which is [was] corrupt, arbitrary, inconsistent, irresponsible, unaccountable and very, very, naïve. In the last several decades businessmen and their customers had reason to wonder whether in fact there was a government. Basic and fundamental infrastructure, such as electricity, to support business operations has either failed or has become unavailable.
Freedom of movement was restricted because of an insurgency, which the government had no clue of and no motivation or incentive to tackle. All over the place, goods of varying quality and relevance are ‘dumped’ in the market because of the failure of government officials to do their work. There appears to be no functional policy that supports or encourages the businessmen. While all this is going on the government is beating its chest for all kinds of funds and policies set aside and designed to support business. The only sound the businessman hears is the noise of empty drums, which are becoming an assault and insult to his ears and common sense. By its action, the unreasonable government has caused the extinction of many firms.
And upon this entire crisis the species are living unreasonably – passing blame for the crisis to one another. One case in point is the recent impounding of Nigeria bound goods worth over N100.00 billion in Maradi, Niger Republic – a very fine example of government arbitrariness and unreasonableness.
With the election of a new no-nonsense government with zero tolerance for corruption every agency of government is suddenly awake and seeking to impress The Boss. And so, without warning and on the basis of a ranting of a latter day Robin Hood the Nigeria Customs Service decided to ‘work’ – to check and stop smuggling after being idle, turning their heads the other way and keeping a blind eye to it for ages.
Interestingly, these same ‘smuggling’ activities are done ‘legally’ at the nation’s seaports in Lagos and Port Harcourt under the approval of the same Customs Service. All that the Custom Service needs to do, therefore, is to institutionalise the same ‘legal’ process and procedure – license clearing agents, set up offices to clear goods and collect duties, etc., in the dry-ports in relevant parts of the country. But as always in Nigeria, it is better to give an impression of action than to take real action. Why work if you could blame someone else for a problem? Why set up and institutionalise a proper and ‘legal system’ if it is easier to blame the businessman for conniving with the Chinese to smuggle goods? The former is hard work and routine, which no one would notice. The latter creates visibility, an impression of action and seriousness and a good sign of patriotism.
There are many idle ‘professionals’ in the eco-system that have raised hyperbole and jargon to the level of an art – it is better to confuse the audience than to admit ignorance. These idle people try to provide explanation and a way out for this ‘mutual death wish’ situation. Like the Ajino Moto Economists of the last two decades, these ‘professionals,’ are essentially bystanders with no commercial or intellectual engagement with the market.
Detached and with little stake in the issues at hand (living at the expense of government and society), the Laxyconomists, Straytegists and Vodoopreneurs (yes, including yours truly), with a pretentious claim to expertise, but with neither rigour nor relevance, use flawed methodologies, reach ridiculous conclusions and prescribe simplistic, disintegrated, disjointed and unworkable solutions that lack synergy, track and tack.
These solutions, all of them ‘bought’ by the government, include billions of naira set aside for business development, multiple and duplicitous institutions and numerous counterproductive and confusing policies with the claim of supporting businesses while actually ensuring the extinction of businessmen. Again, it is better to give an impression of action than to take real action. And few pay attention to a simple maxim – it is the result not the activities that defines performance.
Taking action to achieve result requires taking responsibility to advance the mutual, collective and common interest of all the three unreasonable species. It also requires looking at the problems and issues holistically not in piecemeal. This time is probably the best time to do this. Everyone, especially the customer and the businessman voted for change. All of them genuinely want change and are probably genuinely willing to cooperate to bring it about.
The new government is seen as the change agent. It won the election because of its promise to bring change. Almost everyone believes the government is capable and credible enough to bring, institutionalise and sustain the change. The customer wants change that supplies products to solve his problems efficiently, effectively and conveniently. The government wants change that creates employment, increases its revenue and facilitates economic and technological development at some reasonable pace and speed.
The businessman wants change that ensures ‘investment friendly’ environment, which is secure, predictable, reasonable and competitive.
Malam Ali Garba can be reached on email@example.com