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Published On: Mon, Mar 2nd, 2020

Nigerian youth: Living in a time of magic and taking advantage of it

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By Yemi Osinbajo

The next few decades will present tremendous opportunities for getting well-paying jobs and lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities all over the world. Anyone will be able to access many of those jobs without even having to move from your own country, in some cases even without leaving your home.
There will be a truly international market place of ideas, talents and opportunities, but to access that market place, you need to become, in many senses, a global citizen by your own effort. Self-education and self-development will be important.
Second, technology in its various iterations and applications will be crucial in all and every aspect of human existence. The greater our access to technology, our adaptation and application of the ideas we have, the more successful we are likely to be.
The third is that we are today in the most advanced moment in human history, and on a daily basis, knowledge and its applications grow in leaps and bounds. For the first time in human history, anyone of us can be heard or seen all over the world by live-streaming without owning our own satellite TV station. We can share ideas with millions of people in seconds on Facebook or Instagram.
It was Arthur Clarke, the British science fiction writer, who said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is not different anymore from magic.” If you follow some of the trends in technology over the past years in particular, much of his statement appears true, as the coming years look set to be some of the most spectacular magic shows ever.
Last year, DeepMind, which is a learning outfit, announced that one of its healthcare algorithms could detect over 50 eye diseases as accurately as a trained doctor. Only recently, we witnessed the trial run of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) newsreader on the Chinese Xinhua News station, and the unveiling of a digital assistant that can mimic the voice of humans with uncanny likeness. It is called ‘Google Duplex’. There are provinces in China that are now trying out AI teachers in remote villages, where graduates and young people are not likely to stay in. In 2018, there was a world-first recording of an Artificial Intelligence system engaged in a two-way debate with a human opponent!
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the abundance of natural resources such as we have in Nigeria – oil and several minerals, even talents – mean little or nothing unless we are able to creatively, and by using innovation and expanding value, add to whatever it is that we have in terms of talent or resources.
Let me put it differently: The difference between poverty and wealth or mediocrity and high achievement is creativity, or the capacity and willingness to add value. This is the reason why Apple, manufacturers of the iPhone and iPad, makes more money in four months than Nigeria earns from oil in one year.
Apple sells the product of the ingenuity of the human mind, ideas translated to products, services and solutions that millions are prepared to pay for. And because the capacity of the human mind for creativity, the generation of ideas and for innovation and invention is limitless, the source of wealth of innovative companies and individuals is literally limitless. On the other hand, oil drilling and selling, and other extractive activities without adding value by refining and developing a whole petrochemical ecosystem, cannot yield optimal profit or create sustainable jobs and wealth.
Similarly, the mere fact that you have large tracts of arable land for agriculture does not mean you will succeed in agriculture or become wealthy, or even as a nation, feed yourself. Anybody can plant a seed and expect a harvest, but the reason why most farmers, our subsistent farmers, remain relatively poor is that they add no value to what they produce through processing, packaging or making other products out of the raw harvest.
And also because many times they do not have access to cutting-edge innovations and inventions in farm inputs and farming techniques. Those who can add value to the farmers’ harvest become wealthier than the farmer. So the growers of the raw materials are the weakest in the value chain, and the poorest.
For example, the man who makes chocolates from cocoa is bound to be richer than the cocoa farmer. He has added value to the raw cocoa by processing and designing and packing the chocolates in appealing forms. By adding value, he will create more jobs and more wealth. So, while we will always need the traditional professionals – the doctors, lawyers, accountants and bankers – those adding value to their services will make more money than they can. As such, those developing Artificial Intelligence for giving legal advice or medical diagnoses, or for accounting or banking will be more successful than the professionals themselves.
Hence, the future of banking and financial services doesn’t belong to banks or bankers as we know them today, it may well belong to the FinTechs and other technology-enabled solutions. For example, today we have KiaKia, which uses Artificial Intelligence and algorithms, to process loan requests in minutes and grant credit without the hassles of regular banks. Besides, there is Kuda Bank, for example, without a single physical branch, and with all its features built into a mobile application. There is also Eyowo, another example of a payment services company designed for identifying, enumerating and paying to, and collecting repayments from 2.2 million TraderMoni and MarketMoni beneficiaries.
These innovations have revolutionised financial inclusion, making and receiving payments to and from the farthest parts of Nigeria. There is also another company called Paystack, whose founders are just over (the age of) 30. They have developed applications that make it easier to make payments across the world. There is also InvestBamboo, for example, which was started by two 26-year-olds, and offers new ways for you to save money and invest in stocks, all from a single application.
Others have developed technologies that make it possible for you to invest in a farm without ever seeing the farm. Two Nigerian companies again, ThriveAgric and Farmcrowdy, set up by young Nigerians under the age of 35, are great examples of the service providers that help small-scale farmers scale-up, and access valuable training; and all of these done through crowdfunding.
In the world of medicine and healthcare, there is LifeBank, owned by a young Nigerian lady. This is a health tech startup, which also uses drone technology to facilitate blood delivery to various health centres. We could highlight another called 54gene, a firm that is harnessing genomic data from African DNA to revolutionise the drug industry, and change the future of medicine. Even in the usually conservative legal profession, which I am the chairman, entrepreneurs are disrupting old trends. There is a digital legal research company called Law Pavilion. The company’s digital tools help lawyers to do legal research quickly and efficiently and even answer legal questions. Judges and lawyers subscribe to it and the usage is a very lucrative value addition to legal practice. Yet the founder and CEO of the company is not even a lawyer.
As such, today there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their businesses around traditional professions without being professionals themselves. The most widely read online publications are neither owned nor run by trained journalists. Some of us are familiar with the news aggregation platform called Nairaland, which was started by two Obafemi Awolowo University students while still in school. Today it is one of the most successful online platforms we have. Even many of the most successful online advertising or PR companies have no formal training in these disciplines, and most are self-thought. My nephew, who is a lawyer, is establishing an organic farm and poultry, after taking lessons online. His only knowledge is derived from taking a few classes from someone in Kano State offering online training for people interested in poultry farming.
But let me direct your minds to the new areas for job opportunities being created today. Data science is one big area. Currently, we leave vast amounts of personal data online and in the near future, companies will need data scientists to go through it all to generate answers to business questions and make recommendations on the basis of their findings. Many businesses already spend time and money going through people’s data in order to they can sell their products. This is a new area of opportunities for jobs.
A big area today is content production – 3D/2D animation, virtual effects and special eEffects, as well as augmented reality and virtual reality. The use of animation in education, entertainment and media is growing in leaps and bounds. Those who can create content with animation are being and will be much sought after in the years to come.
According to a recent survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, multimedia artists and animators are among the highest-paid within the U.S. workforce. This has translated into more jobs for animators in emerging economies such as India, Vietnam and now Nigeria. The average pay of a 3D animator in Nigeria, who has just started out after learning his trade, could be in the region of N300,000 – N500,000 monthly. In our training of N-Power beneficiaries, we set aside a fair amount of money to train animators. We have carried out two sets of training – one in the North and one in the South of Nigeria. In total, we have trained over 25,000 young men and women in animation.

Also, remember that content is becoming more in demand with the streaming wars that have engulfed Netflix, Apple, Disney Plus, HBO; and only recently, Airtel, the telecommunications provider, launched its own streaming service in Nigeria.
Then we have the whole range of cybersecurity, another big area of opportunity. Today, there are new opportunities for cybersecurity specialists. How is that? With each technological advance comes the implied addition of more security risks just to store and keep the information secure. Therefore, cybersecurity will continue to be a growing sector. In this sense, each country will have its own specific regulations, just as we have, and many other international regulations, which will ensure that professionals with an advanced technological background capable of nullifying new threats posed to both technology and people, will be in demand all the time.
How about 3D Printing? This is becoming an area of great need. It will become even more relevant and fundamental in the future when compared with Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Experts in 3D printing must possess creative skills with the ability to improve the profitability and applicability of models. Also, they must have computer skills and knowledge of 3D printing tools. The federal government established a humanitarian hub in Adamawa State about two years ago. In that hub, young Nigerians are making artificial limbs with 3D printers for people who lost their limbs in the conflict in the North-East. This is a growth area which will continue to grow because 3D printing can be applied in different ways and for many purposes. It doesn’t take a year to learn how to use 3D printers.
The technical revolution from the last few decades have considerably changed the business and cultural world. Currently, we live in an “application economy” as a result of the amount of technology and mobility that surrounds us with our smartphone applications that we depend on for everything, from mobile banking to even health monitoring. As such, it is difficult to find a reason why one shouldn’t try to find a career related to technology, especially when we consider that it is already present in everything we do; from our professions in our companies to our personal lives as consumers. This means computer programming, in one shape or form or the other, will continue to be an important skill for those seeking viable employment and a decent pay.
So today, the most successful businesses are those able to As such, our university curricula must be versatile and dynamic. The focus must be on innovation, critical thinking, interdisciplinary thinking, design thinking, synergising and collaboration with others across the world to solve problems.

Yemi Osinbajo is the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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