Wednesday, 2 November 2016

(116): Why Nigerian youth were unable to create Google and Facebook

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships,” said Michael Jordan, in one of the most powerful statements ever made by a sports icon.

The responses I received on my article last week on how Nigerian youth can utilize the current recession to create jobs and stand on their feet inspired the writing of this piece. As individuals, a number of Nigerian youth are smart, intelligent and resilient.

About 11 years ago, I purchased a new mobile phone in the UK via a contract with Vodafone. I wanted to travel to Nigeria before the end of the contract.  I went to Vodafone and asked them to unlock the phone for me, so that when I arrive home, I can use a Nigerian sim. It was few days before my trip.

Vodafone told me then, that it would take about two weeks to unlock the phone. They mentioned the long process, which I was not ready to wait for.  I went to the shop nearby that sells second hand mobile phones to ask for help. They told me that they can unlock the phone, but it would take a few days. “Good bye,” I said. Before I walked out of the shop, the gentleman, a British-Pakistani asked me, “Where are you from?” Nigeria, I responded. “You don’t have problem, there are smart guys over there, they will fix it for you,” he said. I smiled and left.

On my arrival in Kano, Nigeria, I asked one of my brothers for help. He told me that he would take it to some phone repairers at Daula Hotel. He assured me that they will fix it, and so they did immediately.

The repairers at Daula Hotel where able to unlock my phone because they have one major quality, thinking out of the box. For you to innovate, you have to disobey conventions, something Nigerians are good at doing. One of my childhood friends, who is now an IT guru in Abuja, defied conventions in the early 1990s. He created a satellite dish using florescent lamp. The satellite was able to receive signals from CNN. It was the talk of the town, and to date, he remains an IT genius.

If my friend who created the satellite dish, and the phone repairer who unlocked my phone were brought up in the Bay area in San Francisco, the global hub of innovation, perhaps, they might have been the founders of Google or Facebook. However, they were unable to progress and become the equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates because one fundamental ingredient of innovation was missing. It is called innovation ecosystem. To say it differently, what where the chances of Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin  inventing Google if they were working in Nigeria?

Nigerians are individually intelligent. Many of us have studied with, or knew people who are innovative; some of them have graduated with first class honours in engineering, law or accounting. Some of them who were lost to brain drain are doing exceptionally well in their chosen professions in Europe, North America and Asia. Nevertheless, their stories simply remain stories, because the country was unable to benefit from the fruits of their geniuses. They went into oblivion because there is neither public nor private structure that could bring them together to work as a team and invent the technologies that could be the Nigerian equivalent of Google or Facebook.

I attended an executive education programme last year on innovation and entrepreneurship organized by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. As part of the programme, we visited one of the innovation hubs in Boston, the Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC). It was a skyscraper established privately by MIT graduates Timothy Rowe and Andrew Olmsted. Inside the building were cubicles and offices, fully furnished. There is kitchen, private sitting areas, meeting rooms and anything required to make a person comfortable at work.

Young entrepreneurs and students after graduation rent a space at the centre.  In some sections of the building, it is just a laptop table, because that is what they can afford. The entrepreneurs spend the first few months or years at the centre, thinking and coming up with business ideas. The beauty of it is, once you need help to fine-tune your ideas and thoughts; you will find somebody next to you to offer a helping hand. You can see the entrepreneurs working in groups in some areas. On regular basis, investors visit the centre and interact with the members.

If they find an idea interesting, they invest in it. The centre has large offices for rent in case the idea reach an implementation stage. The surrounding environment, particularly Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were part of the larger ecosystem. One of the successful innovations that came from CIC was Android, the operating system you possibly used to download the app that helps you to read this article. The start-up that became Yahoo also started there. On our way out, we saw a group of young entrepreneurs and students coming into the centre from China. A powerful statement on how China supports the youth to make a difference.

Despite the challenges faced by Nigerian youth in testing their ideas in order to join the league of global innovators, I remain optimistic that the future is bright. Notwithstanding the difficulty in the land, I still see glimpses of hope. In the next article, God willing, I will present some ideas on how Nigerian youth can work together as a team to create an innovation ecosystem that could help their cause.



Sunday, 23 October 2016

(115): Recession, Innovation and the Nigerian Youth

The youth of a country are its greatest assets. During my last visit to Nigeria, I saw that asset at work. Many of these youths are working hard to earn a living; others are sitting comfortably waiting for manna to fall free of charge. One example of such hardworking youths was the taxi driver who took me from the airport to the city of Abuja.

You can tell that life is not easy for this young man. Despite the obvious hardship and difficulty he was going through, he remains optimistic. What made his story even more interesting was that there are thousands of youths like him who feel too big to do the kind of business he is engaged in to earn a living.

On our way to the city, I became curious about the story of this driver. I asked him to tell me more about his experience in life. It turned out that he is a graduate from the University of Port Harcourt. After searching for job endlessly, he decided to take his life in his own hands. He asked his uncle who works in the United States for help. The uncle decided to buy a taxi for him.

What impressed me the most is that he has big ambitions. He was using the taxi as a means of making connections, so that one day he could meet the right person who would help him find the right job, or engage him in a business. When he makes a break through, he intends to support his family, establish a successful business- and as you might guess-achieve the dream of many Nigerians, ‘travel abroad.’  I don’t blame him, many of us grew up hoping to travel, study or live abroad.

Having ‘connections’ or ‘long leg’ are words/phrases you commonly hear among our youths. Our society has sacrificed merit so much that people believe that their effort will never bring success. For one to make it, he has to know somebody, who knows someone somewhere, before he could be fixed in the right place. Largely, people have a point, but they are not completely right. As I told many of the youths I spoke with, favour has a limit. If you work hard, pray and remain consistent, one day your chance will come.

With Nigeria officially in recession, I believe Nigerian youths have a great opportunity. The opportunity to create businesses that could provide income for them and provide jobs for others. Some of the best inventions and businesses in the world were created during recession.
In today’s essay, I would like to look at innovation as a mechanism for Nigerian youth to get themselves out of the economic recession that is biting hard.

In doings so, I would like to share the story of one of the most interesting innovations of this century. The story of the hotel chain, Airbnb.

I chose the story of Airbnb because it is a simple innovation that turned into a multibillion-dollar industry, estimated to be worth $25 billion.

Airbed and breakfast, the full name of the company was an idea conceived by students in San Francisco who were struggling to pay rent and earn a decent living. Like the taxi driver who drove me from the airport, they decided to take their lives in their own hands. However, what is even more impressive was they didn’t think about ‘connections’ and ‘long leg’. They look at the opportunities in the city, and decided to create a business out of these.

In 2007, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky came up with an idea of converting their apartment into a source of income. They were aware that a design conference would take place in the city of San Francisco, and hotel accommodation will be a big problem. So they decided to purchase three air mattresses; they created a new website called, and advertised to conference participants seeking for budget accommodation. They used their cooking skills to prepare breakfast for their guests. The idea became successful, and they invited another schoolmate, Nathan Blecharczyk to join them.

A simple idea by unemployed university graduates has become a multibillion-dollar industry operating in every part of the world. So what is the lesson for Nigerian youths, especially university graduates?

Well, I will simply say your university degree is simply a tool, and a license to be different, to think differently and create an opportunity that can make a difference. 

I am not naïve about the context and the challenges that youths face in this period of economic recession in Nigeria. However, with technology at your disposal, particularly the explosion of the digital mobile and telephony industry, this recession might be your chance to create a job for yourself and others. 

Just like the Airbnb college graduates, look around you, think of an idea, be humble and pursue it with dedication and keep striving to make things better. Innovation does not have to be disruptive. 

You do not need to create Google or Facebook to be considered innovative. Just look around your neighborhood, identify a need and think for a business solution; and who knows, you might be the next innovator-in-chief in your community.




Tuesday, 11 October 2016

(114): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (IV)

As we set our foot in to the Mosque-Cathedral, on the right-hand side of the entrance was an old washbowl, or what is popularly called sink. It was engrained in the wall. Probably it was used for ablution when it was still a mosque. As we stood inside the magnificent structure of Mezquita, Christina looked us, and started narrating the history of the mosque.

Christina has a mastery of the story of Mezquita; she explains it with the erudition of a scholar, the enthusiasm of a historian and the emotional vibrancy of a nationalist. She was courteous in her explanation, but firm in her attachment to the mosque turned cathedral. Christiana told us about the role of Caliph Abderrahman III in building the Ummayad mosque, the expansion the mosque has undergone at various times, and how Islam as a civilisation contributed to the development of arts and architecture in Andalusia.

As she was explaining, there was a deep silence among the tourists listening to her. It was emotional, but the feeling of entitlement to this important structure among both Muslims and Christians cannot be missed.

As the tourists go round the Mezquita, both Muslims and Christians, the feeling of entitlement by members of both faiths was apparent. “It is difficult, wasn’t it?” said Christina at a point, as she explains the struggle that took place between the Muslim leaders of Andalusia and the Christian leaders who reconquered Cordoba and turned the Mezquita into a Cathedral.
One of the amazing things about Mezquita is the interior design. The mosque was built more than 1000 years ago, yet the architectural design of the mosque resembles the interior design of Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madina (peace be upon him). It is almost a copycat. It simply tells you the level of advancement Muslims have achieved early in architecture.

One of the areas of attraction in the mosque is the mihrab. The mihrab is a niche area in the mosque showing the Qibla (direction to the Kaaba in Makkah, where all Muslims face during prayer). The Mihrab in the Mosque-Cathedral suggests so many things about Islamic civilisation in Muslim Spain. It shows how advanced the Muslim world has been in the area of arts. It shows the level of thinking and advancement in knowledge at the time. The calligraphy that decorated the interior part of the Mihrab, with verses of the Qur’an adorning the entire wall tells you about a society that has knowledge, arts and culture embedded in its DNA.

In relation to the advancement on knowledge and culture, which the Cordoba mosque symbolizes, please permit me to quote at length the contribution of the historian, Tim Wallace-Murphy in his classic work, What Islam Did For US: Understanding Islam’s Contribution to Western Civilisation.
 “Cordova eventually became the dominant centre of Islamic culture during the ninth century. The phases of construction of its extraordinary mosque, which became the second largest mosque in all of Islam, reflect the cultural changes that took place between 785 and 980.” He said.

Wallace-Murphy went to state that, “in Cordova, Caliph al-Hakkam created a library of 400,000 books which were indexed in 44 catalogues, and he added his own commentaries to many of these volumes. Thus, Cordova became one of the greatest libraries in Europe, second only to the greatest in the world located in Baghdad at the heart of the Islamic empire. This almost insatiable passion for learning, stimulated the production of between 70,000  and 80, 000 bound volumes each year, which not only reflected local demand but also demonstrated the country’s capacity for a phenomenal high-volume, top quality production, many centuries before the invention of printing. Sciences, such as geography, agriculture and irrigation, astronomy, medicine and mathematics were actively encouraged, as was the serious study of philosophy based principally on classical Greek thought.”
Tim Wallace-Murphy added that “much of the classical knowledge of ancient Greece that we now treasure and take for granted would have withered away had it not been preserved and enhanced by Islamic scholars.” He concluded that “the well-attended and richly endowed colleges of Andalusia were later to provide a model and template for those founded in Oxford and Cambridge in England.” (pp.108-109).

Inside the Mihrab, as Christina told us during the tour, is the seclusion room, preserved for the Caliph. The Caliph, who leads the prayer, uses the room to engage in total devotion to Allah. As we walked from the Mihrab area, we moved to the next part of the mosque. It was another exclusive area covered in glass. Inside were white triangular stones with Arabic inscriptions on them. What is this, we asked. “This section is about the people who built the mosque,” said Christina. Each builder during the time will write his name so that the amount work he has done can be identified, and receive payment accordingly. Interestingly the names have been preserved, and so the heroes of who built this structure, which is now a UNESCO heritage site, can still be remembered.

The Mosque-Cathedral has undergone a lot of expansion and changes due the shifting of ownership between Muslims and Chritians. Although the mosque operates as a Cathedral, the main church was built at the centre of the old mosque. The surrounding walls were used to bury various Christian clergies.

But what is interesting also is the Islamic design that was used in the calligraphy of the sections of the Cathedral. Christina told us that even after the Christian reconquest, Islamic arts and calligraphy was the fashion in those centuries. So even the Chritian leaders used Muslim designers for interior decorations.

If I were asked to describe the atmosphere to someone unaware of the historical altercations that took place at the Mosque-Cathedral, I would simply say Mezquita is the place where you see two contending forces of psychological and physical ownership living together.
Yet, in contemporary times, the two contending forces result in the appreciation of history rather than a symbol of confrontation.  If history has a conscience, it would definitely face one of its stiffest test in the Mosque-Cathedral.  Here, I am not referring to conscience at face value, or from a more literal interpretation. I am referring to conscience as a subjective philosophical term that denotes ‘moral knowledge’. A knowledge that is tied to the values, belief system and ethical orientation of the individual.

As we concluded the tour, we realized that we did not pay attention to an important item in our itinerary. We had fed our brains with enough historical diet. It is time to pay attention to our stomach. In the two occasions that I visited the Mosque-Cathedral, we walked down the alleys to nearby restaurants.  We ordered Paella rice. It is the Spanish equivalent of dafaduka in Hausa language, or what is popularly known as Jollof rice in West Africa. The difference though is that Paella rice is a mish-mash of everything. If you love seafood, please don’t miss it. It is cooked with seafood especially shrimps, lemon and some vegetables. Some restaurants also use chicken. It tastes better when it is freshly made, and eaten after an exhaustive tour like the one we just had.



Wednesday, 5 October 2016

(113): Al-Andalus: The Mosaque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (III)

Just like the Hammam Al-Andalus, some of the historical edifices in Madrid still bear the hallmark of Andalus. This includes the famous cathedral in the city of Madrid, called Almudena Cathedral, a name that clearly resembles the names of one of the holiest cities of Islam, Madina Al Munawwara.

Historical accounts suggested that Almudena was originally a mosque but later converted into a Church after King Alfonso reconquered Madrid.  Another historical site of interest in Madrid is Palacio Real (the Royal Palace) of the King of Spain, although it is more of a museum now. The King no longer lives there; it is utilized for ceremonies and visit by tourists.

Now that we have visited some of the remarkable historical sites in Madrid, my attention has returned to Cordoba, that magnificent city that represents the intellectual hub of Andalusia. I visited Cordoba twice during our study period between 2014 and 2015. The first was with my friend and colleague, Muhammad Ahmad Bello. After experiencing the aura of Cordoba’s historical significance, we agreed that we should bring our family with us, so that they will equally witness this interesting adventure. We decided that after our graduation ceremony, we should embark on another visit to Cordoba.

The visit to Cordoba was made more interesting by the surprise appearance of my friend, and brother, Suleiman Baba Suleiman. Before departing to Madrid, I called to tell him that I would be away for my graduation ceremony. Suleiman told me that he would also be on holiday in the United Kingdom around the same period.  I shared many stories with him on my previous visit to Cordoba.

Few hours after defending our final project at the IE business School, Muhammad Bello and I went back to the hotel to have some rest and prepare for the graduation ceremony scheduled for the following day. Guess who is there on our arrival at the hotel lobby? It was Suleiman and his wife checking in at the hotel. That was awesome. It was a pleasant surprise.

On Saturday 19 December 2015, about five different families embarked on the journey to Cordoba, primarily to visit the most historic site in the city, the Mosque-Cathedral. There is something unique about the Mosque-Cathedral; perhaps, it is only in Cordoba where the mosque means a church, and vice versa. If you meet any resident of Cordoba, ask him about Mezquita (mosque), he would refer you to the Umayyad mosque, though it is operating as a Church and tourist site at the moment.

During our first visit to Cordoba in 2014, we walked from the train station to Mezquita. We asked a lady for a description of the Mosque-Cathedral. “You mean the mosque?” and she went on to tell us what Mezquita means to the people of Cordoba. “Everyone here calls it the mosque,” she added.

The Mezquita is a huge building situated in the old city of Cordoba. It is adorned by the minaret, which historically was used by the Muezzin who makes the call to prayer. Inside the premises, surrounded by a huge wall, which partially resembles ancient city walls that you find in Hausa city-states like Kano and Bauchi. Some beautiful orange trees were planted in different parts of the inner wall. There are several entrances to the Mosque from different alleys surrounding the mosque.

There are several shops and restaurants around the building, some of them managed by North African Arabs. The premises was full of tourists from different countries. A number of the visitors travel in groups with a tour guide providing explanation in different languages.

On arrival at the Mosque-Cathedral, we purchased tickets and headed to the door. At the entrance, there were security officials who would give you brief guidelines about the dos and don’ts of the tour.
“Are you a Muslim?” one of the guards enquired. “You are welcome to make the tour, but please no prayers are aloud.”  He advised.

We then asked if there is tour-guide, who will take us through the mosque and explain the historical monument in English. The security guard looked at the officer next to him, and spoke in Spanish. He walked away briefly, and then returned with a lady named Christina, most likely in her late 40s or early 50s.

“I am a private-tour guide, so you have to pay.” She said with a smile. “How much” we asked. “It is 50 Euros” she answered. Without hesitation, we asked her to go ahead, and within seconds, we set our foot into Mezquita.

To be continued…



Saturday, 17 September 2016

(112): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (II)

One thing you cannot escape noticing in the cities of Spain, is the dual atmosphere that is apparent in the architecture, landscape and historical monuments of the country. On one hand, you notice the European design of its buildings, which is a common sight in the Western World. Some of the buildings resemble parts of London, or even the heart of San Francisco in California.

The other part of the old city, were the restaurant Sobrino de Botin is located represents the cross-cultural nature of Spain, where you see historical traces of other civilizations like the Greek and Islamic civilizations.

The IE Business School assigned a tour guide for us to go through the old city after witnessing the more modern part earlier.  The ancient city comprises of some hilly areas, the old city town hall and restaurants. You can tell from the onset that tourism is important to this country. In fact, I noticed it right from the airport. 

On arrival, I was expecting serious scrutiny from the immigration officials. Interestingly, in all the countries I visited so far, I experienced the fastest clearance from an immigration official in Spain. I handed in my passport, the official looked at my visa, without saying a word, stamped on it, and in no more than 5 seconds, I was on my way out to check for my luggage.

I was traveling together with a friend and colleague from our office. Unfortunately, his luggage did not arrive along with mine, even though we checked our bags together from Jeddah. We were asked to report to the lost luggage office, which we did. They promised to trace the bags and let us know within the next 24 hours. We left our hotel address with them.

The following day, after lectures, we returned to the hotel, and my friend asked at the reception whether he received any message. He was asked to check his room, lo and behold! His bags were brought intact, and placed in his room. I told my friend that I had similar experience back in 2004, precisely on the morning of September 10 at Manchester airport in the UK.  On arrival, I noticed that one of my bags was not there. I reported to the lost baggage office.

Two days later, a man knocked at the house I was staying. Hello, he said, “I would like to apologise for the delay in bringing your luggage. We noticed that the handle of the bag was broken, that was why we could not clear it at the airport. Here is a replacement for the broken one; I hope you will continue to use our airline.”  That was it, and the man left. I was perplexed, remained speechless as I gently took the two bags, wondering what happened to the sense of justice in our countries. Apologies for the digression.  

The tour guide took us to the old city of Madrid, where we visited several monumental places. Among them was the restaurant called Sobrino de Botin, believed to be operating continuously without changing location since 1725. The Guinness World Book of Record awarded a certificate to the restaurant, which they placed at the entrance. “Wow,” exclaimed one of our colleagues; “this is Moroccan architecture,” he said. Many of us turned to Khaled Idrisi, as he explained to us the similarities between the design, sitting arrangements, arts and other features that define this restaurant. It wasn’t surprising at all to hear this from Khaled, as most of the buildings in the area have an element of North African outlook. A testimony to the influence of the Andalus Empire, many of which have been preserved by the Spanish authorities.

Next place to visit was a local market called Alfonso Dube Y Diez. It was a typical market made from steel. Its current design was completed in 1915. The market gives you a feeling of ancient Spain. It was well designed; there are butchers on one side busy selling meat, while smaller fish markets are located in other areas. You cannot lose sight of tourists also enjoying the taste of local dishes. I hope our local markets in Nigeria, like the old Kurmi Market in Kano will one day receive the attention, preservation and promotion that markets like Alfonso have received. In fact, in a period of economic recession, it is a source of income for the state.

Several landmarks in the older part of Madrid still signify the impact of Andalus in Modern Spain. Among these landmarks are the Hammams, originally from the Arabic word Hammam. Although in present times, Hammam is translated as toilet, in those days, the Hammam refers to a bath place, not bath in a literal sense, but a place of relaxation. Hammam Al-Andalus was one of the key areas of tourist attraction, and it has branches in several cities like Grenada, Cordoba and Malaga.

In order to “kill the lice on our eyes,” we visited one of the Hammams in the city Centre. The entrance resembles what in Hausaland we call “Soro,” a waiting area or sitting room in traditional Hausa architecture. The design so much resembles the traditional palaces in Hausa city-states one might think he is in Kano, Kazaure or Daura. This is not at all surprising looking at the historical relationship between North Africa and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are small ponds similar to modern day swimming pools, albeit much smaller. The sense of tranquility and calmness in the Hammam creates a feeling of admiration for those civilizations that flourished. It makes you engulfed with nostalgia for the achievements of Andalus. I was curious to know the function of the Hammam in those days. Our tour guide in Hammam Al-Andalus told us that scholars in Andalus frequently used the Hammam, so when they are tired of reading, writing or other forms of studies, they use the pools to take bath, relax and continue with their intellectual activities.

To be continued

08 Dhul Hijja, 1437

10 September 2016

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

(111): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history

For the youth of today, when you talk about Spain, what easily comes to their mind are the legendary football clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two major football clubs that provide entertaining football on weekly basis to their fans.

However, the story of Spain goes beyond football. It is the story of a civilization whose impact continues to be relevant today.  By God’s providence, I enrolled for a study in one of the leading tertiary institutions in Spain, the IE Business School back in 2014. For the next 18 months, I came to understand the people, culture and educational system of this former empire, called Al-Andalus.

It was a multi-campus programme between Madrid, Jeddah, Boston and Berkeley. Of course, the primary aim of visiting these cities was to receive lectures, but at the back of my mind was to explore the historical edifices that still attract attention and provide interesting lessons in history.

On arrival in Madrid, the university surprised us with a number of historical visits within the city. The biggest surprise from the perspective of the coordinators was an official tour of the Santiagou Bernebeu the stadium of Real Madrid.

While we appreciate the effort of the school administrators, my mind was elsewhere. Having read about the contribution of Andalusia in the development of science, education, arts, literature, and how this former empire contributed in shaping the technological advancement of the Western World, my heart was thinking about one city, Cordoba or Kurduba as it is known in the Muslim World.

But before sharing the story of Cordoba, let us go back to Madrid. Madrid is currently the capital of Spain and the city has undergone several transformations. Although one of the leading cities in the Europe, historical sources have documented the origin of the name of the city, part of which was from the Arabic term, Almajrit. The Arabs gave it this name due to the proximity of the city to a river.

It is also on record that the city has produced famous scientists whose contribution remain relevant to date. One of such scientists was Abul Qasim, Masalama, Al-Qurtubi Al-Majriti. Almajriti was an astronomer, chemist, economist and Islamic scholar.

According to the Islamic encyclopedia: “Al-Majriti’s work in Chemistry had indeed produced some momentous contributions. He is greatly credited for his notable chemical treatise, Rutbat al-Hakim, which, amongst other things, described formulae and procedures for the purification of precious metals. 

It is in this work that Maslama attempted to prove the principle of mass conservation, credited eight centuries later to Lavoisier. Exact details of such attempts are not available at the present time, yet inferences from his experiment on Mercury prove that he was alert to the almost non-existent change in the weight of the mass after the reaction.”

In fact, his classical book, Kitab Ghayat Al-Hakim (the goal of the wise) has been made available by University of Pennsylvania’s online library through the Hathi Trust for those who might be interested.

Therefore, as we prepare on the morning of the visit to Santiago Bernebeu in the autumn of 2014, I knew that I was working through history. That the story of Madrid and Spain outweighs the popularity and athletes of Cristiano Ronaldo, and more skillful intellectuals have been produced, whose contribution by far eclipsed the dribbles of Lionel Messi. Of course nothing would be taken away from both Ronaldo and Messi, but certainly there were heroes from various ethnicities, nationalities and faiths that made the story of Spain possible.

As we disembarked from the bus that brought us to Santiago Bernebeu, about 40 of us from different nationalities, Nigerians. Egyptians, Saudis, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Senegalese, Gambians and many more. Almost everyone got himself busy taking pictures of this huge stadium that keeps many people awake in different parts of the world.

It was early in the morning, and we went round every nook and cranny of the stadium. From the football pitch, to the dressing rooms of the players. We saw the preparation area of players, from Ronaldo, Benzema, Rodriquez to Pepe, Bale etc.  A replica of La Decema, the 10th Champions League trophy was also on display. In fact it was the centre of attraction.

Next after the visit to the Real Madrid Stadium, was a visit to Sobrino de Botin, believed to be the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Record.

To be continued…
10:12 pm

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

(110): Crowdsourcing for the reconstruction of Northeastern Nigeria

Since the emergence of the Buhari administration, there is a feeling among Nigerians that the security situation in the country is improving. Of course much work needs to be done to bring life back to parts of the Northeastern region which has been destroyed by violent insurgency since 2009.
The global terrorism report 2015 suggested that Boko Haram is the deadliest insurgent group in the world. According to the report, deaths as a result of insurgent attacks increased by 300 percent with 7,512 fatalities, which is the highest in the world. Forty percent of these attacks are in Borno State, Northeastern Nigeria. The attacks, according to the global terrorism report, focus on markets and other public places.
Borno State, one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria in previous years, is now the shadow of its former self. Widows, orphans and children have been displaced, some living in countries neighboring Nigeria, and others dispersed in IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) camps.
What is happening in Northeastern Nigeria is unusual, and under the current state of economic turmoil in Nigeria and the rest of the world, unusual solutions need to be explored in order to support the people affected by this tragedy.
That is why I would like to suggest crowdsourcing as one of the innovative ways that would help in mobilizing resources for the reconstruction of Northeastern Nigeria. I am proposing crowdsourcing for several reasons. First is my confidence in the Nigeria Muslim Forum UK (NMFUK) to lead the way, having contributed since the beginning of the crisis in 2009. NMFUK has supported the affected communities in Northeastern Nigeria through the provision of food, clothing and healthcare, and has sponsored orphans in the region in order to give them hope to build a future that is secure and credible.
NMFUK also is a diaspora organization based in the UK where members have stable access to the latest technology, including uninterrupted electricity supply and effective internet connection which are needed to mobilise resources through crowdsourcing. Being a charity organization registered in the UK, it has a mechanism for ensuring transparency on how resources are utilized. This could help in building confidence among donors to contribute resources through crowdsourcing.
The second reason is that as an innovative means of financing, development experts have suggested crowdsourcing as a way of reconstructing fragile states in the world. The third reason is the credibility of the current leadership in Nigeria, and the desire of the international community and donor agencies to help in alleviating this humanitarian catastrophe.

Defining Crowdsourcing
But what is crowdsourcing?  In simple words, crowdsourcing is the ability to raise funds or mobilise resources through the power of the crowd, using online platforms. According to a 2014 article on “The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile State Contexts,” Maja Bott, Björn-Sören Gigler, and Gregor Young suggested that the term was first coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe in the Wired Magazine, and in their words: “crowdsourcing is a collaborative exercise that enables a community to form and to produce something together.”

Crowdsourcing is driven by modern technology. Innovative firms like Amazon, Apple, Google and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube operate by empowering the crowd to sustain the business for them. Another classical example of crowdsourcing is the public encyclopedia known as Wikipedia, which relies solely on the power of the crowd to keep it in business, but above all create the largest encyclopedia in the world.

Today, crowdsourcing has become one of the largest means of raising funds and other resources for development interventions, entrepreneurship and knowledge dissemination. According to Massolution Crowdfunding Report 2015, the crowdsourcing industry has raised $34.4 billion in 2015.

To be successful in raising funds using crowdsourcing, certain factors need to be taken into consideration. Such factors have been discussed by Maja Bott, Björn-Sören Gigler, and Gregor Young in their classical work on crowdsourcing for fragile states. Such factors using Sharma’s model includes infrastructure, which refers to the technology that will be used to mobilise resources. The availability of mobile phones in developing countries according to them will make it easy to have such technological infrastructure. The next is the vision of the fundraisers, the human capital, which refers to dedicated individuals who will work on the project, as well as the trust built among those engaged in the project, together with the crowd that will be pulled to support the fundraising.

Several groups have used crowdsourcing to support people affected by natural or manmade disaster in Haiti after the earthquake, as well as in Syria, Sudan and Libya. There are several crowdsourcing platforms that are prominent like Indiegogo, Fundrazr, GoFundme, etc.

Reconstruction of Northeastern Nigeria
With the above background in mind, there is a great opportunity to mobilise resources for the reconstruction of Northeastern Nigeria using crowdsourcing. Of course NMFUK is already using aspects of crowdsourcing to fund some of its projects, but the 2016 conference in Manchester is an opportunity to consolidate on that, innovate new mechanisms and move ahead.

NMFUK should take a positive advantage of Nigerians in diaspora by establishing partnership with other diaspora organisations to create a crowdsourcing platform that will be used to support areas affected by the insurgency. This is on the short term, and for the long term work with other Nigerians to help any part of the country that is suffering from one form of fragility or the other.
Statistics about Nigerians in the diaspora and their specializations suggests that we are not fully exploiting our strength for the benefit of the country. 

According to the African Diaspora Statistics Report 2013, in the United States alone there are 2 million Nigerians living in the country, out of which 20,000 are medical doctors and 10,000 are academics teaching in various higher institutions. The African Diaspora Statistics Report added that if “we were to add the number of Nigerian doctors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Europe, Australia and those in other African countries, the figure would be close to 30,000.” Quoting a World Bank report, the African diaspora statistics added that African countries spend an estimated $5.6 billion in employing foreign specialists, when Nigeria alone has enough skilled labour to provide this service.

This does not mean restricting this effort to Nigerians only, but the statistics above show that Nigeria has a highly professional ‘crowd’ living in diaspora. NMFUK should leverage on this by working with other diaspora organizations to support the reconstruction of Northeastern Nigeria.

For this reasons I would like to recommend the following: NMFUK should work with other Nigerian diaspora organisations, the office of the Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Diaspora and establish Nigerian Diaspora Crowdsourcing Fund (NDCF). The fund should work to mobilise material and human resources to support the reconstruction of Northeastern and other fragile states in Nigeria. The fund should mobilise money, but most importantly the human capital available in the diaspora, particularly medical personnel, university academics and entrepreneurs to volunteer their service in developing the human capital of Northeastern Nigeria. Whatever its imperfection, Nigeria had invested in us, it is time to return the gesture.

Lack of human capital development, excessive poverty, ignorance in the proper understanding of religious texts have been identified among the major causes of the insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria. You need human capital to develop human capital. This is where Nigerians in diaspora can make a difference. 

NMFUK should seek partnership with donors like Dangote Foundation and Gates Foundation with a view to tapping into their expertise, international network and desire to invest in human capital development.  

Finally, NMFUK should mobilise its members with technological skills to start working on the technological platform that could be used in the crowdsourcing campaign. I conclude with a saying of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah): “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind."