Education: How to Stay Relevant in the 21st Century

Published on 9th November 2021

I will mention a few important facts that I will like you to remember merely as a guide in the coming years. The first is that you must believe that you have all that it takes to succeed and that you will succeed. Do not accept or believe the story that you will not succeed or that the years gone by are better than yours. In fact, always be suspicious of those who are always talking about the “good old days” they probably have a bad memory. Every generation has its bright spots and its troubles.

The second is that it is the most advanced moment in human history. The smartphone you have in your hand today has 100 times more computing power than the computer in the Apollo spacecraft that took men to the moon in July of 1969.  I have in this device, my iPad and many of your smartphones, the space, and memory for 1000 times more books and materials than all the law books that were in the Elias Law Library at the University of Lagos, where I studied Law.

The third point is that success means continuous learning and self-development.  The fourth point is that collaboration and partnerships are important for businesses today especially tech-related businesses. The fifth thing is that the greatest mistake you can make is to think that character does not matter. It does. Integrity, and self-discipline in particular.

Now let me assure you that there is plenty of hope, and there are many opportunities. The world is changing. In my days, it was believed that you needed to be either a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant to be successful, today there are many different options.

There are more avenues for success now than ever before. There is a whole new world of opportunities that have opened up especially with the internet and digital technology.

I will share some of the stories of young men and women who in various endeavors have done two things. They have taken advantage of the many opportunities and they have demonstrated that the rules for success have not changed.

In the past few years, we have seen Nigerian start-ups owned by young men and women grow from scratch to billion-dollar businesses.  As of 2021, more than 6 of such companies have been named Unicorns. A Unicorn is a company that is worth over a billion dollars.  I will give examples of two companies, Paystack and Flutterwave.

Paystack was co-founded in 2016 by Shola Akinlade, and Ezra Olubi, both graduates of Babcock University, in their twenties. Paystack is a payment processing company. It is now estimated to be worth a billion dollars.

Flutterwave, also a payment processing company was co-founded by Gbenga Agboola and Iyin Aboyeji also in 2016. Iyin was 24 years old when they founded Flutterwave in Lagos. Flutterwave is now worth nearly $3billion and both companies employ hundreds of young men and women.

There is also PiggyVest, co-founded in 2016 by Odunayo Eweniyi, she was then 21 years old. PiggyVest is a wealth management platform, at the end of 2019 had helped one million users save about $80million dollars. Her co-founders are John Chibueze and Somto Ifezue. They were all classmates at Covenant University.

In agriculture, you have the digital agriculture businesses. I will give two examples of those I have actually met and who I have had an occasion to interact with except one or two. Two examples of agricultural technological companies; Thrive Agric and Farmcrowdy. Farmcrowdy, for example, uses technology to connect farmers to investors and provide a platform for trading raw agro products, inputs, and commodities, they have a farmer network of over 400,000 farmers.  The founders are Onyeka Akumah, Akindele Phillips, Temitope Omololani, Christopher Abiodun, and Ifeanyi Anazodo.  All in their early 20s when they started.

Onyeka Akumah a serial entrepreneur also started the highly successful Travelbeta, an online travel agency, that has raised over two million dollars in funding.

I am sure you all know that Nairaland, the popular Internet forum now listed by Forbes as the biggest African internet forum, was started by Seun Osewa at age 23, while still at the OAU.

Also, there are four award-winning small businesses, I will mention two. Soupah kitchen owned by Ifeoluwa Olatayo; a female entrepreneur, her company won the National Best MSME awards for 2019. She studied English at the University of Ibadan but she found a unique line of business making cooking easy. So, she collects vegetables such as tomatoes, pepper, and spices, processes them into various soup ingredients, packs, and preserves them so that all you need to do is add your vegetable and palm oil, and your stew is ready. Her company is at Mokola Army Barracks Road.

Another company Planet 3R owned by another lady, Adejoke Lasisi, her company won the Best MSME award for 2020 and they are in the business of recycling and waste management, they convert used ‘pure water’ cellophane bags, after thorough sterilization, into clothes, bags, shoes, using locally made wooden equipment. They are at New Ife Road.

There is Silas Adekunle, the robotics engineer who invented Mekamon, the world’s first intelligent gaming robot. Max Chinnah who, at 26, invented the Genesys Cooker, a smokeless stove that addresses the problem of smoke pollution which kills an estimated 4 million people every year. Or take Ejikeme Patrick Nwosu, an organic chemist who has invented a fire-retardant paint that could drastically mitigate the risk of fire outbreaks.

There are some using technology for humanitarian work Saadat Aliyu, who runs a tech hub in Kano, has developed an app for reporting cases of sexual assault. Last week, the Canon Young Champion of the Year Award – which celebrates the achievements of young people around the world who are driving social and environmental change, gave the award to Samuel Anjolaoluwa Alabi, (under 21) for his inspiring project, ‘Students of Ibadan,’ which shines a light on the struggles faced by under-served students in the city of Ibadan.

I have here with me two exceptional young Nigerians, my personal photographer Tolani Alli. Another Ibadan girl, She is a multiple award-winning photographer; she has been featured for her work in many foreign magazines. Netflix invited her to Los Angeles to represent Africa in a docu-series on filmmakers, photographers, and creatives from 5 continents.

Also, my videographer, Timmy Davies is also an award-winning cinematographer. He has travelled the world being invited to shoot films.  He shot the debut of Christian Dior in Africa. I am sure you know Johnny Drille; Timmy shot all the videos for his music. I caught him and invited him to spend some time in public service.

I met with some members of the association of Skit comedians online comedians. Taaoma, who has over 2 million followers on Instagram, studied Tourism at Kwara State University. There was also Woli Agba (Ajewole Ayobami), a graduate in Economics from Lead City University here in Ibadan.

Josh2funny graduated from Federal School of Science and Tech, Yaba in Computer Craft, or Mr. Hyena, who graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University in Computer Engineering. These are all comedians, who make three or more skits weekly online and work very hard. But millions watch them and so they too can make money from using their channels for advertisements.

How about teachers? A teacher in a primary school Henry Anumundu developed an effective learning process for school children in poor areas. He is also a well-celebrated award winner.

On teachers’ day at my office, I hosted Oluwabunmi Anani, the 2020 Winner of the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award, recognized for her revolutionary teaching methods in English and English Literature for senior secondary school students in Yola, Adamawa State. There are many more examples trading online, selling their skills from clothes, handmade shoes, to beauty products.  Some trading stocks, cryptocurrencies, and even forex. This is a new age and new workplace. Young men and women have different lines of opportunities.

What are some of the key lessons?

First is that most of these successful young people did not just stop at a university degree. They learned something extra, for some it was programming, some took extra courses online in management and entrepreneurship, some followed their passion into fashion, beauty, and there are others who are not entrepreneurs, but they are interested in being effective managers or policy people.

In my office, I have as many as forty extremely bright young men and women advising on policies ranging from power, to finance and the economy. Most of them are under the age of 35. The key is that they kept improving themselves.

Today you don’t need to go to Harvard Business School to do one of the best postgraduate courses in entrepreneurship, you can do it online on EdX. EdX is an online educational website co-founded by Harvard University and MIT. They have a wide range of excellent courses, many for free, others for as little as N50,000 if you want a certificate. Or the other great website for continuous learning, Udemy which offers a wide range of programs including web development, game development, digital marketing, and business analytics and design.

The second point is that all of these businesses we looked at a moment ago started small. Don’t be afraid of starting small and growing slowly, that is exactly how great businesses are formed. Don’t be distracted by “yahoo yahoo boys” who suddenly show up with a fancy car. Trust me, their days are numbered. They will go to jail one day.  What is the point of making money if you cannot sleep well at night?

The third point is that of all the examples I have given you, not one of them had rich parents and all of them did most, if not all of their schooling here in Nigeria.

It is important to bear in mind that a Nigerian education is an important credential because you understand the terrain and the lay of the land.

You must find out about the support that is available, either from the private sector or the government. For example, the Federal Government has established a N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund. This provides financial support for small businesses in any field.  The Central Bank of Nigeria has also established a Creative Sector Fund. This is for young people in entertainment or technology.  There is also the new programme called Investing in Digital and Creative Enterprises (iDICE) with over $600million to support young tech and creative sector entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs through the provision of finance, skills development, and infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the Federal government partnered with the UNDP and the private sector to start a programme called the Jubilee Fellows Internship Programme. For the next 5 years, every year 20,000 students after youth service will be given internship opportunities in private sector companies and in public agencies. The idea will be for the participants to gain relevant career and life skills that will enable them to transition seamlessly into professional, business, or public sector careers, while also earning very good pay during the internship. These opportunities exist, make the effort to access them.

Before I close let me dwell briefly on a point I made earlier, I said don’t be fooled, character is key to success.  It is not an old-fashioned or religious thing. It is a business and success decision you must make. Be known for your integrity, and reliability. Also, be diligent and be prepared. Character is self-discipline. There are many talented people who do not succeed because they lack self-discipline.

 It is the self-discipline that enables you to take opportunities when they come. Opportunity knocks as they say, but I think it’s probably truer to say that sometimes opportunity whispers. Besides as Leonard Ravenhill said, “the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of that opportunity.” You must be prepared. Most people have great hopes and dreams, but they are hardly ready for the opportunity when it comes.

Let me tell you a quick story. A lady worked with me many years ago. One of her greatest ambitions was to do a Master’s Degree in Law in the US. She prayed hard about it. And everyone in the department knew of her desire. One day out of the blues, we got an offer from a US Foundation through the US Embassy to nominate a candidate, preferably female to do a Master’s and fellowship in a US University. Wow!! The rejoicing that day. We were all so excited. We had only two days to the deadline. We had to submit her passport that afternoon. Then the bombshell, she didn’t have a passport! We tried desperately, the next day to obtain a passport but it didn’t work. To cut a long story short, she lost the opportunity. She had everything else but missed her moment.

So, there are some here who will say I want to work in an international organization, maybe the UN, and you know that to stand a good chance you need a second language apart from English. So, if you haven’t started yet, now is the time to learn French, Spanish, or even Mandarin. So, you won’t be like the young man who was asked if he spoke a second language and he said yes, English and Itsekiri.

The second part of that is integrity.  Basic honesty, trustworthiness. You must be trustworthy. Trust, not money, is the real currency of interaction whether it is commercial or social. If you can be trusted, if people find you trustworthy, the class of degree you have will not matter. Everybody is looking for a trustworthy person to partner with or to employ. Even thieves are in search of trustworthy people to keep their money with.

Third aspect of trust is respect for obligations. When you borrow, make sure you repay. Whether it is from a friend, a relation or a bank. Credit is the lifeblood of business. If you can be trusted to pay back you will always have enough credit. You are dead in business if your credit dries up.

So, there will be many paths out there as you step out into the world, never be afraid to try, never be afraid of failure, every great success usually also has stories of many failures, don’t let the past tie you down, your past is history, it is not your destiny, you will always be better tomorrow than you were today.

By Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON,

Vice President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria


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