The writings of an intense journalist

Monday, 30 June 2008

Using Internet to Conquer Poverty

Nigerians have new places to hangout on the internet. Many no longer visit the net only to browse the profiles of government agencies, the latest result of the English Premier League, and free websites such as Google and Yahoo for information and sundry activities. The young ones are not only browsing the websites of educational institutions to search for admission requirements or to pay the fees which these institutions may demand as a requirement for starting the school session.

The days may be ending where many Nigerians merely use the net to open their boxes to send and to receive e-mails or to contact people abroad in order to swindle them of their hard-earned money through one scam or the other. Many people may be shifting from sending photographs, addresses, and the like to attract foreign women to persuade or trick them into marriage.

The places many Nigerians increasingly visit are thousands of websites dotted here and there on the internet where there may be prospect to make some honest money. They became aware of these websites through seminars, word-of-mouth, workshops, training programmes, and random browsing. These websites are designed by nationalities of other nations, but they are being increasingly being designed by Nigerians who do not want to be left out of the boundless opportunities that are present on the web...

After spending years being indoctrinated on the impossibility of survival without gainful employment, many of these Nigerians are shaking away this dogma. Taking a cue from their contact with others on the net and the stories they hear about the experiences of citizens of other nations, they are seeing the economic importance of the web through honest work.

Statistics are scarce, but there is a lot of evidence to show that the way Nigerians use the internet is subtly undergoing a change as many are increasingly seeing the medium as a means to generate income in order to tackle the perennial problems of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and other economic problems that afflict a sizeable number of people.

“Sincerely, there is virtually no information that cannot be obtained from the internet,” said Ajila Abitogun, an e-commerce businessman. “Surfing the internet can make you to get a new skill or business opportunity.”

These days a lot of Nigerians are agreeing with him. Those who are not deriving income directly from the net use it as a gateway to be trained to get one skill or the other to enable them to make money. Some others see the internet as a source to get the machinery, the training, the savvy, the information, and the know-how for a purpose which will enable them to generate an income. Still others provide service that enables them to earn an income directly from their knowledge about how the internet was built.

The internet was not always used this way by many Nigerians, who first saw it as a way to dupe foreigners. This led to many youths to visit the thousands of cybercaf├ęs that dot the country, contacting foreigners, telling them that there was a large of amount of money to be transferred to their accounts if they were willing to pay some money upfront, invariably duping them when the upfront money was advanced.

But when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) started to raid cybercaf├ęs, arresting many suspected to be engaged in cyber crime, clamping them in cells, and releasing them only after paying large sums of money for bail, many started to have a rethink about using the net for cyber criminal activities.

Along with this development, many Nigerians, especially graduates, would spend many years trekking the streets in search of white-collar jobs and getting none. The oil economy that had propelled prosperity in the 70s and the 80s was no longer dynamic enough to absorb them. Their certificates, once a passport to a comfortable middle-class existence, a car and a house, was now irrelevant in the scheme of things. A new approach had to be focused on if the battle against poverty and unemployment was to be won.

"With the help of the internet, I have learnt that so many businesses are in existence which are unique and different from the run-of-the-mill ones," said Abitogun. "I got the idea for my business from the internet. I didn't have to travel abroad. Having made an order for the machines, I paid for the cargo, and it was brought to my doorstep." During the course of investigating this story, this reporter learnt about former office typists, dissatisfied with the amount of money they earned as salary, acquiring the skills to function as web designers and increasing their wages. Graduate degree holders in physics dropped their certificates in their cupboards and engaged themselves in website multimedia design businesses. Unemployed graduates were checking through the career links of online companies for information about vacant jobs and applying for them. Others were attending courses on the internet in order to apply for job slots which needed computing
skills. Still others upgraded their skills through the internet in order to clinch choice jobs during interviews.

Many Nigerians insist that rather than the internet to be seen as a negative medium where hundreds of people are duped of their money, it should be perceived as a means to solve the economic problems of the teeming army of the unemployed. Said Gbenga Ojo, a web designer: "First, I went into hardware engineering. I was doing network and wireless networking. Later, I discovered that I was better in graphic designing and programming and that is what I do now." Another Nigerian, who prefers not to have his name on print, stated that he was encouraged to start browsing through the internet because of the tales he had heard about the job opportunities which existed on it. After four years of browsing and not making any breakthrough, he stumbled on the fascinating idea of using internet marketing to sell products which a lot of people needed. "I bought the e-book for beginners, where I was taught the step-by-step method of how to use the 'forum system' to
discover peoples' needs, create them, and deliver it to them," he said. Instead of abandoning the e-book in one corner to gather dust, he set about using the idea to create products and to market them, and he has been in that line of business ever since. Others traced their present positive outlook of the net to the fact that they were able to get connected to online outsourcing websites, where they operated as programmers by writing articles for internet marketers, online companies, website owners, and others. Said Tunde Adebimpe: "I write for on a regular basis. People who have projects for execution send them out so that we programmers can bid to do the work. The successful programmer in the bidding process gets to do the project. I have been doing this for some time now." Some other people visit the internet to search the database of online companies for vacant jobs and apply for them. Said Okonkwo Emmanuel, a manager of a company:
"In 2004, I heard about Jidaw and I enrolled. After the A+ computer and network engineering training, I became a professional techie. I then applied for a job on Jidaw's career link. The interview was conducted online, and I was the only successful applicant." Investigation by this reporter show that a number of people attend seminars on online foreign exchange trading and at the end of the course become involved in the business. Another way by which many Nigerians combat poverty and underemployment is by having websites designed for them so their presence on the internet can attract business to their companies. Said Phillip Obin, a businessman: "Many people will be persuaded if they learn a little more about you, your company, and products without having to call you or to meet you in person." He said that through an online means a company can easily be accessed for contact information, employment opportunities, product announcement, and investor
information just by visiting its website. Some Nigerians increase their income by undertaking to design websites for companies and being paid for the service. Kehinde James, a web designer, said he undertook some training before he could get involved in this line of business. He said:"One attribute of this job is that it does not require a huge capital to start it."

This reporter's investigation reveals that the use of the various resources of the internet has impacted on the lives of many Nigerians as it has enabled them to cope with many of their economic problems. The internet marketer who didn't want his name on print stated:” I decided to act on the e-book I bought. I used the 'forum system', and my online income increased from an average of $50 daily to over $2,100 in the first week."

Those who are involved in carrying out writing projects that are outsourced on the internet say the experience is worthwhile from an economic viewpoint. Adebimpe says: "I've already started to make some money. When I get some track record of successful job completions, the sky will be the limit. I definitely will leave my full-time job."

For those who access the internet for job vacancies and get trained by it to enable them to get their choice jobs, the story is no different. Okonkwo said: "I got to where I am by the grace of God, as I'm now the manager of a company called Central Link Nigeria Limited. And I'm so glad that Jidaw's e-solutions and training made the difference."

A few people access the internet as a medium to get ideas to start their business. "I got the idea of my business from the internet," stated Abitogun. "I also got the machines through the internet too."

However, a lot of Nigerians are sceptical of the view that the internet can play a part to enable people to tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment. "It's not a reliable way of making money to survive," said Chukwuma Ibezute, a publisher. "If you're looking for a job, do something practical about it."

But some who see the potentials of the internet as a source of job creation scoff at this view. Said Abitogun: "A lot of our people fear too much. Some people even fear the internet. We seem to be carried away by job hunting and cannot think of creating jobs for ourselves. We must create time to think and learn new things."

Other critics see the internet as a medium to open people to be duped by all sorts of scammers. Asks one critic: "How do you prevent yourself from being duped by 419ners? I see the internet as a place where you have job scams, where 419 people operate. It's better not to take risks by going to the internet."

But online companies with career links are aware of the risk of people being duped through job scams. "Don't pay money for getting a job," stated a warning on the website of Jidaw Systems Limited. "Don't disclose your personal/financial information to people or organisations you don't know. No responsible employment agency will charge or ask you for money."

Many Nigerians have not only learnt to take this advice, they have also found a way to get past job scams and dubious projects that are being posted everywhere on the internet. As more and more people begin to wise up to the idea that full employment may not be the solution to their problems of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment, they will hang out more on sites on the internet that will solve their problems. On these sites, they will discover that it is not the degree they possess that counts but the talent they have to display to millions of people the world over who use the internet.

1 comment:

matthew said...

Hi there Adetokunbo,
I'm interested in getting in touch with you for a project I'm working on but can't find any contact details ...
can you email me?