I’m not an Internet addict, but let’s face it; Worldwide Web plays a very important role in our lives. I do some work via Internet that is why one of my greatest concerns before travelling to Nigeria was of how I’m going to connect to it there.
The solution seemed easy: I bought a universal modem which, as I was assured, was supposed to work with any SIM-card and in any country of the world. Great was my surprise when I found out that it refused to work with an MTN SIM-card “Network Issues”, I thought and headed for the nearest MTN office hoping they would be able to configure the faulty device. But despite all the efforts of MTN staff the modem wouldn’t connect. That was the first moment when I became suspicious: it couldn’t be my laptop’s fault, nor the modem’s: I had no reason not to trust one of the most respectable and reliable Russian chains where I bought them, what’s more, they worked fine in Russia.
The MTN salesperson suggested that I buy their own modem. I agreed, and the modem’s software was duly installed into my laptop. Since I was warned the device wouldn’t be active for several hours, I asked a friend if I could use his modem of some other provider. To my even greater surprise the modem which was fully charged and worked real fast with the friend’s laptop failed to connect on mine! And it was the same friend who was the first to surmise that the MTN software might have some component in it which blocked the use of any other modem. “No, that can’t be true!” was my first reaction, but his words somehow stuck at the back of my mind. Needless to say that the MTN modem’s performance was poor to the extreme: it failed to connect, and if by some lucky chance it succeeded, it was so slow it took me hours to open or send one mail. But when I decided to check if yet another modem was going to be compatible with my laptop, I couldn’t as much as install it: the laptop failed to detect the new device… which naturally brought back all my suspicions. After that last experiment I had no more doubts with regard to the crafty nature of the MTN software: it blocks the use of any other modem except their own.
Those little software tricks of MTN are not all that innocent. In legal terms they qualify as a case of unfair competition and violation of basic consumer rights. But despite the fact that I hold a grudge against MTN Nigeria, it’s not their deceptive business practices that I am going to write about. Their mischievous tactics, along with a lot of other oddities and absurdities which I encountered in Nigeria, made me think about lots of things far more global and fundamental.
How come a country blessed with a variety of abundant energy sources such as oil, gas, coal and water resources can’t produce enough electricity to satisfy its own needs and suffers from constant power breaks? How come the country imports rice, wheat and other foods from abroad while vast areas of its own farmland are not cultivated? How come that in the country which gains massive revenue from its oil production a great majority of population lives in extreme poverty? Too many questions. Most Nigerians would immediately come up with an answer blaming poor governance, corruption and sabotage for all the diverse problems their county faces. That is all true, of course, and all those issues count, but still my strong conviction is that they come secondary and originate from one main source, and that source is a certain frame of mind.
Money rules supreme in Nigerian society. Whatever you take, it all comes down to it. Public service is considered an easy way to collect money for doing nothing, teachers skip classes doing other jobs not caring what kind of knowledge their students are going to gain, doctors forget their Hippocratic oaths and watch impassively their patients suffering till they hear the magic rustle of banknotes. Even love is measured in terms of money: how much money he gives me or how much money I spend on her, and there’s something fundamentally wrong about it. Please don’t misunderstand me: money’s good and I don’t see anything wrong about it. But there are so many things which you can’t buy or sell and which are much more valuable and important than money. Even in business: it is true that the ultimate goal of any business is to increase production and sales and this way, gain profit. But will you be able to sell something that nobody wants to buy? That’s one thing petty vendors and great multinational companies equally understand (but MTN Nigeria obviously doesn’t): that their primary concern and focus should be not the profit by itself, but the wellbeing and the fullest satisfaction of all their customer’s possible needs and whims. They would develop new products and introduce new services if that’s what their customer likes, and if the customer is crazy about, let’s say, environmental issues, they’ll spend millions on environmental research and protection, not only to be able to label their product with a certain “environment friendly” tag, but because it is a good way to win a positive business image, and they know far too well that it is a good business name and reputation that cost the highest and sell the best. And last the longest, too, by the way. On a more personal level, can any of us buy good health, or talent, or the love of our families? The answer is too obvious, isn’t it?
Other thing about money is what you do with it. You may squander it buying expensive clothes, luxurious cars or flamboyant jewelry for your girlfriends, or waste it on some jaunty and mindless entertainments – and that’s what most Nigerians do, depending of course on how much of the above they can afford. Or you can spend your money more efficiently, like, invest it in some business that will produce goods and services other people need – and this way, make more money tomorrow. Or you can use your money to learn some trade or gain some kind of useful skills that will help you get a better paid job or otherwise improve your life tomorrow. But there’s another trait so peculiar of this national frame of mind: most Nigerians, regardless of their level of education or annual income, don’t seem to realize there’s bound to be tomorrow.
They can’t, or they don’t want to look as far as into their most immediate future and think or plan one step ahead. Whatever it is, they want it NOW, and they don’t seem to care what happens next. That is why MTN Nigeria uses those crafty software tricks to increase their sales today, and they don’t care if it may cost them a lot tomorrow in terms of their reputation and general business loss. That is why nobody seems to bother to invest money into any kind of large scale production: what’s the point building a power station if its construction costs billions and will only pay off no sooner than in the next 10-15 years, when you can make fast and easy money today selling power generators? But it is common knowledge that it is today that you lay the basis for anything that happens tomorrow. If today you spend all your money, you won’t be able to buy any food tomorrow; if today you litter your spring, it’ll dry and tomorrow you’ll have no water to drink. If today you do not start constructing power stations which will hopefully give an impulse to the emergence of other large scale and heavy industries in the country then how Nigeria is going to survive and gain any kind of revenue tomorrow when it uses up all its oil and gas resources (and that will definitely happen, sooner or later!)?
“Poor governance! Corruption!” – Someone may cry out again. Too short-sighted for an answer- and here we come to the third trait of the national mentality.
Why blame the government for something which is not entirely its responsibility? Do you blame the linesman or the referee for the poor performance of the field players? – But that is exactly the role the government is supposes to play, the referee or, to be more exact, the match organizer. It provides the playfield (the whole territory of the country), works out the rules (legislation) and executes control to check if everyone plays by those rules. The playfield is still there. As for the rules, there’s been too many programs put through in the past few decades aimed at developing the country economically and politically, but are there many people willing to implement those good intentions? Lack of proper administrative control IS a challenge. But who are all those controlling bodies comprised of? Their officers are same Nigerians, far more interested in collecting money from those they are meant to supervise than in doing their jobs properly.
Nigerians tend to blame their government for whatever problem their country faces, and they also believe it to be a magician who can solve the problems overnight. But it is not the government who should repair poor roads or construct new factories. It is not the government who should put to use the existing but abandoned railway network, and it is not the government who should create jobs for every Nigerian. That is something Nigerians could do themselves, by means of using their skills and knowledge and creative potential. There’s no doubt the government should provide and maintain certain social security institutes such as education, health and welfare systems. But why should it render support and help to an able-bodied man or a healthy and strong young woman? Can’t they take proper care of themselves?
I love Nigeria and I love Nigerians. It is a wonderful country which I came to think of as my second home, and Nigerians are friendly, intelligent and hard-working people. But loving somebody doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to any of their possible faults. The biggest challenge as I see it is that most Nigerians don’t seem to realize that their lives are their own responsibility. Nobody to blame, nobody to count on, and if you want your life to change, don’t wait for someone who’ll come and change it for you: give you a job, lend you money or buy you a new house with unbreakable power supply. Nobody will do it for you, not even the government. The change Nigerians crave for only comes from within, and it’s themselves who should bring it about.
What is there to be done? Nothing new, really. As it is very well-known, any change first happens in somebody’s head, when the person clearly realizes that something that they (or everybody) are doing is WRONG. And I think it is time governmental and non-governmental bodies, the media and civic society institutions united their efforts to generally enlighten and educate people and to break this destructive frame of mind that hinders the country’s further development.
…You may want to know how I solved my Internet problems? – Easily! I uninstalled the MTN software, and now I can use any modem I like.