Lasgidi- Lagos, the Home of Hustle

lagosbusI have spent the greater part of the last six months in and out of Lagos working on old and new hustles. It’s a city I have grown to love and hate in almost equal measures. Attractive as it is with its unlimited opportunities, it also drives me crazy with its lack of order and craziness especially when compared to other cities of its size, and I feel a few pounds lighter each time I exit the Murtala Muhammed International? Airport (after concocting different tales of why I am not giving them anything-ranging from I am a student, aid worker, corper etc.)

As I hustle around the world, I am often asked to describe what living in Lagos is like, and I struggle with how best to explain the contradictions, the boundless energy and the Nepa-induced early nights, the swarm of people day and night, and the lack of a public transport system.

One description i have found interestingly apt (while a bit controversial) is Robert Neuwirth’s description of Lagos in his 2012 book “Stealth of Nations” in which he describes the global rise of the informal economy. I reproduce excerpts from the book below, but strongly encourage you to get a copy!


“To many, Lagos is the urban nadir, the vilest, most squalid and criminal place on the planet. Basil Davidson, the British-born historian of Africa whose love for the continent is palpable in all his works, recalled his emotions when he first touched down in what was then the Nigeria capital back in the 1940s, when the city had a population of about two hundred thousand:” Lagos already seemed to me, as it still does, a perfectly horrible place to be, and anywhere else would be better.

Lagos is, so the narrative goes, the most dangerous city that isn’t in a war zone, a metropolis of schemers, a dark, desperate, and duplicitous place where every encounter is a potential threat. It’s a story told over and over- and often parroted with perverse pride by Lagosians themselves.

Today, the city is home to between 9 million and 17 million people, depending on where you draw the lines, and who’s doing the counting. Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities on the planet, with an estimated 3000 people arriving every day. Yet the infrastructure has not kept pace. This makes everything here seem supersized-the traffic jams worse than anywhere else, the pollution thicker, the poverty more appalling…….”

Foto druk verkeer in Lagos, Nigeria. Als voorbeeld; graag keuzebeelden Traffic jams form along Nnamdi Azikiwe street in Lagos January 22, 2003. Drivers in Lagos are stopping to gape at UFOs - unidentified flashing objects - that have been mysteriosly appearing at busy intersections around the city of Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. REUTERS/George Esiri GE/GB

“…..The buses have no route signs, the taxis have no meters (you have to negotiate strenuously if you don’t want to be cheated), and, if there’s a tie-up, people might simply pull onto the wrong side of the road-flashing their lights or honking their horns- and blast the wrong way down the highway. ambOn bad days, Lagos has a Victorian pall, and it seems impossible-and potentially dangerous- to breathe too deeply.”


“……….Lagos has no municipal water pipes. Unless the government suddenly gets a lot more foresighted and interested in investing in infrastructure, it never will. Instead, those who can afford it- and the majority of people can’t—drill deep wells (locals call them boreholes), and pump water up. They filter it, test it, and if tests as good, drink it. For those who don’t have the money, System D invented Pure Water.”


“At first glance- even at second and third- Lagos doesn’t appear to make sense…………………………………………………..”


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“To a newcomer trying to take it all in, Lagos seems a vast and menacing swirl of humanity struggling for a buck…………………….. 

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But when you have stayed put long enough, your view of Lagos changes. What had been an undifferentiated mess suddenly becomes sensible—or, perhaps more accurately, comprehensible.

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The traffic jams remain intolerable, but at least, they are understandable in a city that has outgrown its colonial infrastructure. The feeling of threat remains, because with electricity seldom available, the nighttime landscape is a series of black holes set between feeble flares of light from the kerosene burners used by the few small-scale merchants who stay open late, but the tales of crime fall away- a part of history, but not current reality.

If Max Weber was right that the “city” is a marketplace, then Lagos is the absolute apotheosis of a city.”

“…Lagos is the world’s largest street market, and everything here——-from buying something to drinking a soda on the street to simply talking with your neighbor—is an exchange…………

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Trade may make Lagos seem frenzied and disorganized, it may sometimes appear aggressive and threatening, but trade built the city and continues to define its culture…………….


Spend enough time there and you come to realize that it is exactly this——–the irrepressible hubbub, the hyper-entrepreneurial give-and-take, the ceaseless frenzy of talk and exchange- that holds the city together.”


The author goes on to say great things about the entrepreneurial nature of Lagosians despite all the odds stacked against them, but I particularly found the above descriptions interesting (and fairly objective). What is your take?


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Overcoming the Fear of Growth

“There will never be a perfect time to do something that stretches you. That’s true whether you are starting a marriage, having your first child, changing careers, or wrestling with any number of challenging goals. That’s not a license to be reckless and never think things through, but at some point you have to embrace the uncertainty because it is the only path forward.

You can’t be ready for true growth. That’s why it’s growth. All you can do is step into it with everything you’ve got. “

by James Clear

Sometime in 2014, two famous men walked into a recording studio. They were working on a rap album, but at this particular moment they were talking about marriage. The first man was someone you would expect to be working on a rap album. His real name was Olubowale Akintimehin, but he is better known as the hip hop artist Wale (pronounced WAH-lay). The second man was someone you would never expect to be working on a rap album, the popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

Wale was partnering with Seinfeld for his fourth album, The Album About Nothing. During this particular session, he brought Seinfeld into the studio to ask him questions, record their conversation, and hopefully grab a few soundbites for the album.

While working on a track called The Matrimony, Wale questioned Seinfeld about his thoughts on marriage. At first, Seinfeld talked about what it felt like to get engaged. He explained the combination of excitement and nervousness and helplessness that made engagement feel like being strapped into a rollercoaster headed to the top of the hill where the marriage awaits.

Wale paused for a moment, looked at Seinfeld, and said, “So, even if you make plans you never think you’re really ready for marriage?”

“No,” Seinfeld said. “It’s like any growth. You can’t be ready for it because it’s growth. It’s going to be new. You’re going to have a new life. You’re going to be a new person.”


You’re Not Ready for Growth

I like Seinfeld’s definition of growth. You’re not ready for marriage. You’re not ready to start a business. You’re not ready to move to a new city. You’re not ready for growth … and that’s exactly why it will make you grow. Start before you feel ready.

By definition, growth must be something that makes you feel unprepared and uncertain. If it was comfortable and easy, it wouldn’t be growth. It would be normal. It would be standard. It would who you already are.


There will never be a perfect time to do something that stretches you. That’s true whether you are starting a marriage, having your first child, changing careers, or wrestling with any number of challenging goals. That’s not a license to be reckless and never think things through, but at some point you have to embrace the uncertainty because it is the only path forward.

You can’t be ready for true growth. That’s why it’s growth. All you can do is step into it with everything you’ve got.

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Dying Slowly

By Martha Medeiros


You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…

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Take your turn, because it’s rarely given!

I finally got my copies of Seth Godin’s new book – What to do when it’s your turn – today, and it’s so interesting that I immediately jumped into it.

I find particularly interesting his story on “being stuck on a broken escalator”.

While it seems obvious what the folks above should do, the reality is that many of us are indeed stuck on life’s broken escalators, unable to see that all we have to do is walk right off the escalator.

Just turn the broken escalator of your life into stairs that get you where you need to get to in life instead of waiting for someone to rescue you or fix the escalator.

The stairs may not be as convenient as a working escalator, but it gets the job done and beats being stuck in a spot!Ask yourself today, which of life’s escalators am I stuck on? What is stopping me from using the stairs, no matter how inconvenient to get to where I need to get to?


It’s ‪#‎yourturn‬. It’s always your turn. To act.

Take your turn, because it’s rarely given!


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Balancing Contentment and Ambition

We all struggle with being content with what we have achieved, and yet not falling into the zone of complacency. There is always the danger that desiring to achieve more may leave you unhappy with what you have already achieved. So how does one strike that balance between contentment and ambition?


I found this excerpt from a post by James Clear very relevant, and thought you may too. In it, he quotes from the book The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

rose2“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

That there, is profound!  And it applies to the individual, as it applies to mentors, coaches, and parents!

As James comments ;

Ambition and contentment are not opposites, but we often make the mistake of thinking that they are incompatible. On the one hand, experts tell us that we should be mindful, focused on the present, and content with our lives regardless of the results. On the other hand, coaches and champions tell us that successful people out work everyone else, that we must never be satisfied, and that complacency is undesirable.

The rose seed, however, is both content and ambitious.”

As Gallwey says, at no point are we dissatisfied with the current state of the rose seed. It is perfectly all right at each moment. Yet, it is also incredibly ambitious. The rose seed never stops growing. It is constantly seeking to get to the next level. Every day it is moving forward, and yet, every day it is just as it should be.


Viewed from another perspective, it has to do with what is driving your ambition. As seen in the story of the rose, its ambition to grow is not driven by discontent.  If discontentment or a quest for “stuff” is the motivating factor, no matter what you get or how much you get, you’re still not going to really be happy until you find contentment!

So its about becoming better while loving who you are. Its about enjoying the journey without losing sight of the destination!

Active contentment is growth.

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How not to respond to Ebola- Idris Bello for CNN



Editor’s note: Idris Ayodeji Bello is a Houston-based entrepreneur and global health advocate. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) — There is no word more reviled in America than “Ebola,” especially since the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who had traveled to Dallas. But as Ebola has spread, it has become increasingly clear that if there is to be any chance of stopping the disease — not only here in America, but across the world — then the United States must lead through inspiring example.

Unfortunately, the response of some institutions that should know better has been anything but inspiring.

First, this idea of a travel ban. Amidst numerous calls for a ban on air travel to and from West Africa, including from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, it is worth noting that West Africa is not a single country, but a region comprised of 15 nations.

And while Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been ravaged by the disease, Nigeria (20 cases) and Senegal (one case) have contained the disease, while Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and the other countries in this subregion of Africa have not reported any cases at all.

Should the U.S. follow the lead of countries, including Jamaica, which have instituted such a travel ban?

The trouble is that doing so would give us a false sense of security, and at a huge cost. In spite of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans that are volunteering on the frontline to fight this disease, only one infected person has so far made it into the United States.

Continue reading at CNN

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Ebola in the US: Are we letting fear win?


As it is my usual practice after work, I went to the gym on October 1, 2014. This being a gym I frequent, I am known well to the gym’s staff.

On this fateful day, I was met at the gym’s entrance by the owner who asked: “Idris, where are you from?”

Surprised by the question, I replied in a casual manner:”Houston, Texas”.

But she persisted, and said: “I mean, where in Africa are you from?”

I replied a bit indignantly this time: “Nigeria “.

“Oh”, she said, “I just wanted to check if you were from Liberia”.

It was only then I understood her reason for asking me in the first place. I retorted: “What if I was? You don’t want me to spread Ebola among folks here?”

By this time she was red in the face, and started explaining that she just wanted to be sure I did not have family members from Liberia visiting.

That was just three days after Thomas Duncan, lately of Dallas but formerly of Liberia, had been admitted to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, in Dallas, Texas, and seven days before he died, becoming the first case of Ebola diagnosed on US soil.

This incident, and several others that have occurred in the past few weeks, have brought to light the subtle stigmatization of people of West African descent as result of the fear of Ebola transmission among fellow Americans.

Continue reading at

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Navarro College; Stop Ebola, Stop Stigmatization!

Listen to my Radio France Interview below:

Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware of the ongoing Ebola epidemic  which has affected multiple countries, with some having widespread transmission (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), and some with localized transmission (Nigeria, Spain, United States) and Senegal with a travel-associated case.

Of the countries listed above, only Nigeria and Senegal, have currently been declared Ebola free, with the CDC declaring that 1Persons who entered Nigeria on or after September 30, 2014 are not at risk for exposure to Ebola. Persons who entered Senegal on or after September 20, 2014 are not at risk for exposure to Ebola.”

Hence, it came as a shock when I got a call from a very close Nigerian friend of mine in Texas recently, that his brother-in-law along with some other Nigerians had been denied admission to a ‘Navarro College’ in Corsicana, Texas (which I was not even aware of its existence prior to that moment) based solely on being citizens of a country with Ebola cases, or in their words “Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases.”


While I had had some embarrassing moments myself based on people’s ignorance about Ebola , this was the first time that I was hearing that a university, which is supposed to be more objective was making a decision to ban all students from multiple countries based on apparent fear. This was even more ironic given that the students in this case were from Nigeria which had been declared Ebola-free (for now) and was a distance of 6525 miles away, yet Navarro College is located only 31 miles away from Dallas , Texas, which has an active Ebola case.


It was not until I had seen the letters myself that I sprung into action on social media , and even then, lots of people found it difficult to believe despite my providing a snapshot of the letter. Many people have requested for a pdf of the actual letter which you can find here.

Since then, there has been lots of reactions on Twitter ranging from witty to serious, from surprise to shock. Some have asked that the issue be taken up legally, while some have themselves written to the Navarro College International Admissions  Officer whose details are available here . We have also gotten some of the affected students to write the school demanding an explanation and a reversal of the decision.

Some people have asked why the students cannot apply elsewhere (within or outside the USA), but I think those people miss the point. It is no longer about these young men and women who were wrongly discriminated against, but it is now about reversing that decision so that others do not resort to the same uninformed action. If during the civil rights movement, everyone had just resorted to applying elsewhere or joining a different bus when they were discriminated against, we would still be in the same situation today.

As one of the folks on Twitter who have taken it upon themselves to fight this said ” I have sent an email to the international programmes office of the school, with an official enquiry to this regard. I have also forwarded a complaint to the WHO International Health Regulations council, for further investigation and advise. This contravenes every international health and migration regulation that there is, and I hope that we can get more information, following investigation.”

What you can do to help!

1) You can write Navarro College through and let them know Nigeria is Ebola-free, and  the fight against ebola worldwide will be won with education and information, not stigmatization!

2) You can share my facebook status which has the snapshot of the letter from the school.

3) You can retweet my Twitter status about this case.

4)You can tweet at Navarro College’s handle on Twitter @NavarroCollege ) expressing your displeasure at this action.

5) You can post on  Navarro College’s FB page  expressing your displeasure at this action.

6) You can educate yourself and others about Ebola at the CDC site and also read this great short piece by Seth Godin

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Ebola has been contained in Nigeria (please visit


No new cases of Ebola has been reported in Nigeria  since August 31 (please read the article entitled “Nigeria Has Successfully Contained Ebola, US Hopes To Learn From Their Response”,
Thank you

Idris Bello

October 13, 2014

Story Links:
Washington Post – Navarro College in Texas apologizes after rejecting Nigerian applicants over Ebola fears
NBC News – Texas College Rejects Nigerian Applicants, Cites Ebola Cases
Gawker – Texas College Rejects African Applicants Because It Fears Ebola
Chron – Texas college won’t admit students from countries with Ebola cases
MTV – Did This Texas College Really Reject A Nigerian Student Because Of Ebola?
The Daily Beast – Did A Texas College Deny Men Admittance Because Of Ebola?
CBS Local – Did A Texas College Deny Men Admittance Because Of Ebola?
Navarro College – Updates from the Director
CNBC – Texas college rejects Nigerian applicants, cites Ebola cases
Newser – Texas College Turns Down African Students Over Ebola
Vocativ – College Allegedly Rejects Nigerian Student Because of Ebola Fears
Bloomberg Business Week – A Texas College Rejects Nigerians Over Ebola Concerns
Corsicana Daily Sun – Navarro College sends rejection letters citing Ebola concerns
Slate – Texas College Rejects Nigerian Students, Says Won’t Accept Students From Ebola Countries
The Independent – Texas college rejects applicants from places with Ebola (Texas has Ebola)
Daily Mail – Texas college rejects application from Nigerian students because of Ebola
San Antonio – Texas college won’t admit students from countries with Ebola cases
Mediaite – Texas College Rejects African Applicants Because They’re from Ebola Land
Yahoo Finance – Texas college bans students from ‘Ebola countries’
Dallas News – Texas college says it’s rejecting all international students from countries with Ebola
Complex – Texas Community College Cites Ebola Fears in Rejection Letters to African Applicants
Mother Jones – Texas College Rejects Two Nigerian Applicants Because of Ebola Panic
Financial Times – Nigerian Twitter Campaign Informs the World About Ebola
Fox51 – ETX college confirms denying applicants due to Ebola fears
CBS19.TV – UPDATE: Navarro College doubles down on Ebola-related admissions ban


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Featured in August 2014 Vanity Fair Magazine ‘Spotlight on African Entrepreneurs’


Harambee is Swahili for “Let’s pull together.” And the flourishing Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance lives up to its credo. The brainchild of 31-year-old Okendo Lewis-Gayle (second from left)—born in Costa Rica, raised in Italy, educated at Southern New Hampshire University—the organization targets African-born twentysomethings from elite schools who have dreams of starting business ventures and socially responsible projects in their native lands. Discouraged by the frequency with which foreign executives tend to swoop in to run new companies, Harambe persuaded large firms such as McKinsey & Company, GlaxoSmithKline, and Standard Chartered Bank to provide grants, pro bono services, and expertise to its members and their start-ups. The result: a 31-country assembly of 225 bright young entrepreneurs, a handful of whom will participate in events surrounding a presidential summit for young African leaders in Washington, D.C., this month.

After a Vatican forum not long ago, Harambe associates met to network and swap stories at Rome’s oldest bar, the Antico Caffè Greco. Among them: Nigeria’s Idris Bello, who oversees tech incubator Wennovation Hub; Zimbabwe’s Rumbi Mushavi, who works with a poultry-farm initiative that provides jobs and sustenance for H.I.V.-positive women in rural Uganda; Kenya’s Rakhee Shah, whose successful fashion label is carried in boutiques in Hong Kong and Spain; Senegal’s David Ly, who leads an app-development firm; South Africa’s Suzana Moreira, who has set up a mobile-commerce service; Botswana’s Rapelang Rabana, a “mobile learning” pioneer; and Kenya’s Sam Imende, who co-founded Enzi, a made-in-Africa footwear brand. Says Bello, “We’re not a think tank—we’re a do tank.”

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Buffett’s annual letter: What you can learn from my real estate investments

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5 Lessons Running a Half-Marathon Taught Me!

Today, I completed the Chevron/Aramco Houston Half-Marathon in a time of 2 hours and 21 minutes. I am deeply appreciative of your support as I transitioned from someone unable to run a mile less than 8 months ago to completing 13.1 miles at a stretch. If I can do it, then anyone can do it!

photo 4But more importantly, I wanted to share five take-aways from my experience that could be applied to life generally!

1. Don’t pick goals where the stakes are low: I did not need to train for, and run a half-marathon, especially given that I did not like running, and had never run a mile. I could have chosen something easier or more within my comfort zone. What I have realized is that if you fail inside your comfort zone, it’s not really failure, it’s just maintaining the status quo. If you never feel uncomfortable, then you’re never trying anything new. You need to step outside your comfort zone to get into your gift zone! Continue reading

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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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My Book of Senegalese Stories: Reflections on Gorée, An Island of no return

Visitors, in your grievous smile, I like to read the victory of love”


 The above quote by the late Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye – founding primary curator of the Slave House of Gorée Island summarizes the mix of my emotions as I stepped foot on this island just a 20 minutes boat ride from Dakar, Senegal.

While I do hope to eventually put up a blogpost about my different experiences (across Senegal- My Book of Senegalese Stories ( as seen here, here, here, here, here and here in pictures), I could not bear to leave Dakar without penning my thoughts about Gorée and its Slave houses, of which it is said;

 The story of Gorée island is the story of how millions of men, women, and children from all over west Africa were sold off into slavery, never to return again to lives familiar.

Continue reading

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My book of Senegalese Stories; ‘Run like a Happy African’ edition

Q24“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

It’s my 2nd day in St. Louis, a tiny fisherman island on the northern shores of Senegal, built and patterned after New Orleans, back when it used to be the capital of Francophone West Africa before Senegal’s independence.

I am here on an innovation working tour to work with local tech hubs and entrepreneurs creating local solutions to local problems. Continue reading

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My Book of Senegalese Stories: The Thanksgiving edition

1Ok. So while my American friends are enjoying their turkeys in freezing weather ( just had to rub that in from tropical weather zone here) I got invited by a Senegalese colleague to join his family for a meal yesterday. I gladly accepted what I assumed would be a pop in- pop out simple meal. It however turned out to be a very interesting meal-making experience which I have tried to capture in pictures below. Continue reading

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