The Choice of Mediocrity: Why Nigerians are Like Crayfish


I’m delighted to have the first joint post on Naijanomics with my twin brother, Chine! We had lamented on this a couple of times, so I though we should put it in writing and see what others think. Enjoy!

Upon moving back to Nigeria, I realized that a large number of people carried two or more phones with them. At first, I thought it was simply an ostentatious practice…until I used MTN for a month. I got more dropped calls in a month than I did in four years. It puzzled me for several reasons. First, MTN constantly announces high profit margins, so I expected decent service. Second, other networks exist, so I assumed the competition would improve quality of service. Not only was I wrong on both counts, I realized that the same phenomenon occurred in many other industries and situations in Nigeria.  Plan Bs seem to exist because Plan As are consistently unreliable. Worse still, both options become incredibly mediocre to the point that you end up ‘co-using’ both rather than ‘choosing’ one option. Are you confused? Perhaps this list will help.

 

Telecoms

If you don’t like MTN, you have Etisalat, Glo, and Airtel lines. Unfortunately, they all suck, one way or the other. MTN has consistently annoyed me so much that I have to comment on one of their adverts. Like most adverts, that MTN Extratime ad with the artist Tiwa Savage distances itself from reality. She’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with no airtime, but is able to make a call thanks to MTN Extratime. In reality, considering her location as well as MTN’s notorious call quality, she’d sooner run out of signal before she ran out of airtime. Moreover, in reality, she’d just flip out her other phone with the Glo line and make her call.

CHAI. MTN, NO SIGNAL…WHERE'S MY GLO-2

Electricity

When the DISCOS(formerly NEPA) decide not to provide electricity while simultaneously charging you, you have the option to spend money fueling your generator, aka ‘I pass my neighbor’.

 

Banking

If you have only two figures in your bank account, you have the choice of being disrespected by a cashier from Diamond Bank…or GTB…or First Bank or every other Nigerian bank.

 

Education

If you wish to obtain an education in Nigeria, you have the choice of either going to a public university where you’ll spend 6-7 years or…going to a private university that’ll treat you like you’re back in primary school.

 

Spiritual Protection

With so much randomness, you can’t be too careful about all those enemies wishing to truncate your hustle. Ensure that you have a village babalawo/native doctor, as well as your pastor or imam – two bulletproofs are better than one.

 

Healthcare 

Even some hospitals will boldly put ‘ We care, God heals’ as a disclaimer. Translation for this: “In case we have no idea what we’re doing, you better pray hard and hope God answers you.” So, the alternative is prayers (from pastor/imam or babalawo or both). Another very smart alternative is to simply not fall ill or get in an accident – that way, you’ll be fine. Hopefully, you can manage to pull this off in Nigeria.

 

Politics

Even politicians have their alternatives! When you’re done being a Governor, you can join the Senate, and vice-versa. Or if you don’t get a good deal in PDP, you can join APC, and vice-versa. You see? even China with all their talk of economic development lacks our level of political diversity!

 

Federal Procedure

You can either go through the arduous task of legitimately obtaining a driver’s license/business permit/passport…or you can get one in days when you make a generous donation to a Government official.

 

Accents

You’ll also need two accents: your local Nigerian one and a foreign accent aka ‘phonea’. It can be a concoction of American, British and Chinese – as long as it doesn’t sound ‘local’. You’ll need one accent when you’re bargaining in the local market and the other when you’re applying for a radio station job. (More on this in a future post) Right now, let’s get into the psychology and economics of why mediocre alternatives suck.

 

The Psychological Implication

The first implication of always having a plan B is that it induces a term psychologically known as ‘biological preparedness’. This is the idea that people and animals are inherently inclined to form associations between certain stimuli and responses. Biological preparedness simply means that certain experiences condition us to react in certain ways…ways that have consequences.

 

The Economic Implication

The psychology of the plan-B option leads to demand and supply side consequences. In the case of the demand side, Nigerian customers associate most forms of service in Nigeria with inefficiency, thus we prepare ourselves accordingly. It’s why the average Nigerian will have three bank accounts, two to three phone lines, two mechanics and a generator. And in some cases, we apply this mentality to the number of partners we simultaneously keep.

 

On the supply side, having such stagnancy of performance from every option changes the fundamental relationship between these options. These options move from being healthily competitive to unhealthily complementary. In other words, Plan B begins to hold a complimentary relationship with Plan A – one typically steeped in mediocrity. Why’s this possible? Institutions, businesses and services simply realize that there’s a level they can operate at that won’t radically endanger their existence. As long as there’s still money in the bank, why put effort and resources into training, services or infrastructure? Why put extra effort into your service when they’re assured their competitors feel the same way and are really no different from them?

 

The intersection of both demand and supply side then end up in a mediocrity equilibrium where the producers are comfortable with giving mediocre service and the customers are comfortable with accepting such services. We can also term this the ‘crayfish equilibrium’ – short for ’Na condition wey make crayfish bend’. Nigerians make this statement when adapting to a seemingly rigid situation.

 

Expected Demand of Bad Service-3

Also, there’s a class element to such an equilibrium. Given the disparity in distribution of income between the rich and the poor, the crayfish equilibrium negatively affects the poor more than the rich. How? Well, the rich have the relatively minor inconvenience of hopping between services. Also, money has a way of stimulating the incentive to provide better service. Money can shift the supply curve left, which results in less headache. (The bank teller becomes suspiciously nicer when he/she sees millions in your account.) If you’re poor, the story is rather different. What’s the point of having multiple bank accounts and phones when there’s not enough money to put in your bank account or enough airtime for your phones? The poor end up with one mediocre service, whilst the rich end up with several. Eventually, we’re all stuck with a whole lot of mediocrity.

 

Solution?

Some might have heard the tale of Hernán Cortés’ conquest. When he and his men arrived at the Yucatan Peninsula, he ordered that they burn the boats. The act made his men realize that they were faced with two choices: die, or ensure victory.  And fight they did. Likewise, we need to stop falling back to the second option immediately the first doesn’t pan out. If you experience bad service or governance, be vocal and demand for improvement…until they call security to kick you out. The more people are vocal, the more individuals, businesses, and government officials will be forced to behave efficiently and professionally. Nigeria would be a lot better if more people demanded accountability. So, stop letting timidity pull us into mediocrity. Amidst the plethora of choices, there’s an important one that must be made – you can choose to instigate change or you can choose to remain a crayfish.

 

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  • uju

    The whole idea of owning multiple devices–asides shitty network–is shitty battery life and very unreliable power too. Triple threat eh.

    About your solution…
    last time I was in UBA with some very disgruntled customers, a certain dude made it his business to speak up and the customer service rep said, “oga all this shout sef, how much is even in your account”. Like you already pointed out, the money speaks. Unless an issue is taken to the Head Office, the likelihood of getting a favorable service is nil. How many people even know how to contact a Head Office? 🙂

    • Anonymous

      I’d conviniently say “no one”

  • This is good! and inspiring too, that you guys can actually combine satire and facts and still drive home the point. a skill i’m hoping i’ll learn and adopt…………..Kudos!

  • The satire got me laughing so hard that I miraculously followed the post to the end and thankfully, understood the combo of economics and psychology. Kudos!

  • Haha…there isn’t just rich and poor in Nigeria, you know. What will be your analysis for the Middle class? Same with rich? Me I’m just curious ni o.

    Moreover, who do you consider poor? Those that live below $2 per day? I like your analysis by the way. kudos!

    • Haha. Good question. The reason such classifications are made is not because the inbetweens don’t exist. Such classifications are made cause it makes analysis easier. Deciding those within the post introduced technicalities of a subjective nature. The graph does make up for your concern by showing wealth level across a spectrum. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

    • mayor grity

      There really isn’t any such classification as “middle class”. Its either rich or poor. D middle class are simply “decorated poor men”….truth of lyf!

      • Lobatan. Loool. Meaning i’m poor abi? E go beta

        Meanwhile, if you check economic reports of countries all over the world, the term ‘Middle-class’ comes up a little too many times o.

        The writers couldn’t be wrong. No?

  • dika

    Plan B will forever exist as long as we continue to celebrate mediocrity. We got served.

  • you forgot to mention Internet Service Providers, Phone and Electronics sellers, amongst others. PLUS all the mediocrity isn’t just for nothing. There are actually economic gains to be made. First is the profits that come to everyone through the collusion of mediocrity. As a company, especially one in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa making huge profits from porous markets, you don’t want your competitor coming up with better and more cost effective services. That would force you to have to improve your own services and cut down on your prices to retain market share. if you do that, your opponent will simply do the same, improve service delivery and consequently drive prices even down even further. This isn’t good for the industry, for any industry. In the end if your competitor is idealistic and all you are doing is coming after him/her, then a ‘kaizen’ situation occurs. This is especially bad considering that legally the first and most important task of a corporation is to bring profits for its shareholders. Remember Milton Friedman? Shareholder Equity? Our famous Nobel Laureate went on to say in the very popular documentary THE CORPORATION that the company is solely meant to provide profits to its shareholders and that its not the in company’s business to be concerned with issues like externalities or even Corporate Social Responsibility because its not their area of specialty or focus. Remember when Japanese car and other manufacturers just kept creating better and cheaper versions of everything? Nearly wrecked their economy. This is why in the world there is no true ‘Free Economy’ anywhere, even in America and Europe. From Government Subsidies to hugely funded lobbying activities and secret inter-company agreements, collusion is the order of the day. That’s why along with the local poor telecom service and poor power supply, as uju rightly said, is the issue of Western and Asian manufactured poor devices with poor battery life. Its just like how Europe shared Africa into regions and dished them out to its different member states for property, now corporations-the new nations and world powers-are sharing markets between each other. And because Africa’s economic and governance policies are barely developed or structured, its a perfect market for making all the massive profits. Europe and the Western world is known for its large plethora of choices and great customer services and value added products, but notice how a lot of those western corporations are literally running to set up shop in Africa, home to 7 of the fastest growing and also most porous economies?

  • E.talor

    Fantastic read! Great article.
    However, on the issue of speaking out against mediocre services & practices, there is a huge price to pay! I was visiting Nig for a few days & in my humble manner, took public transport to the bank. I had an unpleasant encounter there, with a security guard, whose attitude was worse than any bank staff I have encountered. Excluding lenghty details, I was thrown in a black maria & ended up in the police station. A male bank customer who tried to intervene was beaten up badly.
    After this experience, I choose my battles else its a simple exercise in futility (my opinion).
    I love Nig. But I am afraid our depth of mediocrity will need much more than speaking up to make an impact. Mediocrity is our new culture, our way of life. It is the one thing all Nigns have in common…
    I look forward to reading more on naijanomics!

    • Wow. What an experience! It’s why I believe more people should speak out more. There’s power in numbers and I believe Nigerians need to tap into that knowledge.

  • Osunkoya Olusola

    You expressed my thoughts,worries and concern about how medicre we all are in naija.so much so we praise a little rise above it and tag it excellent!

  • @chubaezeks, can i write like a rejoinder to this post?

  • ‘Even some hospitals will boldly put ‘ We care, God heals’ as a disclaimer. Translation for this: “In case we have no idea what we’re doing, you better pray hard and hope God answers you.” So, the alternative is prayers (from pastor/imam or babalawo or both). Another very smart alternative is to simply not fall ill or get in an accident – that way, you’ll be fine. Hopefully, you can manage to pull this off in Nigeria’ . Sad… why do we have the social media platforms? A means to express like Chuba is doing and speak out! Its about time that even when we speak , we do not relent regardless of whose ox is gored- A look at the fuel crises outburst in Jan 2012…

    • our recent state elections are proof that over here people don’t care that much about social media. social media is simply the business of reputation. over here, when you are a company that has few competitors and a huge market and are therefore quasi-essential, you’d tend not to care much about what people think of you. especially here where our people are as truthful and as loyal to their words. these companies know that after all the complaining maybe they’ll lose a few customers but in the end there’ll be no mass boycott and business will go on as usual.

      • Very true Kene. However, i trust in the persistence and drive of S/M conversations which i believe if these thoughts are converged to one goal , it can affect the turn of events in the coming affairs of the Nation.

  • Reblogged this on Twipnyconsults and commented:
    Sad… then why do we have the social media platforms? A means to express the constant predicament! Its about time that even when we speak , we do not relent regardless of whose ox is gored- A look at the fuel crises outburst in Jan 2012…

  • Reblogged this on Amoscp's Blog and commented:
    Truly Nigerian, the Economics of Choice. Nice Analysis.

  • Rufai

    Essentially, Nigeria itself turns you into a mediocre becuase in delivering your own kind of service you need the services of others like those you mentioned. At a bank a day ago, a lady walked in to pay for a flight she already booked online, she was told network is bad. She just walked out angrily.
    This is a place where you would have to choose between expensive but poor cyber cafe service or the option of a poor but equally exorbitant modem service. At the end you are just left frustrated because you cannot fight a system like ours single-handedly for your right to quality service. You will have to know someone to even begin with.

  • Reblogged this on DrMaestro's Blog and commented:
    Very well written. Hope people who read this can truly understand what you are saying.

  • A nice read. I have noticed that some people who speak against bad practices often do so for selfish gains. For instance, it is sad to note that some people who supposedly speak against bad practices in public offices e.g the government, actually do so to gain the attention of those in power. I have seen a real case of someone making so much noise on social media that he was summoned by the same politician he kept criticizing. That guy works in his cabinet now! That was his aim all along. True life story. No exaggerating.

  • Anonymous

    Very nice post Chuba and Chine. Talking about the banking industry and the disrespect, one phrase that always works for me is “I want to see the manager”. I’ve used this often when disrespected in the bank and I’ve actually seen the manager on more than one occasion and it brought quick apology.

  • John

    WOW…this article has just offloaded what has been going through my head for the past 18 months after moving back to Nigeria!!. Mediocrity is the order of the day and is accepted. The usual respond you often get is ‘Guy na naija we dey oo’. I have shouted a few times at banks and when trying to obtain other services, but sooner you start thinking to yourself at what cost, is it worth my energy?.
    I want to love my country and my people, but am afraid sometimes it feels uninhabitable. Can I propose to everyone that has read this article that we form a group to tackle this problem?
    Great article!

  • I laughed out loud reading this because it was so true. And the idea of falling back on option B is so common that we don’t give room for businesses and govt to improve at all. The mobile phone example got into me all the time! Any yes, you are right we have the option of speaking up now to fight for what is right.

  • The issue is most times when you frown at what is unacceptable, you are in the minority. It takes a lot to be in this category but we will not give up!

  • Londoner

    I was in Nigeria a few years ago and stayed in a modest hotel that still cost me £50/night. I went to the hotel restaurant to have lunch and ordered for Pounded Yam and Egusi soup to have a feel of Naija. When the food arrived, it came with Ogbono soup. I told the waiter that this was not the soup I ordered, she replied, “Oga na mistake, make you manage am.” When I insisted on having the right soup served, she went back to the kitchen and I overheard here complaining to the other staff – “This man’s wahala too much, they no dey make mistake where he come from.”

    Enough said. What a brilliant article. The only way your solution will work is when a group of concerned Nigerians form an advocacy group to protect consumers and are ready to do so in a very loud and noisy way.
    Competition is always seen as a way of improving services but like all other economic concepts, they never work in Nigeria as those concepts are Nigerianized and bastardized.

  • Uche.

    Nice piece. We can change all these or fold our hands and succeed only in leaving a far worse version of mediocrity for the future generation.

  • Isaac

    Nice piece, When Carl Benz started his company building the first car, he boldy wrote a slogan which sticks with them till date: “The best, or nothing” and in one of their ads, it says we do things right, or we don’t do them at all.