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This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people ...

The title of this blog is a line taken from the movie “Schindler’s List” and uttered by Oskar Schindler. I watched the movie over two decades ago and was gripped by it. I was stunned by the atrocities committed against the Jews and moved beyond words by the compassion and generosity of one person, Oskar Schindler, to save some. It is over two decades and I can remember the end of the movie and what Oskar said as he sobbed

“This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this……….”

Here we are in the 21st century, this time around we are talking about a different type of atrocity. One committed against the Nigerian people by her own people. There's no shortage of accounts of the magnitude of looting and corruption that has taken place in Nigeria over the years. From #Dasukigate to #Badehgate to #Panamapapers and the long list of scandals goes on. And each time, I cringe at the sordid details. Aghast that people in their right thinking minds could (would) commit such atrocities against their own fellow Nigerians. So here we are today faced with a staggering and growing population of unemployed Nigerians. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discover that looting, embezzlement, corruption all drive unemployment, poverty and no economic development. 

Case in point. Some months prior, I became an unfortunate victim of the corrupt practices that are ever so prevalent at the Nigeria Ports Authority. They bullied and extorted an amount which translated to the annual equivalent of salaries for 4 full-time employees at my social enterprise. Four currently unemployed youth in Nigeria deprived of jobs that Government is incapable of providing. “Two more people, One more person……….”, I vented “four more people, four more employees…………..I could have employed four more employees………….four more employees."  

It has been more than 6 months and I am still here reeling and seething. And with each daily newspaper account I read, I loathe what Nigeria has become through the actions of a few and through the actions of many. I came back to Nigeria and as at the time I returned I had spent more than half of my life abroad. Very few understood why I was relocating back to Nigeria but that’s a story for another day. I left the Diaspora and came to Nigeria with a strong conviction and determined to make my contribution to development regardless of the many curveballs thrown my way.

From a spark, I started a social enterprise, and over the years MitiMeth has created jobs, transferred skills and tap into unexplored areas right here in our midst. My team members come from wide and varied educational backgrounds or no educational backgrounds at all. Young and old. Male and female. From the North to the South, From the West to the East. Across ethnic boundaries without prejudice. MitiMeth is an equal opportunity employer.

Each employee with his or her own unique personal circumstances. How they were led to and how they found employment opportunities at this small but growing social enterprise. At our peak, we have had 13 full-time employees. As at today, we have 9 full-time employees impacting lives for social good in small, medium and large ways. Real employees with real life stories. 

Is it people fleeing from the Boko Haram insurgency? We have them. A young man who used to farm and work as a security guard in the North Eastern part of Nigeria before the Boko Haram insurgency saw to the end of that work. He fled South West to Ibadan in search of a job, safety and security. I hired him as a workshop apprentice about two days after he arrived in Ibadan. Fresh off the truck (lorry) like they say! He passed my basic test and interview and seemed very eager to learn. He has been with us over a year now.

Is it people looking for low risk and more stable jobs? We have them. Another young man, came to my office looking for a job. He came to my office within 24 hours after being referred. I asked him what he was doing at the time and he said he was a motorcycle (aka “Okada” aka “Achaba”) driver. I thought to myself – this interview was about to take a VERY interesting turn. The HR personnel in the U.S. would have cringed at my list of interview questions had this been conducted in the U.S. I would have probably been sued by the job seeker. Hey………..I am in Nigeria and no interview questions are completely off limits in my current profession. I asked him how long he had been in the Okada business and he said for two years. I asked him why he wanted to change “careers”, and he said to me “I don’t want Okada to collect my head”. I smiled and then chuckled to myself realizing he probably did a literal translation of a Yoruba phrase into English. His reasons for the career change sounded reasonable. My next series of questions bordered on his lifestyle habits. I asked him if he smoked “weed” aka “gbana” aka “igbo” (I needed to make sure I had all the aliases of marijuana covered). He looked at me shocked and answered in the negative. Good. From hard drugs I moved on to liquor. I asked about his liquor of choice, Was it Seamans, Sabrina, Erujeje, Chairman, Paga……???? He answered in the negative. Good. As I went on, he interrupted me and said “Ma, I am a Christian, I don’t do these things” to which I responded, I still have to ask! I then asked him how he could possibly adjust to moving from daily pay to a monthly salary. It was obvious he had thought this whole thing through. He said when coming to work in the morning he would carry passengers and when going back home, he would carry passengers. I then asked him how much I should pay him monthly given that I still needed to train him. He asked for N10,000 ($50). I decided in my mind to give him more and offered him a job as an apprentice / artisan in my workshop. He hopes to enroll in a Polytechnic someday.

Each of my staff has their own unique story and unique circumstances. And so when the Customs officials at the Nigerian Ports Authority decided to extort money from an employer of labour (me in this case!), they in essence impacted four lives VERY negatively. The “sin” I committed with the Customs officials was not allowing them to hold on to my passport for 21 days for my household items from the U.S. to be cleared. The 21 day holding period sounded outrageous and not feasible. I had a scholarship to attend the upcoming 2015 SEED Africa Summit in Nairobi, Kenya and told them I would give my passport up for a few days for siting, make photocopies for them to have etc. A work-around solution I thought. The Customs officials absolutely REFUSED to have my passport for 7 days. They questioned my travels out of Nigeria, questioned the legality of my U.S. stay, questioned my place of employment in the U.S etc. I gave the clearing agents all the supporting documents in response to their questions. Unfortunately for me, I think my complete back up documents infuriated Customs officials the more. They ignored the provided documents and then claimed I was a “business” person and they were not sure the shipped items were not purchased for doing business. I was flabbergasted. For crying out loud I work with rural communities and artisans creating handmade products from local plants and agro-waste abundantly available in our environment. What kind of business could the Customs officials possibly be referring to???????

The clearing agents contracted by the moving company in the U.S. handling my relocation knew where this was all going and started getting anxious! The clearing agents said I would have to accompany them to the Customs Command office at the Port. For what, I asked? They were sheepish in their response. I had no intention of being emotionally assaulted by the atrocities of Customs officials at the Port. I had scrimped my savings and paid for door-to-door shipping so I would not need to have any interaction with anybody at the Port. I was fully aware of several HORROR stories about the Ports not just from friends but also first hand when I worked for big Oil. The Nigerian Ports were bad news all around. The clearing agents eventually got my household goods out of the tentacles of Customs after 2 months of wrangling back and forth. Next shocker – the clearing agents handed me an itemized invoice in the high six digits. Demurrage + “Custom fees” incurred which they had to pay. As I looked at this outrageous bill, I knew I had been placed in a stranglehold. To say I was livid is putting it mildly. The clearing agents pleaded and said they had to oblige the Custom officials because they were threatening to seize my household goods.

Ah! Do I walk away from 19 years of honest hardwork? Leave all that sitting on the shores of Nigeria or do I dig into my already depleted savings and keep the fruit of 19 years of honest hardwork? I decided I would not allow these Agents from hell to deprive me of the fruit of my labour. I paid the invoice and my goods were released and brought to my house. I was thoroughly exhausted from this harrowing 2 month experience with the Nigerian Ports Authority. As I unpacked, I felt VERY sorry for the 4 more people who have been denied the opportunity to work and deprived of making ends meet. You see, the VERY high six digits extorted by Customs and other Port authorities translates to the annual salary of 4 full-time artisans at MitiMeth. Four more people I could have taken off unemployment row. Four people that Government is incapable of employing.

What a very sad commentary. The BIG multi-million Naira question, what can you and I do to change this sad commentary?

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