The Peril Of Big Dreams In Africa’s Largest Economy

Beyond the shores of Africa when the average person thinks of entrepreneurship, investment and management behemoths – arguably, names like Jeff Bezos, Richards Branson, Steve Jobs and even the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson will come to the mind of the average Jo. These names – over time, have come to be associated with stories that originally spawn from big dreams. Dreams that may one day well become myth to generations yet unborn. But to us, the witnesses of posterity, we are like insects caught in the amber of the events of our time. Track these events and you will find an origin story of a spark of genius that grew so bright and hot that little suns soon were birth and with them came galaxies. Those galaxies soon had smaller but not lesser stars who seem to trail in the wake of the suns they revolve around. In simple words, a lot of witnesses of our generation have come to aspire to be like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs just to mention a few. A lot will try but not all possess that spark required to carry them all the way; for those who come close, theirs will be to become the little stars that stand apart from the pack.

These events have shaped the course of history such that humanity’s legacy is one that is constantly in a state of flux. All this has been made possible just like Maya Angelou said, someone, “dared to dream”. But not just to dream, but dared to dream big!

Then we sail back to the shores of Africa and sail further in land to Nigeria (arguably Africa’s largest economy). We replicate the entrepreneurship, investment and management behemoths origin story and what you get is akin to a shore line rigged with jagged like rocks, some surreptitiously placed, others so placed that manuverablity is next to impossible. It begs to wonder then because we also can boast of having our own behemoths, the Aliko Dangotes, the Otedola’s, the Tony Elumelus, to mention but a few. In fact, it is an impressive list. One so long as to make the average African Jo begin to nurture the possibility of a dream, a dream that grows to equal any that can be had on any continent and in any part of the world. Like a hurricane, that dream may grow – as well as it should. Before long it takes form, storm like it rages till it threatens to become a spark, a spark that can equal any other on the face of the earth, that spark of genius. Then the moment comes, inspiration at its height, desire peaked… and nothing happens in the end. There is no spark, not even a dwindling glow that we can pitifully call a dying ember. Then comes the frustration, the bitterness and disillusionment that begins another origin story that is directly the antithesis of the former dream. And behold, the cutting corners man is born. A sort of dark spark if you may. Equally brilliant but everything an alter ego is and can possibly be. Mind that this is still the same person. The one who dared to follow in the wake of the little suns. The potential star who is a part of an ever expanding galaxy. Now, here standeth a wonder, a reverse flash of sorts, a black hole, now determined to suck in all he can at all cost and give back nothing. All because he dared to dream big?!

When it comes to the average statistics for the life span of Small and Medium scale Enterprises in Nigeria, the figures are dismal. 6 months is the time frame it takes for reality to settle its bite on anyone starting a SME. The environment for starting, let alone sustaining an SME is almost non-existent!

The harsh reality is that in Nigeria, the so called famous but not so famous behemoths have tightened their grip on the few industries that are thriving in Nigeria. With a darkness in the horizon, the Nigerian business landscape is as sombre as clouds gathering for a rain storm. Here, there is little mercy for he who is not resigned to be as tough as nails. The ironic thing about that statement as with that circumstance is that even nails rust, so have the dreams of millions of people who once aspired to reach for the heavens and build their dreams right up into the sky like some tower of Babel daring even the gods who run the sphere of the Nigerian Economy. The vicious cyclical distribution of wealth in reality has become a noose drafted to strangle the scrawny neck of the dreamer who is the Average Jo or better yet, the average “Joseph”. We all know the age old story of tower of Babel. Where a group of inspired dreamers came together to build the world’s first sky scraper in a bid to reach God or challenge his creative omnipotence. The dream was short lived as God brought the tower crashing down on and around them and scattered them with a curse of languages to the four winds of the earth. The lesson, he who dares challenge God, let him beware because his dreams in the end will be worth nothing more than a bitter testament of rubble laid at his feet. That is a similar story to the circumstance of building your dream here in Nigeria. The gods in this case are really not to blame if you are fool hardy enough to dare to challenge them with your big dreams!

The headstone in post-mortem memoriam to innovation may very well be shaped in the likeness of Africa’s largest economy. The price paid is so inestimable that one shudders to think of the millions if not billions wasting as we largess in the bureaucracy of half-witted political gimmicks. The comfort of ignorance rusts any dream faster than any moisture especially those built with the will of iron. Of late, a new trend is beginning to set root, it is a trend previously stated, the “black hole attitude”. Increasingly, the admiration of this sort of thinking is becoming a norm. It is made possible when day by day there is a downward spiral of respect and encouragement for the innovative mind, this down ward spiral is fostered by “short term thinking”, a phrase which is increasingly become corporeal within the latter part of the last one year. This phraseology is a term well used by Larry Fink – who was a securities trader and subsequently co-founder, of “the world’s biggest money-management firm, BlackRock, which he runs till present and controls assets approaching $5 trillion. A man who is one of the most powerful players in global finance” has been so out spoken against this decrepit mentality. He posits that short term thinking has a negative effect on the innovative mind’s ability to dream. Unfortunately, innovation as an ability is increasing becoming quite unpopular in the hub of business, organisations and corporations be it in the public or private sector here in Nigeria. This is fostered by “short term thinking”. As a result, we are creating a generation of monsters who see routine and plagiarism in the work place as activism. We risk twisting their lives at the expense of posterity’s judgement which, all things being equal, should have acted like a litmus test in assessing the cost of our actions today. However, in the end, the sad truth may be that the very generation who should have acted as a mirror to us risks being dragged into the quicksand of a misguided sense of perfunctory justifications, an end that we are currently drawing out the road map to their doom and our ultimate demise.

We do not know what the long term cost of such actions will bring or even in what currency the price we will pay will be in.

In the end, Larry Fink may very well be the unassuming messiah. To his detractors, he will not be considered a team player – a term now used to black mail the innovative mind at the expense of snuffed dreams. His words, however disembodied seem to leave a lingering hue in the eyes, like one who has been staring into a bright light for a moment too long then suddenly looks away. He succinctly asks fundamental questions that linger on, “What’s happening in Moscow today, or Beijing, or Brooklyn? Why did the market move 0.2%? Banks are the same way: Their business is all about the velocity of money. Very few people are talking about the long term.” And the narrative goes on and on, drawing the noose ever so tightly around our necks which in the end will leave Africa’s largest economy like the wild-wild west, a waste land without an oasis of dreams to satisfy the thirst for true change and meaningful innovation. We are at risk fighting a battle for the wrong crusade, a crusade that should be a campaign against short-term thinking in a bid to change the system of decrepitude. Ironically, we can only truly achieve this by adopting a long term thinking mentality because like it or not, passively or actively, we are all fiducially responsible or directly so for the fate of the dreams of generations unborn.


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