Good morning. Today I stumbled on a 5-year old article in my archive from one of Nigeria's most intellectual writers and Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper, one of the leading print media in the country, my mentor, leader and clear minded social writer, Dr. Reuben Abati.
The article published in The Sunday Guardian of September 21st 2003 is a master piece any time.
Please read on as the great intellectual gives us his opinion on wealth creation and "get rich quick syndrome" craze in the country...
The Laws Of Gold By Reuben ABATI
I have been reading a number of books about how to get rich, and become wealthy. I confess that I have been doing this out of curiousity, not necessarily because I am envious of the rich and their good fortunes. What has happened is that of late, so many friends and acquaintances have been recommending these books to me as worthy of critical attention. I have in fact seen so many persons clutching the books so close to their hearts. They are best sellers. It is difficult to get anyone to lend them out, at least two of them which are being promoted as if they are the last words on wealth creation. I have four of such books, each one purporting to focus on that which nobody teaches in formal schools. They can be divided into two categories: the ones dealing with the subject from a secular perspective, namely George S. Clason's The Richest Man in Babylon, and Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The second set deals with the subject from a spiritual perspective: Sam Adeyemi's Parable of Dollars, and Tunde Bakare's Operating in High Finances. Adeyemi and Bakare are both well-known Pentecostal pastors in Lagos, shepherding the Daystar Christian Centre and the Latter Rain Assembly respectively.
In a country where anti-intellectualism is worn like a garment and the reading culture is low, and embarrassing, it is instructive that certain books are making the rounds and engaging the attention of the wannabe middle class. The success of these books, in both their original and pirated forms with the Nigerian reading public is understandable. We live in a monetised society. The man or woman of means is king or Queen. There is so much poverty in the land, that any man or woman who can boast of more gold than his neighbour is accorded greater respect and attention. Money gives you voice, it confers status; it conveys the impression also of both wisdom and genius. A rich man can hire and fire. He can if he so wishes steal the king's wife.
This is perhaps an eternal truth, but the crisis in the Nigerian society is that getting rich, amassing wealth has become an end in itself, indeed the superior normative value of existence. Popular attitudes bear out the extent of the truthfulness of this assertion. Musicians praise the rich and ignore the poor. Every weekend, Nigerians live conspicuously by putting their wealth on display either through showy finery or outlandish parties. Social iconography is all about being rich. Television and other cultural images, both local and imported, support the feeling that being rich is only a short distance from heaven. In local communities, there are sayings and attitudes, which confer undue privileges on the man of means. A rich man is not ugly in the imagination of the public: his wealth makes up for his physical limitations; the rich are never too young, their wealth buys them the advantages of age; a rich man is never considered foolish, he can always buy intelligent people and turn them into his slaves.
This increasing obsession with riches in Nigeria has not been helped by the emergence and popularity of the group of churches referred to as the Pentecostal Churches. For a long while, cultural romanticisation of wealth was done at the level of extrapolations from known images and idioms. I have heard people throw the titles of James Hardly Chase's novels at me: "What's Better Than Money?", "A Whiff of Money", "You are Dead without Money". Or such local sayings as Ezego, Akueze, Egoka, Oho ego k'egoli or in Yoruba: Owonikoko, Olowolagba, Olowolayemo, Owo a pe kanu ko; Owo ko si eniyan ko sun won. I won't bother with the translations, but each of these draws attention to the value and weight of money, except that they are often applied to current circumstances in a de-contextualised and culturally misleading sense. For there is no African community in which money is traditionally considered an end in itself. What has happened in the emergent mythologisation of riches, and the Pentecostalisation of the search and desire for it is that passages of the Bible are isolated and wielded as evidence that God's purpose is for men to be rich. Hence, the gospel of prosperity is based on the slogan that "poverty is a curse", "money answereth all things", "the poor have nothing to lose but their poverty"; "the rich man's wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.", "the rich ruleth over the poor"; "wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour;" "all brethren of the poor do hate him.."; "...the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard". Every Sunday, many of our compatriots flock to the new generation churches to hear messages of hope about the possibility of escaping the poverty trap. The traditional churches where the congregation is perpetually told that "the poor shall inherit the earth..." have lost many members who are convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that this is a misinterpretation of God's true purpose for his creation.
Those who have recommended the four books in question have had cause to preach some of these doctrines to me. They are convinced that if I master the ideas, I can become a rich man too. One of them threw a Yoruba expression at me: "Owokoniran" to suggest that nobody brought riches from heaven, it is not the peculiar right of any family. "Doctor, you know you too can be rich." This is said with so much conviction I can almost see myself swimming very soon in an ocean of riches, surrounded by gold. One of the open persuaders in fact told me that the recommendations in Rich Dad, Poor Dad have transformed his life. Is he rich? He lives in a rented apartment, works for another man, drives a second hand car, struggles to buy GSM phone cards; he is nevertheless convinced that he has found the key to riches. If reading a number of books can make a man rich, why not try it too? This is the story then of how I finally settled down to the task of absorbing the advice that may turn me into a rich man, with plenty of gold.
George S. Clason's The Richest Man in Babylon is such a tantalising book, meant to fire the imagination of anyone who comes in contact with it. We are told that over two million copies of the book are in print. It is a book about "the success secrets of the ancients: the most inspiring book on wealth creation ever written." Wonderful. I opened the book. And I am told: "lo, money is plentiful for those who understand the simple rules of its acquisition." Essentially, The Richest Man in Babylon is constructed in form of conversations, personal testimonies, seminars, between the richest man in Babylon, Arkad, his son, Nomasir, and others: poor men seeking to become rich, poor men who have already become rich, all sharing their ideas and experiences about how to make money, keep money and turn money into wealth. The setting is Babylon, a man-made city-state that was rich in treasures; the land of dreams and possibilities. George Clason links his narration with the modern times by providing evidence that the story is indeed true and that it had worked for a certain Professor Alfred Shrewbury. The basic thesis of the book is that like the rich men of Babylon, any man can become rich. Wealth is not a function of good luck; it requires determination, the management of finances and debts, and the understanding and rigorous application of the FIVE LAWS OF GOLD as taught by Arkad to Nomasir, his son and as applied by the rich men of Babylon who managed to build wealth from rather humble beginnings.
The first law: Gold cometh gladly and in increasing quantity to any man who will put by not less than one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and that of his family. The second law: Gold laboreth diligently and contentedly for the wise owner who finds it profitable employment, multiplying even as the flocks of the field. The third law: Gold clingeth to the protection of the cautious owner who invests it under the advice of men wise in its handling. The fourth law: Gold slippeth away from the man who invests it in businesses and purchases with which he is not familiar or which are not approved by those skilled in its keep. The fifth law: Gold flees the man who would force it to impossible earnings or who followeth the alluring advice of tricksters and schemers or who trusts it to his own inexperience and romantic desires in investment." Like Nomasir, I am required to take these laws to heart and live by them.
The education continues in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, in which Kiyosaki seeks to bring to the public arena for the benefit of all, the answer to that question: "what is it that the rich teach their children that the poor do not teach their own children?" What is the secret of Paddy Adenuga, who at 22 is already a Director of Globacom, helping his father to run an aspect of his empire? What did Aliko Dangote's parents teach him as a young man, which many members of his generation do not know? And how did the rest of us end up as mere workaholics, pursuing a life of work, looking forward to the next pay slip? Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a capitalist manifesto. The author denigrates a life of endless work and ridicules the funny crowd that prides itself on scholastic and technocratic skills, without learning the ways of the rich. So, he offers a number of lessons. One, many of us are poor because we have forced ourselves into one of the biggest traps of life: working for money, expecting to be promoted and given a raise because we are hardworking. Such persons are victims of their own fears and insecurity. The rich do not work for money; money works for them. They are imaginative; they see what others miss. Two, the rich get richer because they understand the difference between an asset and a liability whereas the poor do not. Kiyosaki says owning a house is not an asset but a liability. This is obviously a controversial point. In the Richest Man in Babylon, we are advised that a rich man should build a house of his own! Three: mind your own business, that is protect your investment. Four: learn how the rich play their game on the critical questions of accounting, relating with the law, understanding markets and investments. Five: the rich invent money, they have financial intelligence. Six: "work to learn, don't work for money". Additional advice is further offered about how to get out of the rat race, overcome obstacles and get started on the route of wealth. Like Clason in The Richest Man in Babylon, Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad drips with optimism.
The critical difference between these two books and the remaining two by the pastors is that Pastors Adeyemi and Bakare use the Bible as the anchor for their analysis. The message in terms of wealth creation is based on the same thesis articulated so eloquently on page 105 of Sam Adeyemi's Parable of Dollars as follows: "Rich people do not have two heads, nor four ears, nor forty legs, nor four hands. Just like you have what they have in the physical, your spirit is as important as their spirit. The blood Jesus shed on the Calvary for them is the same one He shed for you. Before you were born, the same provision God made for them was made for you. There was no special provision made for anybody. Of course, they have stumbled on some things and have learnt a few secrets to get what they gotten, but you deserve to get those things as well. You will get them.". Tunde Bakare takes the matter beyond this competition between the rich and the poor, and focuses more on the purpose of wealth and how good things: prosperity, good health and long life await only those who have learnt to tap into God's favour, and power. He and Sam Adeyemi raise moral and spiritual questions that are lacking in the get rich quick manifestoes earlier considered.
The laws of making gold sound so simple, but I guess they cannot be so easy to apply in a society where governance is a problem, inflation is unpredictable, corruption is widespread and the rich are in constant danger of losing their riches to thieves and fraudulent banks. The Babylon that is spoken of was an organised society, in which the promotion of prosperity was a state policy. In Nigeria, our rulers are interested in promoting poverty. Ritual killers are on the prowl: they kill and use human parts to do money rituals. Could money from such a source have ever been in the contemplation of Clason and Kiyosaki? Many of the rich in our society are rich not because they have financial intelligence but because they are crooks, 419ers, who have either stolen from the public treasury or from others. There are a few who are genuine entrepreneurs but they are in the minority. Again, of what use is a rich man who cheats his employees, the state and everyone else. Do I really want to be rich after reading these books? Do I think I can apply the laws of gold and escape the rat race? Candidly, I do not know.