You cannot afford to be poor: Pause and reflect

“We cannot afford to be poor” is a position Marzuq Abubakar and I reached around December 2017. The reason for adopting this position is simple: as a northerner, you are bounded by responsibilities that you were neither consulted for nor a signatory to. The income of an average Hausa-Fulani man is, directly or indirectly, tied to the responsibility of at least ten people (forgive the exaggeration). And it is expected that you shoulder these inherited responsibilities with equanimity and defiance even at the face of the existential threats of poverty and squalor.

Your best bet is to think entrepreneurship because that’s the only expanding industry that can swallow the football team you are carrying around. Again, here too, you are also constrained by two factors: one, absence of family wealth to rely on for the required initial capital; and two, inherited religion cum cultural reservation on Bank loans, funding from VCs, Angel investors, Development agencies, Foundations, etc., that your Muslim community is yet to address.

What is your best bet? I think you are more likely to survive this quagmire by investing heavily in developing your intellectual capital, which would open doors and access that were hitherto closed and inaccessible. You would get to friend rich kids and meet influential people that can vouch for your creditworthiness. Alternatively, your intellectual capital can fetch you jobs in posh MNCs, where you will be paid handsomely. Thereafter you can engage in massive savings and investment until you sufficiently have appreciable capital that can kick-start a business.

And here, I must be quick to add a caveat: run as fast your legs can take you from those fancy but unrealistic business ideas and cases you read in Harvard Business Review and other American publications. This does not dismiss the endless jewels of management, innovation, creativity you can mine. An entrepreneur’s job is to solve problems and America’s problems ain’t your problems. Don’t waste your money trying hard to satisfy the expensive taste of the elite class. It’s no brainer. In addition to too much competition, you are liable to ignore a large segment of the market.

We are basically a poor society dealing with basic problems of production, and at most, value addition. Think of targeting 5% market share of Banana consumption in Lagos. Think of value addition in the Meat chain. Think of setting a state of the art Farm Machinery Centre in say Saminaka, where farmers can hire machines for their land clearing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and packaging. Think of post-harvest technology. I mean think of problems that bedeviled us and in need of urgent attention not Drone Technology or any service delivery solution that only 1% of the population have the luxury to patronize.

Whatever the case, you cannot afford to be poor, for Nigeria will drive you crazy. Don’t be poor. Do whatever you can (legitimately) to escape the pangs of poverty. Poverty is not a virtue. I repeat, poverty is not a virtue. Get that. Good luck.

Published in Analysis, Culture and Economy

(Issues In Northern Nigeria, IINN.NG)

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