Only If Alams Were Robin Hood

Arising from envy and greed is the cursed seed of corruption. We all read of Cain and Abel, and later of Jacob and Esau…….and other multitude of people satisfied, or rather never satisfied, in enriching themselves with the sweat and rights of others. A cancer spreading throughout the tissues of the Nigerian nation culminating in the Transparency International crowning us the 35th most corrupt nation in the world.

In truth, not many people really believe in the anti-corruption crusades of the recent  governments, but virtually everyone agrees that whoever (no matter highly placed) is tried and convicted of economic crimes by the commission (EFCC) actually has some skeletons in his cupboard. Of course, we all know that there are many not, or never, to be “caught” nor “tried” by virtue of their affiliations and good ball playing. Such is the playing field of Nigeria, and many nations in the continent.

However, for the former Bayelsa state’s governor; Diepreye  Alamieyeseigha; who has been convicted both here and elsewhere, to secure a state’s pardon as recently announced, it signified the final nailing on the anti-corruption efforts of the government. Well, that’s at least in the eyes of the masses whose rights and resources were pillaged, squandered and laundered.

On the other hand, if our looting leaders were Robin Hood-esque in disposing their affairs anyway, the masses could rather have been thrown into huge jubilation with that Alam’s announcement. Robin Hood, that medieval English hero, who was stealing from the rich and the king to feed his “merry men” in the Sherwood Forest of Nottinghamshire was granted state pardon by King Richard after his return from the crusade having confirmed Robin’s loyalty. The whole town was thrown into euphoria not only because of the pardon but the re-absorption of their hero into nobility.

So, instead of that disbelief, disappointment, rage and outcry that greeted the Alams’ announcement, it could have been celebration time if he had been like Hood making the “loot” go round. In an earlier post (Looting African Leaders Are So Foolish), we asked the looting leaders to put smile on our faces and those of our children by investing “their loot” here at home and that the leaders might be forgiven and even praised. The call still holds, and others should take note.

The cycle however continues and it’s now “officially” written in black and white : “It’s a sin to be incorruptible in Nigeria”.

Share your thoughts on the effects of Alams’ pardon by dropping your comments below

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Winning The Mobile Number Portability War

Number_Portability_NigeriaIn the days of the gladiators in the colosseums of the ancient Rome, it is a sin to floor your opponent and not strike him dead to the euphoric noise of the spectators. To the crowd, it’s entertainment; but to the tangling duo or groups in the arena, each appearance is a fight for life. In the more open battles of the old, capturing slaves as spoils of war was the fashion – the more the captives, the more the net worth and influence of the victorious side. The slaves may keep their identities, but any relationship to their land is only in memory unless of course there is a counter attack or a rescue mission. What a crazy world of war!

In the world of commerce however, it has always been a war to outsell competition through  better volume or an outright “hijack” of others’ customers. It’s a dog eats dog world! But to me, it becomes more embarrassing when each time a customer intends to engage in a transaction he must pass by his former dealer, look him in the eye and shouts to the ears of whoever: “I used to be ABC’s customer, now I’m with XYZ”! And that is what mobile number portability – about to come live in the Nigerian telecoms space – is.

Mobile Number portability (MNP) is a service that enables subscribers to switch to another operator (for whatever reason) for telecoms service but still retaining the mobile number he/she is known with. It resembles the roaming service, but here the subscriber has nothing again to do with his erstwhile provider – no customer care contact, no recharges, no real call routing – he’s now “a spoil of war”. Of course, there has always been churn in the industry, but then the discontented subscriber(s) are still counted as part of the subscriber base of the losing vendor; and that is one of the issues Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) wants to reduce – multiple lines ownership. The ultimate objective anyway, is to push the operators to deliver excellent quality of service to their teeming subscribers.

When this concept was introduced to us – the G8 – in a training ten years ago; we contended that it might not likely take off in Nigeria not just because we were concerned of the political will or anti-competition spirit, but because we were looking at the technical implementation from the so called indirect routing perspective – the one once adopted by the UK regulator where calls to a ported subscriber must pass through the donor operator – an expensive and inefficient approach. Over the time, we have come to appreciate the direct routing approach where an independent vendor does the back end job of ported subscribers administration. It’s the approach chosen by the NCC as stated in the Commission’s MNP framework of March 2012. It’s less expensive, more efficient, scalable and should be less fraud prone.

In a market of 109m active lines, with MTN alone having 43% of the market share, Globacom having 22%, Airtel  with 20% and Etisalat taking the remaining 14% as at December 2012 (data from NCC); you can imagine how hard fought the war must be. How do they retain their own subscribers, and of course, get more from others?

  1. Listen more: It now becomes more imperative for operators to give some listening ears to their subscribers in  order for them to appreciate what the customers are contending with as per service. Feedback posts, and the resolve to follow through is now a must. The feedback from subscribers should not be seen as ‘usual’ complaints; when you listen  well, you are likely going to see the gold in the rants.
  2. Communicate more: This is likely the greatest weapon available to each of the operators in the ensuing war. Even though subscribers desire 100% availability and hitch-free quality of service, they know that machines handle the back end transactions of switching and routing and as such are likely to fail anytime. Each system failure will, and should, not drive subscribers across the competition; but that is only when there is honest communication between the operator and the customers. Ignoring the customer base when there are issues show how much value the operator place on them; and of course the subscriber will also like to show how much he values the operator. Ironically, as NCC stipulates, the operator can not lobby the subscriber back once he initiates the porting process, and the customer cannot come back until after 90 days of “enjoying” the other side.
  3. Better customer service strategy: Closely related to the issue of communication is that of customer service. We have seen subscribers churning just because customer service could not explain or justify some 5 kobo deductions on their blackberry service, they felt the arrangement was some salami approach on their credit balance. Would you blame them? Empathy, knowledge of the products and systems, readiness to help, and good manners are what subscribers expect when they dial customer service.
  4. Better value added service (VAS) products: This may endear the subscribers more to their brands and make it a bit difficult to switch even when they have the urge. Products with good use cases and not just business cases will go a long way to retain subscribers. The new Glo’s Super-trader, MTN’s InfoSearch and Etisalat’s EasyAdz products are potential winners.
  5. Revamp technical quality of service: Without doubt, the readiness of each of the operator to put real life in their QoS units will win them some good points in the war. Proper optimization of both radio and core part of the network will give some assurance of backline solidity. Workable business continuity and disaster recovery plans should give some comfort. Ignore these and and see your cards falling from behind.

Since none of the operators has any choice than to enter the colosseum of portability; their strategy may not be about winning the war, but it must be about not losing it. Else……….

Share your thoughts on the number portability issue and paths operators may follow.

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A pin nu ‘ya: Happy New Year’s Homophone?

It is common place, in my area of Nigeria, to hear or read locals Yorubanize some English words or phrases. Such pronunciations may sometimes be due to contempt or sheer mockery; while at times, illiteracy or ignorance may be the cause. Such was the case of “Penkelemes” – a convenient rehash of the description of the Nigerian Western region politics given by the late Adegoke Adelabu in the late 1950s; he actually used the phrase “peculiar mess”. And such was the case when a cafeteria owner, remodeled the word “illiterate” to “Inastraite“, out of ignorance. And such were many cases.

A pin nu ‘ya – an homophone of the oft-used celebratory chant “Happy New Year”, if the English will allow Yoruba words/phrases for such anyway, rents the air every midnight ushering in the new year. Year in, year out, you hear the locals extending such greetings to one another sometimes in mockery, self-abasement and often, out of ignorance. A pin nu ‘ya – translates to “We have resolved to suffer” – became widely used during the military misrule of Nigeria, and you hear the chants every year in readiness for whoever is the Head of State’s traditional January 1st address to the nation. It was always expected that there would be one draconian decree or one policy that would be life and liberty threatening in the course of the year.

After a long period of time, the chants returned louder last year when a democratic president came out with the petroleum subsidy removal scheme in his new year’s address. The consequent labor strikes, breakdown of law and order and near anarchy is still fresh in our minds. But importantly, and of major concern, is the erosion in my (and of course, all middle class guys’) disposable income due to an unattended inflation and high cost of fuel (to run both vehicle and generator). Maybe the chant – the curse in most people’s understanding – got some nods from Fate; the national budget throughout the year could only be about 50% implemented. This necessarily meant that lots of roads project and rehabilitation were neglected, no wonder we had such serious number of road accidents in the course of the year; more disturbing were those that occurred during the last quarter of the year. It also meant that many hospitals and schools were not adequately equipped or funded; no wonder ‘they’ all run out for medicals knowing that what ‘they’ have provided was very measly and grossly inadequate. In retrospect, as far as many are concerned, the “A pin nu ‘ya” chants would have been very apt if raised around May 29th, 2011 when this government was officially sworn in, going by utter disappointment in polity handling, including corruption management and fiscal responsibility we are “enjoying”. Just ask them the whereabouts of ‘that’ N5trn.

It was the expectation of many to hear fuel price hike pronouncement during this year’s address since rumors were pointing in that direction, coupled with the attendant fuel scarcity believed to be occurring in readiness for the eventual hike. it didn’t come, and so, much of the “A pin nu ‘ya” chants were those made in self mockery, or sheer ignorance by celebrants, or by those who could not pronounce the phrase any other way.

Whoever, and for whatever cause the chant was extended to you however, do always quickly reject it. The rejection is not because you are ready to stage or participate in another “OccupyNigeria” protest should policies go against your expectations, but believing that whatever the government, or any force for that matter, throws at you this year will not debar you from inching forward. With the ouster of the apocalyptic 2012, you have another respite to re-tune your professional, social, personal and spiritual goals. Hopefully, we shall all dance some azonto and gangnam style in celebration of the accomplishment of a large chunk of our goals by the end of the year, God willing!

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Employee’s Remorse And What To Do About It

Getting an offer of employment, or being just employed may come with excitement and celebrations. It may also come with nostalgia and some teeth grinding. Just like some people experience buyer’s remorse when they make a purchase and later detest the choice; new hires in many enterprises often experience employee’s remorse by deeply regretting their choice of workplace. The so called regret may come from perceived incoherence between the individual’s values and that of his new work, or unpalatable policies of the business, or dearth of tools/resources for his productivity, et cetera. It’s becoming obvious that the employee’s remorse phenomenon is becoming common place when you bother to listen to the whines and frustrations emanating from the corporate world – well, maybe not everywhere. The new year approaching therefore, there may be some reason(s) to take action on such condition, to create a new path or perspective in dealing with the feeling.

Writing about this came to me while having lunch in an eatery and unavoidably eavesdropping the conversation between two guys sitting two tables from mine. The main speaker, or rather the whiner, was dressed like a banker (rightly, bank officer) though not sure, with some stress and disgust written all over him.

“I’m sick and tired of this company, within a year of my involvement with them they have succeeded in zapping my spirit. I went in with lots of enthusiasm you know” the banker raked. “Relax my guy, you are working yourself up” his friend advised.

“You know what? From the beginning, can you believe I’ve been on a complete detour from the role I was interviewed for? They took me away from my line without training me on the new one. I had to start learning on the job – imagine asking an artist to start cracking his head with quantum physics”

“Is it that bad?” “Much worse” retorted the banker

“It gets more painful when your bosses do not listen to the staff, when they only manage by threat, or sacrifice you on the slab of office politics “

I was shaking my head at my seat asking myself “Which one, again, is management by threat?” I only know management by objective or by exception; then I realized I’m still a neophyte in the management field – lots to learn.

“And to add insult to injury, the pay is much below par, in the long term, compared to competition.”

I almost got caught chuckling aloud as I made for the counter to get another bottle of water…….

“My friend, that money issue is the real crux; admit it, you are suffering from employee’s remorse.”

By the time I returned to the seat, the two friends have disappeared. I actually wanted to pass some “wisdom” into the whiner:

Before taking any appointment:

  1. It is essential you know what you really want in a workplace. Understanding of the absolute conditions of service you desire, and the possible minimum setting you can (or willing) to endure is always critical. This should be an important guidepost in reviewing and selecting your 8-5 abode.
  2.  It is also essential you ask around about a prospective, or an engaging, place of work. Before you put that pen to paper saying…..I do; you need to confirm a congruence of the values of the company with your own (all the better if the company’s values are more noble), you also need to sync with the “culture” of the organization. There are also those so called trivial issues – e.g. availability of lunch room – you need to ascertain, later the “trivials” will become the mighty.

You should note that there are many companies where you cannot but blossom (both in career and in person) – these, you need to seek – and there are many where the meaning of work is constantly murdered. See this McKinsey’s article on how leaders kill meaning at work.

What damage control options do you have after taking up the appointment?

  1. Do nothing. Live with it. It’s your choice. 
  2. Do not be rash in your decision making. Perhaps you have the right company, but the wrong role. You might need to approach the Human Resource – if they approachable anyway – with tact in addressing your case. Talking about tact, the best description I have had till date is that of Winston Churchill “the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip”. That is the time to know if you are of any value to the organization, HR should perform a skill assessment review on you, and a job re-allocation is expected based on that, if necessary.
  3. Endeavor to add value to yourself by acquiring additional skills which maybe useful in your current workplace, or elsewhere should you decide to leave. This option always seem alluring to many since there is that “promise” of career enhancement and sometimes better personal network. It also allows you to eat your cake and have it by you having a job, yet getting your horizon well shaped.
  4. If you can quickly realize that each day you spend in “this uninspiring” enterprise culminates into your life/destiny, and that your vision of life is at 180° to that of the company; please run as fast as possible out of the door. You will not only create chance for he who care less whether he’s pissed on, but you save yourself some agonies and self pity a couple of years down the line. You should however realize that the pasture always seem greener on the other side…..I will therefore not appreciate another round of whine by my table next time.

But seriously, the effect of employee’s remorse is sometimes worse and more telling than that of the buyer’s, it may lead to health degradation including mental imbalance and acute depression. Why accumulate such negatives to your life, take action now! You must enjoy your work to succeed.

Share your experience of employee’s remorse and advice on what to do by dropping your comments below.

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Why Aliens Visit Us

Aliens_ship

Flying Saucer

If you have read Sidney Sheldon’s Doomsday Conspiracy, you might have come across reasons to believe extraterrestrial beings – aka Aliens – sometimes or regularly visit our Earth. Regardless the import of the sci-fi movies – e.g. Will Smith starred Men In Black and Independence Day – depicting the possible activities of the aliens here; you might want to believe the crap (or not) if you come across the claims of groups like the Jill Tarter led SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) regarding the existence, and the visitation of the aliens.

It has always been said, just like Sidney noted in the book, that the main reason governments refuse to confirm the visitations of the aliens and rather cloak the whole stuff in secrecy is ‘not to cause panic’ in people. It has also been suggested; believing the aliens are here for invasion and domination; that another reason is that authorities are unwilling to admit the existence of a force against which there are “no possibility of defense”. It therefore strikes me when the Russian Prime Minister, Medvedev, in this recent interview, jokingly or deliberately alluded and admitted to the existence of these beings, and in fact their visitations citing secret files filled of such. Now, it’s either the mood of the people have been gauged in that they would not be thrown into frenzy (with that admission – and really, not many people cared anyway) or the world now has enough weapons and technology to defend its civilization.

It would not be out of place then to seek the essence of the aliens’ visits. To what do we owe the nocturnal, or whenever, visits? O ye Aliens! What seeketh thou?

While one saucer flew around us at supersonic speed, imagine this conversation within the occupiers who only communicate via telepathy. “These earthlings are complicating their own existence” so thought Yarn, an occupier in an insignia-less space ship. “They are yet to fully realize that all creations have one soul, that the ecosystem of the universe binds us all together………..in fact the essence of their existence still elude them” replied Bjern, the wide eyed second occupant. “They have been corrupting the ether, mainly transmitting wicked, violent and even murderous thought forms to the exclusion of thoughts of positive creativity and industry.” it added.

While the ship scampered over Europe, entering the Middle East en-route Africa; Yarn sputtered “they engage in nationalistic, racial and religious discrimination with putrid hatred resulting in needless killings spilling that sacred blood, they remain oblivious to the implication of The Lord’s proclamation that if He had willed, He would have created everyone with same belief, race and tongue…….He prefers diversity, and so it has always been, face it Earthlings. No wonder they keep believing we are here to conquer them, imagine the fabric of their thoughts…..so shallow they are”.

Then, Vrouch, the third occupant, who has previously kept to himself, interjected “it’s more annoying when you see them competing on individual and national levels when it comes to ideas and solutions, and unfortunately, they hardly get it…..they keep forgetting that collaboration and cooperation are what underpin the universe. They always greedily squander their resources, yet chanting scarcity….when abundance is what is really provided for them.” it sighed, and continued (repeating Sidney’s line) “they keep destroying their planet, needlessly heating it up, killing themselves with controllable gas emissions and other wastes……..earthlings are so destructive going by the rate of deterioration I observe each time I fly around here, we must impress good lessons into them.”

“If not for the feelings of starvation and oppression oozing from their planet from the masses, we would not have appreciated the amount of corruption pervading their lives, how do you explain N5trn disappearing from the watchful eyes of the guardians of that entity called Nigeria or their ostentatious lifestyles pushing the masses deeper into the abysmal pit of poverty and depression, yet they cry ‘limited supply of resources’.” concluded Yarn as the ship sped through the heart of Africa into space for the umpteenth time.

It’s much reasonable, for me, to flow with Jill Tarter – over the apprehensive view of Stephen Hawking, who opined to the possible enslavement of our species should the extraterrestrial beings invade – that the aliens’ mission here is to exhort man to peace, tolerance, cooperation and service. Man’s planet is truly imploding, not only from the reported climatic changes resulting from his handiwork, but through self butchering, genocide and corruption. The world leaders (political, religious and business) should rather listen to the aliens, and learn from their feet. And if the leaders would remain obstinate, the aliens may administer the treatment given to Admiral Whittaker in that Sidney’s book; take them up for training. Surely, the world needs peace.

Share your view on the aliens’ visitation to the earth by dropping your comments below.

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Why Nigeria Telcos Lost Mobile Money To The Banks

Mobile-moneyIt is a service that has been proven to assist in bills payment, airtime purchase, funds deposit and withdrawal, and importantly money transfers especially between remote locations. Mobile money – a service expected to bring the unbanked populace into the realm of financial inclusion, and to give the already banked a quicker way of transacting ‘small’ deals with their cell phones – is officially just over a year old in Nigeria, going by the cashless (or cashlite) regime championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The CBN, who has adopted the bank-led model of mobile money system for the country, had earlier licensed 11 firms to offer the service to Nigerians; 75% of whom have been severely abandoned by the banks due to low earning and/or distance to ‘civilization’. All these were to the exclusion of the telecom operators who were willing to participate, but only expected to be enablers in the industry.

The slow growth of the service in Nigeria, in the opinion of many concerned citizens, has to do with the model chosen by the apex bank. Contrasting this with the global runaway success story when it comes to mobile money, Kenya; the development of the service was telco-led riding on their huge subscriber base, many of whom were unbanked. Safaricom of Kenya ventured into the world of unknown in 2007 with its M-PESA (M is for mobile, and PESA is money in Swahili), and within a year could boast of 1 million subscribers on the service. Five years later, over a third of the country’s population are using the service. The mobile transfer funds in the country within the first nine months of this year alone was very close to the national budget value, $17.5bn. M-PESA of course made Safaricom lots of money – over 12% of its total revenue in 2011, and in 2012 it made about Shs16.9bn (about $196m), 16% of the total revenue coming from the mobile money service (Check Safaricom’s full 2012 Annual Report here). But, was it about money in the beginning? Was it even designed ‘for’ business at all? Was the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) sleeping when the service was being piloted? That’s really where both the telcos in Nigeria and the CBN got it wrong……it was never about the money in the beginning, and the CBK was well aware of the scheme development; yet guided the venture to fruition. It was people first, need met, period.

The telecom operators in Nigeria lost the chance despite being given a clear business case from the beginning. Many would remember the boom period of mobile telephone kiosks and tables when call tariffs were still a bit high; it was customary then to send recharge card pins across states to your friends and relatives with the kiosk operators buying such pins at discount. You were transferring money and paying for services, but the telcos missed the cue. They thought people were sending recharge cards pins for their friends to top up, so they rolled out versions of Me2U products where you could send credit to your friends’ phones without scratching. But people actually wanted physical cash! If they had really noticed, and really wanted, they could have made a case to the then CBN governor who might have been more accepting.

Another reason was that, perhaps the telcos noticed the need for the service, but were too concerned about the business side of the venture and its viability – not much was known about Safaricom’s success until 2010, so no previous benchmark for them anyway. The Kenyan operator initially designed the scheme as a microfinance project tailored to assist people (especially those in the rural areas) have easy access to funds, and not as a ‘business’. The company was actually trying to fill a ‘big’ social need, but the scheme evolved into the massive M-PESA on the Kenyan streets. Nigeria telcos were (and still are, going by their hurt after the CBN preclusion) seeing the service as another possible VAS (Value Added Service) business where they can rake in cool billions. The banks and other licensed firms might also be suffering from the same malady now. They should all realize that focusing on the business unit’s bottom-line ab-initio would never work. There is that need to empathize with the unbanked first, and be really seen to empathize.

The last point may not directly be attributable to the telcos, and that’s financial regulation. It’s true that we are actually talking about people’s money, but we are also concerned about efforts to bring about 75% of bankable population into the formal financial stream. Hence, there’s a real need to allow innovation to fester first before regulation. This was the position of the CBK, and the country is now better for it. With about 14.91 million people on M-PESA, as at March 2012, imagine the financial buzz. And mind you, M-PESA (and other mobile money offerings in the country) are now tightly tied and integrated with the banks. But first things first!

The CBN’s concern of not wanting to put two important sectors of the economy into the hands of a few companies sound very risk averse and being ready to abdicate the responsibility of checking and monitoring, like CBK did. With the current huge number of mobile subscribers in the country, infrastructure, and the ready made fleet of agents (recharge cards sub-dealers and retailers); the telcos are well, and better, suited to champion this service. With the bank-led model, we might have put the cart before the horse.

Share your insights on mobile money by dropping your comments below.

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