By Francis Ewherido
I am not sure which word I became conscious of first, but I suspect “Afghanistan” as a country. In my secondary school days, I studied geography at a point and also followed international affairs. I probably became conscious of “Afghanistanism” (“the practice, as by a journalist, of concentrating on problems in distant parts of the world while ignoring controversial local issues”) in the university.
But Afghanistan, as used in today’s article, is a metaphor for a person who was offered all the assistance to stand on his feet and live, independent of the helper, but simply refused to take responsibility and went back to square one. The story of Afghanistan is out there and need not be laboured here. On September 11, 2001, the unthinkable happened. Al Qaeda invaded and wreaked havoc on American soil. On 9/11 2015, 14 years later, I was at the new twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York. For someone, who had no previous attachments to those iconic buildings or New York, I could not help but still be emotional.
America descended on Afghanistan to rout out Al Qaeda. But it knew that would not be enough. As of April, the U.S. had spent $2.261 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, according to the Costs of War project housed at Brown University’s Watson Institute and Boston University’s Pardee Center. Part of this money was spent on putting a government in place, organizing and equipping the military and police, and putting other systems and processes in place to enable the Afghan government stand on its feet.
The support went on for almost 20 years, enough time for responsible people to sort out themselves. But with a typical third world mindset, they quickly forgot where they were coming from and the task before them. Instead of building enduring institutions, systems and processes, they were embroiled in ethnicity, corruption and opulent living (did you see the presidential palace after the Taliban gained access). The leaders went about living as if America and other donors will sustain them forever. Who does that? Even manna had a terminal date and once the people of Israel were in a position to provide for themselves, it stopped.
Individuals also make the mistakes of the Afghan Nation. A man had the good fortune of a relative who could buy him a car when he decided to go into cab business. Once the cab was bought and registered for him, his plans changed. He employed a driver and started using the car both for commercial and private use. Soon, he married another wife. Before long, the vehicle had a major fault. He sent a message to his relative for money to fix the vehicle. The relative bought the car for him while he was in his 50s and active. He is now in his 60s and retired; no time and resources to accommodate such foolish behaviour anymore. When you get a life-time opportunity, maximize it. Keep Afghanistanish behaviour at bay.
When you get support from people, sometimes you have no idea how the people are able to offer the support. Some support out of their abundance, some deny themselves to support you and some are able to offer substantial support once in a while because of an occasional windfall. Thereafter, they are basically back to square one. So, do not trifle with people’s support. Long ago, a relative wanted to start a business. The start-up cost was much and beyond what I could single-handedly shoulder. I got other family members to make their contributions and handed over both cash and materials to him. He set up shop. Rather than settle down and run the business, he left it for others to run. I have been around long enough to know the inevitable outcome. I cautioned him on a few occasions, but he continued shirking his responsibility of running his business. Then one day, I started receiving frantic calls from him. What is the problem? He needed money to buy raw materials to produce. I smiled. So, what happened to proceeds of what he was producing? When I took time to go through his operations, what he needed was not just money to buy materials, but major cash injection. All the people, who supported him initially did it on a one-off basis. I could not go back to them. I offered the little assistance I could, but the business died.
The other bit I want to talk about is the question I asked before I went about his fundraising. I asked him his knowledge of the business he wanted to go into. He did have knowledge of the production bit of the business because he had worked in an organization where he was in the production department, but he had no knowledge of the management of the business. Both skills are essential to the success of any business. At the heart of the successes of the Igbo enterprise in Nigeria is apprenticeship. It is during their apprenticeship that both skills are honed. I cannot seem to place my finger on any bigger magic wand for business success in Nigeria than the Igbo apprenticeship system. You might have issues with some parts of the process, but it is tested, it is enduring and it works.
Raising capital for business is tough, so you really want to get yourself ready in terms of technical and managerial skills before you start off, especially in a global, fast moving business terrain and our peculiar business terrain. Not all of us are Igbos, so we all might not be privileged to benefit from this apprenticeship. In fact, it is even an informal sector arrangement and only Igbos in the informal sector – many with limited formal education – go through it. I do not know of any of my school mates at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who went through this apprenticeship.
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But the fact remains that before you embark on an entrepreneurial journey, give yourself a fighting chance by having a hands-on knowledge of the sector you are going into. Then be disciplined and focus on the task. Too many people who got an initial window of opportunity are stranded today because of lack of knowledge and focus. And they continue to blame uncles, relatives and others who would not be there for them. My friend, take responsibility so that when another opportunity comes, you may have a better chance of success.
PROPOSED OKUGBE MFB CROSSES THE THRESHOOD
I had something very uplifting to smile about last weekend. Sometime ago, I was part of a team the Urhobo Nation saddled with the responsibility of raising N300m to set up a microfinance bank to serve the interest of woman and youths. Ordinarily, there are a number of Urhobo men and women who can singlehandedly bring out that money, but things do not always work that way and everybody’s business can easily become no man’s business. Anyway, to the glory of God, we have raised the initial N200m the Central Bank requires and the Okugbe train is rolling. God bless all the Urhobo patriots who answered the call.