FIRST CLASS: Victor Fatanmi Dropped Out of University To Build A World Class Design Agency

Victor Fatanmi is a brand consultant and identity campaigner. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin/Channels TV
Victor Fatanmi is a brand consultant and identity campaigner. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin/Channels TV

Victor Fatanmi starts our conversation by sharing a story about his childhood – a story about taking risks, trusting your intuition. In a way, it’s a metaphor for how his life has turned out. The story goes: one day in nursery school – he was maybe three years old – he decided to step out of the gates without his older sisters. They were supposed to return home together. But seeing the chaos outside the gates and with little chance of locating his siblings, he decided to walk home, alone. When he reached a junction, he became confused. But he made a turn and found himself home. “When my parents saw me, they beat me because I should not have come home alone,” Victor says during our hour-long conversation at a restaurant somewhere in Lagos. More than 20 years later, Fatanmi continues to take similar risks. He dropped out of the Federal University of Technology, Akure to focus on building FourthCanvas, “a brand-centric design agency”. He is a serial entrepreneur. And, in 2022, he published a book about ‘selling’. At just 28, he feels he’s just getting started.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 


SE: How was growing up for you?

VF: I was born in Osogbo, but my earliest memories were in Ife. My childhood is dotted with many events of me asking questions, taking risks – I was a curious and daring kid. I remember that I would report my grandad to my dad. I was that kid who asked adults questions that they didn’t want to answer. And I loved to play around stuff. In primary school, I would cut out pictures of Julius Agahowa, Wilson Oruma, Sunday Oliseh, trace them out of newspapers and sellotape them on 50 leaves exercise books – that’s how I made my first magazines. This was in the early 2000s. I loved football but I was bad at playing. I started organising football tournaments instead and would make trophies out of bottles. Looking back now, those were my earliest works. 

Every kid starts as an artist but along the way, some of us lose it. But I was able to keep mine. If you asked me what I wanted to be, I’d say sailor today, pharmacist tomorrow; it’s just whatever came to mind. But I know I was very fascinated with visuals. My dad had a library but I never read the books; I only read the covers and check if there were illustrations; I loved dictionaries that had drawings, and I would learn the words accompanying the visuals. And I was very attracted to calendars.

Tell me about your journey into design.

The journey into design began when I got into Federal University of Technology, Akure. My brother was in final year when I was in first year. He ran a magazine on campus and I watched him pay people to design. I studied Estate Management. I was supposed to do Architecture, which was more visual, but I failed Post-JAMB at my first attempt. On the second attempt, I figured Architecture had too much maths and I hated maths. So I just picked the next thing to it.

And when my brothers commissioned designers, I would have opinions about the work; and my brother would be like why don’t you just try to learn it if you have so many opinions. Then, I would speak to the designers but I couldn’t afford what they were asking for. But I had a laptop and they would view the designs on it; so they had to install CorelDraw on it so it could open. When the project was done, the application was still on my laptop. So I started playing with it. I never formally learnt design; I just played around with it and created designs; then I started following top designers and agencies; and started watching YouTube videos, people speaking about design principles.

The real difference started when I met Bolaji Fawole. He was a great influence. He was really how I became an entrepreneur. I was a designer; I was not prepared for entrepreneurship, for communication, for timelines, for invoices, for following up. But Bolaji was my roommate and he was more organised; he wanted to be a military man. He was on campus while still applying for the NDA. He had a more structured mind while I was the opposite. So that combination is what would become a business partnership. Actually, the existence of FourthCanvas is credited to him. What I brought and still bring is the vision, the innovation, the ideas, the storytelling. He brought and still brings the sustainability. But the beautiful part is that I’ve learnt from him; my weaknesses are better. I’m structured too now.

You guys started FourthCanvas at the University?

Yes. We started VGC media around 2012 or 2013. In 2015, which was the year we were supposed to be graduating – we stopped attending classes and dropped out even though we were still on campus. That was when we rebranded into Fourth Canvas. 

Why did you stop attending classes?

Yes, in year three. I was just not a serious student. I did student union, played tennis, was active in every other thing, but the thing I was in campus for, I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy the learning system; it felt draconian. And I think I saw through the system. I’m here to certify that I am employable. And it makes sense for many fields. To even practise as an estate manager, you have to get a certificate to join NIESV. As a doctor, you need the certification before you can be allowed to touch a human life. But this new field I found myself in certifies itself. Do good design – that’s all the certificate you need. When I left school – it was gradual, missing classes here and there. My parents found out when I had already left. So all I had to do was post-explanation.

But I tell people that my leaving school was easy for me, not based on – there was some courage – but not so much brash, sheer courage. It was so much thinking through something and understanding that – you know, if I hold a gun and you are not flinching, it could be that you are just bold; it could also be that you know there’s no bullet in that gun. If you know there is no bullet in the gun, it’s not really boldness per se, it’s more like awareness; it’s that you know something that others don’t know.

We didn’t communicate about it but Bolaji was also dropping out. I was a year ahead of him. We dropped out for different reasons. I made mine clear, but he hid his own for a while before most of us found out. He had come to campus because his parents asked him to come to school. He wanted NDA and nothing else. And his lecturers didn’t help either.

Was there a big break for FourthCanvas?

In 2014, I had the opportunity to work with Future Awards Africa. I was in Akure and that was in Lagos. I connected with Chude Jideonwo through Joel Ogunsola who was a student on campus. In January 2015, I was a designer on the media campaign that brought President Buhari to power. Those were eye-opening – the Future Awards in December, the campaign between January and March. They were eye-opening opportunities that brought me to Lagos, and paid me well relatively. That experience gave me some confidence. Whatever money I was making from it, more than half of it was being used to pay guys back home – our student employees. In Lagos, I interacted with people running media companies, clients; I had a feeling that this thing was possible, that there was an industry for it. Towards November 2015, I had a friend who urged us to take it more seriously. The employees also felt we were not fully committed. So we decided to rethink the business. VGC was also problematic because it sounded like the BBC and our logos also looked similar. So since we were going to be crafting identity for people, we need to have our own identity. We decided to start all over again. We came up with names and settled on FourthCanvas. Our goal was that in five years, we would be number one in Nigeria and one of the best in Africa. And in 10 years, we would be number one in Africa and one of the top in the world.

By 2020, I wouldn’t say we were the number one in Nigeria, but maybe at least number two. And now, we are really on the path. We’ve started to do the Africa Challenger Brands report. And we’ve done some of the most important projects that have taken us to the next level. So 2025 is our target to be recognised on the global stage as a top brand consulting agency. Major moments include working with PiggyVest. That was our first in the tech space. We identified an opportunity, reached out to them, made a solid case and it was a big break for us in tech; tech people are aligned with our thinking. In 2020, we did the 4C Share where our team members taught a virtual class online.

Our biggest break this year was Nomba, which we rebranded from Kudi; but we have done many other projects.

Looking back at your journey, what are some of the things you could have done differently?

I wish I had read more earlier. I read, but I wish I had read more. I wish I had written more. Again, I wrote but I wish I wrote more. Also, there are things I wished happened but I don’t regret the way they exactly happened. So for example, I wish I came to Lagos back earlier. In 2015, we were in Lagos, but we ran back to Akure because we felt the city was costlier. It took up until 2020 before we came back to Lagos. Sometimes I feel we could have built some business connections faster if we had stayed. But the fact that we were outside the pressure of Lagos for five years helped us to build the team bond and a culture; because many businesses struggle to find any depth in Lagos, because everybody is just working towards the bottomline. Even the bosses can’t truly be kind to their people because they have bills to pay. Not to say it’s a valid excuse, I’m just saying it makes it more difficult. So while we can actually take credit for being good leaders, creating a good culture, I think it was also made easier because in Akure there was no pressure.

But sometimes the pressure is good?

Yes, the pressure is good now. But it seemed like we needed that period of grooming, just knowing ourselves. We now have five other co-owners in the business; it was through that period that we created a special bond and we felt they were deserving of that, but they earned it.

Also, I don’t regret leaving school, because it has worked out well for me. But if I went back now, I would have found a way to combine both, because it would have been a practice in discipline, a practice in surmounting challenges. I would have learnt a lot from it. You can’t always drop out when it looks difficult. There’s marriage that you would always feel like you should drop out from when things are not going so well.

For someone starting out, what would you tell them?

I would say that you need to radically believe in yourself, that your friends almost think you are crazy. Some of them would say you are being delusional; because you radically believe in yourself, you will make different choices. You need to get to a point where people say, why is he full of himself? It’s either they react that way or they become your fans. 

My message to young people is to be able to combine self confidence with intellectual humility. You have to be confident, not in a way that you believe you know everything, but that you can know everything. So your confidence is not in your state, it is in your potential. Don’t let how you grew up or what someone said . . . completely believe in yourself and completely remain humble at the same time.

I should have read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich as a teenager. It was in my dad’s library but I never read it, maybe because I was just looking for pictures. I read it this year and I realised why I didn’t read it as a teenager – it’s not interesting. It’s a great book but I wouldn’t say his writing was great. But what he was saying was so fundamentally amazing and it works. He was saying something that was true and powerful. I think I would tell a young person to read. Everyone wants a good life for themselves, but I would say, be specific about what you want. I want to make 10 billion dollars. That’s richer than Richard Branson. I’ve written it down. I want to influence 140 million people. I’ve written it down too and set specific dates towards achieving them. Specific aims are very powerful. You wake up in the morning and it keeps you going.

You spend a lot of your time in Nigeria. Do you think of permanently leaving?

No. I like the UK; I’d like to live there. I like its artistic and cultural heritage. I’d like to do something in America because of the money; it’s the home of capitalism. When we talk about global growth as a company, we would need to be servicing clients in America. So I intend to relocate but it’s not permanent. 

That question of course brings me to Nigeria’s current state. I’m sure you’re not happy with that.

Sure. And I’m voting for Peter Obi.

Do you regret working on the Buhari campaign in 2015?

No I don’t. I wasn’t on the strategic or decision making level. I was designing things I was instructed to design; it was purely business. So, I can’t regret it because that experience was pivotal for my career. But I believed in the story that we were putting out – that it was the future. But six months later – when he couldn’t select his ministers – I knew it wasn’t what we needed. So, I’m sad that the administration turned out that way, but I can’t regret being a part of the campaign because it was an eye-opener for me. 

What do you think young people can do to make Nigeria a better country?

I would say to speak up as much as possible. People make speaking up on social media seem like it’s nothing. No, social media is incredibly important. We’ve gone on the streets for #EndSars from Twitter. And that ‘speak up’ can be tweets. I would say continue to speak up. Also, talk to your parents and convince them to vote for those you believe in. 

I would also love to join a party. I see myself, on a local level, being active in politics. I don’t see myself running for office; but I see myself engaging someone who says they want to run for counsellor or ward chairman, and advising them and trying to influence them. So I would work to canvass for the right candidates, but I don’t see myself contesting – it does not align with any of my life purposes or vision I set for myself. 

You’ve also published a book about sales. What would you say is the most important thing in selling?

It’s to think of yourself as a changemaker rather than a salesman. Currently, the obvious definition of selling is exchanging something for money. But now I’ve moved it to understanding a desire that you want and I – the salesman – is interested in helping you get it. So I focus less on what I’m selling and more on you the buyer and where you want to go. When I start to think about it that way, it’s easier for me to improve and iterate what I’m selling. Because it’s now all about you, about the future you want.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

FIRST CLASS: Emmanuel Iren Is Leading A Generation To Faith

Emmanuel Iren is the Lead Pastor at Celebration Church International.
Emmanuel Iren is the Lead Pastor at Celebration Church International.

Starting a Church wasn’t on the agenda for Emmanuel Iren as a fresh undergraduate. But now he leads Celebration Church International, a fast-growing Christian ministry and commands a large, youthful following on social media. He is passionate about music, nation-building and social issues, but he is always quick to emphasise that his mandate is divine.


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SE: What was growing up like for you?

EI: Growing up was amazingly memorable for me. For example, It’s odd that I remember details from my fifth birthday. What day of the week it was (Sunday), what I wore, who came to my party, what they did (one toddler called Kufre tried to dip his hands into my cake. He wore a blue native that day) and so on. You may not be wrong to attribute that to the fact that I have a  photographic memory. But overall, my childhood was memorable because my family made it so. We didn’t have everything, but my parents always made sure they gave us their best. That went a long way to shape my worldview.

My parents instilled the values of respect and hard work in me. I learnt how to treat all people with honour from them. My mum, in particular, is one of the most gentle souls you’d ever meet. At the same time very intelligent and calculated. What a combination. It’s such a privilege that I see those attributes reflected in my life.

My Dad was always so driven. From the little things, like constantly rearranging the couch, to big things like working hard at work, I learnt to give things my best watching him.

What prompted you to start a church? 

I began my ministry as a Christian fellowship at my university. We were just a group of young people who loved the Lord. I hosted a few fellowship meetings in and outside the four walls of our school. I also wrote and distributed a monthly devotional booklet, Triumph 30 which has metamorphosed into an interdenominational mobile phone devotional application.

I honestly didn’t know at first, that I was going to Pastor a Church. That was not the plan. So I was intrigued when I began to feel God lead me in that direction.

Also, as we faithfully carried out our duties as a fellowship, God kept responding to our faithfulness and sincerity by explaining our capacity to do even more.

What do you see as the role of the church in Nigeria? 

I’d respond to this question in descending order of priority. The role of the Church in Nigeria, is first and foremost the role of any Church anywhere, which is to raise disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every other agenda may be nice and noble, but simply isn’t the actual reason the Church exists. Bear in mind that the Church is not the government, and it is more than a welfare initiative. I understand that the pressing needs in the nation have made people consider anything that is not nation-building and/or welfare initiatives as unimportant. But as urgent as nation-building is, and as important as welfare initiatives are (especially for any true Church), the Bible ultimately teaches that even the most impressive civilization, nations and government structures will pass away with the world. After which every man will stand before God to give an account of his life. The ultimate goal of the Church, therefore, remains soul winning.

The second is moral influence. The Bible says “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to all men”. We must therefore consider that faith doesn’t just have spiritual implications but nation-building implications. When a people become god fearing, and discharge their duties with a sense of accountability, that they will give an account before God, the nation will surely be better for it.

Third, corporate responsibility. I’m a strong proponent of the fact that God hasn’t just chosen us to be of heavenly citizenship but also of earthly benefit. I, therefore, believe that the Church should, as the Bible teaches, help people see that they also have national duties that must be recognized, and appropriated for the body of Christ. Politics is not a game of truth but of popularity and influence. Therefore, any Christian who cares about truth must participate to ensure we also have the numbers and the influence. Prayers need not stand in the way of civic duties and vice versa.

What are some of your most useful habits?

My most useful habits are prayer, reviewing books, studying the bible, voice training and exercise. All these habits are very important for my job as the Lead Pastor of Celebration Church and for my personal expression as a musician and author.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

The best advice I ever got was from a senior friend. I was asking him what he thought about a favour I needed from a top organisation. And I was anxious about if they were going to grant my request or not. And he just looked at me and said, what’s the worst that could happen? They are going to say no right? So his point was that it was definitely worth the trial. And as simple as that was, it was life-changing for me. There are a lot of audacious things I’ve done in life just because I knew the worst that could happen is someone saying no, and then I’ll try again.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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FIRST CLASS: How Funke Olotu Made Her Way To Pinterest’s $25,000 Creators Program

Funke Olotu
Funke Olotu

Funke Olotu was born in Kaduna on October 20, 1998. Her childhood was marked by frequent family relocations. Growing up, she spent time in Akure, Benin-city and Abuja. She struggled to make life-long friends but learnt how to adapt to different circumstances. In secondary school, she experienced bullying but fought to reclaim her sense of self-worth. “That was very chaotic for me to deal with as a child,” she says. Funke studied microbiology at Elizade University in Ondo State but always found herself gravitating towards the creative arts – from dance to fashion to blogging. After NYSC, she found a job as a content writer and social media manager. But her journey to the Pinterest creators program wasn’t a smooth one.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


You studied microbiology. Why?

My mum was a nurse when I was growing up. For some reason, I just wanted to be like my mum. At first the option was to study nursing but I was too young for nursing school. I finished WAEC at 14. But we felt microbiology was close to nursing. It was in my first year I discovered that was not my calling. I picked up acting in my first year. That gave me so much joy. I would leave my classes and go for acting rehearsals. I didn’t care about microbiology and my grades. I didn’t drop out because I felt my dad was paying too much money, about a million naira. When I had the audacity to tell them, I was already in my third year. And I didn’t want to write WAEC again. So I decided to have the life I want, regardless of the course of study. I never saw myself in a lab coat doing the same thing every day. It wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with my talents. Although I didn’t know how, I knew I wanted something different.

I started blogging in my third year. It wasn’t great. But slowly I started finding my community and writing for other websites. I started doing social media management. And I started taking Whatsapp classes – TBA Tribe. I took SEO classes and media content creation. The first one was free, but the others were paid. I used my pocket money to pay. And I started reading a lot. And I enjoyed it. My writing got better and engagement on my blog posts soared. There was just this amazing community that was forming. I got my first job offer 9 to 5 when I was in my fourth year. But it was in Lagos and I was living in Abuja. My dad didn’t let me move. I completed my youth service at National Hospital. I was a freelance writer at this point. I always made time for what I loved. I felt like Nigeria is not a place where success is guaranteed even if you are hard working. So you need to be willing to go the extra mile.

Did you have a big break?

When I was still serving, someone sent me a job opening for a content writer. Hints magazine. It was a 9 to 5. I applied and got the job a month before NYSC ended. But then some of us got a call that we were being let go. So, for two months, after NYSC ended, I started fashion school because I didn’t just want to sit still. Then I got a call back that they were going to employ me as a content creator specialising in fashion. So I went there to shoot. On the second day, I realised their social media was not great. And that their eroticas could be better. So I was employed again that day as a content writer and social media manager. That was a big break that made me realise there was a path in being a creative that would just work for me.

You now work at Pennee.

It has been one of the highlights of my career and one of the best companies I’ve worked at as a creative. Before I got my job at Pennee, there were a lot of highs and lows with the actual work and how people treat creatives. I’ve been in a space where we are just at the office and they are sacking two people on the spot. Moving from that to having the security that Pennee gives is just amazing. Work at Pennee has been interesting. I started as a content and media manager. What we do is help small businesses grow by giving them a credit account. I’m currently head of marketing. We tell stories of small business owners. When you have a credit partner as a business, your business is open to more possibilities and growth. 

And then you moved to the UK for your Masters. How do you juggle your MSC with having a full time job in Nigeria?

When I came, I struggled. But for the most part, I’ve been able to succeed because of my time management skills. I create schedules and priroitise and don’t allow myself to feel overwhelmed. Also, I love what I do. The exchange rate is crazy, but I genuinely enjoy what I do and the people I work with. So that just gives me the right push and drive. Also, I’ve grown a lot just working at Pennee. 

Tell me about your work with Pinterest?

I’m part of their creator fund. I think we are the second cohort. They position you and give you the right tools. We have these weekly sessions where they teach you more on how to use Pinterest, and we have deliverables. It’s just amazing because Pinterest is a platform I’ve been using since I started blogging. It’s a platform I admire so much because it does not contain a lot of negativity. You can just go there as an escape. 

That looks like a big break.

It is.

How did you get in?

I used to post about Pinterest and some people started following me because of that. When they had the US cohort of this program, someone shared with me they would do a UK cohort. So when that came out, I decided to apply. I actually applied on my phone and hoped for the best. Then I got an email that they wanted to do a 15-minute call and it was during that call they told us. That’s the most money I’ve also made as a creative.

How did that make you feel?

As a creative person that grew up in Nigeria, sometimes you doubt yourself because the economy is not positioned in a way you are being appreciated fully. And if you are someone who isn’t just working for money, it can be very draining. 

Have you made any major mistakes in your career?

Staying in places that were emotionally draining because I wanted to learn. I felt like I needed to be there to learn and gather experience. I worked in a company where they sacked people on the spot because the company could not afford to pay them anymore. And they had just been employed two months ago. And in that company, our work was being talked down. So that’s one of the things that affected me and my self-identity as a creative person. Also I went to another one where my direct lead made life difficult for me. He constantly picked on me even when I was doing well. I left within a year. But I wished I didn’t stay up to the point where I was crying in Ubers. I would advise my younger self not to stay anywhere she’s not appreciated. Because I’m thirsty for knowledge and success does not mean I have to endure. Things can fall on your laps; you don’t have to hustle too much.

How much of a relief was it leaving Nigeria?

It was a lot. Since October 20 happened, which was my birthday, it’s as if I was sleepwalking and someone just woke me up. As a Nigerian, you know Nigeria is bad but after the October 20 shootings, it became clearer to me. I didn’t feel relieved. If I had felt safe, I wouldn’t want to leave Nigeria. Even after my university and NYSC, my dad was very big on me and my siblings leaving Nigeria. I wasn’t really pursuing it because I had made a life here, my friends were here, I love the culture and I’m happy. I was happy to travel when I needed to. So I didn’t see the need to leave until the October 20 shootings. That completely shattered and demoralised me. I couldn’t celebrate my birthday the next year. I did feel some type of relief but it’s a bitter-sweet type of relief. I’m making a decision I feel I didn’t have to make. 

Do you want to return?

If Nigeria should get better today, I’m coming tomorrow. Even before Nigeria gets better, I want to visit. I miss Nigeria so much. I intend to relocate back to Nigeria if there’s a wave of hope, if something gives, if my safety is guaranteed. If it’s safe, I’ll return.

How do you think young people can make Nigeria a better country?

It’s a tricky question because a lot of young people in Nigeria feel very powerless. But I think what we can do is to get our voter card and register to vote. There’s a lot of ups and downs that come with politics – but that’s something we can influence. There’s also the learning aspect. A lot of us don’t know our history. We can pay more attention to politics.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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FIRST CLASS: Nkiru Amadi-Emina Wants To Disrupt Manufacturing Supply Chains In Africa

Nkiru Amadi-Emina is a serial tech entrepreneur.
Nkiru Amadi-Emina is a serial tech entrepreneur. Illustrator” Benjamin Kehinde/Channels TV

In July, Amadi-Emina’s latest startup was selected as part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2022 batch. It was a watershed moment. In this interview, she talks about how she got into building technology products – including a eureka moment in her Okada dorm room – and the value of staying optimistic.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


What was growing up like for you?

I grew up in Lagos. My parents were raised here as well. My dad is Delta-Igbo and my mum is from Cross River. And my mum speaks Yoruba very well. But unfortunately growing up in Lagos, I didn’t master speaking Yoruba. I went to primary school in Lagos. And a bit of my secondary education. I went to St. Saviour’s School in Ikoyi. Then I went to boarding school in Jos. I did that for a bit, then went to Canada for a year. 

Why did they send you to Jos?

I think they wanted to develop a level of independence in their kids. And the best way to do that is to send your kid all the way to Jos. And I think it was actually a very interesting experience. Going to school in Jos, I learned independence, how diverse Nigeria really is – because there is a thing about being in Lagos, you think everything is in Lagos. And, of course, boarding school is always a bunch of interesting stories. Then for a year, just after SS1, I went to secondary school in Canada. A private secondary school – which is a bit interesting because people typically do their secondary school here and go to university abroad.

Was that because your family moved to Canada?

It actually really wasn’t because I was enjoying my secondary school life. But I guess that came with some level of exposure. I think one thing my parents were big on was opening us to a lot of different experiences, even while we were young. So I think that’s one of the experiences they wanted to create. 

So I came back to do private university in Nigeria. I went to Igbinedion University. So, yes that’s a bit of my background. There were a lot of privileges and exposure that we enjoyed, which I guess influenced my life and how I think about things. I have three siblings. I’m the first girl but I have two older brothers. And I think having older brothers also teaches you some level of toughness because you end up playing wrestling when that’s not what you want to do. So, it was very interesting going up. I come from a super close-knit family. One very important thing I always remember from my childhood – apart from being ‘one of the boys’ – is the fact that my form of play was to always be a businesswoman, going to an office, signing files, firing my dolls, hiring them. So I guess from a young age, I wanted to be some sort of boss. 

How did you get into tech and finance?

My dad influenced my tech journey. I wanted to be a medical doctor because my dad was a medical doctor. And in this bid to be a doctor, I wanted to open my own hospital and make it the biggest in Nigeria. And I guess he, being in the field and seeing how that was just a pipe dream especially in a society like Nigeria, advised that if I’m more concerned with building big things, I should read Computer Science and learn how to build software. And this was in 2005 when I was just getting ready to get into university. He told me years from now, tech would rule the world. And then after that, I can build the conglomerate I was aching for.

Now, why finance? While I was in the university – 300 level I think – I came across a company, Dwolla, and they were based in the US. And what they were doing was – this was before mobile money, before Paga – peer-to-peer payments using bank accounts. And I was like, this is so cool. And I wondered why we didn’t have that, where I could just pick up my phone and pay into a person’s account, someone who was in close proximity. And the technology then was Bluetooth, and QR codes. So that was when my foray into the world of tech and finance came into being. I called my solution PayEasy and started it in my dorm. These things happen in the US and Stanford, but nobody knows that in Igbinedion university or Covenant or Babcock, it is also happening.

So everything around finance, financial technology, and the possibilities that exist in that space, hit me at 300-level. Interestingly, before I could roll out the product, Paga came into the picture. And that’s what they say about ideas – when it’s hitting you, it’s also hitting about 10 to 15 other people. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of time to execute it. 

And then I had the opportunity to intern at financial institutions. I worked at Access Bank for a bit. I interned at Verod Capital as well, which is a huge capital management agency. 

Did you have any challenges at the beginning?

There were a bit of barriers. The first was primarily the fact that this whole tech ecosystem in as early as 2010 when I had just graduated did not exist. Nobody was building technology products, nobody cared about tech. The only sort of idea of tech that existed then was Interswitch and Chams. So there was really no one else, especially at such an infancy level. So that guidance didn’t exist. And of course what typically happens is, you find something else to do. And that’s what I did. I decided to work for a software company in Abuja and I also decided to build my own technology consulting company. So I was building software for governments.

You then co-founded a company called Jalo?

Yes. I was going for a meeting and then I forgot some items in the house. And I was trying to figure out who could help me bring the item. I didn’t have a driver. So I was looking for a courier service. None of them existed back then. It’s now we are seeing an influx of technology-enabled logistics solutions. None of that existed in 2016. And I thought it was an opportunity. I just started building. I built the app to solve my problem of having someone pick up anything I want at the touch of a button. So that was Jalo. We raised some money. Jalo was part of the first cohort of Ventures Platform, the first startup incubator and accelerator in Abuja. They gave us capital, about $10,000. We also got a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation. And yes, we were deliberate partners for Jumia food and commerce, Konga; we were in Abuja and Lagos; we were doing inter-state delivery at the touch of a button. So, it was pretty exciting and that was my very first company. Then I sold Jalo to Kobo360.

Why did you decide to sell?

It was a case of do you compete or do you collaborate? We were ready to start doing the Kobo360 model where you are using assets like trucks and vans. And I think I really wanted to collaborate because I felt there was a lot of learning I still had to do. I moved on to work at Kobo for some time before entering my next startup adventure, which is Pivo.

Tell me about Pivo?

I’ll start from what the problem was. While I was working at Kobo, I was head of port operations. There was a common thing that I found, whether from the side of our transport partners or even from Kobo’s side. And that was just a lack of access to quick liquidity. If you give a transporter a job to carry containers from APM to Kano, if you can’t give them that advance payment, they often times find it difficult to get liquidity to fulfill the order. From a Kobo 360 perspective, if your end customer like Flour Mills of Nigeria is still holding your invoices and hasn’t paid you, you don’t even have the liquidity to advance your transporters. So, it was that issue I saw and wanted to solve. And it was in solving that issue we uncovered so many other challenges that these businesses have, and also other opportunities that exist. So, at Pivo, what we are is a neo-bank – that’s the umbrella term – because what we are doing is providing access to financial services without the burden of physical locations. Now, we like to say as a digital bank, what we are primarily trying to solve is: for SME vendors in the supply chain, we want to provide the financial services that can help them pay and get paid faster. So what does that mean? We are providing access to capital. If I know that my invoices are going to be delayed for 30 days, but I need capital now, I can come to Pivo to provide that capital. That’s one side. The second thing we are looking at is to provide SMEs the tools that can help them pay; whether it is a debit card, a bank account; so that you can transfer money and pay your vendors. 

Now, when you talk about financial services that lets these guys get paid, this is what we mean: we are not just providing them an account, but we are providing them a smart account. With your Pivo account you can send electronic invoices. Right now, everything around getting paid for these vendors is very manual and cash-based. They have to courier paper invoices to Lafarge, for example. So we are eliminating all of that manual process that is tied to getting paid. You can send electronic invoices, send payment links. You can track the status, see when the payment is overdue, send a nudge to your end customer, or even know when your invoice has been opened. 

The long term goal for Pivo is to really build the financial operating system for supply chains. Right now we are starting with the SME vendors, providing the basics of what they need to transact. As we scale and grow, we then want to meet the owner of the supply chain and provide the system that controls how money flows from the top to these SME vendors. 

I was going to ask whether Pivo plans to scale beyond the supply chain sector?

For us, the supply chain sector is just enough. A supply chain exists anywhere around the world. And the actors are the same. You have the owner, the SME vendors – a supplier, a logistics service provider or a wholesale distributor of the finished goods. So that’s really what we want to focus on. We are heavily focused on the manufacturing supply chain, because there is pharmaceutical supply chain, construction, telecoms and the likes. But we are specifically focusing on manufacturing and zeroing in on building the financial services platform for them.

What have been your major challenges building this business?

Our major challenge is essentially two things. One is finding the right team that understands our vision and mission and purpose, that also fits into the team culture. Because to be honest, the success of your business is primarily dependent on your team. Finding the right team has been a challenge. The second thing is being at par with the level of scale and growth that we are seeing. If your company is moving faster than you, it’s a problem. Scale and growth is a good thing, so I guess it’s a good problem to have.

You recently got into Y Combinator. How big of a win is that?

It’s actually a very big win. Interestingly, while I was building Jalo, I applied to Y Combinator twice. We got as far as an interview. And back then they did the interviews all the way in San Francisco. So imagine travelling to San Francisco twice just to be told ‘no’. But with Pivo, it’s a really huge win. Not even from just personal experience, but also from the level of validation that comes with that. It’s a huge win.

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made in your career?

I’m not sure I’ve made mistakes. Everything seems to have aligned the way they were supposed to. Everything came with very valuable experiences. Even from when I built my first IT consultancy at 23; of course it didn’t really achieve any significant growth or milestone, but I learnt a lot, how to hire, how to interview, how to do financial modelling, how to write proposals, how to speak to clients, because you are entering government offices to have conversations. So, nothing really I would have done differently. Some people would say why didn’t I get a job after NYSC, but there was value from actually going to start a business first. There was learning tenacity, because there were times when you were broke, you learn to shoulder on and push through the struggle. 

For someone just starting out, what would be your advice?

I would definitely say don’t be afraid to learn, to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to adjust to the wind of your sails as you grow. And if you want to get from point A to point B, there are different routes to get to point B. So don’t be afraid to tread whatever road life takes you on. Just keep your eyes focused on point B.

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria permanently?

I spend a lot of time here and also abroad – I try to take holidays when I can. The funny thing is I have not been able to see myself leaving Nigeria.

I saw this video tweet of a crab being cooked in a broth and corn. And the crab, while boiling to death, was still eating out of the corn. So, maybe it’s a case of being so used to the madness that I don’t realise that there’s actually better out there I should explore. But I really don’t think that’s the case. I’ve never seen myself leaving Nigeria. I think last last if the wahala gets too much, you can always escape and come back, if they don’t lock the borders. But I don’t see myself leaving permanently.

Are you a strong believer in the Nigerian project?

I’m not a believer in the Nigerian project. But I’m a believer in some of the Nigerian people. And I think that belief provides some sort of hint that things could be better. I was listening to Chimamanda the other day and she said she’s a pessimistic optimistic and I think that might be a way to describe me as well. You hold on to hope, but then you know things are really bad. So, I think I hold on to a level of belief in the Nigerian people. And finally, it will be these people that lift us out of the mess we are in.

Are you interested in politics?

My interest in politics stops at the fact that I’m a consultant for INEC. And so, you just understand the political processes and how dynamic it is. But wanting to hold any political office? No. Wanting to support a candidate I personally believe in? Yes. Would I go as far as standing in the rain holding banners? No. Would I go and vote? Yes.

So you are registered to vote in 2023?

Yes. I’ve been registered to vote since 2011. But this would be the first time I actually go out and vote.

How do you think young Nigerians can make Nigeria a better country?

One of the ways we can make Nigeria a better country is to, within our own sphere of influence just commit to doing better. And that can look like something as simple, as don’t litter on the road, don’t try to form four lanes on a two-lane road in traffic. So I think individually it should just be a personal commitment to do better. And I think that’s where change usually starts from.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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FIRST CLASS: Hassana Maina Knows What It’s Like To Fight Sexual Violence In Northern Nigeria

Hassana Maina is a lawyer, poet and advocate against sexual violence. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin/Channels Television
Hassana Maina is a lawyer, poet and advocate against sexual violence. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin/Channels Television

My first interaction with Hassana’s work was via an Instagram Live series she started during the Covid lockdown, about sexual violence. She’s carried out similar activities throughout her adult life, campaigning for causes she feels to be right. Hassana, a law graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, is perhaps more well-known for her work with Arewa Me Too and North Normal, two social-media driven movements that sought to change the narrative of sexual violence in Northern Nigeria. It’s still early days in this generational struggle against dark trends like child marriage and rape, but Hassana is confident change is on the horizon.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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SE: Tell me about yourself? What was growing up like?

HM: I’m going to start with a funny story. Growing up, I loved reading. So, I always had my nose buried in a book. And every typical African mother believes her daughter should be in the kitchen learning how to cook. And each time I’m in the kitchen, I would have my face buried in a book. And one time, my mum asked me to take care of a meal and make sure it doesn’t burn while she goes to do something else. And I was with my book, reading, and my mum came back into the kitchen and the next thing I felt was a slap. Apparently, the food was burning but my mind was far away. So, that was like a big issue. And it wasn’t like she was opposed to me reading, but I just did not feel there was a time or place to read. I used to read everywhere, while eating, in the toilet. And that’s one reason why I’m surprised when people display well-kept books because it just can never be me.

That was how growing up was for me. I’m the only girl, I have two brothers. I have an elder and a younger one. Then my dad and mom. So we were just like a very close-knit family. My dad used to travel a lot, but at the same time, I just never felt like he wasn’t there, because he was very involved in my academics. Even when he wasn’t there, I just had it at the back of my mind that daddy would come back and I’ll tell him whatever I wanted to say. Growing up for me was my dad reading a newspaper and finding something interesting, putting an asterisk on it, and telling me to read it. It’s my dad buying a book from a bus park when he travels and asking me to read and summarise during the holidays. Growing up was fun. It was my mum cooking and baking because she loves to bake and cook. Growing up was my mum insisting on what women should wear and do and be. We used to have a lot of debates at home. I was a fierce advocate. I used to advocate for myself even before I started advocating for other people.

Is it correct to say your upbringing influenced your journey into gender advocacy?

Yes, but not from a place of disadvantage or oppression. It is from a place of me going out into the world and seeing things that should not happen. My brothers today say they don’t understand why I’m a feminist because they believe I grew up in a very feminist home. I used to fiercely advocate for gender roles. I would insist everyone must wash their plates. So, I did not grow up to be a feminist because of what I experienced. Of course there were some gender roles that I used to oppose. My mum would say there are no gender roles in our house, but of course that’s not true because I think I have done much more housework than my brothers.

Where did you grow up?

We lived in Borno but for my secondary school education, I went to Queens College in Lagos. And you know how Queen’s College girls are. I never used to think of myself as less. And we had the King’s College students who we used to interact with. We felt like we complemented one another. And even with WAEC results, it was never a thing of feeling intellectually inferior. 

Can you talk about North Normal? What were you trying to achieve?

It was Arewa Me Too that gave birth to North Normal. I was on Twitter and I saw Khadija’s story, which was really sad, about how she was assaulted by her boyfriend. And people wanted her to shut up, because how can an Arewa girl be talking about being assaulted by her boyfriend. They wanted her to admit that it’s even wrong to have a boyfriend, which is hypocritical in this century. But it’s just also tactics that people use to shut women down. I was impressed that many people rallied around her and other women started sharing their stories.

People believe that if you don’t talk about something, then it disappears, but that is not true. It just becomes so common that it becomes normalised. If you are not speaking about or against it, then it means you are giving it permission to continue. And that is it with sexual violence in Northern Nigeria. So, for me, we can’t let that continue. And I remember tweeting a call for people in Borno who want to go to school, to churches, to streets, to the mosques, to spread awareness about this issue. I got an overwhelming response. And then we had a meeting. And we started going to schools and talking to children, their teachers, going to communities, speaking to people about sexual violence, telling them that it’s not okay to keep quiet. 

Then we realised that there were lots of problems, because where are we starting from? When you talk to children to report to the police and the police laugh at them to leave the station. Or when you speak to lawyers and they say how do you want us to prosecute this, have you seen the laws on sexual violence? So North Normal came out of a necessity to do something with a structure, because Arewa Me Too did not have one. So we need to have a project and implement that project. For us, it was trying to see how we can get the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act domesticated. Because it’s a great piece of legislation that talks about every facet of sexual violence. And it wasn’t gendered. Also, when you go to school and talk to people, you see boys say they also get assaulted.

So, North Normal was born out of necessity. We had meetings across eight northern states. Fakhriya Hashim, who started the North Normal campaign, called me and asked me – seeing the success I had been able to record with the Arewa Me Too campaign – to lead the campaign. The intention was also to see how we could go to the State Houses of Assembly to do the campaign. We were able to do that in some states, but it was very difficult in others. In Sokoto for instance, a night before the campaign, we were accused of trying to push for same-sex marriage, just to invalidate the movement. I remember Sadiya Tahir, who was the Sokoto lead, was assaulted by the police. I remembered feeling so helpless at that point. In Borno, we also had our own issues. We had the issue of the police approving the rally and later on saying no, we can’t, just a night before the rally. But there was a kind legislator, Hon Aji Kolo, that said we should come do it inside the State House of Assembly. And even before then, we had a series of meetings with the Borno State House of Assembly members. So, fairly, it was a success. But not without its challenges. In Niger State, we had Hauwa Shafi’i, who was supposed to just take a letter to the police to ask for permission, and the policeman told her to follow him to a hotel. So, you are trying to do a rally against sexual violence, and here’s a man proposing sex, because she brought a letter.

Now, I think Sokoto has domesticated the VAPP act. Bauchi and Borno have done so. Those are successes. Although, I haven’t seen the version Borno has domesticated, because it’s been very difficult to get a hold of it.

Sometimes, do you feel a sense of despair when you think about ending sexual violence?

Yes, I feel a whole lot of despair. But it’s not something that exists in a vacuum. I know that it exists out of somewhere, and it’s because of the power imbalance that we have in the world. For us to completely eradicate sexual violence, you have to work on that power imbalance. You have to start looking at gender-power imbalance, things like how much power employers have over employees, how much power parents have over children, uncles have over nieces. So we must interrogate power and our relationship with power. And that’s something that must be taught to every child as they grow up. That’s why when we say empower people, it’s not just giving them a sachet of milo or sewing machines, it’s also about the mind. We must raise individuals that are truly empowered. And being empowered is also taking agency of yourself. And that’s one thing we don’t teach young people enough. For example, when girls say they can do certain things, the common answer is ‘wait till you get to your husband’s house.’ That’s teaching girls that her body is not hers to make certain decisions. We must interrogate power in all its forms. And you can only do that by putting proper policies and laws in place; policies and laws that are also open to feedback. 

I wanted you to talk about some of the backlash your work has received . . . 

Oh yes, they bullied us on social media. They said we are lesbians. And that was supposed to pass a message that we are not fully Arewa. And that by our sexuality – which is ridiculous – no one should listen to us because we were not one of them. Because what made Arewa Me Too powerful was because it wasn’t saviours from the south or the west coming to save Arewa girls from sexual violence. It was us, someone from Borno, Jigawa, Sokoto. We were as native as native could be. If you want to take the special place we hold in society, all you have to do is look for something the society abhors and say these people are that thing. So that way, people that listen to us or tend to agree with us reject our ideas.

Tell me some of the mistakes you’ve made in your career?

I think my career is just starting and I can’t say I have made certain life-altering mistakes. For me I wish we had made Arewa Me Too more structured from the start. Because that way there would be so many people that won’t fall through the cracks. And I believe that has happened, because we didn’t structure it. But we also didn’t want to structure because we wanted it to be as decentralised as possible. That comes with its cost.

Does North Normal still exists?

Yes, it does. We are still trying to restructure. The aim is to see the VAPP act domesticated and implemented. Right now, it’s getting domesticated across the board, but is it getting implemented? That’s something we need to work on.

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria permanently?

Mba! No, I don’t think of leaving Nigeria permanently. I don’t even think of leaving for like a long stretch, because home will always be home. I strongly believe that my purpose is in Nigeria, in Northern Nigeria. I feel like there’s so much that needs to be done. And the so much that needs to be done is built for such a moment as this. I’m part of this society and, to some extent, things work. I know it’s also very idealistic, coming back to Nigeria from abroad, but I feel we can build stuff and change things. And I understand how frustrating Nigeria can be – you are fixing one thing and ten other things are getting broken. But I believe we can do it. I believe we can’t all migrate from Nigeria. I believe even the idea of migration is very elitist. We are leaving so many people behind. People that cannot otherwise migrate. Who are we leaving Nigeria for? Omo, we die here oh.

How do you think young people can make Nigeria a better country?

By getting involved. It doesn’t matter how or where. You know this thing they tell women, that if you don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own chair – that’s what I would tell young people. I also understand the idea of age where you feel you are too young to be involved. No, you are not. In Hausa, we say a dama da kai, they should do it with you. Because we can complain all we want, but we cannot all migrate, it’s not realistic. And I think it was the poet Titilope Sonuga who said rock bottom is the perfect place for rebuilding. So this rock bottom we are getting in, that’s the perfect place to rebuild. 

Who would you recommend as a First Class Nigerian?

Hauwa Shafi’i Nuhu. She’s with Humangle. She does interesting reporting about terorrism in Northern Nigeria. She does fantastic work. She was also part of North Normal. She’s changing the world with her writing.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: David Adeleke Is The Media Entrepreneur Looking To Build A $1bn Business

David Adeleke wants to deepen media conversations across Africa. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin
David Adeleke wants to deepen media conversations across Africa. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

David Adeleke is the founder of Communiqué, a media and tech analysis newsletter with over 24,000 subscribers. Earlier this year, he announced the launch of two other newsletters: Creative Capital and Marketing Forensics to provide better coverage of Africa’s creator economy and marketing trends on the continent. He is bullish about the opportunity to deepen conversations across Africa and is confident that it can be spun into a billion-dollar venture. In this interview, he shares tidbits about his background and career, his goal for Communiqué, and why he hasn’t left Nigeria.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


 

What was it like growing up?

I grew up in a nomadic home. My dad is a pastor, so they moved him around a lot. And because they moved him around often, we had to learn to adapt. I’ve lived in about 18 or 19 different cities in my lifetime. Most of them are in Nigeria. So I’ve learned to adapt to different cultures and lifestyles. Nothing is out of the ordinary because I’ve been privileged to experience a lot. And I think that also makes it easy for me to identify interesting perspectives and viewpoints. And that reflects in my work – first as a journalist when I was one, and now as a communications specialist.

Did you abandon journalism?

Well, I didn’t abandon journalism because my newsletter is about the media. It’s not just the thing I spend most of my time doing anymore.

Why did you choose journalism and communications as a career?

I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I think this is the thing that best fits the way I think, the way I look at the world. So it just makes sense for me; it feels natural.

What’s the grand vision for Communique?

When I started Communique, I wanted to write a column; it was supposed to be a column before it became a newsletter. I wanted to write something that improved the quality of conversation and thinking around the media in Nigeria and, with time, in Africa. I started by looking at the Nigerian audience and gradually zoomed out to look at markets across the continent. For example, people talk about Africa Rising. But what does it really mean? So, I wanted a space to create interesting and nuanced conversations.

Now that I see Communique is successful with media, the next question is, what other industries can this type of analysis serve? Where else can we elevate the quality of conversations? So, that’s how I think about the next phase of Communique. We are launching a marketing newsletter, another one for the creator economy. So what other industries can we explore?

What would success look like?

Success is better conversations. I know that Communique is successful when people are talking about media on the continent and you can tell that they are well-informed. But in a wider context, success is being able to replicate this kind of impact in other industries while making a good living out of it. I would like to be able to do what I love and help more people do what they love if it is similar to what I like to do. My ambition is to build a billion-dollar company, but it will start from somewhere.

A billion-dollar media company?

No, not just the media. The media will be part of it, but there will be other things – technology, gaming, entertainment, and professional services. So when you are talking about African companies that have real influence, you will be able to mention CMQ Media. That’s my big goal. But we have to start from somewhere.

First, we have to prove that the newsletter is profitable, which it already is – the newsletter is making more money than some startups make in a year. And that’s good. But what’s the next step? That’s how we think about it.

Not a lot of attention is being paid to the media business compared to, say, the tech industry. Is that because of a lack of opportunities or a lack of vision?

I think it’s just what is attractive right now. And I also think it is a function of narrative. It’s sexy to be in tech right now. It’s sexy to be a tech entrepreneur even though the work is difficult. So the media has the same problem that Public Relations have. Public relations is good at rendering public relations services to other industries apart from itself. The media is great at telling stories about other industries apart from itself. And it is now affecting the way media entrepreneurs are perceived.

What would you tell someone just out of school and who wants to delve into journalism or communications?

I’ll speak first for journalism. There’s a gap for journalists who demonstrate an understanding of the media business. What you have are journalists who understand journalism. They are good and competent at it, but you don’t have a lot of journalists on the continent who understand the media business or the business of news. Or maybe they do but they don’t show interest. What I would tell someone finishing school and who wants to go into journalism is, go ahead and do it. Be a great journalist. Chase interesting stories. High value, high stake stories. At the same time, understand the industry you are getting yourself into. Understand the history of the industry, understand how things have changed over time and how things are changing. I think that’s going to give you an edge. If you can demonstrate the ecosystem or the dynamics of the industry within which you are operating – then a lot of people will be paying attention to you, looking up to you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. I wasn’t a journalist for up to 10 years but I can write authoritatively about the business because it was something I was actively thinking about as a journalist. If you are going into an industry, figure out ways to get yourself to stand out. Understand what makes people stand out and do the same.

For communications, it’s the same advice. But don’t forget that you really need to invest in yourself. You need to be good at what you do. So, it’s not a case of positioning, meanwhile you are empty. Position yourself properly, but make sure that there is more than enough substance. If someone sees all that glittery about you and they move close, they should still see that you are glittery.

What do you consider the biggest factor that has helped you to be successful?

Would I even call myself successful? Not yet, because I’m not where I want to be. But what I will say has helped me so far in my career is that I’m willing to take career risks. If you look at my CV, you will see that. I’m really hungry for knowledge, but not just any kind. I’m hungry for knowledge that makes me stand out. I’m very deliberate about standing out. I don’t even hide it. I’m not going to be falsely modest and say it’s by accident. If people see my work and they can tell it’s different, it’s because I was deliberate about making a difference. And then I’m also particular about doing high quality work. I don’t care how long it takes me. I don’t like rushing. I like to take my time to learn things, to get things done.

What do you mean by taking ‘career risks’?

If I feel like I’m not learning, like I’m not appreciated, I’m willing to leave. I’m willing to take pay cuts, just so that I’m learning properly. If I’m not learning at a job, I’m going to leave. It doesn’t really matter if it affects my stability. Sometimes that rubs off on people the wrong way but I only have one life to live. I will take any risks necessary to get to where I think I need to be.

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made in your career?

I think the biggest mistake I’ve made in my career is not optimising for higher pay earlier. I should have been more particular about my pay earlier in my career. I used to do a lot of things for free – I still do a lot of things for free – but I’m wiser now. I’m not saying that it’s bad to do things for free or that it’s okay to have money as your god, but there’s a balance. I just wish I optimised earlier than I did. I think I’ll be in a much better position than I’m in now, which is not to say the position I’m in right now is bad, it’s not bad at all.

How can people avoid that trap?

I can’t speak for other people, but I know, for example, that there are certain jobs I would not have taken. I probably would have left journalism earlier. There are certain roles I would not have moved into or certain offers I would not have accepted if I was concerned about what I was earning.

What’s your most controversial idea for getting ahead?

I don’t think it’s controversial because many people do it. I don’t believe in the idea that the workplace is your family. It’s nonsense because companies will fire you when they get the chance; it doesn’t matter who you are. So, I think people should be more cut-throat. I’ve been very cutthroat in my career. I know I’ve made a few enemies along the way. But I’m at peace with it. If you feel like this is the right move for you to make it, please go ahead and make it, whether you are offending someone or not. It doesn’t mean you should be a douchebag, but whether you like it or not, some people will think you are one. So you might as well just do it as long as it is not illegal and it is for your good.
Also, optimise for international exposure quickly. It helps a lot.

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria?

Who doesn’t? There’s no country in the world that is attractive to me yet. And I’m not actively searching. Of course, I’m not happy with the country’s situation, but I can’t just leave. This is the only country where I’m a first-class citizen.

To make Nigeria better, I think more young people should be active in politics. I’ve become actively involved in politics since the last year.

You are voting next year.

Definitely.

What book would you recommend?

I don’t have a favourite book, but I have books that have changed my life. I like The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. It has helped my faith a lot. In terms of my professional life, the one book that changed my life is The Art of Thinking Clearly by Roff Dobelli.

How important is your faith to you?

Very important. It’s a huge part of how I approach my work. For example, I pursue excellence because of my faith; my faith demands that I pursue excellence. Because if I’m working, I’m doing it as if it’s onto God. Therefore, the results must be excellent and acceptable by his standard. There’s no room for playing small or doing shabby work.

If I ask for a memory from your career. What comes to mind?

A lot of things come to mind. I remember when I interviewed for the TechCabal job in 2015. I remember exactly where I was, the setting. Then I remember when I got to Yale, walking into Trumbull College, and got into my dorm room during my Yale workshop. I remember when I got into Charles Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship.

Who would you recommend as a First-Class Nigerian?

Pastor Emmanuel Iren.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: How Omoregie Osakpolor Documented The Violent Tribulations Of Pensioners In Nigeria

Omoregie Osakpolor says patience and consistency are the keys to his success. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin
Omoregie Osakpolor says patience and consistency are the keys to his success. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

Omoregie Osakpolor is a documentary photographer who believes art can be used to change society. Nominated for the Future Africa Awards in 2017, his work has been exhibited in Austria, the United States and featured in international publications such as CNN Africa. His latest documentary film, Nation Forgotten, focuses on the dark lives of pensioners in Nigeria, their struggles and aspirations. In this interview, Omoregie talks about how he stumbled into photography, his love for activism and how difficult it was to make a film about senior citizens.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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SE: How did you become a documentary photographer?

OO: Growing up, I’ve always loved activism. It’s something I’ve been drawn to. I had so many dreams about changing Nigeria. And I was deeply influenced by Wole Soyinka. It was because of him I studied English and Literature at the University of Benin. I thought I was going to be a writer. But after university, that thought wasn’t as strong as it used to be. At that point, I was thinking of working at an Ad Agency. When I started NYSC, I pushed to serve at an Agency, but it didn’t work out. I was posted to a school to teach Creative Writing. I did that for one year. I later got an offer from an Ad Agency, but I chose to continue teaching. I was teaching primary school students in Lekki. On the side, I used to do freelance writing and editing. 

Meanwhile, my love for photography was getting stronger. We went to NYSC camp months after we had been posted because of Ebola. It was at NYSC camp I touched a camera for the first time – December 2014 – under the Skills Acquisition & Entreprenuership Department (SAED) program. It was pretty cool. After the camping experience, I decided to give photography a shot. 

What appealed to you about photography?

The reason I wanted to write was to express my thoughts on societal issues – politics and culture. And I felt I could do the things I wanted to do with writing, with photography. I loved photography but I didn’t know much about it. I just knew I wanted it to be an extension of what I do with my writing. I didn’t want to be a wedding or fashion photographer. 

I had my first basic digital photography training under SAED. Two hours a week, every Thursday. I did that for two months. I was always on my phone, searching for the best photographers and looking for their websites and watching tutorials on YouTube. 

So, when service ended, I didn’t feel like going into advertising anymore. The urge to photograph became stronger. All the money I saved during the service year was poured into photography. I saved virtually everything – about N100,000 – for photography equipment. That meant I denied myself so many things. I only got a pair of trousers all through the year. Then I got my camera in 2015, a Nikon D3100. I still have the lens, which I used to document the coronation of the Oba of Benin – and that work opened so many doors for me.

How did you get the Coronation gig?

I didn’t get it. In 2015, I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I was still an amateur; I was shooting weddings, birthdays and burials. But I wasn’t really happy. I was broke. And the photography work was just to get by. Then in 2016, before the coronation, I attended a workshop organised by the Nlele Institute. That was where I got a clearer picture of what I wanted to do with photography. The training changed my mindset and approach towards photography, to start thinking about it as anthropology, about studying human behaviour. Few months later, the coronation was held and I went to Benin. I was still an amateur, to be honest. 

When I went there, I couldn’t get the kind of access I wanted, because I wasn’t known. I was just another person with a camera. So I tried to document it from the point of view of the audience. In the end, the work went viral, because I was posting online as I was photographing. Everyone thought I was THE photographer, but I wasn’t. And it opened a lot of doors for me.

Has photography given you something writing couldn’t have given you?

That’s kind of tricky. I don’t think I’ve worked on my writing the same way I have on photography. You only get better at something you are obsessed with. Maybe if I had taken my writing more seriously . . . but I think photography would have still given me more. It’s easier to push photography and film, especially in Nigeria, than to push writing. 

Nation Forgotten is your latest documentary. How did the project come alive?

It was from a poem I wrote during my service year. And the poem was about my father. My father happens to be a retired customs officer. After retirement, his gratuity was held for a long time. He was fully paid his gratuity after 13 years of retirement. He was forcefully retired after 32 years and that had a toll on my father. At some point, while I was in school, he couldn’t send me school fees because there was no money. He had retired. It was my brothers who took care of the expenses. He would call and explain the situation and that was the first time I started to know what it was like to be a pensioner in Nigeria. 

After my service year, I went home and saw the situation and it dawned on me that this is what pensioners go through in Nigeria. Before then, the only thing I knew about pensioners was that they don’t pay them. That was when I wrote the poem.

When I started photography, I felt like I could make this a visual story. I felt that it would be more powerful as a visual story than just one poem. Then I started researching pensioners and realised there was a diversity of stories. That was how I started the story. 

The execution came after the coronation, so I didn’t have much experience. What I did was to start attending meetings with pensioners. I went to search for where the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) was having their meeting in Marina and observed their activities. That helped me to know how to approach the project. 

By 2017, I started reaching out to friends who gave me their parents’ contacts. I travelled to Owerri, where I made the first images for the project. I came back to Lagos broke. Over the years, that pattern continued. I would go to the field when I had some money.

Once, I travelled to Yenagoa but I couldn’t do anything. Because people were afraid to talk to me. Some people would ask me to come, but on getting there, they would say they were no longer interested because they were afraid of what could happen to them if they spoke their mind in front of the camera. I tried to return to Yenagoa – a day before I was to travel, I got a call from my fixer who happens to work in the Bayelsa pension board. She was scared and begged me not to come because word had gotten out a journalist was coming to talk to pensioners, and that it was dangerous. 

After that call, I knew I had to continue with the project. But funding wasn’t easy because I had to travel across different states.

Did you try to apply for grants?

All the grants I applied for, I didn’t get them. It was discouraging. So at some point, I just decided to do it myself and get it out there. And I started making some money too from some commercial jobs, so it got easier to fund it. Then it wasn’t just about the money, it was about getting people to talk about their experience. Because there was so much fear. I think I had more ‘Nos’ from many pensioners than the ones I featured on the documentary. That tells you how the Nigerian system works – that you could be so oppressed you don’t want to talk about your oppressor for fear of getting further oppression. You find an 80-year-old man scared of the state. At first, I was angry – why would an 80-year-old man be afraid of dying; but I think no matter your age, everybody still wants to enjoy life.

What next for the film?

It’s not done yet. I want to use different media to push it out. What we have now is the film. There’s a photography aspect. The next phase is to look at the Next-of-Kin of dead pensioners. Then I hope to document more protests. I hope to have a travelling exhibition of the work, after which there will be a photo-book. Then there can be an online forum through which pensioners can vent their frustrations.

What do you consider the biggest factor that has helped you to be successful?

I’ll say patience and consistency. It’s crazy being an independent documentary photographer in Nigeria. You don’t get grants or training. I don’t think I have any professional training; it’s just me learning through crash courses, three-day workshops, online resources. So there’s no support from anywhere. But overtime, I’ve tried to understand myself better. I knew what I wanted. So what has helped me is being patient with myself and continuing in that line. I had every reason to have stopped every project I’ve worked on. But I didn’t let those difficulties stop me. 

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made?

If I had known, I would have gone to a photography school in South Africa. Even though I couldn’t afford it at the time, my brother could have helped. But I didn’t know much about what was required to do photography. If I had gone to a proper photography school, that would have opened me to more opportunities and platforms. There are so many things I do now, using trial and error. While that is good – artists are supposed to experiment – I believe it’s not the best way to go. 

Also, I should have learnt more photography tools. For example, the moment I stopped shooting weddings, I abandoned Photoshop. I thought I didn’t need it anymore. So, for someone starting, I’ll say ‘learn everything you can, they will be useful later’.

And, of course, jumping into photography without a job. I don’t have any office experience. If you can, get a job, get a 9-5, learn your photography by the side; when you are comfortable enough, then you can go in full-time. It doesn’t make economic sense to do documentary photography full time while starting out – you are just setting yourself up for depression. I was able to pull through, thanks to my close friends and family members. But everybody can’t be that lucky or strong-headed like me. 

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria, long term?

I’m at a point in my career now that I need growth, new forms of knowledge. And I don’t want to make the mistake I made earlier in my career, where I felt I could just coast through things. And I am becoming a bit more business-minded. So, I’m at a point where I need to leave Nigeria for a period of time, just for the purpose of study. Nigeria is my canvas, I can’t function anywhere like I would here. But it just makes sense for me to go out there and get more knowledge. I don’t want to migrate permanently.

That means you have a lot of belief in Nigeria?

If I don’t believe in Nigeria, I don’t think I’ll be doing all I’m doing. It’s much easier for me to do something else. If I had stayed as a copywriter, I could have been a big boy. But I feel like God created me for this. That’s why, for a long time, I didn’t learn the business aspect of photography. I’m just learning to learn the business aspect.

Do you consider that as a mistake?

Yes, it’s a mistake. I didn’t learn the business aspect of it, because I was so concerned about passion. So this is how I see art – a photographer is like a medical doctor to society; you diagnose society’s ailments. By doing that, you are trying to cure society’s sickness. The kind of work I do, that’s what I believe it is. 

Who would you recommend as a First-Class Nigerian?

Logor Muyiwa and Neec Nonso.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: ’Kitan David Rejected One Lucrative 9-5 To Build A World-Class Tech Talent Pipeline

Kitan David believes Africa is a huge market for training tech talents. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin
Kitan David believes Africa is a huge market for training tech talents. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

When ’Kitan got an opportunity to work at tech giant Nokia, he was sorely tempted to take it. But he had a dream, a vision to build a world-class tech talent pipeline for Africans. “I fell sick,” he says. He ended up not taking it, a difficult decision he has come to cherish. In this interview, he talks about why he rejected the offer, the massive opportunity in the African tech scene, why he believes Yahoo boys can’t be reformed into legit tech workers, and how young Nigerians can reform their country.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


 

SE: Can you briefly talk about your journey?

’KD: Personally, I’ve been very interested in everything computing. As a child, I used to say I would be an aeronautical engineer or a computer scientist. I grew up to realise aeronautical engineering is not really something you can pursue in Nigeria at the time. So, Computer science was my go-to; I spent a lot of time with computers. Before I got into the university, I was already writing code and building websites. I was doing graphic design for businesses. Then, by virtue of my personality, I am a human capital development person. For example, if I was into music, I won’t just be producing music, I would have people that I am training to make music. While doing all of this, the little I knew then, I would gather my friends and train them. Then I got into FUTA (Federal University of Technology, Akure) and graduated and started Planet Nest. Right now, we’ve transitioned and the name of the organisation is Future Academy Africa. And Planet Nest is just the name of the building. If we ever get to a one-thousand-acre campus, we would call it Planet Nest.

What I do is a talent pipeline, a talent accelerator – we take people, train them in product design, data science, front-end web development, NFTs, and blockchain, and we accelerate them and place them on jobs. We are very popular for our product design phase.

We have an office in Lagos at Nest in Yaba, and also in Akure. But our acceleration program is now virtual. For example, in the product design acceleration program, we have Nigerians, Ghanaians, Cameroonians, Ugandans, and Zimbabweans. People apply every year and then we select. Last year, we had over 2,500 applications from all over Africa. But we had to choose based on how good they were. We had someone from Pakistan. We are accelerating these talents over the phase of one year through a fellowship program called Future Academy Africa fellowship program. And in that acceleration, they are given tasks, mentors are speaking to them, and we are doing physical meetups. I was in Kigali for a physical meetup. This year, we plan to do a physical meetup in Uganda and Cameroon for the fellows that are there. In the course of one year, if an organisation approaches us to help them fill a vacancy, we get the best of the people and they get jobs. And we don’t restrict them to getting jobs from us, yet, because we are still at that growth phase.

How many people have you accelerated?

Right now, they are 160. But people that we’ve trained – it’s not everyone we’ve trained that we accelerate. Some people just end at the training phase. Some we offer them acceleration and they decline. The people who finished last year were 48. So that makes it 208. But the people we’ve trained are 2,860.

What does success mean to you?

I derive joy from seeing people forge ahead in their careers. When we onboard our fellows, I try to have a personal conversation with everybody and understand their dreams and goals. Two product designers can come in and want to build an agency and someone else’s goal might be to work for a big company. Yes, we don’t allow their goals to affect our curriculum – which is to make you market-fit – but I follow up on their personal goals.

For me, success is when one of them hits me up and says, I got a job. I derive great joy from this. We have people that come into the fellowship as a regular person making a bit of money – we take juniors into the fellowship – and accelerate them. Our most recent success story was a guy that got a job of $42, 000 annually from a company in Switzerland. That’s something we celebrate. 

Do you consider yourself successful now?

I used to say I come from a humble background. But where I am going, I am still in a humble background. From where I am coming from, I’m probably a big boy now. But I don’t consider myself successful or not successful. I see myself as someone who has been able to build a solid foundation on which I can grow. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to build a foundation. I’ve done courses on human capital development, I’ve attended Lagos Business School, I’ve trained people, I’ve made mistakes, and now I’m at that point where the foundation is solid, and I can scale from it. I’ve never been under pressure to raise money. Some people call it imposter syndrome. Yes, I had it. I used to tell myself if you raise money now, won’t you be raising money on trash? Are you sure you’ve gotten this thing right? But right now, I’m there. I would say I am on the highway of success, but I’m still very far from where I want to be.

What’s the biggest factor that has helped you get to where you are today?

The fact that I come out plain to people. I’m ready to tell you this is what is going on with the company, with me. And yes, people give advice – some I take, some I discard. But I am very open to talking to people about what I’m doing. I reach out to people that are doing the same thing that I do, to be mentors in our fellowship program. And that could be you leaking your trade secrets, you showing them the structure of your programs and them copying it – but I don’t see it that way. A lot of them don’t respond but I feel 100 Future Academy Africas bearing different names is still not enough to mine the talents in Africa. Why bother?

How big is the talent market?

I don’t think there’s any survey that has actually checked that out. But the biggest market is in incubation. From my own observation, many Africans are prone to peer pressure. If everybody is doing crypto, they want to do crypto. Not because they understand it, they just want to do it. Peer pressure is one of the reasons people succeed. People look at it from the bad side, but it is the reason why some people learn how to code today. So there is unmined talent. A large percentage of our population are young people. And they don’t have jobs. You find someone on the streets and this person has taken a course on digital marketing; this same person has taken a beginner course in data science, started another in product marketing, and didn’t finish; and then is now doing Yahoo (cybercrime).

Companies like Andela and TalentQL, are still raising money, so it shows that there is a market. That’s why I believe 100 of us are still not enough from incubation to acceleration.

Do you believe Yahoo boys can become legit tech workers?

I don’t agree with that school of thought. I’ve dealt with all these boys – good and bad. The brain that does Yahoo is different from the one that does data science and product design. And it’s not in the capacity at which they can do it, it’s in the mindset. What Yahoo does is jump processes. Yes, you can say everyone wants to make money, but at the top of your career in tech, your focus is no longer on money, because money will come. But once you beat survival mode . .  . that guy that just started learning software engineering, he’s looking to get his first website, his first mobile app. Once he gets 50 people to pay him N1 million for a website, he stops thinking about money; he starts thinking about growth. That’s when he stops collecting jobs because he wants to learn Web3 and NFTs. So, he already knows if he learns Web3 and NFTs, jobs will come. So that mindset is what helps him. Meanwhile, in cybercrime, the focus is always money, even if they start stealing a million dollars. So when somebody has gone the cybercrime way, I don’t bother to help the person transition. If the person gets to a point where he wants to transition himself, fine, but since the person has jumped processes . . . one of the things we instill in our fellows is that we are raising global technology leaders out of Africa. And then someone says why are you not raising millionaires? But you can’t be a global technology leader and be broke. I’m not focused on you making money, I’m focused on you being world-class, being able to walk into the room where Chinese product designers are, where German product designers are, and you don’t feel less of yourself. At that stage, money is never going to be a problem. That mindset cannot do fraud. It’s a growth mindset. There is no growth in fraud, just an increase in your bank account.

What’s the grand vision for FAA?

The grand vision is to have a big campus, virtually or physically – I’ll prefer physical but I don’t know what Covid is doing to the world. A campus where we have 5,000 residents and growing to be technology leaders. And we have a strong alumni network, people who have passed through come back to give testimonies. Like a campus of positive energy such that when anyone comes up with an idea in the world and says we need so-so talent, you think Future Academy Africa. When you are coming to FAA, we don’t just want to give you a software engineer, but a leader, somebody that checks the boxes for social ethics, and intelligence; it’s not just about software engineering. It’s about leadership, vision, and growth. 

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

Someone once told me a lot of people you look up to, thinking they’ve figured it out, are actually as worried as yourself. You can only connect the dots looking back, not going forward. So, just keep the vision clear and keep working towards it. Even if you make a mistake, it will reroute, as long as your destination does not change.

What’s one hard decision you’ve had to make?

It was not taking a job. There was a time when I was financially down. And I had the opportunity to take a job at Nokia. I didn’t take it because I was very connected to this vision. Different people told me you could take it and still run your company, but the company is human capital development, it’s not an app where people are downloading something. So I didn’t see how I could have a 9 to 5 and have time for my talent on campus. There was nobody that I talked to that advised me not to take it. Everybody advised me to take the job. Me not taking it was rebellious. And then it was painful because I got to that mental stage of if you are not taking this job, you have yourself to blame if everything goes wrong. The day the Nokia job offer ended, I fell sick, with a strong fever. People said I should take drugs or go to the hospital. But I knew it was not a hospital thing. 

Looking back now?

Yes, looking back now it wasn’t that tough after all. Now, I don’t feel like I should have taken it. 

For someone starting out, what’s the best advice you can give?

Picture yourself in the next three to five years, who do you want to be? Look for people that are in that space now and try to be in their circle. If there is someone that looks like they are living the life you want to live, find those people and try to be part of the things they do. Conversations there will help you. Three years from now, you can get there and find out that this is not where you want to be but it will really help you accelerate fast.

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria?

I’ve never seen myself relocating. But I’ve also never seen myself stay. I see it as when the world began, we were all just one people. Yes, the family expanded into countries, nations, and races. Right now, the world is tending towards global partnerships and the ability to move around – I don’t see it as relocating. For example, I won’t pack my bags today and go to Canada and sit down. I want to be in Canada doing something that affects the talent I’m grooming right in Africa. That’s why I never see myself relocating. I’ll just be jumping around building stuff. For me, Africa, Nigeria is always home.

Are you happy with the way the country is now?

No, I’m not happy. At all. 

How do you think things can change? What can young people do?

As young people, I think the energy everybody is putting into getting a life, getting a skill – a set of people need to drive that energy for young people to get into governance. And the reason is that you cannot do better than the country. When you sit down and understand the constitution and government laws, you will find out that all your years of hard work can be destroyed by one regulation. So who makes the regulation? It’s people that make up the government. So we need like-minded people. While you are thinking of fintech and logistics, we need someone with that kind of energy that is also thinking about governance. 

I read one story recently where some people made a vaccine for cows and they made it into a drug. When they were done, that’s when they realised cows can’t take drugs and drink water. Then they made it into an injection. So that was because they made the vaccine with no cows in the mix. So it was human beings thinking for cows. And that’s what is happening in government in Nigeria – these people can’t think for us. They don’t know what crypto is, what NFTs are, how connected the world is, or how being a TikToker is a profession; so they can’t make laws that help the economy grow, especially with this population and age range. So we need more youthful participation in politics and governance.

Does that mean you are voting in 2023?

Yes, definitely. But I don’t know who I am voting for yet.

Which person fits into a first-class Nigerian?

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: Adora Nwodo Is the DJ And Maths Whiz Creating New Worlds At Microsoft

Adora Nwodo believes Nigerians will have to work for the country they want. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin
Adora Nwodo believes Nigerians will have to work for the country they want. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

Adora Nwodo isn’t shy about how good she was at calculus and statistics as a student. She shouldn’t be. A first-class graduate of Computer Science from the University of Lagos, she is now a Software Engineer at Microsoft working on creating mixed reality applications. But she isn’t your typical nerd hiding behind lit-up screens in dark rooms. She loves the outdoors and meeting people. Her alternative career is music production. And she disc-jockeys at parties when she’s not writing code or books or encouraging more people – read women – to get into tech, or studying for a degree at one of the world’s topmost business schools.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.


 

SE: What was growing up like for you?

AN: Growing up for me was okay, I guess. I’m the last born, the only girl. I have a bunch of elder brothers. Everyone always wanted me to do well. I won’t say I was spoilt, but I didn’t lack anything. I started with computers quite early, maybe eight or seven. I was really fascinated by it. My siblings were my best friends; and then they were in JSS3 or so when my dad sent them to computer school and bought them computers. So my brothers went from playing with me when bored in the house to working on their computers. And obviously, because I didn’t have anyone to play with anymore, I joined them in using the computers. So I got drawn into it. I was fascinated by what I could do on a computer. That was how I fell in love with computers and decided to build a life around them.

That’s interesting.

I was a very expressive child – a parrot – and my parents thought I’d be a lawyer. But even if I didn’t go into Computer Science, I wouldn’t have become a lawyer. I would have been a music producer. That’s another thing that I really like to do. Even now, I’m a DJ. I can’t be that DJ that is also a Producer on the side because I have a full Computer Science career. But making music has always been a hobby for me. So, I would have studied Sound Engineering, interned at one of these record labels and, at some point, started my producer career. It was a backup career that I’ve always had. As early as 100 level, I used to say if tech didn’t work out for me, I would do a Masters in Sound Engineering and become a Producer.

How do you balance these different aspects of your personality?

I don’t balance it. At this point, I think I’m running on vibes. But I don’t like to see them as two personalities. Because everything is still one person. I don’t see myself as someone that has multiple alter egos or personalities. I don’t compartmentalise it. Everything is one person. The engineer is also a music enthusiast. When I am writing code, I am listening to music, and discovering new music. Even when I was in university, I am studying and listening to music. When I have a gig to go play for, there is a science to the preparation. And I’m a science person, but I’m also a creative because I’m a content creator. I tend to apply different parts of myself to every single thing I do. I just make sure I’m enjoying myself. 

Would you describe yourself as an obsessive planner?

Yes, I plan my whole life. I’m a planner. Even up to my dates. Recently, a friend wanted to take me out. But I told him I had a romantic date with someone that could be a partner that same weekend, and there was no slot for him. So everything I do is on my calendar. Even my sleeping is a routine. I don’t control exactly when I sleep, but every day at 5:45 am I am awake by default. Even if, according to my calendar, the last thing I have to do for the day is by 9 pm, I try to go to sleep by 9:30 pm; if I can’t, then I hop on Twitter until I finally drift off. But I must be awake at 5:45 am.

So I plan my life, but also I leave small room for that flexibility because we are in Lagos and things can just happen. And your plans can get disrupted if you don’t have backup plans.

How did you get into Microsoft?

I applied and they hired me. (Laughs)

One thing I tell people is that there are so many talented people and opportunities but what makes people single you out is if they see a clear value that you can add. So, I don’t know if I would have gotten the interview if I had just applied when the opening came up. Because a lot of people would have also applied. But I was doing a lot of things within the community at the time and I was very vocal about the kind of technology I wanted to work on; so I had said I wanted to work on technology that was powered by AI; I wanted to help build mobile or other device experiences. And I was talking about it on LinkedIn and Twitter, volunteering at communities, speaking, organising events, writing, and making YouTube content. So people were noticing me, I guess. And a Microsoft recruiter reached out to me and said they wanted to hire me for a role in Nigeria, blah, blah, blah. So I applied and got back to the recruiter. So, that got me the interview. Getting myself to get the recruiter to notice me personally was what got me the interview. But that wasn’t what got me the job, because I still had to make sure I learned every single thing I needed to learn. I had to make sure I practiced for the interview, did mock interviews with my friends, prayed, practiced some questions, brushed up on some engineering concepts I probably didn’t remember from school; and then I went for the interview and passed and got the job.

You initially worked at a Nigerian ad agency? How’s does that experience differ from your current role?

I spent only my service year at the agency. I passed out of NYSC in June 2019 and started working for Microsoft in August 2019. So it was almost straight out of school. How has the experience been? I like my job at Microsoft because out of all the other things people say – the money is great – I tend to optimise for peace of mind more than money. I want to have job satisfaction and have the liberty to do what I have to do; this is also the freedom I had while working at the ad agency – they encouraged people to focus on their side hustles. So that was basically how I was brought up professionally – I’m always going to do other things.

So, apart from the fact that I love the kind of work that I am doing, because it is me really creating something new, something that doesn’t yet exist in its full form in the world right now, and I am learning a lot – apart from that – there’s also the peace of mind because of the culture; everyone always willing to help each other and being welcoming, and being able to do all I do and my managers providing support in any way they can.

You are involved in several tech communities – unStack Africa, Open Source Community Africa – what drives your passion for community engagement?

There’s a gap. I have seen people do a lot of things to try and help this community grow. My own approach to that isn’t necessarily being the community manager, because that’s a lot of work. I lead a few communities and I’m not necessarily focused on the day-to-day. I’m more focused on advocacy and inspiration. Advocacy for the tech ecosystem in general, not just about developers. And this is me trying to inspire people to come to join the ecosystem. And there’s a gap, especially in terms of gender diversity. I’m very bullish on women in tech. And I talk about it every single time I get. And I always share resources with communities that are trying to empower women in tech, to help them grow in a way. There’s also the part of training more developers to get opportunities globally; because there are a lot of global opportunities and there are not a lot of people to take on these opportunities. So why don’t you have more Africans so they can get these opportunities and make their lives better? 

Some mistakes you’ve made in your career?

I can’t think of any on the spot. I haven’t made a bunch of decisions on my own. Most of my decisions are always collective decisions with my family. As I said, I’m the last born so I have a lot of elder siblings who give me advice. I have mentors as well that I reach out to; I also have peers who are doing well. So it’s never oh this thing just pops into my head and I’m going to make that career, life-changing decision. So there are always back and forth conversations with people, going to God in prayer, before I finally make a decision.

What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make?

One that comes to mind is recently I started going to Business School. One of my elders brought it up and I said I wasn’t doing it; because I felt like I still wanted to be in engineering for a while and was not ready to move into something else. And going to Business school, I might have to quit my job. And because of the kind of schools I wanted to go to. There were a bunch of different routes I could have taken. Was I going to sacrifice my time, my job or the quality of school I wanted to go to, or my social life? So it was a very hard decision. I ended up sacrificing myself. Because I found a program in a top school that required me to not be full time and I would also keep my job. So now I’m going to school, to work, and I’m still doing all the community things I was doing in the first place. I don’t regret the decision so far, but I guess we’ll see in a couple of months; maybe when I get tired, I’ll come on social media to rant. 

You live in Nigeria. Do you ever think of relocating?

Who wouldn’t? It has definitely crossed my mind once or twice. But I’m not actually doing anything about it for personal reasons. 

Are you hopeful about the country’s future?

I don’t have a direct answer to that question. I think Nigeria’s future depends a lot on all of us doing the work. Because hope without action is a very stupid thing. So I’m not going to say I’m very hopeful and all we have is hope or prayers and nobody is doing anything; nothing will happen. So, if we really want Nigerians to be the home that we want, everybody needs to be a part of making that happen. It will take a very long time, possibly more than 50 years but everybody needs to participate in that process and not just complain on social media. 

How do we get to that point where everybody comes together?

I’m not talking about everybody coming out. Not everybody is going to be involved in politics. But in your own little way, what are you doing for your immediate country, in your house, apart from sitting down and complaining. To be honest, I don’t blame anyone who decides to pack their bags and leave Nigeria. I’m not going to guilt-trip you. But if you are one of those people who complain, my first question would be, what have you tried to do about it? I’m not saying what you do will change the country in 24 hours, but what you do might change somebody’s life, or mindset, or be the reason why somebody gets to live an extra day. The point is, have you actually done anything to influence your immediate society? Because if we are promoting that mindset of doing things for each other to influence ourselves, you will see the whole pyramid effect. You will influence some people who will influence other people, and those people will go ahead to influence more people. And from there, something will change. These things take a very long time, but there’s that possibility. I don’t want to talk about hope for Nigeria, because there are some people that are doing a bunch of things, there are people that are not doing anything at all, and there are a lot of people that are complaining. The Nigeria we want, we will have to work for it. If you don’t put in the work, nothing is going to change. And 20 years down the line, we will be having the same conversations. We’ve been having these same conversations since I was born, and I am going to be 26 this year.

How does your faith affect your outlook on life?

I’m a Christian, a Catholic. And one thing that we preach at Church is love. And that’s what I’ve been hearing all my life. From going to Church, to catechism classes, to having conversations with friends who share the same faith. And the constant thing is always love. Jesus Christ came to preach love. God is love. And that has just made me always want to give love. I’m one of those people that believe we are born with multiple gifts and we should give everything we have and die empty. You should leave the world better than you left it. And that makes me want to show love to people around me in different ways. And I guess that has, in some ways, been a huge part of who I am and has had an effect on how I interact with people. I’m a human being and there will be small anger, and drama, but there’s that thing of calling yourself to order and asking for forgiveness and being better. I believe love will change the world; if we all had love in our hearts, the world will be a much better place.

If you had to recommend a book, what would it be?

I would definitely recommend my book. People that have read it have come back to give me feedback. A girl took it before she took an Amazon exam and she passed. So I’m very happy about the impact the book is making and I get excited about it. 

But if you are not trying to get into Cloud Engineering, another book I’ll recommend is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I think it’s a behavioural book and it can help you build fantastic habits and break away from habits that are not so good.

Who would you recommend as a First-Class Nigerian?

Easy. Jude Dike. I find what GetEquity is building interesting. Also coupled with the fact that he’s young (26) and the company isn’t up to a year old.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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FIRST CLASS: Why Opeyemi Olugbemiro Is No More Waiting For Success

Olugbemiro Opeyemi
Olugbemiro Opeyemi is a strong believer in the Nigerian project. Illustrator: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

When Brand Communication specialist Opeyemi Olugbemiro graduated from university, he was passionate about nation-building. He ran a radio show, organised conferences, and consulted for a State Government. But he was struggling with his finances. Somehow, he believed everything would fall into place if he kept on building a community of like-minded people who could transform Nigeria into one of the most desirable countries on earth. It didn’t, until he tweaked his engagement with the world.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.


 

SE: Why do you believe in Nigeria?

OO: Since I’ve known myself, I have always believed in Nigeria. The only time I had doubts about my belief in Nigeria was in October 2020. After October 2020 I couldn’t recite the national anthem for about four to five months.

Where were you?

I was at home in Lagos when October 20 happened. I was at home, praying. I was helpless. But I have always loved the country. Maybe because if you look at the world in general, we are one of the most educated immigrant populations in the US in health, technology, sport, administration, beauty; everywhere you see amazing Nigerians at the top level. The only thing we are not getting right is the system and the place. The system is how to provide an enabling environment for people to succeed. So, I have the belief that if we can get the systems right, we have enough amazing people to push the country forward. 

The system you are talking about, how is it going to come to be?

I don’t know at the moment but what I am looking at building, and which has inspired a lot of my efforts over the years, is achieving a critical mass of people who also believe. And that is why a lot of my events focus on building solution-driven communities. When I launched Convage, it was building a solution-driven community. When I started Gemstone at the University of Benin, Ekehuan Campus, it was the same. When I started my blog, it was about building a solution-driven community. I believe in ripple effects. 

When I was on radio in Akure it was about bringing a lot of more solution-driven people on air so that more people can know them. Because if you don’t have an image you cannot aspire to become something, so you need an image. That has always been my way. I don’t trust the existing political system, to get things done the way things should be, but I also know that you can’t do anything without them. I know one way or the other, we have to work with them to achieve the Nigeria of our dreams. 

Do you think of going into politics?

I don’t know. At the moment it has never crossed my mind. What has crossed my mind is getting enough money to ensure that a lot more people get access to the right thinking and don’t think the way the system has conditioned us to think. I listened to someone who said he looked at his productivity outside the country – I think when he was in the UK – and when he came back to Nigeria, he realised that either it was either he replicate his UK experience in Nigeria for his people or take his people out of Nigeria to build a startup. So I do not know at the moment whether I’d go into politics, but one thing is certain, I’ll work with people who can scale my influence, to get more people to do better with their lives. I don’t know maybe I can help the country as a system, but I’m very sure I can help Nigerians. 

Is your belief in Nigeria shaking?

Yes, it is. 

It showed how much work needs to be done. So maybe I have been underestimating what needs to be done to get us to the promised land. That day showed us that a lot more needs to be done.

I am not in support of breaking up Nigeria, but I strongly believe that the current structure should be negotiated to ensure that people agree to stay as one Nigeria.

So you advocate for a referendum?

I will advocate for a conversation. I don’t want to use the word referendum.

I mean conversation with a focus where people are allowed to say what they want without being scared of repercussions. A lot of the conversation has been coloured and tainted by different political agendas.

I believe that Nigeria should be one but I also believe that oneness should be negotiated. More like, let us decide this thing together.

I don’t even believe that when you divide us, any of the units will be able to survive without each other. We are too close to say just go just go and mind your business. It’s a lie, it will not happen.

We are too close. How do you want to do it? We are already culturally and socio-politically designed to see things in a certain way.

What would you describe as your most interesting work?

In 2018, the Ondo State Government wanted to do a development conference and the conference was to bring partners from across the country and across the world to come and discuss Ondo state and how they can support it. And they wanted a branding for the conference. The branding was to be international enough, for international partners to be able to connect with. And local enough for people on ground to be able to get inspired to action. 

And I led the team, that was my first public sector engagement.

We designed, ideated and defended in front of a number of commissioners and permanent secretaries and it got me going to the secretariat a couple of times to defend what I have. This is 2021, going into 2022, and the idea of that design, which spiralled from just a conference, has now become how the government describes its achievements. At the end of the day, the logo had a DO. So DO is ‘do’, and DO is ‘Develop Ondo’. And it became a double entendre. So when the Governor says talk and do on his posters, the DO is from the work I led with two other designers – I led the strategy, communication and execution part of the plan.

Then in November 2016, I covered the Ondo state election. And I covered one of the biggest local governments, Odigbo. Then I also saw the level of work we need to shift Nigeria, because I was on the field. From security, to administrative to political. I saw it in real-time. That was my first time covering an election, so I was trying to capture everything. But my driver kept saying we shouldn’t stay too much in any place. 

Out of Akure, someone wanted to launch a power bank. It was designed in Akure, but production was done in China. It was made in Nigeria but it was shipped all the way from China. When he met me and wanted to sell, I said we won’t just sell it as ‘made in Nigeria’, but as an experience, as something that helps people work, on its own quality. We sold out twice. And that convinced me that I could actually do what I wanted to do.

How do you define success? 

Success for me is a ripple-effect of impact. I am a lot more driven about people being satisfied and happy, than acquiring money for its own sake. If I ever get rich, as rich as those people on the Forbes list, the motivation will be to inspire more people to believe that it is possible to do so, legally. Success is being able to fund and execute projects that have scale of impact. 

What is the biggest factor that helped you to succeed in the journey?

God. You cannot succeed if you are not alive. Then the second – and this is important to me – is people. I always say that e don tey wey I sabi book but your ability, intelligence and brilliance will only take you to a point, but access to the right people is the only thing that can scale. You can be good, that’s fine, but there are a lot of people that are also good or even better than you.

I group people who have helped me into three categories: One, people who inspire me, two, people I inspire and three, my contemporaries who are doing a lot more to open doors for me and people who are mentioning my name in rooms. 

I can trace a lot of my success to when we relocated to Lagos and I started doing a few more jobs. I have a lot of NDAs for some of the biggest companies in Nigeria and people started to know me and because of that it opened a lot of doors for me. People started calling. I am now working on a project for a bank that will launch next year. That’s how it works.

Like I said people who inspired me, people who I inspire and lastly contemporaries who open doors. Babajide Duroshola used to say – I think it’s an Andela thing – that talent is equally distributed but opportunities are not. And one of the reasons for that is because not everybody has access to the right people. I didn’t grow up in a rich home. So, we are where we are because we started seeing the right images. And it’s the images that made it possible, that we can believe. Now I can aspire to do more. 

What are some of the mistakes you made?

The first one is connected to, I didn’t learn about money early. So, my relationship with money was not the right one. So I came out of university and was pursuing impact, volunteering for civic causes . . . 

Isn’t that a good thing?

No, it is not a good thing. If I could go back, I would do it another way. I was pursuing impact, civic education, running shows about developing Nigeria, achieving the Nigerian dream. I didn’t even know enough about money. I can be empathetic to people. I saw money from a survival perspective. I did jobs for almost free. I had a lot of respect for money. So when they call some certain amount I would be like, so people have this money?

How did that change?

People. Access. As much as people say that reading changes, if you don’t have human beings that can reinforce those readings, it doesn’t do as much work.

I met Kitan David in Akure and I started working with him. He was one of the loudest voices in tech. And I saw an image that young people can be successful in tech without cutting corners. I started studying him and started to realise the possibilities in tech. Then I started seeing some other people. Kitan was very intentional about images. 

For example, I used to think like if someone or an organisation sends me money to fly somewhere, I’d rather take the bus and save more money. But I stopped thinking that way. Sometimes I see invoices and see what people charge for the same thing I do.

One of the biggest was when I wanted to charge 50k for something and my boss was passing, he saw it and said I should add two to the figure to make it N250,000. I did and the client agreed to pay. The first time I charged over 600k for a job, I could hardly believe it. I wanted to call the price, but I was scared. But a mentor told me never to be afraid to name my price. 

Assuming that being smart and intelligent will make you successful is nonsense. I was very confident in my brilliance. But if I could go back, I’ll be more intentional about relationships and converting ideas to execution. 

What is your advice for someone starting up?

Understand money early. Know the right people. Know that everything in this life is intentional. People think that some things are organic. But the number of things that are organic are not as much as the things that are intentional. 

When I was 25, I tweeted to Editi Effiong to give me some life tips. And he invited me to his office. One of the first things he told me was that time and chance happens to us all, but consistency increases your odds of time and chance happening to you. You can’t control luck. The only thing you can control is that at every point, you are excellent enough for luck to meet you working hard. That’s where intentionality comes in. 

What change can people do now to start seeing results?

Find God. Then take out time and know yourself. I don’t think there is a successful person that I know that is not self-aware. If you listen to people like Jeff Bezos and Jay-Z, you realise they are self aware; they know their strengths, their weaknesses; they are confident. 

The world most times, especially when you want to enter another level, they don’t give you what you deserve, they give you what you ask for.

So you need to know what to ask for. The world is unfair. If you are supposed to get a million and they ask you how much you want and you tell them N6,000, they will give you N6,000.

Who do you think qualifies as a First-Class Nigerian?

Victor Fatanmi. His heart is so innocent and pure it annoys me sometimes. Prosper Otemuyiwa. Peace Itimi, who is one of the people who has influenced me the most. Praise Philemon, who is a mentee that pushes me to be better. Iyin Aboyeji. The strength of his conviction is amazing.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: Olúwatósìn Olaseinde Wants Young People To Avoid Desperation

Olúwatósìn Olaseinde
Olúwatósìn Olaseinde believes her biggest strength is gratitude. Illustration: Benjamin Kehinde/Channels Television

 

At just 20, Oluwatosin Olaseinde was earning a ‘big girl’ salary at a South African firm. But she couldn’t keep it together and was virtually bankrupt four years later. “For the first four years of my career, I had nothing to show for it,” she says. “I was living from hand to mouth, no savings or investment.” She found her bearings after relocating to Nigeria and has gone on to start successful businesses that help people make sense of their personal finance. A Mandela Washington fellow, Oluwatosin wears a perpetual smile in photographs and credits a bias for optimism, even in dark circumstances, for much of her success.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.


SE: What does success mean to you?

OO: Success, to me, is peace of mind, success is financial independence, success is being able to provide for those that mean a lot to me. I think it is that point when you don’t have to worry about food to eat, about where to live, about immediate needs.

Do you also feel it’s a moving target?

Absolutely, like look at Dangote the richest man in Africa. But when you compare him with the likes of Bill Gates and the rest, you see that there is a significant difference. So it will always move. I remember a couple of years back, being able to start a company was like a big goal for me. And then you want to make billions of dollars in revenue. The goal always changes. But just having that peace of mind is a critical thing for me; and every time it is present, I feel successful.

You run two companies in Nigeria. How do you make it work?

I think one of the biggest traits of being an entrepreneur is persistence. I remember when I set up Money Africa a lot of people were asking me if it was a hobby or a full-time job. People could not believe that it was actually a full-time job. But here we are, now employing over 13 people across both companies. But when we started, I was just running it by myself. So persistence is very important. 

Also, not being in denial. While persistence is great, being able to tell yourself uncomfortable truths is very critical.

But the beautiful thing about Nigeria is while it looks like all the odds are stacked against you, you can ask, where is the opportunity, where can I go in? What are people complaining about

I want to make it clear that I am not in denial. The numbers are there and stacked against us. However, there are millions of us. Where can we go? This is home and we have to make the most out of it, keep holding our leaders accountable and doing what we can do in our own personal capacity. We just have to find the positive angle all the time and see how we can break through it.

Do you ever think of relocating?

That’s a very good question but my business is in Nigeria and I plan to expand it. Even though over 90% of our business is coming from Nigeria, we plan to expand across Africa, to Ghana, Kenya, the UK; we want to go after Africans in the Diaspora. However, Nigeria will always be a base for us.

What about relocation on a personal level?

Even if I want to go to the UK or to the US, Nigeria will always be a base for me because this is where my heart is and where my business is. However, I respect other people’s decision to relocate; there is nothing wrong with it.

I am inspired by your positivity. That means you will vote in 2023?

Of course, and I am also going to campaign. We have to all go out, it’s our civil right to vote, everybody should be involved, everybody should participate. It’s very important.

What are some of the mistakes you made in your journey?

You know how sometimes being ambitious is great but many a time you are so ambitious that you forget to live in the present. So, every time mentees come to my DM saying they respect me and like what I am doing, I always try to caution them and say, look try and enjoy the moment; because a time is coming when it’s BQ you can afford; a time is coming when it’s just Danfo you can afford. And it’s going to change, as long as you are putting in the effort, you are being deliberate about your personal development and growth. So, while it’s great to look forward to bigger things, I don’t want people to be so eager for the next level that they don’t fully maximise the current level. So, I felt like there were times that I was so ambitious, writing so many exams and just working towards going to the next level that I’m not sure I fully enjoyed that time.

What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make?

To be honest I can’t point out the hardest but I have made a couple. Sometimes it is really hard to let people go. Especially round holes in square pegs, where you see that you’re not a good fit. Nobody likes to do that job: it’s very hard to let people go. That’s hard. Also, when I was starting Money Africa. It was something I was passionate about, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be a full time thing; and then it blew up and here we are now. It’s a couple of multiple little hard decisions that compound over the years.

What is your most controversial idea for getting ahead?

My most controversial idea is actually not being too desperate. I know people say when you want something so bad, it is going to come. I totally understand that but at what cost? I want us to talk about mental health, talk about people taking their time, it will take some 10 years, some five years, some two years. And it’s okay. It’s absolutely okay. 

The media is always talking about how 20-year-olds have succeeded but based on data, the average age of a successful entrepreneur is 40; but the media is always talking about the 21-year-old or 25-year-old. They make it look like a fact but the average age is 40. So, my controversial take is, it’s okay, take your time. Enjoy the journey and relax. Everybody is going to get there eventually. I am not saying you should be complacent or be lazy. I am also a very hardworking person but don’t get it at the cost that is detrimental to your mental health. That is my controversial take.

What is a habit that has helped you the most?

You know I was having a conversation with my best friend this morning and we were just talking about last year. Last year was a bit tough for me on a personal level. And she said something: “Tosin, I think your biggest strength is gratitude” and I strongly believe it is gratitude. 

As human beings, we are conditioned to look at what is not going well but how about that thing that is going well? If we are being more deliberate, constantly saying it’s a beautiful day, the sun is out, no matter how long the night is, the morning is going to come. 

So, your outlook is very important. For example, if we are talking about personal finance, I tell people to go and read about the Psychology of Money. It talks about your mind and how you see things. The mind is your greatest asset. The difference between a person that is here and the other person that is there is how they can envision it. Once your mind can see it, that’s it. My biggest asset is gratitude, and number two just being able to see things from the best angle. 

Who do you think qualifies as a First-Class Nigerian?

That person has to be Tunde Onakoya. He is the person behind the chess club in Nigeria helping children under the bridge in Oshodi, showing them a way out of poverty. Again, it boils down to mindset. Those children in the street thinking they have to steal bags and purses. Somebody came and showed them that there’s more to life, that you can actually live a beautiful life. Taught them chess. Took them out of that slum, took them to different places and showed them what was possible. And you are able to see the difference. Even just looking at the kids from when they started and where they are now, it’s amazing what the change of mind, what somebody believing in you can actually do. Right now, Tunde Onakoya is our hero.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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FIRST CLASS: Fisayo Fosudo Has A Hack For Making Viral YouTube Videos

Fisayo Fosudo describes himself as "a Visual Storyteller"
Fisayo Fosudo describes himself as “a Visual Storyteller”. Illustration: Benjamin Kehinde/Channels Television

 

Anyone looking for gadget reviews on YouTube has probably come across a Fisayo Fosudo video. Presented in a casual and smart format, they are usually fun to watch and littered with valuable information. But making videos wasn’t always smooth-sailing for Fisayo.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.


This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.


 

SE: What does success mean to you?

FO: I would say in the end, success for me would be giving people value. I want people that come in contact with my work to leave better than they came. The more people I can give value to in that regard, the more successful I will be.

Tell me about your work, how did it all start?

There are so many things that went into starting to make videos. But I just wanted to teach people stuff. I wanted to also create a very engaging tech community. And mostly focusing on technology, especially mobile technology, smartphones, apps, accessories and things like that. In the end, I want to just be a source for as many people as possible when it comes to mobile technology, personal finance and everything in between. These are the things I’m interested in. And I want it to be as fun as possible.

What was it like in the beginning?

In 2016 I had saved up a lot of money. It was about $5,000 at the time. I think dollars was still N350 or so. It was like my life savings from freelance and graphic design work. And I just took all my life savings and dumped it into acquiring camera equipment and I thought it should work out fine. But it didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to work out in the beginning. But I just knew that good results don’t always come overnight, it would take a while. There was a time when I was broke after spending all that money, but I guess it kind of paid off in the end, because I was able to persevere. And I still had a job at the time. I was using the hours that were my own, not my employers, to make videos. And also still doing my freelance work. It was a very rough first and second year; and I’ve been making videos for five years now.

What made you persevere?

There are many black people that are doing this great work. There’s someone called Marques Brownlee. He is somebody that I look up to as well. I’ve seen many creators, albeit from abroad; I thought it would be nice to be in this position, especially for a continent like Africa.

What are some of the mistakes you made while starting?

One of the mistakes was – I wouldn’t really say it’s a mistake – I invested a little too much. I put in everything I had in the beginning even though I do not have a roadmap or proper path per se. I just had this blind faith that I want to do this thing and it must work out by force. So, I sunk in money I saved for a whole year. I didn’t do my proper research. I remember at the time when I ordered everything,  Customs collected everything and said I had to pay $1,000 in import duties. And I didn’t have any money at all. So I had to ask people and nobody was willing to give me. I was 21-years-old. No one would give a 21-year-old a thousand dollars. So, I had to ask my employers at the time. They were very kind to help. And at the same time, I used my skills to better the company as well; with the gear I bought, I also did work for the company. So it was kind of a win-win situation. That was one of the things I learnt as well – trying to do my proper research before jumping on something. But then again I can say in hindsight that it paid off. 

I think another mistake is not learning financial education earlier. I wasn’t making the most savvy financial decisions, but I think knowing what I know now, I kind of have a better idea of how to manage money. 

“I think I want to be optimistic about Nigeria. I pray that Nigeria is better off. But the more I keep looking at the facts, the more everything seems gloomy.”

 

What kind of bad financial decisions did you make?

There were times when I would just have any money at all. Even when I started making videos and making some money, I wasn’t really saving, wasn’t accounting for all my expenses, wasn’t doing a budget. But now every single thing I spend money on, I write it down. There was no financial discipline. 

What would you describe as your breakthrough moment?

I was nominated for this award called the Future Awards Africa, and I think we got verified on Google. I learned that it was because of the award. The award kind of added some sort of visibility and made us seen everywhere. And I also recently won an award. It was a sign that people were noticing the value that we were creating for people. Although I still don’t feel like I’ve done anything now. I feel like there’s still so much for me to do. But I think the fact that people can notice is a beautiful thing. I feel like I haven’t had a breakthrough moment per se, but those are moments I cherish.

What is your goal for the next five years?

Definitely to be able to educate more people. Maybe over a million people subscribed to my channel and other platforms where I try to educate people and give them any kind of informative value. That’s just the goal for me – make people much better when they come in contact with my videos.

For someone starting a career, what would you advise?

Don’t think of money in the beginning. Think of the solution you are trying to provide and the value you are trying to give. Just think of the way you are going to make someone’s life better. Because if you start thinking of money in the beginning, the decisions you make will be geared towards just making; and it’s not always the best decision. Money is good, but having that as a major focus doesn’t always help.

I just know that nobody is going to stick around if they are not benefiting. I think it’s just the way we are. There’s one simple analogy that I use, which centres around Google being the biggest search engine and YouTube being the second biggest search engine. Whenever people go on Google, they search for problems that they have: how to fix this or that. If you have a video that answers that question, definitely you will solve problems. 

For me I am making videos about smartphones, mobile technology and things like that, and sometimes finance. Whenever people watch these videos, what I want them to leave with is I learnt something from this video, I was better off, this video taught me how to invest or save better. As long as you are educating people, you will leave a mark on their minds. And they usually will come back and be interested in other stuff you do.

“There was a time when I was broke after spending all that money, but I guess it kind of paid off in the end, because I was able to persevere.”

 You live and work and spend a significant amount of time in Nigeria. Do you think of leaving the country?

I think everybody at some point thinks of leaving but then again, if everybody leaves, who is going to build Nigeria? I don’t know. I feel so bad – not for people – but that we are in this situation where Nigeria is the least-preferred option. A lot of people I know have left already or are about to leave. There’s a joke we make that when everybody leaves, the last person should switch off the generator. So I think it’s what it is. If people don’t like a commodity, they won’t buy it. Just the way right now many people prefer to save in dollars, because the naira is being devalued and inflation is eating away everything. I can’t really blame people because, again if the commodity is not doing what it says it would do, they’ll rather buy something else. 

Why haven’t you left? You are optimistic about Nigeria’s future?

I think I want to be optimistic about Nigeria. I pray that Nigeria is better off. But the more I keep looking at the facts, the more everything seems gloomy. I think we can only hope, but the unfortunate thing is hope is not a strategy. You can’t hope your way into success. You have to do some work. 

What do you think young people should do or can do?

I think this country is not going to be better until we start focusing on education. I have been reading books on why the US and Japan have developed the way they have. And one country took on the task of doing student loans. Out of the millions of students, hundreds of thousands of them will be the smart ones who eventually build your country. I don’t think we value education in Nigeria that way. And unfortunately, we are running budget deficits; and we don’t have so much to invest other than servicing our debts. We can’t ignore corruption as well. I won’t say it is straightforward, but if we can get education right, if more people can become more knowledgeable, I think that’s a good step forward. But sadly I don’t see anyone talking about this enough. 

Who do you think qualifies as a First-Class Nigerian?

I don’t really know people like that. But I think I really like Iyin Aboyeji. I like what he’s building with all his companies. He has built two Unicorns. He’s created some amazing value, not just for himself, but for Nigerians.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

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