It was the final evening of a 10 day writing workshop. I was getting to know John, one of my fellow participants, a little better. John is Kenyan and this was his first visit to Lagos. We chatted about his stay and how ostentatious Lagos was – Nairobi is apparently more humble. The conversation turned to what we do back in the real world and I naturally began to tell John about the business I was about to start, in addition to my 8-5 job. I recall John saying that Nigerians have ‘this energy’ about the way we go about doing things and how we always seem to have an additional business or gig going for us. I wondered how many other Nigerians he had met who had spoken quite easily about what they do on the side. Practically everyone I could imagine.
Nigerians are entrepreneurs out of necessity. With the minimum wage at N18,000, high unemployment rates and a population of over 170 million people, we have to be a nation of 1 or 2 things. It is implicitly expected. My father was a pilot and he also installed satellite dishes in the early 90s. My mother was a banker who, amongst many many other things, made tie and dye fabrics at the back of the house. I know I’m not the only one whose parents did this; we have a long history; the hustle just differs from household to household.
That energy that John talks about, our aggressiveness, has even influenced other non-Nigerians. Monica Musonda, a Zambian who worked for Aliko Dangote for three years, talks about when she first got to Nigeria in 2008. She says Dangote told her “Here we run, so if you want to move with the rest of us, you better run.”
This attitude infuses all aspects of our lives, from catching a bus to figuring out where our next meal is coming from. To exert control over the latter, we Hustle.
But there is an unsavoury side of this much admired trait. In the push to not be left behind, to not look like the non go-getter, we jump into lanes we have no business being in. In order to get paid, some of us misrepresent ourselves, our abilities and end up doing more harm than good. Man must Wack, yet we have not put in the learning hours, dedication or training before offering our services to the paying public. We then give our ineptitude a veneer of respectability by calling it ‘Hustling.’
We become a people of the slash: fitness expert/rapper, personal assistant/event manager or customer service rep/fashion designer/gospel singer. The line between hustle and fraud begins to thin.
Let us consider two cases. The first which was recently reported in the news is the Senior Medical Officer with the Federal Ministry of Health, Martins Ugwu, who had practiced for over nine years using a stolen licence. Ugwu was about to be promoted to an Assistant Director in the Nigerian Centre of Disease Control before he was found out. The week before he was discovered, “Ugwu was part of a government committee that met with more than 200 health professionals returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where they had volunteered to assist fight Ebola under an African Union mission.”
The second case is that of the wealth coach whose website I came across. Who is a wealth coach you ask? A wealth coach apparently helps you “connect with your essence”, “build brave brands” and “get turbo-charged for wealth.” He essentially helps you make money. This particular wealth coach will be hosting a seminar for “future millionaires” next month where members of the public will sit and get advice from someone who they believe holds answers they do not have. The coach is a Harvard University-certified Consultant (he does not say in what), he is also NCFE UK-certified Life Coach. He has certificates in Managing Projects and New Media Designs & Ethics from Microsoft and the Pan-Atlantic University respectively. These qualifications are from highly respected institutions and are admirable, however how do they qualify him to teach people how to “make wealth”? Does he have a qualification from which he derives this knowledge & authority from?
The sole difference between Mr Wealth Coach and Mr Ugwu is a regulatory body.
We may all recognise a bit of ourselves in Mr Wealth Coach, the times we’ve stretched our abilities to make a quick buck. The 10,000 followers you’re not quite sure how you acquired are channelled into a social media consultancy role. You register a company and your ability to create lovely power point slides and speak engagingly, gets you the contract even though you know you’re going to be winging it most of the time. The proposal template you know by heart, rewritten every time a new opportunity comes up. The awards you create which have no real relevance or benefits to the winners after the night of glittery pictures, and which in many cases they even pay for. All na Packaging.
Packaging largely depends on the ignorance of the intended audience and you being the one smart enough to take advantage. You hope that your marks are ignorant because if someone knowledgeable should ask the hard questions; the finely constructed façade, held together by the ever delicate strands of your half-baked ideas, would unravel. Questions about data, due diligence, returns on investment will pluck at you until you are stripped down and shown for who you really are – a Fraud.
And this is why I believe hustling, of this kind, has to die. We can no longer justify taking people or businesses’ money, giving them little or nothing in return while we prosper from their ignorance. It is fraud and we should be better than this.