The warmth of Nigeria….

Ok, you know those goofy t-shirts with I “heart” whatever on them?  Well, if I could find one here I would buy it, and proudly wear it…….everyday.  I LOVE Nigeria.  I truly do.  The people, the food, the fashion, the formalities, the children, and above all, their acceptance of visitors – I feel welcomed here.  It’s a sense of belonging.

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Every day we are warmly welcomed, with the customary “You’re welcome” and “How was your night?”  I’ve found myself slowing down my usual frantic pace of life, to offer my own “I’ve very well, how was your night?  How is your family?”  Pausing a bit more than usual, to simply chat.  And, to listen.  This authentic warmth extends to everyone I’ve met and spoken with so far in Abuja – from those in the city to the villages, plus uber drivers, service workers, government employees, children, adults, you name it, it’s the way Nigerians seem to roll.  Or, maybe it’s the pride they feel about introducing visitors to their customs, culture, and ways.

I started to wonder about this……How do Nigerians maintain such a sense of joy and acceptance of others in the face of some pretty challenging circumstances?  It could have something to do with Nigeria’s extremely diverse population – more than 250 ethnic groups live here.  And while not always harmonious, most have found a way to co-exist – and communicate.  While  English is the official language, Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa represent the principal languages, joined by Kanuri, Fulani, Nupe, Tiv, Edo, Ijaw and Ibibio.  Interesting to note, also, that Nigeria’s national flag consists of a field of green, white, and green, divided into three equal parts. Green represents the agricultural richness of the nation, while the white stands for unity and peace.  Telling.

As weekend #2 here comes to a close, I wanted to share a few memorable moments of experiencing the beautiful country and people of Nigeria…

Just like our first Saturday in Abuja, we kicked off Saturday #2 with CrossFit at the US Embassy employee residential compound – super tough class given the full African sun was out in full force.  Here a few of us are, together with the UK Col Pat who leads the cool down….Go Team!

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CrossFit!

Post workout, a few of us ventured poolside at the hotel to cool off, where our very own SCC Abuja teammate, Marvin – a former competitive collegiate swimmer – made a fortuitous challenge to 2 of the Nigerian national swimmers:  an individual medley consisting of 4 pool lengths.  This was getting interesting.   On your mark, get set, go!  And, we were off.  Needless to say, Marvin kicked it up – and won, by a landslide.  Nice job!  Radhesh caught the entire race on video, but here’s a snapshot….

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Next up was gathering back up with our entire team and hitting the road for a trip to the outskirts of Abuja to visit the Bwari Pottery Village.  While on our journey, we found ourselves weaving in and out of several small, hustling and bustling villages….
The Bwari Pottery Village is made up of various thatched mud houses that house artistes and craftsmen who work with various materials to create paintings, leather works, pottery, decorative lanterns, among many others.  It’s also where the Bwari Soap Company is located which trains women in soap and shea butter production and product development – contributing to the development of a strong community business and creating jobs for local women in the process.  Check out a cool video here about this pottery making process.  Plus, more photos below…

 And now the highlight of the day………a Nigerian wedding.  Who would have thought the day we visited Bwari Pottery Village just so happened to be the day the owner was getting married.  A truly gracious and welcoming gentleman, he extended an invite to all of us to attend his wedding, and turns out, we spontaneously became the guests of honor.  We are now official Nigerian wedding crashers!

We found ourselves front and center as the ceremony was getting underway – with the wedding MC asking each of us to stand up, introduce ourselves and say a few words to the bride and groom.  In a moment of grace, all of us managed to think fast on our feet and offer words of advice and well wishes to the couple….and then, the dancing began.  As the celebration kicked into full gear, we found ourselves grooving to the beat of some pretty awesome live African music – even joining in with the drummers and going with the flow.  Needles to say, we had a hard time gracefully bowing out of the rest of the celebration, with guests piling into our van for last minute photo ops.  What a day!  What a perfectly glorious and beautiful day here in Abuja.

IMG_3276As we drove out of Bwari Pottery Village and wound our way through the curvy roads towards Abuja, we just so happened to come across yet one more sign of the warm welcome we’ve been given – a reminder perhaps of why we are all here in Abuja.  Could it be a sign that the best is yet to come?  We think so.  Up next?  Our last week in Abuja……lots more in store!

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Smarter Cities Challenge Team Abuja

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Week 2 action

After driving all over Abuja for meetings with the ten FCTA departments during the first week of our project, the locus of the action for our second week moved to the “team room” at our hotel. The team room was a regular hotel room, converted into a working space. We had all the necessities for collaboration there – speakerphones, white boards, flipcharts, walls that would become covered with “sticky notes” with our observations and a projection TV for us to jointly edit slides. Ann and Israel had stocked plenty of snacks and drinks there as well, so we had no excuses for slacking!

Monday was largely spent in distilling the observations from our meetings into themes for each agency. We split up the work such that each of us had two departments each – I had the Department of Outdoor Advertising and Signage and the Internal Revenue Service. At the end of the workday, we had a concise view of the current revenue recovery situation, obstacles and a series of ideas for tackling the obstacles across all the ten departments.

IMG_5869Sausage being made

After work, I headed out downtown to the Transcorp Hilton hotel to meet my batchmate from my engineering school in India (IIT Kharagpur), Anurag. Anurag has been living in Lagos for over five years, managing operations for a multinational agribusiness company, and he happened to be in Abuja on work. We caught up over a drink at the poolside restaurant, and he regaled me with stories of his experiences doing business in Nigeria.

IMG_5874 Old pals catching up

Tuesday’s pretty much like Monday – discussing, debating, writing, rewriting. After a full day of work, we head out for dinner. The place we chose comes highly recommended by TripAdvisor, has posh décor and an inviting (and pricey) menu – alas, the food left a lot to be desired. Divine’s medium rare steak came out well done, the calamari was rubbery and so on. Our complaints about the food to the waiter resulted in him bringing us a plate of appetizers – after we had finished our meal! One lives and learns.

Wednesday morning, we head to the FCTA office. We split up into two groups, with one group in charge of conducting FCTA employee surveys and focus groups, while Marvin and I meet with selected leaders to sound out our findings and recommendations. We get really good inputs from the survey and the feedback meetings also help us a lot in adjusting our course.

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IMG_5901FCTA employee survey and focus groups

Back to the “office” on Thursday – and inevitably, tensions surface over differences in our thinking and direction. It was to be expected – a team of five strong-willed individuals, who had never worked together previously, with very different backgrounds and without a designated leader. By the middle of the day, the tension is palpable and becoming counter-productive. The leaderless nature of our team meant someone had to volunteer to take on the unpleasant and unrewarding task of orchestrating a team soul-baring session, get things out in the open and attempt to forge an acceptable work environment and path forward – else the project would suffer. Leaving matters unresolved, we head out to what was meant to be a “thank you” dinner from the team to members of the extended SCC team, including Remi, the IBM Nigeria Community Affairs leader, Ann, the Pyxera Nigeria leader, Israel, our able “Man Friday”, Nasiru, our driver and members of the FCTA support team who had been working closely with us. Due to a miscommunication, the FCTA support team couldn’t make it to Masala Wahala for dinner – but that didn’t stop the rest from enjoying time outside the pressure cooker atmosphere of the “office”.

(YouTube link) The talented Sameh playing Be-Sameh Mucho in an unusual duet

Friday morning, Remi, who has been with us from the start, leaves for some downtime at her home in Lagos. Divine steps up and starts our work day by calling on everyone to address the elephant in the room. We each talk about our take on the situation – airing things out help a lot in easing the atmosphere, and we emerge from the session with much of the positive team vibes of the initial days restored. We plough through the task of distilling and refining our findings and recommendations into a crisp presentation to the Minister and a more detailed report that we would leave behind. At the end of Friday, we are at a much better place work-wise, with our thinking synched into a semblance of unison. We also tick off a number of secondary items from our to-do list, including prepping the IBM external relations people about our project and creating visual collateral for the final presentation. The day concludes with a status update call with the SCC leadership team in the US and the UK. Anne and Celia from the SCC team have been supportive all the way, and give us pointers on how to finesse the critical last week and the final presentation.

A tough but ultimately, productive week. I’m looking forward to the weekend to clear my head and get ready for the final dash to the finish line. The presentation to the Minister is on Thursday – so three more workdays remain to get everything ship-shape.

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When a plan comes together……

As the second weekend here in Abuja comes to an end, we’ve had another week of incredibly productive work, plus fun and spontaneous adventures along the way!  But, first about the work……………

The beginning of the week started off with more team brainstorming focused on the task at hand:  improving the Federal Capital Territory Administration’s (FCTA) ability to recover revenue from their customers – a complex challenge.  Pouring through notes and interview results after 3 days of speaking with 120+ government leaders in 9 FCTA departments and agencies, plus the IRS, our team dove in and started crafting a framework for the overall strategy and approach.  We quickly developed a process to identify common themes across all agencies based on their challenges and solutions.  We dedicated lots of time to “pitching” each other to sound out and vet our ideas – at times challenged by both intellectual passion and our own set of beliefs.

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The Process

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Ideas….

Midway through this process, though, we believed our recommendations would be even stronger and “centered” if we could gain a better perspective of the “Voice of the Customer.”   We had already spoken to the leadership of the FCTA, but by connecting with the government employees in all 9 agencies,  we hoped to gain their unique perspectives and candid feedback – ensuring our final recommendations were based on all perspectives.

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“Voice of the Customer” Focus Group in action

Pulling together a Focus Group with about 30 employees from all 9 agencies, we used a survey-type of polling tool to gain this feedback.  We met with this Focus Group to explain and distribute the survey – conducting small group, personalized discussions afterwards where we listened to their input and suggestions.  We found these 1:1 conversations to be incredibly valuable and heart-felt.  Once back in our team room, we synthesized the survey results using the Watson sentiment analysis tool to gauge qualitative insights into the employees’ responses – which validated many aspects of our overall point of view.  We’ll be including these results in our final report.

In the end, based on our findings, we settled on 5 major recommendations to address the FCTA’s revenue recovery challenges.  Based on these recommendations, we’re creating unique and prescriptive strategies and solutions that will provide a way forward for the FCTA to begin to tackle their revenue recovery challenge.

My 3 key takeaways from this project so far:

  1. While a time-consuming process, the most impactful and valuable solutions come together when teams take the time to challenge each other’s ideas and recommendations – coming together on a final solution that makes up the sum of many parts.
  2. Customer-centricity is always the heart and soul of the end game. Many times when we hit a blocker in crafting our solutions, we paused, and asked ourselves:  “What’s our clients’ pain points? What outcomes do they want to achieve?”
  3. Outcomes vs outputs drives the best results. Understanding the outcomes you are trying to achieve in the end is the ultimate guidepost – it’s what keeps agile teams from “churning.”

We broke up our intense daily work sessions, with some comic relief in the evenings…. this team surely epitomizes the “work hard, play hard” mindset!  Some especially memorable moments below…

 

Stay tuned for my next blog on our recent adventures exploring Abuja over the weekend!

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Nigeria – my observations

Nation, economy & governance

Nigeria recently overtook South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. With a population of 184+ mn and plentiful natural resources – particularly, oil and gas – that is no surprise. However, most Nigerians I have talked to express their frustration at the pace of development, and point to the endemic corruption as possibly the single biggest deterrent to Nigeria’s ambitions.

I suspect the true pulse of the nation can best be felt in Lagos. Abuja, being focused on public administration, my interactions have been mainly with civil servants. The organs of the nation’s government are an overwhelming presence here. Abuja is not one of the 36 states of Nigeria, but is a federally-administered area.

When I told people about my upcoming Nigeria trip, many wanted to know if I was concerned about the Boko Haram terror group. They appear to be active mainly in the North, though they have struck the capital and points south. The military presence and high levels of private security at workplaces and establishments that I encountered is probably in response to the Boko Haram presence.

As a fledgling democracy that transitioned from a long spell of military rule, Nigeria is a beacon of hope for democracy movements in Africa and the rest of the world. Prognosticators believe the country is poised to raise its stature within Africa and internationally, and lead the way for the next cohort (after BRICS) of emerging economies.

People & languages

Abuja is pretty much at the midpoint of the country. To the North, the majority of the population is ethnically of the Hausa tribe and Muslim. To the South, the two dominant tribes, Igbo and Yoruba, are predominantly Christian. These three tribes have distinct languages, clothing and customs, as have the many other smaller tribes. There are an estimated 500 languages spoken in Nigeria. Through a gentleman’s agreement, the Presidency of Nigeria alternates between a Muslim and a Christian. I see many similarities with the nation of my birth, India – multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, many religions. Religion runs deep in the fabric of Nigerian society – as evidenced by the number of churches and billboards for pastors, and the near-complete observation of fasting by the Muslim population during the month of Ramadan.

Everyone speaks English – so communication was no problem at all. I heard a few phrases that reminded me of Indian English – such as the use of “like that, like that” to mean “et cetera” and the query “you understand?” after someone had explained something to you. A few phrases stood out as distinctively Nigerian – such as asking someone in the morning “how was your night?” and saying “you are welcome” not as a response to “thank you”, but to mean “welcome to my home/office”.

I asked my Nigerian colleagues how they identified the ethnic backgrounds of other Nigerians – their answers included “from their clothing”, “from their English accent” and “from their names”. I guess the markers of identity are universal.

Clothing

Women here dress colorfully! At our work meetings with the various FCTA departments, I saw a multitude of brightly colored dresses and matching hair wraps.

IMG_5971Rocking the agbada, at a wedding

IMG_5922Ugo, the receptionist at our hotel, confident in his multicolored dashiki  

IMG_6016.jpgMercy & Gbenga – hotel staff members

IMG_5887Fashion shoot at our hotel lobby. They begged me to pose – I declined. Maria’s photo-bombing

Men measure up quite well to the women in terms of color of their outfits and style. Traditional outfits (agbada) are very common in office settings. Riotously colorful dashiki-style tops are everywhere; I was inspired to try a few on, but came to the conclusion that I sorely lacked the panache to carry it off.

Food

Nigerian cuisine has a variety of soups and stews with meat, fish or veggies in it. Jollof rice is a matter of national pride and of good-natured rivalry between Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria as to who makes the best version. Yam seems to be the other popular starch – pounded yam, which you roll up into small balls and dip into your soup, showed up on several restaurant menus.

Our experiences with food in Abuja has been a mixed bag – some great meals mixed in with some not-so-memorable ones. In a previous edition, I’d reported on the memorable grilled whole fish “joint” at the Mogadishu barracks. I had good pizza and pasta at Secret Garden, nice Nigerian / South Indian food at Masala Wahala, seafood stew at Argungu (Jabi Lake Mall) and a couple of good lunches at the newly-opened Cafeteria at the Grand Square Mall. The places I didn’t care about either had super slow service (I am looking at you, Hilton poolside!) and/or poorly cooked or mind-numbingly spicy food. Though I haven’t had an upset tummy to date, some of my teammates have, despite sticking to the precautions around drinking bottled water and avoiding dodgy street-food stalls.

pounded yamPounded yam

Soups and stew JevinikSoups at a Nigerian restaurant

Quite a few Indian and Lebanese restaurants here, and many restaurants feature a few Lebanese or Indian items on the menu – which must be an indicator of the makeup of the immigrant population here. As a pescatarian / part-time vegetarian, I have had no lack of menu choices. I found it curious that among the “US mega-chain restaurants”, only KFC and Johnny Rockets seemed to have a presence here – no Subway or McD. Not that we went looking for them…

Writers & Music

I am ashamed to confess that before heading to Abuja, the sum total of my experience reading works by Nigerian authors was zero. On my flight in, I’d looked up prominent Nigerian writers, and Chinua Achebe figured pretty much at the head of the list. I am happy to report now that I have finished reading Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” – which also happens to be my reintroduction to fiction after many years. I found the work powerfully moving – the way he describes Igbo tribal life in the village and the portends of doom for a way of life that loom with the arrival of the British missionaries and colonial poobahs.

achebeChinua Achebe

chimamanda Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Right now, I am tackling “Half of a Yellow Sun”, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who’s been in the limelight of late as the voice of a new generation of Nigerians and at the vanguard of a new crop of talented African writers. Very promising start.

Realistically, I doubt whether I will have the time while I’m here to dip into the other greats of Nigerian literature like Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri or Buchi Emecheta –but they’ve been added to my reading list.

Music on the radio seems mostly hip-hop influenced. I don’t know where the Fela Kutis of today are hiding. An Uber driver played some modern Hausa music – heavily auto-tuned. From my sampling of music played by the drivers over about a dozen Uber rides, reggae seemed to have a widespread following here.

Fela Kuti Fela Kuti, Afrobeat pioneer

Nigeria produces loads of movies – though they don’t seem to have much of an audience outside the country. Indian movies and music came up in a few discussions – our driver Nasiru told me he loved “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam” and “Kal Ho Na Ho” (!!!) and I saw employees at an FCTA office watching Hindi songs on a TV that apparently stayed permanently tuned into Zee TV, a Bollywood/Hindi channel.

 Sports

Football (soccer) is king here – of the ten TV channels at the hotel, two are dedicated to EPL / La Liga / Bundesliga games. The newspaper sports pages cover the Nigerian National Team (Super Eagles) and the action in European leagues and the Nigerian league. Over the past two weeks, I read a bit of coverage on track and field, tennis and basketball – but I can safely say that 80% of the sports page column-inches are dedicated to football.

In a highly unscientific poll, I posed the question “who is the greatest sportsman produced by Nigeria” – and got nothing close to an unanimous answer. My assumption going in was Hakeem Olajuwon would be it, hands down. But the NBA is not popular here – so Hakeem doesn’t seem to be getting the recognition he deserves. Jay Jay Okocha figured in a couple of responses. But I sense there is no single sportsman/woman who occupies the national psyche, like I imagine Emil Zatopek does for the Czechs or Sir Viv Richards for the Antiguans.

Hakeem Olajuwon Action PortraitHakeem Olajuwon

Jay-Jay_Okocha_bio_pic_1280-1018x726Jay Jay Okocha

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Decompression time – the weekend

After a week of long hours and intense, mentally taxing work, I couldn’t wait for the weekend to roll around. Friday evening, we all troop to a restaurant / lounge, where my dinner of prawns with jollof rice gave me an idea of how spicy Nigerian food could be (very!). A DJ was cranking out dance music while we were eating, and there was a fair bit of good-natured trash-talking around the table on the topic of who had the best dance moves – so naturally, the action soon moved over to the makeshift dance-floor. The dancers grooved to a mix of hip-hop, pop chart toppers and Nigerian songs. The jury’s still out on who has the flyest (fliest?) moves.

Saturday morning, I am up at “cock’s crow” on my quest for punishment – namely, CrossFit at the US Embassy. Our informant had told Maria and I to be there at 8:30 AM – so we find our way there, only to be met by perplexed security guards. After a bit of back and forth, they hauled out someone from inside, who informed us that the action was starting at 9:30 AM – so we had an hour to kill. So on to the nearby Hilton for some coffee and pastries. When we got back at 9:30 AM, the place was packed with other punishment-seekers – about 30 or so – all looking to work off their Friday night excesses.

The instructor explained the workout for the day – a complicated torture routine that involved 20 burpees, 30 box jumps, 60 toe touches, 20 weighted squats, 20 kettle bell swings, 20 lunge-twists and 20 mountain climbers. If you survive one round of this, then you get the reward of rinsing and repeating the routine all over again. After 45 minutes of this, we are ready to drop dead. To commemorate our surviving this session, we took some pics with the brave boys from the US Armed Forces who led the session. Warning – sweaty pics ahead!

IMG_5819.jpgWith our boys from the US Armed Forces

Post-lunch, we head out to nearby River Plate Park for the weekly meet-up of the Abuja Chapter of the Hash House Harriers. From the park, we set off in a convoy to the Asokoro suburb to the designated hiking start point – it is an improvised trail through the brush. We set off with gusto, but said gusto declines dramatically when we hit the first steep hill. I stay behind to help Divine, and soon, we are bringing up the rear of the 60-person group.

  IMG_5827.jpgBefore setting out on the Abuja Hash hike – all smiles !

IMG_5841.jpgSmiles have disappeared by this point

Eventually, the whole group reaches the top of a mini-plateau, where we are rewarded with dramatic, sweeping views of Abuja – and cold, cold beer. Much beering and bawdy singing later, we set off on our hike back – ahead of the crowd. Our driver, Nasiru, mentions that he’s a Fulani –a pastoral ethnic group – and proceeds to lead us back with great panache. He doesn’t need trail markings – his instincts tell him which way to go over the scrub and brush. We finish the hike bone-tired – but Nasiru’s barely broken a sweat – and he hiked the 5 km distance wearing sandals! Next stop – a well-earned dinner, at an Indian restaurant. The food was meh – but I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way of righteous gluttony, even finding room in my tummy for the “gulab jamun” dessert. Sated, we head back to our hotel for some shut-eye.

IMG_5859.jpg We made it ! Remi’s climbed Mt Kilimanjaro twice, so this was a walk in the park for her

IMG_5865Views at the summit

Sunday morning, I take care of some long-pending tasks – like updating my blog – and then head out for a run. A team meeting to discuss our progress and plan for the coming week consumes most of the afternoon. Dinner is at a nearby mall restaurant – Argungu – that specializes in Nigerian seafood. I get a spicy and delicious seafood stew, washed down with some wine. All is well with the world.

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The first week – Summary of the action

Our first week was a blur of activity – yet a few incidents and images stand out vividly in my memory.

After our kickoff session on Monday, the schedule for the rest of the week was packed with meetings with the ten FCTA departments that were part of our project scope. From Tuesday to Thursday, we met with three departments each day for two hours each, with meetings scheduled back-to-back.

On Tuesday, we covered the Land Administration, Geographic Information Systems and Engineering Services Department. On Wednesday, we covered the Environmental Protection Board, Water Board and the Development Control Department. And on Thursday, we covered Road Transport Services, Outdoor Advertisement and Signage and Parks & Recreation.

At each of these meetings, the departments were represented by a sizeable delegation of 12 to 15 members, headed by the Director and included his deputies covering most vital functions. We asked a ton of questions and got a more nuanced understanding of what each department did and their revenue collection challenges. We also discussed potential solutions to mitigating the issues that were raised.

Across all of the meetings, we were impressed by the well-prepared teams who were clearly motivated and appeared committed to find solutions. By the fourth meeting, some clear common threads were emerging in terms of issues they faced and possible solutions.

IMG_2948With the Engineering Services Department leaders

IMG_2955With the Abuja Environment Protection Board leaders
IMG_3034The ladies find the men in uniform of the Dept of Road Traffic Services hard to resist

IMG_3037The striped traffic control vehicles are as much an attraction as the men in uniform

Friday morning, we spent 2 hours with a local primary school as part of our community service, talking with school kids about ourselves. The joy in the kids’ eyes at meeting our diverse team was visible. When I said I was born in India, they shouted a chorus of “Namastes”. Our team planted a tree at the school and promised to come check on how it was doing periodically.

IMG_5807That’s a packed audience – very enthusiastic and receptive kids

IMG_3074I’m digging this

After the school visit, we met with the Internal Revenue Service, which was the last of the departments on our list. We managed to get lunch together – which was the first time the whole week that we had had lunch!

Now for the highlights of the week

  • Marvin falls sick – On Tuesday, while doing the rounds of the Land Administration Department, my team mate Marvin started showing the effects of dehydration caused by an upset stomach, and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. The incident, though a bit dramatic as it unfurled, demonstrated the calm and professional manner in which IBM and Pyxera responded as well as the super-helpful nature of our Nigerian hosts. Marvin was back in prime form by the next day.
  • We visit the zoo – After our meeting at the Parks and Recreation Department on Thursday, we were invited by the Director to visit the adjoining zoo. It was a total hoot – we acted like excited school children, taking selfies with the Cape buffaloes (named Romeo & Juliet), ostriches, baboons and other assorted denizens.

IMG_5777“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” – “I’m right here!”

  • We get caught in a fierce thunderstorm – On Thursday evening, just as we got into a cab and started out for dinner, the skies opened up. In no time, parts of the roads had become flooded and visibility had dramatically declined. Looking at the conditions, we decided to turn back and had a pretty “interesting” ride back.

IMG_5793 A proper tropical rainstorm – enjoying it from the safety of the Blu Cabana Club

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SCC Abuja – Project Kickoff

The project kickoff was the first item on our agenda for Monday, Day 1 of Week 1. Behind the scenes leading up to the kickoff, unbeknownst to us, a frenzy of planning and coordination activity had been going on. The IBM team on the ground in Abuja and our able logistics support providers, Pyxera, coordinated all of the minutiae involved with their counterparts from the FCTA administration. For the team itself, the day before the kickoff was dedicated to preparing our brief introduction speeches and explaining our teams’ objectives to the dignitaries who would be in the audience.

Monday morning, we head to the FCTA Minister’s personal conference room. The room is packed with senior officials from the FCTA administration and the heads of the various departments that we would be working with. From the IBM side, in addition to our team, the delegation included Dipo, the Country General Manager for Nigeria, Remi from Corporate Citizenship and Judy from Government Relations.

The Permanent Secretary, FCT Abuja welcomed the IBM team. His warm welcome, encouragement and evident dedication to the cause of improving revenue generation and collection was both motivational as well as a preview of how the department heads and their teams would engage with us.

From IBM’s side, Dipo, the country GM, introduced our activities in Nigeria. I learned that IBM Nigeria was running an internship program aimed at providing opportunities for technology students and graduates. Remi, our Corporate Citizenship Manager for West Africa, then introduced the Smarter Cities Challenge and our objectives in Abuja. Then it was our turn to introduce ourselves –I’m impressed at both the diversity of life and professional experiences we brought and the team’s commitment to bettering the world in whatever small way we could.

For the second half of the kickoff session, we had the Directors of each of the ten departments we would be working with talk about their agencies, covering the current revenue generation and collection situation, key challenges and their thoughts on how to improve revenue collection. Each of them also answered our questions about their departments’ workings.

We left the kickoff session far more educated on what we were up against. Rarely in my professional life have I been “caught up to speed“ so rapidly on a project – all thanks to Remi’s meticulous preparation. She had provided clear instructions and templates to help the departments understand what the team would be looking for and helped them prepare accordingly.

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The kickoff finished at 4 PM – and then it was time for refreshments and group pictures. We go off happy with Day 1, for a well-earned “lunch” at 5 PM (late or missed lunches were going to be a recurring theme over the coming week).

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