How Africapitalism Can Bring Prosperity and Change to The North East of Nigeria

Nigeria, December 5, 2017//-Very sadly, all our efforts to invite Mr. Tony Elumelu, the founder and proponent of this game-changiing philosophy, Africapitalism, to our anniversary on November 11 to give us a talk on how the concept, which he very fondly theorised as ‘democratisation of luck’, will bring prosperity to the North East and change the lives of the people, failed.

To start with, I became an Africapitalist in 2015–if at all I was not born one; but my first contact with the whole idea was in October 14, 2017. This perhaps, is to mean I was an Africapitalist well before I knew I was one.

Simply put, let me, as prompted by the academic in me, note that Africapitalism as propounded by Mr. Elumelu is a philosophy that seeks to redefine the entire conception of business and entrepreneurship in Africa–where right now we are faced with a record-time unemployment, poverty and an increasing population of young men and women between the ages of 19 and 40.

More than any other time, these realities call for a very thorough sober reflections across board by all of us if at all we hope in the future to have a better living condition for our children, for our continent.

We may probably appreciate the gravity of what is before us if we pay attention to what has already become of our continent because of joblessness, poverty and hunger, even much more worsened by bad leadership.

Let’s, for now, ignore the reinvention of slave trade in Libya where Africans sell fellow Africans; in the North East where I come from, where we have a population of 20 million Africans–young men and women who would have contributed to the growth of the continent, were they given the privilege and supported by the right persons, unfortunately took up arms against the state and their very own kith and kin.

In a period of just seven years, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, livelihoods, businesses and markets destroyed. We have at hand over one million displaced persons cramped in makeshift IDP camps.

To me, this is no more than a wake-up call, for, as a matter of fact, bad as it is, these are mere symptoms of what is looming. The problem, another reality I have to hurriedly add, is beyond what our governments can handle.

Everyone who wants a better life and experience for future generations has to stand up and fight for it. Yes, to many of us today, life starts and ends with the individual and it is therefore not our business what happens to the rest of the community so long as we drive the best cars that can well build a school, sleep in the most luxurious mansions and stay in airconditioned facilities to work; but just before this sinks, it has to be noted that your children, grandchildren and their children are and will be an extention of yourself and whatever you do today is what will become of them.

Like many of us, Mr Elumelu is one of the few people who’s worried about these realities–and who, in addition, went further to look for a sustainable solution to them. His concept, Africapitalism, goes to say that African private sector should, besides profits, be able to bring social prosperity and economic development to the African society.

He simply meant that African businesses should be able to create jobs, develop infrastructures and help the continent grow–a truism that has to be embraced by all and sundry.

Now, myself and a few of us started YERWA EXPRESS NEWS in 2016 or so. The reason we started it wre simple.

Whenever I return to Maiduguri, I am confronted by an incurable guilt. I keep receiving guests, I mean agile youths like me, many of them older and more qualified than me in all estimation, coming to ‘greet me’.

The most itching thing is that, one, I am not anywhere close to deserving it. Two, some of them would, even at that, lie to me in a bid to convince me to help them out of problems they genuinely have.

It is sad when you know that the problems they are facing are genuine–and even sadder that what they need for which all the lies had to be concocted is what you see young boys in Abuja spend within whiskers to watch in Spars, Silverbird and in Maitama for stunts!

Most of them, in what is severely baffling, have pocketed degrees and diploma certificates in computer science, engineering, physics, sociology, among other things.
Where one was positioned to help a small fraction of them, indeed very rarely, they almost go whacko in gratitude. I would receive calls from their old parents, some would even come over, to let me know how grateful they are.

But my helplessness is in the fact that I know these people need something beyond this. A graduate of, for instance, computer needs a job–a capital to start a software company, an environment where he or she can put his or her ideas, possibly world-changing ones, to work or an inspiration that will drive him or her to dare pursuing his/her dreams and hopes. That’s what they need; not little financial assistance that cannot last a day.

I was sad I was myself an employee working tirelessly to earn a modest living. The best I can do, in the situation is, as a writer, write on my columns to draw the attention of the government to provide jobs for them and encourage businesses.

But the story doesn’t change the next time I would return; it rather, unfortunately, would only worsen. Helpless, I started thinking of what I could do as an individual, beyond lamentations. This was really weird considering that my earning was nothing to write home about.
What finally broke the camel’s back was an encounter I had with some people in Lagos in 2015 who were really amazed, almost to the point of disbelief when I mentioned that I flew in from Maiduguri International Airport.

The shock it gave them was understandable–in fact, it was the least some of us have seen. Unfortunately as a student of History, my evaluation of every comment and remark about and particularly against Borno is affected by my little sense of its history.

But the truth is that, many till date only know Borno and most of the region for Boko Haram, Shekau, Chibok girls…in spite of our coming in a year or so ago to change the narrative. Of course, a lot more has to be done.

The experience in Lagos reminded of the need to step in. In 2012, 2013 and even 2014, I was among the few who had been talking about Borno when everyone was afraid. I did a syndicated reporting, sometimes using pen names, for various media outlets at the risk of my life. In fact, the idea of anonymous reporting and pen names was suggested by some of my publishers because of how risky it was to reveal my identity.

Just so that they don’t fall victims, because, then, associating with someone like me was enough to invite Boko Haram’s wrath on them, where they, indeed, survive military crackdown, my on friends from childhood keep away from me. I was doing it to draw the attention of the rest of the world to what was happening to us. No doubt, the problem in the state was worsened by the media black it suffered.
So, the desire to provide job opportunities to our people, inspire them to start something positive and to tell the story of the region and its people did not stop hunting me until I had disengaged from my job and return to the region to see to it! When I returned to start YENews, an entirely dangereous project and perhaps at a time people were fleeing, I was hopeless myself as to how or even whether it would ever work.

On arrival, I met Mohammed Ali, our present head of IT, Abubakar Gambo, our head of marketing, adverts and branding, along with few others to discuss the possibility. They supported the idea and we got started. What did I do afterwards?

I went back to meet the same young men and women like me but who had nothing to do, some of whom were my students at some point and who have always been the reason for my concern, to tell them the new plans. They were convinced to join me but as expected some swept off the idea because it was difficult for any such idea as presently is the case to germinate in the North East.

Those who were convinced joined us without any conditions. The biggest luck we had was bringing everyone who agreed to join us to understand the dreams, the objectives and most importantly, the need and essence of what we are doing.

Before I could say Jack Robinson, we grew from 4 to 10 to 15 and about 25 in one year–with some joining me to resign from their jobs! Do not forget that all of us until about six months on were crammed in one office–donated to us by Babazannah Abdulkarim before things could settle.

Those who know the situation in the region would understand how difficult it is to run a business like our own. I particularly don’t want to talk about the experience. The good thing out of the whole thing is that, one way or the other, we have touched the lives of many people–particularly the 25 people we work with.

Apart from that, we also have the conviction, of course at the risk of being accused of being our own judges, that what we do has touched hundreds of lives. I am happy when I carried a story beginning of this year about a glaucoma patient who was on the verge of losing his sight but was helped by Haj. Nana Shettima to go through a surgery that saved his life.

Our decision to start YENews is, in short, to help our people–through provision of job opportunities, inspirations, creating network/connections as well as changing the negative narratives of war that have become the only available ‘truth’.

We did not want to give Boko Haram the chance to recruit them or its venomous idea a chance to mislead these vibrant youths; we want them to work for Africa, we want to bring out the Steve Jobs and Jack Mas in them! This is what no one can do for us.

If therefore, our people in the North East particularly those in the private sector redefine their conception of business by adopting Africapitalism, a lot will change in the region.

Till date, rich men in the region will rather build fuel stations and houses to give out on rent. Very few think towards business enterprises that will bring prosperity and development to the region.

We are not scared that at least 55 to 60 % of the 20 million people we have in the region are youths! For instance, we have the highest level of illiteracy in the nation, but our businessmen and women would rather build hotels in Abuja, Lagos and Kaduna instead of schools or skill acquisition centres!

Unfortunately even our leaders, when they bamboozle our wealth, prefer to go to these places to invest, sadly at that, in things that add no value to the community. They want international non-governmental organisations to do it for them! Impossible! This is the reality of the North East today!


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