Facing The New Decade: Letter to Young Nigerians, By Prof Yemi Osinbajo
POLITICS DIGEST – Every citadel of learning derives its claim to greatness from the reputation and accomplishments of its students and staff: the great academics and scholars to whom has been given the enormous task of instructing, guiding and inspiring the minds and talents that are destined to define the future. Your task is possibly the noblest anyone could ask for, yet often without great reward or even gratitude.
But we thank you today for your great and priceless service to this and coming generations. It is most pleasing to learn that the proverbial seed planted less than a decade ago, the Federal University, Dutse, has not only produced four sets of graduates already and tomorrow by the grace of God, a fifth set, but has also grown so bounteously to now have over 7,000 students spread across 6 faculties, including a College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Yours is the first among the set of Universities set up by the Federal Government in 2011 to establish a College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Congratulations! Equally remarkable are reports of the great exploits being recorded by the University in many fields that amply validate the promise of the fruitful synergy between town and gown.
Let me cite just two such examples, in recognition of your relevant and innovative research efforts. First is the Federal Ministry of Agriculture selected your University to host the Agribusiness Incubation Centres. The second has been your response to the security challenges besetting our nation today, you elected to express a shared commitment to the national search for solution by being the first among your peers to mount a programme on Criminology and Security Studies, thereby demonstrating your relevance and proving that the university should not just be an incubator of ideas, but also a solution provider.
Congratulations on these sterling achievements. And to the students of this university, and especially the graduating class of 2019, let me just say congratulations and well done! The future is certainly very bright indeed. Madam Vice Chancellor, my lecture titled “Facing the New Decade”, a topic you graciously allowed me to choose, is really directed at the young men and women here in this arena today.
I count myself among those young men and women and I hope that those of us who are here also see ourselves as young men and women. The reason why this is addressed to the young people here is first, the young men and women, students of this University, are the future of our country. Secondly, that future has already arrived at our doorsteps, perhaps much faster than we expected. For the next few minutes permit me to take you on a brief journey into this imminent future, how it will affect us all and my humble suggestions about what you may need to do to make the best of it.
Let me begin by making a few general statements and perhaps some predictions. First is that the next few decades will present tremendous opportunities for getting well-paying jobs and lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities all over the world. Anyone will be able to access many of those jobs without even having to move from your own country, in some cases even without leaving your home. There will be a truly international market place of ideas, talents and opportunities, but to access that market place, you need to become, in many senses, a global citizen by your own effort. Self-education and self-development will be important. Second, technology in its various iterations and applications will be crucial in all and every aspect of human existence. The greater our access to technology, our adaptation and application of the ideas we have, the more successful we are likely to be.
The third is that we are today in the most advanced moment in human history, and on a daily basis, knowledge and its applications grow in leaps and bounds. For the first time in human history, anyone of us can be heard or seen all over the world by live-streaming without owning our own satellite TV station. We can share ideas with millions of people in seconds on Facebook or Instagram. It was Arthur Clarke, the British Science Fiction writer, who said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is not different anymore from magic.” If you follow some of the trends in technology over the past years, in particular, much of his statement appears true, as the coming years look set to be one of the most spectacular magic shows ever.
Last year, DeepMind, which is a learning outfit, announced that one of its healthcare algorithms could detect over 50 eye diseases as accurately as a trained doctor. Only recently, we witnessed the trial run of an Artificial Intelligence, AI, a newsreader on the Chinese Xinhua News station, and the unveiling of a digital assistant that can mimic the voice of humans with uncanny likeness. It is called ‘Google Duplex’. There are provinces in China that are now trying out AI teachers in remote villages where graduates and young people are not likely to stay. In 2018, there was a world-first recording of an Artificial Intelligence system engaged in a two-way debate with a human opponent!
The fourth and perhaps the most important point I wish to make today is that the abundance of natural resources such as we have in Nigeria, oil and several minerals, even talents, mean little or nothing unless we are able to creatively and by using innovation and adding value, add to whatever it is that we have in terms of talent or resources. Let me put it differently, the difference between poverty and wealth or mediocrity and high achievement is creativity, or the capacity and willingness to add value. This is the reason why Apple, manufacturers of the iPhone and iPad, make more money in four months than Nigeria earns from oil in one year.
Apple sells the product of the ingenuity of the human mind, ideas translated to products, services and solutions that millions are prepared to pay for. And because the capacity of the human mind for creativity, generation of ideas and for innovation and invention is limitless, the source of wealth of innovative companies and individuals is literally limitless. On the other hand, oil drilling and selling, and other extractive activities without adding value by refining and developing a whole petrochemical ecosystem cannot yield optimal profit or create the jobs and wealth. Similarly, the mere fact that you have large tracts of arable land for agriculture does not mean you will succeed in agriculture or become wealthy, or even as a nation, feed yourself. Anybody can plant a seed and expect a harvest, but the reason why most farmers, our subsistent farmers, remain relatively poor is that they add no value to what they produce by processing, packaging or making other products out of the raw harvest.
And also, because many times they do not have access to cutting-edge innovations and inventions in farm inputs and farming techniques. Those who can add value to the farmers’ harvest become wealthier than the farmer. So the growers of the raw materials are the weakest in the value chain and the poorest. For example, the man who makes chocolates from cocoa is bound to be richer than the cocoa farmer. He has added value to the raw cocoa by processing and designing and packing the chocolates in appealing wrappers.
By adding value, he will create more jobs and more wealth. So, while we will always need the traditional professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants and bankers, those adding value to their services will make more money than they can. So those developing Artificial Intelligence for giving legal advice or medical diagnoses, or accounting or banking will be more successful than the professionals themselves.
So, the future of banking and financial services doesn’t belong to banks or bankers as we know them today, it may well belong to the FinTechs and other technology-enabled solutions. For example, today we have KiaKia, which uses Artificial Intelligence and algorithms, to process loan requests in minutes and grant credit without the hassles of regular banks.
Besides, there is Kuda Bank, for example, a bank without a single physical branch with all its features built into a mobile application. There is also Eyowo, another example of a payment services company which is designed for identifying, enumerating and paying to and collecting repayments from 2.2 million TraderMoni and MarketMoni beneficiaries. They have revolutionized financial inclusion, making and receiving payments from the farthest parts of Nigeria.
There is also another company called Paystack, whose founders are just over (the age of) 30. They have developed applications that make it easier to make payments across the world. There is also InvestBamboo, for example, which was started by two 26-year-olds, and offers new ways for you to save money and invest in stocks, all from a single application.
Others have developed technologies that make it possible for you to invest in a farm without ever seeing the farm. Two Nigerian companies again, ThriveAgric and Farmcrowdy, set up by young Nigerians under the age of 35, are great examples of the service providers that help small-scale farmers scale-up, and access valuable training; and all of these done through crowdfunding.
In the world of medicine and healthcare, there is LifeBank, owned by a young Nigerian lady. This is a health tech startup, which also uses drone technology to facilitate blood delivery to various health centres. We could highlight another called 54gene, a firm that is harnessing genomic data from African DNA to revolutionize the drug industry and change the future of medicine. Even in the usually conservative legal profession, which I am the chairman, entrepreneurs are disrupting old trends.
There is a digital legal research company called Law Pavilion, the company’s digital tools help lawyers to do legal research quickly and efficiently and even answer legal questions. Judges and lawyers subscribe to it and the usage is a very lucrative value addition to legal practice. Yet the founder and CEO of the company is not even a lawyer.
So today there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their businesses around traditional professions without being professionals themselves. The most widely read online publications are neither owned nor run by trained journalists. Some of us are familiar with the news aggregation platform called Nairaland which was started by two Obafemi Awolowo University students while still in school. Today it is one of the most successful online platforms we have. Even many of the most successful online advertising or PR companies have no formal training in these disciplines, most are self-thought. My nephew, who is a lawyer, is establishing an organic farm and poultry after taking lessons online. His only knowledge is derived from taking a few classes from somebody in Kano State offering online training for people interested in poultry farming. But let me direct your minds to the new areas for job opportunities being created today. Data Science is one big area.
Currently, we leave vast amounts of personal data online and in the near future, companies will need data scientists to go through it all and generate answers to business questions and make recommendations based on their findings. Many businesses already spend time and money going through people’s data so that they can sell their products.
This is a new area of opportunities for jobs. A big area today is Content Production – 3D/2D animation, Virtual Effects and Special Effects, as well as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. The use of animation in education, entertainment and media is growing in leaps and bounds. Those who can create content with animation are being and will be much sought after in the years to come.
According to a recent survey by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, multimedia artists and animators are among the highest-paid within the US workforce. This has translated to more jobs for animators in emerging economies such as India, Vietnam and now Nigeria. The average pay of a 3D animator in Nigeria who has just started out after learning his trade could be in the region of N300,000 – N500,000 monthly.
In our training of N-Power beneficiaries, we set aside a fair amount of money to train animators. We have carried out two sets of training; one in the North and one in the South of Nigeria. In total, we have trained over 25,000 young men and women in animation. Also, remember that content is becoming more in demand with the streaming wars that have engulfed Netflix, Apple, Disney Plus, HBO and only recently, Airtel, the telecommunications provider, launched its own streaming service in Nigeria. Then we have the whole range of Cybersecurity, another big area of opportunity. Today, there are new opportunities for cybersecurity specialists. How is that? With each technological advance comes the implied addition of more security risks just to store and keep the information secure.
Therefore, cybersecurity will continue to be a growing sector. In this sense, each country will have its own specific regulations just as we have and many other international regulations, which will ensure that professionals with an advanced technological background capable of nullifying new threats posed to both technology and people, will be in demand all the time. How about 3D Printing? 3D printing is becoming an area of great need. It will become even more relevant and fundamental in the future when compared with Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Experts in 3D printing must possess creative skills with the ability to improve the profitability and applicability of models. Also, they must have computer skills and knowledge of 3D printing tools.
The Federal Government established a humanitarian hub in Adamawa State about two years ago. In that hub, young Nigerians are making artificial limbs with 3D printers for people who lost their limbs in the conflict in the North East. This is a growth area which will continue to grow because 3D printing can be applied in different ways and for many purposes. It doesn’t take a year to learn how to use 3D printers. The technical revolution from the last few decades have considerably changed the business and cultural world.
Currently, we live in an “application economy” as a result of the amount of technology and mobility that surrounds us with the smartphone applications that we depend on for everything, from mobile banking to even health monitoring. As such, it is difficult to find a reason why one shouldn’t try to find a career related to technology, especially when we consider that it is already present in everything we do; from our professions in our companies to our personal lives as consumers.
This means computer programming in one shape or form of the other, will continue to be an important skill for those seeking viable employment and decent pay. So today, the most successful businesses are those able to add value, even our culture can become a great wealth creator, but only if we add value. So just doing traditional dances is not enough, to put together 8 or 16 barefooted young men and women dancing when foreign guests are visiting cannot make enough money.
Organizing dance dramas, on the other hand, can make money. When a whole drama outfit is created with our culture and our songs, where we are able to employ a director, scriptwriter, a composer and an arranger, then it is possible to make money from our cultural dances. In our future, there is truly something for everyone. We should all take advantage of digital technology, especially social media and the various platforms on offer, to grow a customer base, gain traction and advance businesses. You can write a blog, develop a website to sell your products or even your ideas – whatever it is you know how to do best.
People are running fully-fledged commercial businesses on Instagram without a single physical shop, an opportunity only made possible by the internet. We are an entrepreneurial people, a society of multitaskers who, thanks to the virtual economy, can make a real opportunity out of anything we are passionate about.
The question for many of our young people today is: what is your passion? How can you take the skills that you have, and add value to the world around you? The future is going to depend a great deal on what we do with our passions and how we can sell what we are passionate about to millions of people around the world. I have seen videos tutorials on how to make the best soups or bake the best cakes, getting hundreds of thousands of views on Instagram and YouTube, and people advertising on them.
YouTubers like Dimma Umeh are showing us how to do makeup, how to master that highlight and contour, and she told us in one video that she made her first million from YouTube! I have also seen videos of people teaching young women how to keep their husbands, very interesting videos! Thanks to the social media age, whatever ideas and skills that you have can be leveraged for benefit.
Your knowledge is of immense importance and you have to find creative ways to take advantage of it. While it is easier than ever to sell your knowledge and skills, it has also become easier and cheaper for you to acquire them. “The Mobile Prof” in Lagos, for example, is teaching people how to code from their mobile phones, you don’t even need a laptop anymore! The future is about self-education, self-development. It is important for us to invest a little in the incredible opportunities for online education.
Years ago, it was impossible to do a specialized course in a leading international university without getting an admission, paying a lot of money and then travelling abroad. Today, you can sit in the comfort of your home and get an Ivy League education. Universities such as Harvard University and Dartmouth College, for example, offer full-time online courses on Data Science and Linux Programming through an online learning platform called EdX. This means you can learn a whole new programming language in a year, for less than it would cost you to even get to America!
There are new means of self-education and they are more accessible than you might have thought. There is no question that an exciting future lies ahead. There are breakthroughs in radical technologies, capable of disrupting whole industries, and perhaps even our very conception of work itself. For higher institutions who are getting graduates ready for the world of work, for the graduates, and new and near graduates who are here today, what does the disruption of the workforce by emerging technologies signify for both livelihoods and employment? Today, there are several important implications related to the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies that will change the way we work and our economies.
So, we have seen for example that much of what is considered analytical work by lawyers, investment bankers, accountants, and other age-old professions will be performed better by machines in a fraction of the time that humans can. There is a need to train these professionals differently, and with these new opportunities and challenges in mind.
With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Internet of Things, the world of work is in a state of flux, changing as never before, driven by inexorable forces that have an impact, not only on professional services but on manufacturing and trade, global supply chains and the digitalization of the global economy to name just a few. So, for example, the supervision work that managers do is changing rapidly and there may be no more need for it.
A young lady who owns a clothing store in Abuja and Lagos, who lives in Abuja was showing me how she can remotely see all that is going on in her shop in Lagos on her laptop in real-time. And she can speak to all her employees from her laptop in real-time. In other words, she can supervise her store herself from anywhere in the world. So, the type of manager you will need going forward will be a different type.
Education today must be education for employability, the sort of education that makes us employable and relevant in the technologies and opportunities that present themselves today. So, our university curricula must be versatile and dynamic. The focus must be on innovation, critical thinking, interdisciplinary thinking, design thinking, synergizing and collaboration with others across the world to solve problems.
The era of cramming the teacher’s notes and regurgitating for high grades is over. The graduate of the future is a problem solver, a thinker, an entrepreneur. Our educators, policymakers, schools, universities must now adapt their curricula, policies and projects to improve the skills that enable the graduate to nimbly and constantly respond to the ever-changing face of the economy and the workplace.
A student of humanities today equipped with the right skills and mindset will be a crucial part of the collaboration required to build an application that will redefine an aspect of the business. In other words, a student of History, English, Languages, without any previous scientific training or knowledge, can with the right skills being taught today, with self-teaching, develop applications that will change business and industries, earn a lot of money.
Applications are developed through collaborations; there are those that are scientists, there are those who come from the point of view of imagination and others from the point of view of design; all of them collaborating together. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was more of an artist than a computer scientist. Yet he developed some of the most incredible applications that we have ever seen and made the kind of profit that makes people wonder whether they are not in the wrong profession. A man or woman of ideas, no matter your degree, can become, in collaboration with others, the designers or owners of the next application that will make billions and create jobs for millions.
This is the exciting future ahead of us, the opportunities are limitless. I want to urge all of us, especially the young people who are here, to note that we are in the best times in the history of mankind. Let nobody tell you about the good old days. I said before, and I am quoting someone, I’m not so sure who he is, he said that “those who remind us of the good old days are probably suffering from memory loss.”
We must not allow them to keep talking about the good old days. We are in the best times possible today. And the reason why these are the best times is that we are in the most technologically advanced human history. This is the most technologically advanced moment. This is the most advanced moment in the history of mankind, we have never been advanced as we are today.
It was Fareed Zakaria, the CNN journalist, who said and I’m quoting him that, “the smartphones that we have today, have more computing powers than all of the computing power that took men to the moon on the spacecraft, all of the computing powers that were in that spacecraft, we now have a hundred times of that computing power in the smartphone that we carry about today.”
So, we are living in a time of sheer magic! We must take every advantage of it and I know the young people today, especially those in this Federal University Dutse, are rearing to go. The future is certainly bright!
Professor Yemi Osinbajo is the Vice President of Nigeria