Nige­rian hus­tle

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK | LETTER FROM NIGERIA -

we’vere­cently been sell­ing some of our be­long­ings. Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to ex­press to peo­ple just how close po­lit­i­cal and fis­cal change are at all times in Nige­ria; how fast one feels the ef­fects of a pol­icy change by the cen­tral bank; how easy it is to no­tice the im­pact of pro­tec­tion­ist trade pol­icy on even the most ba­sic as­pects of life – things you’d like to think a gov­ern­ment wouldn’t be able to touch.

By way of com­par­i­son, I find it in­ter­est­ing that in more than two decades of liv­ing in Bri­tain, I never once re­mem­bered feel­ing any im­pact from any bud­get. Now that I think about, it is pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary.

For the past few weeks, I have been us­ing the sale of our things as a handy proxy for il­lus­trat­ing the cur­rent fric­tion be­tween the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria and those of us try­ing to get by.

We sold some books a cou­ple of weeks ago; the an­nounce­ment on Twit­ter that we were shift­ing them was met with in­stant, vo­ra­cious in­ter­est. The lo­cal pub­lish­ing in­dus­try is on its knees be­cause of power prob­lems, and most avail­able books are low-qual­ity pi­rated copies sold in traf­fic jams. Our books might have been sec­ond­hand and a lit­tle beaten up, but they were ex­tremely wel­come.

And when an aca­demic came over to buy a hand­ful of them, she asked if she could pay us by bank trans­fer. An­swer: no, be­cause our only ac­count is dol­lar de­nom­i­nated, and among the cen­tral bank’s re­cent slew of pro­hi­bi­tions is one that bans cash de­posits into for­eign-cur­rency ac­counts in Nige­ria. Off our buyer went to find a func­tion­ing ATM.

Then there’s the fur­ni­ture: most of it sold in five min­utes flat to an oil ex­ec­u­tive who didn’t see any need to sit on the sofa or try out the com­fort of the bed. She paid with wads of dirty naira notes she had brought with in a bulging shop­ping bag.

There is no con­test be­tween my qual­ity stuff shipped in from Sin­ga­pore (sold at prices that in­di­cate I want to be rid of them) and the low-qual­ity Chi­nese-made fur­ni­ture (sold at high prices that re­flect the dif­fi­culty of get­ting house­hold goods through the port).

The rest of the fur­ni­ture is meant to be go­ing to an­other friend, but the ir­reg­u­lar pay­ment of his salary means there’s no guar­an­tee he’ll have the cash come the day we want the things gone.

As for the kitchen­ware, if I’d known un­der­ly­ing de­mand for well-made alu­minium pots and pans was so strong, I’d have come to Nige­ria as a saucepan sales­woman years ago. Peo­ple have been more than a lit­tle abrupt in their hunger to get their hands on my pans which, un­til a cou­ple of weeks back, I hadn’t thought were any­thing spe­cial. Now I know I’ll be push­ing the prices up and hawk­ing them only to the high­est bid­ders, like a true Nige­ria hus­tler.

So here you see, just from my one lit­tle house­hold, three busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Nige­ria. Find a way to im­port books, fur­ni­ture or kitchen­ware and you’re made, be­cause the de­mand and the mar­gins are there. All you need to do now is pre­pare for a harder slog, higher bar­ri­ers to en­try, more has­sle and slower progress than you would have had with any other busi­ness you’ve con­ducted.

For the past few weeks, I have been us­ing the sale of our things as a handy proxy for il­lus­trat­ing the cur­rent fric­tion be­tween the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria and those of us try­ing to get by.

The pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies of the Nige­rian cen­tral bank (pic­tured) have a di­rect and tan­gi­ble im­pact on cit­i­zens’ lives.

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