Monday, July 30, 2007

RIP Sam Famakinwa

It is with great pain and regret that I write about the passing of Samuel Famakinwa the Deputy Editor of This Day Newspaper Nigeria. Death is in my mind a fulfillment of Life but in Sam's case born in 1971 it seems quite an early curtain call. I met Sam at one of my leadership workshops in Lagos, my friend and co-traveller Olasupo Shasore SAN now the Attorney General of Lagos State coerced him to take out time on a saturday or was it a public holiday to join us. We had a blast. Sam was not the usual cynical journalist, he seemed comfortable amongst the powerful and equally challenging of their position. I remember his banter with Joke Giwa now Country Head of MoneyGram Nigeria then just ex of MTN. Their back and forth about who is the Lagos Big boy and Girl carrying the edge of the hunter and prey without the rancor that would have attended such interaction in less seasoned hands.

Sam brought both intellect and wit to our deliberations making him someone I sought out anytime I was in Lagos usually by a phone call and even sometimes by email nothing quite regular . The Nigerian press is quite a personalized industry in which the analysis of major events are reduced to the personalities of the players. Sam's earlier beat on the Corporate side seemed to give him a more systematic view. Now he is part of the great dust that blows across the continent, he is the brushing wind and the blazing sun, part of the droplets of rain and the pounding waves. Sam is like many of those who die early a piece of powerful poetry that we will only decipher over time. My sincere condolence and humble appreciation for a honorable person and a true Nigerian.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Private Sector, Public Mind

There is nothing more painful than watching a sanctimonious press, hound a viable solution out of the public space. In most parts of the world especially in the UK this is accomplished through the support of self serving elite who jealously rip away at any other persons good fortune like a pack of hyenas, along with their co travellers from the backward looking trade unions trapped in pursuit of a socialist nirvana and the pandering political rent seekers dressed as protectors of the masses. You can see their dynamics at work in all the din and hysteria of the Private Equity Fund vilification that has been passed off as debate in the past few months. This is no consolation to Mr Blair whose use of the same devastating mob as his political Calvary for quite a while served him well until he `Iraqed’.

Here in Nigeria or Lagos where I am, the same unproductive forces have ground the Blue Star Oil consortium that bought the countries ever failing refineries into a retreat. The hysteria that greeted the last minute sale of this so called assets, the accompanying labour strikes that were used to intimidate the incoming Government and populist grandstanding of the legislature has made this a logical choice. This is the victory of severe underperformance, costly subsidies from government and gross inefficiencies over at least two if not three decades. Why should a private interest no matter how narrow be viewed with such suspicion in the face of overwhelming public intransigence? Why would the elite prefer a failing refinery capacity to the profit opportunities of a few favoured Nigerian businessmen? The only justifiable reason is the failure of the Private Sector to exercise its profit motive with a public mind.

Facilitating a public mind for private sector is part of our agenda in setting up an Institute or Centre in Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria with overall commitment to start a revolution in paradigm, competencies and performance necessary to build private sector that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Our goal is to combine indigenous wisdom with international skills to develop 100,000 vocationally skilled leaders, managers and facilitators in the formal and informal economy over 10 years. We believe this can add an additional 1 million new jobs over the same period. Both the formal and informal private sector represents the soul of a viable and competitive Nigeria. Government at its best is a vehicle for an inflexible, inefficient and unresponsive approach that rarely delivers value nor does ever give true account. However as things stand the Nigerian Private Sector is not really much better.

Take three examples; the telecoms network providers whose networks are nothing short of disastrous in the quality of their services and their accountability to their customers in spite of phenomenal profits. The banks who ride the wave of incredible reserves and investment towards a never ending diet of fund raising and organisational expansion in the face of embarrassing failure to invest in the SME’s that will drive the real growth in the economy. Finally Oil & Gas which has failed to develop an accompanying world-class retail and industrial capacity that will translate the sea of crude into the glitter of productivity.

The Nigerian Private Sector is the future, the engine room for productivity, growth and prosperity. Right now it is a bastion of easy money, short term focus, consumer rip off, little or no leadership and mediocre in comparison to world class competition. In spite of its addictions to MBAs and paper qualification it still exemplifies consumption over production. Our primary challenge is still build a private sector that provides the focus and leadership that will set standards that for our public space. I have some ideas on how we can do this. In part 2 to come..

End of Part 1

Between Yahoozee and Ms Winfrey

Oprah has made a handsome living from the power she has to use her couch to make or break issues . She does this for most part with a Lite touch to the acclaim of a lot of women across the world. She is greatly admired and incredibly powerful or so most surveys from the USA suggest. At the same time she rarely ever takes on anything without dumbing it down to a level that makes it only consumable as emotional fast food, emotive, hysterical and completely self serving. From Hip Hop to Racism she finds a point of under- intellectual departure from which her show is launched. My dislike now confirmed she picks on a very touchy subject so called Nigerian Internet Scam. Never mind that the follow up on her website suggests there are 13 million Nigerians, it seems if you are going to stereotype 140 million people you need not even bother with the facts to much.

Yes it is true that Nigerians are involved an awful lot in scams on the internet and the name is now Yahoo, Yahoo boys not 419, Oprah ( even the street issues are wrong). The numbers involved are less than 200,000 individuals as a percentage of 140 million this is less than 1%. Like her favorite Africans in the Mzansi she ignores that there are at least 2 Nigerians on the list of top 10 surgeons in America, that the largest most profitable African American Business of Black Enterprise top 100 is Nigerian owned, the country has produced at least 4 of the 10 most celebrated African writers and even more inventors and scientists. She champions Patricia who admitted she wanted to double her money and illegally help to transfer funds out of Nigeria. Her greed and disdain for the laws of other countries lost her the savings of her life. It reminds me of when I was scammed by a group of Irish lads in a white van my desire to buy a cheap TV and video set with high spec drowned out my normally eloquent intuition and I was taken for £120 pounds. The shame and pain still abides with me till date. If it seems too good to be true it is. There are no innocents in these crimes.

This does not absolve those who participate in this reputation destroying acts. Those of us who were fortunate to travel regularly in the 1970s remember a time when a Nigerian passport earned you respect, deference and even dignity. In the same UK where we are now met with sniffer dogs we were celebrated for our oil wealth as well as enterprise. We were widely known for our desire for education and upward mobility. The turning point was the Buhari/Idiagbon regime starting 31st December 1983. They could never have foreseen that their effort to restrict foreign exchange by cutting remittances to Nigerian students abroad would lead to a broad range of desperate actions including participation in Credit Card fraud. Once some of the brightest and best crossed over into crime the deterrence of shame and the taboo of risking family reputation had been broken so far it has not been restored. There is no excuse but there are always reasons . In a nation with a some of the highest ratio of young men in the world a culture of getting rich quick has used this approach to devastating effect on the reputation of the great country of Nigeria. In a society where conspicuous consumption is celebrated as well as rewarded and productivity ignored there is certainly a breeding ground for this behavior.

Oprah and as the recent Pew research on global attitudes show South Africans in large number paint this stereotype as a Nigerian rather than an human condition. They should know better. There is more per capita crime especially violent robbery leading to murder in Mzansi than Gidi. As Oprah's own life story shows and the treatment of African Americans in USA confirms there should be more caution exercised. Then there are the Nigerians quite a few who describe us by the worst amongst us and now put the celebration of this misguided young men to son. Most popular amongst this is the track Yahoozee. I like the music especially the use of Apala inflection in the chorus but I once again meet my 50 cent/Hip Hop is dead moment. If I buy this music am i glorifying what it celebrates or is it just a work of Art? Is the Godfather a glorification of the Mafia or a classic work of Cinema? Or both?

I know and teach enough about the power of stereotypes to know that when it is well packaged the very people who carry the yoke of being reduced and grouped in this way become the owners as well as enforcer of the label. We can see that in stereotypes such as 'Blond Bimbo' or 'Black super Stud'. It is the power of half truths to be used as the only truth. If only for that reason simplification, stereotypes and reduction the kind Oprah had on her show and the people who made Yahoozee track sell to the public must not be left to stand without challenge. Hopefully the fullness of our character as a nation both good and bad can be explored, understood and finally celebrated as it is for other great experiment in Nationhood. The enterprising and productive millions of Nigerians deserve no less.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Solutions

'Free Your mind and the rest will follow'

Many little or not so little things have registered over the past few weeks but the point of this blog is to find the most powerful lens to view them from and give something meaningful to the readers. It is a time when a 3 year old 'British kid ' is kidnapped by 'rebels ' from the Niger Delta. A period when even though Senator Obama generated more donations about$32million dollars more than Senator Hillary Clinton's $27 million with over quarter of a million small donors he remains a distant second on National polls. More painful he could not get African Americans to see with a more holistic lens and cheer him on as they continue to be prisoners of their victim mentality. Watch ing the crowd of educated and enlightened Black people fall for Senator Clintons line on HIV/AIDS discrimination against black women. It made me cringe as they hollered for cheap shot and gesture politics as opposed to Obama's remarks designed to share responsibility and hopefully challenge them to recognize their own not so insignificant financial, emotional, intellectual and spiritual resources. It was a period when the New Nigerian Government of Mr Yar adua has allowed the debate about legitimacy and distractions and in fighting of the elite stop it from setting any agenda that captures the imagination of the Nigerian on the street. Here in Milton Keynes the local press put out a wanted ad on a mugger and their only description is ' Black man with big nose believed to be Nigerian'. My shopping basket was filled with many disparate ingredients and I now have a challenge on how can it be turned into a powerful meal? especially when some comments on this very small world we are creating here seeks solutions.

In the past four weeks I have also been involved in one of the most challenging aspect of my day job, teaching those who have authority in organizations in how to lead change that is sustainable. Usually there are three elements to this kind of workshop. How do you get people to participate, adapt and create a space for change emergence. In this case the client a local Council with one of the most diverse populations in the UK, has a cash squeeze, a demanding community and a pressing accommodation move. For most part of this three day training, delivered in groups of maximum 12, to about 47 participants over the 4 weeks we generally had a powerful transformative experience. It was quite draining however my most powerful revelation came with the last group. This was the group with the most senior participants and were beneficiaries of positive feedback from other Preceding participants. Never mind it is Sods Law, they were the most passive of the lot and took very little risk for their own learning. They wanted to be directed by me and also wanted me to extract conclusions for them. When this failed of course they saw it as my failure not something that they shared in creating. We as a group in that circumstance were underperforming and even though there was individual growth and learning the collective normed at the level of the cynics. It reminded me a lot about what I see happening with Nigerian as well as the African American political elites and thought leaders. They are committed to succeeding by default , no pain , no sacrifice, blame others and wait for the messiah who has no faults. Disdain the wisdom of the masses and project own failures on them so that they cannot succeed without your prescribed approach. Paralyze them with a sense of the impossible and constant of complaint even rewarding those with dysfunctional behavior by being an apologist for how they have no choice. All you have to do is look at the Niger Delta and the excuses people make for the abuse of other human beings .

So what can i suggest . First is we are all co creators of what we see as going wrong. We act as observers, commentators, participants and even critics . By just changing our own role into something that moves in the direction of what we desire we start to shift the architecture of the problems we help keep in place. So here goes:

1 ) Change your role if you do same thing for too long you lose your audience.

2) Get out of your bedroom of habitual meaning making or make new meaning of issues. For example my new meaning is around organization in Nigeria not Corruption . it is a powerful paradigm that has led to creating a Institute that has now been licensed by the Nigerian government called the Vocational Management and Organizational Development Centre (VMODC) more later. It has also led to seeing with deeper and more empowering lens.

3) Use many lenses to see the situation especially one that chooses your dreams rather than seeks your nightmare. Simply the eyes of what you love rather than what you fear. Some call it a the power of Attraction since what you focus deeply and meaningfully upon becomes your reality. it is the basis of the book 'the Secret ' but this is the basis of Yoruba Epistomology. The name Orisha is an example it can mean Ori ni afin sha nkan, we choose things with our 'head'. Built in is that we attract what we believe but of course we reject this powerful things. Then there is the power of suggestion that if you do not feel your thoughts with what you want then others will replace it with their own which might be designed to sell you a sense of failure and lead to out performing you. The Mohammed Ali name the round strategy or Rope a Dope . Whose dreams is it that Nigeria should be a failed state? Whose aspiration is it that Africa is the basket of destitution, disease and destruction? What role do we play in attracting these things and keeping them in constant rotation?

4) See the pattern that empowers and increases your possibilities. Have you heard of Ron Eglash and his study of African Fractals. One quote that emerges from this very powerful lens which see that Africans had developed the sophisticated Fractal geometry that is at the top of western aspirations today many years ago is this,

" When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using forms of mathematics that they hadn't discovered yet"
Ron Eglash 2000

The shame is that it never occurs to many Africans that their continent has the leading competence for this adaptive Century strangely because of the very reasons that it is vilified or pitied that it has nor become so industrialized or engineered that it still uses the authentic capacity to self organize and space for emergence. For many who cannot imagine the genius of the African they will still await the West to declare the revolution.

5) Synthesis into action beyond what is accepted or defined into the world of new possibilities. We are going to use the VMODC to start a revolution. It is a Management revolution where we will use local genius as a catalyst in developing 100,000 new managers, facilitators or organization developers who will help to create 10 jobs through the improvements they create in productivity, creativity and interaction . This is effectively 1 million jobs over 10 years.

The only thing to fear is fear itself. The time is now and our people need pioneers . We need to move beyond the regular deconstruction to improvising if necessary our construction. We need to move beyond nations known for consumption to those who reward production.

The time is now.