Millennials in Abuja and the Businesses They Create

It is often said that Buhariyya was a shot in the arm for many millennials in Nigeria to start making a living for themselves. The excitement and apprehension of finding a new job seems to be dwindling by the day as more news flashes and revelations on social media show the jobs go to the coveted few in Nigeria. In order to feign for themselves, they started running businesses by making products for the local market here.

Buhariyya is the period of time under President Muhammadu Buhari’s current regime when economic recession hit the country; Nigerian Naira exchanged for 360 naira against a 199 when he came to power in 2015; when parents and elderly ones stop dashing out money easily to people (as in we stopped getting money for free, LOL!); when people started patronizing made in Nigeria goods because they cannot afford the dollar; when parents withdraw their kids from schools in the UK and enrol them in schools in Nigeria or Uganda and when you can blow a whistle on a corruption case and get 5% of the total sum. The term is obviously coined from his name Buhari.

Many youths in Abuja and Nigeria as a whole are unemployed and the figure doesn’t seem to reduce. The frantic job search was replaced by an insatiable desire to make a product and sell it on the streets and homes of Abuja. If data on number of new businesses started by millennials had been tracked between June 2015 and December 2017, it would have settled the score here factually.

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I think there hasn’t been a surge in millennial entrepreneurs/business owners anytime than what we witnessed during the trying times of Buhariyya. Many joined the bandwagon in making one product or the other and the good thing is some of these people are employed. From medical doctors to school teachers to engineers, they created different products or services to drive their incomes higher. A typical kind of trait common amongst millennials globally, making extra income from a side gig.

Anyway, I looked around. The rise of these entrepreneurs had no cultural name. Youths, from different parts of Nigeria became entrepreneurs and most where competing against each other with the same product. It was simply a market demand needed to be filled.

The businesses range from photography, mostly events and human portraits or better described pre-wedding photos, to fashion designers, footwear makers, graphic design, farming, cologne, jewellery and other service based businesses like outdoor catering, tailoring, barbershop, spa, salon, restaurants, cakes, savouries, etc. They basically do everything.

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Businesses run by millennials

A best introduction to it is when a bazaar/open air sales is taking place. You will notice the people standing behind the products are all young. A few friends I met in Secondary School joined the bandwagon, Zareefs and Aniq. All these are footwear makers and sellers in Abuja but can deliver outside Abuja at a cost.

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Sales in a marquee at A-Class Park Abuja. Most businesses and customers here are millennials

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There a number of people into cupcakes and normal cakes. People say this market is saturated already. I am not sure. They say Nigerians don’t know how to do business. Once they see someone start something and it brings in some good profit, everybody becomes a dealer in that. We are a nation of a 180 million people, we have the numbers to consume many products.

The idea of many people in a single business line is good for consumers. The sellers compete against each other with product quality and pricing. Although some purchases are done based on compassion, there are many others who will make the decision based on what they see and like. They just make amazing products fit for our income and use.

Some of them are making profits whilst facing a number of challenges chiefly selling on credit. Ask most business owners around and the response is the same. It’s true many Nigerians have reduced foreign purchases, but it is also true that many buy the cheaper made in Nigeria products on credit. Many people decide to buy products and pay later (when they get their monthly salary).

While some debtors pay, owners lamented some can take more than 3 months to settle a bill of 5, 000 NGN and this is not good for fledgling businesses.

As a country, the nation is making profits out of these businesses. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria earned 972.3 billion naira from VAT in 2017. We aren’t sure how much is coming from registered business names, the incorporation model chosen by most of the millennial business owners. However, not all of them are registered and so revenue is lost there, maybe (discussion for another day. Should small businesses run by millennials be taxed in their first year?)

In upcoming posts, I intend to cover more millennial business owners up close to find out how they are keeping afloat. To conclude, the products made by these amazing young people are fantastic and right for our local markets. There is no denial they make very good products and we should be supporting them.

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This is part of a new series on my blog ‘Millennials in Abuja #MIA’. Follow the hashtag for upcoming and previous posts.

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2018 Aspirations

“To understand the heart and mind of of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” Khalil Gibran, The Madman

As I have earlier said, setting goals you want to achieve are best when you do them at a time that is more suitable to you. Although I set my 2018 goals about 10 days ago, I am only finding the time to share it now.

To be honest, I have set goals in previous years that didn’t scare me. That doesn’t mean they were easy to achieve (although 2016 were), but they didn’t scare the superman out of me 😉 Here are three anecdotes of people whose goals scare and motivate me to do more.

When my good friend Hafiz says he has an idea, I always get scared before he talks. His ideas always scare me. Last December, he mentioned we should build a city of affordable housing in Kebbi. That was crazy scary. Mass housing in Kebbi not even in Abuja. Ya salaam. Who has the money to buy the ‘affordable units?’. You get it. But I love it. He is that one person that can challenge your courage to pursue ideas.

I met Adiza recently and we talked about our 2018 aspirations. Her financial goals were doubled that of what I set for myself this year and quite frankly mine didn’t scare me but hers did. So I came back to my list to turn up the scary level meter up for some of the goals. One thing is certain, I am not sure if I can achieve all of them, but I am quite certain, bi-iznillah that I will give them a try to achieve them with backed-up actions.

Oh I read Kathleen’s blog too last 3 weeks on her 2018 aspirations. She resides in Nairobi. They sounded scary even from Nigeria. If she hits all of them, I would be amazed. I had to tell her it looked over ambitious. But that was the way to set goals I guess. That’s what I was missing. Shooting for the stars, if you miss, you might land on the moon.

So what goals am I looking at in 2018?

A few things I want to put under my belt this year are focused on side gigs, personal development, religious and career development.

My personal goals of reading more books have been upped from at least 12 last year to 40. It will take some serious prioritization to create time daily to read. Amongst the books I intend to read this year is Richard Branson’s book on Losing My Virginity. What a title? But is Branson, everyone knows he owns Virgin Inc. And Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

I have been an avid language lover. Having studied 5 languages only to basic literacy; Japanese, German, Swahili, Arabic and French (I have long forgotten the Yoruba Language I learned in Junior High, 2000 to 2003). I redownloaded the Duolingo app a week ago, not still sure which I should focus on; French and Japanese or Japanese and French or Japanese and German. Hmmm!

My writing goals have been up. Already written 4 articles this year (with one published) I intend to write to so many publishing houses on these topics; environmental sustainability, cities, millennials lifestyle (there are so many of them here, someone has to cover their stories right. I am not blowing my trumpet, but I cannot do without writing (possessing many unpublished works).

Oh so I am not sure how many of us out there are employed or more specifically employable. Some months ago, I was taken aback by some job applications we got at the organization I work for. The number of people who just didn’t follow the instructions outnumber the people who did. The half who did had their CVs written in 1990s styles (those CVs that have a section for educational institutions attended with dates and qualifications obtained at those institutions separated). Next time, just leave former out and focus on the latter.

Anyway I want to offer CV writing service and Linkedin Profile reviews for entry level professionals and whoever needs his CV beautifully written and designed. I am not sure when, but I need to take more classes from experts before I can start rendering this. I have always imagined having a great career and I wish many people get that too. We spend most of our lives working and how bearable could that be if you dislike your job you have to do for an entire lifetime.

Last one is giving a shot at entrepreneurship. Till last year ending, I had developed an MVP for a building management solution. Unsure of how to proceed, this year, I hope to speak to a manufacturer and prospective clients.

Are all these and the unmentioned scary enough? Definitely to me, considering my situation. I could easily focus on my 8-5 job and live the life like everybody else or better motivate myself to create the life I need in the near future.

Have you set yourself any goals or scary goals this year? I would love to hear.

My 2017 in Retrospection

Now I know some of you will think this is coming late (posting on 14th January). What is even late is I am just preparing my 2018 to be and to-dos. I am fine with working with a time that suits me and not relying on landmark dates/temporal time stamps like a new year, Mondays or birthdays before I set a new goal. In fact, researchers from UCLA have mentioned people are more motivated to achieve their goals if they set them at a time that is more meaningful to them and not a ceremonious time on the calendar. The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 have been everything but free. But I enjoyed every bit of the activities that kept me super engaged, including wedding off our baby sister.

Could 2017 be better? Definitely yes. It could have. But how have I fared in it? It was easy to find this out. I flipped to my first page of 2017 journal to see what goals I have set for myself. You remember how I set my goals with two lists; a to-be and to-do list. The former just makes a lot of sense to me. What I do every day is important. But what I become from what I do is more important and that’s why the to-be list is a big picture to me that I like referring back to.

My first major accomplishment that I still wonder how I made is keeping my traditional 8-5 job. Although it wasn’t written in my 2017 goals. I still feel amazed that I managed to sit down (not the entire time though) in an open office culture to devote my time to the organization I work for. I have always enjoyed life as a freelancer. Securing an 8-5 job and living through the entire year, including getting my contract renewed was splendid. If there is anything like working for a good CV, this act was part of it. Now I am feeling a bit trapped about working longer to have a better impression on the next HR or heck, why should I think of working elsewhere again.

I managed to somehow become 2 out of 4 to-be goals I penned down. But I didn’t all do that by ticking off all the to-dos. I missed many of them. And it is fine I think. Looking at the big picture always is better for me. And it made me flexible towards achieving my to-be goals. I would say I have achieved a number of the unwritten to-dos, because I carried them out in other ways. There are 1000 ways to Rome they say.

Personally, I appreciate the impact of the non-profit Green Habitat I co-founded. We not only became relevant in the environmental sphere of Abuja, we established good rapport with reputable people and organizations. Thanks to the many people who supported us along the way with their kind words, presence and donations.

I picked up new habits, meditation with the help of an app. Reading more than one book at once and not having to finish the entire book (it’s not a story book Jeez, its self-help. I only take out the part I need).

In 2017, I realized a long time chronic disease I have; ecdemomania. It is a morbid impulse or obsession to travel or wander away from home. That’s why I think I feel amazed at staying at my 8-5 job. Always resisting the urge to travel somewhere.

But it was 2017 I knew how I healthy I was. When I did a medical check-up, my body age was 10 years younger than my biological age. That wasn’t the only reason I knew my health was on point, alhamdulillah. During a security awareness training at the office, I was made to understand my impulse rate per minute which was below the normal average was in the range of people like Usain Bolt (athletes in general). My occasional walks round my neighbourhood, early morning fast paced runnings, good diet maybe and hiking the hills in Abuja could have added to it.

2017 was the year I interviewed the now Deputy UN Sectary General (then designate and Minister of Environment of Nigeria) and received good mentoring. It wasn’t just her interviewed, I spoke with the inspiring and true Dr. Mairo Mandara (then Bill & Melinda Gates Country Director) and also sat next to her on a dinner table. My conversations with them are helping me grow personally. Oh, I got the opportunity to present a social innovation project on mentoring I am part of to the Executive Governor of Kaduna State. All those moments strengthen my belief in succeeding life, in sha Allah.

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Selfie with Hajia Amina, Mamoon and Zubaida. Awesome team to work with.
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Interview crew with Dr Mairo Mandara at Fifth Chuckers Kaduna

It was only 2 months into 2017 and 3 months after resigning from my job as a civil servant, that I was leading my previous bosses/supervisors in a high-level delegation to the United Nations office in Nairobi, Kenya. But this time, I was more of a colleague to them. I couldn’t be more satisfied with the decision I took to leave them. It afforded me more responsibility and challenge to use my skills in supporting urban development of Abuja.

What About Failures

Although I gave some goals a shot of trying to achieve them, but I didn’t achieve them; finance, religious and some personal goals.

I failed miserably in devoting more time as an entrepreneur. I have been engrossed a lot in non-profit innovations and environmental activism. The business models I developed haven’t seen the light of the day. Maybe I was shying away. Sometimes they say it’s not how good an idea is that is needed for its success, is the commitment and what you give up for pursuing it that will propel you to more action.

I did read and listen to a lot of books but I think I had time to read more which I didn’t. More of that in my blog post on 2018 goals.

If there is anything I want to develop more in 2018 is better prioritization and laser focus on the things that (should) really matter.

Have you reviewed your 2017? Could it have been better for you? Kindly leave a comment below.

 

How Youthful is Abuja?

I started engaging with youth demography some years ago when I volunteered to decode urban data related to youths in Nairobi. We were part of a global team decoding how some major cities across the world are seen by youths. The results are remarkable. See a summary here.

Before delving deeper though, what makes a city youthful? Is it about the infrastructure or the number of young people in it or how many youth clubs exist in it? While all these attributes may somehow add up, but they don’t answer the whole question.

Many millennials around the world believe that the attitude of the city and the youths in it tell how youthful a city is. So yeah, attitude is a big thing and we have lots of that in Abuja, tongue-in-cheek. Youths want to see how their city leaders are factoring them into planning and design decisions.

All urban attributes should be perceived suitable to make a city nice to live, work and play for young people. What constitutes work, play and living are several things, as pictured below. In general, for youths to call a place youthful, they have to city it as dynamic, curious, open, connected, inventive and playful (as stated by more than 15,000 youths in Youthful Cities Survey, 2016).

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Urban attributes as defined by youths (culled from Youthfulcities survey 2016)

In retrospection, I realized that I made the conscious decision to move to Abuja, the city I did did my secondary school education for 6 years, 5 years after I left. I was working for my dad as a construction engineer in Kebbi State when I decided to discontinue it and start a life in Abuja as a youth service corp member (I always feel pity when I see corp members walking on the streets of Abuja now. Retrospection). On a number of times, I hear about the urban enthusiasm by those currently living outside Abuja to migrate here. There aren’t much well planned cities in the world like Abuja.

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Anyway so I moved here without pinning my decisions on issues like affordability, transportation and suitability for youths. All much I knew was construction was booming here and I wanted to reconnect with the city and my friends. So basically, it was a decision based on economic opportunities and better exposure to engineering work and the networking life.

Fast forwards, living in Nigeria’s capital city, I have often found myself in situations where I asked how youthful is the city. Not just in terms of urban youthful population (how many of us are here by the way, 1 million? When is the census taking place?), but on the most important things that matter; affordability, transportation, economic opportunities, civic engagement (J, most of us are millennials, we like organizing events). How city amenities like parks and other public spaces favour youth lifestyle, how the events and causes pursued here connect to youths and how much youth civic engagement there is.

I have chosen to discuss in brief, a few of the urban attributes over 15, 000 people answered to what makes their city youthful; affordability, transportation and start-up hotspots. The latter wasn’t discussed explicitly by the survey, but I sought of combined the employment and entrepreneurship aspect mentioned in the survey to discuss it in here.

Affordability

According to Mercer Consulting ranking of most expensive cities to live in the world, Abuja is the 50th and second after Lagos in Nigeria. Even if those rankings are not accurate enough, Abuja is more expensive than many other cities; rent, food stuff, education, transit, bottle of water, cucumbers, car spare parts, etc. Typically, you might hear people say the city is not the best place to start life as a young (especially married) person, when you think about a decent place to live, medical costs and education and saving income for a rainy day.  The Youthful Cities Survey found at that all the cities surveyed globally performed poorly on affordability.

Any way how expensive is expensive? Or how affordable is affordable housing? According to The Economic Times, it refers to housing units that are affordable by that section of the economy whose income is below the median household income. In plain terms, majority of the population should be able to afford the houses at market prices, which I do not see happening in Abuja anytime soon. Thanks to inflated prices of lands and a very low disposable income by majority of the urban dwellers.

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6 out of 10 youths in Abuja live with their parents/family, including me (culled from Youthfulcities survey 2016)

When you look at the large number of youths living here, you ask how many of them are earning an average actual gross income of more than a million naira. Majority of the jobs here I will conclude are jobs offered by the government. An average annual gross income of an entry level government job is less than a million naira. Takeaway the rent of one year and you have just little left to keep the wolf from the door.

How many of the youths have these jobs that pay peanuts and how many join the larger percentage of unemployed? Many people live with relatives/parents for free or resort to living on the satellite towns (suburban) which is understandable.  This fuels the major reason why the urbanization of our cities comes with slum conditions; more people will be crammed up in rooms suitable for a few people. 

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There are less employed people in Abuja and other African cities compared with global average. (culled from Youthfulcities survey 2016)

In many cities of developed countries, they have initiatives of social housing. This is when the low earning marginal families get hugely subsidized house rents for a long period of time till they start earning more. Such initiatives for youths should be done.

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Getting Around the City/Transportation

Abuja is the one place where having a car is a necessity. With the beautiful planned road network and less condensed district developments, it is a long commute going from one neighbourhood to another. No dedicated bike lanes or presence of pedestrian footpaths everywhere and zebra crossings aren’t respected. There is an organized mysterious bus and taxi ‘along’ lines and not cheap drop (chauffeured) options. A greater percentage of one’s income after rent maybe spent on commute reasons such as work and business. Public transportation is not convenient with more people crammed into small spaces (if you have claustrophobia, am not sure how you will move).

What does getting around have to do with youths? Everything.

Starting out at that age, most of us do not have the luxury of owning a car. Inevitably leaving us with the inefficient public transportation option. Uber doesn’t come cheap and affordable, unfortunately. There are no Uberpool options for Abuja, yet. Other car sharing apps like Lyft and new Taxify aren’t affordable for youths.

The government only has buses for its staff that are mostly outside the city core. Getting into those buses can be competitive, especially when you have to leave work earlier and come to queue at the bus. There are no government owned buses traversing the city inner core. With the few coming from the satellite areas and far away towns like Gwagwalada, popularly called Elrufai Bus; they don’t come with a discounted monthly pass. As such, one is left to pay the same amount every day for the entire time he or she traverses that road.

Start-up Hotspots

Cities have been judged to be the next economic engines of a country. Owning to the better living conditions, cities globally are attractive clusters for entrepreneurs and innovative millennials. As such, youths should be seen launching start-ups every now and then. Abuja has 6 of those business accelerators/incubators I know of; Abuja Enterprise Agency (government owned), Enspire, Box Office, Andela, Ventures Platform and Civic Innovation Lab (yet to launch an incubation programme). However, other entrepreneurial programmes/seminars/workshops are held month in month out by different organizations. Hence, offering opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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1 in 4 persons in Abuja see themselves as entrepreneurial (culled from Youthfulcities survey 2016)

Many youths are going the traditional way of starting on their own and learning on the job. A lot have become makeup artists, bakers, footwear sellers and makers, fashion designers, food makers and food delivery, and a bunch of other basic commodities. At least in two months, one open air market is held in the city. How much they are surviving and struggling, is still not fully understandable.

These city attributes are just a few of what should be considered. More options for living, social life, work, play should be considered. I would love to see a youth-focused economic plan for cities in Nigeria. This translates to how serious and youth-minded the government is about leveraging on the energy, talent and number of youths they have. The numbers should help drive a youthification of economic plans for the city and country at large.

How youthful do you think your city is? Are you living in Abuja and have often wondered how you fit into the city and vice versa? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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4 Things to do to Secure a Job After Your Service Year

Last week saw some thousands of young people conclude their NYSC in Nigeria. In a few weeks too, another thousands would finish (Batch B Stream 2 I think). This would be the first time many of them would be facing more real life situations. The one without frequent money gifts from parents and guardians. The one that would leave you broke. The one that would keep you trying to get a hang of things but you would not easily get that. In a nut shell, the one that it won’t be as easy and straightforward as you think it should be.

My fear for most of them is the habits they will cultivate as they await their coveted dream jobs. They will prepare CVs (not all will do but still hope to find a job then submit their CV after getting the job and it totally works). Some will pound the pavement, others will reach out online, on social media, etc. And that’s actually a better thing to do, instead of waiting for an employer to visit your home and hand in your employment letter wrapped in sweet smelling envelope.

However, everything worth doing is worth doing well. There is a way of doing something, and there is an effective way of doing something too. Many people do job hunting but they do it in a really terrible way. This might get them rejected a lot or delay them getting a job for an unusually longer time. So many of us write us our CVs ourselves without ever knowing how to write an effective/good CV or even getting a feedback on the one we write ourselves.

I might not be the most experienced person or HR or career coach to advise people on writing CVs or getting a job, but I have been there done that five years ago or so. Thus, I think speaking from experience and the many CV writing workshops I attended and listened to online gives me some credence.

If your intention is to find a job and not to proceed for another education, you can learn from these highlighted to-dos.

Ps: This advice goes to those hoping to secure jobs in purposeful organizations and not the many government offices where zoologists are hired in IT organizations or where hiring employers mean hiring those without requisite qualifications because you have relatives in powerful and influential positions. There are many organizations that hire you without any connection or ‘super’ connection. I am one and I know many others who got that too. It’s all about the package you are made of or branding, as one of my mentors like saying.

I have bulleted some to-dos here condensed in 4 actions;

  1. Prepare a very good CV/resume

This will take you some days to do and you are done with it 99%. The 1% is needed to tweak your CV a lil bit for different job applications. Writing a good CV is a skill. It is what many will use to get invited for an interview. Determine your unique selling point and include it in your CV. There are good cv templates out there if you aren’t a good designer. You can equally hire someone good to write your cv for you and a graphic designer to design it for you; enabling you to strikingly differentiate your cv from the thousand others who may be applying.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, I advise you gets one today. It pays to have an online profile.

  1. Prepare a job search strategy

Yes. Figure out how, and when you will be applying for jobs. Online, through connections (asking parents, relatives and others to help) or pounding the pavement (visiting offices in person). On weekends, every morning or biweekly. Having a job search strategy will clarify your actions and way forward for you.

It is really tasking applying for jobs, that’s why a strategy can ease it for you by giving you a structure you can habitually practice.

Whatever job you applied to, keep track of it.

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A job search can be as complicated as this maze. Getting in is one thing. Getting out, can take you forever. (Image credits: astrology.org)
  1. Engage in some volunteer work/internship

This is my best advice as I think others would do 1 and 2 in any case. Many people will stay at home and catch up on all the sitcoms and movies they have missed while waiting for their employment. Go out there and find a company/firm doing what you studied or would like to do. Request to intern (without any compensation), they will be quick to accept. While this might not be possible for some of you, if it is for you, go ahead and do it. You will gain real valuable skills and experience needed on the job. Your new friends at the firm you are interning might be the connector to your paid job. If it is a weekend volunteer job with a non-profit, sure go ahead and devote your time. You might just hear someone talk about the firm that is currently recruiting and maybe they know a person there or two.

If you are the entrepreneurial type, start a business or learn how to start one. Look for business classes around; incubators, accelerators, seminars etc. there are my out there in Nigeria and many available online. Bottom line is don’t stay idle. It shows you are not an initiative taker.

  1. Get a career mentor

I love this one too. Many of us try to figure out things on our own. Some don’t even know how to figure out things. How they should begin, what to do and the likes. Having someone you look up to and with more experience than you can be the impetus you need. Through consultation, the mentor can inform you what the industry needs, good skills to have, and how you can better position yourself. I am currently working with some colleagues on a portal where young Nigerians can sign up and request for a mentor in their field. If you want to stay up to date with our launch day, follow me across social media channels to find out about the announcement.

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A mentor can support you make that leap to your new job

Wrapping up

Sign up to job ad sites like Hot Nigerian Jobs and ng careers to receive emails with advertised jobs. I got my current job through the latter. So did my brother and many others. They are legit jobs.

A few months back, I reviewed applications for an open position at the firm I work for. It was sad to say that more than 50% of those who applied weren’t even considered because failed to follow the instructions for application as required of them. Many simply send generic CVs and don’t do other stuff required of them like writing a cover letter. Read the instructions on how to apply carefully and abide to it 100%. If there is a cover letter needed, please write one. And don’t send a generic one, make sure each letter is tailored to the job ad you are applying.

You will find tons of other advices out there on finding your dream job I guess. Read them all and learn what you can. I urge you to read this brilliant article by Hays CEO on How to Start Out as a Fresh Graduate. I have tried not to repeat what he has mentioned though.

These four things are for sure not commandments. But I think they give many of you a clear step forward of what to do next.

All the best.

If this helps you or know anyone it might, kindly share with them.

Sadiq.

Will AI Take Our Jobs in the Emerging Economies of Africa?

“No one can expect to do the same thing for life.” Jing Bing Zhang

Daily, we are being reminded of how artificial intelligence (AI) would render many jobless in the nearest future. Simple reasons; cost is reduced, efficiency is better.

As much as 137 million people are about to lose their jobs in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia, as reported by a recent report of International Labour Organization. That is about 56% of their workforce.

A Swedish firm has invented a technology to milk cows. McDonalds is starting to use automated kiosks at their eateries to take orders via computers. Can you imagine how many jobs would be eliminated if that happens to all the McDonalds eateries?

Conversely, AI also creates jobs for humans, but maybe not exactly in equal number as they have removed. That’s why the disruption is real.

As I try to understand and answer the big question, would AI take our jobs in Africa? I reflect on the following scenario.

Automated Waiters in Tokyo

About 3 months ago, I facilitated a session generally aimed at honing the creative skills of the participants during an environmental festival. In my illustrations, I mentioned how a restaurant in Tokyo uses AI to eliminate the job of waiters. The only people working at the restaurant are the cooks and someone to facilitate your payment. Food orders and delivery are done via a tablet computer found at every table and delivered via conveyor belts respectively.

The creative lesson in that illustration is using an idea that has worked somewhere and applying it in your work. The idea of the restaurant is a borrowed one from the way Amazon works. When someone browses for a book on Amazon’s website, after a while, the website suggests items similar to what he/she has searched for earlier. For the restaurant, when you order a food with a particular taste, the tab suggests to you other meals that have similar tastes. That’s really innovative.

However, as our festival was promoting sustainability, environment wise, I was trying to promote use of innovative ideas for solving environmental challenges. The takeaway point is to borrow ideas that have worked elsewhere and apply it in solving an environmental challenge.

A participant was not comfortable with the use of AI though as she thought it defeats sustainability. It doesn’t promote a strong pillar of sustainability, people. That’s quite right.

Sustainability is relative. What is sustainable in Japan might not be a sustainable solution in Nigeria. The societal, social and economic conditions are hugely different. Very true.

Whatever be the case, AI means a lot of economic sense, and since entrepreneurs are expected to provide solutions that would create jobs, they would go for efficient services.

Phone Airtime Resellers in Nigeria

I cannot ignore but share this same message I regularly get on WhatsApp. To ignore buying airtime using hot naira codes from our banks and walk outside to resellers wherever they maybe to purchase one so they don’t go out of jobs. A clear case of passion over strategy.

This wouldn’t work. Its tedious, inefficient and costlier. Those resellers should become innovative and see AI as a tool they can use. They should manipulate how they can still resell airtime and make profit. How does this fit into this era which cashless transactions are continuously promoted?

Simply asking people to be passionate without putting a sound strategy of achieving a result would not yield good results.

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What Should We Do

Should we advocate for non-application of AIs in some places or promote people get the skills needed to survive the future of work?

It is time to start creating jobs that would not be overtaken by AI. “Automation and robotics will definitely impact lower-skilled people, which is unfortunate. I think the only way for them to move up or adapt to this change is not to hope that the government will protect their jobs from technology, but look for ways to retrain themselves. No one can expect to do the same thing for life. That’s just not the case anymore.” Mentioned Dr. Jing Bing Zhang, a renowned leader in the field of AI.

The necessary employable skills one needs to possess in the future does involve elements of AI, to have digital/IT skills. What one needs to is to carry out a SWOT analysis of oneself. In your threats section, does AI have the potential to overtake your job? If yes, I think it’s time to redefine your strategy and improve your strengths and most importantly, your weaknesses. Especially since your digital skills are weak.

And on a general note, Nigeria, as a federal government should promote digital literacy in secondary schools to make sure it is preparing its citizens for the future of work.

What To Do With Abandoned Buildings in Our Cities

Lagos and Abuja are homes to many abandoned buildings and undeveloped plots of lands for the latter. These buildings are not part of the 50% of the residential estates in Abuja that are not occupied due to no buyer or rent demand. The buildings I refer to are mostly old abandoned uncompleted or completed buildings and a bit dilapidated at times. Although some are in good conditions, but haven’t been occupied for a very long time. As long as 5 years or more.

They are unused for many reasons; closure of the business/company that occupied it, inaction by the property owners either due to insufficient funds or lack of ideas of what to do next, court orders due to many reasons such as establishing rightful owner of plot (such disputes are common in real estate booming Nigeria) etc.

In Abuja, surprisingly, there are many undeveloped plots of land in the inner core of the city; Maitama, Wuse and Central Area. This is hard to come by in Lagos though.

The data is hardly available for the number of such abandoned buildings or pieces of lands in Nigeria. In Lagos, there could be as much as 200 on Victoria Island alone, Engr. Mohammed who resides in Lagos confirmed to me as we drove on the island. A Daily Trust article published November last year stated that the Lagos State Government confiscated 89 abandoned buildings in Ikoyi/Victoria Island axis alone. In a growing Abuja, city council recently did a survey and came up with about 436 abandoned buildings. For cities in the US like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit, there are 54, 000, 15, 000 and 10, 000 abandoned buildings according to an article posted on CBS News website.

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Abandoned building in Victoria Island

Why Abandoned Buildings Shouldn’t Be

Newspapers frequently reports such buildings are normally used as hideouts for criminals. Others engage in other acts like preparing hard drugs, rituals or even rape minors. Unfortunately. I recently got a forwarded message from a resident in Lagos thats says Lagos just got a new Commissioner of Police. Part of his action strategies to curb criminal activities is to comb abandoned buildings regularly. See how serious the situation is.

These two major reasons of redundancy and using it for illicit acts by criminals should propel city officials to take a regulatory stand on it, especially Abuja where crimes are on the rise. Such regulations should spur economic benefits for the owners and the citizens, especially now that jobs are hard to come by in Nigeria.

What To Do: Innovate

How can building owners leverage their unused buildings as they wait for bigger funds to do as they wish or simply an idea to do something?

Innovations like that of the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) of Minneapolis in the US is a great source of inspiration. NEIC buys abandoned buildings in their neighbourhoods and lease them out to businesses. Not gentrification by the way. In 2011, the residents, 90 of them, pooled in $1,000 each to acquire a building. They repeated same in 2014 with more than 200 members now as part of the cooperative. They later rented it out to 2 companies; a brewery and a bakery and sold one of the buildings to a bike recovery shop.

It is a common characteristic of cities to have such unused spaces and ‘abandoned’ buildings. Innovations in the form of urban agriculture have brought back life to unused plots of lands and buildings in cities like Malmo in Sweden. Urban agriculturists go into a lease agreement with land/property owners of say 5 years and thereafter move in to start growing food, either from the ground or in containers.

With such assurances, urban agriculturists can easily settle and move to plan a business with anticipation of moving after such agreement.

It is a win-win-win for city council, property owners and citizens. City owners do not have to deal with the eye sore of dilapidated or undeveloped pieces of land and also curb the probability of crime. Property owners earn some money while waiting to take a decision of what to do with the building. Citizens can start a business or grow food in the city or start any business saving them cost of traveling to rural areas.

In hustling vibrant Lagos, security officials guarding abandoned buildings provide accommodation to many people at night only and charge them a fee, without the permission of the owner. This shouldn’t be.

Unfortunately, the typical attitude of asserting authority of public servants had hindered them from providing innovative solutions like the ones mentioned above. Instead, Lagos State Government is confiscating properties. What did they do with it? To whose benefits? Why can’t there be an amicable discussion with property owners and authorities to find a win-win situation for both parties?

Property development code in Abuja says you should complete your construction in 2 years. There are opportunities of extension though. However, what is not allowed is change of use from say residential to commercial. Property owners must apply for a change in use.

An initial conversation with the department of urban planning for the city of Abuja showed that farming is not allowed in the city. But is already going on, informally. The good thing with urban agriculture is it can be done in beautiful ways even the city officials would crave to include as part of future districts designs.

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We can have these indoor plantations and it cant hurt the city

For cities like Lagos that have no land to build or farm, it is a great opportunity to advance sustainability in the city. Growing food in the city is a great part of ensuring food security and quicker access to healthier food.

A different mindset was assumed when designing our cities. With sustainability advocated in all spheres, especially cities, we should incorporate in all our design and development thinking. SDG 11 is about sustainable cities and communities.