After 3 years in Afghanistan I thought I should have a change of climate and started to look for a job in Africa. I wrote ten letters to Swiss companies with operations in Africa. Out of these ten letters I got two jobs, first the one in Ghana and one year later the one in Nigeria. (Job Seekers of today please note: Do not wait until jobs are advertised! Once jobs are advertised you have plenty of competition! Recently a bank in Italy advertised and 38’000 applied for the jobs. Get the jobs before they are advertised!).
The first job offered to me was in Ghana.
I took up the position of ‘Managing Director’s Assistant’ of The Union Trading Company of Ghana Ltd. This Organization had a history of more than one hundred years in Ghana. They had department stores, the Opel motor vehicle agency and workshops, a textile wholesale division and land holdings all over the country. The work force was in excess of 2000 local staff plus at the beginning of the year about 40 international staff.
My title kept changing. Because when I was introduced as ‘Managing Director’s Assistant’ some people already stood at attention when they heard ‘Managing Director…’, without taking notice of the word ‘Assistant’. The boss then changed my title to ‘Assistant to the Managing Director’, so that the people with a short attention span should at least listen to the word ‘Assistant’. They were still sufficiently impressed when the word ‘Managing Director’ followed.
The UTC of Ghana Ltd., being more than one hundred years old in Ghana, was of course well known and well respected in the country.
As Assistant I did whatever the boss wanted me to do, but among my permanent responsibilities was the supervision of the ‘Calculation Office’, where all sales prices in the department store were calculated, the legal office, which at that time was mainly busy in collecting the title deeds of all the properties around the country. Furthermore I was in-charge of all the housing units of the staff. All International Staff were provided with fully furnished housing. I also gave on rent to outsiders any surplus housing units that we had available. The most important task may be was the obtaining of the crucial import licenses. No sales without imports!
I myself chose an independent house with a nice garden at the North Labone Housing Estate in Accra, Ghana. I purchased a nearly new Opel car. (One year later I sold it with a profit). We had a maid to help with our two children. There also was a gardener to look after the garden.
The Union Trading Company of Ghana Ltd. used to be named ‘Basel Trading Company’. They used to be owned by the Basel Mission, a Christian Missionary outfit funded by both Swiss and German churches. One hundred years previously the Missionaries had brought with them some Logistics Officer, to assist them in arranging their trips to the interior of the country. He correctly stated that he might just as well also help other Missionaries and asked for permission to do so. In this way the Basel Trading Company started. As it was aligned to the Protestant Church it was the policy of the company not to hire any Catholics (or any non-Protestants). Also they did not deal in alcohol nor weapons. A few years before my arrival the old Chairman passed away and some rules, such as hiring non-Protestants, were relaxed. I suppose I was the first Swiss Muslim to be hired.
During the First World War the assets of the Basel Trading Company were confiscated, as some German shareholding was there. Ghana was British at the time. Consequently the management arranged that the German shareholding ended and they changed the name from Basel Trading Company to Union Trading Company.
Due to the long involvement with the Basel Mission and the Basel Trading Company in fact Swiss had a long connection to Ghana. Many ex-staff would remain in Ghana and open their own business. Some of them became rich and successful. That is why also a Swiss School was opened, named Ramseyer Memorial School, as a Swiss business man financed it initially. Many Swiss also married local ladies and remained settled there for most of their lives. Some returned to Switzerland later, some did not.
During the weekend mostly on Saturday we would go to the beach. The company had a beach house. Others usually did their weekly shopping on Saturdays, so the beach house was mostly empty on that day.
The beach was quite a distance, a nice drive through some villages. In Pakistan I used to drive Land Rovers a bit, in Afghanistan I had a VW beetle. Whenever there was a problem with the car a driver from the office would take care of it. I never looked at it nor did I change a tyre myself.
Now coming back from the beach one day I had a puncture. I am still proud of myself how I managed, for the first time, to change a tire all by myself. But I did get a bit of a shock: When driving off, just about 30 meters later, a snake crossed the road. If I would have stopped the car 30 meters further down the road, I could have just stepped on it!
On that beach we could usually observe the fishermen of the nearby village. They would put out a large fishing net and jointly pull it in again. One day, or for a couple of weeks, there was no fisherman in sight. I asked a villager, who used to come around with The Watchtower, a magazine of the Jehovah’s witnesses, why no one was fishing. He said that the gods of the sea are angry with us. The local fetish priest told them. I queried him, saying that as he was a Christian why were his people listening to the fetish priest. He answered that, well, the Christian God will judge as in the next life, however, if the gods of the sea are angry with us and we should not fish they will punish us in this life already and we have to be careful.
I also dealt with Import Licences, which was the ‘life-line’ of the Department store. We applied for import licences and whatever we could import we would be able to immediately sell. We would also purchase import licences from other smaller traders who had managed to obtain some, but did not have the cash to actually import the items. One of them also used to talk about Christian stuff to me in the office. Once he came to the office with one of his daughters and I asked him how many children he had. He answered 18, if I recall correctly. I queried that ‘this is a bit much for one wife’. He said, no, he had three. I asked him how that was possible, as he was such a perfect Christian. He said that he married one in the Church and two in the African traditional way. Yes, he said, I am a Christian, but I am also an African and we have to respect our African traditions. He is right of course.
I had a ‘household lady’ to take care of all that needed to be done in all our houses and apartments. I think she worked half day. We had a carpenter and an electrician on call. All requests for maintenance etc. were submitted to her and she would come in the morning to my office and we decided what to do in a few minutes.
Work was nice. Whenever I wanted to get out of the office I would visit our housing estates and get free teas and coffees here and there. One lady would ask for this and that, a replacement of some crockery the maid had broken, or the repainting of a kitchen that had somehow ‘coloured off’. I needed to inspect it before approving (and get a cup of tea).
Our son Mahmud went to the Swiss Kindergarten in Accra. As a Swiss teacher was our neighbor he could get a lift back and forth, which made our life easier.
Well, this work only lasted for one year. The Ghanaian Government wanted to cut down on the expatriate quota and as I was only an ‘Assistant’ and newly arrived my name was of course on the downsizing list.
Of course, as member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community I immediately had ‘friends in town’. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community had started its mission in Ghana since 1906. Consequently we always attended the Jumma (Friday) prayers in the Jama’at’s mosque. On weekends we also were able to visit Ahmadiyya Schools and hospitals in different parts of the country. Many Pakistani Ahmadis were working there and they were happy to have some visitors. We had good times. Eid prayers were held outside in a field, as the Mosque would have been too small for that gathering. Where-ever a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community goes he has ‘brothers’ (and ‘sisters’), now in 206 countries at the time of writing this book.
As I was notified 6 months in advance that my contract will not be extended I had time to apply for more jobs. Shell Congo offered me a job as Accountant. In the meantime Panalpina World Transport also informed me that their Director of Finance and Administration in Nigeria wanted to leave. Consequently I decided to accept this position and move to Nigeria.
Ghana in my days was politically stable. The people were nice. One thing that was striking me was that everyone seemed to buy a newspaper before going to work and reading it on the bus.
The colonizers preferred the better climate of South Africa or East Africa. In West Africa due to Malaria the region was often referred to as the ‘grave of the white men’. Sierra Leone even made an ‘Order of the Mosquito’. The President explained that we should be grateful to the mosquito. If it was not here we would have been colonized like South Africa. As it was, due to Malaria, West Africa was considered ‘the grave of the white man’ for quite some time.
There was a story from the olden days: In the port of Liverpool someone was selling the ‘miracle cure for Malaria’. As all ‘white men’ were actually most scared of the Mosquito this man made a good business. He sold the ‘cure’ for twenty Pounds, a huge amount in those days. The parcel was nicely packed and as it all was confidential the instructions were to open it only after crossing the Equator. Those who purchased it waited anxiously for the Equator to appear so that they may finally open the box. When they did this is what they found: 2 stones and a note: ‘Place the mosquito in the middle and smash the two stones together and the mosquito will be dead and you will be safe from Malaria.’
Panalpina World Transport, Basel Switzerland Headquarter, informed me, based on my letters from Afghanistan, that now a position of Finance Director in Nigeria was becoming available and whether I would be interested. I said I would be. I had looked around for other jobs and had a job offer from Shell Congo as Accountant, however, the Panalpina Job Officer as Finance Director was better. Moreover in Congo French would be spoken and my kids were supposed to learn German. In Lagos there was a German School.
Before starting my job in Nigeria I worked with Panalpina World Transport Ltd. in Zurich for about 9 months as training for my work in Lagos. The Swiss in those days had to register also with the army and not only with the Municipality.
Let me tell you my ‘Swiss Army experience’ from the beginning. I think at the age of 18 or so I was called up for the normal recruitment exercise. Sorry to say, but it just did not suit to me to go to the Army for a few months, because as you will have noted I was already married. Therefore I went to my family doctor in Schwanden and asked him for a medical certificate. He looked up my file and noticed that once I fainted while waiting in his overcrowded waiting room. I do not actually recall why I was there, but I must have been sick in a way. As a ‘youngster’ I had to stand when there were no more chairs. The room was sticky and hot with so many sick people and I fainted. The doctor therefore wrote on my medical certificate. ‘He faints’.
The army doctor considered this certificate to be too vague, (which it was) but granted me two years postponement of my compulsory military service. Within this time I moved to Paris. I was supposed to ask for leave from the army, but when I went to Paris I did not yet know whether I will stay there. Consequently I informed the Army office in Zurich that I had reached to Paris. I got a two page letter telling me off, but granting me one year leave abroad. The Swiss Embassy however did not bother. They automatically extended army leave granted in Switzerland (as Swiss Embassies usually did everywhere).
Now I was back in Switzerland after several years of stays in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As an honest and obedient citizen I registered both with the Municipality of Zurich and the local Army office. The army officer exclaimed: ‘Ah, just in time, we can still catch him (before he gets too old to be recruited)’. I told him that I am in Switzerland only for six months and that I was serving the Swiss industry abroad and I had already a contract to work in Nigeria after six months. Reluctantly he granted me permission, but said that if I would stay here longer than six months I should come to the army.
In those days not so many Swiss spoke English. We rented a nice furnished apartment. Our Land Lady did speak English, but for instance the ladies bringing children to the play ground near our place of residence did not. When my wife took the children to the play ground she never found any one to speak to.
Our son Mahmud nearly burned down our house! He was playing with a candle and as it was day time that was not so interesting. He was looking for a dark place and found it under the sofa. The sofa being of clothing material however caught fire! Luckily the mother was not far and came running and managed to throw water on the fire and extinguish it. Mahmud asked: ‘Will we now come on Television?’ as he saw some fire on the TV News a few days previously. Luckily the fire was not big enough for the Television News.
We had the first Mosque in Switzerland in Zurich, but the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was still small. Social life therefore was limited for my wife.
My wife went to the doctor due to headaches and losing weight. He looked at her and correctly diagnosed that ‘you should find people who speak your language and have some company’. We did find some Pakistanis, for instance the Director of Habib Bank. My wife is still in contact with his wife, when she happened to visit Zurich. Recently, however, when we wanted to see her again we were told that she had died. We had to visit her in the newly established Muslim grave yard of Zurich.
Well, before the six months expired I told the army that I am just about to leave. I think it took about 9 months until I did start my work in Lagos, well prepared.
My predecessor was very economical. He bought me a ticket by KLM although Swissair was flying directly from Zurich to Lagos. With KLM we had to fly via Amsterdam and even stay overnight in Amsterdam. KLM put us transit passengers up in IBIS hotel, which I changed to IBLIS hotel. Why?
When I tried to sleep my neighbour came and could not open his door. They talked and talked and made noise. Every time I thought to get some help for them they stopped and when I tried to sleep they started again. Finally I called the reception to please come to their aid.
When I nicely slept the tour leader (a group of South African workers seemed to be all around me) knocked on one door after the other to tell the workers that they could sleep longer as their flight was delayed. Most kind indeed!
And when I finally slept peacefully the alarm in my room went off, which a previous guest had fixed! Ibis or Iblis? That is the question!
By the time I woke up I noticed that I was late for the bus to the airport. I could just quickly grab an orange juice and not take advantage of the free buffet breakfast. Well, I am Swiss and I am an accountant: missing out on a free buffet breakfast is nearly a crime!
And for the finale: I first went into the wrong shuttle bus. Luckily I cross-checked and I was told that this bus is going to Town Center and the airport bus was ‘over there’. I just got it in time …
Nigeria in those days (1973) was at the beginning of its oil boom. Business was going well. Panalpina’s profits doubled and doubled again every year. It is nice for a Director of Finance to be able to present good balance sheet to the bosses.
Again, like in previous positions, to look after the housing of the staff came under my jurisdiction. In those days rents were paid for 5 years in advance. We provided housing for international staff. My wife used to help me a bit to welcome new staff. Everything would be ready in the house, including some provisions in the fridge for the first day, shampoos in the shower, so that it was easy for newcomers to adjust.
We also had a nice house with garden. We had a day watch man, a night watch man, a gardener, a cook and a maid, all paid for by the company. Watch man was the correct designation, because in spite of their presence we had several thieves in the house. It seems they were watching the front of the house when the thief entered from the back or vice versa.
One day my son Mahmud came running into the house and told the mother to lock the door, thieves were outside. What actually happened was that near our house on the road there was a vegetable shop. Some white lady had stopped the car to buy some vegetables. Three or four thieves with knives came and wanted to steal her car and get away with it. It so happened that a lorry with workers from the Electricity Board just passed and saw what happened. They attacked the thieves and the thieves run, first of all over the fence into my garden. From there they jumped to the next garden and on and on. Each watch man had a cutlass. At the end of the road two thieves were dead and one was half dead. Probably another one got away.
The people around the area put a tire around the neck of the injured thief and put it on fire. A police man happened to come around. A white lady looked at what was happening and appealed to the police man to do something. His reply was: ‘Madame, he is not dead yet, when he is dead I will take him away’.
It was really dangerous for thieves to run away, because then the public would act, like the watchmen did in my road of residence. Once I saw in town a parking dispute. Actually it was near the Mosque I used to go for Friday prayers. One guy who thought he had a right for this parking space started shouting ‘thief, thief!’. Luckily the other driver did not run. People looked around and saw no one running and calmed down again. If he would have run the people might have beaten him to death and asked questions later.
Well, speaking of thieves. I had an interesting experience myself. My car was stolen while I was sitting inside. Actually my friend Dr. Nizamuddin Bhoodan was driving my car. He drove towards his house. He was going to drop off there. Near his house one car overtook us and blocked us from the front, another one blocked us from the back. We could not escape. Dr. Nizamuddin tried to back off, but got blocked. Three guys came out of the front car and three came out of the back car. They also had cutlasses and knives. They banged on our windows to show that they were serious.
I had some money in my shirt pocket, just for such occasions. The worst thing to say to a thief is that ‘I have no money’. He will not belief you (how can a white man in Africa not have money). I opened the window and asked nicely ‘what can I do for you, Sir’. When one of the thieves on my side saw the money in my pocket he took it and was already a little bit calming down. He told us to get out of the car, which we did. And they drove off.
My friend had his hand bag in the car with the day’s earning from his clinic. Also in his hand bag was his driving licence, which had the address on it. A couple of weeks later his driving licence was arriving back home by post. Nice guys indeed.
Ah yes, it was a company car and it was insured and therefore no headache. The thought that went through my mind was just ‘well, this is a new experience’.
Therefore in those days when reacting calmly and correctly the relationship with thieves and also corrupt officials (or officials trying to be corrupt) was quite manageable.
Once when I arrived at the airport the Immigration guys queried my vaccination record. One vaccination it appears was too new. I was told that I would need to go to the quarantine for a couple of weeks and it was hinted that with some cash payment this might be avoided. I answered that ‘this is fine. I will be in quarantine and will not work and will still receive my salary’. In desperation the officer said ‘but the quarantine does not have any air conditioning’. Finally they kicked me out and let me pass.
But once I did lose 100 dollars! My boss had a bad experience. He was to go home to Switzerland to get married. While checking through immigration he was detained and questioned. Probably some one who had an axe to grind with him reported that he was smuggling currency (which he was not). The plane should have left at 11 pm. I had seen him off at the airport, because he was on his way to get married. The next day at 2 pm he came to my house, sweaty, unshaved, tired, and dishevelled and told me of his experience.
A couple of months later I was traveling to Switzerland. The long weekend of Easter was waiting for me and my family was expecting me in Zurich. When I passed immigration the officer asked me how many Naira I had. I said I have just fifty. He said why don’t you give it to me, I have to buy school books for my children. I said ok that is fine. He smiled, stamped my passport and wished me a happy journey.
I went to sit down in the departure area when a Police Officer came. He said that he had observed how I bribed a Nigerian Officer. He then asked me how much money I had in my pocket. I actually just had 100 dollar’s traveler cheques. He asked me to sign it and give it to him. I answered that well this now looked like a bribe while the small amount given to the Immigration Officer was not. He said ‘think whatever you like, if you want to be on that plane you better give me what you have’. Remembering my boss’s experience I did. This was the only time I ever gave in. At all other times I was able to ‘talk my way out of trouble’.
Life was good. Work went well. Again with the presence of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission we had many friends around, both Nigerian and Pakistanis.
A couple of Ahmadis for instance also worked in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Consequently I never had any problems there. Whenever I needed something they helped me (without any bribes of course).
Like many other foreigners we had a beach hut in the Lagoon and a speed boat to reach there. It took about 30 to 40 minutes drive from the Apapa Boat Club, where I launched the boat, to our boat hut on the lagoon.
We paid the local Chief a small ‘ground rent’ for the hut. In the hut we stored our beach chairs and beach beds and our barbeque things, tables and chairs.
We paid one guy a small amount ‘to watch our boat’. It was mainly ‘to watch it from himself’, as there was no one else around really. One other foreigner once did not think it necessary to pay, so somehow, strangely, the rope with which he fastened his boat to a palm tree got loose and the boat drifted off.
The beach itself as in most of West Africa was always a bit dangerous actually. There was a large ‘final wave’ and we could not ‘walk out’. So sometimes we swum in the lagoon or in the sea we just played around near the beach.
Once we had a guest from Mauritius. Maulvi Shamsher Sookia came to visit his cousin, Dr. Nizamuddin Bhoodon. The Doctor worked in the Ahmadiyya Clinic in Apapa. We failed to warn Shamsher of the danger. He just saw how we jumped in the water and did likewise. However he swum out a bit and then he had difficulty to return to shore. He called out. I took a air mattress and tried to reach him. I of course jumped into the water without my glasses, as the waves were high. After I went out a bit I could not see him, so I returned. My wife said ‘why did you come back, you nearly reached him’, however, as he was ‘behind the next wave’ I could not see him. Anyway I jumped back in and was able to catch him.
Somehow the wave did slam us back to the beach. The wave smashed me to the ground as well, but we did manage to come out. Shamsher was unconscious. The doctor looked at him and saw that he was still breathing and said he will be ok. And he was, after a couple of minutes he vomited some sea water and returned to us. His wife in the meantime was very calm and concentrated. When she saw what was going on she just started to pray and her prayers were answered and accepted immediately!
Work with Panalpina was pleasant. The relationship both with my local bosses as well as the superiors in Basel was good and friendly. I usually went to the Headquarters twice a year on business, once to submit the budget and another time to submit the balance sheet.
We also had two months holidays per year. Usually this meant 5 months work and 1 month holiday. The strange thing is that when I was in Nigeria I could afford to go to Arosa in Switzerland for skiing while it was difficult to finance the same while working and living in Switzerland itself. Such is life.
And where ever we go of course there is an Ahmadiyya Mosque, where we could go for Friday prayers and where we would always meet friends.
Also during our stay in Nigeria we went to Hajj. This was in the year 1975, just after 1974, when in Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, on request and probable payment from Saudi Arabia, had arranged that members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community should be declared non-Muslim.
My decision to go to Hajj was a quick decision, without much pre-planning. Actually my Swiss Assistant’s two year contract was expiring in October. I asked whether he could stay for a couple of months longer, so that I could take a Christmas/New Year Swiss skiing holiday. He answered: ‘Mr. Tschannen, you know I respect you and I like you, but, Nigeria: I will not stay one day longer than my contract!’ I suddenly noticed that it was Hajj season and then on the spot of the moment decided to go to Hajj (and be back in Nigeria before the expiry of my Assistant’s Contract).
When I asked our office in Jeddah by telex whether they could arrange some accommodation for us in Makkah the answer was short: ‘You should have asked us a few months ago’. We therefore arrived without any arrangement.
Upon arrival in Jeddah the Immigration took our passports away. We were to collect our passports further down the line ‘in your country’s counter’. I said that I do not think my country (Switzerland) has a counter, but the answer was ‘yes, yes, go’.
One Pakistani passenger in the same Alitalia plane was also looking for his passport, because his mother was coming from Pakistan and he was coming from Italy and he was to try and match the passports, so that he would have the some guide like his mother and could arrange the accommodation together.
When I remarked that I was already looking for my passports for 3 hours another Haji mentioned that he was looking for his already for 24 hours.
While this Pakistani was ‘wading’ through mountains of passports he spotted ours. Nice and red there were not that many Swiss passports around. In this way we managed to process our passports within a reasonable time and choose our agent. We could choose a guide on the spot. I asked for one that was catering for Europeans. I wanted to avoid any Pakistanis that might create problems due to our membership in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The guide was specialized in EuropeanTurks.
When we reached to the guide’s office in Makkah he said that the only accommodation he had was actually one large room for the men and one large room for the ladies, he did not have any family rooms left. However, he said he will try and phoned around. He sent us to a hotel, who was literally offering us a ‘broom cabinet’. We could use the toilet outside in the hall. Well, this was a bit difficult for us and we returned to the agent, requesting him to try again.
One of his friends was sitting with him and saw what was going on. He was Flight Engineer with Saudia Airlines. He offered to ask his father-in-law. He said that usually he did not take in any Hajjis, but he would ask him. And that is how we got accommodation in an old Makkah house on the mountain, not all that far from the Grand Mosque. We had a room with attached bathroom. The family shared what they said was ‘their humble meals’ with us. Of course these ‘humble meals’ were much more than we needed! It was pure luxury that after the tiring stay in the mosque we did not go and look for food, but could just come home and relax and be served real local cuisine! Alhamdolillah he rabbil alameen. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.
We had gone to Hajj with our son Mahmud. Our daughter Aischa was very young at the time and we left her with one of our colleagues in Lagos.
We travelled by Alitalia. On the way to Makkah we stayed over a couple of days in Rome and visited also the Vatican. We saw the Pope waving to us from the window.
After Hajj in Jeddah we called upon the ex-Ambassador of Pakistan in Nigeria, who had got a new assignment with the Muslim World League. He was surprised to see us. (He of course knew that we were Ahmadi-Muslims). We were the first to come from Nigeria after his transfer. And he thought we were ‘scared’, because of the 1974 declaration in Pakistan that we were supposed to be non-Muslim. My wife told him that of course we are not scared. Anyway, we had come for Hajj and had performed it. If now the Saudis want to lock us up that was of no consequence to us.
Alhamdolillah, all praise is due to Allah. Hajj was a very great experience! I think the Saudis are trying their best to provide the facilities for all the pilgrims. As they have 1400+ years experience they should, of course. May Allah accept our Hajj!
On the way back I recall that when we reached Rome Airport I was still dehydrated (even though I must have had a meal and drinks in the plane from Jeddah to Rome). In the transit bar I ordered a glass of cold water, a double espresso and a Latte (Coffee with milk). The glass of water was for my thirst, the double espresso was medicine so that in the end I could enjoy my Coffee with milk.
During our stay in Nigeria our younger son Harun was born. The doctor thought that he might come premature and advised us it would be better if we went to Switzerland. Consequently Madame went to stay in our flat in Horw near Lucerne with my mother and Harun was born in Lucerne.
During my stay in Nigeria General Obasanjo had taken over and was later on persuaded to hand over the Government to civilian rule. In order to do that he needed to convince his brother-generals. And he did it this way:
He decided to place an order for 400 million dollars worth of vehicles with General Motors in USA. In exchange he got several roll-on roll-off vessels full of vehicles, everything from normal trucks to ambulances to tank transporters. We – Panalpina World Transport Nigeria Ltd – cleared the consignments from the Lagos Port (and I saw the file and the invoices and all that). I suppose – yes, I do not have any proof and am just, well, supposing – that General Obasanjo in this way obtained let’s assume a 20% commission and could then provide his brother-generals with a pension fund, enabling them to hand-over the Government to the civilians.
Well, it would have been cheaper to just take the 20% from the oil revenue instead of placing an order for 400 million dollars for vehicles that were not needed. Why do I say that they were not needed?
Well, one year later a Major of the Nigerian army came to our office and asked if we could transport some tanks to the North of Nigeria. We said that yes we could, but why are you asking us, you have all the vehicles, we cleared them for you last year. The Major was a bit embarrassed and said, ‘please come with us’. Our Heavy Transport Specialist went with the Major. They drove about 30 km towards the Frontier with Benin. There, off the main highway, parked in a field was the majority of the 80 million dollars worth of vehicles. They had been driven off the roll-on, roll-off vessels straight to this field and parked there. In the meantime the grass was growing through the engines…
Long live democracy.
(Disclaimer: I have no proof that bribes were paid in this deal. It is just my assumption)
My departure from Nigeria was, from a career point of view, well, let’s say: ‘unusual’. My boss in Nigeria (the Managing Director) said to my predecessor (the Finance Director), let’s go to Basel and take over the Headquarters. While my boss managed to secure the top position in the Headquarters for some time, my predecessor was sort of pushed aside. He was in the Head Office but not as Finance Director of the whole organization. I kept in touch with him and sometimes mentioned to him to let me know if there was any vacancy anywhere in the world. I was thinking of Hong Kong or Singapore for instance.
A new Managing Director came to Nigeria. After some time I heard that my successor was coming. I went to the Managing Director to ask what was going on. He said ‘don’t you know: You are being transferred to Zurich’. A strange way to find out about your transfer! It seems that my predecessor thought I must be happy to come back to Switzerland to the largest subsidiary in the Country (as the main airport is there) without having bothered to ask me.
Ah well, I took it with ‘grace’ and thought ‘why not’. Let’s show to my employer and to myself and any possible future employers also that I can also work in Switzerland.
We packed up, sold our car and boat, and shifted To Zurich. We rented a furnished apartment for the time being and proceeded on holiday. When we came back from the holidays Express Letters were on my door. The Head office requested me to report back to Nigeria immediately as my successor was leaving. Well, he had better accounting qualifications than me and the new Managing Director thought he was getting something better, however, he could not cope with the Quantity of work. While he was doing a good job in one detail the other 99 details went out of control. The ‘art’ of Management is to keep everything under control. 0k, may be all the details did not receive the perfect attention from me at all times, but all had to be managed at the same time, which apparently came easier to me than to my more learned successor.
I queried my office what should I do now. My family has moved, my children have started new schools. I was told that a new Finance Director will be recruited and I should train him a bit. In the end this took nearly another two years. I usually worked for two months in Nigeria and then went back to Switzerland for a month to be with my family.
I took the opportunity of that one month off every three months to enrol in a ‘distance education’ course for a Bachelor and Master in Business Management. Now we would call it ‘online’, in those days it was ‘by correspondence’. I had to get the books from USA.
I wrote some projects relating to my work and some projects based on books I studied. My Master Thesis I wrote on ‘Islamic Banking and Insurance’. In 1980 Islamic banking was in its infancy and it was not easy to find any material relating to it. Dar al Mal al Islami, a sort of Islamic Central Bank, however had already opened in Geneva and they were kind enough to send me some material.
I am especially proud of my opening paragraph, where I stated that ‘It has pleased Allah to locate the majority of oil reserves in Muslim Countries. When the oil is extracted it becomes a Banking problem and that is why Islamic Banking has a huge potential” (or something to that effect).
In this way I got my Master’s Degree. Actually today we would say that it is not properly accredited. However, it served its purpose. Future employers ‘ticked off’ the ‘education’ column in the recruitment process and never queried that my Master was not internationally accredited.
Some remarks regarding the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Nigeria. Naturally immediately after our arrival we contacted the Mission so that we could attend the Friday prayers – and make friends. As in all other countries our connection to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at meant that we had immediately friends, both from the Pakistani Missionaries, doctors and teachers working here as well as from locals. I think I mentioned already how two local brothers were very helpful in my work as they were both Directors in the Nigerian Central Bank. But also privately it enabled us to visit Ahmadis all over the country in various Missions, Hospitals and Schools and also invite and be invited by Nigerian Ahmadi families. I recall one Nigerian birthday party which was a bit ‘different’ to ‘usual birthday parties’. Usually all guests arrive at the same time and then wait for the candles to be lit and the birthday cake to be cut. Well, in Lagos people would arrive anytime from mid-day to later afternoon. From time to time, let’s say every hour, one cake would be cut and visitors would come and go. Well, other countries other customs.
For Jumma prayers we had a mosque in the old town centre. For the Eid functions we would go to a large open space which was I think allocated by the Government.
The Africans were at the time very tolerant of each other’s religion. (I heard things changed a bit later on). During our time there was no problem with other religious groups of Muslims or non-Muslims. I think even now Africa is an example of tolerance, which other countries could learn from.
(stay tuned for further travels and adventures…)