The internet penetration rate in Nigeria this year stands at 51%, with 83.94 million internet users. In February, the number of active internet subscriptions rose to 143.6 million within the country.
While the internet is the bedrock of every digital economy, persuading people to explore all its horizons has proven to be a real feat. Nigeria, with a population of over 190 million people, remains largely dependent on oil and agriculture for revenue generation while its digital economy is still in its infancy.
Ill-informed or intentional?
Ignorance and illiteracy have accrued the blame for many actions and decisions throughout history, from highly charged criminal offences, down to the smallest mistakes and failures. One way or another, there has always been room to blame some errors or flaws on a lack of foreknowledge. But is this what is afflicting Nigeria’s economy?
Over the weekend, I took the liberty of asking more than a dozen friends and acquaintances (who asked to remain anonymous), 4 questions and the answers were worth writing this article about.
Question #1: What does the phrase “digital economy” mean to you?
Scholars have largely described the digital economy as any aspect of the economy that is dependent on or driven by digital technologies. The purpose of this question was to understand how well these respondents understood the concept and the responses provided showed that the term was no longer foreign to them.
“In my understanding, a digital economy is like an easier and faster way to make/earn money online using a digital device that has access to the Internet,” one respondent said.
“Digital economy means economy relating to computers and the information age,” another added.
Another easily concluded with the words, “I think the digital economy is the fastest means of trading because we are in a digital world.”
Question #2: How many digital skills do you have?
Easy question, right? True. It’s all about numbers. However, while some people can count the number of digital skills they’ve acquired thus far, others have never had the opportunity or interest to acquire any of them.
Of the 13 people who took part in this survey, six had no digital skills whatsoever. Although neither of them lacks access to smartphones or the internet, most of them limit their digital interactions to social media.
Question #3: How well do you trust online platforms where money can be earned by playing, trading or referring, such as affiliate marketing? And why?
“To me, anything that has to do with referrals, especially affiliate marketing, I don’t patronize the idea. This is because these things aren’t straightforward. There’s no accountability to it,” a respondent said.
“I’ll say 50%. The reason is that, although most online platforms indeed pay, they are still mostly volatile. And the number of cyber attackers is even much more than the number of online operators. I’ve observed that these platforms are so vulnerable to attacks, hence endangering stakeholders’ wealth and data. These online platforms to me are just a huge risk,” another explained.
Most of them could list the terrible experiences they have had with scammers and cybercriminals in the past, and these experiences have left negative imprints on their judgment of online means of income.
Question #4: If you could choose between a remote means of employment and a physical one, which would you go for? And why?
Here, the opinions became a lot more conflicting as every one of these respondents shared different views as to how they would rather work and why.
“I would choose a remote means of employment. Because it would grant me more convenience and security than a physical job would,” said a respondent.
“I would go the remote way because the world is digital already… I’ll like to move with new tech because it’s easier and faster to use,” another asserted.
Another respondent leads the opposition, saying, “I would choose a physical job. Because I believe that if anything goes wrong I have someone to hold responsible, unlike in a remote scene.”
“I like being physically useful. I like what makes me utilise my intellectual knowledge and also gives me an avenue to appear physically. I like waking up in the morning, dressing well and leaving my home. And most physical workplaces or firms are legitimate and hardly fold up,” another responded.
Yet a few of these respondents believe that both remote and physical employment can find an equilibrium; “I wouldn’t think twice before going for a physical job. But then I can also remotely run other stuff. This is because I need something I can fall back on if there’s an issue such as the remote job crashing or anything of the sort.”
The underlying reason(s) behind the caution
Alfred Dakogol is an affiliate marketer, a GenZ with a knack for technology and the digital economy. For the past 3 years, he’s been coaching himself and grabbing every available opportunity to build tech skills that will make an impact. However, he recalls that the journey hasn’t been completely smooth sailing.
“It hasn’t been easy. Especially with the fact that the country is haunted by evildoers. My loved ones and I have fallen victim to scammers and their mishaps in the past. This has sown the seed of distrust among so many of them, but I chose to never let that discourage me,” he said.
He explained that although most people know and have witnessed the prospects of technology and the digital age, the activities of malevolent actors and dubious attacks have left so many extremely cautious.
Daniel Malle, a fellow tech enthusiast affirms this with a theory of his own that includes myths and misconceptions into the mix.
He said, “I’ve heard a few myths about technology and its adoption. The most recurring one is how many people believe that they have to be gifted and special before they can do well in tech. It’s absurd!”
What can be done to fix this?
Having an open mind towards new possibilities and opportunities is a great start to building anything. To this end, Dakogol concluded with advice for fellow Nigerians when he said, “If we could give ourselves a little bit of trust, I believe we will surely make a change in the ecosystem. I’m not saying we should just trust blindly but we should surround ourselves with people of legitimate value. Let our network by our net worth.”
“As a remedy, I would suggest more orientation and sensitization outreaches through events like workshops, boot camps, etc”, Malle added. This, according to him, is also paramount as proper education and enlightenment are key to building faith and trust in the heart of stakeholders.
The reason for this survey was to understand some of the challenges and concerns Nigerians still face in terms of adopting the digital economy. From these responses and suggestions, it has been shown that there is still a need to build trust, first, among all stakeholders involved, before any further intervention can be successful.
This also points to the need for more surveys like this, potentially revealing the opinions of people who live within the community, to help find solutions to underlying challenges within the ecosystem.