when I grow up I want to be an oil marketer – a guide on what you should and shouldn’t do for a living in present day Nigeria

Once upon a time, there were what were known as the “professional courses” – every proud parent’s dream for a child. Alas, how times have changed. Boys no longer get whacked on the head for going off to play football and it’s quite unlikely you’ll get any disapproving glances if you introduced yourself at a public gathering as a bridal make-up artiste. The dynamics have changed considerably over the years, and certain things are not half as attractive as they were 20 years ago.

If you live in present day Nigeria, you may no longer want to do any of these for a living:

1.                   Medicine

If you need to be convinced that there is no justice in the world, look no further than Medicine. Think of what goes into qualifying as a medical doctor: the thick, dreary textbooks; the energy-sapping ward rounds; the nerve-racking vivas and exams; the donkey years in Medical School; you could go on and on. You had to be a near-genius to even get into Medical School in the first place!

If life was fair, medical doctors would rank amongst the highest earning professionals. On the contrary, not only are their salaries nothing to dance azonto about, there is no guarantee of getting a housemanship or residency placement. The recent face off between doctors and the Lagos State Government is a handy pointer as to just how far the medical profession has fallen from grace. Thankfully, commonsense prevailed at the end of the day, but it was a pyrrhic victory for the doctors who were left to trudge back to work from the battlefield, bruised and bloodied. The shabbiness with which the doctors were treated (both in their dismissal and rehiring), and the general sense of contempt displayed by the government sent a clear, unmistakable message: we no send you.

The prospects of medical practice in Nigeria are pretty bleak at the moment, and the stiff competition medical doctors face from alternative medicine practitioners and churches in the delivery of healing to the sick does nothing to brighten this grim outlook. For many young Nigerian doctors, salvation lies in a stamped passport and a ticket to the United States or United Kingdom.

2.                   Commercial Banking

There was a time when everyone wanted to work in a bank. In the good old days, a lot of people would gladly take a job at a bank, regardless that they studied Anthropology in university and would end up in the marketing department, or were trained as a Biochemist but were going to be assigned a Customer Care desk. That was before Hurricane Sanusi touched down, leaving pay cuts, redundancy, bruised egos, job insecurity, apprehension and gloom in its wake.

Truth is what Nigerian banks had been doing all the while really wasn’t banking and the people we thought were bankers were actually oil contractors and stockbrokers. Now, a bit of sanity has been restored to a profession that used to be staid and serious one until it was hijacked by charlatans and con men. Whilst banking may not be at the lower end of the pecking order just yet, it has certainly lost all the glitz and glamour that made smart graduates fall over themselves back then in the scramble to get a job in the industry.

Investment banking, fortunately, hasn’t taken as big a hit as commercial banking. By being able to offer professional satisfaction (whatever that is), without compromising on providing a life of relative comfort, investment banking manages to strike a balance. Like their Wall Street colleagues, Nigeria’s investment bankers are glib, smartly dressed, and appear to be geniuses. Their bonuses might not compare to what their contemporaries at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan earn, but they are enough to make many others think they are in the wrong profession. If you’re slick, quick on the uptake, enthusiastic, and have a bit of swag, you’re investment banker material; forget that you have no formal background in finance.

3.                   Academia

Pause for a moment and ask yourself how many of your former classmates are currently in the academia. I’d be surprised if you counted as many five. Teaching in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education presently holds zero appeal. In fact, the closest many folks desire to get to their alma maters is to visit to collect transcripts and references.

At the time I got admitted into university – a little over a decade ago – ASUU and the FG were in dispute over the non-implementation of some agreement the government had reached with ASUU. They are embroiled, till date, in that same dispute. Every now and then, as if to remind the government that it exists, ASUU declares a warning strike. Surely, even the members of ASUU’s National Exco, realize, in the privacy of their hearts, the ineffectuality of these a-dime-a-dozen strikes and are secretly embarrassed by them. The nuisance caused by ASUU strikes has become just about as inconsequential as the irritation caused by a power cut. In both cases, we simply hiss and get on with their lives.

Really, what’s the point of joining the academia? Did I hear you say so that you can give something back to the society? Please, set up an NGO instead; as you would find out shortly, it may end up a very lucrative venture. Oh, you have a calling to be a teacher? That’s easy. You either stick to the private universities (considering how they’ve mushroomed, you’ll be spoilt for choice) or migrate to a country where learning and research are valued.

4.                   Law

The law, they say, is an ass. In these parts, this is more apt: if you think there is law, you’re an asshole. If you still believe, after the Salami-Kutigi charade, that you can get justice in Nigeria, you are certainly delusional; you probably also believe Nigeria would be amongst the world’s top 20 economies in 2020. True, you could argue that a lawless society should ordinarily translate into more business for lawyers. But then, of what use are law and lawyers really, where the law exists only on paper and our laws aren’t worth as much as the paper on which they are printed?

Lord Denning knew what he was talking about when he uttered these profound words: “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking the judge was biased”. The beauty of law is when everyone is subject to it, either in reality or in appearance. The blatancy with which the law is subverted in Nigeria makes the practice of law one big joke, which is why there is no point even bothering about the utter nonsense called law school, the breathtaking ineptitude of the Nigerian judiciary or the modern day slavery some grasping principals subject new wigs to.

ON THE OTHER HAND… here are alternative ways of making a living that are guaranteed to be worth your while:

1.                   Buying & Selling

If we had a national occupation, it would be this. I don’t have the statistics, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a new kiosk is erected somewhere in Lagos every five minutes. Shopping complexes spring up overnight in our cities faster than elephant grass on wasteland. You don’t even require a shop to engage in buying and selling. Your car trunk, your office and the roadside will serve the purpose just as well.

There aren’t many simpler ways of making loads of money than buying and selling, provided that you’re not afraid of a little dishonesty. The margins can be mind-blowing. All you have to do is ensure your visit to the retail shops in London coincide with the biggest sales – “80% off all items”, “All items must go”; “Clearance sale”; that kind of stuff – buy as much as you can, return to Lasgidi and sell the items to unsuspecting idiots for twice their original pre-sale prices. I know people that have made a killing from buying clothes cheap in the UK and reselling them here. Whilst how lucrative the business is ultimately depends on what it is you sell; where you sell it from, and who you sell it to; since no one would, in ordinary circumstances, sell anything without making a profit, buying and selling is a sure banker any day.

2.                   Entertainment

Once upon a time, in a town called Jos (when it was still a quiet, sane place), lived two brothers named Peter and Paul. They used to sing, breakdance and mime at street shows and school events. There must have been those that thought, back then, that they were just wasting their time. Today, P-Square have probably made more money than the CEOs of many corporates will earn – legitimately – in their entire careers. No matter how juvenile Davido looks jumping up and down in his videos, he cannot be dismissed as a small boy, because he is not. If you need further proof as to the incredible, transformative power of entertainment, ask those who knew D’banj when he was hustling on the streets of London.

True, it’s only about one out of ten people that venture into entertainment that find success, but wouldn’t you rather try your luck and find out if you’d be that one?

3.                   Oil and other ancillary business

N1 Billion. N270 Million. N2.6 Trillion. What do these three randomly selected sums of money have in common? Oil – that’s what.

Whether it is lifting crude oil; owning and operating a petrol station; employment at Mobil, Shell or one of the other IOCs; owning a fleet of petrol tankers; membership of the board of NDDC; oil bunkering; a senior management position in NNPC or DPR; supplying diesel to homes and businesses; or a job with an oil servicing company, anything that has oil in the mix is good business. Just as crude oil has been a curse to Nigeria, it has been, is and will continue to be a source of incredible blessing to many people. Wasn’t it NNPC’s GMD who allegedly racked up hotel bills in excess of N1 Billion the other day? How about the former NDDC Chairman alleged to have incinerated N270 Million cash in a cemetery for the purposes of a bizarre ritual? Will anyone be convicted and jailed in connection with the N2.6 Trillion (or whatever amount was involved) fuel subsidy scam? Of course not; this is Nigeria, remember.

If you have never, at some point in your life, fantasized about engaging in oil related business or a pursuing a career in the oil and gas industry, you’re either unimaginative or not very ambitious.

 4.                   Running NGOs, Foundations, Charities & Churches

In the good old days, NGOs and charities were established for purely humanitarian reasons and with wholly altruistic motives. Likewise, no one dared found a church unless he was dead certain he had a calling from God.

Nigerians are quick to adapt to changing circumstances, so it’s no big surprise that the harsh realities of the Nigerian economy have nudged some of our brothers and sisters into charity and ministry for less than entirely the right motives. NGOs are now as much about boosting the visibility and profiles of their founders as they are about promoting the causes for which they were established. Also, you’re likelier to hear more sermons about success in churches today, than about righteousness.

But pray tell me, what is wrong with making a lot of money whilst doing a lot of good? If I do my bit by rendering selfless service to humanity, is it asking too much to expect others to do their bit by providing grants, donations, endorsements and sponsorships?

5.                   Politics, Political Office and Government Appointments

No prizes for guessing this one correctly. Surely, nothing else ranks as the best thing to do for a living in present day Nigeria. Anything that can, in the space of a few years, elevate you from obscurity and penury into fame and fortune is worth taking a shot at, and probably worth risking your life for too. End of story.

Post Script: This post first appeared as a note on Facebook


How Facebook changed our lives

It’s been 8 years since Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook or stole the idea, depending on whose version of the story you believe. Whether original or stolen, Facebook is an extremely brilliant invention. Zuckerberg’s worth, following the IPO, is currently estimated to be somewhere in the region of $15 billion. Facebook has become an integral part of the everyday lives of its over 900 million active users. Few things have shaped contemporary culture in the past decade the way Facebook has. So central to our existence has Facebook become, it even inspired creative ways of embezzling public funds here in Nigeria (does “feeding” a Facebook account ring a bell?) 

Here are some significant – yet somewhat understated – ways Facebook has changed our lives:

 1.       Exhibitionism


A Peafowl flaring his feathers. Français : Un ...

Facebook is the showman’s delight. How else do you explain how a girl hangs out with Banky W at the VIP section of Auto Lounge on Friday night and uploads 99 pictures taken in the course of the night by 9 am the following morning? If she had such a blast, she should still be reeling from a hangover, shouldn’t she? Well, she wants to show off, that’s why!

With Facebook, you can flaunt (at no cost) anything and everything you’ve got. Like most things human, showing off is vulnerable to both extremes, and what people show off ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. So I can understand why you have to upload pictures of the holiday you and your boo had in Maldives, but what’s with the picture of you beaming on the platform of a London Underground station?

Before you start thinking uploading pictures is the only means of exhibitionism available on Facebook, hold on. What about a status update that goes: “thanks baby for the best birthday gift ever”? Considering that you must have already thanked him in person (or at the very worst via a text or over the phone), isn’t  it a bit too obvious that you put it on your Facebook wall simply because you wanted to gloat?

The point is that we all love to show off our possessions, particularly those we think (rightly or wrongly) that other people are not as fortunate to have. These possessions could be a fine babe, a sleek ride, Jimmy Choos, flat abs, a tastefully furnished crib, big booty, adorable kids or celebrity friends. And since the advent of Facebook, self-advertisement has never been easier or cheaper. Although disguised as “sharing” our lives with “friends” (majority of whom we care little about and barely know anyway), at the end of the day, it’s all about showboating.

2.       Voyeurism

A strong recurring theme in Blue Velvet is voy...
The old-fashioned voyeur

The traditional voyeur was the guy who crouched at the window of his top-floor room, lights turned off, and peeked through a slit in the drawn curtains in order to see the girl who lived in an apartment in the opposite building undress. That form of voyeurism is now as dated as it is repugnant.

With Facebook, and thanks to the vast majority of its users who are bewilderingly generous with personal information, you get to know without asking that Ada has broken up with her longterm boyfriend (Ada is now single); that Tony’s Blackberry pin is 1290A1Z (because he doesn’t think its indiscreet to display it on his wall); that Funmi has completed her Masters degree at Warwick (even if you missed her “LLM, baby!“, there was no way of missing the graduation pictures she splashed all over Facebook); and that Dotun’s wife thinks very highly of him (“I’ve got the best hubby in the whole world!”); all of which are things you really had no business knowing except  Ada, Tony, Funmi, or Dotun ranked among your closest friends.

That many of us, either out of ignorance or carelessness, do not make proper use of privacy settings makes things even worse. I know privacy isn’t as important to some as it is to others, but I don’t think the idea of Facebook is to make every private detail of our lives a spectacle for every Tom, Dick and Harry that signs up to Facebook to feast on.

3.       Free Speech

Free speech doesn't mean careless talk^ - NARA...

If there’s one good thing (or if you’re an intellectual snob, terribly tragic thing) Facebook has done, it’s the democratisation of speech. Thanks to Facebook, anyone and everyone can say anything – even utter nonsense – and be heard. Facebook guarantees an audience for every thought that springs to life in our minds, even the most puerile of them.
Facebook is the most convenient outlet for yarning dust. Take poetry for instance. In the good old days, you could only get your poems published if they were any good. Otherwise, you had to do with reading them aloud after dinner to your loving, accommodating spouse. Since the invention of Facebook, it’s become possible to “publish” anything as “poetry”; and when I say “anything”, I mean anything. No matter how awful your poem is, someone on Facebook is guaranteed to read it. It makes no difference that it has zero literary value; your Facebook friends will think it’s fantastic and validate their appreciation by clicking the “like” button. I am often bewildered by some of the things I see people “like” on Facebook. But then, we are very different, and one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Facebook has made it easier to regurgitate famous quotes and pass them off as ours. You no longer have to be a newspaper columnist to shape intellectual discourse; you’re likelier to get a rejoinder to a Facebook post than a newspaper opinion ed. You may not believe this, but there are fellas who consider the number of responses their Facebook posts (or tweets) generate a measure of their importance.

In summary, Facebook has liberalised intellectualism. Alas, wisdom is no longer the exclusive preserve of kings and scholars.

 4.       Romance

Doing it the hard way

In the good old days, guys had no clue if she was single or hooked but set off bravely in pursuit nonetheless. Today, no thanks to Facebook, seeing she’s proudly “in a relationship” (or worse still, “engaged” or even worse still, “married”) is, except for the mischievious or foolhardy, a convenient excuse to chicken out. Facebook hasn’t only made the game too easy; it has also spawned a generation of cyber stalkers and e-predators, who skulk the web space, looking for men and women with statuses that read “single” or “it’s complicated”.

Facebook has altered the dynamics of romance. Wooing a girl has moved from being a daring, daunting quest to a calculated, low-risk venture. No wonder our fathers think our generation is soft!

 5.       Boredom

A bored person

My first impression of Facebook, I recall, was that it was the most ingenious invention, since the Playstation, for curing boredom. That rather cynical impression has since been watered down now that I have realised how terribly useful Facebook is for certain things eg. putting you back in touch with friends and acquaintances that seemed to have vanished from the surface of the earth, and getting reminders of birthdays I would otherwise have forgotten.

Having said that, considering that some people get on Facebook to declare how tired they are (and there are such people!), there’s no doubt that Facebook is for many, the ultimate boredom killer; and that by feasting on friends’ walls, profiles, posts and pictures, many folks merely seek an alternative to the humdrum of their own uneventful lives. Or how else do you explain someone who’s neither a school dropout nor unemployed getting addicted to Farmville, experimenting with applications that reveal what their names say about them or who’s been viewing their profiles, or such similar nonsense?

Come to think of it, if Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard buddies hadn’t been bored, would they have developed Facemash, the precursor to Facebook? 

So has your search for a husband moved from singles’ fellowships to Facebook walls? Do you have 1,001 pictures of you on your profile? Do you click “Add Friend” without pausing to think whether you have a clue who the funny looking fella is? Are you one of those that give the prompter “what’s on your mind” its narrowest, most literal interpretation? Come on, let’s know what Facebook has done to you!

Postscript: This post first appeared as a Note on (yes you guessed right) Facebook on November 18 2010 (did I hear anyone sniggering?)The Facebook Files are a collection of rewrites of the author’s Facebook Notes.