__How I resisted Charles Taylor of Liberia.
Many people think the problem of corruption is so big that nothing they personally do can ever make any real difference. This is not correct. You and I as individuals are the most important players in stopping corruption. One day you will be amazed how many people have joined us.
Today let me share a story that a few of you have heard before. I want you to try to figure out at least one lesson for you as an entrepreneur, and as someone who cares about the future of this entire continent.
In 2001 when we started setting up Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel), one of the key requirements for our business was to find a big building where we could put our sophisticated switching equipment. It takes months to prepare such a highly secure building and costs millions. We were under pressure with a strict roll-out deadline. (If we missed it, we would lose the license for which we paid $285m!)
Due to the nature of our business we had to own the building, so we hired an estate agent. When he finally told me he had found the perfect one, I personally went to see it, and agreed. We were all thrilled. It was quite a unique property.
“The government of Nigeria has ordered all embassies to relocate from Lagos to Abuja,” our agent had told me. “The Liberian government has one of the largest properties in the city, and they are selling.”
Our people quickly reached agreement on price. It was a lot of money. They were in a hurry to sell so they could “buy a new building in Abuja” (so they claimed).
Such a large payment required approval by me and other directors of our company.
As I looked at the documents and agreements for signature, I noticed that the payment bank account was in Switzerland and had no name on it…
“Why is this not a Liberian government account in Monrovia?” I asked.
“The Ambassador says that is where they want the money sent.”
“Tell him I want a Government of Liberia bank account number and also a Cabinet Minute authorising the sale.”
“Sir, why are you being so difficult?! It really has nothing to do with us. The Ambassador has a letter from the President and Finance Minister authorising the sale.”
A few days later, the Ambassador of Liberia himself asked to see me. At first he threatened to sell the building to someone else if we did not move quickly.
“Come on man,” I insisted. “It’s easier for you to send me the Ministry of Finance account details than to start a new sale.”
Next he turned on the charm: “I spoke to the President, and he said he is willing to speak to you on the phone to clear any misunderstanding.”
“To be honest, we don’t need to waste the President’s time. Just give us the account details.”
Next the Ambassador came and said the President was sending his brother all the way to Nigeria to see me. He even invited me to travel to Liberia as a guest of the President, thinking that would impress me.
Everyone was frustrated. My people were frustrated. The Ambassador was frustrated. I just refused to budge. The deal collapsed. We ended up with a much smaller, less ideal building.
About two years after that, Charles Taylor was forced to hand over power to his vice president after a civil war that killed tens of thousands of Liberians. Eventually a Special Court sentenced him to 50 years in prison for war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.
This was one of the most brutal dictators in history, who plundered his country. I was not going to allow him to rob his people, through me!
From the moment I saw those papers, I knew immediately that Charles Taylor wanted to sell the building and pocket the money himself. As I like to say, “My mother said I was born at night, but it was not last night!”
For me, I’m always concerned, first and foremost, about ensuring that my own staff and I do the right thing, then we tell others who share the same values. This is how we slowly eradicate the disease called corruption.
Now I am really keen to hear YOUR stories. Keep it short, and please do not put names if it creates a problem for you. I want to hear from #CorruptionFighters. What big or small things have you done to take a stand against corruption? What can others learn from you?
We want to #BreakTheSilence and show the world that we are taking a stand. Your stories of courage and truth will inspire others. Let’s #RecruitCorruptionFighters everywhere!
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito…”
To be continued. . .