Sunday, 30 December 2018

My last 4 weeks in Nigeria, 28 years ago (The business angle)



My departure boarding pass issued on the 30th of December 1990.
Taking the next step
Twenty-eight years ago today, I left Nigeria to return to the UK, I had only returned from the UK 4 weeks earlier, having been on a business trip for a firm in which I was part owner with a 30% stake, we called it NextStep Limited and it specialised in desktop publishing, offloading the burden of typesetting and printing from traditional methods to technologies provided by personal computers running Xerox Ventura Publisher.
NextStep Limited probably would have gone far if the majority partner was not too full of himself expecting subservience and obeisance, but two events in the 4 weeks of my return put paid to that relationship. The first was during a conversation when he dipped his hand in his pocket and threw money at me across the table. I picked up the wad and put it back in front of him saying, my parents have never thrown money at me, neither can you.
Maybe not a good step
The second event resulted in me saying to him, “You don’t give a 24-year old 30% of a company and think that is the end of his life, I will throw it away and start over again somewhere else.” It wasn’t that I was not full of gratitude, I just could not stand being treated with disrespect just because I was younger.
Whilst I was beginning to give more of my time to NextStep Limited, I had 4 other contractual engagements going. The most important was with Deji Sasegbon Limited, a legal publishing outfit that had just finished publishing the Nigerian Supreme Court Cases in 40 volumes and it was this that brought me into the purview of my patron and majority partner at NextStep Limited who was also a lawyer and a director at the United Bank of Africa.
On an earlier step
He was a Nigerian bigwig and I was an atypical young ‘Nigerian’, well, Deji Sasegbon who gave me my big break saw me differently, he had the wealth, influence and authority to employ me outright to work for him. Instead, he offered me a deal, he said, “Akin, I want you to consult for me, teach my staff to know the workings of desktop publishing, take on the complex stuff and for that, I will give you a monthly stipend and your flight ticket whenever you are ready to leave for the UK is paid for.
Deji Sasegbon, unfortunately, passed away two years ago, to him I owe a great debt of gratitude, more importantly, he treated me with dignity and respect, it was always a pleasure to work for him. When I told him I was leaving for the UK, whilst he was saddened, he understood and bid me Godspeed.
Definite the worst step
At NextStep Limited, one of the jack-of-all-trades businesses my partner was involved in was selling Christmas cards. Some staff in that other business had stolen some of those cards and my partner corralled every employee including my own staff at NextStep Limited and had them banged up in a police cell without the courtesy of informing me. I spent a whole day negotiating bail conditions for my staff, or at least my staff did the negotiating because I did not speak with the language or accent the police understood. I got them out, but that was the very last straw for me.
Whilst, there was a kind of youthful exuberance in the way I decided to break that NextStep Limited relationship. In the circumstances, that was my only option. There was no other engagement where I had been treated as disdainfully as I was with that man. I divested myself of my other engagements and handed over to my able assistant and threw away NextStep Limited.
After my departure, my ex-business partner attempted to besmirch my name to my family and other contacts I made on my business visit to the UK, suggesting I had made off with material and some other stuff. The only thing I took from NextStep Limited was my participation. It was his desperate attempt to assuage his ego when he had been dealt the same hand of discourtesy he had dealt me.
My good friend later wrote to me saying, when you left NextStep, there were no other steps to take.
On an airline step
This was a man who got his sister a job for in the foreign exchange department of the Central Bank of Nigeria, on arranging the foreign exchange for our business travel, she pilfered a full 20% of that transaction. He had more leeches and hangers-on around him filching, dissembling, needing and stealing, everyone was coming to him with business deals and scams, he probably invested in more scams than viable businesses.
He came to me with a proposition that I accepted because I thought it was a good idea, with hindsight, I should have taken some advice and I would have gotten the best legal advice money could buy for free from Deji Sasegbon or any of his partners and lawyers, all of whom I had a good relationship with.
On the 30th of December 1990, I left Nigeria, on Nigeria Airways flight WT808 running almost 3 hours behind schedule. I had £15 in my pocket and a future ahead of me. That is another story.


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