Less is more

Skills afford you a trade. A trade affords you an income. An income affords you a livelihood.

The year was 2009 and it was NYSC service year. The place was Bokkos local government area in Plateau State, Nigeria

There was no single bank in Bokkos at the time. Well, there was, but it was a makeshift shed at the time. United Bank for Africa was going to be the first bank in Bokkos, and as corps members, we were going to be one of their first customers in Bokkos. We didn’t have the luxury of choice.

That year, while we were still utilizing the makeshift shed bank, banking services were 24 hours late for us in Bokkos. The bank staff had to print the account balances from their branch in Jos every evening and then bring those balances to Bokkos the next morning.

As corps members in a town like Bokkos in 2009, we regarded ourselves as elites.

We were mostly from South-West and South-East Nigeria. We had, after all, graduated from uni, were serving our fatherland, or motherland, in a town that had no bank, only one internet cafe, market was every 5 days, many parts had no electricity and you sometimes had to climb a little hill to find mobile network reception.

It was a small enough town, that we could easily feel like elites. Or so we thought.

One day, one of those days when you had to go to the LGA for regular NYSC programming, we had just finished at the LGA and allowee had just been paid. N9,775.

Damn!

As usual, we trooped to the makeshift shed of the Bank to go and withdraw our paltry sums.

Long queues, bad tempers, broke hungry corps members, inadequate branch, exhausted branch staff, cold afternoon plateau weather…

An old man sauntered along and met me where I was standing by one of the make-shift counters. It was almost my turn at the till. Despite the tempers, we regularly allowed the senior citizens be served ahead of us. They were very few and could not possibly join our long queues.

Baba could not write, but he had his withdrawal booklet. Lol, those were the days of all types of booklets. Those days, your signature was your thumbprint. Or as many fingers the bank wanted.

Baba wanted me to help him write in his withdrawal slip the sum of money he wanted to withdraw.

I listened intently to what Baba was trying to communicate. I was baa Hausa, he was baa Turenci. I did not understand Hausa much, he did not understand English much.

One thing was very clear though. Baba wanted to withdraw 1.7 million Naira.

What da!!! 😳😳😳😳😳

This old Baba had 1.7 million Naira in his account?

You’ve got to understand that this was 2009. The Federal Government was paying corps members an allowance less than N10,000. $1 was still around N150.

Many of my fellow corps members were all dreaming of oil and gas or bank jobs, and only very few at the time were thinking of starting a business.

Standing beside Baba under that shed in the cold afternoon Bokkos air, finally understanding the simple transaction that I was helping facilitate, I was gobsmacked.

It was a new realization for me, and even though Baba never knew it, I thanked him internally many times.

Baba had a simple trade. He sold cattle.

I was a newly graduated microbiologist who did not want to be a microbiologist, and who loved art and technology and frankly, was still very confused what to do for a livelihood. An elite.

If you are a student reading this! Realize this today, as I did that cold afternoon.

You are in school not only to earn a degree but more importantly, to earn a sale-able skill. This is what your employers will look out for. They will hire you for the skills you possess. Your skill is what you will sell in exchange for an income. And if you are wise, you will add more valuable skills to your repertoire.

If you are an entrepreneur reading this, simplify!

Your trade is only as valuable as the skills you currently possess. Apart from that passion that is keeping you up every night, learn the skill of business.

Give the market what it wants, how it wants it. Like Baba, sell cattle to meat lovers, the way they want it.

Today, more than 10 years after that encounter, the same elements still hold true.

The chap in the market knows the latest trends and supplies it without much ado. His bank account balance is proof of that simplicity.

The smart educated chap is dressing up the turkey when the market simply wants turkey. His bank account balance is proof of that complexity.

Simplify!

Skills lead to a trade leads to an income leads to a livelihood. It’s no typo.

Give the market what it wants.

Then go and withdraw your own 1.7 million Naira too.

Legend:

NYSC — National Youth Service Corps
Jos — Capital of Plateau State, Nigeria
LGA — Local Government Area
Allowee — Our nickname for the monthly stipend
Hausa — One of the three major languages spoken in Nigeria. Mainly spoken in Northern Nigeria
Turenci — What Hausa people call the English Language