By Patrick O. Okigbo III
Every generation of Ndigbo in Nigeria have had their specific hustle. What will be the hustle for today’s generation?
In the early twentieth century, Ndigbo saw EDUCATION as their way to success. David Abernethy stated that “by the 1930s and 1940s no people in the world placed a higher value on education or regarded its consequences more optimistically” than the inhabitants of Southern Nigeria. Through education, Ndigbo rose to lead the civil service, academia, commerce, military, etc. Consequently, those coming of age in those years aimed to excel in academics.
A lot changed for Ndigbo in the decade after 1966 and many turned towards commerce to rebuild from the Nigeria-Biafra civil war ashes. Many great BUSINESSES were built by that generation; against all odds. Many of these successful businessmen and women did the annual Christmas migration to their villages in their shiny Peugeot 404s or Honda CD 175s. These possessions bore testament to their new-found successes and beckoned the young to the hustle that had shifted from education to the open markets.
The good times continued through the 1970s until the poor economic policies, from both the civilian and military regimes, decimated the burgeoning middle class. This significant decline in the livelihood of the intellectual and professional classes worsened the apathy towards education. A number of those who came of age in that period simply got off the education bus and sought other vehicles to a good life.
DRUG-TRAFFICKING became the big hustle during the 1980s and1990s. Those who did not end up in European and American jails did the annual Christmas migration to their villages in their shiny Mercedes V-Boots. These were visible pointers to the hungry and impressionable that the hustle had moved from legitimate commercial trading to the illicit international drug markets. The rise of these narcopreneurs damaged Igbo values and traditional institutions.
The next decade saw a new rise of FRAUDSTERS whose hustle was to send the notorious 419 emails promising great fortunes. The successful fraudsters did their annual Christmas migration in an assortment of luxury vehicles. Their success lured many apprentices willing to huddle for long hours in cybercafés waiting for the next “maga” to pay. The book, “I Do Not Come to You by Chance”, presents a good account of those years.
In the intervening years, POLITICS became the new hustle in Nigeria especially as there is no real penalty for corruption except when one falls out of favour with the incumbent government. These politicians do their annual Christmas migration in their shiny Toyota Land Cruisers and convoys of police escorts. This symbol of success helps entice those willing to join the politics-hustle. Those who couldn’t get into the game as political thugs took to KIDNAPPING for ransom, which is also a lucrative hustle.
Another Christmas is round the corner and it is clear that it will go to the politicians. With the February 2019 elections a shout away, Christmas in the South East will be a big carnival as politicians of all hues strive to out-do one another in their show of influence. They will come home for Christmas in their branded motorcades which helps them in recruiting young people as foot-soldiers.
Is there a way to change the current hustle? This was the subject of a lunch discussion I had with Kingsley Eze at “Native Pot” restaurant in Enugu. Kingsley is the founder of Tenece, a software engineering company located in Enugu Lifestyle and Golf City. Kingsley is bullish that coding could be the next hustle especially as techpreneurs become more successful. Their success stories will galvanise an army of young people who will bring to tech the same fervour that earlier generations brought to education, trading, drugs, fraud, kidnapping, and politics.
The Southeast region, especially Enugu, has a number of the building blocks for a tech economy. There are about a dozen tertiary institutions within Enugu metropolis and, like the yam vine, students of these institutions are waiting to be threaded in the direction of the sun.
A number of tech incubation hubs are sprouting in major cities across the South East region to harness this technology trend: Enugu (Genesys Tech Hub), Aba (Innovation Growth Hub, Rad5 Tech Hub), Awka (Devamplify), Owerri (Oluaka Institute, Tech Hub Africa), Nsukka (ROAR Nigeria), etc. These techthusiasts are not waiting for the government to solve their problems; rather, they have created various professional associations to collaborate in building a tech industry. #StartupSouth is one such forum where successful and aspiring tech start-up founders, investors, policy makers, government, and stakeholders connect and engage to attract investment to start-ups in the region.
A lot of heavy-lifting is still required to position Nigeria on the global tech map. While, like Nollywood, private investors can grow the tech economy in Nigeria, government must still enable the industry. Omobola Johnson, Nigeria’s first Federal Minister of Communication Technology, recognised this need and provided support to tech hubs. The current administration continues to support her initiatives and has moved the responsibility into the Office of the Vice President where it has created eight National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) hubs across the country. These NSIP hubs , which are private sector-led innovation hubs with support from the Federal Government, are expected to increase entrepreneurial and technological capacity across the country as well as to incubate innovative technology-driven solutions for Nigeria’s challenges and beyond.
The governments of the South East should seek ways to support this trend. The government’s role should be to enable investments in the tech space. For instance, the government can provide various forms of incentives to enable private sector investments in broadband, telecommunications, and electric power infrastructure in designated centres of excellence, such as tertiary academic institutions.
Furthermore, the governments in the South East should invest in attracting tech companies to the region. It should enable the state universities and privately-owned universities to revise their curriculum to producing tech graduates with all the required industry-specific professional certifications. This way graduates will be gainfully employed within the tech market in the South East or by other tech companies around Nigeria.
One important way for the state government to encourage the growth of the tech industry is to engage the emerging start-ups and firms to provide solutions to major challenges facing the states and their bureaucracy. There are opportunities to leverage technology solutions to improve productivity and efficiency in government.
Kingsley and his co-travellers in the tech space may be on to something here. Isn’t this how Silicon Valley started and has now become a $3 trillion neighbourhood? One thing is for sure; we need the stories during the annual Christmas migration to be about the techie who just received a multi-million dollar investment. This will be the most effective advertisement that the hustle has left politics and transitioned to technology. I can’t wait.
- Patrick O. Okigbo III wrote this piece from Abuja