Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander The Great) was only 20 years old when he became emperor. At age 30, he had created one of the largest empires in history and most of the standardisation of infrastructure in the world to this day was as a result of his conquests. My father reminded me of this when I turned 30, and before he died, when I turned 40, he always kept telling me that Barrack Obama became President of the USA when he was 48. My father always kept me grounded, and Alexander was one of the reasons why I started a technology business in my early 20s. He was a great inspiration.
In Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon became Head of State when he was only 32 years old. My uncles were in their 30s when they took over one of the largest banks in the country. Young people taking charge is not new to us. In fact, our civil war started indirectly as a result of soldiers also barely in their 30s who decided to take charge in the 1966 coup.
Taking charge of elections
Femi Taiwo is a young Nigerian in technology who also takes charge of things. His company INITS built the software that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) uses to run Nigerian elections. Femi offered this software free of charge to INEC at a time when people were making billions of Naira from other government contracts. He decided to do it because it is second nature for him to solve problems.
Femi was lucky that INEC had another visionary young person who was in charge of technology at that time. He gave INITS a chance to prove themselves. I am sure that after two successful election cycles now, INITS is ready to scale the software to other African countries.
When we keep saying that the future of Nigeria belongs to the younger people, it is the younger people in technology who believe in getting things done without making excuses or waiting for permission that would probably make the greatest difference. Gbenga Sesan and Sheriff Shittu are other great examples of such people.
Taking charge of talent
Sheriff Shittu is a developer, product manager and serial entrepreneur who had one of the most spectacular entrepreneurship failure stories this year. He was not ashamed to tell the world that he had failed and why he failed. He, however, bounced back from that setback to start the unlikeliest of ventures named “Switch.” As the name implies, Switch helps people to move from other careers to technology. He has already trained and placed his first cohort.
Sheriff decided to do this when he discovered that there was a talent gap. Everyone was looking for developers to build software locally, but nobody was training them or would give people coming in from outside technology a chance. There are a lot of individuals who are underemployed or unhappy in their careers while there are a lot of companies looking for talent but cannot afford to train them. Switch bridges this gap with training and placement. Sheriff simply took charge of the situation.
Taking charge of technology policy and regulation
Gbenga Sesan is a legend in the Nigerian technology space, and he has been one of the greatest forces shying away from publicity while getting things done. He has taken on the biggest problems facing technology in Nigeria singlehandedly and keeps fighting to make a difference for the good of all without seeking any personal reward for himself. He is the founder of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria a social impact venture that has done things too numerous to mention. He has mentored and trained more students still in university with the TENT series and went to the slums of Ajegunle to set up a technology training centre.
Once you have a problem and tell Gbenga, he takes it up as his personal battle and does not rest until the problem is solved. He is currently fighting the government on Internet freedom and digital rights. He has personally taken on the National Assembly on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. His work on technology policy has support from all the major players globally. Gbenga did not need permission from anyone to take charge and solve these problems.
Taking charge of our future
With people like Femi, Sheriff, Gbenga and others taking on the public sector, talent discovery, policy and regulation we can beat our chests in the technology industry that we are contributing our share to the development of the country without asking for rewards. Progress for all is enough reward. I believe that more self-motivated and mission-driven people like them are still coming and I see a future where more people take charge.
We were discussing the next national census on Twitter recently and asked why the INEC database powered by Femi’s software could not become the basis for an early effort to help government and the private sector tackle the problem of getting accurate demographic data for planning purposes? There are a lot of databases lying around that could be interfaced and aggregated to give a clearer picture of our numbers. We don’t have to wait for a crisis before building something similar to Ushahidi in Kenya. There were many volunteers on the day we had the conversation, and the project is currently undergoing preliminary discussions.
Nigerian technology people are taking charge as individuals. 2017 may be the year we will see them collectively take charge of things as a group, to solve our most pressing problems. The seeds have now been sown. It does not have to be about making a billion dollars. Solving the problems of a 170 million people helps to create the kind of Nigeria where we would all love to live.