It is what it is
fora rightly proud people, Nigerians seem to spend lots of time arguing about what they’re not. Often people will ask me how it’s possible that Singapore can be like Singapore, for instance, but that Nigeria can’t replicate the order and prosperity of the Southeast Asian city state. The answer is usually that although both Singapore and Nigeria are former British colonies, this history shouldn’t be used as a reason to explain all the unrest or political instability Nigeria has since experienced.
I am in Singapore this week, and while it’s a city I admire and have huge affection for, I can’t see how on earth you could transplant this model successfully to Africa’s biggest economy. From the outside looking in, I know it seems Singapore has itself sorted, but it’s always crucial to remember that the modest size of the place makes governing here closer to being mayor of London or New York than it does to being president of Nigeria.
To give an idea of the relative scales at play: the population of Singapore (5.5m) is roughly a quarter that of Lagos, the biggest city in Africa. Try imposing even one of Singapore’s strict rules on a city where the only kind of successful government is incremental, realistic and slow, and people will laugh you out of town. It takes less time to get from one end of Singapore to the other than it does for many Lagosians to get to work in the morning.
Then there are the ways of doing business. Singapore is a city that works on screens, that deals in instruments too abstract for many people. Nigeria is an economy that thrives on the rough and tumble of physical markets, where people love to get stuck into supply and demand, where everything can be bought and sold and every man can be a millionaire if he can spot the margin. Stick Lagosians in an office and talk to them about delta hedging? You’ve lost all the hustle that makes the city great.
Then there’s the atmosphere, the mindset: surveys occasionally show Singaporeans to be among the world’s least happy people and Nigerians to be among the happiest – who would want change that seems to bring discontent?
For all this difference, there are occasional commonalities, running from the legislative (hefty car import tariffs, though Nigerians and Singaporeans respond to that challenge rather differently) to the gastronomic (no one will ever leave a Singaporean or Nigerian home underfed) and most importantly: the familial.
Nigerian and Singaporean society are both built on the family structure; the knowledge that every generation will be looked after by the generation preceding or succeeding. Admittedly, though, your average Nigerian family is a whole lot bigger than the regular Singaporean household.
Compared with the individualistic societies of, say, Western Europe, this is a huge success factor in both countries’ favour. It means women can go out to work more easily, leaving young children with grandparents. It means family businesses thrive and grow more easily. It means older people don’t erode their savings on retirement homes or healthcare.
Want to succeed in business in Singapore or Nigeria? Get with the family way of things. Want Nigeria to be more like Singapore? Forget it, it’ll never happen and it’ll never work, but instead recognise the ways in which they’re already similar and already working, however hard you have to look. firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to succeed in business in Singapore or Nigeria? Get with the family way of things. Want Nigeria to be more like Singapore? Forget it…
The Singapore skyline