Benjamin Birney Law and Nerdonomics

6Feb/151

Nigeria: Hang Together

Nigeria’s upcoming election represents an opportunity to take the next big step in realizing the country’s extraordinary potential. Western news outlets are missing the big picture, but Nigerians are better than their bad press.

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Nigeria is one of the most exciting places on Planet Earth. This may seem like an absurd statement if all one reads is the “Western” press; our newspapers delight in reporting bad news from Africa, and particularly from this most quintessentially African nation. A world citizen who reads nothing but mainstream news outlets might be forgiven for thinking that nothing happens in Nigeria but grotesque corruption and brutal attacks on civilians by frothing religious maniacs. Our world citizen should not, however, be lightly forgiven for reading nothing but mainstream news outlets, or for taking their portrait of Nigeria at face value. There is much more at work in this federal republic of nearly 200 million than the profound troubles in the northeastern-most three of its thirty-six states. The upcoming election of February 14th March 28th is (still) an opportunity for Nigerians to prove that they are more than the damning and incomplete image presented in the foreign press.

I visited Nigeria in December to develop business contacts for my law firm and its American clientele. I met exclusively with private sector business owners and officers, making not the slightest effort to interact with the government any more than was necessary to obtain my visa and clear immigration. And I can tell you, dear reader, that Nigeria boasts some of the most dynamic and creative entrepreneurs I have ever met. Necessity is the mother of invention, and she has some truly exceptional sons and daughters in Nigeria.

I met the owner of a satellite internet service provider in Abuja who has made a business for himself by taking advantage of the chronically unreliable fiber optic network (outside the trunk cables) to sell reliable satellite network service – and is working out new ways to bring his service into parts of the country untouched by electricity, much less fiber optic cable. I met the owner of a software company that has built a consumer app whose potential success lies in its ability to facilitate transactions in the uniquely rugged technical environment of Africa. I met a Nigerian woman who owns a financial consulting company that both consults for and actually executes renewable energy infrastructure projects. I met a Dutch woman who believes in Nigeria so much she has moved to Lagos and set up a business to help other companies enter the market, and do so in an ethically sound fashion with trustworthy, above-board local partners.

This is a part of the picture of Nigeria that most outsiders do not take the time to see. It is a vital, growing, and deeply creative private sector, making progress to solve the country’s problems in spite of incompetent and corrupt government. The people I met care little for the divisions of religion or ethnicity, and are united in a common desire to make money by providing goods and services that add value to the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Nigerians themselves know that they are better than their bad press. They have coined a word for youthful, optimistic people who are disgusted by government’s incompetence and corruption: naija. It is naija who need to step forward in the upcoming election and guide the country to a better future. But it is not directly through the election result that they can do this; I do not presume to endorse a candidate or party. It doesn’t matter who wins. Regardless of the official result, or how many districts have questionable or disputed ballot counts, the most important thing is that Nigeria accepts the result and holds together. Though the concept of the nation state has taken a beating from Western thinkers in the last fifty years, it is precisely a sense of a nationalism, and not narrow ethnic or regional interests, that will pull Nigeria through this winter. Nigerians have every reason to be proud of themselves and their country. Someone will win the election, and if Nigerians are smart they should accept that and continue to transform their country from the inside out – through the private sector first.

Hanging together would not just benefit Nigeria – it would also benefit the rest of Western Africa and Nigeria’s many trading partners around the world. Nigeria’s economy, once it really gets going, will be one of the most dynamic and expansive anywhere. This will bring wealth to Nigeria and also to the firms and individuals who deal fairly and profitably with Nigerians. I aspire that my law firm and its affiliates and clients will be among those who grow along with Nigeria, and I know there are others out there like me. Furthermore, a strong, united and confident Nigeria can bring stability and growth to its neighborhood. It can crush the religious madmen in Boko Haram, stabilize relations between its ethnic groups, and export the concept of national pride, stability, and economic growth throughout the region.

That is one path for Nigeria. I will not dwell on the other, as the Western press has already done a fine job of it. My purpose in writing this is to remind Nigerians that their country does not have to succumb to the pessimism of its observers.

I wish my Nigerian friends and partners the very best in the upcoming weeks, and I urge all of them to spread a message of optimism and peace ahead of and after the elections.

Benjamin M. Birney
Birney, Frederick & Tupper, LLC
Portland, Maine, USA

UPDATE: The delay in the election to March 28th is disappointing, but the opportunity to “hang together” is still very much alive.

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  1. Right on point Sir, most people; sadly more so – young Nigerians fail to see the potentials and dynamism of this country and have bowed to the pessimism.
    They is in reality a new breed of optimistic entrepreneurs who see in all the current challenges; creative solutions that can foster suitable businesses. However the path of transitioning challanges to solutions is strewn with government supported frustration on all sides. Meaning the Nigerian entrepreneur needs nothing less than a 101% effort to move forward.
    The key to moving forward politically after 2015 elections is what you pointed out: Nigerian’s must accept whoever the elections throw up as winner and quickly press forward in unity. The problem is not limited to the political leadership (none of our political leaders has yet come from Mars) but private sector leadership must also take the lead to keep forging ahead despite the frustrations that come from government.
    The truth is that this election has already served an invaluable purpose; namely to demystify what we Nigerians call the “power of incumbency” which means that an election is always a stroll in the park for the serving leader who is also contesting. This election has for the first time thrown up a robust debate and forced a relatively more issues focused campaign on both sides. This would definitely make political leaders sit up!
    We appreciate non-Nigerian’s who take their time to look beneath the bad press to see a dynamic, perservering and optimistic people. Nigeria is going forward together irrespective of the current storms.
    And of course Ben, we look forward to welcoming you back to a peaceful Nigeria later in the year.


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