Not long ago I came across a picture on Facebook; it was the first item on my timeline. In the picture were three individuals: my Facebook friend, a successful and commendable African entrepreneur, and another individual. Alongside the picture was a caption, which celebrated "the individual," a beneficiary of a brutal military regime. The caption on the picture made me cringe. Immediately, I went through a flashback of Nigeria's history - the picture made me think about Nigeria's future.
Then I began to ask myself a series of questions. Why should we as Nigerians celebrate wealthy beneficiaries of brutal military regimes? Why should we as young people accept their ill-gotten wealth as part of Nigeria's success story? Any good student of Nigerian history can make a clear connection between an individual's sudden access to the nation's resources through illegal means, corruption, or military regimes and actual business growth. In this instance, oil fields belonging to an entire nation were conveniently allocated to one individual. Rosemary Ajayi, technical assistant to the current Governor of Ekiti State in Nigeria said, "corruption saps the will of everyone but of those benefitting from it." I say, corruption in Nigeria should be considered a form of terrorism.
It is no secret that Nigeria is full of natural resources, however, the lack of transparency and respect for the rule of law has allowed for the misappropriations of these resources. Victor Asemota, owner and principal consultant of Swifta Systems wrote on his twitter page, "A friend said she was at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and was wondering how most people we celebrate in Nigeria became so wealthy? No one has straight stories." He continues, "there are very few noble wealthy people in Nigeria, many of them are mostly government assisted tyrants." As future policymakers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and more importantly, as young Nigerians, we cannot and should not continue to celebrate those who have conveniently benefitted from corruption, or military regimes. Let us learn to ask questions, hold each other accountable, and reclaim respectable moral and ethical standards.
Despite the growing concern for Nigeria's future due to terrorism or the lack of conscientious leaders, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because a growing number of young Nigerian entrepreneurs are creating innovative businesses, and more importantly are not waiting for government connections to create this change. These young innovators are being proactive about change and their enormous success is not a byproduct of nepotism or deeply entrenched corruption.
The collaborative power of technology and new media has given a voice to a new kind of entrepreneur. It has given a voice to innovative young Nigerians emerging throughout the continent and these are who I want more young Nigerians to celebrate as success stories. As the largest economy within the African continent, we have to celebrate hard work and innovation, as well as implement policies that accelerate business growth and strengthen the private sector to create more jobs.
Here are the 12 Young Entrepreneurs who make me optimistic about Nigeria's future. These young entrepreneurs are out in the field establishing businesses and providing solutions within their various communities.
(1) Jason Njoku is co-founder of iROKOtv, the largest online distributor of Nollywood films.
(2) Tola Onigbanjo is co-founder of Women4Africa, a UK-based organization celebrating, recognizing, and honoring African women who have made great impact in their communities.
(3) Mark Essien is founder of Hotels.ng, Nigeria's leading hotel booking portal.
(4) Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is co-founder of WeCyclers, a company giving low-income communities in developing countries a chance to capture value from waste and clean up their neighborhoods through an incentive-based recycling program.
(5) Gbenga Sesan is founder of the Paradigm Initiative (PIN), an organization using ICT to empower young people in underserved communities through entrepreneurial training programs.
(6) Linda Ikeji is founder of the Linda Ikeji blog, Nigeria's most visited blog. Over the years, Ikeji's blog has become an advertising platform for artists, entrepreneurs, and top Nigerian companies. Although considered a controversial blogger, Linda uses her sense of humor to attract her readers. Ikeji has adopted an effective sales strategy and leveraged on partnerships with various companies.
(7) Zanau Hassan Maikasuwa is a seasoned farmer and founder of Farmfields Agro-Allied Services, which supports local farmers and agricultural investors dealing with all aspects of farming - animals and crops. Zanau also helped to launch the AWP Network Agropreneur project for Women Farmers.
(8) Misan Rewane is founder of West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE), an organization tackling youth unemployment by identifying, training, and placing talented West African youths in wage-earning jobs in the hospitality sector.
(9) Debo Folorunsho is co-founder of Applause Africa, a media publishing company celebrating, empowering, and connecting Africans in the United States through online programs and in-person events.
(10) Ola Orekunrin is founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa's first indigenous air ambulance service and a crucial link for critically injured people.
(11) Sim Shagaya is founder of Konga Online, Nigeria's leading e-commerce company. The Konga marketplace aggregates sellers and retail stores on the same platform, giving customers more variety to choose from.
(12) Achenyo Idachaba is founder of MitiMeth, a company producing hand-woven crafts from invasive aquatic weeds prevalent in Nigeria's waterways. MitiMeth engages local artisans to create eco-friendly hand- woven home décor and personal accessories from invasive aquatic weeds and non-timber forest resources.
Nigeria's future may appear bleak with the lack of effective governance, or the growing number of kidnappings and bombings. Despite these circumstances, Nigeria's young innovative entrepreneurs make me hopeful.