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Calvin Burgess of Dominion Rice Writes on (Not) Doing Business in Nigeria

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In August of 2011, I was contacted by the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and begged to come to Nigeria. He had just come from visiting our sister company in East Africa. He was very convincing. I along with another Board member soon arrived in Lagos to a great fanfare of private planes, helicopters, and fancy hotels. We were promised the world, if only we would come to Nigeria to build another Dominion Farms. 

The 30,000 hectares of land offered by the Government looked great for farm development, located right between two rivers. Abundant water, the promise of a paved road, low interest government loans, streamlined import procedures, and help directly from the President himself. It was all “too-good-to-be-true”. We said we would consider it, and we did. Our first trips were to the community, the State Government, and to Upper Benue River Authority. In the community I personally spoke at every church open in the town and at the Mosque. Additionally, we held town hall meetings sponsored by the Emir for everyone in the area. Next we went to the State where I addressed the legislature and held press conferences. Lastly we went to Yola and spent a half of a day with the Upper Benue River Authority executives. In Abuja we had extensive meetings with the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Water, the ports and customs office and the US Embassy. All agencies offered their firm support for the project. Several trips later we made the decision to proceed.

 

On 17 February 2012 in the Abuja Hilton Hotel we signed an “MOU” with the State of Taraba and the Government of Nigeria. Hundreds were in attendance inviting us to come to Taraba and begin. Some of the terms of the agreement included Dominion training in modern agriculture for the masses, the State of Taraba paying all compensation to anyone on the land, and for a new road to be constructed. Ninety percent (90%) of the land was to be utilized in a community farming operation with trained local people being in possession of these lands and the remaining ten percent (10%) used as a nucleus farm for training purposes and support. The following day Dominion in conjunction with Taraba State paid for 50 local Nigerians to go to East Africa for six months of training.

 

What was supposed to happen in six months is still in the process over 3 1/2 years later. It has been a calamity of failed promises. The Government contracted for provision of a new all-weather road however, it is still a dirt trail as the Government funding did not exist. The promised financing from both the State of Taraba and the Government of Nigeria was all talk but no money. Help from the President came in the form of a waiver for all duty on Agricultural equipment for everyone in the Nation, not just us. Treasury and Customs quickly hid the waiver and hid it in their “Secret Files”. We fought for a year to get the promised exemptions and only after tape recording the direct demands for bribes from high officials in the Treasury did we even find out about the “Secret File”. The Treasury attempted direct extortion from our manager and he recorded it and gave the copy to the highest law enforcement agency in the land but the culprits scoff at us with impunity. Government officials asked us to just forget the whole thing and pretend it did not happen. That was two years ago and nobody has been prosecuted to date. In every facet of Nigerian society money does all of the talking, corruption reigns supreme, and nothing moves without dirty money to grease the way.

 

The land leased to us was and now still is partially occupied by Upper Benue. They have no lease nor is it in their mandate to occupy land, only to control the rivers. A broken down water treatment plant and many unoccupied homes and buildings came with the project. These were all master planned to be immediately converted into a training school with dorms, classrooms, and sports fields, but as we arrived Upper Benue changed their minds and refused to leave. Pleas to the Government brought little relief and finally they recommended we just build new facilities, but we had not budgeted for this. The State and Federal money promised for financing the project were just not there so finally TY Danjuma, a very influential and wealthy person from Taraba State came along and requested to be part of the project. The Danjuma Foundation committed to constructing a new school and that sealed the deal. Dominion partnered with TY.

 

As our equipment arrived at the ports, bribes were demanded. The clearing agents added “extras” to our billings and when we demanded to know what these were there was no response. We would not be part of their corruption. We eventually changed clearing agents and it helped for a while but it always came back to a hold-up about something. New rules were put into place as we attempted to bring in 120 shipments of supposedly exempt tractors, rice mills, and the like. The agents ignored the President’s directive. The Minister of Agriculture tried to intervene many times but to little or no avail. In the end we paid massive amounts of duty not budgeted for, but NOT ONE BRIBE! Delays added up so much demurrage that finally it was necessary to quit the fight.

 

We have totally experienced Nigeria. I have been extorted, arrested, detained, lied to, and about anything else one can imagine. We have held to our convictions, not paid bribes, obeyed the law, and kept our dignity, with our frustration levels continuing to rise on every occasion. Nonetheless, we have plodded on through years of delays, because we will not compromise our standards. It has cost us dearly in both interest and in valuable time. We have battled to import around 120 loads of equipment. Virtually everything is finally there for the making of a fantastic farm but it is years late in getting there. Every shipment was a struggle and a shakedown.

 

We began construction on the site including flood protection dikes, 12 small homes, a maintenance building and the beginnings of a rice mill. We started clearing lands and our relations with the community were good. Upper Benue still occupied the buildings but they had left the land. We were finally about ready to plant crops at the end of 2013 with the State of Taraba promising to pay compensation as was their contracted duty to do when things suddenly changed.

 

Shortly after we arrived in Taraba, the then Governor Danbaba Suntai made a serious mistake when he ordered the pilots off his plane and decided he would fly it himself. Of course he crashed and nearly killed himself and others on board. First they said he was dead but somehow revived him again but the time with no oxygen left him with serious mental problems. We now had an acting governor, Umar that was trying to fulfil his role but TY did not respect his position. The fight ensued and our road building stopped, the compensation from the state did not get paid and we sat still again. A cabal was formed to try and place the ailing governor back into his office. This was supported by my partner TY so here Dominion sat in the middle of a political war. Then the bomb dropped! An old consultant to Governor Suntai and some of his aids decided they needed to be back in control so they came to TY and fabricated a story of how Upper Benue and Dominion were having extreme difficulties and that the Federal Government had to pay the compensation. They took this to TY who evidently summoned the President to his house and passed on the fabricated story. Mr. President called the Minister of Water on the carpet. The Minister then called Upper Benue, and Upper Benue got mad. They felt Dominion had double crossed them, and now our good spirit of co-operation was gone and they decided to occupy the land. The State got involved along with the Minister of Agriculture and State legal counsel. In effect we have no land to occupy so no farming has been done and none will be. Two sections of Government lay claim to the land we were allocated and the battle goes on. The President gave a directive through the Minister of Water that Upper Benue vacate the premises completely and let Dominion operate unhindered. It is yet to be complied with ten (10) months after the order was issued! This was our main condition for opting to resume work rather than walk away from the project.

 

Boko Haram is a subject of its own. This group wants an Islamic State with no education for women, and only Islamic studies for men. They kill thousands and the government can seemingly do little or nothing to intervene. They kidnap hundreds of young girls at one time and the army can’t find them. Kidnapping of foreign nationals is part of how they finance their operations, and many expats just end up dead. Boko Haram has formed a caliphate like ISIS in Iraq and is already capturing multiple cities in Northern Nigeria. In Taraba State the Muslim Fulani tribe of nomadic people has taken up a war with the TIV and Jukun tribes of Christian and Animist people. These groups kill each other weekly and between them all, thousands have been killed or driven from their homes. Their domain is moving closer to us. It used to be three hundred kilometers away from us, then two hundred, and now it is just next door.

 

Meanwhile, Dominion has six policemen protecting the equipment on what is supposedly our land which is occupied by everyone but us. Around 1,000 hectares were cleared in March of 2014, by Dominion in readiness for planting by Dominion. Instead Upper Benue, in conjunction with the local community, moved in and planted their crops! There seems be no let up as everyone is ready to go back to the same land in the next cropping season!

 

Dominion is caught with no way forward. I now must have heavily armed police protection with me for safety at all times and this is no way to run an operation. Our operations manager and his family have been moved away from the location for their own protection.

 

The final blow came with an article by the Times of London. It is obvious they put a lot of work into this story in order to make Dominion a villain of some sort. Dominion has been accused of taking land, displacing people, and using dangerous chemicals, when in fact not one of the accusations is remotely true. Dominion was not aware of the presence of the reporters even though the journalist had to pass right in front of our offices and operational area at the farm site with Upper Benue and the locals the day they visited the site. No one deemed it fit to hear or ask side of the story, nor were we given adequate time to respond to the many allegations outlined in the article. The images in the article are a true representation of the lack of current farming activity with not a single home on the ground. This appropriately describes how we have not occupied anything or displaced anyone. As for journalism this is nothing more than a smear campaign on the Nigerian Government and upon Dominion Rice and Integrated Farms.

 

Nigeria is in a crisis. In reality it is much easier for an investor to leave Nigeria than to come and invest in such a stressful climate. Environmental Rights Action (ERA) / Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FOEN) and Center of Environment Education and Development (CEED) all boast of your decision to support the communities affected by Dominion. It is now your obligation to do so. The people of Nigeria need massive support and huge investments. These precious people lack desperately for every need of life. What will you do for them when their children are hungry, and there is nobody to turn to? Please take up the challenge and invest the billions of Naira necessary to change these lives. Dominion will no longer be in your way.

 

Sincerely,

Calvin Burgess, Chairman

Dominion Rice and Integrated Farms, Ltd.

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Literature

Salesman’s Letter Series #2

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By Babatunde Alaran

Dear Prospect,

Would you like me to tell you that any product you buy is apparently not your decision? It is the decision of the salesman to let you buy the product. In a convincing way, that will bring forte your choice towards the product — and perhaps not that you will find it difficult, but, it will be effective to let you understand the benefit of the product. A salesman sells the benefit of the product but not the feature.

For instance, if I come to you, selling a Shampoo; that means I have discovered you as my target audience. Just because I notice your hair is not kinky enough. What I am supposed to do is to tell you why you need the Shampoo and its benefits to your hair. Then, I will come out straight. Like I had told you in the last series that advertising is not deceitful and direct marketing has presumed to be a process of communicating to your audience in a friendly way. Though, like a salesman who sells Shampoo, what I have to do is to make sure you, you believe in those benefits.

Not that as a salesman, I should then be presumptuous, towards the selling, but what I need to do for such customer whose hair is rough or not that kinky is that I will basically tell such customer that Shampoo is what she deserves to make her hair looks attractive. If she says: why? — Then, I will say just because she knows she is not conformable with dandruff.

So, like a salesman or a customer, you don’t need to have a premonition because the choice you make towards a product may affect or may not affect you when you buy or sell. But for a salesman, it is always part of the duty to let the customer has an interest in what you sell. You need to understand psychology and the way you approach such a customer with the language he/she understands. You just need to act like a piecemeal when you are with the customer.

The process of advertising means that your language needs to be simple. And perhaps, you need to find the customer’s interest and how your product will make him/her to not have a wrong doubt or bad impression about the product.

Be a jocular person because the customer wants to buy from someone that cracks a joke. Not necessary you become one of the best comedian or comedienne but you just have to know how to put liveliness in the customers’ face.

As you and I know that the market is competitive, and always be ready for a bargain in a constructive manner. Don’t rude. They are your benefactors; because without them you can’t pay your bills and without them, there won’t be enthusiasm to sell. Just make sure that you understand the marketing dynamic. To understand the marketing dynamic, firstly you need to understand the Strong Ps — which are inevitable, the three (Ps) People — Product — Place.

Indeed, these (Ps) are not stealthy. They are the components part of marketing and advertising. They determine who to buy and how to sell. I read the book of David Ogilvy who was the father of modern advertising and the founder of one of the biggest advertising agencies in 1960s; but now the WPP, which is established by Sir. Martin Sorrell has made an acquisition of Ogilvy. But, what fascinated me from that book: Confession of An Advertising Man. Is what he said: If we don’t sell, what else?

That means a salesman just have to sell. And for an example, if there is a new product on lottery, what the salesman needs to do is to know who the audiences are because they won’t be those who are senile but it would rather be those who enjoy gambling or those who enjoy sweepstake. However, this will give him the strategy to use to sell the new product. Therefore, the salesman needs to be creative. You don’t have to be redundant in language. Also, from a biography of David Ogilvy, he was a salesman who sold kitchen stove door to door for a living before the establishment of the agency. And what I discover from him is that a salesman needs to know how to captivate the attention of the buyer.

Albeit, when we watch a TV commercial, what always brews our attention is actually not the product. But what we do look out for in the message, if it is somewhat celebrity campaign or not. And if it is the kind of commercial we love, it will definitely captivate us to watch for as it is being aired. TV commercial ensures that we have insight into the product and what it will give us the application for the product and not the philosophy.

With this, it shows the real meaning of entertainment in the commercial, and it wouldn’t be inert to us because we get the importance of what we want. The commercial is not an absurdity. It brings the profundity of the product for us to perceive and receive in our own manner and choice. So, creativity is what makes us buy from the commercial.

Conversely, it means that a product can’t survive without creativity. The gigs for that are from the salesman who needs to have a nose of ideas. One idea is not enough to sell your product. One talk is not enough but just only one persuasion is enough to give the consumer what he/she wants from your product.

For instance, the process of communication is to know the theory to implement whenever you see a customer who doesn’t have the interest to buy. All you have to do is to use the product and tell him/her your experience before you sell to him/ her again. But if such customer stubbornly ignores your talk, never says that he/she won’t buy; but rather keep coming. And the communication theory you ought to use is selective perception. Try to know his/her perception towards that particular product and know why he/she refuses to buy — with this, you have become a journalist. You ask three questions which are: Why don’t you like the product? Is it that someone has lied to you concerning the product? Or is it that the product is not meeting you in a good economy?

When you have asked these questions in a friendly manner, try to give him/her a benefit of doubt, and if that customer is perhaps one of your audiences, and make sure you become his/her friend by visiting him/her repeatedly or talk to him/her on the importance of the product. Nevertheless, keep visiting. This is a process of repetition awareness. Awareness is communication to a salesman. For instance, when Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was having a problem with a low shortage of chicken nationwide, what the multifaceted restaurant did was that they came up with a creative concept. So, that concept for such customer to buy from you is in your hand. That means Idea rule the world which is also the pillar for good salesmanship.

Lastly, everybody who buys or sells is a salesman. You need to have the mind that commerce is what you depend on; because if someone doesn’t buy from you or sell to you, you haven’t communicated to the public. Yet, your reputation is probably entwined to the wrong selection of business desire. So, keep, getting better by checking from your mistakes and never let those mistakes to be obvious to whom you are communicating with. Being a salesman or a copywriter means that you don’t need to run out of ideas, and you have to think and tick like a clock.

Regards,

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Literature

Black Magic: 43 Nigerian Graduates Break Records at Howard University

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Howard graduates had a lot to be proud of at their graduation ceremony. However, the emphasis was not on the 96 graduating medical students, all focus was on an exemplary list of 46 Nigerian graduates. Out of the 96 candidates, 46 were Nigerian and out of the 27 awards given, 16 awards were given to Nigerian graduates. This is such a proud and empowering moment for these students. Never before at Howard University or any University in the United States has this happened. These Nigerian student completely dominated the ceremony and made history.

President Obama, the commencement speaker, talked about race and encouraged all the graduates to proud of their blackness and to always love and embrace who they are. It is important for us as people of color to continue to break through the glass ceiling. President Obama’s experience in office showed that racism is real and prevalent but we can still achieve greatness as long we believe in ourselves and never give up.

-Urban Intellectuals

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Literature

We released SSCE results in 43 days – NECO

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The National Examinations Council has said it released the last Senior Secondary Certificate Examination results in 43 days.

Acting NECO Registrar, Abubakar Gana, said  this  while receiving the National Association of Nigerian Students in Abuja on Monday.

He said  the body would ensure that candidates seeking admission to universities and other tertiary institutions did not wait long before receiving  their results.

NANS, led by its Senate President, Abubakar Gambo, presented an  award  to the registrar on the occasion of the 20th year of the establishment of the council.

Gana  said, “NECO came into being in 1999 because of  the agitations  for it  and  based on the recommendations of various committees. Since 2000, we have been conducting examinations and one advantage is that we have given the West African Examinations Council a wake-up call.

“There were times in the past where universities and other tertiary institutions took very long periods  to admit students. But with our coming, we started releasing results within 90 days.

“We started like that but as I am talking to you, the last release we had was done in 43 days.”

Gambo said the “prudent management of resources by the council had enhanced the elimination of wastage and stealing thus giving rise to the remittance of almost N1bn to the Federal Government.”

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