Humility lessons from Bloomberg

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 20 May 2007

Bob Franklin rides his bicycle with pride. When you see him pedalling to school, you will be tempted to call him a poor old student. Or even push him out of your way. But Bob, as he is fondly called, is a professor at the journalism school of the Cardiff University. It‘s not that he cannot afford to maintain a car, but the number of books in his office tells you what the man values most – to leave a worthy legacy behind. A student who runs into him anywhere in the school will likely say, ”Hi Bob!”

This disregard for status is what intrigued me when some colleagues and I visited the Bloomberg headquarters in London recently. The Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies facilitated the visit. Bloomberg, as you know, is the leading provider of financial news, data and analysis in the world. From outside, what you see of the company is a solid seven-storey building. But as you pass the security hurdles and enter into the main building, you will meet openness and equality face to face.

Bloomberg operates a flat organisational structure. There is no brick wall demarcating offices. All you see on each floor is a large space occupied by workers fiddling with their computers. Managers, reporters, cleaners and all manner of staff share the same space. Everybody has the same entitlement. There are a few transparent glass cubicles though. Some serve as conference rooms and studios where they hold interviews. Others are aquariums where members of staff go and feast their eyes on colourful fishes when they feel tired. Though treated equally, everybody knows his duties and responsibilities. And collectively, they have brought bloom to Bloomberg.

In most other aspects of the British life, I find this disregard for class or status at play. I do not know how many official aircraft Prime Minister Tony Blair has at his disposal. But what I know is that some of his foreign travels had been on the ticket of the British Airways, a commercial airline. If he does anything wrong, the police will quiz him, just as they did in the cash for honours enquiry. Most of the leaders and senior citizens, whom I have encountered, show no air of superiority or hubris.

Besides, nobody cares if you park 10 jeeps in your street. In fact, the more you acquire such things, the more you pay tax and parking fees. And a bicycle owner has equal right of access to the road as you. What will distinguish you are your accomplishments and contributions to the good of the society.

In Nigeria, our leaders almost equate themselves with God. Our president is a tin god. Our governors are semi-gods. And our local government chairmen, demigods. If the president is travelling to Ota via Lagos, the Murtala Mohammed Airport is closed. If he is travelling by road, every other mortal must give way. Siren-blaring and gun-totting security agents are always handy to discipline recalcitrant persons. Lots of man-hours are lost waiting for his convoy to pass.

I will not be surprised if he wakes up tomorrow and calls for additional aircraft to the presidential fleet. After all, some governors now have their own aircraft as exemplified by Dr Peter Odili of Rivers State. Soon, local government chairmen will start acquiring chairmanship aircraft.

Political leaders are not the only ones to blame in this craze to display ego and power. There are some private individuals who move about with large escorts in siren blaring vehicles. There are company executives who build an impregnable walls around themselves such that their workers have no easy access to them. And whenever they are around, everybody trembles as if judgement time has come. But in this atmosphere of fear, sycophancy replaces respect for such leaders.

For you who may be nodding your head now, are you free from this problem? If you are the type that sits in front of the television barking orders at your wife, and sometimes even battering her, then you are a culprit. If you are that housewife who dabs her housemaid with hot iron and generally treats her as an outcast, you are also culpable.

The point is that in most of us, there is class-consciousness. There is some element of hubris. The woman who dances to the altar to give offering may not be giving from her heart. What she may indirectly be telling whoever cares to look at her is, ”See my latest dress and trinkets. I belong to the high class.” A relation of mine has been worrying her husband to discard what she considers his small car and buy a luxury car that will look more befitting. This is despite the fact that the man is building a house and needs to worry less about luxury cars for now.

A couple of friends and relations have also given me a description of the type of the jeep I must buy on my return to Nigeria. To them, I have got to show some difference in my lifestyle. Somehow, I don‘t blame them because our value system is quite different. My ancestors, for instance, may revolt from their grave if all I come back from the UK with is an iron horse. The irony is that we can‘t even produce a spoke of it.

Nigerians are a proud people. I am a Nigerian. So, I am proud as well. That is why my ego is inflated when close friends who know that I am a titled chief in my village call me chieeef! But people like Bob and the Bloomberg team have humbled me. I am no more comfortable answering chief. The worst of it is that sometimes, when I look closely at the lips of those hailing me, it looks as if they are saying thieeef!

Addendum

Many people have written either reacting to the issues discussed on this page or requesting one favour or the other. Some want me to send pounds to them. Some want me to connect them to a football team in the UK. And some others want the details of the admission process into Cardiff University or how to get the UK visa. I have replied some. But clearly, I cannot satisfy everybody. I am not a staff of the British High Commission. Nor do I know anything about football beyond such names as Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and some other Nigerians playing the game in foreign lands. Those seeking admission to UK universities can Google any university of their choice and find details of the admission process on its website. Alternatively, one can visit either the website or any of the offices of the British Council in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt. One major thing I have gleaned from the requests is the desperation of Nigerians to check out of their fatherland. It says much about the standard of living in the country. So sad!

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