Naseem Nicholas Taleb had written a book “Fooled by Randomness” a long time ago, pointing our attention to something we ought to have known since the beginning of time; that a lot of things in life happen just by chance. He critiqued the cockiness of some smart Alecs in the financial markets who thought they were intelligent and had it all figured out; boys who believed so much in their mathematical models and algorithms. Computers did the thinking and robots traded (I’m sure they still do). But in 2007/8 it all came crashing down; the world learnt the hard way, often the only way.
Have we yet imbibed the lessons of not being fooled by randomness? That is doubtful. People still believe that their strengths, wiliness, connections, brains, smarts, their prayers, even their misfortunes, got them this far in life. They couldn’t be wronger. Life is a lot more random from my own perspective. I recall a junior colleague telling me he doesn’t believe in counting his blessings recently. I was aghast. For me, life is all about counting ones blessings. That’s the only way you stay sane. And happy.
I am writing this within the context of the appointment of one Mrs Aisha Ahmed as a Deputy Governor at the nation’s apex bank, the CBN. Comments have been flying everywhere. She is too young. She is inexperienced. I even heard she was just promoted to an ED level last week by Diamond Bank. I reckon so, because I hadn’t heard the name before. Now that’s pretty dodgy. But I am personally past caring about these things because especially in Nigeria, if life can be random elsewhere, with us things are almost totally stochastic. How many have we seen? People sleep as nobody today and become everything tomorrow. I recall a senior uncle who traveled to the UK for the first time with a visa that my company secured for him in 2007 or so. By around 2009 he was the MD of a government parastatal and his fortune changed entirely. Even he couldn’t believe it.
On Aisha’s appointment, her being female and from northern Nigeria helped her because Dr Mrs Sarah Alade needed to be replaced and I learnt Alhaji Suleiman Barau would soon retire. Now, we have this Federal Character thing here, and if Barau leaves, no one from the ‘north’ will be on the executive management of CBN. Perhaps that is why the constellation of forces worked in her favour. Was she the best female banker from the north? I don’t know. But again randomness may assure that she is the one that Buhari knows, or that someone who knows Buhari, knows. So there you have it. She is there. We need to check that we are not being a bit irritable for nothing. Except you are a woman, a senior banker, and from northern Nigeria, I cannot see how this should pain you greatly. And even if you are all that, the only reason for you to feel bad is whether you tried to get the job and failed. In which case you too got involved in the nepotism business. Because people lobby for these things. Hardly do people get top-level appointments in Nigeria without seeking for them. People like us put paid to appointments by joining politics as opposition. It’s a choice and a sacrifice. How many people have the guts and the grit to throw all possibilities away and run their own race?
On the need for balance, I was listening to a clip on WhatsApp the other day. It was the solemn inauguration of the 7th President of Singapore, a Malay Woman. Prime Minister Lee (Kuan Yew’s son) made a point about diversity and the need to keep ensuring ethnic representation in government. He was also glad that the lady became Singapore’s first female president. We need to take note of these facts. All over the world there is a need for balance. I tell people that beyond competence, is balance. Perhaps the most competent bankers or economists in Nigeria today are all men. But even if they are, it pays in many ways to have women pushed up and helped along deliberately. Women are known to add colour, depth and finesse to decisions at tope levels. And sometimes the best in them comes to the fore when they get to those positions.
The other argument is with regards to Aisha’s management pedigree and her background as a finance person, not an economist. Whereas Mrs Alade was a sound economist, and I believe other Deputy Governors in CBN are, as an economist myself I have cause to believe that economics as a study may actually be the problem in Nigeria. People who study economics at an advanced level are mostly conditioned to stick issues in pigeonholes. If the entire top management of the CBN is made up of economists, there is nothing wrong of someone else brings a different perspective to bear. Mind you, even governors of the Central Bank elsewhere are not economists. Gordon Brown is a Historian. Kingsley Moghalu made a fantastic Deputy Governor of the CBN but is a lawyer. He wrote something here when he asked “Do Economists Matter?” https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/09/20/do-economists-matter/. We do need new thinking anyway. As regards appointing bankers into top CBN positions, it is doubtful if academicians will do the job better. Some people allege that a former CBN governor who was in academics capitulated when the boys barraged him with banking money.
But my more important message and the reason why I really wrote this, is to Aisha and everyone else, including her critiques. Don’t be fooled by randomness. If you are anybody today, it’s not because you were smart. It’s not because of your First Class degree or the ‘ajebutter’ nursery/primary school you attended. Well, effort is something, but luck (which is the God factor), is another. Many times luck – God – trumps efforts. Sometimes the devil shows up with bad luck too. Sometimes good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. Sometimes things don’t just make sense. Don’t be fooled by randomness.
Don’t be fooled by the suffering. Yes, what you went throughmade you strong. But how many suffered even more tribulations but whose lives never amounted to anything still? Don’t be fooled by your prayers. I know those who prayed better, whose hearts were purer but didn’t get to where you reached. Don’t be fooled by your acquisitions. They are nothing; at best useless chattel that you carry all around. The happiest is actually the richest. And the happiest usually is the simplest. Don’t be fooled that those who don’t have your earthly possessions are less successful than you. Don’t be fooled by your position or post or the throne you sit upon. Don’t be fooled by the people who fawn around you. Don’t be fooled even by the fact that you are a nobody in society and it seems you will not amount to much. Don’t be fooled by those you think have more than you. You probably don’t want that heavy burden they carry. Don’t be deceived by the feeling that it shall all end this way. Things do change. And so, never fall under the temptation to disdain other people’s achievements. What I see is that everyone has problems in life, no matter their positions. Those at the top that we often think are enjoying, only bought themselves bigger trouble. I personally don’t care much about these positions. I prefer to define my own track and run on it. However, it is great for our people to be concerned with propriety and competence, and procedures and processes. I fear though that our problems have since metastasized beyond these singular firebrigade issues.
I drew some inspiration from a video clip sent to me on Facebook yesterday by a brother. It’s the recording of an experiment by Adam Donye. A bunch of Americans – black and white – were assembled for a race on a field. Then Adam asked those whose parents are still married to take two steps forward. Then two extra steps for those who went to private school. And another two steps for those who attended university not because they were sportsmen. The experiment is to show people that the advantages they got as a result of the circumstances of their birth and upbringing does count for them in life even though those things were not achieved personally. They happened randomly. No one chooses which family or ethnicity, colour or nation to be born into and no one should go bragging about strictly working to achieve what they have.
Then the race started.
I think one of the black guys at the rear almost won the race. Whereas Donye did not draw out any lessons from how the race went, let me draw it out here; sometimes the one who is so weather-beaten and unfortunate still comes out ahead. But even he shouldn’t be fooled by randomness. Yes, the randomness of his strength, or prowess, or intelligence or brilliance, or dexterity, whatever. Genes are random too.
At the end of the day, it matters not how much stronger than the next person we are. I have contemplated this for long and still ponder over it today. What matters is how we are able to use that strength to lift others up. Selfishness is what has laid the world prostrate. Nigeria in particular has bitten the dust because somehow, we are stuck in a time warp whereby the lucky ones among us still prefer showing off their accumulations to shame the less fortunate. Countries that are ahead of the world have since learnt that that is not a game you play for long. And though acquisitions and positions and whatnot, are great, if a majority of your people are deprived, then you just haven’t started as a nation. I believe we have a great work ahead of us as Nigerians. We must not waste time nitpicking. And we must know how to bid our time for real change. We must never be fooled by randomness.
Tope Fasua is the CEO Global Analytics and also the National Chairman of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).