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This Cheese has moved!

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By Muyiwa Adetiba

Change happens all the time Unfortunately, many of us are reluctant to embrace change. I am probably one of the worst in this regard. I will delay and make excuses until I run out of room and excuses. Electronic payment is one example of my lazy attitude towards change. Zoom is another one.

I am probably one of the last of my peers to get on board on these two. Just as I was when computers first came into our consciousness. Or e-mail. But I can say I am still slightly better than some. I have a senior colleague who writes all her articles in long hand till today. She knows exactly how many blank pages she has to fill to get a thousand words out. Or two thousand as the case may be. That was the way we were all trained over four decades ago and she has stuck with it!

Perhaps the worst change to embrace is an economic change. It is difficult to accept when an old method gives way to a newer one. Especially if you have been fairly successful with the old method and it has sufficiently provided your bread and butter. More especially if you have to re-train. I found myself in this situation at some point in my career. For the records, I got into journalism at the tail end of hot metal press, otherwise known as letter press. Only senior citizens who read this will have any idea. Characters or letters in the papers were literally cast in metal; hot metal. It was a slow, painstaking and tedious process.

It was also highly technical because mistakes would take time to correct. So the technical guys spent years learning the trade. Then we got to the offset era which was easier, but then a lot of production work had to be done in the darkroom as typeset materials and headlines had to be converted into films.

Then desk top publishing emerged which rapidly metamorphosed into electronic publishing. This is what is known today as online publishing. (Nobody knows what would emerge at the turn of next year). Meanwhile, all these changes meant constant re-investing, re-inventing and shifts in paradigm. They required training and re-training. They required constant cutting and pasting of personnel as people became redundant or refused to re-train. I was in management when some of these changes occurred. It meant I not only had to adapt, I had to lead the change. My usual reluctance towards change cost my outfit dearly because I didn’t always let expensive equipment go quickly until everybody had moved on and they almost became scrap in the market. Sometimes you have ‘to fix it even if it aren’t broke’. It was a lesson I learnt the hard way.

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This was when Kehinde Phillips, a close friend who was then the head of Human Resources in a top bank, gave me a small book which helped me to understand the inevitability of change better. This was some twenty years ago. But I still remember the book well because of the impact it had on me. The book, a pamphlet really authored by Spencer Johnson, is called ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. It is a story of two mice and two humans who lived in a maze.

They found cheese in a corner of the maze and settled there. They got fat and lazy as the cheese gave them whatever they needed. Then one day, they found the cheese was no more. Who moved it? They moaned and grumbled. But nothing they did made the cheese re-appear. Tired of waiting, the mice wandered off. As they meandered through the maze, they stumbled on another lump of cheese in a corner. They settled and promptly forgot about the other cheese and the two humans waiting for its re-appearance. Meanwhile, one of the humans got too hungry and begged his partner to let them look for cheese elsewhere. He refused and went on bemoaning his lost cheese.

This man decided to leave his partner to venture out on his own. Filled with trepidation and fear of the unknown, but consumed with hunger, he went searching for cheese. He saw some little cheese. Encouraged by what he saw, he got deeper into the maze until he found a large portion in a corner. He initially thought of going for his partner but the intricacy of the maze confused him. He decided to stay put. Meanwhile, his partner was still on one spot lamenting his fate and possibly hoping for his cheese ‘to re-appear’.
I think of this book often when I think of Nigeria and her lazy attachment to oil. Oil is not the world’s first source of energy. It was not expected to be the last. But it is by far the most destructive in terms of its effect on the environment. It was therefore to be expected that the world would find cleaner and safer sources of energy at some point. And it has.

For half a century, Nigeria lived almost entirely on oil like a child that refused to be weaned off his mother’s breast. We watched as other countries discovered oil and the market became congested. We watched as our once major costumer became completely independent of us. We watched as major oil companies started divesting from oil. Instead of us to take a cue, we remain fixated on our oil. Instead of us to join the train of renewable energy, we prefer to remain in our greasy past. It’s like we’ve put ourselves in an oil bubble. Refineries are now suddenly springing up in the country at a time global demand for petroleum products is declining and will continue to decline if humanity really wants to save the planet and prevent future pandemics.

The news that oil has been found in the Niger/Benue trough only made me sigh. It is obvious this government wants to find oil by all means in the North. It is expending a considerable amount of scarce resources to do this. But to what end? The energy world is moving on; has, in fact, moved on. It is time to look for new cheese. Our case should not be like that of the coal miners of Pittsburgh in the US who, egged on by deceitful politicians, are still dreaming of the good old days. Those days are gone. The cheese has moved.

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