Understandably, for most Nigerian companies, rather than go through the toilsome process of organising those elaborate year-end strategy sessions, where no sooner has the ink dried on the resulting strategy document than the operating environment changes radically, a better route to sustainable market presence is to strengthen their regulatory affairs functions.


After almost a quarter of a century working as a foot soldier with Nigeria Inc., one conversation that never ceases to enthral me is the discussion around business “strategy”. Given how much resources (and time) domestic businesses spend on this question, it is obviously one that their captains take seriously. When you add in the backdrop of the changeability of their operating environments, it is small wonder that these businesses do not spend more on the matter. How, then, to explain the dissonance between where our companies promise to be headed in their various strategy documents and the narrow impassable alleys most of them end up in?

One explanation is the dominance of policy flip-flops at the regulatory level. Twelve months ago, to take a very recent example, it would have been okay for businesses in the milk and dairy space to have discussed their responses to a constrained operating environment this year, in terms of oil prices failing to respond to the geo-political strictures that have arisen from the U.S.’s falling out with Iran. The failure of OPEC+’s production cuts to feed into stronger global oil prices. And the implication on produce exporters of slower global growth. I doubt, however, that even their most competent sangomas could have anticipated the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) plan to deny them access to official foreign exchange markets for their imports. Blind-sided they will clearly have been by this decision.

Understandably, for most Nigerian companies, rather than go through the toilsome process of organising those elaborate year-end strategy sessions, where no sooner has the ink dried on the resulting strategy document than the operating environment changes radically, a better route to sustainable market presence is to strengthen their regulatory affairs functions. Or, like MTN Nigeria just did, pack the non-executive section of their boards of directors with folks with a leg in the regulators’ offices. The point being that in a whimsical regulatory space, there’s great gain to be made from developing institutional capacity for finagling heads-up ahead of regulatory changes.

…the challenge for businesses is to design their goals within both the ambits of the laws in the jurisdictions within which they operate, while constantly tweaking these to reflect changes in their operating environments.


Insider abuse? Possibly, yes. And there was much chatter on social media about the propriety of MTN’s personnel choices for its new board – and the institutional defences, if any, that may be designed against this. The problem in this respect, ironically, is one that falls squarely within the purview of strategic decision-making, if you don’t mind. And in this sense, the challenge for businesses is to design their goals within both the ambits of the laws in the jurisdictions within which they operate, while constantly tweaking these to reflect changes in their operating environments.

In this sense, MTN, in the re-constitution of its board of directors, did not breach a law. But, then, our corporate governance space is still work in progress. So, it avails nought, when in the conversations I have been in around this matter, I was reminded that just as not all that is legal is expedient, we ought not to do everything that’s not forbidden by the law. Part of this morality takes pages off the requirement in other jurisdictions that staff who leave their work in regulatory establishments may not immediately accept job offerings in businesses that they only recently supervised. As with the requirement that publicly quoted companies make all information that might move their share prices available to the public at once, the whole point of these governance arrangements is to prevent, as much as possible, businesses leveraging unearned advantages.

In the end, the whimsies of our policy makers and their capricious conduct of policy making, of course, put a very strong premium on oracular competences, and connected insiders.


This loops back to my initial interest in how domestic businesses formulate their strategies – how, in other words, most plan to earn these advantages. I am invariably told, in some of the more intense sessions that I have attended that one “big, hairy, audacious” goal of strategy is to mirror “global best practices” – one reason I guess why the CBN’s plan to boost domestic banks’ capital bases has little to do with their roles in financing domestic lending, and everything to do with their eventual placement on the log of global “big banks”. In the private sector, the continuation of this argument shows up in businesses’ preferences for two categories of persons as heads of their strategy departments: graduates from universities in the U.S.; and/or alumni of the big four global business consultancies. Nearly always too, in the design of their strategic plans, the latter consultants show up in support of the different strategy functions.

But if experience of doing business in Nigeria is anything to go by, “local constraints” would seem to be the dominant variable in any serious conversation around sustainable strategy. “Global best practices” may indicate a desirable direction of passage, but the impediments that have to be surmounted are of an idiosyncratic kind.

In the end, the whimsies of our policy makers and their capricious conduct of policy making, of course, put a very strong premium on oracular competences, and connected insiders.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.