DEVELOPING MARKETING MUSCLE FOR THE RECESSION – 1
“Everything that is done in this world is done in hope.”
Martin Luther, 1483-1546, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ.
Given the gloom in which the world and Nigeria are enveloped at the moment, it might appear audacious, if not illusory to be talking about hope and preaching that it is perhaps the most important element which we all need more of these days. Any adult alive today, suffering, grinning, bearing the tribulations and still thinking about tomorrow or next week, is living in hope. It is my strong belief that globally, nationally and individually, we need more than our normal quantum of hope now more than ever. Unfortunately, most of us are too weighed down with tales of woe readily available to see any silver lining in the horizon. Yet, there are. Follow me down Nigerian history, as usual.
“Under our current conditions, it may be thought audacious to talk of creating a better society while we are still battling with the problems of a battered economy…but I believe wholeheartedly in the promise of God that in the middle of the utmost adversity, He creates and brings forth a new and greater glory..”
General Ibrahim B Babangida, Address at NIPSS, Kuru, October 26, 1986.
At a time like this, one of the advantages of being old and having personal archive of national events, unless you are Eric Teniola with his elephant-like memory, is that you can easily spot when history has almost repeated itself in the life of a nation. Then, it is possible for you to “keep your head while others around you are losing theirs.” (Rudyard Kipling). At the risk of being accused of assuming too much, I can state categorically that the statement credited to President Babangida, which was made approximately 34 years ago coincided with a period when the Nigerian economy was in many respects as near to total collapse as it is today. In fact, that was the year the price of crude oil first bottomed at $9.9 per barrel after years of selling well above that price.
It was also the first year, when it finally dawned on the Federal Government, FG, that it was confronted with several inescapable economic calamities at once. Among these were the failure of the country to honour its debt obligations and still have funds left to run the country. For the first time in Nigerian history, we were begging for various forms of debt relief – from reduction to outright forgiveness. Today, 34 years after, Nigeria is now again going abroad with the begging bowl in hand. We have become the Almajiri nation once again.
“It is true that we have run through one of the greatest financial bonanzas that ever happened to a nation truly in need; so fast and so recklessly that we may wonder if it ever happened at all! We are now in debt and face a serious short term trade credit and cash crisis which threaten our economy and national well-being..” That was Babangida again in 1986. Yet, that statement will be just as accurate if it is applied to Nigeria today. If a country ever proved that lightening indeed can strike twice in some places, that nation is Nigeria. And, if there is a country whose leaders and people fail to learn anything from experiences of the past, that country is also Nigeria. The crimes, follies and deliberate ignorance of leaders and followers, which turned us into beggar-nation in 1986, were also responsible for turning us to an Almajiri nation in 2020. Let me briefly explain.
When the price of crude oil rose from US$3 per barrel in 1974 to as high as about US$38 in 1981, the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari managed the economy as if the price will continue to rise for ever – or at least remain at the same level. The FG and state governments spent virtually all the dollar revenue collected and borrowed more prodigiously. No single state governor, out of nineteen then, was prudent enough to save for the next month – not to talk of the proverbial rainy day. The sudden downturn of crude prices in late 1982, which lasted till 1994, was the beginning of the catastrophe IBB faced in 1986.
Babangida later in that address provided a sketchy outline of the way forward which need not delay us here. Then, as now, the nation was divided into two groups – the optimists and the pessimists. Nobody should expect a prize for guessing that 99.99 per cent of our Fellow Nigerians were pessimists. They could see no way out of the crisis. Yet, they wanted government to do something. Thank God for the tiny minority of optimists. They were the people who received IBB’s message of hope with enthusiasm and who were prepared to join the struggle for survival. History will record that Babangida’s prediction that that God “creates and brings forth a new and greater glory” actually came true.
The price of crude oil actually started climbing from US$22 per barrel from 1999, under OBJ, to as much US$145 per barrel under Yar’Adua and Jonathan until 2014. Yet, by the time Jonathan handed over to Buhari, Nigeria was headed for another recession and we were again piling up debts. Buhari inherited a poisoned economy in 2015 from the combination of OBJ-Yar’Adua-GOJ.
Still, irrespective of how bleak one might view the economic landscape today, it is several light years better than what obtained in 1986. More than anything else, the major input into the efforts to achieve economic survival 34 years was hope.
I was intimately involved in the national struggle for aggregate national, corporate and individual survival in the 1980s. Fortunately for me, Nigeria had experienced a minor setback under General Obasanjo’s regime in 1978. That was the year Juju Maestro Ebenezer Obey had released his record AUSTERITY MEASURE. As the young and innocent National Sales Director of BOOTS COMPANY NIGERIA LIMITED, then the darling of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, I recollect, we had previously recorded six straight years of increasing turnover and profits – until 1977.
The FG’s Austerity Budget of 1978 changed everything. FG and state governments which accounted for about one quarter of our total turnover were slashing health budgets across the board. That was not all. The Head of State stopped the purchase and use of luxury cars by public officials and all were ordered to start wearing made in Nigeria textiles to office and state functions. The Austerity Measures created the first Tsunami for those of us in product sales and marketing. Careers and companies were suddenly at risk of going up in smoke. Then as now, what was formally friendly competition between brands in the Nigeria market became bitter rivalry. Sales targets that were easily made until the end of 1977 became mission impossible in the first quarter of 1978 and the rest of the year.
My request for a downward review of sales targets were turned down by BOOTS UK. We were ordered to fight for our market share at all costs – or else…. “Or else” meant I was invited to quit if I could not face the battle ahead. Nothing wakes you up like a kick in the rump. I was not alone. Other Sales/Marketing Executives were also under fire. It was then that it finally occurred to me that in a recession, sales/marketing executives are in the frontline of fire. I called for a National Sales Meeting involving all our field staff. I also asked for assistance from UK for training of our staff to equip them for the war of survival. Instead of sending a Sales Trainer, they sent a motivational speaker.
In four sessions, the man did not once mention recession. Neither did he address the burning issues of budget cuts and sales targets likely to be missed. Instead he provided case studies of how people who have developed strong streaks of hope overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. By the time he finished the series, none of the sales staff was asking for target reduction. They were eager to go out and do battle. We ended the year with 105 per cent of sales target achieved – despite the slight economic downturn in 1978…
To be continued.