INNOVATION, NIGERIA, UBER, TAXIFY: THE WORLD IS TEACHING NIGERIA SOME SERIOUS LESSONS

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I write this from Victoria Island, Lagos where I also checked out Terra Kulture after the PR that was done for it by no less than Richard Quest of CNN. I didn’t sample their jollof rice though. I just bought a book and moved on. I wondered what Quest would have thought as he was driven to and from Tiamiyu Savage Street where Terra Kulture is located. Or generally as he journeyed around the ‘posh’ areas of Lagos during his visit. I’m not quite sure he went to the ‘rougher’ zones. But what we call ‘posh’ here is called ‘shitty’ elsewhere. His verdict, which needs constant revisiting and self-reminders, is that Nigeria is a place that is governed by one ethos; “If you can buy it, why build it?” If we were wise we would not forget that statement in a hurry. We could also extend it to “If we can buy a new one, why maintain it?” You see, the English people are a deep lot. The training received by people like Quest is totally different from what we have here or what we buy from abroad. That statement is what is called a ‘considered opinion’.

I will write more about the dilapidation of the ‘posh’ houses in VI and the response that our elite have come up with; building a few glistening skyscrapers owned by a tiny few moneybags, criminals and bank debtors, and a new city for the rich called Eko Atlantic. But today I am concerned with the lessons the world is teaching us, by force, through technology.

I wrote a book on the role of technology in the creation of unemployment some years back. The topic is still on the table and worthy of further consideration. Unfortunately, that topic hardly makes it to the discussion table in our government circles even as they continue to think backwards and make all the wrong assumptions. The primacy of technology in today’s world redefines everything; the way we think, act, who we pay, who we sell to, what we buy, what we can sell, how relevant we are to our fellow men. However, as it pertains to Nigeria the key concern is how technology takes money away from our pocket and the possibilities of keeping our jobs or businesses into the near future. For those who know what’s going on in this new world, the verdict is that things will get more affordable, but the risk is that millions, perhaps billions will not find a purchase; no way to earn money to even purchase the cheap stuff that globalized companies will produce.

Let’s look at what Uber has done (and is doing) to Nigeria. Uber is an Application you can load on your phone and at a click, you can call a private taxi near wherever you are, to take you to wherever you want to go. In a place like New York it solves a great deal of problems. A black man caught in the peak of traffic anywhere in Manhattan will find it tough to catch a Yellow Cab. Taxi drivers have been known to discriminate. Even corporate guys in Wall Street usually fight over cabs at peak hours. Therefore Uber is making a kill because all you have to do is call on someone with a neat car from nearby. The company soon decided to extend the idea to other countries. It takes a cut from every taxi fare. That is billions of Dollars yearly.

What did it do to Nigeria? Our usually lousy taxi drivers started quarrelling with the idea. If they discover an Uber driver ‘taking their business’, they gang up and beat him up. In the usually lousy and rowdy Lagos Airport where they usually shout at the top of their lungs and are thoroughly disorganized, they have lately banned Uber and I suspect they have jammed the company’s website. However, other smart Alecs are coming up. Taxify is another company with Headquarters in Estonia. They are taking a share of the market. A Nigerian, Michael Nnamadim has started another company called Oga Taxi. We are seeing a groundswell of smart companies in this area, who are competing with Uber, but most importantly, squeezing Lagos’ lazy taxi drivers to a sure end. For how long will the old taxi drivers beat up technology? Even the cars they drive are a product of technology, no matter how old or banged up they are. Where were they when the white man sat down and imagined, and produced a wheel, an engine, a car, a computer, the internet and an App?

So perhaps the first lesson we are being taught is the necessity to think outside the box, and that all our fixation on extractive resources is sheer nonsense. We are not thinking at all. Uber’s gross bookings in 2016 was $20billion, bigger than Nigeria’s federal budget. It takes a cut of between 15% and 25% from every trip, so its gross earnings for that year was about $6.5billion. A single company earns more than a third of our federal budget, which we cannot even fund as we will have to borrow from countries like China and the USA to fulfill almost half of our projected revenue. And we are still talking of crude oil and solid minerals!? And our government people still find the moral justification to spend our grossly inadequate revenue on items of luxury that government officials in China and the USA would dare not touch because public outcry!?

I was wary of Uber for patriotic reasons as they take 25% from Nigerian drivers. Some of the trips are so cheap – like N300 – that I wonder what would be left to the drivers after his oga may have collected his own. But then there is a second lesson that Uber (and the rest of the developed world) is teaching Nigerians. Never let you asset sit and rot. I drove past the state liaison offices at Ahmadu Bello Way in VI today. All of them boarded up, uninhabited, decrepit, collapsing where they stand. The governors of the states have moved on. Elsewhere, they ensure that resources are optimized. Uber and its competitors are helping Nigerians make use of their extra cars rather than leave them to rot. And also, to make good use of their times. Anyone could be an Uber driver, once you have a car that is good enough to qualify. The money may not be too fantastic but one can survive on it. And that is another lesson.

For at the end of the day, we don’t all have to become kidnappers. We have to quickly get out of that mentality that wants to own the whole world in order to impress. All we really need is for us to pay our bills and live decent lives. In Nigeria, we are today at war with ourselves; at war with the world. The problem is, the world doesn’t even know that we are at war with it and couldn’t be bothered because ours is at best the ranting of an ant.

Other lessons are inside the Uber car. The driver is rated for neatness, for courtesy, for honesty, for friendliness…. even the kind of music he plays in the car! A number of them cannot get rid of their innate behaviors but over time, but I believe the lesson will sink. NURTW (Up National!) and its affiliates have never believed that coutrtesy, neatness and friendliness with customers was important. They became willing tools in the hands of politicians instead. They became billionaires, but technology is coming for NURTW and the rest of inefficient Nigeria, including our politicians. It’s a matter of time.

Perhaps I should add that Nigerians are also being made to learn Trust. More random Nigerians are engaged in taxi driving these days, and that requires picking up total strangers and trusting them to do right by you. Technology also helps. Some people have shown a lot of stupidity. An Uber driver with a criminal mind may sometimes forget that all his details are in the system. A few criminal customers also forget and try to commit crimes. In time it will be clear that with technology you’d be a fool to commit a crime because you’ll be found out. Anyway, let’s try and encourage our own young men getting involved on different platforms. It pays. The world is moving on.

 

Written by: Tope Fasua (CEO, GLOBAL ANALYTICS CONSULTING LIMITED)

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