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Sunday, September 26, 2021


Mr. Udom Inoyo

Etokowo Owoh

There were opportunities in the past, there are opportunities today, and there will be even greater opportunities in the future, for those who dared to explore the world to berth breath-taking innovations in history. Usually, such opportunities when they are being hatched, defy the attention of the world, even its immediate environment until they become irrefutably obvious. The world is full of “Thomases”, where seeing is believing. That seemed to be my observation on the 17th day of September 2021, when I attended the grand finale of AKWA IBOM TECH WEEK, 2021, held at Emerald Event Centre in Uyo. I am convinced not many Akwa Ibom people took studied notice of the Tech Week. Not even many would appreciate the import of the paradigm shift, and that 5-years from now, the result of this effort will certainly re-define the State technology landscape and re-configure the socio-economic character of our young people. 

The event, sponsored by Inoyo Toro Foundation, brought together techno-hungry, techno-passionate, young Akwaibomites who are ready to dare the IT world, willing to learn, and ready to debut their talents in the process of breaking loose from the hackneyed civil service state, politically laden and failed wealth creation mentality. This also included 72 already identified candidates who had applied to be part of a pitch competition. What was perhaps more germane, and exciting, was the array of equally young Akwa Ibom sons and daughters, who are miles ahead of their time, a galaxy of indigenes who are making their marks in the IT industry and who voluntarily came together to support, educate, and encourage their younger generation on the mechanics and business dynamics of the IT industry; and to help them navigate what many of the locals may think is impossible.

These include Usoro Anthony Usoro who is the CEO, Y’ello Digital Services at MTN Nigeria; Otto Abasi Williams, the Senior Vice President, Head of Partnerships Innovation and Digital Solutions at VISA, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa; Nsikan Utuk, a Technology Strategy Consultant; Mark Essien, the Founder/CEO at Hotel.NG; Aniedi Udo-Obong, Program Manager, Developer Ecosystem for Sub-Saharan Africa at Google; and Awana Efiong Esang, M/D/CEO, Primera Microfinance Bank. This galaxy of young stars and highflyers in the IT community lent their support to Mr. Udom Inoyo, Advisor, Inoyo Toro Foundation, and immediate past Vice Chairman, ExxonMobil Nigeria whose job, beyond the sponsorship, set the tone for the day’s business with a most encouraging, opportunity-loaded keynote address.

A few things from Inoyo’s keynote address became apparent and significant from this weekend's business refreshment. First were Mr. Inoyo’s words to the youth whom he advised not to worry about the current visible signs of poverty, but work to create lasting prosperity. Because present hardship the youth are experiencing is nothing but a blue sky which will soon give way to prosperity if they remain focused. To him, “If there is any subject that should engage everyone’s attention today, it should be about evolving a society that creates opportunities for our youths and challenges their psyche in terms of not only how they see themselves but also how the outside world perceives them”.


The second was the very low government presence at the occasion. This indicates that other than the government, other members of the Akwa Ibom community, from all demographics, could cooperatively fashion innovative development solutions to complement state government initiatives. Third, the gathering itself suggests that there are other sets of 72 (indeed more) young Akwa Ibom indigenes who can leverage opportunities of this nature across sub-sectors of our economy from where they could be groomed and encouraged to form a critical mass of ready to dare Akwa Ibomites. It is also germane to note the many kinds and empathetic big brothers who could be brought in to help salvage the ship of our young ones who are victims of several years of economic mismanagement. That rather than condemn, our veritable youths could be unhooked from the hanger of failure and paucity of opportunities. Indeed, with many of such events in our clime, even the other youths amongst us whom we see as irredeemable, could be turned into success stories.

Pretenses aside, we should asterisk the cooperative initiatives of Mr. Udom Inoyo, Aniekan Ukpanah, Managing Partner of Udo Udoma, and Belo-Osagie, a leading commercial law firm (who donated the one-million-Naira prize money to first place winner at the Pitch Competition slated for October 8, 2021, and hours of free legal counsel), Nsikak John, Head, Enterprise Innovation at the Nigeria Exchange Group (NGX) who facilitated a partnership with Africa Fintech Academy – a strategic development partner. The Academy will be deploying a build and growth boot camp for all the 72 idea owners at N1.5 million each. There are many others: Hanson John, Managing Director/CEO, Start Innovation Hub, Eric Ekwere, Ubong Ekefre, and Idotenyin Isaac to mention a few. 

The Akwa Ibom Tech Week represents one example of the many avenues we can come together to provide platforms for our youths to be empowered to tap into opportunities. Futuristically, Tech Week is a route to the world IT market and benefit from the local, national, and international technical and financial support systems to transform the State into an IT hub. Our youths want to become key solution providers in the renewed drive to create new wealth, stem unemployment, reduce over-dependence on government, and free themselves from the hackneyed yet unsubstantiated accusation of being lazy, unimaginative, and non-adventurous.

Our youths are talented, gifted, but they should be harnessed, supported, and guided to hold their own in the world. Hitherto, it would appear private sector encouragement was lacking in supporting youth activities. Despite the government's concerted efforts, a large chunk of the Akwa Ibom youth population could not be adequately accommodated in the ongoing transformation because development was not sufficiently multi-sectoral and with a diversified support base. Public-private sector collaboration was few and perhaps driven by individual egos. Inoyo Toro Foundation for the last 14 years has pointed the way to better social responsibility activities that emphasizes collaboration and networking. By sponsoring Tech Week and calling forth our sons and daughters to join hands to build a new future, the Foundation is set to unleash new succor on the youths. The aim is to re-invent the Akwa Ibom youth as a key component in the process of re-defining the State’s business landscape. Principally, it is to harness youth energies and take a key interest in the emerging future where only knowledge-based systems will survive. Public responsibility should be to select, train, incentivize, and create a pool of investment funds to grow a crop of Akwa Ibom youths who are willing, ready, and able, to swim in the rich waters of modern technology.

The week-long event sensitized the youths to have self-confidence and utilize their potentials vis-a-vis the myriad of opportunities in the IT world. The program covered all the senatorial districts. From the ensuing interactions and discussions that followed, it is obvious that a major challenge of the youths was the business geography of the State which seems insular and “limits” the extent of their forays into the IT world. There was the fear of resources scarcity to forge ahead with marketable IT solutions, particularly finance. There was gender phobia which tended to limit the female youth population. There was also the paucity of institutional support and excessive political pollution which blocked the visions of our young ones. All these fears were categorically, practically, and sincerely allayed. The IT industry is a distance enabler. The ability to constrict the world into a ‘small global community’ is made possible by IT. And this has opened opportunities for everyone, irrespective of distance. Not long ago, we talked about paperless offices. The covid-19 pandemic has brought the benefit of working from home and keeping even multiple jobs.

The Pitch Competition which has already attracted prizes ranging from one million Naira to three hundred thousand and the funding of the expected 72 boot camps valued at over N100 million proves that what matters is not funding as much as it is having winning ideas and having the heart and mind to dare and innovate to create value for the varied consumers of IT outcomes.

And therein lies my reference at the forum to Stafford Beer’s books: The Brain of the Firm and The Heart of the Enterprise, both being resource materials that can ignite mental audacity and passionate hearts to push for success. A hint was also made of the need for participants to appreciate the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and investment finance, through the understanding of financial intelligence. Financial intelligence should be built into all funding templates as long-term expansion, growth, and sustainability should be the hallmark of this very worthwhile venture.

It is envisaged that 5 years hence, the fruits of this seed sown by Inoyo Toro Foundation and the sacrifices of the resource persons drawn from across the globe, Akwa Ibom’s first eleven, this state of limitless possibilities will emerge as an IT destination reminiscent of America’s Silicon Valley, even if a microcosm of it.

Etokowo Owoh is a Management Consultant, Researcher, and Public Policy Analyst

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