Osarumen Osamuyi profiles The Nigerian Techie: Selling Gala in a recession (Y!/YNaija Person of the Year 2016 Nominee)

It has been brought to my attention that Gala now sells for ₦70. Please permit me to say, “hay God. HAY. GOD!” The great traffic trifecta has been disrupted so if you doubted it before, we are now certain Nigeria is in a recession. Before now, with a single ₦200 note, you could buy two Gala(s) and one bottle of La Casera and be alright. Now? You’ll need at least 1.5x of that.

I do not expect that Gala sales will conform to a hockey-stick graph.

So, imagine you had to sell those Gala sausages in traffic to make a living. Now, imagine that the bus driver is driving as fast as Lagos traffic will allow him, while meandering from lane to lane. Did I mention that you’ve got a gash in your left shin and your 18-month old child strapped to your back? Did I mention that Lagos State government officials are chasing you (Subway Surfer-style) because appaz, they’ve decided that hawking in traffic is illegal?

That’s what it’s like building and selling technology in Nigeria. There’s no power for you to…power your computers, charge your mobile devices or assemble your hardware products. Internet access is terribly patchy, and where it’s present, it’s too expensive for a lot of people (and some people are trying to make it cost more). The government’s dim-witted insistence on manipulating the forex market (we have at least 7 exchange rates) means that few investors will even touch Nigerian companies with a ten-foot pole. The few who do will see their investees running to stand still, since $100,000 in revenue in 2014 is not the same thing as $100,000 in revenue right now. Honestly? I wouldn’t bet on things getting better soon.

And yet, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Yaba right now, and it’s packed full of young people staring intently at their laptop screens (they are here for the WiFi). Some of them are software developers brandishing IDEs, some of them are UI designers bending Sketch, Adobe Illustrator, and Figma to their will, some of them are picking critical skills off YouTube, there’s one guy by the door watching Boondocks, but yeah you get the point. These people are [insert statement about them working hard irrespective of “opposition” from the government]. I mean, imagine trying to build an educational technology platform in a country where online degrees have been declared “unacceptable” for political reasons. But there’s good news.

We are breaking up our silos and starting to share a lot more – slowly becoming an ecosystem made of interdependent parts, instead of a collection of independent players (I hope we see more of this in 2017). Thanks (in part) to companies like Hotels.ng who have given out their spaces for free, we’re seeing more developer meetups like forLoop, African Git Meetup, Usable, take place. In spite of a dysfunctional educational system, our developers are taking advantage of resources on the internet to become world class, and I’m grateful for that.

It’s been an interesting year for the Nigerian technology enthusiast. 2016 was the year we questioned our assumptions about the size of our e-commerce market. It was the year many of us, for better or for worse, decided the next big thing was to “fix payments infrastructure in Africa”, and we’re slowly succeeding at it. It was the year we saw some of our local talent like Ire Aderinokun and Prosper Otemuyiwa become Google Developer Experts. It was the year Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria to see the members of the local startup ecosystem, and brought with him, a ton of global validation. It was the year startups like Paystack and Shypmate got into Y Combinator, the year 500 startups, Techstars and others started to pay attention, the year the Nigerian government seemed to take notice of the technology sector, which, in turn, caused us to pray and fast that they wouldn’t try to “regulate” it. Haha.

I am under no illusions that we’ve arrived – we have a looong way to go. But, in spite of the fact that every single thing around them says they will fail, the Nigerian digital native is building the future. Not just by willing it into existence, or wishing that things get better, but by waking up every day to squeeze blood from stone. And for that, and all that I know we will achieve as a collective, the Nigerian Techie is my Person Of The Year, 2016.

Everything takes time, but this shit came fast

Niggas standin’ in line, they wanna hold me back

I multiplied my hustle, stimulated my mind

Motivated my niggas and we’ll never divide, no

 

These niggas won’t hold me back [x4]

 

– Rick Ross: Hold Me Back [God Forgives, I Don’t] (2012)

 

P.S. Let’s add this “techie” word to the list of things we’re leaving behind, right beside “Yabacon Valley”, just above “Silicon Lagoon”, and two columns away from “spending 8 hours drinking one bottle of water at Cafe Neo”. Pizzout.

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