Investing in Humans: Lessons I Learnt from my Father

Investing in Humans: Lessons I Learnt from my Father

My father died early this year. We lost him to stroke, the second one. His death really hit us hard even though he was down for sometime before he gave up. That period wasn’t easy for us because we were battling with the trauma that came from losing him and the expenses that were coming in daily towards his burial.

Being a Catholic, and a Knight of St. Mulumba, we had to schedule his burial within two months of his death. Our headaches, surprisingly, didn’t come from the Church and the Knights. Ndi Umunna (his paternal relatives) and Ndi Nna Ochie (his maternal relatives) kept bringing lists upon lists of what should be provided before we could bury my father. To them, ‘their brother’ was a great man and must be buried as a great man. Even the women wings and the youths had their ‘lists’. Without ‘settling’ all these people, they won’t give us the go ahead to bury my father. These people didn’t even ask us how we were managing; all they wanted was to be ‘settled’. And they didn’t consider that my father was an invalid for a long time; meaning that a lot of our earnings and most of his investments have gone into his medical bills.

This burial planning period was so hot for my mother, my siblings and I. Finance was our major challenge. What we had couldn’t foot the bills so my family considered getting a loan. I strongly kicked against getting a loan because as far as I was concerned loans are for business expansion and not for burials, weddings and things like that. I suggested that we make use of what we have without accruing much debt. But as my people would say – when you are patching it from one side, it will start leaking from another side. The only support we had came from my maternal family but it wasn’t enough. We were stuck.

We fixed the date, printed the card and posters and started circulating them. That was when we actually knew that my father’s investments haven’t finished. There was still a part of his investment we didn’t consider while we allowed high blood pressure to deal with us. That investment was simply his human investments.

It seemed as if circulating the invitation cards and posters did something. People started calling in to support the burial in one way or the other. People I didn’t even know called to ask what they could do for us. The long and short of it was that we had a huge successful burial for my father without owing and without spending much from our purses. And we still had lots of cash and food gifts on the burial day and afterwards.

I know that people will say that this is just a burial, after all it’s not a business venture. But then, if we have not been able to obtain help from the people my father ‘invested in’, we would have been in huge debt. And the umunna would have dealt with us (Lol).

My father wasn’t a rich man, so to say. He was just an average Nigerian who spent his youth hustling, like every other Igbo man, and retiring when his health couldn’t stand the heat anymore. Because he didn’t have the knowledge of some strategies that are used in the present day business world, his source of income closed down when he retired. But then, he did one thing that Igbos do to secure their old age – lifting up other people.

I’ve heard a lot of non-Igbos saying that Ndi Igbo love helping one another. This is true. But, it is not always because we want every member of our tribe to be rich (yes, we are not tribal as people think). There is something my mother always says – “na o koro gi, kokwa onye ga-enye gi bu ebe o ka njo” – meaning that the worst of all situations is when you are in need and the people that will help you are also in need. This is to say that Ndi Igbo help people because they want to see people that will come to their aid when they need some forms of assistance. Like our adage says, “what a man gives to another is ‘Nga jidelu m (hold this for me’)”, meaning that he will still come back one day to ask for a favour. An Igbo man literarily wants to surround himself with rich people so that they can be there for one another. Ndi Igbo truly invest in humans; our culture taught us that.

There are different ways we can invest in people. A good example is the apprenticeship that is well known among the Nigerian business world (especially among the Igbo people). However, what I am going to discuss here is the way my father did his.

1. Motivating People: I don’t know if I actually got the talent to motivate people around me from my father. My father is the type of person that when you stay around him you will believe that you can reach out, grab the moon and put it in your pocket. I know a lot of millionaires that got their inspirations through him. He easily finds solutions to everybody’s challenges and he doesn’t hesitate to tell them. My father is good at encouraging people to go for their dreams and he will sit on them until they do that.

2. Passing on Information: Anything that my father knows that will be of help to anyone, he makes sure that the person gets the information. He doesn’t hoard information, nor pass it on to the highest bidder, unless it is something confidential. If he hears that a particular company is in need of a particular worker, he will look for people around him that can do that kind of work and tell them immediately. I remembered someone that said that the first shop he owns was made possible because my father told him when it was on sale.

3. Defending the Defenceless: Ok, my father is not a judge, a policeman nor a soldier. But if he finds out that you want to use your power or position in the community to intimidate someone, he will stand up for that person and use his own position to humble you. Example of this is a man that said that my father stood up for him when his (the man’s) uncle wanted to take his land.

4. Accommodation: My mom always tells us that when they were still living in Katsina, our house was the landing spot for all the Awkuzu people migrating to the North. It didn’t stop there. When we moved to Awka, all our cousins that wanted to further their education in the then ASUTEC first stayed in our house before finding their own accommodations. This same thing happened with those coming over to Awka for their secondary school education. Those that couldn’t afford to pay for accommodation squatted with us during school periods and go back to their various homes during the holidays. Our house then was always filled with cousins.

5. Helping the Needy: Sometimes kind gestures given to the needy could go a long way to alleviate their problems. I never really paid attention to my father’s charitable side until while planning for his burial. Some of the people he helped financially long time ago deemed it necessary that they thanked him by contributing towards his burial. One of the stories that touched me so much was from one elderly woman that said that she came to my parent’s wedding with ‘unsuitable’ clothes. She wasn’t a close relative, so she was surprised when my father visited her some days later to gift her two pieces of wrappers.

6. Attitude: Our attitude can either endear us to people or put them off. It is important that we are always polite to people irrespective of their status in the community. Someone that is considered irrelevant today may be very important tomorrow. Some of the people that reached out to us did so just because they felt my father didn’t ‘show them levels’ when he would have.

7. Facilitating People’s Growth: My father was one of the people that aided the migration of Awkuzu people to Katsina and Cameroun. What he did then was that anybody that approached him, he will take the person with him on his next trip, or help the person with transport fare. Then, he will provide him with a temporary accommodation and ensure that he was fixed up in either one of his businesses or with that of someone that he has helped. The deal here is usually to let the person have something doing until he stabilised. This way, there was a great network of people that kept helping others. They formed a kind of a huge family that watched each other’s back. However, some of these people disappointed him here. But that is story for another day.

I know my father did his best to invest in people, but he believed that he didn’t do all that he was supposed to do. He kept expressing regrets upon regrets on the mistakes he made. He once told me that he regretted investing in the wrong people. These ‘wrong people’ were mainly his very close relatives who felt entitled to his help. He realised that he should have helped more of those that were talented and hard working, instead of ‘killing himself’ helping those that wasted his efforts. Looking at this, I’ll say that we shouldn’t focus on investing only on those that have blood ties with us. We should invest in people that will spread the network and make our efforts fruitful irrespective of where they come from.

My father also regretted not learning the importance of human investment on time. I mean, he had plots of land, houses, shares and all. But all these started going when his illness came. He realised then, that he would have set up businesses with partners which would have been paying him even while in sick bed. The truth is that, he started up businesses for his blood relatives and they mismanaged them, which I believe they did deliberately because some of them started up their own businesses years later and they are still booming. Besides, these relatives concerned didn’t come to our aid during the burial. So I believe that deep down they believed that they owe my dad nothing. So, in actual sense, my father didn’t invest in them; he only did charity that backfired on him.

Then there is another regret of my father – investing wrongly in people. What he meant here was that he was busy helping people to start up businesses without actually realising that some them were not good in business. He said that if he had known what he knew then, he would have sent them to school and used his ‘connection’ to land them good jobs. However, I’ve heard that he tried sending some people to school in the past but they disappointed him by dropping out of school without his knowledge, because they felt that he should have given money to start their own businesses. Some of them did well as businessmen, while others didn’t. Well, he spent his last days seeing jobless people that he would have helped to get good jobs when it was easy to land a job in Nigeria.

Ok, so those were the legacies left for me by my father. I have learnt what it means to invest in people. The truth is that, not all of them will come back to pay you your deserved dividend, but that’s part of the risk that comes with the investment.

I’ll like to say here that you don’t have to be rich to invest in people. A word of encouragement, good pieces of advice, information passed on, a smile and a little helping hand could be what it takes to lift someone up. Those that have the wherewithal can invest in young entrepreneurs and investors. They can do this by partnering with them or by giving them grants or loans. Those that have the right ‘connection’ to help people land good jobs can also do that. I know that it will be hard for someone to forget the people whose referrals he used to get a job. This is a form of investment.

As you strive to build up investments in estates, stocks, bonds and co, find people that you can also invest in, so that they will be there for you in case these material investments fail you. Nobody really can tell the future unless they create it.

This article is in honour of my father, late Sir Samuel E. Udeagwuna (KSM).

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