Thursday, December 24, 2020

Hindsight they say is 20/20...and so it was literally

 As 2020 draws to a close, the year couldn't have been so more aptly named. So interesting a year, it was never going to just be one of those quiet years that just happened. It came with a bang, and it is leaving with a bang!

Personally, the year started with a lot of changes and strategic planning for me. I was off to an early start. Downsized at LoftyInc, while hiring a lot at Vertmance. We went all in into the ranch project in February. I remember picking up the phone call to our financiers, and asking for a huge sum and it being approved over a mere phone call and deck. This was our saving grace in that business, so far. 

Then, I hit the road to Tunisia. The only foreign trip up until now in the year. As soon as we took off from Nigeria, we heard the first COVID-19 case was detected in Nigeria. In Tunisia, it was a fun eye opener to a country that could be. Educated, manufacturing giant at the tip of Africa. I enjoyed every bit of it. Engaged the tech ecosystem and visited farms, factories and fun places. As soon as we took off from Tunisia, we saw a news flash that they too discovered their first COVID-19 case. Then 2020 happened.

Very quickly, the world started to shut down. But not until I snuck a quick trip to Yola, the North East's answer to Abuja. Clean and very lovely city, I fell in love with it immediately I landed. COVID-19 seem distant away as we enjoyed the balmy warmth at the banks of River Benue, and the scorching heat as we toured the Nyarko Farm and Agric Export Zone, hardly did we know it was the last normal week in the year. I remembered jetting back into Abuja and everything literally shutting right behind us. And then we went into lockdown.

For us, it meant farming time. Every minute of those next three months were spent tilling, ploughing, herding and haggling with above ground issues. The rainfall was coming, so we took advantage of the lull to farm, farm, farm. It was helpful to be liquid when everyone else lacked funding, so we went in 200%.

The downsize of late 2019, also ensured the business at LoftyInc was better prepared to weather the storm even as we shared the pain and secured some useful win as the lockdown bit harder. As we got back to normal in July, we were set for a rapid fire second half which it has been: without, the travel.

Lessons...

This is what I consider the biggest lesson of 2020- without the expensive travels, our revenue is not worse off. With a phone call and zoom, deals get done a lot faster. We skipped the face to face and still left well off. We are grateful. For the till that got filled, and the hands that gave: thank you.

Human relationships also mattered the most in 2020. People called to give us things we never deserved. Some just called to say hello, that we mattered. We are grateful.

Grateful for Love and Family too, who won't be? Though the storm raged when we got hit by the virus in November, we are grateful to be alive and well. So grateful. For those who checked on us, thank you. To those who prayed for us, may you never be forgotten. 

Underperformance...

A few of those. Fitness wise, could be better. I ate too much and exercised little in 2020. The lockdown feeding of madam did not help matters. For the first time, I failed my annual physical exam in the borderline cholesterol matter, and I agreed to start taking statins. It was a reminder that we are not getting younger. Oh well, the alternative to getting old is being dead. And Ol boy, are we grateful for life!

2020 was also a tough year for reading books. I'm current reading "Sapiens" after struggling to read "The Next Factory of the World" about China and Africa relations in business. I finished that, after 8 months! Phew! The psychological insecurity of the COVID era made reading much harder. Before March, I had finished two books. One, " The Gatekeepers" about USA Chief of Staff was such a pleasure read.



The Wins...

The year is ending up as a memorable one. Lots of wins and some disappointments in the entrepreneurial life. The business cases in farming is taking shape. We are on track to raise a $500k convertible, even as the construction/developer business is maturing with two key wins literally on the last business day and the VC business seem destined for a trajectory of greatness thanks to my friend, the Afropreneur..look at his head below :) Isn't he such a gorgeous guy? Read his blog on how far this awesome head has brought him and us here...we call him the Rain Maker, AKA Hush Uncle, the Connector.


The Losses...

Some got away. We lost some good people. My sister's grandmother in law was the most personal, thankfully. But the world lost some fine human beings in 2020. May their soul rest in Peace. Kobe was a shock. Ajimobi was needless for those of us who shared his progressive politics in Nigeria. Some young ones also flamed out. Mental health was a thing. May God heal our land.

What I'm stoked up the most about? I finally got this Classic! Yeah, it is an addition to the Beetle from last year. But Ol Boy did I always want one. 


Best thing that happened in 2020? Donald Trump Lost! Now my son can get back to loving American Presidents again! 


That is it. What a year! 





Sunday, March 31, 2019

Book Review: There was a Country by Chinua Achebe

When I picked up this book, the review from trusted friends (Bookies alike) was not to waste my time. The general opinion was that Chinua Achebe's last work was the worst; the most tribalistic, and rubbish work of literature. One famous friend who is also a journalist actually claimed to have tried to read it and having to throw it into thrash after one chapter! These were trusted opinions by the way, so I had to get over these sentimental misgivings to power my way through the last book of record from the controversial novelist.

The first few chapters actually unfolded excitedly. To the reader it paints a rather rosy picture of a Nigeria pass gone by. If this was the country "that was", then it had to be Utopia. Idyllically Country and Provincial in the first bit, the early years of young Chinua growing up in the home of early modernists in a rapidly modernizing country was that of privilege, joy and thematic conflicts: between religions, languages and cultures. These conflicts were however not the violent and virulent my generation is now used to. It was rather a conflict of the mind, one debated by young Chinua. The reader was then taken on a journey of the early  years of setting up Nigeria's storied institutions of learning -  partly by governments and mostly by parochial orders: churches and mosques, town unions et al.

Indeed, Chinua Achebe was a member of the lucky generation of Nigerians, or so it seemed. Enjoying admission to the then University College, Ibadan he described a period of solid education and outsized opportunities beckoning upon graduation as the young nation displaced foreigners perhaps too quickly and placed young graduates like Chinua in inexplicable luxury. I mean, you get a beach side Villa at Ikoyi as official quarters right after graduation? Movies on Saturdays in the early 60s? Dream on folks. That dream was never meant to last forever!

And forever, it didn't. As Chinua began to grasp the underbelly of the contradictions of a country that had injected children into strategic decision making: from media where Chinua Achebe was, to the military where Nzeogwu resided. This was a key take away for me in this early chapters, as Chinua Achebe waxed on describing how Nigeria's early morning turned into a scary dawn. First it was the coup, next it was the taunts cum reprisal massacre that followed as a precursor to a counter coup that greeted Nigeria's own Nero (Aguyu Ironsi), whom Chinua largely failed to defend as gallantly as one would have expected. But oh, well - this was the least fictional of the excellent work of fiction that riddled Chinua Achebe's abridged recount of Nigeria's political history from 1952 to 1970.

The fiction that flowed from Chinua Achebe's pen first dripped like tales by moonlight, like his claim about cross carpeting in the Western Region, something that is now regarded as the worst form of fictional recount of history of Nigeria ever told. But not a few people still believe it nonetheless, that a zero party election can produce cross-carpeting on House grounds when we are yet to see a party based results of this so called election that split Awo and Zik, Nigeria's East and West regions - until this day. The treatment of this incident by fiction guru, Chinua Achebe set the pace for the rest of the book which was more or less, a recount of the suffering of Uncle Achebe during the Civil War.

The Biafra war recount was gripping given its first person account, and also revealing on many levels. First, the laid back treatment of the declaration of war virtually by Ojukwu by the author and the manner in which it seemed the Eastern intellectuals of the day prepared for this both domestically and internationally was thoroughly amateurish. Did anyone think Nigeria will sign up for a break up without putting up a fight? Did anyone not think through the repercussion of the multi-ethnic Eastern region and the response of the oppressed minority to the majority ambition to free itself away from the only check the minority had on the majority Igbo ethnic group? Kidding me right?

Of course, the author calls for sympathy from readers by describing in details the familiar horrors of war perpetrated by the federal side, while he took away from this sympathy by glossing over similar atrocities by the Ojukwu led military junta. Aside from dismissively describing the loses of Murtala Muhamed as he sought to take Onitsha, he went on to gloss over how Ojukwu ensured alternative views of original 1966 coup plotters - Majors Banjo and Ifeajuna - were stamped out forcefully. Indeed, in a moment of paranoia and extremism they were executed secretly without proper trial when they failed to hold the Mid-West Region. This of course was tell tale signs early in the war that the Colonel that led the East was about his ego alone and not for any righteous cause as he may have led his people on. In Achebe's world of moral relativism, Achuzia was a War Hero, and Benjamin Adekunle was a war monger. Oh well. 

The section that describes Biafran innovation were no doubt an exercise in recounting the capacity of a people under common spell to achieve against all odds. I wouldn't however boil down to any exceptionalism as the author will want his readers to believe, bearing in mind that the same author never held out the exceptional abilities of the Biafran state to withstand a food blockade which he blamed on the wickedness of a new found enemy in Obafemi Awolowo and Gowon his normal target of course. I mean, if someone can make airstrips, tanks and missiles - how hard can growing food be? The author's recount of personal experiences were equally powerful, and one in which he witnessed the likely lynching of a federal soldier was largely glossed over - calling into question the morality of the presentation itself.

One fact that struck me through the book- whether in peace or war, was the extraordinary privilege that someone like Chinua Achebe enjoyed. Official cars, stayed even in war period. Life was from a lens that was far removed from the everyday life of fellow countrymen- whether Nigerian or Biafran. This was the life. 

As his story wore on, I would have been surprised if Chinua Achebe did not admit at least one excess of the Biafran government he worked for; but that came nearly as much in his recount of the Kwale "incidence" where Ojukwu ordered the killing and kidnap of ENI Italy employees at an oil and gas facility- and Chinua Achebe seem to disagree because his international mission on behalf of Biafra lost steam as a result. In it, he admitted that Biafra lost the world when they decided to attack the world; he failed to acknowledge that the same reaction the world had was what Gowon and his field commanders could give when he recounted the so called "atrocities" committed by the Nigerian side, and the "incidences" (his words) fomented by Biafra in a ping pong test of strength in those years.

If any part of Prof Achebe's missive would be part of the Corpus of Tribalism, it has to be the fourth part on which he closed the book. Repeating ideas that one will tease first out at beer parlors than in a serious academic discussion, he discussed how the "democratic Igbo" was so exceptional he historically resisted kings, while ignoring the incorporation of democratic check & balances,  and self restraint in an organized monarchial system in Nigeria's storied empires of Songhai, Oyo and Borno- while the domination of money in the republic Igbo system guaranteed some measure of "vote buying" which cannot exactly be called democratic.

At the risk of getting into some muscle arm contest on which race is superior in Nigeria's over 350 blessed ethnic groups, this part of the book could easily have been skipped by the author instead of contributing to Nigeria's ever enlarging body of disturbingly divisive and ethnocentric literature. The loose use of the "genocide" word - while failing to explain how come the same country that sought to "eliminate" the Igbos elected one as Vice President mere nine years after the end of the fracas while the same vilified Gowon was on exile. Naturally, Achebe's adaptation of the "marginalization" posture that currently dominates the region for which he writes and is from in national engagement discourse, comes across naturally as pedantic, plain and unbacked from purely historical perspectives.

Interestingly, some of the author's diagnosis and path to greatness for Nigeria were still apt and on point. His remedy of gradual evolution of democratic institutions, followed by free press and strong judiciary that will remedy corruption and enforce good governance seem like provenance to the part Nigeria seem to have since embarked on - charitably since 2011, by hook or crook. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

NNPC Reforms and what we should be doing

It is campaign season and of course the opportunists would be out bandying unworkable ideas to feather their nests of opportunism.

How does it make sense to fully privatize a company that accounts for 90% of the revenue of all governments in Nigeria month to month without spelling out a transitive arrangement that will replaced 550-700bn monthly that is shared? How will we meet payroll monthly? Athiefku is just being an opportunist as usual.

Of course , NNPC must be restructured. And here I was sharing ideas...



It can be done with common sense over 3-4 years but with the transitive arrangement at its center. For example the productive assets of NNPC which is basically the PSC and JVs can be moved into NLNG with predictive current cash flows being securitized by a bond that will be sold in international market and deposited in an investigate Trust Fund (invested in even more accreative assets) from which FG and states can draw for 20 years  almost like an annuity.

The hard assets like refineries, storage depots and pipelines built since 1970s but now in bad shape should be concessioned not sold outright to allow the nation keep ownership but swear the asset - including taking advantage of common use rules to reduce inefficiencies of siloed ownership of such infrastructure.

Lastly, unrelated subsidiaries like NNPC Shipping and even downstream player like NNpC Retail (NNPC  has 54 subsidiaries or more) that are doing what private sector are already good at doing should find Strategic Investors with FDI to purchase a third and list the balance  on the stock exchange which can directly inflate the economy and stock exchange as well.

If this plan above is implemented we can add 50-75% to the GDP without losing sleep over salaries and funding for government. But definitely selling NNPC to Intels is a No-No.

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