Pondering in Singapore

It is not in my usual character to blog about my overseas trips. Each time I’m tempted to do so, memories of my primary school days when we used to read D. O. Fagunwa’s books would pop up in my head and I would recall those statements like “… o di Gbongan, Ikire, Apomu, ati Ode-Omu…” which were quite profound in our Yoruba comprehension of those days. I’m sure those within my age bracket will remember what I’m talking about in terms of “How I Spent My Last Holiday” comprehension exercises.

But those days are gone, so you shouldn’t expect me to write about “How I spent my last holiday,” or “What I saw during my last trip” like a primary school pupil any longer. I be adult keee.

This piece is quite an exception to my rule, however. The more I tried not to write about this trip, the more the urge for me to punch on my keyboard. So I’ve surrendered. I’ve decided to write about the little that I’ve experienced so far within the last 24 hours.

I arrived in Singapore yesterday afternoon after travelling for about 16 hours (2 hours stopover inclusive) all the way from Lagos. Since then, I have been pondering – thinking and musing about my great country, Nigeria, and its leaders.

As if I knew that this trip was going to teach me some leadership lessons, I had in my usual practice, taken two books along with me for the trip. One is The Leadership Pill coauthored by Ken Blanchard and Marc Muchnick, while the second one is Teach Your Team to Fish by Laurie Beth Jones (author of Jesus CEO). I bought the two books from Laterna Bookshop some 12 months ago but they were still queuing up on my reading roster until this trip came up. You see, now I have done a free advert for Laterna bookshop. I just hope they would compensate me with a book gift, or refund the money I paid for the two books. Abi?

Back to my story. When the plane reached its cruising level, I picked up The Leadership Pill and finished reading it within an hour. It’s actually a small book of about 100 pages with bold easy-to-read prints. My rumination started from the point of finishing the book. It was actually a “pill” I had just swallowed. For anyone looking for short but useful lessons on leadership, this book is your best bet. It teaches the reader how to become a more successful manager, a stronger team leader, and a motivator who gets the best results from a group.

The Leadership Pill, as a parable book, tells an entertaining story of a newly produced pill that could stimulate the natural powers of the mind and body to provide leadership. This newly introduced pill heightens one leader’s powers but it contains the wrong ingredients; thereby stimulating him in an obsessive and shortsighted direction with disastrous results. As would be expected, this amazing pill quickly gains market approval, earning millions of money for its manufacturers. Everybody wants the “miracle pill” for better productivity.

But one man refuses to recognize the pill. His name is the “Effective Leader.” Working without the pill, he proclaims that “only through sustainability can our teams remain motivated and successful.” This Effective Leader supplies the right ingredients to his team, earns their respect and trust with a combination of integrity, partnership, and affirmation.

Here are some of the quotable quotes from the book:

  • “Remember, leadership is not something you do to people, it is something you do with them;”
  • “Leading people is the opposite of trying to control them;”
  • “Leadership is not just what happens when you are there, it’s what happens when you’re not there;”
  • “Integrity lays the foundation for trust and respect;”
  • “Leading with integrity means being the person you want others to be;”
  • “Partnership implies that leaders need to help their people work, learn, and grow together in unity;”
  • “People will think for themselves when you quit doing it for them;”
  • “The highest achievement as a leader is winning the respect and trust of your team.”

During the flight, I thought deeply about this issue of leadership and wondered why we continue to score F9 in this area in our country, and Africa generally. Our leadership failures permeate every facet of our existence – political scene, offices, churches, schools, just name it. Now I’m on the second book which is actually saying something similar to Leadership Pill’s in a different style and language. And I can’t just stop thinking and asking, “Why are we so different?”

We landed in Singapore at about 1.45PM local time, which should be about 6.45AM Nigerian time. What first confronted me was the quietness of the airport. But for the fact that I could see people moving up and down, and could also hear the sounds of the planes landing and taking off, I would have concluded that there was no soul at the airport! No noise, no arguments, no uncontrolled chattering among the people; everyone faced his/her own business.

The floors of the airport, the walls, the equipment, everything looked so clean. Everywhere was sparkling with freshness that one would have thought the place was constructed only yesterday. “When would Nigeria reach this level?” I muttered silently.

There were about eight different lines with about 12 different immigration officers attending to passengers. And I counted; it took each of them an average of about 45 seconds to attend to each passenger. Yes! Less than a minute! No useless questioning, no unwarranted interrogations, and no disrespect for passengers whatsoever.

As I observed the people before me “crossing over” with their passports duly stamped, I looked around to discover that I was the only black man on the queue. That was when a strange thought ran through my mind, “Boy, these guys are all white and you are the only odd one here, pray that you don’t get Baba Suwe’s treatment today o.” I quickly rejected the thought, “God forbid bad thing, emi o ni ya’gbe ti ni Chon-Chon country o.”   

It didn’t take long for my turn to come. The immigration officer extended his two hands to collect my travelling documents. He bowed slightly and smiled.

“Whaaat, two hands with a genuine courtesy from an Immigration Officer!” I pondered.

And that was it. He looked at me, asked how long I was going to stay, and directed me to a small data-capture office where my passport photograph and fingerprints were taken. Six minutes after, they were done with me. In fact, my travelling documents were returned to me inside that data room and I was led through the “fast track” out of the place to avoid queuing up again. What a nice way to treat people – the only black man for that matter.

The driver was waiting for me outside. He did not carry any placard, yet he recognized me before I sighted him. The gentleman bowed for me slightly, greeted me passionately in good English, identified himself, and extended his hands (again two hands) to carry my stuff for me.

Puzzled! “How did he know I was the one he had come to pick? Well, maybe because I was the only black man he could find around. But it would be unreasonable for him to just assume.” Those were the questions running through my head as I eased myself into his car.

These people don’t talk too much. Yet I was determined to know how he was able to identify me. So I asked him. Guess what his response was! Hard for me to believe, but I knew he was being sincere. The man told me that my name and company name were given to him in the morning and he went straight on the internet to search me out! Smart guy! To prove his point, he reached for his car’s dashboard and fished out a printed copy of my profile with my smiling face on it. Amazing! He knew everything about me.

As we drove from the airport to my hotel, I could not keep my mouth closed. The beauty is beyond description. The atmosphere is so serene with tree, flowers, and well-tendered fields lining up the two sides of the roads. I could feel the peace of the city. No car hooting, no over speeding, no potholes, no street hawkers, no “Yellow Fever, no N20 Policemen, and no harassing LASMA people.

I doubt if there are traffic lights on Singapore roads, because I did not see any. There was a smooth vehicular movement from the airport. We did not wait for a second throughout the journey.

What I did see are well-built multilane highways, clean cars, cameras upon cameras, and active street lights. The general ambiance gives one the assurance of safety. No need to worry or panic. You have nothing to fear. Since my arrival here, electricity has not winked for a second. There is 24/7 power supply!

The driver was so proud of his country. He wanted me to know everything. As we passed a place, he would go memory lane to tell me all about it. He even had stories to tell about the well groomed trees that line the streets. He would trace their history, traditional usages, and the political regime under which they were planted. He kept pointing to one skyscraper after the other, telling me when they were built and who owned them.

And talking about tall buildings, I think Singapore has a special penchant for skyscrapers. They have them aplenty. Even my hotel is a 37 – storey building and the receptionist has recommended that I have my dinner at the restaurant located on the 37th floor. It would give me a great view of the city, she assured.

How, again, do I describe the kind of customer service being given in this hotel? It is just so marvelous. The workers are prompt and respectful, and the facilities are working perfectly. All you need is your keycard which helps you out with almost everything you choose to do by yourself. Right from the lift you enter with your keycard and the toilet water that flows with the press of a button, through to the window blinds that listen to your command; you are truly in a computer controlled environment. Honestly, these guys are miles ahead.

We ended the first day of our conference here a few hours ago, and I’m still pondering over the way the entire program was conducted. Of about 100 participants, I am the only African and this is really giving me a special attention that I’m fully enjoying. “How is Africa?” is now a common question that I have become used to within the short period of my arrival. It would appear that these guys don’t have any other conversation opener than that.

Trust me; it has been an opportunity for me to brag about my continent, country, and company. Don’t bother about my reservations about Nigeria. I have actually tried my best to be a good ambassador. What is left for me now is to claim an ambassadorial post from Uncle Jonathan. Or, at least, let him include my name in the list of next national honors recipients. But wait a second, was everything I said about my country 100% true! Hmm, may God forgive me for any hyper-embellishment. Anyone here who is desirous of obtaining more information can go on the net. I’ve said my own.

I now know that it is more of a culture in Singapore to be very respectful. I have told you about the immigration officers and the driver. It was the same thing with the hotel staff and the conference officials yesterday and today. How about the conference participants from this country? Thesame! You engage a participant in a dialogue, you hand him your call card, he collects it with his two hands, bows to you slightly, pockets the card graciously, brings out his own card, holds it delicately with his two hands, bows slightly again, and hands it over to you as if a servant is handing a cap over to a local chief. So sweet to be treated well, I tell you.

As at now, I have not been able to explore the city. But I am eager to do so at the end of the conference, even if it’s just for an hour or so. It would be interesting to know more about these wonderful people and their ways of life.

But there is a point I must bring out in this piece. Everything I have seen so far boils down to good leadership. Things are working in this country because of good leadership. Here is a country of only five million people, yet its GDP growth rate is 14.5%, which is twice that of my country. It is the largest growth rate in the whole of South East Asia and it surpasses China’s growth rate of 10.3% and India’s 8.6%.

This is how a reviewer described the country: Singapore is “… a thriving Asian metropolis, with not only the world’s number one airline, best airport, and busiest seaport of trade; but also the world’s fourth-highest per capital real income.” Can you beat that?

The people here respect the laws, and the laws respect them. Sometime ago, I read From Third World to First – The Singapore Story (1965-2000), a book written by the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew; but I did not fully understand some of what he was trying to say about leadership. For instance, he spoke about how chewing gum was banned in the country because of the problems caused by people who were inserting spent chewing gum into keyholes, mailboxes and elevator buttons. I told myself at that time that this man must be a big tyrant. But now I know better. Many accused him of dictatorship, yet he rescued his people from poverty to prosperity. If only our leaders could emulate this man.

As I round off this post, my eyes stray to one of the small gold plated leaflets kept inside the big “Directory of Guest Services” delicately placed on my room table.  I had brought out the sheet last night when trying to familiarize myself with the hotel services. The pamphlet is titled “Our Favourite Things” and it reads as follows: “Thank you for choosing (hotel name) as your favourite choice of accommodation. Should you wish to own any amenity in this room; the charges can be added directly to your bill for convenience. You can choose to purchase the existing item…” It then proceeds to list every item in the room with the corresponding price. For instance, face towel is $5, hand towel – $10, Laundry bag – $5, mouse pad – $10, and so on. Well, the message should be clear to any guest. It is a subtle way of saying that “…We are watching, please don’t steal any of our items. If we catch you, you will have to pay xyz.” This is another wonderful way of treating would-be covetous guests with respect.

So, as I think about Singapore, I think about Nigeria. I think about our leaders (hope they are leaders in the true sense of the word). I think about my people too. I think about what we do, and what we shouldn’t be doing. I ponder and wonder why things are not working for us. I then remember my recent post on “cannibalistically speaking.” I close my eyes and pray for my country. That’s what our leaders ask us to do every time. I keep on praying as a good citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. E go better.

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2 thoughts on “Pondering in Singapore”

  1. Mr.onifade,this is your first article I’m reading and I must say you’re doing a great job and I seem hooked to your blog now as I can’t wait to read more. Keep it coming,a very different kind of blog and very inspiring too.

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