I intend to report what I told the audience at the Young Achievers Summit at Oriental Hotel Lagos held on Saturday the 29th of July, 2017. But first some preambles.
The YAS is organized by ‘my man before’, Victor Owkuadi, who has abandoned us smaller mortals to Abuja, for a more forthcoming Lagos where things are happening. I begged him not to forget our small beginnings in Abuja where I had predicted that he will go very far with his I AM NIGERIA project but he told me Lagosians are far more receptive to his ideas and ready to backup their promises. And so they used perhaps the most prestigious hotel in Lagos; The Oriental for the event. Anyone without serious sponsorship could never attempt such a feat. The audience showed up in numbers perhaps because this is not some backwater venue. Respect! I learnt that venues could be very important in these matters.
Then there were the speakers. So much knowledge was on display, after all the theme was KNOWLEDGE, INNOVATION FOR GROWTH AND ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION. From the Uber-smart Muyiwa Babarinde who represented the unavoidably-absent Chude Jideonwo but showed that he wasn’t there just to deliver a message but was on top of his own game (he spoke about the new realities of the digital world and why we have to wake up), to the debonair Mr Wale Ajadi (my co-occasional contributor at Premium Times), who gave a new angle on Agriculture in Nigeria and emphasized the disconnects in the system plus the need for Nigeria to feed its own people before focusing fully on exports, to the wonderful Igwe Twins (Tobias and Titus), whose story brought tears to my eyes, it was a most-rewarding day that saw me glued to my seat for hours.
The Igwe boys were not born with silver-spoon. Identical twins, their parents had nine children, and they had to be sent to different places (separately), as houseboys. They established a bakery with the money they were given when their father died and today, they run a billion-naira establishment (farm, restaurants, spice chain and so on), having been helped along the line also, by the Tony Elumelu Foundation (only God knows when that my former boss will also bless my ‘ministry’; but I recall he blessed me greatly with confidence when we met in front of Transcorp Hilton in 2006 and he encouraged me to continue along my path and never look back). The Igwe boys are a great story of grass to grace.
Then there was a great man called Mr Greg Ogbeifun, the President of Ship Owner’s Association of Nigeria, and ex-Shell Executive. The man is an encyclopedia of Maritime activities in Nigeria and that sector – as critical as it is – is neglected in Nigeria. In came Professor Pat Utomi who held us spell-bound as he offered out-of-the-box ideas for Nigeria’s renaissance. There were gurus from the IT world (Dr Ayo Adegboye of Business Connection West Africa, Adeyinka Aderombi, ex-Konga executive now of Liberty Holdings and the irrepressible Ahmed Ojikutu, president CAPDAN – we learnt from him details of how Computer Village boys work and the value they add) who further opened our eyes to what has already come upon Nigeria. Like Muyiwa, they emphasized the fact that the recent visits by IT gurus and Tech entrepreneurs from the USA and elsewhere were not mere coincidences, but a recognition of Nigeria’s centrality in the growth of markets around the world.
The Commissioner for Housing in Lagos State, ‘Gbolly’ Lawal, was also on hand to explain the idea behind the Lagos “Rent-to-Own” scheme, a brilliant idea especially as their focus is on very basic and low income housing, starting from one-bedroom flats. I had a side discussion with him about the hundreds of thousands of vacant luxury houses around the country and how their one-bedroom focus is a great idea. The Lagos boys are thinking far ahead.
Unforgettable was also the story told by ‘Lamide, the Master of Ceremonies about his own experience in life and how as an impressionable child he processed his Dad’s transition through hard times, to the extent that he was a conductor in a bus driven by his dad along the Mararaba/Nyanya axis. People have been through so much haven’t they?
Anyway, what did I tell the audience onn the panel that saw me and super-entrepreneur Tayo Agboola once again paired in one of Victor’s gigs?
WHAT I TOLD THE AUDIENCE
I emphasized that the visit by Zuckerberg (Facebook), Pishai (Global CEO of Google), and the rest was certainly not because they were in love with Nigeria, and extended beyond the market that they saw in us, but was because when you organized society, you made money from it. Those boys were here to organize us and there is much money in that; especially since we seem not to know how to organize ourselves. I reminded the audience that as innovations make their ways here from abroad, those smart companies had devised ways of making money from everyone of us even while we sleep. For example, updates that happen overnight takes away some of our ‘data’ as we call it here, meaning that we have to replace data. This costs money. And no one is smart enough to sit and compute who got what; whether it was Google, Youtube, Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook or any of the dozens of sites we now subscribe to, by necessity.
I reminded the audience that the idea of organizing a people around solving a problem is what gave birth to ideas like Uber, which was designed initially to solve a problem of taxi availability in the financial districts of United States but soon made it around the world such that that single companies now earns more yearly than Nigeria’s yearly budget. I challenged the young people present to think of creating Apps because Apps are meant to solve problems and we have a deluge of problems in Nigeria. I warned that they should not sit on their hands and play victims, while 18 years olds from other parts of the world that have fewer problems come here and solve our problems for us, thereby making fame and fortune at our expense. I tried to let a few of the young boys who chatted with me after the session know that even things like environmental pollution, or poverty, or lack of hospitals, could make use of smart App ideas, but the game will have to be played like chess; don’t look for ideas that will earn you immediate cash, but perhaps for ideas that will give you relevance and relevance gives you cash – like those who have busy blogs on which people advertise irrespective of their initial reason for establishing the blog.
Because there was an Agric session – where Tobias and Titus Igwe featured, I recalled my visit to my ancestral cocoa farm in Akure and how I thought we weren’t taking adequate care of the trees, plus what the white man could have done with such a crop (eg make a beverage from the pulp around cocoa beans). I linked this to the call for buying local and why it wasn’t working because all we did was show hypocrisy while making vacuous exhortations. I believe it will take deeper and more sincere thinking, actions and leadership to deliberately incentivize local production than we are presently doing. We may have to protect a few industries while playing the globalization game. Mahatma Gandhi lived and died for the Indian textile industry because he saw that the British colonialists were eager to keep dumping their textiles on a population that has now grown to two billion (India plus Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). Protectionism apart, the fact that we haven’t taken very drastic decisions on some of these sectors, while government continues to use the commonwealth for frivolous foreign products says it all.
While still on textiles for example, what I didn’t get enough time to tell the audience was that we should be clothing ourselves fully with our own textiles today, and that adire cloths (made in Kano and Abeokuta), the Aa’nger (black and white) made in Benue, the Aso Oke made in the south west, have not benefited from any innovations in local technology. It still takes so long to manufacture them, hence they remain rarities – and very expensive. This is not a good strategy. I recall watching a man make kente cloth at Accra Airport, while he had a smart phone playing music. That is how technology catches up with, and overtakes Africans. African universities have not stepped up to the plate beyond teaching theories.
Whenever the discussion is about entrepreneurship, there is every likelihood that audiences activate their desire to become billionaires and therefore miss the reality. Because of that, I was quick to bring their attention to the fact that Nigeria wasn’t doing badly as a nation of entrepreneurs but it seemed that the majority of our population was still left in the lurch. It was back again to the need to reorganize our society, not in a way that makes a few into billionaires, but that raises up a greater number from the abyss of crass poverty and gets them to be independent, and to have real purchasing power. I regaled them with my visit to Abule Osun, off Old Ojo Road in Lagos and how people who lived in those parts were totally neglected by government, even as Dangote’s Dansa trucks had totally destroyed their roads – just like Obajana. The focus on entrepreneurship does create its own problems, as policy-makers only revel with the money-makers while trampling the majority.
In other words, the model adopted by Nigeria thus far, keeps churning out even more zombies by the day; as exemplified in the disconnected desperate faces we see in our ghettos. These are faces that show they couldn’t be bothered to join the train of making Nigeria great because they are concerned only with desperate survival. I posited that holding such programs at our best hotels was not enough as we often get carried away and disconnected. I wondered if perhaps it was better to take a bus ride to our real communities as part of the program so that we see the real faces of Nigerians, and how they live, because that will inform us better of the situation on ground and what we need to do urgently.
I closed off by noting to them a saying; that every Prince descends from a Pauper, and every Pauper, from a Prince, in a way to let them know that they need to continue struggling and that the mere acquisition of money without adequate balance and training, does not guarantee the longevity of wealth among our offsprings. This was in response to the attention brought to the fact that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon became the world’s richest man for about 4 hours on Friday 28th July, 2017. Such news excite young people, but I believe we shouldn’t fall into the trap of chasing money while neglecting our happiness. I also believe that chasing ‘rich lists’ causes too much volatility in wealth; we are likely to swing from one extreme to another when what a nation needs is stability and to get more of its members to contribute to growth.
I said it was unacceptable that majority of our population everywhere in Nigeria still live in conditions unfit for wild animals, and there is no real action on ground to stop the Almajirai system of northern Nigeria, which assures us that 50 years down the line, when the rest of the world must have evolved new tech-savvy species for the Fourth or Fifth Industrial Revolution powered by whatever new technology some smart young person had thought up, we would still be producing low-IQ human beings who are only good for us as canon-fodder in whatever violence we wish to foist on ourselves!
I believe strongly that what Nigeria needs is for us to organize ourselves better, for our youth to see the opportunities around them for greatness, for us to lift millions out of disease, crass poverty and filth, so that we can begin to live more humane lives like they do in Europe. We all cannot become billionaires. Even the focus on entrepreneurship has failed. We need a higher calling; the youths need a sustainable vision for our nation beyond quelling the grating hunger in their belly and showing off their wealth to those who are less privileged, less hard-working, less smart, or at the end of the day, less lucky.
Herein lies the opportunity for great wealth; vast wealth that will get into the hands of a whole lot more people than is presently the case, and that will assure a safer, stronger society for us all. The time to start is now.