How much land does a man need?

By Bolaji Akinola


Business school launches you into a new realm. It opens you up to fresh ideas and new thinking. So it was that I gained a lot through the various facilitators during my MBA study at the prestigious Lagos Business School. By the way, LBS is among the top business schools in the world. It is certainly one of the best in Africa.

I particularly enjoyed a course titled Business Law facilitated by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Fabian Ajogwu. In 2002 when I attended an entrepreneurship training programme at Fate Foundation, I had been privileged to learn under Ajogwu. Meeting him again a few years after at LBS was a double blessing.

Fabian is a great teacher who is quite knowledgeable about the subject. He interacted freely and responded intelligently to every query. He got standing ovation from us after every class session. He was the favourite facilitator to many. He exposed us to all the tricks in the book. His sessions enhanced my entrepreneurial initiatives and managerial abilities.

He thought us how to spot legal issues before they become legal problems; how to factor legal and ethical ramifications into business decisions and how to structure contracts so we don’t end up with the short end of the stick.

We all got fired up, ready for the next challenge in our life journey.

Towards the end of his classes, he brought up a case study titled How much land does a man need? This case study was going to change my total life view.

The case was an abridged version of Leo Tolstoy’s short story of the same title published in 1886.

The protagonist of the story is a peasant named Pahom, who overhears his wife and sister-in-law argue over the merits of town and peasant farm life. He thinks to himself “if I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”

Unknown to him, Satan is present sitting behind the stove and listening. Satan abruptly accepts his challenge and also tells that he would give Pahom more land and then snatch everything from him.

Shortly afterwards, a landlady in the village decides to sell her estate, and the peasants of the village buy as much of that land as they can. Pahom himself purchases some land, and by working off the extra land is able to repay his debts and live a more comfortable life.

However, Pahom then becomes very possessive of his land, and this causes arguments with his neighbours. Threats to burn his building began to be uttered.

Later, he moves to a larger area of land in another community. Here, he can grow even more crops and amass a small fortune, but he has to grow the crops on rented land, which irritates him.

Finally, after buying and selling a lot of fertile and good land, he is introduced to the Bashkirs, and is told that they are simple-minded people who own a huge amount of land. Pahom goes to them to take as much of their land for as low a price as he can negotiate. Their offer is very unusual: for a sum of one thousand rubles, Pahom can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking his route with a spade along the way. If he reaches his starting point by sunset that day, the entire area of land his route encloses will be his, but if he does not reach his starting point he will lose his money and receive no land.

He is delighted as he believes that he can cover a great distance and has chanced upon the bargain of a lifetime. That night, Pahom experiences a surreal dream in which he sees himself lying dead by the feet of the devil, who is laughing.

Nonetheless, the following day, he stays out as late as possible, marking out land until just before the sun sets. Toward the end, he realizes he is far from the starting point and runs back as fast as he can to the waiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets. The Bashkirs cheer his good fortune, but exhausted from the run, Pahom drops dead. His servant buries him in an ordinary grave only six feet long, thus ironically answering the question posed in the title of the story.

I think this masterpiece by Leo Tolstoy should become compulsory reading for our political elites who will stop at nothing to steal billions of dollars they will never need from the public treasury and hide same in septic tanks and in tax havens. Truly, how much land does a man need?

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