Monday, May 30, 2016

Beware the Lollipop of Mediocrity

One of the by-products of corruption in Nigeria is mediocrity, a trait so common it is as pervasive as generator fumes and potholes. Nigerians have learned to accept and expect shoddy services and products to the point anyone who dares highlight the obvious is quickly branded fussy or out-of-touch. Those struggling to rise above the muck of inferiority know going against the currents of mediocrity will eventually take its toll, and are aware they would have to grudgingly accept what’s on offer for the sake of their sanity and peace of mind. And so the cycle of mediocrity continues, fragrantly and unperturbed.

Nigerian private companies, government agencies, schools and the sole proprietor are all guilty of it, and customers often have no choice but to support and tolerate their second-rate products until a foreign alternative comes along. As is the case with breakfast cereals.

Scary childhood tales abound of the gustatory torture endured at the hands of our darling Made in Nigeria cornflakes. From broken teeth suffered from chomping down hard on an unexpected grain of corn to finding burnt flakes in a box, these were complaints no child ever associated with a Kellogg’s product. This was, and still is, why breakfast tables of middle-class Nigerians favored a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes over NASCO’s ‘quality’ cornflakes.

Still, that preference doesn’t make Nigerian breakfast cereal brands sleep less at night, because with 92 percent of Nigerians living on less than two dollars a day, Kellogg’s is but a dream and NASCO their reality. What’s more, when more than half of 180 million people are actively purchasing your product, there’s less inclination to improve on quality.

If corruption is the mother of mediocrity then laziness, a disease that afflicts quite a number of Nigerians, is its father. A typical Nigerian doesn’t want to work, but wants to get paid. But because no one will pay for no work, he goes through the motion of working. This is why those egregious Nollywood movies, where anyone with a camera (I refuse to insult directors) can string a couple of disjointed, unimaginative scenes together within a week and call it a film, exist. The filmmaker’s only motivation is money not the art of entertainment with directing, screenwriting, cinematography, wardrobe and plot being secondary considerations. And that’s a shame.

It’s a shame because Nigerians have demonstrated they can do better when they put their back into it. We used to in the 90s’ with TV series Checkmate and the early Nollywood movies like Glamour girls, which is why it’s baffling that in the twenty some years of Nollywood’s existence, a 2015 Nigerian movie can’t compete with one from the silent era? Our actors have refused to hone their craft and our special effects are worse than what pertains in a 1940 Hollywood movie.

Photo: Instagram
Mobile service providers in Nigeria charge exorbitantly but fall short of delivery as expected.
If Nollywood is serious about the business of film-making, it has Hollywood to serve as a template, which it can study and emulate and, dare I say, blaze its own trail.

But then again, just one look at our music industry will tell you we’re too lazy to even do that, or at least copy with some imagination. A majority of the Nigerian songs populating the airwaves is discordant sound aka noise. Little thought goes into song-writing and production. That’s why a Nigerian rapper can brazenly spit rhymes about fur coats and leather jackets in a country where it doesn’t snow, and think he’s going somewhere. It’s also the reason a musician/video director can lift whole scenes from a BeyoncĂ© video and call it work.      

The curse of mediocrity has also ensnared Nigeria’s biggest online retailer. Though it has the juggernaut, Amazon, to thank for their existence, studying and translating Amazon’s operation in Nigeria has proved difficult. Personally, I have patronized both companies, and let’s just say that after being sold a malfunctioning laptop, paying for an undelivered item and having my money withheld for two months—despite several calls—I shan’t be buying anything from Nigeria’s biggest online retailer. Amazon, on the other hand, still has my patronage. 

Money, or rather the love of it, corrupts everything. After all, Apple, Facebook, Google are all valuable brands worth billions of dollars, and have remained extremely successful because they continue to invest heavily in research and innovation, key factors in the game of customer attraction and retention. Complacency and mediocrity are antithetical to their operations, as they should be for any going concern wishing to be taken seriously.

And this is what lawmakers, attempting to ram patriotism down the throats of Nigerians with the bill to enforce the procurement of Nigerian goods, are pretending not to understand. Nigerians are not shunning Made in Nigeria because they are made in Nigeria. Nigerians are shunning Made in Nigeria because they are inferior. It’s a fact lawmakers know, otherwise they wouldn’t be receiving medical treatment in Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai Hospital as opposed to Nigerian hospitals.

             If we’re serious about being the Giant of Africa as we claim we are but aren’t, we have to learn to say no to laziness, no to the love of money and no to all that is mediocre. We have to learn to embrace blood, sweat and guts, and teach ourselves to take pride in the value hard work. For success is tastes sweeter when reminiscing about those long, arduous days spent toiling in the trenches.