The final stretch – Week 3

The final week! We’re scheduled to present to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Hon. Muhammad Musa Bello, on Thursday afternoon – we have a lot to do, and we’re running out of time. We ramp up our effort level several notches. Monday morning, we make progress in refining our recommendations and our storyline. Since we are presenting to a federal minister, we take pains to rein in the natural tendency to describe a lot of the detail behind our thinking and keep things as brief as possible. We make huge strides to getting to a crisply-summarized slide deck of about a dozen pages.  We head out to dinner at the Dunes Restaurant – good Lebanese fare and great wine.

Remi’s back in town on Tuesday and she’s got some big updates. The meeting with the minister has been moved ahead to Wednesday – so there goes a day of preparation! In addition to the meeting with the Minister, there’s a session on Thursday with the heads of all the Departments and their leadership team. All day, we work at a frenzied pace – and the summary presentation gets more and more polished and emerges late in the day ready for prime time. We are confident about our recommendations to improve FCTA revenue performance – it was built up from a rigorous on-the-ground understanding of the issues and validated quite extensively. The recommendations cover FCTA organizational culture, technology infrastructure, process improvement, policy reform and other strategic initiatives. We bolster our recommendations with success stories of other city and regional governments that have implemented programs similar to what we were recommending. Everyone’s exhausted, so we order in some Indian food from Wakkis.

Wednesday – D-day is nigh! We start work early. We have a talk with Remi and a call with Celia to clarify the team’s role and to ensure that we act within the strict bounds of conduct required of IBM’s corporate philanthropy efforts. We rehearse our message delivery. By noon, the team is showing hints of our nerves and a small flare-up results – fortunately, it is settled quickly. Finally, it is time to head out to meet the Minister. We are close to his office when a call comes, informing us that he has been called away on urgent business – and that our meeting has been rescheduled for tomorrow. We had been cautioned that this was a possibility, given the Minister’s position and responsibilities – so we head back with a mix of relief (at getting the additional time to prep better) and disappointment. We spend a fair bit of time rehearsing our sections and readying responses to questions we anticipated the audience might ask us.

IMG_6002Ready for showtime

 Thursday, and we have another early start. We do final-final edits, ready back-up material and head out to the presentation venue. Finally, it is time to start – and we take our seats. I lead off the presentation, expressing the team’s gratitude for the reception we received at each of the departments we visited, and the level of professionalism and preparedness that the FCTA employees displayed. I present our findings and recommendations, and Marvin takes over to present the roadmap and recommended next steps. Sam MC’s the Q&A session, and Divine and Maria respond to the audience questions. We finish in an hour, and are satisfied with the way the session went. Lunch is provided for the participants, and the caterers had thoughtfully provided take-away boxes for those observing Ramadan fasting.

On to the Minister’s office. We set up at his conference room and at 2 PM promptly, he walks in. All of the department heads are in attendance as well. We introduce ourselves to the minister, and Maria kick-offs the presentation. She smoothly hands off to each one of us in turn to present the details of each of the five key recommendations. Marvin closes with the roadmap and next steps. The Minister appears engaged throughout the meeting, and we see him taking notes. At the end, he asks several questions about the recommendations and wants to know more about the specifics of getting some of the recommendations off the ground. We finish the session in our allotted hour. The minister expresses his thanks to our team and the work –we are touched by his kind words. After photos with the team, he bids us farewell.

IMG_6005The ladies in their Nigerian outfits with the Head of the Road Traffic Department

Relief! This went well – our hard work paid off. Back at the hotel for a quick call with the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge leadership team to give them a summary of the day’s action. We let the SCC leaders know that Remy was an invaluable asset to the team –her dedication, connections and energy helped us immensely. We get a few brief moments of respite before we head out for a dinner arranged by the Permanent Secretary of FCTA for the team at the Obudu Grill at the Abuja Sheraton. All of the heads of the departments that we worked with were there, and we have a grand time. Coincidentally, the pianist who had entertained us at Nkoyo on our first weekend happened to be playing here!

Friday – We troop out of Room 107, our office for the past three weeks, one final time and head to the primary school we had visited the first week. This time, we bring them soccer balls – and spend an enjoyable half hour playing with the kids.



Next stop – the African Hair Convention at the Abuja Sheraton. Several attendees were staying at our hotel, and they’d asked us to check it out. We check out the products for sale. They have a hair braiding station and I ask the owner, Philip, whether he could braid my hair. He thinks I am pulling his leg – but I assure him I’m dead serious. He claims he can do magic with any hair type – but he’s full up now, and asks me to come back at 3 PM. We head to the poolside restaurant at the Sheraton for lunch, where Sam, Marvin and I shoot some pool while waiting for the food to arrive. I head back to see Philip at 3 PM – and he’s surprised that I am back – he wasn’t expecting it. He’s profusely sweating now– and pulls me aside to say that he really doesn’t know how to handle my hair. Alas – my plan to shock the wife and kids by showing up home in dreadlocks is dashed.

IMG_6057That’s famed Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw – the Angelina Jolie of Nigeria. At the African Hair Summit

Our final event in Abuja is a farewell reception arranged by Judy at an art gallery. Judy’s invited all the FCTA department heads, and several young professionals to the “mixer”. The art gallery is really nice, and I spend a fair bit of time walking around. There’s live music, and wine and canapes. Lots of pictures are taken. I chit-chat with the guests. There’s a cultural music and dance performance. Remi asks each of us from the IBM SCC team to say a few parting words about our time in Abuja, and the great time we had is reflected in the sincerity of our words of thanks. The DJ gets some of us dancing. A birthday cake is then brought in for Marvin – and we all sing him Happy Birthday. He sets out for the airport – he’s the first one of our team to head back home.

Music at the reception (YouTube link)

Cultural dance at the reception (YouTube link)


IMG_6083Last of the SCC team snaps – at the reception at the art gallery 

Amidst all of this, I hear talk of a pub trivia event taking place in the adjoining restaurant later that night. Nothing’s going to stand between me and some pub trivia, so I make my way in and insert myself into a team. The questions start and they’re a pretty interesting mix – there’s a visual pun round, a karaoke round, an audio round and a movie dialogs round. We were sitting in second place when Remi and I decide that its time to head back.

IMG_6077With my pub trivia team 

Saturday we do our final breakfast at the BluCabana. It is Maria’s birthday – and we get a card and a small cake for her.

IMG_6079Happy Birthday, Maria

 I say my goodbyes to Sam and Divine who head out to the airport at 11 AM and to Remi who leaves at noon. I finish up a few blog posts and head out for a workout at the gym. All that’s left to do is to pack up, head to the airport and trade my home of the past three weeks for my home.


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