Dr Jekwu Ozoemene
A comment by a friend on a Facebook thread caught my attention “after working for 10 years, you start begging for money 30 days after you are fired”.
Growing up, there were a lot of things that my father wasn’t; he wasn’t compassionate, couldn’t be considered loving by Wokist standards, could even be considered abusive by today’s standards (he would literally flog you for breathing) but he was an intellectual’s intellectual and a visionary who came before his time.
He would often wake his children up by 1 or 2 am in the morning, assemble us in his study/living room upstairs, then launch into a series of lectures that he tagged “my epistles”. Two of such lectures were recurring decimals; one was “perseverance and persistence” (if you try and it doesn’t work, try, try and try again) and the second was why we must imbibe a savings culture (out of every 10 kobo that you earn, set aside 2 kobo as savings and investment).
A lot of his lessons were from his personal journey, life experiences and he will often admonish that we should be happy that he is teaching us from the mistakes that he made rather than allow us to make the same mistakes all over again. “I chozikwa na I ga esonye isi gi na oku”, but then if you insist that you want to stick your head into a raging fire, “O gu na chi gi ma!”, that is left to you and your personal chi!.
So you would think that given the level of early lectures to inculcate a savings culture, that I would have become a super saver and investor as an adult……well, not so fast. Though I have not done badly, there is a lot I could have done much better.
A couple of days ago, a friend and a former junior colleague shared with me a story that signposts what tends to happen to many a young professional in Nigeria.
Seeing a need to buy a car for his wife, on their way out of the country for a vacation in the UK, my erstwhile colleague and his wife visited a Kia Motors car dealership in Lagos. For those who know Kia Motors (this was between 2011 and 2012), their cars were the most affordable if you planned on buying a brand new car rather than a brand new, fairly used Tokunbo. And of all their affordable cars, the Picanto was the smallest and most affordable.
At the time, a brand new Picanto was somewhere between N800,000 to N1.3 Million (it currently goes for N4.8 Million to N5.4 Million) depending on the model. My friend was offered the vehicle for N1.2 Million, an amount he and his wife considered a princely sum given other competing family needs. So they decided to postpone that investment decision and reconsider when they returned to Nigeria from their UK vacation.
While in the UK, husband and wife walked into a shop on one of the high streets and saw a beautiful Gucci bag on display for about £5,000. Before his wife could start salivating over the bag, my very Igbo friend quickly mentally converted the price back to Naira at N1.2 Million.
“Okwa Picanto no ebea oh! This is a Picanto right here! was his exclamation as he corralled his wife out of the temptress of a store.
But you know that fate has a way of reinforcing life lessons. Upon their return to Nigeria, he was summoned to our then Oyin Jolayemi Lagos Head Office for an emergency meeting and upon walking into the presentation room, there was the very same Gucci bag occupying a pride of place on the table before a female General Management staff.
Again, the exclamation (but muffled under his breath this time) was “Okwa Picanto no ebea oh!”.
But life doesn’t give up on its lessons. Back at his Abuja office later in the week, a call took him to a branch for a meeting with a female Senior Manager and walking into her office, right on her desk, bam!
“Okwa Picanto no ebea oh!”
This was almost becoming a case of village people or ancestors trying to teach him a lesson in frugality.
And really, this is not about whether the officers in question could afford these expensive harems of bags while still a staff of the organisation, for some of them were actually moneyed; either from earnings and bonuses or having married or been born into wealth.
For us as their male counterparts, we were often schooled on how the quality and cut of our suits are supposed to be our calling card. Even I, with all my late dad’s tutoring, did not fully escape the lure. I remember that year when I went into a Tom Ford shop in Dubai, in search of that exact 5 buttons cuff suit (a tell-tale sign of a tailored suit) that Daniel Craig wore in Quantum of Solace and was so disappointed when I was told it was out of stock.
Then, my daughter would often joke that while on vacation abroad, I follow the family around different malls and shops, shopping for 3 to 4 days. Once they are done, I would enter one shop, and with one swipe of my credit card, buy three suits which will cost more than three times the aggregate cost of their 4 days of shopping for the whole family.
I still love expensive and well-cut good suits but I dare say that I have paid my dues and I am old in this game. For younger officers, there are less expensive good suits, ones that you wouldn’t have to literally break the bank to buy in order to look good.
Again, don’t get me wrong. For the corporate guy, nothing beats the look, feel and cut of a good suit, and I guess that the ladies feel the same way with their expensive handbags and accessories.
The question, however, is, before you put the Picanto on the table, “can you really afford those expensive $2,000 to $3,000 suits and £5,000 harem of bags?”
After paying your children’s school fees, rent, accounting for your expensive summer vacation, cost of running your home, then net off your loans (credit card, mortgage, pay-day loan etc), is your net worth still positive?
Do you have any form of investments?
Would you still have a car if your official status Range Rover or Prado Landcruiser is taken away?
Would you still have a home if your official residence or your housing allowance is taken away?
Better still, as my friend Chidi put it, “after working for 10 years” would “you start begging for money 30 days after you are fired?”
What do you think will be the second-hand value of your £5,000 Gucci bag if you are fired and find yourself in dire need of cash? Will you be able to drive it like a Picanto?
Now I am beginning to sound like my late father.