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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.