Frankly, if you have some money which you want to invest in Nigeria, your best bet is to start a church or a private school. You can be sure of these: strong patronage; huge returns on investment; tax freedom; safety of investment; and a guaranteed long term financial outlook. This is pure Nigerian investment fact. You can take this information to the bank.
These two businesses however show, more than any other example, that Nigeria is a very sick nation. Church business, on the one hand, is the exploitation of a people’s misplaced and exaggerated spirituality, borne out of the hardships they are facing and the baseless fear of the unknown. Operators of this business have a simple task of continuously orchestrating the people’s helplessness and gullibility regarding issues such as ill health, poverty and unemployment (all outcomes of a failure of leadership in the country) to remain in business.
The private school business, on the other hand, reminds us of the systemic breakdown and shameful rot in our public school system. It cashes in on the need to fill up the vacuum created by the failure of public schools and satisfy the people’s desperate need for education in whatever form it comes. But then, it is not just about being desperate for education, it is about having the money to pay for it.
Starting either business is simple. For the church business, you don’t even need to register with anybody. Just build or rent a hall or even a good tree shed, buy some plastic white chairs, get a microphone, a pulpit stand and an offertory box. Depending on the style you prefer, begin to advertise the sudden discovery of your anointing, and make sure you spice it up with your ability to cure all sorts of ailments and perform outstanding miracles. You can simulate a third world war situation in the country, it is permitted. Tell the people that all the demons on earth have gathered here and have sworn not to leave until we are all ruined. Make sure you convince them that you, you alone have the solution to all their problems. Whatever, just make sure they continue to part with their meagre income.
To ensure success in the business, you have to be a good orator, a psychologist, and a dramatist. It is important that you hold your congregation spellbound all the time. Also, you must run the business like a sole proprietorship. You alone should give the directives and no one should question your authority. Close associates who get too ambitious should be disgraced, called agents of the devil, and excommunicated. Your only confidant should be your wife, who should share your anointing, and, for ease of administration, a council of elders who join in sharing the booty on pay day. Returns on investment are huge.
Nigerian laws provide that to start a private school, you should be registered by appropriate agencies, but the rate at which these schools proliferate on street corners and the way they operate leaves one doubting if any registration is actually done, not to talk of monitoring. Private residencies, uncompleted buildings and very shabby structures can be used as private schools. All that is required to legitimise the operation is a signboard which says, among other things, “Government Approved”. One very important thing, however, is that the school fees must be mindboggling.
The mindboggling fees do not necessarily translate into good pay for the teachers. Unemployment is so high that giving them a job is enough privilege. Very importantly, the school must make good results during external exams. Accomplishing that is easy; know the right people in the external examination bodies, and grease the right palms. Phony results guarantee patronage. Miracle centres are a gold mine.
With private schools, as it is with the churches, there is large room for expansion. You could start as a nursery school then expand in record time to have a primary and secondary school, or even a university. That way, you can keep your customers from start to finish. The beauty of this business is that once you have established yourself, you can review your fees and charges at will. Your customers won’t leave, because they don’t have better options. The government owned public schools are an eyesore. Good business, don’t you think?
Perhaps these are the kind of investments our leaders talk about when they travel the globe at our expense to invite foreigners to Nigeria to invest.
Both businesses exploit citizens and it is a sad tale that both flourish because of the complete failure of good governance. A person with a well-paying job has no business being in a church gathering by 9.00am on a Monday morning, and will have less cause to continue contributing to the wealth of his pastor—under the guise of seed sowing—from the little he has. Likewise, if our government provides free or affordable and qualitative education at all levels, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of private school owners.
Until our Government wakes up from its slumber—which it appears incapable of doing—we shall continue to be exploited by entrepreneurs who cash in on the deficits of our society to make brisk business.
In the meantime however, like a ‘man of God’ told me in an e-mail in response to my article ‘Nigerian Men of God as Con-Artists’, there is enough room for everyone in the business. So if you have the money, invest.