Nigerian Telecom Sector Report (June 2012)

Data is king and numbers don’t lie. However, any researcher or data lover will tell you how hard it is to happen upon some much-needed data in Nigeria. I’ve often had to use multiple primary sources to get data, which should already exist, for reports and research work around the Nigerian technology space. This explains why, for example, the number of Internet users in Nigeria is still a subject of debate. According to Wikipedia (quoting the International Telecommunications Union), there are now 47,143,356 Internet users in Nigeria. Many industry experts disagree, and the fact that there’s no trusted local source where such data can be verified doesn’t help.

One would expect the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), which now sits on more money than it needs to host press conferences, to keep such records but please don’t hold your breath. Now that the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, whose ministry supervises NITDA, has announced plans for Nigeria’s Internet penetration (e.g. growing broadband access from current 7% to 35% by 2017), it is hoped that NITDA will be put under pressure to measure this. Whatever we can’t measure can’t be improved, as it’d be difficult to even know when we have truly made progress – except we want to continue playing the inaccurate guesstimate game.

All hope isn’t lost for data in Nigeria’s ICT sector though. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), another agency with the same Ministry of Communication Technology, keeps an impressive record of industry data – from investments to subscribers and more. Having worked with both NITDA and NCC in the past, I can give NITDA free advice about something NCC does and they don’t – focus on numbers. NCC has economists and researchers who focus on getting these numbers out and NITDA can do the same, if they want to. The former excuse used to be about money, but with NITDA Act’s provision (signed into law by the president as far back as April 24, 2007) for a National Information Technology Development Fund (NITDEF), let’s hope NITDA turns a new (good) leaf. NITDEF is a tax-deductible levy of 1% of profit before tax to be paid by telcos, ISPs, pension managers, banks and insurance companies with annual turnover of N100 million and above.

Back to NCC and data, the June 2012 data for telecom subscribers shows a continuation of growth for GSM companies but decline for CDMA service providers – and near-death decline for Fixed (Wired/Wireless) service providers. That’s why the announcement of a merger between Multi-Links, MTS and Starcomms didn’t come as a surprise to industry watchers. We wish CAPCOM all the best with the $200 million from core investors. With a teledensity of 73.12, there is the temptation to assume that Nigeria’s telecom sector will soon inch closer to saturation but that isn’t the case. With a popular multiple phone ownership culture in Nigeria (a step that was taken to make up for the poor quality of service from providers but has since gained status symbol), the real teledensity would be better calculated per user – and not per SIM card. Thankfully, the recently concluded SIM registration exercise will throw up the accurate number of users (telecom subscribers) in Nigeria, and we can have a more realistic teledensity. I won’t be surprised if it’s closer to 40 than the current 73.12.

From the June 2012 data released by NCC on their website, Nigeria had 136,041,999 connected and 102,369,999 active (used in the last 3 months) phone lines as at June 30, 2012. Of these, there are 133,715,146 connected mobile lines and 2,326,853 connected Fixed lines. 101,855,094 or 76.17% of the connected mobile lines are active while only 514,905 (or 22.13%) of the connected Fixed lines are active. When you break mobile down into GSM and CDMA, it’s easier to see that while 81.66% of GSM lines are active, only 26.57% of CDMA lines are active.

Compared to the previous month (May 2012), month-on-month growth for the various telecom services shows a trend that industry watchers have seen over the past few months. Connected GSM lines grew by 1.29%, connected CDMA lines grew by 0.91% and connected Fixed (Wired/Wireless) lines grew by 0.07%. The total number of telephone lines in Nigeria grew by 1.19% for the period. The numbers for active lines paint a better picture: GSM grew by 0.78% month-on-month, CDMA recorded -4.75% (~5% drop is a whole lot; no pressures, CAPCOM), Fixed (Wired/Wireless) takes a -5.17% hit but the total number of active phone lines in Nigeria increased by 0.55% in June 2012. GSM service providers increased capacity by 4.37% while CDMA and Fixed (Wired/Wireless) didn’t bother.

I took a good look at the industry players to see what market share looked like as at June 2012. For the Fixed (Wired/Wireless) segment of the market, does it surprise you that only 58,750 Nigerians use NITEL lines? Before you call NITEL the worst, note that some 80 people use WiTEL (pray, tell). Of the 16 Fixed (Wired/Wireless) service providers, Starcomms is the market segment leader with 191,816 lines (37.25% market share) even though they suffered a huge decline of -26.19% between Quarter 1 (Q1) and Quarter 2 (Q2) of 2012. Visaphone, which controls only 5.21% of the market segment, and is only 6th in terms of market share, recorded a much higher quarter-on-quarter growth with 4.72%. The industry segment bronze medalist, 21st Century Technologies, with a 13.75% market share grew by 0.96% within the same period. The new player, CAPCOM, now controls 55.17% of the Fixed market (based on June 2012 numbers) with 284,082 active lines managed by the merged Starcomms (industry segment #1), Multilinks Telkom (#2) and MTS Ist Communications (#7).

In the CDMA segment of Nigeria’s telecom market, Visaphone rules (well, as at June 2012) with an impressive 68.56% market share. However, they were not immune to industry decline as at end June 2012 as they lost 2.72% (quarter-on-quarter) of their active subscribers. Multilinks and Starcomms, now part of the new CAPCOM (which seeks to become Nigeria’s biggest retail broadband operator) controlled 14.87% and 13.44%, respectively, of the market. Starcomms lost 34.45% of subscribers between Q1 and Q2 2012 while Multilinks lost 22.7%. The 4th player, Reliance Telecoms (Zoom) controls only 3.14% of the market and lost none of their 111,077 subscribers between Q1 and Q2 2012.

In the GSM corner of the Nigerian telecom ring, MTN continues to lead with 43.93% market share (as at June 2012) and they improved subscriber base by 0.67% between Q1 and Q2 2012. Globacom grew their number of subscribers by 5.47% during the same period and has a market share of 22.36%. Airtel grew subscriber base by 6.56% and is number 3 with 20.16%. Though Etisalat holds only 13.29% of the market, their continued strong growth may worry earlier entrants. Between Q1 and Q2 2012, Etisalat recorded an impressive 9.52% growth. There are not many Nigerians that have active MTEL SIMs (258,520 did as at June 2012), so the only industry segment loss of -0.26% by MTEL doesn’t come as a surprise.

 


This piece has been featured in Technology Times, TechLoy and OTekBits.
Images and data courtesy of Nigerian Communications Commission

Vacancy: Content Managers

A fast-growing Nigerian Internet Portal is looking for talented content managers.

Does the following describe you?
– Age: Between 20 and 27
– Experienced Internet user
– Experience of working with desktop software (MS Windows, Internet browsers, MS Office, Image editors)
– Basic knowledge of HTML
– 2+ years work experience with computer
– Good writing skills (English)
And… a strong desire to be a part of something new, exciting, and super-fast!

Working conditions:
– Working in Lagos office or from home (good Internet connections is required)
– Salary NGN 50,000 per month
– Flexible schedule
– Immediate resumption

Contact @gbengasesan for application details.

Internet Speed: Global Download Study


via chartsbin.com

Nigeria: 104KBps

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria currently has a broadband penetration rate of 7%. The NCC is working with the Ministry of Communication Technology and stakeholders to grow this to 35% by 2017. With 47,143,356 Internet users as at the end of 2011, 28.43% of Nigerians have access to the Internet (ITU data). That makes Nigeria the leading African country in terms of the number of Internet users and 10th globally.

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I Remember Ojota!

Few days after Ojota was overtaken by military men whose deployment will remain a mystery, as with some things Nigerian, I returned to breathe in the air. As I alighted from the car, a friendly voice said, “be careful sir,” but I wasn’t looking for trouble and it was bright enough for me to avoid any surprise. I walked into the Gani Fawehinmi Park while the new guards of the historic square kept busy few meters away.

Climbing to the summit where Gani Fawehinmi’s statue overlooks the park – which will remain a Freedom Park regardless of how smart history editors are – I felt the rush of emotions as my mind replayed how Nigerians disproved the twin theories of resilience and disunity. I posted a tweet and walked away, to join a meeting that was convened to discuss how Nigerians must seize the moment.

Ojota got the most attention during the January 2012 #OccupyNigeria protests because of the unbelievable numbers that grew inside and around the square each day but anyone who had the rare opportunity of joining more than one protest would understand when I say that the principle of organised chaos was at play. Don’t believe a lie, it wasn’t a group of elite young people who wanted to take over, or a group of political tools; it was indeed an expression of disgust at years of misrule.

I attended Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, so I am no stranger to protests. Anyone who joins protests knows that things don’t need much to get ugly. Throw in the sheer size of the crowd at Ojota and the continuum of inclination, and you’ll appreciate how everyone came armed with the same weapon – anger. For some reason, the anger wasn’t abused, and the police(wo)men who stood guard will tell you about the conversations and supply of cold drinks to help quench the common thirst.

Ojota was different. First, there was the multiplication of information. Pockets of people gathered to discuss the real issues. While Abuja kept trying its best to wrap the protests in unfair political colours, true citizens continued to discuss the ignorance and wickedness of a government that was bent on deceiving citizens through misinformation. Now we all know that over N2.6 trillion was spent on fuel subsidies in 2011, even though the lies started at N1.2 (more than 50% discount on the truth). There were also the leaflets and endless drama – all revealing a new level of awareness by citizens.

Then, there was the meeting between social media and street movements. What started with online rants moved on to the streets; a total departure from what the pundits had predicted. There was the popular exchange of tweets that started with few people asking where to meet at Abule Egba and ended up with crowds catching up with each other until about 2,000 people arrived at Ojota to join the protest. Tweets also ended up on placards; who can forget the N1 million for breakfast, N1 million for lunch and N1 million for dinner placard that brought tweets about the Presidency’s almost N1 billion meals’ budget to life.

The media machinery was at its best, as if to announce to New Media channels that it was also alive and in active duty. Outside Broadcasting (OB) vans dotted the Ojota landscape and one of them beamed live images to citizens who could – or would – not join others in Ojota, or anywhere else. I took advantage of these vans to capture pictures (http://www.gbengasesan.com/?p=966, http://www.gbengasesan.com/?p=969, http://www.gbengasesan.com/?p=986, http://www.gbengasesan.com/?p=991, http://www.gbengasesan.com/?p=992) and videos (http://youtu.be/lpzR_1OdNYo, http://youtu.be/hGOOomlIjfg, http://youtu.be/c0hOabgNkVs) that will remain exhibits of how people put to rest the oft-repeated lie that Nigerians would never stay on the streets for too long.

Sadly, people died. They shouldn’t have. I remember a chat with a member of this government that had me raising my voice as if to inform him of what he wasn’t aware of. Many episodes of probe drama and committees later, the lives that were lost cannot be reversed. For a nation whose president is quick to respond to mere inclusion on a coveted list but slow to comment when lives are lost in their numbers, there is the fear that human life is not very high on our list of valuables. But then, one hopes that the depth of our humanity will not be lost to the shallowness of abandoned hope.

At the many Ojotas across Nigeria, hands were joined in solidarity. Ojota was the new facebook as old friends ran into each other and people spent hours on the same site. Anyone who heard the huge crowd sing the national anthem would be a proud Nigerian. The hovering helicopter, which many assumed was a property of the state, also attracted waves of united uproar. The solidarity was probably one of the reasons why the numbers grew; each person returned, strengthened by the beauty of unity.

Each day, as news filtered in about possible compromise by the Labour Union, voices were raised as if to say the negotiations had only one option – outright reversal. Of course, negotiations always have trade-offs. How the discussions between government and the Labour Union ended was shrouded in so much drama, and public outcry was scary. Thankfully, threats against the leaders of the union died natural deaths, though there are talks of the bigger threats – by the State – that brought them to their knees. One day, an insider will write a book about the negotiations. Hopefully, it won’t be one of the history-bending books that Nigerians are forced to accept as accurate representation of history.

Hmmm, some scary things happened online. Who would have thought that the private mobile numbers of hyper-protected public officials could be freely available for retweets? And the false reports too – those recycled pictures, Blackberry broadcasts, forwarded eMails and text messages that only sought to take advantage of uncertainties. As social media channels were used to share information, organise crowds and report activities, they were also available for propaganda from both sides of the divide. After all, social media is just a tool, and it doesn’t take sides.

The same social media channels announced the arrival of the military on the streets of Lagos. Many people trusted a democratically elected government not to desecrate the beauty of people’s rightful protests but Abuja would have none of that. Security excuses were given, leading one to wonder why the same sense of urgency was not applied during earlier incidents that saw the loss of lives in Northern states of Nigeria. Pictures of stern-looking troops took over social media as some of us made our way towards Ojota on Monday, January 16, 2012. Even policemen complained, as one of them asked, “na war we dey fight?”

On Tuesday, January 17, as Temi and I took some time off to celebrate our wedding anniversary and her birthday, we couldn’t help thinking about the events of the days just before the 17th. Nigeria came to a standstill. Many were upset that issues such as Boko Haram’s continued attacks were not met with as much anger as Abuja’s rude hand that touched pockets but I am of the opinion that many factors – including insecurity, government waste (which still continues) and government’s insensitive lie about fuel subsidies – led to the commencement of the protests.

There were many people who came to Ojota because they wanted N65 or nothing, but there were tens of thousands who could afford any pump price increase but hoped Nigeria could use the reset button to correct the errors of Abuja, especially around the cost of government. There were as many reasons as people at Ojota, but the direction of the various shades of anger was clear. Have we learnt from the experience? History will judge. But memories linger.

Each time I use the Ojota route and see the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park again, I remember the days when freedom came calling. Democracy is work in progress, and freedom is not a static destination. In fact, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. One freedom-to-express after another, the unfair relationship between the governed and the governing will get better as citizens learn to go to the polls with their eyes open and senses intact. I remember Ojota, with pride.

 


This piece appeared in the July edition of Y! Magazine.

Digital Evidence and Signature Now Admissible in Nigeria

In a series of tweets earlier today, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) focused on the new provision for the admissibility of digital evidence and signature in Nigerian courts, and more. Read them below. Follow @pinigeria and let’s get the conversation going.

NOT AN OPTION: Why I’m Not Giving Up on Restoring Nigeria

It was one of those afternoons in Lagos. The sun was up in all its might, as if to prove a point to air cooling units. Traffic was bumper to bumper, with enough frayed nerves to light up any tiny dispute. And then, a wrong turn that led into the unforgiving Mushin traffic. In between forgiving the driver and worrying about how to apologise – again – for arriving late for a discussion with the Carrington Youth Fellows at the US Consulate in Lagos, I read a tweet announcing that an icon of change had given up on trying to restore Nigeria into at least the semblance of something worthy of the adjective, nation.

(S)he’s not the first to do such. Many more will give up after trying so hard to draw honey from the rock. Stop. Don’t be quick to blame anyone for giving up. How many times have you been reminded of how erratic Nigeria is, just after a meeting where you were encouraging young people to change Nigeria or die trying? These things get to you. One of those days, I pulled out my passport, headed for the airport and paid for a date change just to get on a flight before my veins would burst. Once in a while, you get the chance to get on a flight – inwards in thought or out of town – just to draw enough energy to continue.

In this matter of changing an outrightly insane society, many have been wounded. Many more have found an alternative pathway that solves personal misery but adds to the communal hopelessness. But how long will a nation once known as a giant continue the act of burying her head in the sand? Change agents come, change agents go, but the sore livelihoods remain. So, what must we do?

Just before we throw up our hands and/or begin to plot permanent escapes – in mind or action – maybe it’s worth considering the fact that giving up on change is a win for the minority that benefits from chaos and rot. They know that warfare principle quite well: get your enemy to believe they can’t change their circumstances while suffering loss, and the battle is over. Mohammed Ali stung like a bee; many times with words before the punch that drove home the victory.

That’s the plan. “Make sure they’re frustrated enough to give up on the thought of change and we’ll stay winning,” are the words of the few who benefit from circumstances that lead to what eventually snowballs into a nation with extremely low life expectancy and near non-existent expectation. But what about the small gains of change efforts. “Make sure they don’t ponder such. Keep their eyes on the wrong ball. Distract them.”

Few years ago, not many people reading this would dare write comments that called out government even at the height of ineptitude. Ask folks who were tucked away in the heart of foreign cities and their colleagues, here at home, who literally watched their back every minute, what it meant to live in Nigeria during the dark days of the military and you’d at least appreciate the citizens that fought for democracy – and never gave up. In few states across Nigeria, you’ll see traces of what it means for citizens to demand change. Let’s not forget the small gains. Change takes time, though change agents must remain impatient in order to avoid excuses that slow the process down.

It took about 2 generations of hard work to destroy Nigeria’s promising existence and fixing it may not take less than a generation’s deliberate hard work. Of course, I’ve taken the liberty to equate one generation to about 20 years. Each time we slow down or lose folks on the frontline, we delay the process or stand the risk of resetting the counter. It is true that the darkest hour comes before the appearance of dawn, simply because the apparent darkness masks even the most noble of on-going efforts at bringing light. Hence the tendency to often assume that nothing is working when the most visible thing is darkness. As you take those small strides of faith in the midst of darkness, don’t ignore the fact that others are doing the same and it’ll soon come together if you keep on. Of course, you can’t see them because it’s dark all around. But it’ll soon be the turn of the brightness of daytime to shine.

I am also reminded of the theory of the cracked glass ceiling. Everyone knows about the legendary glass ceiling because most people tell the tales of how their fate was altered by the limitation the glass places in the way. However, each time someone struggles to break through the glass, a dent is left. Small, but a dent all the same. After several attempts by different people, the material that glass is made of knows that few more cracks will make the ceiling give way. There are already many dents in the limiting glass of the Nigerian promise, don’t spare us your attempt at hitting the spot that may just make way.

Exit, the all-time reaction of (wo)men to unsuccessful attempts or unfriendly circumstances, has been with Nigeria since the days of “Andrew”. Exit, expressed in many ways, does not fix all responsibilities. In fact, the reason many are able to retreat to spaces or places is because some people didn’t exit those spaces or places in the days when change looked impossible. Think of today’s most celebrated destinations, and you’ll be reminded of the folks who persevered to make change possible.

If every changemaker, regardless of present location or place on the Discouragement Curve, will own their space and make a dent, maybe our eventual islands of sanity can come together while we also maximise the principle of enlightened self-interest to recruit others for the noble task of nation building. In 2001, when I saw a much smaller picture of the change that could come to Nigeria, I wrote:

I see a new Nigeria emerging, one that will be built on the labours of our heroes past, hewn out of the debris of the present waste and engineered by the strength of the future leaders: the youth. These young men and women will adopt Information Technology for the purpose of personal development, nation building, regional cooperation and global participation. They may be unknown today, but in the secrecy of their abode, they master the tool that will change their lives and that of their nation. They’re building the nation’s tomorrow today.

It’s now 2012 and I still believe in what I saw at the time. Only that it’s much bigger now and the tools available to people are much more diverse.

We may fall, fail or falter, but we will learn a new way of not restoring Nigeria. I once joked with a friend about my decision of fighting to restore Nigeria or die trying. Actually, I wasn’t joking. Life expectancy in Nigeria is low, anyway, so one could as well live wisely and without regret. I will not give up on restoring Nigeria, and while I engage in the often therapeutic activity of cursing the darkness, I will continue with the tough task of lighting a candle at the same time.

Every weekday all through my early days at St. Peter’s Demonstration Primary School, Akure, and Federal Government College, Idoani, we recited the National Pledge. So help me God! I will be true to the words that spoke to me: to serve Nigeria with all my strength. So help me God. Many of us did the same, also singing the words of the National Anthem. Remember the line that says, “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey”? How about, “…the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain”? Let’s move on to the less known second stanza. If you give up now, who will fulfil these words: “Guide our leaders right, help our youth the truth to know.”

Don’t give up. Give others the permission to believe in the value of their contributions, even if no one will celebrate the seemingly unknown efforts that you invest in the nation’s future each day. Recruit numbers for the threshold! We are making a dent in the glass of corruption, government’s “I-don’t-give-a-damn” attitude, and many more evils of the day. Giving up is not an option. On Nigeria or other efforts at which you’ve trained your hands, giving up is NOT an option.


This post originally appeared in YNaija.

Give back (now) or watch your back (later)

As predicted through my tweet above, May 29 got more attention than May 27 in Nigeria. I’m not playing with dates, but Nigeria is playing with the future! The signs are already there – in education, security, etc – it shows that government is only paying lip service to what should be our biggest investment in the future.

But then, anyone who has spent as much time as I have in my beloved country will know that while waiting for government to awake from its deep slumber, the need to intervene is huge. I’ve often spoken of the funnel effect, describing how many children get dropped off the opportunity radar as life continues to happen to them. One possible outcome of the funnel effect is that these children may grow into adults who will see any expression of comfort as the reason they have been denied their own “fair share.”

The kids who snatch phones in traffic will grow into adults who snatch cars and maybe even lives. If there was a way you could give back to that child now, instead of watching your back later, would you? Truth is that you can, and many are already doing that. I’ve been asked why my area of interest in technology is in equipping young people with skills that can improve their livelihoods, and my answer is simple: kids who are given a future assure us of a safer one for ourselves and our own kids.

Giving back doesn’t necessarily mean building a career around helping children and youth. It could be as simple as volunteering at a program that already does that, mentoring a child dazzled by the maze that life around here can present, or demanding change through your opportune channels.

I strongly believe that our generation has to think a bit beyond what we can acquire to considering what we can give back. It can become a culture so strong that our enlightened self-interest finds a place in cohesive national development.

When Emeka and other young people walked into a training centre I managed for the trio of Lagos State Government, Microsoft, and Junior Achievement of Nigeria about 7 years ago, my excitement revolved around the opportunity of seeing them blossom into young adults whose stories will inspire fellow young people to create a future they would be proud of instead of holding on to ready excuses to explain activities that would hurt others. Few weeks ago, I met Emeka at an event. He’s not only an example to other young people around him; he has adopted the culture of giving back.

I met Esther in Ajegunle more recently. Looking frail and shy, she walked up and spoke about her interest in computers. Many weeks later, she had learnt enough to start out on a path of success because of some of the many volunteers who continue to give their time at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria’s Ajegunle.org program. She has worked at the UK Deputy High Commission, managed projects at the new local Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), and more. More importantly, she’s a role model to young women who could have used similar circumstances as excuses.

“How many people can my small contribution reach?” Few, but imagine the volume of many ‘fews’. If drops of water come together to make a river, then your deliberate act of giving back will connect with many others to weave a fine future for us all. Your skill, time, and other resources can plug a hole in our collective future if you reach out to a young person looking to figure out the often confusing maze of life, especially in an environment like ours. When we give back, we contribute to a culture that will see us giving back now instead of watching our backs in the future.

 


This piece first appeared in YNaija’s ’30 Days, 30 Voices’

I Have No Excuse!

Junior is frustrated, and he believes he has every reason to be. He grew up a groomed young man and admired his parents’ willingness to give him the best of everything. Since an encounter during one of the Career Days he attended in secondary school, Junior made up his mind about becoming an engineer. He asked questions, studied hard and gained admission into the school of his choice. But it appears that was where the lovely story of his life ended. In his much-told tale of woes, he has the following for any ready listener: an argument with a lecturer cost him a much-needed grade and he discovered that everything he had been taught wasn’t applicable on the job. Plus: after the second anniversary of his trip to Lagos after his NYSC – in search of a job – he is yet to get one. He’s been told by friends that he would need to “use his father’s connection” but little do they know that his dad stopped being relevant to his friends the moment he stopped being a commissioner. Junior blames the Nigerian system for not providing enough jobs for graduates, and he blames all the G8 embassies for denying “innocent young Nigerians” visas.

Junior’s story is not very uncommon across Nigeria today. Just open your ears and you will hear the not-so-silent whispers: “if not for that lecturer’s stupid mistake…”; “if only my parents were smart enough to travel out before having me…”; “if only our president was more handsome and econo-smart…”; “if only my school was a globally respected institution…” All these excuses (and they would argue that it’s reality, not an excuse) only scratch the surface, the fundamental truth is that the rules have changed. Period. The same system that many complain about is the same one that others ride to make the front covers; it’s the same system that keeps a permanent smile on the faces of others. “So, what exactly is the problem with me? I’m in my final year and I’m told I have a 10% chance of getting a job. I’m also told that my lecturers didn’t teach me the ‘current stuff.’ What do I do?” “Yours is even better, I’m already working but I know it’s just a joke. My take-home pay can’t take me home, and even if my salary increases, I will not escape this feeling that I’m a slave to someone else’s dream.”

The average graduate in Nigeria today has a label: dead on delivery. The potential employers complain that they won’t find competent people to fill available positions, yet there are hundreds of people applying for that single position. It is thus imperative for today’s students and young professionals to come to terms with the fact that the usual cram-pass-forget cycle doesn’t work. In these days of YouTube, Broadband, Google, Virtual Offices, Second Life, eLearning, MySpace, PANS, etc, everyone seems to be talking of opportunities but many young people wonder if they are in another world entirely. We live in a New Economy, and there is more to education (the type that prepares you for the marketplace) than taking notes and laughing at the lecturer’s jokes. How about taking advantage of the tools of the day to connect yourself with the numerous opportunities that you probably only admire from a distance? Before I speak of the opportunities available to today’s young person (student or young professional), let’s look at two important keys.

When you see the job adverts that rhyme with you, they come with a tag: “… applicants must have 2 years’ experience.” Where on earth does a fresh graduate get years of experience? You would be quick to argue that you can even understand if they asked for nine months (which represents the length of your 3rd and 4th year industrial attachments as an engineering student) but haba, 2 years! And by the way, the job is more-often-than-not taken before your application gets to the HR department. Why? Because it has been sent around by the in-house person whose cousins have been bombarding him/her with CVs. In spite of the usual reaction, I believe that three opportunities stare every student in the face:

(a)   The fact that you are expected to write a final year thesis provides you with the opportunity to create a deliberate bridge between your education and a possible career ahead of you. Please, do yourself and the departmental shelf a favour by not using the cut and paste escape door. Plan ahead and choose a topic that can create a platform for you to test your future career plan: I chose to work on eRegistration in my final year (2001), and I can tell you stories of what the “e” has brought my way today!

(b)   I have always argued that many graduates lose a year after school, because most people spend their NYSC year ticking their cards every Wednesday or Friday (depending on how elitist your CD Group is). But this doesn’t have to be so. Your NYSC year presents an opportunity for you to consolidate the plans you have been grooming from school, it’s actually another year of experience added to your CV – if you ever need one. That one year is a gift that many waste, please don’t join them because it’s a year when you can be the CEO of a failing company and no one will crucify you (but please make sure it doesn’t stay a failing company).

(c)   It also appears to me that every student suddenly finds out, in their final year (especially when the recruitment drive starts), that they need to plan for a job. At that time, any lecture on Making a Great CV would be packed full. But have you stopped for a second to find a way out of the maddening crowd? The bank test where tear gas was used to control the crowd still sends a shrill down my spine. How about Nigerian students converting their undergraduate years into years of experience, and graduating from school with a business plan?

If there is a 10% chance of getting a job, and much less when you consider job satisfaction, then why don’t we look at a better alternative? Nigerians are known to be great entrepreneurs, but the educated among us prefer to work for other people even when we have ideas that can add value and create jobs for other people.

Entrepreneurship is an option that we must take serious if Nigeria’s economy (and yours) will be any different from what it is today. Ask your neighbour: “in five years, will you be complaining that your boss hasn’t increased your salary, or will you be considering a 50% raise for your own employees?” If you start now, you shed off majority of your business mistakes while in school and graduate as an enviable CEO. That even brings home the point about the difference between a job and a career. While a job pays you a monthly salary (which always seems to have an inverse relationship with your taste and expenses), a career is one that you have the passion and skills to pursue – and brings you economic reward. A career is what you do and people forget to ask you if you even attended an institution with a roof above its head. What each student must do, the moment they begin to take the 101 notes, is to explore a possible connection between the entrepreneurial opportunities around them and career choices too. It is because we don’t look for opportunities that we don’t find them, just as those who don’t have phones that can pick radio signals in this room will argue that there is no such thing available in this room.

So, how can today’s student take advantage of the New Economy’s many tools – especially Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)? The Internet has helped bridge any gap that ever existed between students on any side of the yawning digital divide: there are eLearning, networking, information mining and omnipresence opportunities to those who care. When MIT announced the Open CourseWare (OCW: http://mit.ocw.edu) project a few years ago, many came to terms with the fact that you can possibly learn more, today, outside the classroom than in it. What do you read? It doesn’t have to be 101, 306 or 504, it can be a short article that throws light on a dark knowledge area. You don’t have to wait in line to copy it from her note, you can as well ask the author to send you an eMail copy. (And please don’t tell me you have no eMail address; otherwise you are not a valid citizen of the world we live in today.) How about using one of the most popular websites in the world to answer your questions, especially when your professor’s door is locked (either while he’s writing a research paper or when he joins the strike)? Its called G-O-O-G-L-E, and it gives you access to any information you want. The problem is not, “Will I get information on ABC”, it is, “How much information do I want?”

Don’t stop at downloading, by the way. I am quick to tell people that if you are not found online by the year 2011, there’s a likelihood that your old classmates think you died somewhere, somehow. Get online, start a blog at least. Tell the world your story, create a website and let the world be your constituency. My first encounter with the United Nations (well, after the many years when I faced the mirror in preparation of addressing the UN one day) came about because someone was generally doing an online search for Youth and Information Technology. It didn’t only earn me an all-expenses paid trip, it got me my first speaking opportunity at a United Nations meeting! Not just that, most of the dotted lines I have signed in the last few years are not unconnected to the first impressions created by my website. Actually, it’s almost always where people go when I tell them how much to pay for a consulting job – maybe just to check why I insist on a globally acceptable fee. J Get online, be omnipresent and don’t limit yourself to the area defined by your home address. And don’t forget to network with others who are headed in the same direction with you. I’m on TakingITGlobal, LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook and others because they create dynamic networking opportunities and also increase my Points-of-Presence across the globe.

These new technologies are available for the student or young professional who wishes to get off the crowded road by embracing entrepreneurship. There are numerous online resources that will be of help for your proposed business: sample business plans, clarification on business models, business support platforms, idea banks, etc. Log on and search for what you need, e.g. a search for “Nigerian Business” + “Support” would show you results such as training materials specific to Nigerian businesses, and may add a few resources available from on-the-ground institutions such as Lagos Business School and FATE Foundation, among others. ICTs also provide you with the opportunity to communicate with others who have been able to do what you’re attempting – or those who are trying to do the same. Through mailing lists and online forums, you can gain access to unbelievably useful resources. Then, you can choose to take advantage of a simple website or blog (and you can start by using a free, easy-to-build template) to increase your potential market. Someone on another part of the planet will one day see your expertise online, pay you for services rendered, and then refer you to others (the Res Publica and Harvard example).

It is important that we all realize that our eventual success or failure is not solely dependent on environmental factors; we are the architects of our own future. If you take a quick look at your neighbour, you would know some of them (and probably laugh off a few) but the next few years are determined by today’s deliberate attempt at maximizing the opportunities around you. If you fail in the days of adversity, it is not because you attended the wrong school or were born to poor parents; it’s not even because your teacher failed you or because your friends think you won’t make it… it is because your own strength is small. Junior thought his problem was either of the following: his parents, his school, his teachers, his state governor, the area boys or his country. But the truth is that even in the face of the events and circumstances that we hold on to as excuses, others are able to weave a way around them or even ride them to success. We have no excuse, and we must keep reminding ourselves of that. When next an obstacle stands in your path, remind yourself: “I have no excuse!” When you’re scared of taking that necessary step, remind yourself: “I have no excuse!” When next you make a mistake and feel like giving up, remind yourself: “I have no excuse!” Take it to heart, let it drive you, prove the point, live your dream… we have no excuse if we fail. We have no excuse! You have no excuse!! I have no excuse!!!

Not Just Dana! It’s About Life Expectancy in Nigeria

Remains of Flight 992 (Courtesy Obehiokoawo.blogspot.com)

When news of the fatal crash of Dana Airline’s flight 992 filtered through social media networks on Sunday evening in Nigeria, reactions ranged from disbelief to talks of the incident being an accident waiting to happen. Moments after the crash was confirmed, previous complaints about airline near-mishaps resurfaced. Other public comments included the worry about travel safety, in general, in Nigeria. “Scared to travel by road because of armed robberies, accidents, fires and gridlock due to bad roads. Scared to fly because nothing works… just scared,” tweeted popular TV personality, Funmi Iyanda.

As I write this, my heart is heavy still. How do you explain to the families of the 153 passengers and crew on-board the ill-fated airplane that air accidents are rare? What will one tell the innocent children and parents whose family members were relaxing at home on Sunday afternoon when an airplane crashed into their homes? What about families that lost loved ones to an earlier bomb attack on a church in Bauchi state earlier in the day?

Following the air crash, the aviation minister has promised that investigations will be thorough. She even shed tears while addressing the media. The president also wiped tears from his eyes when he visited the site of the air mishap on Monday. However, this is not the first time such accidents will be followed by promises. The tears shed, 5 years ago, by a minister over the state of Nigerian roads are yet to produce better conditions. In fact, it can be argued that Nigeria is fast replacing the culture of resignation – as an admission of inability to prevent avoidable mishap – with a culture of public tears. While stories emerging from the accident, including that of 7 members of the same family who perished in the crash, are disheartening, they also draw attention to a general problem with the value of human life in Nigeria.

A member of staff of Dana Airlines, owners of the airplane that crashed, told Channels Television that they were “forced to fly the airplane.” Even if that is not true, the level of corruption in Nigeria makes it believable that airline owners may be able obtain falsified Airworthiness Certificates from the regulator or have them look away while an aircraft is being “managed”. There have been calls for dismissal and resignation but I fear that this problem is more systemic than sectoral. As with aviation, so with road transportation. In 2011 alone, 17,464 people were injured in road accidents which are mostly due to the bad roads that dot the Nigerian landscape. Annualised data from the Federal Road Safety Corps also shows that 161 deaths are recorded per 10,000 vehicles in Nigeria.

The bad roads, as with many other death traps in Nigeria, are often a reflection of the corruption within the system and the inability of government to fix the multi-year rot that seem to be managed every four years until the next set of politicians promise to fix the same problems that have annual provisions in various budgets. The fact that anyone can bribe to get most services, including obtaining clearance for structures that pose obvious danger to human lives or making security agents at the airport look the other way so that banned items can make their way past screening points, adds to the already complex problems.

Government has announced that security problems mostly traced to Boko Haram bombs will come to an end in June, but most people are not holding their breaths because as long as no one is brought to book for crimes, the message to anyone planning such is that they will likely get away with it. President Jonathan has a unique opportunity to use Sunday’s multiple mishaps to send a very strong message that goes many steps beyond public tears and a promise to ensure that “no stone is left unturned” and that “perpetrators of the act will be brought to book.” Punish the guilty, uphold the law and make it clear that human life is valuable in Nigeria too. Here’s another opportunity to fix lingering aviation issues, and get all existing airlines to stop “managing”. But it’s not just about aviation and the Dana mishap; it’s about the reasons why Life Expectancy in Nigeria is at 51.9 years.

While government must stop paying lip service to the protection of human life, Nigerians must also expect more and report incidents that may bring any form of harm – refusing to accept less. Each time we “manage”, we set up an environment for possible loss of life. As I write this, the news of the collapse of a hospital building under construction in Benin and of an imposing billboard (also under construction) along the busy Third Mainland Bridge just came in. The extra work we have had to put into a training facility we leased recently also demonstrates the way we “manage” things as long as they are not seen as immediate disaster. When disaster strikes, our weakness in emergency response is also revealed. As long as we don’t fix the bigger problem of the lives that are put at risk through many acts of commission or omission daily, we are simply stating that human lives don’t matter much and that life expectancy does not need to improve.

It’s not just about Dana, it’s about the next disaster that is waiting to happen because of government inaction, citizen neglect or the corruption that keeps Nigeria’s life expectancy low.

Not Just Apps!

Apps are hot, no doubt. If anyone doubts that, remind them of the recent billions of dollars that have gone the way of businesses built around various web and mobile apps. The great thing about apps being hot is that desire for similar success prompts additional investment in coding time that will – hopefully – allow the birth of new products or services that add value. Of course, some products will just blow hot air and join a long list of attempts, but attempts – and even failure – are part of the learning curve. Africa is no stranger to the app circus too; by the time you finish reading this sentence, another app would have been launched and a start-up born. This is great, and should continue, but…

There’s always a temptation to follow the current trend at the risk of ignoring other needs and even future opportunities. We need application developers, but we also need skilled tech people in other areas. I won’t mention the non-tech skills like business development and co; the need speaks for itself and I can only ignore at my own peril. I wonder if the app race (and I did not intend for that to sound like rat race) hasn’t cut off an opportunity around problem mapping – what are the problems that need solutions around us? If we don’t ask this, there’s a chance we’ll fall for the “what app will get every handle tweeting about me” trap. And that will be sad because there will be a vicious cycle that focuses on what’s hot but not opportune problems. In fact, one of the biggest problems of following what’s hot is that any “new” product or service will be a clone of an existing service.

And speaking of opportune problems, what’s happening in the hardware space in Africa? One would imagine that a place like Otigba in the Ikeja area of Lagos should be boasting of certain devices by now. With a chronic power supply problem and a huge number of people who have invested multiple years in solving hardware problems, it’d be great to read about a true Otigba entrepreneur with a solution to that problem. Another problem we have is numbers! A lot of numbers on the African tech space are from insitutions that get their data through on-the-ground consultants, but it’d be great to see the African academia step up to the plate here. I know that sector deserves a blog post of its own but please show us the numbers so we can develop solutions around them.

Let’s even return to the app development space for a second. There’s a gap there too. As with leaders, developers are not born. Who is training the new generation of techies? With much better platforms for developers who are almost good to go, a next logical gap to fill will be the need to raise a new generation of African code spinners. If they belong to the age group that still believes that anything is possible, all the better. Apps are hot, but are we filling other gaps and asking questions about what problems need to be solved? Or are we preparing for the next app contest?