Tales from the ‘Jungle’

by Uche Nworah

“We are just living in a jungle” Bayo said as we drove through the stadium flyover underpass on our way to Adeniran Ogunsanya Street in the Surulere area. He has been driving taxis in Lagos for about 18 years and according to him has seen it all.

“This is not the Lagos I used to know”, he muttered. Bayo had picked me up just by Alaka bus stop, outside the gates of Alaka estate. He billed me N1, 000 to take me to Ikeja inclusive of the short trip to Surulere.

I have always known that the Bayos of this world are just about the best people to tell you the true state of the nation. Taxi drivers and their bus driver counterparts see it all everyday; the dramas of our lives unfold right before their eyes everyday. Some are narrated to them by their passengers who are stuck in the same rot with them.

On this day, the FA cup final was being played at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Surulere, just opposite the antiquated National stadium which has since been turned into a Nollywood star spotting hang-out by O’Jez restaurant.

As we inched narrowly past the mounted horse guards, I caught a glimpse of one of the police officers, with his whip in hand he winked at me and I gave him a half salute, more out of courtesy than anything. Around him, his colleagues tried as best as they could to take out the frustration of the Nigerian life on the football fans who were attempting to enter the stadium in our usual disorderly fashion.

As the fans struggled, kicked and shouted at themselves, the police officers and men of the mobile police unit, Bayo continued his manoeuvre worried more about his car being hit by a stone from the crowd. We made it in the end and left the area. “Another reason to be grateful to God in today’s Lagos”, Bayo also said.

We continued our banter along Western Avenue and Ikorodu road; someone has thought it wise to create a service lane for busses and taxis and the best way is to partition a large section of the road for the use of busses and taxis. Though not yet operational but pray, how on earth can LASTMA or the agency responsible have conceived the idea that it is with blocks laid mile long along the road that the bus and taxi routes could best be partitioned?

Try driving through the potholed road at night and you will see how big an accident risk the road has become. I hope they are ready with the body bags.

Speaking about Western Avenue, has anyone seen those big gas pipes lying by the road sides? Which areas are those pipes meant to be supplying? Does anyone know how deep into the ground the pipes would be laid? I hope it is not those artisans currently standing around the road idling away at their equipment that have been given the responsibility of laying the pipes. Fire station, hello?

National Stadium of Shame

Just the other Saturday, I met up with some members of Concerned Nigerians Worldwide (CNW), for whatever reasons we agreed to meet at O’Jez restaurant at the National stadium. Try going there in the evening on a weekend and you won’t be surprised anymore why perhaps the Super Eagles have not been playing well lately. Is this not a shame?

Since Abuja stadium was built, the National stadium has been abandoned and why on earth did anyone think it wise to locate the new Teslim Balogun stadium opposite the National stadium? From a competition point of view, this should have been a no no. Not that the guys at O’Jez restaurant will be complaining anyway but this is just another example of our national malaise, abandoning old things for new ones. Just like the Igbo proverb which says ‘Aluta agbogho, achfuo agadi’ – the older wife is discarded as soon as the younger wife enters a man’s house.

To say that the National stadium is dead (football wise) will be stating the obvious. No wonder the guys at O’Jez have decided to turn it into a National Drinking Stadium. They are exploiting their long term association with Nollywood actors and actresses, hence the guaranteed crowd any given day.

On this particular day, I noticed a Chinese looking woman barking out orders to the waiting staff, on enquiry, I was informed by Ebi Bozimo (Eezeebee) that she was the manager. I wondered what she was doing managing Nigerians in a small restaurant like that, was it a vote of no confidence on local talent? Ebi and I couldn’t agree on this, while he felt that the operators were justified in bring in ‘expatriates’ to run the place, I thought otherwise. Nigerians should learn at least to trust in the skills and competence of its human capital. Another case of ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’ I concluded.

The State of Human Capital in Nigeria

Speaking about human capital development in Nigeria, something has got to be wrong somewhere. At every forum I attended, i heard the speakers bemoan the poor state of human capital in Nigeria, I am now forced to ask, where have all the talent gone? It does appear that there are lots of openings in various sectors in Nigeria but the challenge is to find the right people to fill those positions. I listened to Tom Iseghohi, the group managing director of Transcorp narrate his difficulties in recruiting five top financial deal makers locally, and I was pinching myself asking, can he be serious?

This is a big challenge which should be taken up by Nigerians. Give Tom a call if you think you are the right man for the job.

This ‘no talent’ position however differs from the unemployment index in Nigeria, everyday you read that graduates can not find work and I’m wondering why those looking for work can not be matched to those looking for talent. Is this a niche for human capital consultants in Nigeria to tap into?

Perhaps it is this apparent skills shortage locally that has now led Nigerian companies onto their current path of seeking recruits from abroad, especially amongst the Nigerian diaspora. But this would hardly solve the problem. Local talent can not thrive if they are not given the opportunity. This damning rejection of local skills portends danger for the local economy and is contributing to a two-tier employment system in Nigeria where the ‘tokunbos’ enjoy improved working conditions and the locals enjoy a different scale. How about this for employee demotivation?

Voodoo Economics

Perhaps this is just another form of keeping Nigerians busy, and helping the point-and-kill restaurant operators to stay longer in business but pray, why should removing a few zeros from the naira be the best way to take the Nigerian economy to the next level (Vision 2020)? Sure Soludo’s planned policy for the naira is good but it is also imperative to think of sustainability of the re-valued naira in the long term.

Nigeria can afford to flex some financial muscles at the moment because we have been enjoying some extra income flows from rising oil prices, likewise the $35 billion cash injection into the economy through foreign direct investments but when should we stop to answer the great ‘What if’ question?

What if all the cash injections into the economy, particularly in the banking and telecom sectors are moved out again as is normal in international capital movements due to factors such as escalating violence in the creeks of the Niger Delta, better returns on investments (ROIs) and guaranteed peace and stability in other countries, what if oil prices come down, what if…

Perhaps thinking along the line of firming up the little gains already made would have been more desirable at this stage. Concerted efforts in infrastructural development – roads, energy, SME funding etc would have helped prepare the ground for the revamped naira to thrive.

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