Oke Umurhohwo: Striving For Excellence
Oke Umurhohwo had a chat with Guardian Life staff on communications, media, governance and his growth in the marketing world. Read the interview below:
Tell us about yourself
I am Oke Umurhohwo, Marketing manager for itel Mobile in charge of West Africa, an astute strategist, a prolific writer, and an aspiring politician. My passion is in communications, media, governance, and ICT. I am a dedicated member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a climate change and safer environmental advocate, and the Co-convener of Youth in Government, Nigeria. I was also a part of the Lagos team that championed the #NotTooYoungToRun bill that has been signed by the president.
I obtained my bachelor’s and Masters’s degree from the University of Lagos and currently running my MBA in the same school. I enjoy swimming and watching my favourite football club Chelsea.
You are a marketing guru. As one who has a lot of success stories, how would you describe the Nigerian market and their reception of products?
Thank you so much for the acknowledgement of what I’ve achieved so far. I’m humbled and motivated to continue to strive for excellence.
Nigeria is a very big market and one full of prospects for a series of products.
However, I’ve to point out a serious issue that seems to be working against certain product reception. It is the purchasing power of most Nigerians, which is not strong compared to their peers globally. It is left to whoever wants to introduce a product in the Nigerian market to consider that aspect to gain reception.
This is what we have been doing at itel mobile over the years and the reception has been encouraging. At itel, we offer trendy and reliable products to Nigerians at a price that suits their pockets. More important is how you communicate your product to the people, and at itel, I’m proud of the wonderful team that I work with to bring our products to the market.
Would you say that Nigeria is technologically advanced? If yes/no, tell us why?
Not yet but the last few years have seen steady progress. I’m hopeful that if we continue in the trajectory that we have been following in the last five years or so, we will be in a good position, where technology will be one of our exports. But for sure, Nigeria still has a lot of room for expansion and growth technologically. While the reception for diverse technological products has been good, there is a limit to the kinds of products Nigerians can enjoy.
This could be for several reasons; constraints in the average Nigerian’s financial capabilities, governmental sanctions, and a lack of trust in tech by many Nigerians. However, the generation Z youth and below are more open to technology and have been applying it in finance, education, health, communication, and beyond. This is why e-commerce, for instance, has become a booming business in the country.
How do you think that Nigeria would fare if there were institutions to empower schools with labs and tools to meet up with the Artificial intelligence and I.O.T standards of the world? Do you think we would be able to catch up with the rest of the world?
The future is in technology. However, there are many individuals, small scale, and medium scale businesses that are yet to understand this. The common misconception is that technology is here to take away jobs when it is here to make jobs and lives easier. A few months ago, I read that robots will be able to operate on a human through the guidance of a surgeon, who will be several kilometres away.
If there were institutions to empower schools setup the right tools to meet the demands of AI and the internet of things, just like the rest of the world, then Nigeria would be in a much better place economically. Even without all the necessary tools at the moment, some enterprising young Nigerians have shown the world that great things can come out of our nation.
Recently, Paystack (a Nigerian start-up) was acquired by Stripe (a US-based financial services company) for 200 million US dollars. Other Nigerian start-ups are doing great things too. We have Piggyvest, Cowrywise, uLesson, Rise, Gradely, Bamboo, and lots more that are operating in the tech space and providing opportunities to Nigerians to learn, invest, and own their tech businesses. I believe Nigeria can catch up with the rest of the world if the right investments are made.
You are a Co-convener of Youth in Government, Nigeria, and were the Lagos State New Media coordinator for the 2019 PDP Presidential Campaign. Do you think a Nigerian youth can become president?
Definitely, yes. The last two weeks have shown exactly that, going by how young Nigerians have conducted themselves in demanding for things to be done rightly. True, the protests started as a rejection of police brutality and asking the authority to conduct a reform of the country’s police, but it graduated to other important issues that are bedevilling the country. That shows we (youth) have woken up and are no longer prepared to accept the failures of the past that put the country in this terrible situation.
And as I noted earlier, the coordination of the youth during the protest has shown that we will do better. Even though the protests were organic and had no leader, you could see young people raising money and providing necessities, such as; food, water, ambulance, and others, with a level of accountability never seen in the history of the country.
Everyone knew what was raised and how it was spent. This was quite unusual, considering how we keep hearing of huge amounts spent by the government for purposes we could not ascertain.
It is interesting that in just over 12 days, more than ₦50m was utilized to provide for the needs of protesters, including legal services. Young Nigerians in about 25 states used about ₦50m in 12 days to feed themselves, get ambulances, pay medical bills, secure legal support, and others, but during the lockdown we were told billions had gone to feed school children who were at their homes and till now, no one knows the children that were fed with such huge budget.
So, to answer your question, yes, youths are well-positioned, not only to become President but to take up the leadership of the country because tomorrow we were promised to lead is now. We have shown so far that we are ready and will do better than those before us.
How as a Nigerian youth leader, did you engage youths during the lockdown, and what is your advice to them?
The COVID-19 lockdown was a difficult time for many, while for others, it was an opportunity to develop themselves more and arm themselves with the prerequisite skills needed to thrive in the job market. However, it didn’t stop me from letting fellow youth know the power of technology. From encouraging individual learning to group collaborations and increased mental productivity, I engaged youths by letting them know of opportunities to learn, to work, and to even make a profit where possible. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown threw many young people out of their jobs and the effect was something one could easily guess.
So, I tried to give support as my capacity could permit me. I reached out to some young people who I know have families and will feel the impact of the lockdown the most.
Aside from talking to them regularly to assure them that the moment was temporary and they should be strong and not give in to the psychological trauma, I also gave the little I could to help them bear the difficult moment.
On my social media pages, I regularly engaged people to help them handle the mental health aspect of the lockdown. It was a tough moment and I’m glad I could help so many people navigate. My advice for youths is this- the world may not be what you want it to be right now, but it can be if you put in the effort needed. Don’t be lost or carried away by current events, see how you can thrive through them. Opportunities abound, have the right circle, and work with them.
How do you think a Nigerian Youth is viewed presently in the outside world? Is there a way it can be changed or is it fine as it is now?
Image perception is a big deal. Based on past experiences with a few, many individuals outside Nigeria have a negative perception of Nigerians. You will recall that some time ago, President Muhammadu Buhari called Nigerian youths lazy and the outside world may share the same sentiment. However, Nigerians are hardworking, disciplined, and capable of so much more than the labels we have been branded with over time. Just a few days ago, Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi were reported to make about ₦79 billion from the sale of their startup, Paystack, to a US firm, this shows that Nigerian youths are indeed capable of thriving if they have the right support. The current image of the Nigerian youth can be rebranded and improved upon with the right measures put in place. This includes but is not limited to more employment opportunities, functional and quality education, better health care, social and technology-focused infrastructures aimed at youth and nation-building. We can be better and we will be better.
How aware do you think the average Nigerian youth is about climate change, causes, and effects?
I believe that the level of awareness and knowledge about climate change is rather low in the country. This may be because there is barely information broadcast regularly on television, radio, and social media platforms about this issue as well as effective measures that can help mitigate its consequences. I can say that Nigerians are aware of issues like flooding, food scarcity, hikes in the prices of basic commodities, but not how connected they are to climate change. This is an issue that can be rectified by the government, there does not seem to be a public policy or preparedness and commitment by the government to promote climate change adaptation strategies in the country. The lack of information and awareness about a serious global issue like this equals passive resistance on the parts of Nigerians to accept the reality of climate change. It doesn’t just look good and I hope we will have more advocacy groups come up that will begin to raise awareness and let people, especially young Nigerians know what lies ahead.