Conquering the Fear of Uncertainty (Bootcamp OAU Speech)


I’ve frequently written on uncertainty –for good reasons I believe. Living across different continents exposes you to the power, significance and usefulness of uncertainty –especially when it comes to influencing the behaviour of individuals. In developed nations, uncertainty poses less of an issue. With more matured political systems, better public infrastructure, and safety nets guaranteed to absorb the most of shocks to economic systems, developed nations go through less crisis of uncertainty. Although the 2008 economic downturn did increase the instances of uncertainty, from which these countries are still recovering. And some are fighting an uphill battle in that instance-Ukraine, for example.

Now let’s bring this conversation home. Although Nigeria was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis, Nigeria’s been pretty much in the red in terms of uncertainty. In our case, it’s a cocktail of different types of uncertainty. With unemployment at 23%, youth unemployment at 40% and 63% of the Nigerian population living below $1 a day- in spite of 7% economic growth, Nigeria’s economic prospect for the youth appears rather dim.

On the education front, 17% of out of school children in the world are Nigerians and 35% of our population are considered to be illiterate. On the macroeconomics front, Nigeria’s external reserves continue to fall with alarming alacrity, our Balance of Payment has worsened over the last two quarters of 2013, oil theft is rampant and we are experiencing a slowdown in foreign direct investment.

The political sphere isn’t any better: a suspended CBN Governor, $20 billion missing, and uncertainty between the major parties as cross-migration between both seems unending. Moreover, the worsening security situation in the Northern parts of Nigeria: regions supposedly under a State of Emergency. And with a highly ethnically polarized election coming up in 2015, a lot appears to be uncertain in Nigeria.

Often, I find that percentages and numbers fail to emotionally resonate with an audience. So we’ll try this. Attempt to imagine yourself as a Nigerian youth who’s born into a family dwelling within the 63% subset of poverty. Getting into a university is uncertain. When in the university, graduating in 4 years is an uncertainty. You graduate and find that you’ve joint the millions of unemployed youths –the 40%. You decide you can’t keep waiting to get employed by someone, so you start up your business. But that’s not before considering the inadequacies of infrastructure that limits your business: lack of access to capital markets, lack of electricity, good roads or potable water. If you happen to live in Boko Haram infested states, things get a lot worse. You could be shot and burnt to death while sleeping in your dorm at school. This right here is the reality of a lot of Nigerian youths: a present and a future laden with uncertainty.

You know what I just did?

I just framed the way you’ve seen life in Nigeria. In essence, I’ve manipulated your perspective on life without you realizing.

A Nobel Price Winner in Economics by the name of Daniel Kahneman came up with the notion of framing. The simple explanation of it is that we can be manipulated into what we think or believe simply by how such information is presented. Uncertainty makes this framing effect worse because we have nothing to fall back on. Nothing to help us judge new information when it arises.

Uncertainty allows others to decide how we see things. It makes others present a frame for us that we take for our own truth. It’s simply why the country is divided across several religious, ethnic and social lines, yet knit together by the destructive acts of corruption. It’s why a minster can be accused of corruption, and yet some individuals from her state go to Abuja to protest and sing her praises. That fear of uncertainty simply allows our perspective to be framed and manipulated.

One example, how many of you has seen the 2014 budget? Now, can anybody tell me what the ministry of finance calls that budget? It’s called the job that focuses on ‘Jobs and Inclusive Growth’. Approximately 75% of the budget will be used to pay salaries. That’s where recurrent goes to. Only 25% left for Capital expenditure. What’s capital expenditure? It’s what goes into building your roads, hospitals and other infrastructures that directly affect the lives of individuals. I’ll leave you to decide which will bring about greater employment and inclusiveness: paying the same people who you’ve paid to run the nation like this or building the necessary infrastructure that the nation needs to thrive.

Our fear of uncertainty thrives where our ignorance is great. The reason our ancestors had numerous children was due to the high child mortality rate. They were uncertain of how many would survive to continue their lineage. With less uncertainty about the survival chances of children, the average number of children in a family has fallen.

Another example, two prominent economists, Abergee and Duflo studied the lives of poor people in order to find how they reacted to economic scenarios. When they looked at farmers, they found out that even when these farmers were offered fertilizers for their crops to grow triple-fold at a low price, the farmers refused them. Why? The farmers were uncertain if the next season would be a flood or a drought, so did not want to take any extra risks.

This is what uncertainty does to people. It cripples you. It makes you unsure of who you are or what you want from life. So instead, you leave the decisions that concern your lives in the hands of others. You leave the decisions that govern your lives in the hands of a Governor, a commissioner, a minister, a lecturer, a family member…

So the question is: how will our generation react to uncertainty? Will we be marked by our inaction or will we rise above our past generations.

With the third national conference coming up, we have to ask ourselves if all we do is talk. This generation must learn to understand that talking is only the first and possibly most lazy part of our efforts to improve the nation. We have to step up and become active citizens, not hampered by uncertainty.

Now, HOW DO WE BECOME ACTIVE CITIZENS?

Start first with yourself. I’ve spoken about how framing affects our decisions and response to things. When you come to understand that the frame you place around issues is simply a function of what you know or have experienced. Hence, it is imperative that you equip yourselves in knowledge. The power of knowledge is in its ability to dissipate uncertainty. When you’re knowledge, you select your own frame. A frame much closer to reality.

Ask yourself, what was the last book you read? What was the last policy of the Government you critiqued by yourself without reading it from someone’s blog? Before today, how many of you looked at the nation’s budget and critiqued it? If we’re unable to answer these questions, then as a generation, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Making an impact on your nation is akin to being an athlete; you cannot claim to be an athlete because you watch football. Likewise, you cannot claim to be an agent of change when you have nothing that distinguishes you from the average individual shouting on the street. You have no claim to rule if you have no preparation with ruling.

The bible says “Seesth thou a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men”. Only when you’re competent will you be listened to. David did not stand before Saul by being lazy. He already had a resume to back up his abilities. If David had no idea how to use a sling, do you think he would have been confident enough to fight Goliath? Men seasoned in battle quaked at the sight of Goliath, yet a Shepard boy saved the day.

David also did something crucial, he refused to be defined by the frame the King wanted to set for him. He was given the king’s armour and he declined it for what he was comfortable with. He refused to be framed by the words or actions of others. As the Nigerian youths, when you are framed as “Children of Anger”, Do you accept your frame or do you define what you frame yourself as? Are you as confident in your abilities as David was? The only way to step out of the confines of your mental frame is through diligence. Improve yourself, and by doing so, you can improve Nigeria.

The average person out there might not get the chance to get rid of ignorance, but you have no excuse.

I’ll end my speech with a few action points that I think are important. We’re not just here to talk; we’re here to leave with actionable goals.

First, READ. You cannot fight ignorance with your ignorance.

Second, EMBRACE NEW EXPERIENCES. How can you understand when you fail to emphasize.

Third, BE INVOLVED. It’s your duty to hold the government accountable.

Forth, ENABLE YOURSELF. Don’t wait for anyone to help you. You’re less likely to compromise on your values when you’re your own person.

Fifth, LIVE YOUR VALUE SYSTEM, and resolve to stick to it.

In other words, incorporate these into your life and be a REBEL!

AS my top mentor always says, three Cs are important in the live of an individual. Competence, Character and Capacity. Once you can build yourself in these areas, you have no need to fear uncertainty. Thank you.

  • Olutomiwa Ogunbona

    Smart piece of writing!
    As a Medical Doctor, I tell my colleagues whenever we meet outside the shores of Nigeria that we can’t all be complaining of bad leadership and governance when the bulk of us that can influence decision making and generate income for the nation are spinning money in terms of production and services in foreign land. I term that an export of human resources which on the larger scale would further deepen the already ailing economy. We have to come home and ‘REBEL’ both with the acronym and in reality. Enough is enough!

  • Ajoke

    Interesting Write. Thumbs up with the REBEL acronym

    • Ajoke

      *write up

  • divide and rule still very much around!

  • Manon

    Yes! So well said – when we focus on external outcome we lose sight of how powerful we are. We forget the richness of our internal life and the power we have to CREATE something that wasn’t there before. Also love the acronym, noted.