Back in the day, way before social media became as pervasive as it is today, many people were warned against showing off wealth, pregnancy, relationships or anything that they considered precious for the fear of ‘village people.’ Village people in Nigerian colloquialism denotes a bunch of people living in the ancestral lands which are mostly the suburban parts of your state of origin, who have no joy and are hell bent on seeing you fail and ultimately die. So superstitious was this narrative that people avoided travelling to the village as much as they could. Today, it seems those people have migrated to the big cities and are making decisions that affect you and your business!
Jack of All Black Stars!
Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey announced that the tech giant would be opening its first African office, not in the country touted as the “Giant of Africa” but in neighbouring Ghana! To put this in context, in January this year, Nigeria had 33 million social media users while Ghana had just over 8 million users within the same period under review and Ghana’s population is just over 31 million! President Nana Akufo-Addo replied Jack’s tweet and described it in part as “excellent” (in all caps) news to emphasise how much that meant to an economy that is rebuilding from the wreckage caused by a pandemic. He further added that, “These are exciting times to be in, and to do business in Ghana,” signalling to other foreign investors that “chale, food is ready.”
Why would Jack not follow the bigger numbers and do the obvious? Simple – politics and policies have economic implications. “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom and the open internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.” While we are beating our chests as having won the Nigerian/Ghana jollof war, our West African brothers have landed the internet’s biggest bird! When C-level execs of top corporations meet in boardrooms in Silicon Valley or the Big Apple, they don’t want to factor in too many uncertain variables into their business models. If the white noise is too loud, they will muueeve.
Tech is the New Oil
Nigerian tech firms have been killing it ear and dear in recent times, from millions of dollars in seed-funding to billion-dollar valuations, unicorns are restricting airflows at every turn! The other day, I saw a newspaper headline talk about tech being the new oil and had faces of some prominent tech eggheads on the front page. I shook my head because while that was literally true on paper, my instincts told me that these people might have been unwittingly exposed to the ‘elements’. Just like clockwork, a barrage of regulations followed and I almost asked for an offering because I prophesied accordingly.
One of our most thriving sectors is telecommunications but it took immense pressure after four months for those who had lost their phones, new businesses and foreigners to register new lines. As at last December, Nigeria was the 2nd largest Bitcoin market, doing major numbers – until regulators had other ideas. Major bike-hailing companies have either closed down or pivoted to less profitable ventures because a policy sent them out of business with the attendant loss of jobs. Tech folks cannot freely move with laptops because it increases the chances of being harassed or extorted by security personnel not to mention getting robbed by street urchins. Too many bugs in these <codes/, we just have to ‘tech’ about them.
There’s No Money on Ground!
In Q2 of last year, when the unemployment rate was officially at 27.1%, I raised an alarm about certain policies that, amongst other things, sought to introduce new taxes and business costs for a sector that is largely made up of start-ups. Today that number, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is up to 33.3% and if you add the underemployed, that amounts to a staggering 56.1%. In simple terms, out of every 100 persons in the working population, only 43 of them have full employment! In a country that has over 200 million people with the largest demography being young people less than 35 years, we are walking on eggshells and something must be done urgently else we will see crazy in terms of uptick in social vices!
Ease of Doing What?
“Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land” – Ser Barristan.
In my previous essays, I used this quote from HBO’s Game of Thrones as a metaphor for the palpitations that usually herald elections in Nigeria. However, I am strongly persuaded that businesses have been added to that WhatsApp group. CEOs wake up every morning with their hearts in their mouths because the biggest threat to most organizations is regulatory risks – not even Coronavirus! Too many knee-jerk announcements and policy flip-flops are making it hard for them to pick a struggle. The backbone of every economy are SMEs and when they cannot even see a friendly business environment to cut soap for them, everything goes south from there.
Watch the Throne!
A decade ago when Hov and Yeezy decided to do a joint album, one of the songs that topped the music charts was Otis. In one of the verses, Mr. Carter spits these bars: “Build your fences, we diggin’ tunnels. Can’t you see? We gettin’ money up under you!” For those that don’t understand these ebonics, he was saying that trying to stop them was a nonstarter because they had already developed ways of outsmarting you! That’s exactly what Nigerian youths and young business owners are doing. You can’t hold these digital heads with analogue tactics; they already moving stuff on the quiet to where you can’t touch them.
Twitter is also doing that! Using very sweet English, they stated that, “located in Accra, Ghana and focused on Nigeria.” These companies are also reading headlines from their corner offices and our failure to put our ducks in a row is costing us in more ways than we’re willing to admit! Banning things is a lazy approach to regulation, instead we should interrogate it and find a way of accommodating innovation. Handouts is not a sustainable strategy, too many mouths are dry like sand on the sea shore. Our best bet is to enable businesses thrive and they will naturally absorb more people into the workforce.
And Then There Was X
We shouldn’t always wait for young people to achieve certain feats, so we can quickly call them “our son” or “our daughter.” The best way to give these younglings their flowers is to support their growth or at least stay out of the way. The biggest X-factor presently in business points to the gatekeepers and the policy framework. Small businesses are hitting all the high notes in terms of enterprise but they are not getting the harmony they seek – it’s getting harder for most of them to make the usual 2k from site. They need a sign – not rhetoric or placebos that mean nothing, but concrete steps that build confidence over time. When they invest in business, young people are saying: “Let me know what’s on yo’ mind, Let me know what I’m gon’ find!”