Many of my former colleagues in banking have surprisingly responded positively to the debate which I started, when I posted that some sectors must play deeper catalytic roles in the Nigerian economy. I used the banks, and suggested that even though they could sell airtime, and make university portals, they should leave such opportunities for others. In the about 37 private messages I have glanced through, even the bankers like the debate. This is a sample:
“… It’s basically to share ideas. No strings attached. We need more of those debates to enlighten us on topical issues. There is this perception that banks are ripping people off and our people need to know that this is wrong.
Banks are increasingly innovating as margins are thinning down. Obviously, banks capture 360 degree value from customers riding on technology. Airtime vending is one of them. They are only conveniently providing this service to their customers. Telcos are also delving into financial services though regulated by CBN. Imagine what mobile money would have been in Nigeria if it was not a bank led model.
So the debate shines light on some of these issues.”
Certainly, I want banks, telcos and everyone to do well. And that will mean adopting the spirit of Umunneoma Economics, not full-play Adam Smith Economics. Simply, Umunneoma Economics is an economic philosophy that is central to African culture where you share so that no one is left behind. Why? If we do not address this, soon Nigeria will have a super class of three sectors with extremely profitable companies, and others largely nothing. The sectors for super-profits would be telcos, fintechs/banks and cement companies.
In my 2019 convocation lecture in FUTO (Federal University of Technology, Owerri Nigeria), I spoke on economic opportunities in Nigeria – and The Umunneoma Economics. (Umunneoma means “good brethren” in Igbo). In my postulation, I explained how that economic philosophy is the pillar that drives the Igbo Apprenticeship System. The new global capitalist manifesto which is working to go beyond fixated focus on shareholders, to consider ALL stakeholders, is something the Umunneoma Economics is doing already.
The core tenet of the Igbo Apprenticeship System could be likened to the U.S. Federal Reserve which largely works to keep the U.S. dollars stable (by reducing inflation) and maximize employment through interest rates. So, the Reserve has defined main focus areas even though it can use its systems to do other things. Consequently, the U.S. Congress uses those two main factors to ascertain the effectiveness of the Reserve policy.
So, the challenge would be how we can get them to ensure we build for the future. That is where the Umunneoma Economics comes into play. Yes, Adam Smith economics, while good, is lagging behind as we see the evolution of the stakeholder capitalism over shareholder capitalism.
The future of Nigeria is now largely in the hands of corporate Nigeria since our political system continues to see fractures. Those changes we hope to see in Nigeria will likely come via markets because political leadership seems unperturbed. And if markets do not address those challenges, opportunities of the future will not emerge. So, building economic pipelines would be critical, and I call on the banks, telcos and cement companies to see higher purposes beyond the pure fiduciary ones. If we do not have that mentality, we will fail to create the future and that means we cannot predict it!
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