Oo Nwoye: The Nigerian StartUp internship brouhaha

(An internship is not a Career)


by Oo Nwoye


Since I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter, I have been missing a lot of industry gist.

So three days ago, someone “called out” people seeking cheap labour under the guise of looking for interns. It sparked a lot of conversations



and ended up with the early beginnings of a Nigerian Glassdooranonymous company review by employees (I think it is a good thing. But I digress)
Let me address the point the lady made starting with a conversation I had with an Uncle of mine.


My Uncle has a cosmetics manufacturing business that makes loads of money. One day (about 12 years ago), I went visiting and he was telling me about how bad the unemployment situation was.

“Oo, can you imagine, I put an ad in Tuesday’s Guardian for a HND graduate that I can employ as a bookkeeper. Before I got to work that morning at around 11 am, I had hundreds of applications waiting”

My usual cheap and unsolicited advice giving self went:
“Ah! Uncle in that case, why not employ a University graduate. Since there are many unemployed accounting graduates, you can even get one with ICAN and pay the same as a HND.”

“No Oo. In the short term it will be good. But overtime both of you will be unhappy.”


“When you employ the University graduate and pay them a good HND graduate salary, the person will be happy and grateful at first. Then within a few months, they will start to compare themselves with their peers working in Shell and Mobil. Suddenly, you’ll have a discontent employee in your hands.

If you employ the HND person, he’ll be happy and most likely stay because he will be among the successful ones of his/her peers.
Besides, the job I need done is book keeping and not accounting.”

The downside of employing overqualified people became clear to me and has guided me somewhat when I am recruiting for myself, others or helping people get jobs.


The tweet that started it all (and the RTs) show there is a mismatch in expectations between employees and employers. Such issues can easily be addressed if both sides are clear about the expectations.

Internship as cheap labour and job experience strategy

Internships have been a great way for people to get a foot in industry while a great way for employers (especially in the Nigerian tech scene) to get cheap labour.

I myself have used “interns” quite a bit but here is what I have done. First of all, I do not do “intern” with anyone post NYSC. You can check out a job posting I have done that clearly spells out the following:

Our Ideal Candidate
Why Us?
First, why not us? We do not offer a competitive salary for a graduate, which is why we are specifically looking for Pre and NYSC level candidates

You can see clearly that I tried to dissuade any post NYSC candidate. Even at that, many graduates applied. But I had to turn down very many overqualified people. I got an excellent student that did the job quite well and I believe was very happy with the time she spent with us.

Here are a few things I’d like recent graduates to understand

  • A lot of the jobs (available) at startups do not require the education you spent years getting. Really, wetin concern Calculus with updating Instagram Twitter and Facebook Pages?


  • You’re not entitled to a job (preferably starting at N250k/month) because you graduated and have finished NYSC. 
  • An employer employs you in their selfish interest. The aim is to resell the value they “think” you create at multiples of your salary. You can earn 5 million/ month if using the company’s resources you bring in 9 million/month. If they don’t, take your value elsewhere.


  • “People are paid, not for what they know, but what they do with what they know”. Basically, you are paid for your value. If you like, have PhD in astronomy. If you are doing data entry, you will be paid like a clerk and the high school dropout programmer who built the platform will be paid 10x your salary.

Using Internships to your advantage

When you see an ad in for an internship at a Nigerian startup, know that the company advertising is most likely looking for cheap labour AND IN EXCHANGE is willing to employ an inexperienced person, be willing to use the opportunity to get experience in that field.

Once you get an internship in Nigeria, operate like you are on a research program. i.e you determine what you learn and the pace you go. A GREAT thing about working at Nigerian startups is they are very happy to give people with initiative every opportunity to work on almost anything. For smart people, that is a really important thing ’cause you get to develop as many skills as possible.

Once you know why you are there, e.g wanting to learn the ropes about startups before you launch yours, or to get aggressive on the job experience to transition industry, it would not matter that you just got back from Harvard and you’re earning 50k/month. Mentally you know you are there for 6 months and would move on once your tour is completed. You take your experience with you.
Believe me, once you are ready to go, any smart employer would be happy to do what they can feasibly afford to do to keep you. Or at the very least try to refer you to someone that can afford you. If they don’t, cut ties amicably and move on. Goodwill is important and it cuts both ways.

PS: Don’t condone abuse from any employer. However, note that being given “plenty of work” as an intern is not abuse. It’s an opportunity.

Note: that what I’ve written is from the perspective of an employer. I don’t have a lot of experience as an intern (e get the why :D).

Next: I’ll write about my thoughts on the Nigerian Glassdoor and why it’s an excellent thing for our techosystem

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

This article was first published on Oo Nwoye’s blog

Oo Nwoye is the founder of Fonebase Labs

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