Thursday, January 17, 2019

A letter to the children of the Nigerian elite

A letter to the children of the Nigerian elite
February 09
14:43 2018


Dear You,

I am just struggling to recover from the hard truths from Femi Ogedengbe’s viral video where the 46-year-old Nigerian film producer ranted about how he could hardly get by in the Nigerian “shithole”, his royalty treatment in Tanzania courtesy of his skills, and how one year in the US working ‘honestly’ as a security guard has changed his life and that of his family for the better.

I scrolled through Twitter and saw Subomi Plumtre’s super tweet on how she prays less when she’s abroad because “so many of our prayer points in Nigeria are caused by infrastructural inefficiencies”. Nigerian demons are not evil spirits, they are corrupt politicians – she tweeted. In simple terms, your parents are the evil spirits of Nigeria. I can imagine what it feels like to read these kinds of things.

These sad news mixed with two rays of hope from last week. The first is the Paddy Adenuga’s (son of Billionaire father Mike Adenuga) Chevron Netherlands story, and the second is an article on The Economist about the retiring 70-year old Zhou Xiaochuan, the reformist leader of the People’s Bank of China (China’s Central Bank) and son of a senior communist party official Zhou Jiannan. Both Paddy and Xiaochuan utilized the privileges of their birth to bring some progress (in the case of Zhou) and honour (in Paddy’s case) to their countries. This admixture prompted me to write you with a question in mind – can our country profit from you, the offspring of today’s political and economic elite?

My first answer is a “no.  This ride of the lack of sufficient evidence of progress (in Nigeria and broadly the African continent) brought by the intergenerational wealth or political power transfer within one family. Family businesses have not fared well in Nigeria (think Abiola, Odutola), and intergenerational-politics have not fared well either (think Joseph Kabilla who took over from his father, Laurent Kabila as President of DRC since 2001, as well as Dimeji Bankole who profited from the influence of his politician father, Alani Bankole). Both Dimeji and Joseph have not made the case for inter-generational political power transfer easy. While Dimeji Bankole became the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives at a very tender age but squandered the goodwill and ended his tenure with an N10 billion corruption scandal which he was eventually absolved of, Joseph Kabila is currently Africa’s youngest president and has refused to organize elections since the expiration of his tenure in December 2016. We can’t serve a bad father and also his wayward son!

Should we write you off as worthless and condemn you to the mire of globetrotting, Snapchat, Instagram? Not yet!

Halima Dangote, daughter of Aliko Dangote already plays a major part in the family business and is pulling her weight. Paddy Adenuga was a part of the family business and is equally pulling his weight as an independent entrepreneur. In the field of politics, we can look outside Africa for examples such as George W. Bush of the United States, and Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore who made their mark in their own ways. Back at home, rather than throw away the baby with the bathwater and hang the children for the sins of their parents, I offer three key areas that the children of current Nigerian elites can right the wrong of their parents.

The first area is in business and entrepreneurship. As far back as 2014, Paddy Adenuga was willing to invest over $100 million in Chevron Netherlands, while in 2017 Konga, the online marketplace and pride of Nigerians sold for $10 million. The hard truth is that you are better placed to succeed in the murky waters of Nigerian business space. You can ride on the very good education you have (most of you have foreign degrees from top universities in the world), the political influence of your parents needed in Nigerian businesses, business mentorship relationships with friends of your parents, the deep pockets of the family, and the insurance that you have something to fall back on if your foray into business fails. Although going into business may be an expensive experiment, Nigerians will be employed, the economy stimulated, and you will learn practical life lessons – a better deal than globetrotting.

The second area is participating in electoral politics – this is a very bold and risky proposition. Bold in its potentials if things go well and risky in its damage if things go south. Although we feel the pains of the infrastructural deficit and bad governance separately, everyone faces it. We face it in our daily lives as we grapple with poor electricity, bad roads, etc, while you face it on Dana airplanes with doors flying off (if you’re not on the private jet), whenever at international airports (if you use your Nigerian passports) and whenever you are viewed as migrants from the animal kingdom or asked if there are bookshops in Nigeria. The odds are again in your favour. You have the political clout, structures, and goodwill (if any is left) of your parents to ride on, the deep pockets that have been necessary since the 1999 elections, and can amass some goodwill for yourselves if you try.

The third area is starting a professional practice in Nigeria. Abike Dabiri usually claims that Nigerians are the most educated immigrant group in the United States. I’m convinced that the majority of these are you, children on affluent Nigerians who can afford the horrendous fees or very smart children of ordinary Nigerians who can get a scholarship. This kind of education and experience with foreign companies confers an advantage that can be applied to develop Nigeria. The kind of competitiveness you will bring to these sectors will help drive the competitiveness of our indigenous graduates in the workplace and raise the standards of quality of professional practice in Nigeria. I know a few of you have returned to start something in the entertainment sector, but we need more of you back across sectors. The pay-cut will be discomforting, but you have the family buffer to minimize the effect.

In finality, it would not too much to ask for a plowback of the Nigerian resources that have been used to train you. You are perhaps, the greatest investments of your parents, and most of the legal and illegal things they did were to secure your future. You have been in the same class with the best brains in the world and have triumphed, you have experienced effective transportation, power, and educational systems. I ask you not to be like your parents, come home and develop where you can truly call home, where no one will call you a “Nigga”, employ you based on diversity requirements in the workplace, speak too-cautiously to you because of political correctness, and rise to the top of your career with no glass ceiling. I know kidnapping is a major concern but remember Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s quote, “when the poor have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich!”


Demilade Osoteku

An offspring of the middle-class.


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1 Comment

  1. Renny
    Renny February 09, 17:08

    Very thoughtful and practical

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