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Sanwo Eko, the real next level

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Ikeja Bus Terminal constructed by immediate past governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode

After an unpleasant flying experience, I looked forward to being in the most vibrant city I believe, exists on planet earth — a paradox to many while a reality to some. The city that doesn’t sleep where you can get hot amala at 2am, become an overnight millionaire, etc.

I had stopped requesting family and friends to pick me at the airport since I downloaded the UBER app and had experienced my first stress free ride home. As my eyes paced the new Muritala Mohammed Way and Oshodi interchange, I said to the driver that I am happy I arrived that day. I read in the news that the President was here to commission these projects, a day earlier.

My UBER driver, Olatunji, was a young man in his mid-40s who spoke fluent English. During the trip, he spoke about his educational background and work trajectory including his sojourn in Dubai and how he became an UBER driver. I was headed to Lagos island market to buy fashion accessories for an Uncle’s funeral I will be attending in a few hours. I asked him to stop his meter and I highlighted the vehicle on Nnamdi Azikwe Street. The rushing, human and vehicular noise, humid air, amongst other nuances, are typical here. Haggling prices is normal in this market.

“Why didn’t I buy what I wanted at nearby stores around the house?” I wanted variety and at reasonable price. Most traders in Lagos Island are whole sellers and I could be getting an unnegotiated 50 per cent off items I finally settle for. Not by miracle or design but by bargaining like nothing else matters.

This market is an informal representation of specialisation although you might find pockets of other merchandisers, e.g Ebute ero is for souvenirs and house hold utensils, Mandilas is for men and women wear, Dadi Alaja area is for Aso-oke, and the list goes on. Banks are located on major roads within these business districts. I knew the store I was going, so in less than five minutes I arrived my destination. “Good morning Ma, how can I assist you today?”, a young lady with British accent said to me. I managed to reply amidst being dazed from the contrast reception I just received. I was used to “ewa bawo wo igba ma, ki le ma bami ra leni aunty.” Literally translated as “please come check out my stock and what would you buy from me today?” She further asked me to make myself comfortable on a two-seater chair that was carefully placed in the store next to the fan.

As expected, I was curious, and the young lady didn’t need a mind reader to diagnose that. We got chatting, I got to know she attended University of Manchester and had a MBA from another university in the United Kingdom. As I scanned through available options presented to me for selection, she politely asked if I had an Instagram page and asked me to follow them (the store). Our page has items that you won’t find on our shelves she added, my mum’s sister has a shop in Balogun and we list her items there as well to drive traffic” — hmmmmh I said to myself. This is co-branding or co-marketing. I acted as instructed, searched for the page and alas, they had 200k+ followers and a unique selection- I must confess. Perhaps this page catered for the diaspora, I just came back and young rising middle class, because every post had captions like we ship worldwide and location — Lekki — why not Ereko the real location of the physical shop. I hurriedly picked some items, although I was like a child in an ice-cream shop that wanted all the flavours.

In the car, I called the make-up artiste and tailor to confirm if my appointment was still valid and to bring the clothes for fitting, respectively. Coincidentally, both stated they were on their way back from Lagos island market where they had gone to purchase make up and fashion accessories too. I asked the same question and got the same answer I will have given if I was also asked. Why island? Can’t you buy here in Shomolu?

“Aaaah kosi variety ati pe otun won” (there isn’t variety here and again its more expensive). The tailor went further to say, only if the job was an urgent one and the client was willing to pay more would she purchase things from the nearby market/stores.

After my face beat, I put on my ‘aso-ebi’ and ordered another UBER to the Catholic church in Lekki where the funeral mass was going to take place. I rode with a cousin to the burial ground in Ikoyi and to the reception centre in Lekki. During the ride, I engaged my little cousin who had just graduated from one of the private universities with a second class upper in engineering in a discussion about her job search. To my surprise, she told me she wasn’t searching, quoting some author I have never heard about. “Aunty, I want to be my own boss ooo! I had two choices; be a boss or wok for one! I am a proud CEO of an online business. What we do is we render ‘aso-ebi’ services for parties. In fact mummy’s sales have improved because I manage her books now and those girls would stop stealing from her.” She went on to say her mum’s turnover had doubled because of presence on social media platforms, which she created and manages.

She also boasted of excellent ‘aso-ebi’ service for the funeral we were attending, saying over 620 orders where delivered to invitees who paid into her company account. Before I could say jack Robinson, she opened an excel file on her Samsung Galaxy phone. This file had the name and contact details of everyone that bought ‘aso-ebi’. She continued to say, “Aunty, can you imagine that even after I covered all logistics, souvenirs on behalf of the family and my company, I comfortably made N180,000. Even bank sef no fit pay me that one and this is only one Ankara event o. If it was lace – aunty don’t even go there.” My secondary school and first year university knowledge in Economics came alive and I muttered out silently – Lagos Island Market is agglomeration of commerce and owambe economies of what?

As we arrived the venue, the loud music made its way through the air-conditioned walls, photographers, money changers, gele specialist marketed their products and services. To my astonishment, they all had P.O.S machines. Almost every lady looked alike in a contextualised facial representation of different play dolls, to say the least the fashion styles were amazing, men were not left out. Some ladies were holding a white fan that was powered with batteries, while others used the hand fans. I shared a joke with a family member using the battery powered hand fan that if government ban Owambe, China sef go feel am o, very quick to respond she answered oku ma sun (meaning a lot of people would die), I didn’t bother asking why, not because of the noise in the hall, but because I could comprehend what her thoughts- OWAMBE is simply therapeutic. A few minutes before Six PM, we ran out of choice drinks and there was a bit of panic within. The drink vendor mentioned his supplier in Apongbon, and that if we could wire the funds, the drinks would be here in less than 30 mins. By 7pm, every inch of what the drink vendor said came to pass. Eko for show!

A 10 years’ rewind, same vendors existed but not with P.O.S machines and experienced service delivery. If the drinks finished, someone had to physically go procure. Can you beat that? Information and Communication Technology is influencing the famous Lagos ‘OWAMBE and we do not need Jack ma, Jeff Besos or Mark Zuckerberg to tell us this!

Every time I travel back to Nairobi, I always have to pay for extra luggage. Items purchased by Nigerian and non-Nigerians need to be delivered. These items range from the famous Ankara clothing, black soap, organic body lotions, Ola-Ola yam powder, etc. Aso- ebi amidst other Nigerian influence is an upcoming trend in East Africa- thanks to Nollywood influence. Lagos is poorly connected to other African commercial and capital cities. It is expected to be an e-hub linked to other capital cities but logistics is a night mare, however, internally, ICT penetration and integration has increased. The volume of business, trade, services, etc. and a new crop of entrepreneurs in the city, the ones who use excel sheets to account and audit, social media algorithms to market and social network for sales are putting ICT to enormous use. The likes of Olatunji have acquired logistic skills from his UBER experience, Lolade an MBA graduate from the UK, Eureka an engineering graduate from a private university are a new generation of entrepreneurs willing to take Lagos, Nigeria an indeed Africa to the Next level of Business to Business and Business to Customer e-commerce.

The big question is what is lacking? Is the Lagos state government cognisant of this gold mine? Is there an ongoing concerted effort with the relevant partners to integrate this new crop of professionals into the global platform? The globe has 6 billion shoppers; Nigeria and Lagos have over 200 million and over 20million shoppers respectively. To be modest, if Lagos has 2million e-entrepreneurs that make a profit of $20/day, assuming personal Income tax is calculate at 10% of the Gross Income. Lagos would be making an additional revenue of $4m (N1.44billion) daily, N43.2billion monthly revenue and N518.4billion yearly in personal income taxes. To incorporate estimates from complementary sectors such as advertising, financial technology, software development, etc would imply that Lagos State’s annual revenue would be giving the almighty National Petroleum revenue a run for its existence.

I often refer to Lagos as the centre of excellence, the commercial nerve of Nigeria, the hub of innovation, the epi center of Africa’s trade, home to the brightest global intellectual and birth place of globally acclaimed dance steps such as shoki, alanta, swo, gbe bodi e…etc. I can hear uou say which one is dance again, kindly trace your mind back to when we didn’t pride ourselves in traditional dances but running man, moon walker, blues, tango, etc were the sign of middle class social civilisation. For lack of a better word- Lagos is globally colonising the social scenes and is ready to do more.

It is no longer news that Lagos has a population of over 20 million inhabitants and its needless to stress that it needs an innovative, strategic and integrated effort to address the daily challenges. However, it is important to view the city as an emerging market that needs to convince stakeholders on her hidden potentials. A youth empowerment opportunity for early morning pilgrims to ‘paraga’ centres usually located close to bus stops, job creation for jobless youth, gender inclusion for marginalised women, the rise of a new middle class, etc all come to mind. Perhaps the government might even decide to have an e-commerce infrastructural development fund, where all revenue generated from e-businesses are channelled to specific priority projects.

I do not know of any warehouse in Lagos that can cater for the logistics of a medium sized Walmart, hence the need to rethink the encroachment of our once vibrant industrial estates by places of worship, events centres, etc. This is a clarion call for professionals to begin to think of the future of Lagos city and beyond. How would the streetscapes look like in 2029? Will it be filled with different billboards scrabbling for attention like Seoul in South Korea? What kind of dwellings will the new e-entrepreneurs need? Is it time for a partnership with NIPOST, strengthen existing private courier services or initiate a state postal service? Is there an urgent need to assign post codes for ease of delivery? How do we calculate the economic footprints of Lagos? Considering an envisaged increase in the demand for ICT accessories – will the planned relocation of the famous computer village affect penetration and integration?

A friend of mine who didn’t undergo formal education but excited about social media, started advertising her live and smoked chicken sold in Olaleye market, Somolu on her Facebook wall alongside daily videos of her praying for her customers. Sub-consciously I started looking forward to them and sometime back when I noticed she hadn’t posted for a week, I picked up my phone to call her. Recently, she has graduated to Instagram, snap chat and WhatsApp and by 5 am Nigerian time she would have posted pics in all four social media platforms. She is free from Local Government or LASAA dues for physical signage. She didn’t need a degree in marketing to use ICT to drive sales, neither does she need one in transport planning or logistics to achieve an excellent delivery services to her customers. This is an economic and social revolution, and may it not pass us by!!! Our traditional AMEN wont suffice- ACTION! ACTION!! ACTION!!

The leadership of Lagos is affiliated with the APC national political party that adopted “NEXT LEVEL” as the national slogan for the just concluded elections in February. The writer strongly opines that states should capitalise on the dividends of its diverse, innovative and economically aggressive population to take the state to the desire Next Level. The next level principals should develop programmes that integrate the contemporary global and local issues such as contextualising, facilitating and creating the best environment for e-commerce to thrive in the state as this will permit increased revenue, increase capacity, aid infrastructure development and in turn achieve the desired development.

If so much for the slogan, then the next four years would see Lagos flourish- A combination of National and local Slogans – ‘Next Level – Sanwo Eko’, and the questions many Lagosian would ask after four years is “se Next level yi sanwo Eko sha” and the answers shall be- O sanwo Eko oo!!! or Ko sanwo Eko o!!! the answer where the letter K plays an important role in expressing positives or negatives. If we are to solve for a K in mathematics we would first have to define the equation and identify the constants and variables. My urban and regional planning competencies assure me that the only constant needed is the will!!! Political will to understand and drive the process.

The variables of course include intensive capacity development of all stakeholders, improving and developing new logistic channels, road networks, providing start-up and build up funding like LSTF, etc. It’s an inexhaustible list, which depends and should be aligned to the priority of the government of the day.
•Odunbaku is a Human Settlements Officer with UN-Habitat and Lecturer at the University of Lagos. The article is based solely on the writer’s opinion and do not represent the organisations she is affiliated with.


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