Why are Nigerians not tapping into digital income opportunities?

As many young Nigerians battle unemployment- thanks to a situation described by the IMF as the country's first full year recession since 1991- there seems to be an obvious solution: utilizing the web for digital jobs and digital entrepreneurship! With about 90 million internet users (ranked highest in Africa and seventh in the world), and a  relatively youthful population, there is no doubt that Nigerians can earn much needed foreign exchange online. This position was strongly reinforced in 2016 when Facebook Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg, paid a visit to one of Nigeria's tech hubs in Yaba, Lagos, meeting with the young people and investing $24 million in Andela- a partly Nigerian startup.

Yet surprisingly, Nigerians have been mostly unable to tap into the full potential of the global digital market.  Besides Andela, there have doubtless been other great examples of success- like Linda Ikeji, the famed blogger and entrepreneur, and a number of digital startups that have even been able to access funding from the West. However, these are like a bucket in the ocean considering the huge number of youths trying to make their living from internet-dependent models like their counterparts in other countries. Some of the reasons for this difficulty are:

1. Difficulty in getting paid: It is surprisingly difficult (or too expensive) to make small payments to freelancers in Nigeria. The most widely accepted payment solution globally- Paypal- allows Nigerians pay through it platform but has not yet allowed them receive payments. Sadly, Paypal is the only payment solution for many of the big freelancing platforms. Even for individual arrangements, wire transfers can be time consuming and relatively expensive. Prospective clients often prefer to look to residents of other countries.

2. Inconsistent government policies: Samson Abioye, CEO of Pass.ng, a fast-growing educational startup based in Nigeria recently shared about his challenges paying for the renewal of their servers- thanks to the erratic policies of the country's Central Bank limiting Naira card usage for foreign transactions. He is not alone. Most of the people who do business online can no longer pay their bills unless they are prepared to buy dollars from the black market and then fund domiciliary accounts.

3. Higher costs of being in a global world: The Naira officially lost about one third of its value in 2016. But with the severe cut down on the usage of Naira cards, the much more expensive black market has become the main option for making foreign payments.  This implies that dollars sell for much more than the already high official amount- actually about double the cost in one year. This has forced many upcoming digital entrepreneurs to close shop already.

4. The cost of a bad name: Sadly, Nigeria has always had to cope with the baggage of cyber criminals who are (or claim to be) Nigerians. This presents credibility issues for many Nigerians on the global market. Unfortunately, with  astonishingly high levels of corruption in government, this negative brand seems very consistent. It definitely gets in the way of residents seeking to do honest business online.

As Nigeria looks to diversifying her economy and solving the massive youth unemployment problem, there is no doubt that these issues must be addressed. It would be a shame to continue wasting the vast potential resident in our greatest resource: our people!

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