Don’t Count On Your Kids To Do It; Here’s the Surest Way to Immortalize Yourself

Embed from Getty ImagesRecently, a popular Nigerian blogger made headlines for acquiring a house worth about half a billion naira. Recently too, a Nigeria doctor resident in the United States made headlines for a different reason: He built hundred houses for widows in his village in Anambra. Because the latter story is so good, I will share some excerpts:

“Maduka replaced every thatched house in the area with three or four-bedroom bungalows and about 100 of such buildings are currently in place in the community. They belong to the indigent natives, especially widows. All such buildings carry green aluminum roofing sheets for easy identification and beautification of the place.

Dr. Godwin Maduka is the founder of the Las Vegas Pain Institute and Medical Center. Dr. Maduka completed his Graduate Medical training at the Harvard University School of Medicine in Anesthesia and Critical Care and Pain Management. Explaining his philanthropic gesture, Maduka said:

‘I embarked on all these to save my people from my ugly experience while growing up. I grew up in a home that when it rained, it rained more inside than house. Wealth would be meaningless if it cannot be used to better the lives of the people around the custodian. The wealthy must provide jobs for the youths; build skills acquisition centres for willing adults, market stalls for men and women, if society must be secure.'(Emphasis mine).

Maduaka has opened up Umuchukwu by building schools, hospitals, churches, security posts, industries, police station with modern working tools. He believes that government alone cannot give resounding development due to its meagre resources when compared to the volume of social, economic amenities expected by the people. (Emphasis mine).

Umuchukwu, one of the most backward and remote communities in the state, was totally denied any meaningful government attention. Nkerehi, as it was then called, was in abysmal destitution. Maduka’s gesture compelled former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi, to construct two roads connecting Umuchukwu with other communities.’

Mr. Maduka’s story is arguably the most inspiring story I ‘ve seen in Nigerian news in months. His example shows how responsible use of wealth entails redistributing it for the benefit of those who are not as privileged as the custodian. While One can argue that one has a right to use one’s wealth as they want because it is their ‘sweat’, the truth is that fate does play a role in how much opportunity one gets to be successful. If one has a university degree for example, it is usually because one has parents that could afford it. If education gives one a better shot at success in life, and one doesn’t choose one’s parents, then it will be illogical to say for example, that a medical license that gives one an opportunity to make ten times more than an okada rider, who wasn’t as privileged, is not an act of fate. Even if one is not inclined to charity out of a sense of obligation, one should consider investing in the dregs of society to lift them out poverty since they commit most crimes, crimes of which the wealthy can be victims. Either way, the rich owe the poor.

If it is true that success comes from a source other than ourselves, then as good stewards, we should account for it. And I find that God does bless people who use their wealth in the service of others. Last year, an old classmate from secondary school and a friend, told me how every year, she goes back to our alma mater to give N50,000 to the best science student as a grant to help them in their university education. Mind you, my former classmate made this donation from her salary as a lecturer, and she was less than thirty years at the time. Recently, she got an admission in Uk for her doctorate degree and she is studying there now. With a brain and a big heart like hers, I am very convinced that God will give her enough resources to carry out all her good intentions. I once told her, and I strongly believe it, that she will make as much impact as the late Dora Akunyili. She is just one of the many examples of people who do good get rewarded with even more success. I can’t keep track of how many charities Bill Gates is involved in. Growing up, I also saw examples from my parents and other relatives of how those who give are blessed more.

Redistributing ones wealth while alive may mean leaving a little less for one’s children, but that is perfectly okay. I used to have qualms with government taxing an estate during probate, but I no longer do because I now appreciate the reasoning behind it. Why allow people leave wealth that will last five generations when it can be used to take care of those already here? And why should someone enjoy the hard work of another by mere reason of accident of birth? While it is the responsibility of every parents to see that their children are set up in life, there is no obligation to leave anything behind. And with the prevalence of children fighting over property left by their parents, there is even a greater incentive to put one’s wealth to good use while alive.

If people focus less on building wealth that will last generations, then they will be more open to taking up tasks that will help build their communities. It will be good for example, to see someone build a public library in my village in Akokwa. Having gained so much from the local library I have access to here, I strongly make a case for having public libraries in Nigeria. I remember once looking for public library in Aba and found none except a neglected one housed in a dilapidated building that proved to be no use. I left disappointed.

It can be tempting for the average person reading this to think that this post is not for them but for the Adenugas, the Dangotes and recently, the Ikeji’s (the last was to lighten your mood), but we can all take small steps. Take the library for example, if I were disciplined enough, I could make the library happen even though I don’t have financial recourses to build a brand new library. I already have access to books I could donate to my community: Between my seven siblings and I, we have used university books from the following disciplines: Law, two sets from Industrial Chemistry (one from a State university and another from a Federal university) Economics, Public Administration, Accounting and potentially three from Public Health, Philosophy and Theology. Surely, if I get these books together, we could start a small library in my village in a room donated by the community. For practically nothing, and if others follow our lead and donate, we will have a library in my village.

It is especially important that the private sector gets involved in building Nigeria because the waste in government cannot match the efficiency by private persons. I don’t know how much Dr. Maduka expended in building the houses but whatever it took, it would have cost probably 20 times more to actualize if same project was awarded by the government and still the houses may be abandoned at some point uncompleted. I also hazard a guess that the cost of Ms. Ikeji’s mansion may be more than the amount Dr. Maduka used to touch 100 families. I do not write this to put Ms. Ikeji down, she is involved in so many charities herself, I wrote it to remind myself that the $5 I spend for lunch may buy a family’s grocery for a week.

We’ll all love to leave our footprints in the sands of time. While many of us think leaving kids behind will immortalize us, truth is that our kids will be busy trying to immortalize themselves not us. Trust me, I know because my two daughters’ English names are derived from mine, not my parents’.

Having seen you can’t count on your kids to immortalize you; go ahead, build that hospital, school, public toilet, library, borehole, road, etc. And when you do, remember to have your name conspicuously and literally engraved on the project because hundred years from now, that may be the only reminder that you once lived. Even better, also have your parents’ name written on those projects too, because even though we can’t count on our kids to immortalize us, we definitely want to appreciate ours.

So do you have ideas of some project you wish you could undertake but which like me, you don’t have the funds to carry out? Please share in the comments section. You never know who might steal your ideas, and yes, we want them stolen.

P:S. I give credit to St Francis De Sales for this post. I prayed to him for inspiration while writing it. He is the patron saint of writers. Even if one person is inspired by this post, it would have served its purpose. I love and appreciate you, my readers. If inspired, please share.

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I Missed Mass Once Because of Daylight Saving Time

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So on Sunday, we got an hour of extra sleep because we switched our clocks one hour back. I know, it’s a strange concept for those who are unfamiliar with it. So in the U.S and some other countries in the world, the Daylight Saving Time concept is used to maximize daylight in Spring and Summer.

At a specified time in March every year, everybody switches their clock one hour ahead. The effect is that when the time should have been 7pm, it is 8pm. So in the peak of summer, you can still see with daylight till about 9pm. In the fall however, like last Sunday, we switch backwards so that as early as 5pm (when it should actually be 6pm), it’s already dark; there’s less outdoor activities in fall and winter so you might as well get home early by artificial early sunset. To help you remember which time of the year you switch back or forth, bear this in mind–You spring forward in Spring, and fall back in Fall.

Switching time back and forth comes with its downside. One Sunday in March, my family and I got to mass in the morning and noticed people were already leaving the church. We were confused until we remembered we had forgotten to switch our clocks forward the night before. So our clocks showed 8am while others who remembered to change theirs had theirs reading 9am. Masses take only an hour here so we missed the mass. I don’t remember if we did but we probably made up for it by going to an evening mass. That was the only time I’ve been affected by it. Thanks to phone companies who automatically update the times on phones or stories of missed appointments will be more common.

So my friends in Nigeria, it used to be nine hours difference between us but it’s now eight hours till March. We don’t use Daylight Saving Time in Nigeria. I don’t know if we have need for. Scientists in the house, over to you.

P.S. Readers who are in countries that use DST, ever missed an appointment because you forgot to switch your watch? My Naija peeps, it’s a strange and confusing concept right? Read more about daylight saving time here.

You Risk Jail Time If You Maltreat Or Don’t Pay Wages to Your Domestic Servants

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About five years ago, when I was living with my parents in Aba, Nigeria, a young child who lived a few houses away from us suffered burns from a hot water her ‘Madam’ poured on her. I thought of calling the police but didn’t follow through. Neighbors would think I had no reason to interfere because it was not my business. I pray I don’t find myself in such situation again but if I did, I would definitely interfere.

On another occasion, while walking around in the neighborhood I grew up, I saw a lady (I will call her Amaka) I knew from childhood selling meat pies from a transparent plastic bucket she was carrying on her head. About fifteen years before, She used to be a domestic help in one of the households on my street. Her hosts were also related to her by blood. At the time I saw Amaka selling meat pies, she was still a domestic servant. On the other hand, her relatives in the same age backet were university graduates and one (who was much younger than Amaka) was married to a man living ‘abroad’. I was sad to see Amaka in such pitiable state. I remember thinking that when she was a child, she must have had the same aspirations we did, but by reason of accident of birth, regardless of how intelligent, beautiful, decent, hardworking etc, she was, her lot in life was decided. She could not get access to a good education which would have in turn attracted the right suitors. (Unfortunately, despite what you see in Nigerian movies about Genevieve Nnaji marrying wretched Ramsey Noah despite her Father, Pete Edochie’s, disapproval; people often marry from their class). Amaka ended up the way she did because of this misconception in Nigeria that bringing a poor child to the ‘town’ is in itself a huge favor to the child and that her host family need not do more.

But we need to reconsider the way we treat domestic servants in Nigeria. Nigerians living in the US often cringe at the way their Nigerian peers treat their domestic helps when they visit Nigeria. Because domestic abuse(domestic abuse in a loose sense, not one perpetrated by one intimate partner against the other) is prevalent in Nigeria, even otherwise conscientious people seem numbed to it and either engage in it themselves or turn a blind eye when they see a victim of domestic abuse. Sometimes, otherwise good people ease their conscience by justifying their silence; they reason that the domestic servants had it coming. But the truth is that domestic servants are often not worse behaved than ‘children of the households’. It only seem so because domestic servants are often the prime suspect for any pilfering that goes on in the house and ‘Madams’ seize every opportunity to expose their vices. But even more egregious conducts by children of the house are covered up and discussed in muted tones. Children of the house get a pass and their bad behaviors are attributed to mere juvenile delinquency.

For me, the rule of the thumb is: if you bring a child younger that eighteen to live with you, treat them like you would your child. Give them a good education and make sure that by the time they leave your house they are set up in life to become independent and productive members of the society. If they are adults, then pay them monthly wages as workers. Above all, do not inflict corporal punishment or abuse them emotionally by telling them how they are no good. Treat them like you would like to be treated.

I am hoping Nigeria lawyers step up in issues of child abuse. While one cannot legislate morality, one can at least help enforce the existing laws to protect weak members of the society. That is how civilized Nations do it. Below is a story of a Nigerian living in the United States who got convicted for treating her domestic help the way most Nigerian women do. She was convicted for involuntary servitude. During her sentencing, despite her claim of innocence, the Judge told her that although she may come from a culture that allowed the kind of behavior for which she was convicted, there was no room for it in the U.S. I have redacted the names of the parties and slightly edited the content for privacy reasons and to focus solely on the subject under the discussion.

‘The facts underlying Mrs Xxx convictions are as follows. In 1996, Mrs Xxx and her husband induced a fourteen-year-old girl (“the victim”) to leave her home country of Nigeria and to enter the United States. The Xxxx’s promised the victim and her family that she could attend school in the United States, and that he would send payment to the victim’s parents for her help in caring for the Xxxx’s children.

‘The victim lived with the Xxxxs from October 1996 (when she was fourteen) until October 2001. During that time, the Xxxxs required her to care for their children, to clean their house, and to cook for them. The victim testified at trial that she was also required to work in Mrs Xxxx’s medical office, where she performed multiple tasks, including answering the phones, preparing patient charts, verifying patients’ insurance information, and cleaning out medical examination rooms. The victim received no compensation for her work. The victim’s father testified that he received only “[o]ne piece of cloth and a bag of rice.” The Xxxxs never enrolled the victim in any school.

‘During this time, the Xxxxs subjected the victim to repeated physical and emotional abuse. In particular, at trial, the victim testified that Mrs Xxxx hit her with an “open hand, and sometimes her fist, and then sometimes she would use her shoe.” She also testified that Mrs, Xxxx threw things at her, and that Mrs Xxxx “would twist and pull [her] ear.” During one particular beating, the Xxxxs forced the young girl to kneel and raise her hands above her head, after which Mrs Xxxx beat her in her sides with a flexible wooden cane, and Mr. Xxxx struck her in the hand with the metal part of a belt. After the beating, Mrs Xxxx forced the victim to continue kneeling for an additional forty-five minutes. This beating left the victim with marks on her sides and breathing difficulties. During another beating, Mrs Xxxx struck the victim with a shoe, causing her wrist to be dislocated. The victim never received any medical attention after any of these beatings.’

In aggravation, Mrs Xxxx brought the victim to the United States illegally. Mrs xxxx was sentenced to prison for seven years and three months and ordered to pay ‘$110,249 to her former domestic help.

While writing this, I also came across this very insightful post by someone researching on abuse of domestic servants in Nigeria. While I know that most of my readers are too civilized to engage in such primitive oppression, I hope we become more proactive by enlightening our peers who engage in such conducts. Where they fail to reason with us, please let’s find a way to rescue their victims. Let’s be the change we want.

PS: If you are a victim of domestic abuse in the US, you can email me at annemmeje@yahoo.com. I work for a law firm that practice Employment and Immigration Law. Your oppressors probably tell you they will deport you if you report them. But the truth is that they have no such power. If anything, reporting them will help you get a green card because the federal government have provided avenues to help victims of abuse get a path to citizenship.

Please share your thoughts.

Phone Etiquette for Answering Your Business Calls

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Last year, I needed to get information from several Nigerian universities. For most of the institutions I called, I got off the phone without getting much help. For some of the institutions, the phone numbers listed on their websites were no longer in use. When the phones worked, people on the other end of the phone routinely answered the calls like they would their personal phones. For an institution located in Abuja, the phone was picked up by someone who told me he was out of town and was therefore unable to give me any useful information. Some of the people who answered the phones sounded distracted and others were downright impolite.

The institutions I had the above experience with were establishments I expected a degree of professionalism from, yet they were lacking. I figure then that the smaller businesses probably aren’t better. So here are some ideas on how to improve your business’s phone etiquette. You can use them for your mom and pop shop or suggest them to the big organization where you are employed.

1. Have a Customer Service Staff
While it may be impractical for a small business to have an employee dedicated to answering the phones, it is important for an organization that serves a reasonable number of people and deals with high call volumes to have at least one person whose job is to answer the phone calls and take inquiries from customers and potential clients. The upside is that the phones are more likely to be answered professionally and with less distractions. Moreover, from answering the same set of questions over and over again , a customer service staff can field questions by potential customers more effectively and this gives the impression that your organization knows its onions.

2. Introduce Yourself
Even if you cannot afford dedicating an employee to customer service, knowing the basics of answering business calls and instructing every member of your staff to do same will help improve your company’s image with customers and potential customers. The first thing you should say when answering business call is your business name. Saying a ‘hello’ and leaving it to the caller to inquire if she is speaking with so-and-so company is discourteous. For example, you can answer the phone by saying: ‘Dimples and Giggles. Good morning. How may I help you today?’ Using this opener saves time that would have been used establishing identity of the business and helps channel the discussion to the purpose of the call.

3. Identify and Solve the Caller’s Problem
It is frustrating when you get a person on the other end of the phone whose response to an inquiry gives you the impression that in relation to the company, they are a fish out of water. While some of the institutions I called especially the Nigerian Law School had people who were knowledgeable about the questions I asked, some others didn’t offer any information and insisted I must come down to the school to get any meaningful information. One institution told me that they wouldn’t be able to give me any information for something as basic as how much fees was required to make a certain application.

Granted that a new employee, for example, may struggle with answering every question a caller may have, it is unprofessional to have someone who does not know answers to the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ answer the phones. In the very least, the information should be within the reach of the person answering the phones, like on the computer or posted on the wall, so they can easily refer to them to get information needed to answer questions. If a caller calls the wrong department, for a example the Registrar’s office instead of the Exams and Records for transcript-related inquires, they should either be transferred to or given a number to call the appropriate department.

When ‘My Oga at the Top Scandal Broke’ in Nigeria, people weren’t necessarily peeved at the interviewee’s ignorance as much as they were by his unpreparedness. There had been a scam where a fraudulent website posed as the Civil Defence Corps and extorted money from people who thought they were making job applications to the Civil Defence. Civil Defence granted the interview to get the word out about the scam. Yet, when the interviewee was asked the legitimate website address for the Civil Defence, he floundered for sometime and was unable to come up with the right answer. His unpreparedness threw the Defence Corp in a bad light.

4. Speak Clearly and Politely:
Fielding calls from people from diverse background can be a bit challenging. It may involve dealing with people with accents who may be unable to communicate effectively. Listening carefully, paraphrasing the caller’s questions to ensure you understand their questions, and speaking deliberately, are some ways to ensure an effective communication. While anybody can be trained to be a customer service representative, people with a background in mass communication may fare better as their education already prepared them for it.

There is also need for you to be calm and not fret when answering business calls. I learned that taking a deep breath and smiling–even though the caller cannot see you–helps you realx and put you in the right mood. Because you will occasionally get the difficult caller who may not know how to channel their grievance, and who in the heat of the moment will forget that you do not make the company’s policy (if you work for an organisation), you must always remember to maintain your cool and speak as professionally as you can. One way to not respond in like manner to a rude customer is to imagine that your boss is listening from the extension.

5. Take important notes
Answering a business call is of no use if it is not followed through. So once you pick up the call, get the caller’s name and phone number. They may be prospects who will need to be called back or they could be calling for someone who may need to return their call. Particulars like name, address, purpose of call etc should be taken down accurately. If the person they are calling for isn’t available, politely ask if the caller will like you to take a message.

Finally, before you end the call, ask the caller if they need help with any other thing and thank them for calling your organization.

You don’t have to work in a big bank or telecommunication company to have good customer service unit. With the five easy steps above, you can set your organization apart from the crowd.

So what has been your experience with Nigeria companies regarding phone etiquette? If your company doesn’t already implement the ideas above, will you consider suggesting it to them? It is a subtle way of communicating to your employer that you care about your company not just your pay check. By doing so, you add value to your company and make yourself indispensable to them.

P.S: Dimples and Giggles is a small business in Lagos that specializes in kids wares. Want to patronize them? email me and I will send you their contact. If you hate haggling, you will like them because they give you the lowest price available upfront without turning you into the Hesitant Haggler.

How Prepared Is Your Family?

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It is one of those television scenes that continue to haunt one long after they watched them. In one episode of the last season of Desperate Housewives, Mike Delfino had just died and Susan’s friends came to visit her. Amidst her mourning, she lamented that Mike used to do ‘something’ to their car periodically to keep them safe. Susan had no idea what Mike used to do to the car or what tool he used. Her friends promised her that their husbands would come over from time to time to help her around the house with the chores Mike used to do.

While nobody likes to think of death, it is unlikely that anybody reading this will be around in the next seventy years. Having lost three former classmates (John, Nonye and Jane – God rest their souls) between 2007 and 2014, I am often reminded of the sad reality of death.

Some years ago, as a youth corps member in Northern Nigeria, I met a young widow, Mama Ndidi (not real name), an Igbo, who had three teenage daughters. She worked as a cook for a boarding school. She earned less than ten thousand naira (about fifty dollars) a month. I used to wonder how she made ends meet with her meager salary especially because she used to pay for okada to commute her to her morning and evening shifts. On an occasion, Mama Ndidi told me (I worked part-time for the school) that she was saddened that her husband died leaving her to take care of their children. I sensed that she was ill-prepared for it. I got the impression that her husband was the sole breadwinner until his death. It was unlikely Mama Ndidi got a higher education. She had a pretty face and a gentle disposition. She was a good woman caught off-guard when life dealt her one of its devastating blows.

Before the end of my youth service year, Mama Ndidi died too. She had taken ill and was admitted to the hospital. I visited her at the hospital. I wondered if the yellowing of her eyes was the result of inadequate nutrition. I wondered if she got ill from the mosquito bites she got from cooking in an unsanitary open space. I used to see her shield herself from the mosquitoes. Upon her death, Ndidi, her first daughter, became the school’s cook. (If there are laws prohibiting child labor in Nigeria, they are not enforced). In fairness to the school, they deemed it a favor to Ndidi and her sisters as the young girls had to learn to fend for themselves. I still remember the look on Ndidi’s face when she told me of her mother’s death, ‘Mama m arapugo’ she said – that her mother had left, an euphemism for death. Death was too heavy a word for a girl so young. While I do not know the entire story, for example how well off their husband and father was, I felt that Mama Ndidi couldn’t shoulder the emotional pain and financial stress that followed her husband’s death. And in some ways, I believe that her death could have been avoided if she had adequate resources to get a good medical attention.

To avoid a similar fate befalling your loved ones in the event of a serious illness or death, here are steps you can take to protect your family:

1.Establish Multiple Streams of Income
A family whose sole source of income is the salary of one parent runs the risk of being exposed to poverty upon the death of the breadwinner. While sometimes, it is more practical to have one parent be a homemaker, it is expedient that every household has more than one source of income. Investments that generate cash flow can also offset the danger of having a lone breadwinner. And even when one parent is a homemaker, it is imperative that they be skilled, confident and ready to earn a living if the need arises. If for example the family has a business, it helps to get the non-working parent involved, however slightly, in the operations of the family business. This ensures a smooth transition in the event of death or illness of the active partner.

2. Write a Will
Everybody knows writing a will is a good idea but very few people actually write one before death comes knocking. Writing a will gives one power to distribute one’s hard-earned resources the way one likes best. It also helps prevent a situation where one’s survivors fight over their estate upon their death. One can also circumvent certain customary inheritance laws, especially the unconscionable ones, by making one’s wishes known in one’s lifetime. Moreover, writing a will gives one opportunity to give some of one’s legacy to people who ordinarily may not be entitled to it. For example, a wealthy man who desires to give part of his estate to his favorite charity or a poor distant relative can conveniently do so through his will.

While it is ideal to go to an attorney to execute a formal will duly attested by two witnesses, writing a holographic will in the comfort of one’s home will suffice. A holographic will is one handwritten by the testator(person making the will). In most jurisdictions, it is sufficient even if not witnessed. So while you put off going to see your attorney, writing down your wishes in your hand in the meantime is a good idea as no one can guarantee being around tomorrow.

3. Get a Life Insurance Policy
For small premiums paid in one’s lifetime, a life insurance policy is a good way to leave some money to take care of people one leaves behind without necessarily placing the burden of managing an investment like say, a real estate propert, on them. Money paid to one’s beneficiaries can be used by the family to pay off mortgage on the home or even see one’s children through college. Life insurance policies are better investments when bought at a younger age as the premium tend to go higher as one ages. In any case, the need for a life insurance policy decreases as one gets older since one will be less likely to have young dependents but more likely to have made sufficient money to make more tangible investments one can leave behind for one’s loved ones.

4.Get Your Finances in Order
It can be a hassle to keep track of all the investments, both good and bad, one makes over a lifetime – stocks, real properties, insurance policies, retirement and pension funds etc. And over time, some do depreciate in value and one may be tempted to overlook them. Nevertheless, one should make effort to keep an eye on, and keep a documented record in one place, of all of one’s assets as even a small leak can sink a boat. Moreover, it is hard to predict which of one’s assets will prove to be a great investment in the long run. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a record of all of one’s assets and what actions, if any, need to be taken on them periodically to make sure one doesn’t lose them. A record like this will also help anyone stepping in to manage one’s affair, upon an illness or death, to ease into the position without much difficulty.

5. Make Sure Your Family Know About Your Investments
While there may be reason to be discreet about one’s assets in families where there is mistrust, it is important that one’s survivors know where to look to see what assets they left behind. In the United States, an estimated 25% of beneficiaries do not claim their benefits under a life insurance policy because their loved ones did not intimate them of the existence of the policies. I also read that there are as much as $60 billion dollars of unclaimed assets in the United States. It is no different in Nigeria. When I was practicing as an attorney in Eastern Nigeria, I once had a client who found a deed of a property in his deceased father’s name. A search at the Land registry showed the deceased father actually owned such property. Communicating one’s assets to one’s prospective successors-in-estate also helps avoid a situation where survivors go after property a deceased had relinquished in his lifetime.

Getting your financial affairs in order is one of the greatest favor you can do your loved ones. The peace of mind and financial security your family will enjoy tomorrow will more than compensate for the effort made in tidying your affairs today. To get you started on this journey, follow this link: http://halbertwealth.com/articles/HandingDownYourLegacy.pdf and get for free a document that will guide you in putting together a list of all your assets, and details to lead your loved ones to them. You can tweak it to meet your needs. It is a very simple template to work with. I have given you this gift, now it’s your turn to fill it out and pass it on to your loved ones.

PS: Found this post helpful, please share.

OF NIGERIA’S 2015 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE ROLE WE CAN PLAY

In this article, Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of a Nigerian minister in these words:

“Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, he had big sleepy eyes and seemed to come from another time in the past when old-fashioned integrity was easy. His simplicity surprised my father. He was not interested in the usual carousing of the powerful, no late nights and drinking and trysts, and my father did not have to guard any secrets for him. He ate breakfast with his family every morning, and took walks with his wife in the evening, and played tennis with his children on weekends. He listened attentively, those half-closed eyes so intent that my father, at first, felt uncomfortable when they were trained on him.

…In my father’s village, the Minister walked around with his assistants, meeting people and asking them questions and listening to them. He showed women how to mix sugar and salt and clean water to give their children who had diarrhea and he told them about washing their hands with soap and he told them the Universal Primary Health Care center would be open in a month. Once it was open, every baby would receive vaccines.

He showed them photographs of bright-eyed babies in Lagos and he told them immunizations were like small precious gifts for babies. They cheered and clapped. In the eyes of the villagers, my father was a star. No minister had ever come to them before.

Who even knew that our small village existed? But my father kept telling them that he had done nothing, that it was the minister who insisted on coming. Years later, when my father told me the story, I could still see his eyes full of things I could not name.

‘The Minister treated all of us like human beings,’ he said. ‘Like human beings'”

Nigeria’s Presidential elections are around the corner and there are good reasons to be apprehensive. I have watched with interest people passionately defend their candidate of choice on Facebook and elsewhere. Some Facebook users, I understand, have gone as far as ‘unfriending’ their friends who do not share their political ideology. Nigerians’ active participation in the debate of which candidate is a better choice for the country is a welcome development in that it strengthens our democracy and provides an avenue for people to inform (or unfortunately, misinform) the electorate. Such debate, depending on who is making one, actually sheds light on what for example, an incumbent has done to improve the lives of the people as opposed to what he claims to have done. Testimonies coming from people who actually use the services like roads, etc, provided by a political leader are obviously more reliable than ones given by the same leader at conventions and rallies to secure another term.

Many Nigerians, and understandably so, have expressed disappointment at the choice of the two leading candidates for the presidential elections. One person aptly said that she is uninspired by either candidate, that with the many talents Nigeria has, we could have done better. I share the same sentiments not because I do not believe that neither of Jonathan or Buhari can deliver – Nigeria’s economy seem to have improved under the former and the latter has a record for discipline – but because some candidates with better potentials were passed over by their parties merely because of their tribes and religion – affiliations often made not by choice but by accident of birth. Undoubtedly, if we continue to emphasize the things that divide us as against the things that unite us, we will make little progress in Nigeria. In the end, Nigeria needs a leader who can tackle the current security issues in the country while putting the needs of the country before his. We need leaders like the Olikoye in Adichie’s story.

And while it is necessary that we criticize our leaders, constructively not disparagingly, it is even more important that we understand how uneasy the head that wears the crown lies. We should appreciate how despite his good intentions, a leader may not deliver as expected, what with the many challenges a county like Nigeria struggles with. In other words, we should pray more for our leaders and play our part by engaging in actions that will move Nigeria forward. For example, nothing stops a wealthy Nigerian from building a library in his community to help less privileged young Nigerians who otherwise cannot have access to books. A rich CEO, instead of leaving all his wealth to children who will squander whatever he left behind once he is dead, can set up a trust fund to give scholarships to brilliant but poor people in his community. Actions speak louder than voice. We need people who will light the darkness. We already have enough people cursing it. For me, my friend who sacrifices part of her decent salary to give back to students from her alma mater is a better Nigerian than those of us doing all the talking. Another, a young female attorney (an Igbo living in Northern Nigeria), who uses part of her meager salary and donations from friends to buy things for prison inmates and widows, inspires me. These are Nigerians worth celebrating; these are Nigerians whose stories should be told more often. No country can make progress without help from the private sector. United States has several private museums and hospitals rendering free services to people. Such organizations also get donations from the public. So while we wait for the government to wake up to its responsibilities, we must look inward to see what roles we can play for a better Nigeria.

Civil and public servants must also understand the unique privilege they enjoy in that they have more resources to touch more lives than private individuals. I commend INEC for its videos and other programs dissuading youths from engaging in violence in the coming election. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear these messages of peace are unlikely to have access to them and that is why we must strive to educate all Nigerians. When I read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a book that detailed the horrors of the Biafran war, I wished that every Nigerian could read it to understand what can happen when we allow an ugly history to repeat itself.

Come the day for the presidential election, we will have a chance to decide if we will continue to live in peace as one country. We will have an opportunity to show the world how committed we are to our democracy. I pray that God will help us choose wisely a leader that can move Nigeria forward. More importantly, I pray that whoever emerges the president, we will resist the temptation to make utterances that can incite the less educated ones to violence. We must work together to support the new president. That is the only way can we show that we are truly democratic as doing otherwise will be forcing our will on others.

Long live Nigeria!

My Yar’Adua – A Rare Breed of Politician

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The day President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died, I wept thrice. I couldn’t veil my grief. Though the nation saw his death coming and his political opponents – figuratively speaking – had been dancing on his grave as his health deteriorated, I had hoped that somehow he would defy death, at least at that time.

A Rich Monogamous Muslim
My first impression of Yar’Adua was made during his presidential campaign. Someone had mentioned that he didn’t understand why Yar’Adua’s camp said so much about his being monogamous and faithful to his wife. The person opined that if he had only one wife even though his religion permitted him to have several, and if he hadn’t had any scandal involving marital infidelity, then it was Turai’s, his wife, gain and had nothing to do with whether or not he was competent to run the country. I was of a different opinion.

A Reticent and Frugal Politician
After Yar'Adua became the president of Nigeria, I read somewhere (my memory of this is hazy) that Obasanjo chose him as his successor because he had noticed how different he was from the other thirty-five state governors. While others ingratiated themselves with him, seeking the former president’s support to help them take his seat, Yar'Adua showed little interest. Obasanjo also found that Yar’Adua was a prudent manager. While Yar’Adua was Governor of Katsina State, PDP chieftans had visited his state but unlike other governors, Yar'Adua was miserly in the donation he made to the party. I understand that of all the governors visited, he made the least donation. Obviously, he wasn't one to go out of his way to impress anybody.

Obasanjo no doubt has an eye for the best and knows how to put them to use. His presidency had the most productive cabinet members Nigeria has had in recent history including the now deceased Dora Akunyili. His decision to choose Yar'Adua is a lesson in the benefit of being true to oneself even when that means going against popular opinion. It’s been my experience that when there is something at stake, even the most corrupt prefer to entrust the task to people who have proven themselves to be honest. Haven’t you noticed how everybody in a committee is eager to nominate the ‘Deeper Life’ or ‘Born Again’ brother as treasurer or how a corrupt government official, in choosing a manager for his private company, diligently seeks out people who he once derided for being sanctimonious?

Yar'Adua's frugality didn't sit well with many people including people in his state where he served as governor for eight years. When I was in Katsina during my NYSC, I occasionally heard people mention how stingy he was. By that I understand that he didn't throw lavish parties where he doled out money to praise-singers. It was reported that his state wasn't a favorite of contractors. Because he was taciturn, reserved and lacked the boisterous flair of most politicians, some labelled him a recluse. Some civil servants complained that he micro-managed every department. I have lived in Nigeria enough to know that by that, they meant that he provided them no opportunity to embezzle public fund and extort people who come into state offices for services.

How I Benefited From His legacy.
For the three-week camp during my National Youth Service, the period before we were deployed to our primary assignments, I stayed in a camp with decent accommodation and amenities that were reputed to be the best in the country at the time. It was built by Yar’Adua during his tenure as governor in Katsina state. I worked with the State Ministry of Justice and our office was located in the State secretariat – a state of the art complex built by Yar’Aua that housed all the ministries in the state. As pupil state attorneys, we enjoyed air conditioners in our office and were driven to court in modest cars owned by the Ministry of Justice. We practiced in a State High court that was majestic and well furnished, that as new wigs, we were convinced that becoming attorneys was one of the best decisions we ever made. Being surrounded with comfort and affluence has a way of boosting one’s confidence and assurance of success. The library located on the first floor of the court house was well equipped with books and I remember reading one of Lord Denning’s books there. It was in that library that we, as members of the NYSC Legal Aid Clinic (secondary assignment), did most of our work preparing bail applications for indigent citizens of the state who could not afford the services of a lawyer. Those of us from the Ministry of justice occasionally had to deal with conflict of interest issues and made sure the Ministry of Justice didn’t assign us to oppose bail motions we had prepared. I remember that it was at that court library that I first heard of Facebook. The president of our clinic had asked if we had heard of the social networking site and how one could connect with old school mates through it. At the time, we had no idea Facebook would become the huge phenomenon it is today. That court house that hold good memories for me was built under Yar’Adua’s administration as governor of Katsina State. Same was the road that led to the NYSC camp.

When I was in Katsina, I also visited the State University, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University, built by the late president. It had an electronic library. I was touched by how sophisticated the school was and I was moved to tears as I stood there wondering how much courage it must have taken of Yar’Adua to ensure that the money that was spent on the project didn’t go to waste; how persistent he must have been to ensure that the contractors finished the project. I remember thinking at that moment that to be a good leader, one must not only be a good man but must also have an uncompromising attitude and strong will. While writing this article, I visited the university’s website and saw that their students and graduates can apply for their transcripts online. I had blogged about transcript issuance problems in Nigeria here. So I was impressed that the school is continuing Yar’Adua’s legacy of doing things the right way.

I mentioned the above legacies out of numerous others because they were the ones that touched me directly. But I also visited a dialysis center he built and learnt he built classes for schools etc. Moreover, as president of Nigeria, Yar’Adua declared his asset becoming the first Nigerian leader to do so. His failing health didn’t let him do much as a president but that singular act remains on record.

Meanwhile in a State in Eastern Nigeria
After my NYSC in Katsina, I went back home to a state in Eastern Nigeria. Despite having busier dockets, the courts especially the magistrate and customary courts were located in dilapidated buildings that could easily appeal to homeless persons as an abandoned property they could squat in. The High courts weren’t any better. There were no libraries in the ones I visited. Apparently, there was no budget for maintaining the courts and as a result the court premises were always overran by weeds. Members of the local branch of the NBA occasionally made out time to mow the grasses themselves. Yes, the situation in the state was, and is still, hopeless that even the judiciary and attorneys couldn’t get the governor to do his damned job. A relative who visited one of the courts recently expressed his disappointment to me at the poor state of infrastructure in the court.

As I write this post, there are some tenants in a property in an urban city in that state who will have to haul several containers of thirty liters of water to their fourth-floor flats everyday despite the fact that their landlord drilled a borehole on the property and provided amenities to supply water inside the flats. But because there are no drainage systems on the street the property is located – just few blocks away from an international market in the city – the landlord is worried that the septic system he managed to dig on the property will not sustain waste water from all twelve units on the newly-built property. As a prudent business man, he is hoping that the difficulty in having to get water up in containers will be an incentive for the tenants to use less water and not have the septic tank fill up as quickly as when water is readily available in the units. It would cause tens of thousands of dollars to empty the tank each time it gets filled up. Because of infrequent power supply, the landlord also has to worry about buying gas to power generators that will pump water. Now, what if this city has had at some point a good leader who made an effort to provide the city with pipe-borne water? If that was an uphill task, what if they have had one who had the decency to provide drainage system to the residents? Generation of electricity lies with the Federal government, so what if we have had a leader who had the courage and political will to solve the issue of power generation and distribution in Nigeria? If there have been politicians that did these, how much body aches that would result from carrying water up several flights of stairs would they have saved these tenants? Wouldn’t these have had more time to spend with their families instead of having to fetch water from downstairs? This landlord laments that one administration did lay underground pipes to supply pipe-borne water in the area but the project has since been abandoned and neglected by subsequent administrations while the pipes are still lying underground and not being put to use. What if there is continuity in government projects and policies, irrespective of change in administration, in Nigeria? How many more projects will be completed in place of unfinished projects that take up public fund without any result?

Honoring the Worthy
I wrote this post in honor of a humble, honest and courageous man who behind his gentle frame had an indomitable and selfless spirit. I wrote this to make our politicians realize that their actions, or inaction, hugely affect the quality of lives of the people under their care. Our politicians are not monsters; they are mostly good people whose negligence is only as a result of their ignorance of what is lost while they give out contracts to their friends and families without following through to make sure they deliver. I have hope in Nigeria. I know there are many Yar’Aduas in Nigeria; many honest, responsible, men and women of goodwill who will deliver if given the opportunity. I know that one day, Nigerians will become wiser and demand more accountability from their politicians. But while we wait for that day, let us celebrate those who have shown themselves to be men of character; people who have have used the unique position they occupy to make others breathe easier.

Have you benefited from the good works of a Nigerian politician? Please let us know in the comments section how you were touched. Let’s celebrate those who are getting it right in the hope that others will be inspired to also leave their footprints on the sand of time.

PS: If you enjoy reading any of my posts, please share with your friends.

In Defence of the Students Who Failed the August 2014 Nigerian Bar Exam

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When I was in secondary school, our Igbo teacher gave us a written test and the question was: ‘Gini ka e ji alu nwanyi?’. (If you are Igbo, please try answering the question in your head before reading on). When the answer sheets were distributed after grading, I saw that I got no point for the answer I gave despite being one of the best students in my class. Unwittingly, I had interpreted the question to mean: Reasons people marry and I answered accordingly citing procreation, companionship etc. It was after the ‘correction’ was made that I realized that the teacher had wanted us to list material gifts a groom’s family brings to the bride’s family during a traditional wedding ceremony. The answer would include, wine, yam, goat etc. – answers I readily knew. Now if you are Igbo, you will understand that my answer wasn’t wrong; the question could rightly be interpreted the way I did. To test this assertion, while writing this article, without giving away the reason for asking, I casually asked another Igbo, ‘Gini ka e ji alu nwanyi?’ and he replied, ‘Do you mean the gifts presented to the bride’s family or the reason people get married?’

I was a student of the Nigerian Law School between 2007 and 2008 and I did get a second class (lower division). But I also know a very bright student from my university – the best student in her class – who graduated with a high second class upper (just few points shy of first class)in my school but who had a pass in law school. Am I smarter than her? No, it would be folly on my part to think so. Various studies have shown that students’ performance taken over a long period of time, say five years, are a better reflection of their aptitude than exams, like the bar exam, that are written in the course of say, one week. Loss of a loved one, illness, misunderstanding a question etc are just some of the factors that can negatively impact the performance of an otherwise intelligent and hardworking student. I know this to be true because the student who had the second best result in my Law degree graduating class ( we were about one hundred and eighty) once had an E in a Commercial Law exam because she had misunderstood a particular question. If that were a bar exam, she would have probably failed because that one mistake could have determined her fate.

Since the recent Nigerian Bar exam results were released, I have been reading well-intentioned but fallacious and insensitive comments from people, especially attorneys, attributing the students’ failure to their indolence and variously labeling them dumbasses, prostitutes and social media addicts. While I appreciate what the law school is doing (and I do hold the institution in high esteem as it remains one of the very few institutions in Nigeria that has not been contaminated by corruption), I will point out what, in my opinion, could have been done differently so that a good intention doesn’t do injustice to otherwise diligent students who will now have to bear the stigma of not having passed the bar exam at the first attempt.

First, in trying to raise the standards of legal education in Nigeria, the Nigerian Law School should have ensured a smoother transition by systematically introducing changes in stages over say, a five-year period. People against reviewing the bar exam results have said that some students passed anyway and that 60% failure rate isn’t bad. ( I don’t know the exact statistics. I checked the Nigerian Law School website and found no information in that regard). But what was the pass rate for the previous class? Justice isn’t served when you judge members of a certain class in the same way but without making sure that the standard is relative to their predecessors. Though I have heard that the passage rate for the preceding class was ninety percent , from my experience with the Nigerian Law School, seventy percent pass rate sounds about right to me . Students from the previous class and this class were produced by the same universities and if there is such massive failure this time, it is a prima facie proof that the present class were judged much more strictly than their predecessors. In situations like this, it’s hard to sift facts through the rumors. But if, as I have read, that the time for MCQ was reduced to fifty minutes from one hour just few days to the exam, then we have to consider if the move was fair to these students who must have timed themselves for an hour while practicing MCQ questions. If the law school had made a plan where the time was gradually reduced over the course of five years, reducing the time each year by say two minutes and modifying the difficulty level accordingly, wouldn’t justice have been better served? And if it is true that the pass mark was increased this year from forty to fifty percent, how many of us who passed the bar exam when we did would have failed if we were among the recent crop of students? Again, wouldn’t an eventual increase of the passmark over a five year period for example 42% this year and eventually 50% by 2018 being a better way to go about it?

Second, even when I went to law school, I thought it unfair that a student’s overall performance was determined by the lowest score they had among the six courses. So if a student makes ninety percent in each of the five courses but for any of the reasons I mentioned earlier made a forty-five percent in one course, the law school classifies the student as having had a pass. Isn’t averaging all the results a better way to assess how much effort a student put into studying? Now I sincerely don’t know how Law School does their grading but this is the impression I had when I was there.

Third, with six campuses, being in one campus can be the difference between a student passing or failing the exam. I was in Abuja where I had only one room mate and we shared the bathroom with two others so I was privileged in that regard. But I know my classmates who were in Enugu campus weren’t as lucky and students in Lagos State campus had to deal with traffic. There is no way to ensure equitability in cases like this but we must acknowledge that variations in facilities etc impacts students one way or another. I read that some students this year had to live in uncompleted buildings while they were in law school.

Moreover, there is need for the Nigerian Law School to look more closely at the questions students are asked in the exams and how relevant they are to the skills required of a lawyer. When I took the bar exam in 2008, one of the questions was on merger and acquisition in Company Law ( I think). We were required to write down the steps to be taken in a merger and acquisition transaction. That needed a lot of cramming including knowing how many shareholders etc were required to approve the merger etc. It didn’t test a lawyer’s analytical or writing skills but mainly a lawyer’s ability to cram. I have no excuse for my neglecting that part of the curriculum during my studies but I was particularly hurt when after the bar exam, a friend in Enugu campus told me she did well in that question because their lecturer had hinted that it was going to be part of the bar exam questions. Would I have paid more attention to that part of the curriculum if I was in Enugus Campus? I think so. Would it have being the difference between a second class lower and a second class upper? I don’t know. But incidents like this show that justice is hardly attainable. And while we are at it, are the study materials in all the campuses even or are the books available per student in Abuja more than those in Bayelsa? Are students who can’t afford a computer slightly disadvantaged? Attempting to answer this questions can help us resist labeling every student that passed smart and every student that failed mediocre.

A few months ago, one of the current students of the Nigerian law school asked me for money to complete her law school fees. I regret that I didn’t have it to give her. This was a student who graduated from a private university where they are used to paying outrageous sum for their tuition. I wonder how some students from public schools whose parents are poor came up with the three hundred thousand naira required for their law school fees. How many of them borrowed the money? How many of them who are otherwise diligent failed and must now come up with excuses to give to their lenders as to why they failed the exam? I do hope that when they resit the exam, the Nigerian Law School will only charge them the minimum amount necessary to cover the Law School’s cost in tutoring, housing and organizing the exam.

And for those of us vilifying these students, I appreciate that the reproof was well-intentioned but haven’t we all experienced at some point in our lives a devastating failure despite our best efforts? I am not calling for a review of the exams as I generally appreciate what the current Director-General is trying to do. But I think it is not very appropriate to keep kicking these students who have been knocked down are still reeling from the pain and regrets of failure. Let us rather encourage them to dust off the feeling of despondency that comes with failure and try again. The truth is, in the long run, many of them will end up more successful than those who passed.

What the Nigerian Law School is trying to do in revamping legal education in Nigeria is commendable but I am of the opinion that they should make the changes one year at a time. A sudden overhaul in one year disproportionately impacts a class. I know that the Nigerian Law School is in capable hands and I have no doubt that they will make the necessary adjustments. Justice shouldn’t just be done but should undoubtedly be seen to be done.

Update: I posted an excerpt and a link to this post on an NBA(Nigerian Bar Association)forum and a Lecturer from the Nigerian Law School, Chudi Ojukwu, replied thus:
Dear Anne Anusionwu Mmeje I appreciate your well thought through essay on the Law School exams. Whilst many of your analysis has some validity, I wish to correct some misconception about the last exam.It would appear that there is believe that something was changed about the examination process that impacted the students negatively. This is not correct. The questions were of the same quality as many previous exams. The marking was similar as as in any previous assessment. As someone who has taught at the Law School for over 22yrs I can confirm these facts. The only change maybe is that in recent past before the results were release sometimes pass mark was lowered to about 25% instead of 40% to allow those that failed to pass. The pass mark of 40% is always communicated to the students when they register for the program. There is no duty to pass students that failed. I hope this helps your perspective. It was nice reading your essay“.

I appreciate his insightful contribution, as a Nigerian Law School insider, on the subject.

Further Update: Please see this press release by the Nigerian Law School issued after I published my post. More than 86% of the students who sat for the exam had a mere pass, a conditional pass or a fail.

(c) 2014 Anne Mmeje

What Ladies Can Learn from Amal – George Clooney’s Wife

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So the past week, there was an extensive media coverage of George Clooney’s wedding including details of the now famous boat ride with his bride. Thanks to his generosity with the Paparazzi, we were also hugely entertained with Amal’s gorgeous looks in different outfits that for a while I thought she was going to take over Kate Middleton’s role as the fashion trend-setter (the Aden & Anias blanket Kate used to wrap Baby George in their first appearance led to thousands of orders being placed immediately, the company’s website crashing due to traffic and the blanket eventually selling out). While the media fed us with stunning images of the couple, for a fleeting moment, I wondered how, with a face and body like hers, Amal didn’t choose a less intellectually challenging career. I wondered how her beauty didn’t get in the way of her building an enviable career.

At 36, Amal is an internationally acclaimed lawyer with a license in New york and London. She represented the controversial WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange. She is also said to have served on the expert panel of Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (formed by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague) to gather evidence of sexual crimes committed in conflict zones. Amal is fluent in English, French and Arabic. No wonder many celebrities including Julia Roberts have described her as smart and beautiful – a combination sometimes rare to find.

More often than not, women put their careers second. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who has a project, though still at its infancy, that is aimed at improving the girl-child education in Nigeria. She was motivated to start the project because she is concerned that many young girls, even when they are intelligent, choose to study less challenging courses in school, avoiding Math and Engineering. She observed that even when they graduate from the university, many young women make little effort to find a job but focus more on ‘settling down’, even if that entails occupying time they would otherwise use to further their careers with serially dating several men in hope of getting a proposal from the ones who strike their fancy. Herself a successful professional and mother, She hopes to enlighten women on the need to focus more on their careers, something they have total control over, and attract the right suitors along the way. She is of the opinion, and I agree, that women should be encouraged to make meaningful contribution to the society that just doesn’t end with procreation.

Because a woman who got her career going before getting married is more likely to continue with it after marriage than one who didn’t, it will be nice to see more young women build their careers while they still got the time. There is a now viral post on social media that says: ‘If you want to change the world, do it when you are a bachelor (bachelorette). After marriage you can’t even change a TV channel’. While that is a bit of an exaggeration, it is undeniable that family life is so demanding that it takes grit, especially for women, to not lose one’s dream in the course of literally searching for car keys, shoes and socks strewn all over the house by the kids. I often jokingly tell one of my female friends, a talented doctor but who is currently a stay-at-home mom, that being a mother has a way of derailing careers. Trust me, I know.

In any case, if there’s something we can take away from Amal, it is that having a successful career can attract the right suitor including ‘Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor’. Besides, with a not-so-good economy, most households will fare better with two paychecks than with one. So if you are still looking for Mr Right, please get that master’s degree, that license, that job or whatever your dreams are. Apart from helping pay the bills, having a fulfilling career makes one a exude a confidence that attracts the right people. Humans are wired to identify with success. Therefore, ladies, take a clue from Amal and build your careers thereby heeding this advice I got from one of my professors in the university: “Women, concentrate on your careers, not men. When the time is right, you will have many of them at your doorstep and it will be your choice to make’. It’s true.

Finally ladies, married and unmarried, here’s one more reason to be successful: To make our men proud. George Clooney, as rich and famous as he is, reportedly said of Amal ‘I married up’. What better compliment can come from one’s Sweetheart?

A Different Perspective on Nepotism

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In 2008, after I learnt that I had been posted to Katsina State for my National Youth Service, I got in contact with a former classmate from Abuja Law School who was a Northerner. He assured me that he had connections in Katsina and that he would see to it that my primary assignment would be with the coveted Ministry of Justice. I did eventually serve at the Ministry of Justice in Katsina and I had a good year (will blog about my Katsina experience in another post). Though I cannot say with certainty how much influence my former classmate had on my getting the position, the point is that when he offered to help, I didn’t balk at the idea or mention how wrong it was that I would be favored over others.

Many of us complain about nepotism (and corruption) in Nigeria – nepotism being ‘the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs’. But how many of us protest against it when we or our loved ones are the beneficiaries? A few months ago, a dear friend told me of her experience during an interview in Abuja for a federal government job. Of the five candidates selected from her state for the interview – and there may have been hundreds of applicants – one was the governor’s daughter and two were related to the State Commissioner whose ministry was the same as the federal government one that was employing. She didn’t tell me who the other two were but I had no doubt that they were also related to some politicians. Sincerely, I was excited for my friend because she is brilliant and hardworking and I believe she can competently discharge the duties attached to the position. Also, after we graduated from law school, the three people from my class who I learnt got federal government jobs all had someone in Abuja. Two were nephews of a former minister, one had an aunt who occupied a very top position in one of the ministries. Again, I was happy for them. And I deem them competent. Passing the law school exam is sufficient proof of their skills. What is more, one of my former classmates is now, I understand, a personal assistant to his Commissioner uncle.

Nepotism is also prevalent in the private sector. I once got a job interview with Globacom. For the second stage, the interviewer was the CEO’s daughter, Bella Adenuga. Apparently, she occupies a high position in her father’s company. I don’t know if she has a background in human resources but she came across as confident and I believe she knew what she was doing.

In the United States, nepotism goes by a different name, an embellishment, – networking. When you are looking for a job here, the most common question you get is, ‘Have you tried networking?’. I visited a Nigerian family recently, and one of the host’s children (by the way, she mentioned that villages in Nigeria are getting noisier and more polluted with each visit she makes to Nigeria) advising me to network more told a story of how her younger sister, an attorney, got her new job. According to her, her sister (let’s call her Ola) had applied for job with a firm and was told, ‘Sorry, we do not have any position for you at this time’. However, after Ola made a phone call to her former classmate who knew somebody, she got a call from the same company saying that a position had suddenly opened up, and just like that, Ola got the job.

Even with laws put in place to ensure that all applicants applying for a job get equal consideration, public service in the United States is still characterized by nepotism and favoritism. The only difference is that it is more subtle than in Nigeria where it is perpetrated brazenly. In March this year, one of the biggest cities in United states had to review their hiring procedure when more than 30% of those hired in a department, the department’s first hiring in five years, were family members of the department current employees. As civilized as the United States it, it has seen the emergence of many political dynasties. Of the twenty years between 1989 and 2009, the United States was ruled by a father and son for a total of twelve years. There’s also the Clinton dynasty. Not to mention that during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as the president of the United president, he appointed his bother, Robert Kennedy, as the United States Attorney General.

To be sure, there are ethical concerns about nepotism especially in public offices. Besides depriving equally and sometimes more talented applicants of jobs, the beneficiaries of nepotism may not be competent to perform the duties required for the job. And since they know they cannot be easily removed because of their connections, many of them fear no consequences for their performance and are slack on the job. On the other hand, it is argued that nepotism promotes trust and reduces backbiting as one works with people they understand better and who have their interest at heart. It is also argued that having known the relative or friend prior, a person making the hiring decision is in a better position to judge whether they can do the duty unlike making a decision to hire a complete stranger based on a thirty-minute interview. Either way, nepotism is something we will always have to deal with as even the most advanced of societies have yet to get rid of it.

So for those of us who have an obscure surname or do not know somebody that knows somebody, let’s take it in stride when we miss opportunities because of favoritism. After all, we all benefit from it at some point. If we keep quiet when it favours us, then we definitely have no moral standing to speak up when it works against us. And if you consider that the word Nepotism has its origin from a practice that was common in the Catholic church where popes appointed their nephews as cardinals – a practice that has since been abolished – you may judge less and who knows, even decide to network. I do hope though that when you find yourself in a position to hire, you will make fair hiring decisions thereby taking humanity one step closer to its quest for an ideal world.