My Awesome Nigerian Trip

(Forgive the rambling on this one as there are many thoughts running through my mind!  It’s hard to put it all in to words because every time I think of one thing it reminds me of another!)

It’s been an interesting 10 days.  If you follow the blog at all you know I was contracted to train a group of developers on Real Studio.  The location?  Nigeria.

Most of the people following me thought it was a joke.  People really go to Nigeria?  On purpose?  The answer is yes!

I’ll start by saying that my week in Nigeria exceeded all of my expectations.  I went in with very low expectations so it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised.

Like many of my fellow Americans my view of Africa is skewed.  As a child of the 70’s my first glimpse of Africa was the old TV show Tarzan.  I don’t watch much modern television but the images of African on the Discovery Channel and the news networks still left me with the mindset of African being filled with mud buildings with thatch huts, dirt streets, lots of poor people, and crime everywhere.  Sally Struthers infomercials also cast a pretty poor view on African (not that she’s wrong but it’s not what my experience was).

My visits was to Lagos, Nigeria home of 9 million people (possibly much more).  It is a Democratic Republic modeled after the United States but only since 1999 when military rule ended.  Almost to a person, the Nigerians I talked to criticized the government for having a lack of leadership.  I find it ironic that we, as Americans, are having similar conversations about our 200+ year old democracy.

Lagos, in general, is a pretty modern city.  It has the longest bridge in Africa at 11.8 km that was built in 1990.  While it might not be up to American standards, it’s in good shape with only a few potholes.  If only the rest of their highway system was as up-to-day.  Unfortunately, the rest of the paved highway system is riddled with potholes though the ride to and from the airport was by far the worst, in my opinion.

Once you get off the paved roads you get to dirt roads (even in the city).  This is where the big, vehicle swallowing potholes exist.  Drivers avoid them at all costs so this means vehicles making wide swings around them.  If this means going into the oncoming traffic, well, that’s okay too.

The traffic is pretty bad on the highways and side streets and are packed during the morning and evening rush hours.  While there are traffic lights on Lagos Island (which really isn’t an island from what I gather) there are very few, if any, outside of that area.  Even the ones that ARE there don’t mean much as drivers blow through the red lights.  The highways might be marked for 3 lanes, but during the rush hours there are easily 5 lanes of traffic.  Round-abouts seem chaotic but there is an odd rhythm to merging.  Drivers use their horns on a constant basis.

Toyota and Honda vehicles are everywhere.  To a lesser extent there are Misubishi, Hundai, Volkswagon, and Mercedes Benes.  What is glaringly evident is there are NO American cars, of any sort, in any condition, anywhere to be found.  My only conclusion is that the American car companies are ignoring the Nigeria.  Is this true of rest of Africa?  I don’t know but it’s a shame Ford, GM, and Chrysler aren’t even trying to compete here.

Lagos has a lot of issues that it needs to solve.  Lack of education of a population that averages 19 years of age will haunt them for a long time.  Public education is not very good and those that can afford it send their kids to private schools.  Not everyone has access to running water and drinking water is even scarcer.  Bottled water is a necessity and street vendors sell water (of unknown quality) from big containers they push around in carts.

Power is inconsistent, at best.  This forces those that can afford it, to run generators.  For a business it’s a necessity to have one since power might be off for days.  The power poles in residential areas are a mish-mash of electrical cables strung up haphazardly.  There was more than one occasion where I saw sparks showering down from a pole.  In my opinion, the only way to fix this is to start over from scratch and build a new grid – an audacious project.

The police are not necessarily your friends.  I went to a busy market one afternoon and we were pulled over by the police.  As I was saying to a friend, this might be the first case I’ve ever been pulled over for “driving while white.”  After the initial indignation and some arguing my host and driver apologized profusely and asked what the fine was and we ‘got off’ for 1000 Nairra (~ $10 USD).  I saw plenty of other instances where the police were taking ‘fine money’ on the spot both in the street and in the airport.

The company I was doing the training for employees a lot of people.  Their offices were as modern and efficient as most I see in the states.  They make a variety of food products and during a tour of their facilities I was impressed with how clean they were and were comparable (mostly) to food processing facilities I’ve worked at in the States.  I was amazed at how many people worked an average ‘line’.  We’d most likely have one or two people running a line where they would have six but my guess is those six work for much, much less than what our two Americans would.

The IT folks I was doing the training for were pretty sharp guys.  They caught on to Real Studio very quickly and by the end of the week were using Real Studio to create a simple CRUD application for invoices (with relational data) using both the Desktop Edition and Web Edition.  They were pretty happy with it its ease of use and its ability to create any type of application using the business logic they wanted (rather than the enforced business logic of their current tool).

The Nigerians working for this company represent where the country could go, in my opinion.  They have a stable job, learning some valuable skills, and have a thirst for more.  They have extra money at the end of the month that they can spend on things.  They want their kids to have a better life than what they’ve had (don’t we all!?).  This sounds a lot like middle class America.

Obviously the company they work for is investing a ton of resources into the African continent and it’s paying off for them.  They sell their product in most of African (which is 50-some countries in total).  If the trend continues, this burgeoning middle class will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.

The company I did the training for deals with a lot of guests from other parts of African and Europe.  They had protocol people pick me up and drop me off at the airport and helping me through Nigerian customs.  They had a guest flat with a cook (who in my opinion could be a top chef in the states).  They also provided a driver (thank God giving the road conditions).  I say all this because I never once, felt unsafe in my trip (okay the police shaking us down for money made me a little nervous).

I had an enjoyable experience.  I didn’t get sick on any food and I was in air conditioning the entire time.  If I was invited to go to Nigeria again would I?  If it was for a company in Lagos that is used to hosting foreigners and expats I’d do some checking and probably say yes.  Would I do work again for this same company?  In a heartbeat.

Again, sorry for the rambling account.  There are just SO many differences and similarities that it’s hard to remember them all.