From The Library

The Kwakol team gets to review some books they've read from our in-house library.

Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa

by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede

Reviewed by Basil Abia
Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede is the perfect book for articulating Nigerian entrepreneurship. There are only a few books by Nigerian entrepreneurs, Nigerian financial markets players, and even Nigerians in the public sector - the most recent release prior to Imoukhuede’s, Africa Rise and Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 Billion by Jim Ovia, which I also read, was incredibly tepid and vaguely written. So, I am really thankful for the quality replete in this book.

Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa is Aigboje's tale of how he and Herbert Wigwe (Access Bank PLC's current MD/CEO) bought a small bank nearing liquidation in March 2002 and turned it around into one of the 20 biggest and most profitable banks in Africa, as well as the second biggest bank in West Africa by the end of 2022. It starts off by highlighting the paternalism and godfatherism that mired Nigeria's first retail banking boom in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The introductory pages highlight how much of a role both Citibank and Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) played in the story of the newly acquired Access Bank - both Aigboje and Herbert were directors at GTB prior to their shock acquisition of Access Bank as mid-30-year-olds, while Aigboje was a short-term Citibank alum - the late Tayo Aderinokun and the sagacious Fola Adeola, both founders of GTB, are fondly mentioned. Additionally, the book praises the incredibly underrated and much maligned Joseph Sanusi, Nigeria’s central bank governor from 1999 to 2004, for playing an important role in the emergence of Nigeria’s second retail banking boom. Throughout the book, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede skillfully interweaves excerpts from Seth Apati’s mid-70s Nigerian finance thriller, The Nigerian Banking Sector Reforms, making the book an interesting read for Nigerian finance nerds. In the book, Aigboje emphasizes their revolutionary approach towards value chain optimization as the key factor towards Access Bank’s meteoric rise in the high-flying 2010s of Nigeria’s modern history - particularly, Access Bank introducing a smart way for Nigerians to purchase airtime through non-visible but effective dealers enabled by Access Bank’s bespoke merchant credit system, thus becoming a vital partner to MTN Nigeria, is an anecdote of note. It is through this approach, Aigboje insists, turned Access Bank into the key bank for Nigeria’s Telecoms and Cement industry - Aliko Dangote is praised for trusting Access Bank early on, post-take over. Nary a wonder why Herbert Wigwe was in that famous ‘gelato’ video with Aliko and his bosom friend, Femi Otedola…a similar occurrence in the flurry of the Dangote Oil refinery inspection videos replete on the internet. A key takeaway from the book is Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s honesty and transparency in noting his failures in the journey to building Access Bank into a tier 1 African bank - Access Bank’s expansion failures in Ivory Coast, and the asset bust in Nigeria’s financial sector of 2009 that nearly dented the Bank’s balance sheet are notable anecdotes. Overall, Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa is a refreshingly honest and inspiring story of the doggedness, innovation, and relentlessness needed to succeed in Nigeria’s harsh business environment as an entrepreneur. It is also the best book that I have read about Nigeria in the past 12 months, and I have read aplenty, trust me. 

Prosperity Paradox

by Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo, and Karen Dillon

Reviewed by Janada Jafiya
The Prosperity Paradox, written by Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillen, highlights the importance of market creating innovation- particularly for emerging economies. Using case studies from different countries, the writers provide evidence which reveals that prosperity for less developed nations is more about creating new markets within these economies than fixing poverty. They describe why in spite of the good will and billions of dollars spent by individuals and organizations to eradicate poverty; this ambition is met with little success. Measures like providing access to free healthcare, schools and clean drinking water can only go so far. But when innovations create markets and affordable products for consumers who will otherwise go without, social and economic transformation follows.

They go on to explain how various innovations adopted by institutions can be categorized into three different classes: Market creating innovation, efficiency innovation and sustaining innovation. Market creating innovation occurs when a product or service becomes accessible to a segment of society that initially couldn’t access them. This creates growth because the alternative for these consumers will be nothing. The second type of innovation called sustaining innovation happens when a company creates better performing products. Although this form of innovation is necessary for businesses because it improves profitability, it does not promote economic growth. For instance, Toyota will not build a new plant and employ more factory workers to produce an upgraded version of their Toyota Corolla. Finally, efficiency innovation improves the operational aspects of a company’s existing business model. This kind of innovation often increases the profitability of the company at the expense of slower economic growth.

The writers show that market-creating innovation is the best way to propel economic prosperity. A classic example given illustrates how the invention of the sewing machine by Singer revolutionized dressmaking in the United States and created growth in markets that were previously non-existent. Prior to Singer’s invention, the average American owned two items of clothing due to the high cost of dressmaking that made owning them expensive. Then came the Singer sewing machine, which was not only less expensive but simpler to operate. While a skilled seamstress could produce only forty stitches a minute, the machine enabled an unskilled person to produce nine hundred stitches a minute. Increased demand for the sewing machine led to booms in the textile, wood and steel industries and the creation of other industries. The authors present case studies that cut across different continents- from Asia to South America- all revealing that for sustainable economic growth, the key lies in market creating innovations.

An erroneous belief is that once infrastructure and institutions are built, the markets will come. However, it’s been proven that as markets become more developed, they begin to pull in the infrastructure and institutions required.

Christensen’s refreshing approach to poverty eradication shows that the focus shouldn’t be on combating poverty but on creating prosperity, this is bound to yield a much more permanent and impactful result.

In Pursuit: Journeys in African Entrepreneurship

by Chukuka Chukwuma and Osaretin Oswald Guobadia

Reviewed by Basil Abia
In my earlier review of Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, I had written that it was the perfect book for articulating Nigerian entrepreneurship. Well, In Pursuit: Journeys in African Entrepreneurship by Messrs Chukuka Chukwuma and Osaretin Oswald Guobadia is just as perfect. It is a gripping and honest tale of two Nigerians in the diaspora who gave up their well-paid jobs on Wall Street to give entrepreneurship in Nigeria a try in the early noughties. Best of friends and written in an almost-pub-like conversational tone, they are truthful in their tellings of the brutal and drama-filled business environment that is Nigeria.

Both starting out on their return to Nigeria with fairly comfortable top banking jobs, Chukuka with Citibank Nigeria and Osaretin with the United Bank for Africa, they itemize the steps taken to veer into private enterprise in a Nigeria that is still grappling with a rents-obsessed elite class averse to competition and free enterprise. From a dearth of infrastructure to poor adherence to contract obligations including being owed years in client fees, In Pursuit: Journeys in African Entrepreneurship is the accurate depiction of what it means to be an entrepreneur in Africa’s biggest economy. What I appreciate most about the book is the priceless process-by-process delineation of famous deals like Africa’s first $1 billion dollar financing carried out by NLNG, MTN’s $395 million entry into Nigeria, Pentascope’s botched take-over of NITEL and the $6 billion London Club debt restructuring deal carried out by Citibank Nigeria that kicked off Nigeria’s Paris and London club debt forgiveness in 2005. Also, according to Chukuka, raising money for business in Nigeria is hell, and sometimes quite weird - including an investor’s spouse asking for sexual favors before funding rounds can get fulfilled, and this should come as no surprise. This is Nigeria, anything you see, you just have to take it like that, and quite accurately does the widely popular aphorism depict Nigeria of the nineties, noughties, and twenty-twenties.

Anyone who wants  more understanding about Nigerian entrepreneurship can read In Pursuit: Journeys in African Entrepreneurship. A thorough examination of the background, possibilities, and difficulties that Nigerian entrepreneurs must deal with is provided by Chukuka and Osaretin. Anyone interested in learning about Nigerian entrepreneurship and the prospects available in this region should read this well-written book.

The Fisherman

by Chigozie Obioma

Reviewed by Basil Abia
Not every time non-fiction, sometimes fiction. If you have been searching for a decent allegory of what life was like under Sani Abacha, then you are in the right place. The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma is an extraordinary story that follows the lives of four brothers in the southwestern Nigerian town of Akure. This is a bit personal for me because I once worked and lived in Akure, and I know it very well. The story is told through the eyes of Benjamin, the youngest brother, and narrator. Benjamin recounts the story of his brothers’ lives, as well as his own, as they struggle against the poverty of Sani Abacha’s despotic reign as Nigeria’s head of state and the apocalyptic prophecies of a mentally ailing homeless man popularly called Abulu. The story follows the brothers as they come of age and learn to confront the challenges that life throws their way. It is a story of brotherhood, faith, and resilience. The Fisherman is also a powerful allegory that captures the struggles of the 1990s military era in Nigeria with vivid detail. Obioma’s writing is captivating and evocative, drawing the reader into the world of his characters. The characters are well-developed and the story is filled with emotion and tension. In summary, The Fisherman is a captivating and compelling read. It is a story that will stay with readers long after they finish the book. You will also be compelled to call your siblings and reiterate your love for them - if you doubt me, please read this book and see for yourself. 

Too Big to Fail

by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Reviewed by Basil Abia
I have been searching for a book like Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin since 2009 when the global financial crisis directly affected my family. Better late than never, as they always say. Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin is an illuminating and informative account of the 2008 financial crisis. I found that through extensive interviews and research, Sorkin provided a comprehensive overview of the events leading up to the crisis and the U.S. government's handling of the nearly apocalyptic situation. The book first begins with an overview of the financial industry leading up to the crisis. Sorkin explains how the deregulation of the industry and the rise of complex financial instruments contributed to the instability of the market. He then goes on to discuss the various players involved in the crisis, from CEOs of major banks to members of U.S. Congress. Sorkin then provides an in-depth look into the government's response to the crisis, from the actions of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to the passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). He also examines the role of the media and the public's perception of the crisis. The narrative is engaging and well-paced, and Sorkin does an excellent job of describing the complex financial concepts in an easy-to-understand way, a key example to researchers of the financial markets. His interviews with key players lend an additional layer of insight to the story. However, some readers may find the book overly long and dense at times, I personally think. Regardless, if you love long-form writing, I promise you that this book is perfect for you. Overall, Too Big To Fail is an impressive work of journalism that sheds light on the events of the 2008 financial crisis. Sorkin's writing is engaging and accessible, and his extensive research and interviews provide an essential account of the crisis.

Psychology of Money

by Morgan Housel

Reviewed by Basil Abia
The Psychology of Money is an insightful and thought-provoking book by Morgan Housel. Truthfully, I regret reading the book this late since it was first published. This book dives into the psychology of money and how it affects our lives. Delving into topics such as why people make irrational decisions with money, why people take risks, and why people make mistakes with their finances are what can be picked as the utility of the book. He also looks into why people are so attached to money, and how it shapes our lives. I particularly enjoyed Morgan’s writing style - it was engaging and easy to understand. In the writing, he offers up many thought-provoking ideas and relatable anecdotes, and also encourages readers to think deeply about their own financial decisions and how money affects their lives. My favorite parts of the book are when he dabbles into personal and historical anecdotes. I find them incredibly relatable, and profound. He also offers helpful advice and practical tips to help readers make better financial decisions. The Psychology of Money is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the psychology behind money. It is an eye-opening exploration of our relationship with money, and it is filled with wisdom that will help readers make better decisions with their finances; something Kwakol has built a good reputation for with their customers in no time.

This House Has Fallen

by Karl Maier

Reviewed by Basil Abia
This House Has Fallen by Karl Maier is the most relatable for an average Nigerian. Every page flipped takes you back to your memories of the legendary chaos of Lagos (if you have ever been to the city), the unison cries of ‘NEPAAA’ when electricity from the national grid goes off and the breaking news splash from NTA or AIT after an outbreak of ethnoreligious violence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One good thing to add about it is that it is a very short read - I read this book in one go. The underlying message of this book is the neutral portrayal of a Nigeria in crisis in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It almost reads like Chinua Achebe’s classic short read: The Trouble with Nigeria. Nothing has changed, and truly, the Nigeria in 2022 is barely any different from the Nigeria in the 1990s and early 2000s that the author experienced in his time as a correspondent for the Independent, and contributions to the Economist and the Washington Post. The book covers Nigeria from its leadership crisis (thanks to personal interviews with a vast number of its leadership class), its ethnoreligious diversity, its cultural production elite, and even attempts to investigate some conspiracy theories including the famed ‘Kaduna Mafia’ or northern Nigerian political hegemony. What I appreciate most about the book is the intellectual honesty he portrays of himself while he undertook the research for the book as depicted in the writing - the care with which he carried out his interviews with the Nigerian ‘who is who’ shines very brightly in the eventual product. The book's vivid painting of the Jos and Kano ethnoreligious violence is very well done - it feels like undiluted horror reading his personal accounts while covering some of the events as a journalist. 

Prosperity Paradox

by Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo, and Karen Dillon

Reviewed by Basil Abia
This is probably one of my favorite books largely due to the simplicity of its delivery. The writing is effortless on the eye and most of the concepts highlighted are briefly explained. The central argument and theme of this book is the practicality of markets in delivering public goods and generating sustainable prosperity for society - ‘innovation’ is at the center of this delivery. While I argue strongly that the approach of the authors is heavily ‘Pro-American Markets’ and lacks to account for country-by-country peculiarities, it does very well to deliver most of its arguments with tangible, and sometimes personable narratives (shoutout to Efosa’s water aid & Mo Ibrahim’s Celtel example). Intentions are noble but the data and physical evidence abound show that how we think about and deliver development interventions simply isn’t working, thus, new approaches are required, and that delivery tied with ‘cash flow’ is what is slowly proving to work on a universal scale - at least this is what I got from reading the book. If Clayton Christensen’s theorization is to go by, historical data from the ‘Asian Tigers’ proves his growth-obsessed entrepreneurship and markets’ creating innovation gospel right - to some extent at least. I must add that the ‘Asian Tigers’ miracle story has some peculiarities that nuance must account for - the efficiency of the state in delivering the necessary human capital development that created a markets’ ready population; and state-led entrepreneurship until the private sector found its feet. To add, the utility of this brilliant book is that it is like an MBA course crunched into an accessible and enjoyable read - every argument or proposition by the authors is followed with a succinct case study of a project, failed development initiative, and/or successful markets’ creating venture. 

Belt And Road: A Chinese World Order

by Bruno Macaes

Reviewed by Basil Abia
This book does an outstanding job of explaining China’s and perhaps the world’s biggest and most ambitious geopolitical project: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Firstly, Bruno Macaes articulates the Belt and Road initiative as a global development strategy hinged on trade and trade-enabling infrastructure that mirrors the Silk Road and centers a Chinese philosophical principle, Tianxia, as its underlying principle. To be more precise, Tianxia - which stands for All-under-Heaven or World - is a mutual benefit principle that highlights the importance of economic relations that are mutually beneficial to all the countries under an agreement; be it trade or geopolitical, or both. This demonstrates China’s enthusiasm for a better alternative to the largely derided and one-sided trade and geopolitical arrangements pioneered by western powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Bruno Macaes in this lengthy text goes further to explain that entrenching value chains and extending trade routes are at the core of the Belt and Road strategy. At least from a historical perspective, value chains were at the core of Deng Xiaoping’s pro-markets, internalization, and liberal reforms in the 80s and early 90s, so it does tally with Xi Jinping’s geopolitical and international trade ambitions. What Belt And Road: A Chinese World Order lacks in contextual analyses, especially with regard to Africa, south Asia, and Latin America, it does well in highlighting the initiative as an alternative hegemony. The geopolitical analyses space in which Kwakol Research is a rising player is filled with a demand-side clamor for multipolarity, and this is where the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is playing a pivotal role in with the alternative institutions of trade, finance, infrastructure, and even security it may offer to strings-attached-development aid averse countries.