I actually like my job, but maybe I have no choice. It’s quite uncommon in present day Nigeria to find a well paying job that you actually enjoy doing and that gives you freedom to pursue your other interests.
Our parents had it much easier. It’s a fact that the 80’s were a pretty good time in Nigeria for employment-after-school hopes. With an unemployment rate of about 9% at the worst, most of our folks from average backgrounds got out of school with no doubt that the system would come through for them, and they were hardly disappointed. My mom for example could easily save to buy a car on her assistant lecturer salary, right after university.
Nowadays it’s difficult to find a job at all and with rising unemployment rates, it gets harder every day. Should you eventually find a semi-decent one, it usually comes with absurd demands. My first official job as a graduate was an 8-5 pm gig, although most times we closed later. I worked on Saturdays as well and took home N30,000 ($83) every month as recompense. Even then, I was considered lucky by some to have found a job ‘so soon after school’. It’s possible I was lucky – In Nigeria, the minimum wage is N18,000/month (about $50) and some private employers pay even less. Teachers are paid just a little over that in private schools and there are medical doctors who have to work several consultancy jobs just to earn up to N100,000 a month.
It’s no wonder so many of us are turning to entrepreneurship. I use entrepreneurship here in the broad sense of the word to cover both business ownership and creative freelancing. With the inflation rates and low average salaries, it’s difficult to survive otherwise. That is, unless you work at Shell, or a government agency like NCC that’s known to pay in millions each month. Anyway, chances are you don’t.
So first and foremost, in Africa -business ownership is a means of survival; usually in the form of trading, artisan-ship and now, e-commerce. Small businesses make up about 80% of Africa’s economy and my guess is that if you’re in Nigeria, at least 3 out of every 5 persons you know are running a business, whether or not they are otherwise employed.
It makes sense that e-commerce is increasingly popular because the internet is making us all more connected.
Social media has effectively stripped the barriers of starting a business down to a simple “my customer may be on your TL” so young people are coming to equate doing business with easy, social media hustles. The ‘retweet economy’ will have you believing you are only a viral tweet away from making your first million or winning a free Mercedes! And maybe it is possible.
The world of work is clearly evolving. Most people have always done business as a means to supplement income or to invest disposable cash but today; younger entrants into the workforce, especially those with adequate financial support find themselves making a choice between full time employment and a series of side hustles.
As someone who is fully employed; who still freelances and runs a small business mainly on the internet, I’m clearly on the fence about the issue. But after asking around, some patterns became clear. Besides survival and apart from a few who have an idea to change the world, there are a few reasons people make this choice. The first is to have control over their time; which almost never happens.
Another growing phenomenon is the desire to follow passions and inclinations. This isn’t odd when you consider that a good number of African kids go to university and study courses that their parents would approve of but they personally have no interest in. Upon graduation these young adults are facing down career paths they feel the need to escape from. Now that it’s less improbable in this part of the world, a lot of these ones are quitting their desk jobs to pursue dreams in freelance photography, tailoring, web design and other creative skills.
Then there are those who say they cannot put up with routine (or authority). Their dream is to bear the prestigious title of ‘CEO’ and answer to no one.
Lastly, a reason why more people want to start a business is the idea that it’s a ticket to riches. They see wealthy men like Dangote and Otedola and try to pre-empt how many more customers on the Timeline need to buy an Ankara dress or book a make-up session before they too can roll in the riches. Never mind that 80% of small businesses in Nigeria fail after 3 years due to lack of adequate planning and capital. The abundance of ‘sudden’ success stories in popular media make some believe that entrepreneurship is a shortcut.
A number of the above reasons for business ownership often interplay; as was the case last year when I quit a job I didn’t like to start a certain business. Of all my lifestyle experiments, I quickly realized that was the most unreasonable I had made. Maybe it’s the economy; maybe I’m just not courageous or rich enough yet to take that drastic route.
Similarly for a lot of Nigerians like me, the income stability of regular, paid employment is not something they are able to trade. However, it’s still not a matter of choosing employment over business ownership unless the two strongly conflict. For example, you would easily find a practicing lawyer who owns a graphic design business and also drives for Uber.
The hustle is real! And even then, such a person may just be managing to comfortably pay their bills and save towards other purposes.
Whether in it for survival or you’re looking to change the world, these businesses come and go, and they help to keep the economy stable. As they increase in number along with freelance careers, creative gigs and other alternatives to traditional employment, I’m curious to see what sort of noticeable impact ‘generation hustle’ will have on the economy, especially as a lot more traditional jobs continue to disappear globally.