Month: May 2016

Common Prosperity is better than a rich-poor divide #EUreferendum

Immigration from the relatively poorer EU countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania) forms the crux of the debate about the EU referendum. These were former communist countries behind the infamous ‘Iron Curtain’ which came down in the 1990s (excluding East Germany for the purpose of this discussion). What people are literally saying is this curtain should go up again or we will leave the EU zone.

My theory is that overall prosperity is better than a rich-poor divide. The aim of the EU in incorporating these countries into the common market is to boost prosperity and reduce chaos in them. Yes it triggered an exodus in countries like Poland, but also the UK and other richer EU countries can now export into 28 countries (up from the initial 17 pre-2004). Its a win-win situation. Polish economy has benefitted immensely from EU support since their ascension in 2004.

I believe the happier your neighbours, the safer you are. Imagine these countries still living in the past with widespread poverty, conflict, crime and chaotic governance, and living right on the doorstep of western Europe. It would be like building a castle next to a volcano.

Image at top of article: Wawell Castle and Cathedral in Krakow, Poland

‘Brexit’ – How did we get here?

On 23 June 2016, the British people have a big decision to make. To remain in the European Union or leave. Both sides of the divide have been making their case and some important points have been made so far. The Remain camp warns of dire economic consequences if the UK leaves and the Leave camp has warned of continued uncontrollable immigration into the UK if it remains, threatening the very fabric of British society. With all the arguments flying around, most British people are understandably confused.

The current rhetoric is surely different from what obtained in 1975, the year of the first UK referendum on the EU (then called the European Economic Community). The debate was much less toxic back then. Today immigration is the hottest topic on the agenda and it is a very sensitive and divisive subject all across Europe.

The EU is not just a strong economic bloc but a powerful political one too. Free movement of citizens has been enshrined in EU law since 1958 when it was created. In 1973 when the UK joined, it had 9 member states, today it has 28 countries. Now 28 populations can mix as freely as they choose. This is understandably a concern for many citizens, especially in the richer countries.

The free movement of EU citizens across its ever expanding borders has created an influx of people from relatively poorer countries (i.e. Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania etc) into the richer ones (UK, France, Germany etc) at a rate which has caused socio-political tension in the destination countries. Many in the UK for example cite the pushing down of workers wages and salaries, because immigrants from poorer EU countries are willing to work for less. The impact on social services like schools and hospitals have been mentioned. Many also believe EU laws have strangled UK laws thereby reducing the power of the UK government to deport foreign criminals, control access to the benefits system and its ability control the rise in population.

I do see the reasoning behind these points and believe population management is vital to ensure supply of resources meet demand for those resources. But there are two options to resolve an issue like this, create more resources to meet demand, or keep demand to the level of available resources. In business, cutting demand to maintain supply will be a retrograde step, ensuring supply keeps up with demand is forward thinking. Why is it different with the business of governance?

The increase in immigrant numbers from Poland (or Romania) should not be a problem if these immigrants pay taxes, pay rent and conduct business here as all it does is increase government tax revenue. Why is this revenue not translating into more resources? If there are not enough schools, why not build more, if there are not enough hospitals, why not build more? UK population has been increasing since 1066 when the Normans invaded the ‘island’. London was once a small town with a population of 200,000 in 1600, now its a metropolis with nearly 9million people. Resources available have grown with the increase in population for centuries. I know many people will say we cannot continue to have population increase on the scale we have now as the resources to support it are not infinite (e.g. land), but this has been the rhetoric since 1948 when the famous ship, SS Windrush carrying 500 Jamaican immigrants landed at the Tilbury docks. The fear of overpopulation has always been at the fore-front of immigration debates in the UK for decades. Before Poland joined the EU, many scare-mongerers thought the whole of eastern Europe will relocate to Britain, but no, it hasn’t happened. There are still many young Polish people who prefer to stay and work in Warsaw or Krakow than come to London. The same with Romania, many Romanians are still at home in Bucharest, not in London. Yes people move in search of greener pastures, but it takes a lot to relocate and thrive in a different country and most just won’t do it. Many of the movements we see into the UK today are temporary and they usually return to their home countries when they’ve saved enough to live the life they have dreamt for themselves back home. Many are young men with wives and children back in their home countries, only here for a few years to make some money and return.

Another point the Leave campaign makes is the impact of unlimited supply of labour on wages and salaries in the UK. The EU provides the world’s largest pool of labour within a common market. This army of workers is accessible from every member state and their movement is unrestricted. The aim is to ensure businesses can readily obtain the skills needed and power-charge the EU economy. It is also true this free movement ensures cheap labour is accessible to businesses, hence a company may prefer to hire Romanian cleaners rather than British-born cleaners because they could work for less and deliver the same level of service in the same time. But if the pay is at or above the minimum wage and thats what the company can afford, then where is the problem? Every business cuts cost where they can. Its like saying UK businesses should only buy British made raw-materials rather than Chinese or German made. If the Chinese made material is the same quality but cheaper, why not? So long as it is a legal product, they are free to source their raw materials where it delivers most value for money. Why is it different with labour? Of course there are wage abuses in some sectors where some people are paid less than the minimum wage, in these cases government regulation needs to be stepped up to ensure the minimum wage is adhered to and no one is paid below it.

Many people see immigrants as net consumers of British jobs and not creators of them, but they forget that Polish and Romanian immigrants own legitimate businesses in the UK (e.g. shops, stores, cafes and bars) which employ british-born workers, many are also skilled and self-employed like plumbers, auto-mechanics etc. If they choose to bring all these skills here to the UK, it can only be a good thing. Bad for their home countries due to the skills drain, but like I mentioned earlier, most of them are usually here for a specific time period before they return home to establish bigger businesses. But until we know the exact proportion of ‘British jobs’ taken and ‘British jobs’ created by immigrants, I don’t think we can make the conclusion that immigrants are net ‘takers’ of British jobs.

Another point made by the Brexit campaigners is that EU laws are stifling British laws and a main example is the Human Rights Act of 1998 (HRA). Many believe this law is abused regularly by foreign criminals and illegal immigrants who use it as a way to avoid punishment. The UK tabloids pick the worst cases of these alleged abuses and put it as their headline, cherrypicking the facts and misrepresenting the scale. Obviously, this evokes strong reactions from the reader.

The Human Rights Act guarantees fundamental freedoms for every resident of the UK and the EU at large. These freedoms include: Right to life, Right to liberty and security, Right to a fair trial, Freedom of expression, Freedom of thought, belief and religion, Freedom of assembly and association, Freedom from slavery and slave labour to name a few. These rights are absolute. What some people are saying is that because there are abuses in certain cases, then the UK should withdraw from the Human Rights Act (and substitute it with a British Bill of Rights). My question is why would you scrap a good law because of a few bad cases? It will be like scrapping the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ premise in criminal law because some criminals get away with their mischief due to lack of evidence even though they actually committed the crime. We cannot do that, we cannot throw away a law that guarantees fundamental human freedoms just because there are a few instances where it has been abused. And we cannot apply the law selectively, in certain instances and not in others, basically we cannot cherrypick the law. If the law states that every man is guaranteed a right to life, then there should be no instances where execution is permitted, no matter the depravity of the crime. There are other laws to ensure the right punishment is meted out. The Human rights Act has helped many people get justice they deserved, when their home governments have failed to uphold these rights. The European courts in Strasbourg ensures that any violation of the HRA is reversed accordingly. It serves as a second opinion and a system of checks and balances on EU governments. I think this is a good thing.

These are just some of the points time and space will permit me to address here. I think Brexit is a high risk idea, full of minefields and unknowns. We may all be wrong in the end and Brexit may not be as bad as it sounds now if the UK votes to leave, but who is to give that assurance? This is uncharted waters, and why head for uncharted waters when there are charted ones especially when there is so much at stake. People’s livelihoods, health, happiness are all at risk here. Why take the shot when it is not absolutely necessary? Well I don’t know, maybe I am wrong.


‘Fantastically corrupt’ Nigeria – A personal experience (Part 2)


Getting into Lagos and out of the airport was a relief. My dad was out there with a pick up car and we drove to a hotel in town to sleep over for the night. The hotel brought some food for us in the room after we had arranged the fees and everything else. I had a very light sleep that night in anticipation of seeing the rest of my family in Ibadan (2hrs away from Lagos and the second largest city in Nigeria). It was incredibly hot as well. I was sweating all the time

We set out mid morning the following day for Ibadan and we travelled on the infamous Lagos-Ibadan expressway (local name for the dual-carriage way). I was shocked at the size and number of potholes on this road. It has always been a notorious road for car accidents and armed robbery, but it is the only direct link from Lagos to Ibadan. There were no road markings and cars swerved in out out of their lanes avoiding potholes, some so deep they would damage your car seriously if you ran into them. I held my breath as the driver switched lanes every 2 minutes while doing 100km/hr. There were big trucks and petrol tankers also swerving around, so it was all a potentially dangerous situation. I asked him why the road is so bad, that when I was in Nigeria, I couldn’t remember it like it is now. He said the government had awarded the contract but due to high-level corruption, the project never took off properly and there had been many starts and stops. Currently he said, they are working on it and they are nearly half way and we would soon get to where the work is going on. We did, and to be fair, some some serious work was going on on this road, though slow, but at least, after so many years of nothing, it is nice to see it is being fixed and made safer. I thought to myself I won’t be taking that road again until I am off to the airport for my return, as it looked just too risky. One thing I noticed though was that there weren’t many police checkpoints anymore compared to many years ago when I lived there, we only encountered one checkpoint and they just waved us on.

I stayed in a hotel in Ibadan for the nights and spent most of my day time hours at home with my family. The weather was too hot and I needed a place with constant power supply and air-conditioning to be able to unwind and sleep at night. The hotel provided this.

The hotel staff were generally helpful and nice, but they could spot that I had been out of the country for quite a while, because of the sort of questions I asked, like how do you load phone credit, where can I get internet connection and so on. That said, many of the staff waited for something in return whenever they helped me out with anything. I could see in their body language and sometimes they will ask me directly. I did what I could and sometimes I just said thank you and walked away. But overall I had a pleasant stay.

My time had now come to leave after two weeks of a memorable time with my family. I set out on the Ibadan-Lagos road again and off to the airport. At this point, there was a biting scarcity of fuel and there were many queues on the road causing traffic jams all the way to Lagos. I got to the airport quite early due to the unpredictable nature of events in Nigeria, I couldn’t bear to miss my flight.

When check-in time started, I was ready. The lady at passport control looked at my documents and quickly waved me on to Departures. I went through a few more checks but everything was smooth until I got to security where you were scanned along with your hand luggage. The lady checking my stuff, suddenly looked and whispered to me, ‘anything for us sir?’ I said sorry, what do you mean, she said it again and added ‘nothing is too small’. I was shocked, this was security at the main international airport in Nigeria asking me for money! I pretended I didn’t really understand what she meant and in frustration just waved me on after checking my luggage. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I thought to myself, I know these guys are paid very low, but this is security at stake here. I wondered what someone with sinister intentions might do knowing all the security guys would gladly take money. Scary thought.

As I walked through security, glad I left the uncomfortable situation behind, I suddenly heard a shout from a corner with 3 or 4 men in immigration uniforms waving me over. I thought why are they calling me. I went over to these guys and one of them said to me ‘where are you off to tonight sir’, I said London. He looked at my boarding pass and stared uncomfortably for a while and then said ‘have a safe journey sir’. I thought to myself, did he want money as well? I was a bit concerned at this point thinking why are they all expecting something from me. I am just a regular traveller.

I got to the waiting room where we would sit and wait for boarding the plane. We were subjected to another search here. A man searched my person and a lady searched my bag. As the lady was going through my hand luggage, I heard again in a quiet voice, ‘anything for us tonight sir’, I replied ‘sorry, don’t have any spare cash or anything as I am broke right now’, She giggled and said ‘okay, have a nice journey sir’.

I went to my seat and just slumped in the chair tired of it all. Why on earth are airport officials asking travellers for money, almost openly? The announcement came on that our plane was ready and we boarded ready to leave Nigeria behind with mixed feelings.

Low-level corruption is widespread in Nigeria and people don’t take it seriously, but it is the individuals perpetrating this that will go on to commit higher level crimes when given some power. Imagine the security lady being promoted to become a supervisor, or a manager of a team at the airport, what sort of leadership will she offer? I try not to think about it.

Nigerians shouldn’t deny the reality of corruption in the country. Lets all hope the current regime’s fight against it bears some fruit.



‘Fantastically Corrupt’ Nigeria – A personal experience (Part 1)


People have condemned David Cameron’s unguided utterances last week where he referred to Nigeria and Afghanistan as ‘fantastically corrupt’ countries. I condemn him too as I don’t think such careless talk does any favours to both the speaker of it nor the receiver(s) of it. It achieves nothing but fractured diplomatic relations.

However, as a Nigerian, I completely relate to what David Cameron said. I grew up in Nigeria and it is true corruption has become a way of life for many years in the country. Corruption is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. From my translation of this definition, ‘those in power’ does not only refer to politicians but everyone who provides a service for which you rely on. For example your electricity company, water company, the local community leader and even the receptionists.

I made a brief visit to Nigeria in 2015 after 8 years of living in the UK. Not much has changed in terms of infrastructure and development. The roads are still bad (in fact has got worse in many places), there is still intermittent power supply, there are still fuel shortages and generally life is still very hard for the average man on the street. The noise, the colour, the dust, the garbage on the streets, all still the same.

I landed at Muritala Muhammed International airport to a hot, rancid air with the arrival lounges looking very bland in contrast to other international airports I’ve been. There was water from the air conditioners running across the floors and it all felt a little bit grotty. Though I felt it unfair to compare Nigeria’s main international airport to Heathrow in London or Schipol in Amsterdam, after all it is a developing country trying its best everyday to make things better in very difficult circumstances. I progressed with my journey towards passport control trying not to be judgemental. I should be glad I landed safely and excited to see my family. I heard one of the passengers with whom I exited the plane, walking behind me, chuckle and whisper, ‘welcome to Nigeria’.

The first check point was manned by a loud talking gentleman checking our landing cards. One of the arriving passengers who was not Nigerian was trying to communicate with the man on the desk in a foreign language (sounded Lebanese). The man on the desk simply shouted at him to speak English or he will spend a long time in the queue. I thought to myself again ‘welcome to Nigeria’ where magic happens. If this ‘Lebanese’ man was able to speak English, wouldn’t he have done so in the first place I thought, or maybe I’m wrong. I made it past this desk and into passport control and met a long line of people waiting for their passports to be checked. I quickly took my spot and waited for my turn. It was around 9pm by this time, about 30minutes after I exited the plane. I kept looking at the decor in this part of the airport and all looked very old fashioned and outdated. I thought it could be worse and I should not be judgmental. It was very hot in there though. I looked round for anything (digital) that could give a hint of the outside temperature, couldn’t find any, but never mind, that was the least of my worries.

As we all waited in the queue I suddenly heard a commotion of some sorts and quickly looked to see what was going on. Two women were making their way past everyone on the queue clutching shopping bags from duty free shops in London and everyone was wondering where they were going. You are right they were making their way to the top of the queue, ignoring shouts from people waiting not do so. They shuffled past me as well and the look on their faces was indifference as if ‘what are you going to do, stop me?’. They got to the top of the line, right in front of the desks. The airport staff did not stop these women, rather they appealed to the people waiting in line to not create more problem by creating a scene. The women were attended to after being questioned by one of the staff. I don’t know what they discussed, but they must have been allowed to jump the queue for some reason. I thought to myself again, don’t be judgemental, maybe one of them is ill and can’t queue or they have some serious medical condition.

I finally made it past passport control after about 30 minutes of standing in line. Then we made our way to the baggage section to pick up our bags. I thought I am nearly done now, just pick up my bags and get out into Lagos! Home of the brave! How wrong was I. I spent nearly 2 hours waiting for my bags, in fact I thought at some point they were lost and I started to panic. In the meantime I looked around for a baggage trolley (as you would in any airport) to load my bags on if or when they eventually came out, but couldn’t find any in sight. Eventually, I saw my bags coming down the escalator and was pleased. As I pulled them off the escalator and onto the floor, a young man approached me and said do you need a baggage trolley, I looked up and said excitedly, yes please! He said wait here. He went off and got me a trolley and I wondered where that had suddenly appeared from. I had looked everywhere before then and didn’t find one. Anyway it wasn’t the time to be Sherlock Holmes, I quickly thanked him and he said he would help me to load my bags as well. I told him he didn’t have to, but he did and loaded by 3 heavy bags onto the carrier for me. I thanked him profusely and thought to myself Nigerians are really nice people aren’t they. I noticed though, as I thanked this man, he wasn’t that chuffed, he just had a stern look. And then he broke his silence, he said ‘what have you brought for us from London’. I said, ‘ah…sorry i don’t have anything on me at the moment, just a couple of pound coins’ left over from having coffee at Heathrow. He replied ‘that would do’. To my shock, I quickly ransacked my pockets and brought out a handful of British coins totalling about £3.00 (about N750 or N800 in Nigerian money), probably enough for a meal in Nigeria.He thanked me and moved on very quickly lending a hand to another passenger and having a chat with them too. At this point I was tired and can’t wait to get out of the airport. Moved my baggage trolley out of the front door into the hot Lagos air, almost hotter than when I was inside the airport. ‘Welcome to Nigeria’ said a big banner on one of the metal rails outside.

Corruption in Nigeria is not just in the high places, it is present in everyday life and perpetrated by everyday people. My next article (Part 2) will tell you of the experiences I had of these low-level everyday corruption in Nigeria during my short stay there in 2015. But overall, it is a country I admire for its tenacity and ability to thrive in very difficult circumstances. Nigerians endure everyday struggles that will dwarf any hardship you can refer to in western societies.