I would preface this article with two contrasting stories.
In 1979, the Plateau state government, in a joint venture with a foreign company, established a BARC (Brewery Agro Research Company) farm — an integrated farm that engaged in almost every aspect of agricultural value chain; production, processing, value addition and packaging. Then, the BARC farm engaged in piggery, poultry production, dairying, beef production and meat processing. The BARC farm was also producing crops like rice, maize, sorghum, wheat, soybean, cassava. In addition, they were also brewing, processing maize and wheat into semovita and garin tuwo, and producing economic trees.
The size of the BARC farm was like 18km square, fully mechanized with secured, constant supply of electricity and water throughout the year. The foreign company was responsible for the management of the day-to-day activities in the farm. During its heydays, the BARC farm deployed helicopters to spray fertilizer and chemicals whence neighboring farms also benefitted. While growing up, we could see the BARC farm’s security light in Tilde —which is like 10km away— at night .
Activities at the company were all year round. I have no data of the number of people in the company’s payroll when it was fully operating, but unofficial sources confirmed to me that, at any given time, once broke, one can get into the premises of the company and ask for menial jobs. And, trust white men, there were always one or two things to do. The BARC farm created so many indirect jobs like eggs off-takers, suppliers of raw materials, distributors of cooking oil, semovita, stockfish, etc.
In the late 80s and early 90s, things began to look south. Neighbors, who were predominantly Fulani and Hausas, would set corn fields on fire in the night and begin to shout “Ganima! Ganima!” in order to break their way into the farm premises to steal maize and everything they come across on the pretense of quenching the fire. A person could get as much as 20 bags of maize in the name of ‘kaale’. This terrible behavior kept repeating itself year in, year out until the white men got overwhelmed and threw in the towel: they left. Years later, Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako bought the farm and put it under lock and key. Unconfirmed information had it that there was cultivation of admiral melon for the European market but of no great significance. Recently, Murtala Nyako sold back the BARC farm to the Plateau state government.
The decline and deterioration of the BARC Farm didn’t stop with the suspension of farming activities and the migration of the white men; the neighbors, after realizing that there were no more animals, grains, machines or equipment to steal, began to remove doors, windows, fans, roofing zinc and every item that can fetch money. It reached a level where floors and walls were been dug to remove iron rods and sell them. Today, the BARC Farm is a ghost of its former self.
Around 2008, my immediate older brother went broke. Earlier he had a provision store which, no thanks to youthful exuberance, he couldn’t manage well. Prior to that, he had a short stint at our father’s business before he left and established his. With no penny to his name, and a vow to never engage in government’s work, he asked our mother for a soft loan. She loaned him, I think, 200k. With no prior experience, he delved into livestock marketing — buying 10 to 20 rams in the North, having them transported and sold in the South. On his second trip, after selling his rams in Calabar, he met Nelson on a luxurious bus coming to Jos. Nelson was coming to the North for the first time and had palm oil on a truck for sale. Just like my brother, he delved into the business with no prior experience, and no specific person to sell his palm oil to in Jos. One thing led to another thing, my brother helped Nelson sold his palm oil and recovered his money without any hitch. My brother brought Nelson home and they spent two days in Tilde.
Impressed by my brother’s steadfastness, business acumen and honesty, Nelson asked my brother to join him in his palm oil business. My brother was reluctant initially, but later agreed to join Nelson. A week after, Nelson sent 100 jerry cans of palm oil to Tilde, and that was the birth of Khairiyah Ventures. From that humble beginning, my brother’s business metamorphosed into many things in the last 13 years. Immediately after I graduated from the University of Maiduguri, I joined the business in 2012 as the company secretary where I was paid handsomely. (If I remember correctly, I was given #15,000/day). Fast forward, today my brother is sitting comfortably on a multimillion naira company, creating tens of jobs for the army of unemployed graduates, students and laborers. Many thanks to Nelson who took the bait and gave my brother a lifeline on which his subsequent conquests and victories were solely built.
The contrast in these two stories could not be more vivid. In the first one, we have seen how greed, indiscipline, and dishonesty had led to the loss of jobs and hundreds of millions in revenue and profit. On the other hand, we have, in the second story, seen how honesty, discipline, and perseverance led my brother to a gold mine. Nelson did not like my brother because he is handsome and Fulani, just like the BARC farm did not fold because the white men did not like the look of the people surrounding the company. My brother was rewarded for his honesty, the same way neighbors of the BARC farm were punished for their greed and dishonesty.
The economic cost of dishonesty is in the erosion of trust, investment not made, and locked (dead) capital in landed properties that would otherwise have been made available for economic activities which will usher prosperity and improve wellbeing. The consequence of lack of integrity and dishonest behaviors is that nobody will be willing to do business in your town or region, thus, no inflow of capital for any economic activity. The bigger consequence of the lack of— or retarded— economic growth is the birth of poverty which is the mother of all evils.
Many of us have sad stories to tell about our journey in trying to help our young ones. Oftentimes, we read or listen to the lamentations of many whose investments were squandered by no other people than their kin. In their twisted mindset, these kinds of relatives believe that those investing have plenty of money stashed elsewhere, or simply they don’t know what to do with money. A common bad joke among rural people during the rainy season is to ask one another: “wawan ka nawa?” (“how many fools were you able to get this year?”). The fools in question are those people who are coming from the cities to try their hands at farming, those who hand over their money and resources to the rural people in all trust. This is how terrible we can be.
From my experience and experiences of older mentors, business associates and bosses, there is neither shortage of capital nor shortage of good people willing to support and invest in viable businesses. What is in short supply is honest and dedicated men, men who are patient and willing to toil and build long-lasting businesses. Many people you may come across are either in hurry to make it big or are just plain thieves, ready to steal what they did not sow. I cannot think of a greater asset in business like honesty. My father, as confided in me by one of my older brothers, used to tell them that “if you are honest, everybody’s money is your money.” He could not be more right. We are witnesses to the truth of this timeless truth.
Adamu Tilde is a lecturer in the department of animal science, Federal University Dutse, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org