A lot of things in my life have happened to me by accident. Or so I thought. Until I started to analyse my life and realised there was a trend. Some values I regarded as simple and common have opened doors for me in various places. Allow me take you on a long journey.
I graduated from university in 2000 and was called to service the same year. My service year didn’t quite go the way everyone else’s did, and I ended up with a 6-month extension. Maybe one day I’ll talk about that. Anyway, I spent part of my time in the village school I was posted to in Dass, Bauchi. I was asked to teach Economics to 3 arms of SS2 students. Before long, my classes would be so full that students would stay outside the windows to listen. Students from one arm would attend another arm’s class, and they were genuinely interested in learning. The principal was shocked. What did I do? When I noticed the students showed little or no interest in learning, I was genuinely concerned about getting them involved. My guiding principle was “Whatever your hands find to do, do it well”. So each time I had a class, I would buy a packet of sweets and reward students who answered my questions, or participated in class, and it worked like a charm. When it was time to leave, the principal pleaded with me to stay 😅, and the students were weeping. But my greatest reward was when I met one of the students much later. I didn’t recognise him, but he told me that because of me, he had come to understand Economics, and had actually passed it in his WAEC exam.
The next and final 6 months of my service year, I moved back to Bauchi town and was posted to the NITEL Zonal Office. There was a computer locked in a room. I had got a computer just before I left home but I couldn’t take it with me. I would offer to do data entry, and typing jobs for the GM of our department, and soon it was added to my work. I literally taught myself Excel, and a bit of Microsoft Access, which I didn’t know at the time, that I would need later. My assigned job was to assist the accounting officer with preparing vouchers for the whole organisation. It was a strategic office, because every payment from the organisation had to pass through our office. When the person in charge went on study leave, I was the only person left in the office, and our boss was a bit nervous about it. But within a few days, he was surprised to find out that the turnaround time for processing and preparing vouchers had more than doubled, even though I was now alone. My goal wasn’t to impress or upstage, but I had learnt the value of diligence, and not procrastinating, so I worked hard and fast. Again, the boss wanted me to stay on, but I had already been admitted for my Master’s degree, moreover I had no intentions of living in Bauchi 😁.
A few months later, when I was in London for my Master’s, I decided to get a part-time job to augment my allowance. I eventually found work at a huge warehouse for a popular highbrow store. I absolutely hated the job. It was dirty and dusty, a lot of physical labour, and condescending treatment from the full-time staff. My supervisor was a 19-year old who didn’t even finish high school. Most of the other staff were only educated up to high school, and held this job with the highest esteem ever. I felt demeaned, but it was all I could find at the time, and it was temporary anyway, so I put my heart into it and did it well. My first assignment was taking perpetual inventory of all the stock in the warehouse. My supervisor advised that I do the day’s work slowly so I wouldn’t finish quickly and be assigned another task. But it didn’t make any sense to stretch a 1 hour task into 4 hours just to while away time, so I would do it as soon as I could, and report back to the office for any other work. In 2 months, I had moved all around the various departments in the warehouse, except driving the forklift 😁. No other temp had ever achieved that. I had become an asset to them, because I was versatile. When it was time for school to resume, the manager said to me, “We’ve never had a temp like you. How would you like to stay on as a full-time staff?” By this time, I was doing more of supervisory and IT-related work. Unfortunately, I had to decline because I didn’t want to contravene the terms of my visa. But they offered me a blanket invitation to return to work whenever I was on vacation from school, and I did that throughout my stay in London. Not only that, I was able to bring in my cousin and friends because they were willing to employ anybody I brought in.
In 2003, I finished my studies and returned to Nigeria, and I began job-hunting. I got a few offers from banks, but I didn’t want a banking career, so I turned them down. Then a friend of my mum’s offered to talk to the HR Executive Director in MTN. I was excited when I was invited for a chat. HR was my area of specialization in school, and I was sure I could convince him to take me into his department. On the set day, I went to his office, armed with my resume and a bucket load of confidence. But when I got there, he didn’t so much as look at me as he asked for my CV and told me he had a meeting. This wasn’t going according to plan at all! He took one look at the CV I gave him, and said “Your last experience was in warehousing, so I’m sending you to our warehouse in Matori”. I am dark in complexion, but I’m sure all the colour drained out of my face. My voice quivered as I said “Ok, sir”. He handed the CV to his PA and asked her to set up a meeting for me with the GM in charge of the warehouse. I took her number, and gingerly walked away. I sat in the car for 30 minutes, and cried my heart out. I felt cursed with the warehouse job I had done. First I endured a job I hated so much, only for it to now colour my CV. I couldn’t scream because I was in public, but I wasn’t a happy girl at all. Anyway, within one week or so, I got called to attend a meeting with the GM. I got there in time, but he was away for another meeting outside the office, and I had to wait about 5 and a half hours. He had asked the one of the managers to keep me “entertained” till he got back. The first thing I noticed was the ambience of this warehouse. It was cleaner, and much smaller than the one where I had worked in London, plus the people in the office seemed friendlier. I wasn’t allowed to go into the actual warehouse, as it is a high clearance security area, so I still wasn’t too enthusiastic about the place. Even the GM eventually arrived, it was almost 6pm, and most of the staff had left. When I got into his office, he chatted with me about the work I did in the warehouse, what I knew about warehouse operations, the kind of IT system we used, and its functionality. At some point, he asked me to draw a flowchart of movement of goods through the warehouse. I was amazed at how much I knew about warehousing, the professional terminology, materials management, and record-keeping. I had no idea about how much I’d learnt in my few months on that “horrible” warehouse job in Greenford. To cut the story short, I was eventually called for the proper interview, and the rest is history. And this time, I definitely wasn’t in the dirty warehouse, I worked in distribution planning. I also had some of best Excel, Access and PowerPoint skills in the unit. 2 years into it, I found out that I was the lowest paid amongst all my colleagues in my department, even though I was the second highest qualified among the 6 of us. But it didn’t matter to me, I worked my heart out, and I won awards for 3 years running, because I put my heart into it, even when others around me were murmuring about the conditions. I even won a 42″ TV, which was worth over NGN500,000 in 2008. When it was time to leave, again the Executive Director in charge of my department personally told me I was an asset to the company, asked why I was choosing to leave, and if there was anything they could do to change my mind.
I have realized over the years, that what I sometimes thought were accidents, were meeting points of opportunity and values. Good values have taken me to places I never imagined, and elevated me to heights I wouldn’t have got to ordinarily. Diligence, hardwork, integrity, kindness, politeness, consistency and focus, loyalty, these are values that have guided my path, and created a way for me, standing me out where only skill could not. Skills are about what’s outside you, while values are about what’s inside you. In the long run, it is values that create the true value that you can offer to the world as your legacy.