As we find ourselves saying often, there is no need for predictions. Only interpretations. Our investigations into the trends and lifestyles that will drive Nigerian cultural and consumer behaviour in the immediate term have yielded the top 15 trends that will translate into economic, political and social outcomes over the year.
Can we talk about your mental health now?
Under the subheading ‘Not safe, yet’ a year ago, this report highlighted how issues such as depression and anxiety had gained more spotlight within the context of interpersonal relationships. This was also in recognition that those who suffer from mental disorders still experience stereotypes that stigmatise their illness consciously or subconsciously. The report also explained that non-profit and private organisations are now taking the initiative to enter this space with the trade-off of behavioural data that can be farmed for multinational corporations. We expected that the conversation would not translate into real action or change in Nigeria this year, but it will definitely intensify. Unfortunately, or however you choose to see it, 2020 massively drove interests and conversations about mental health to the fore.
In June 2018, the World Bank reported that 87 million Nigerians live below the poverty line of $1.90 per day, and by July 2019, the country added 4 million more. It is absurd to delineate the rising poverty rate from Nigeria’s current position as the African country with the highest number of depression cases and 15th globally in the frequency of suicide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 4 out of 5 employees are also at the risk of developing mental health issues. There is a huge demand for psychological care, and forward-thinking businesses and organisations are taking serious interests in policies and programs to address common mental health deprecators among employees. Recognising the vital connection between productivity and wellbeing, employers are equipping team members to ensure that they are happy and mentally healthy while working from home and that the phenomenon of ‘toxic productivity’ does not sour the move to remote working.
The future of work is here
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella captured perfectly one of the most significant impacts of the pandemic when he declared that, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.
Hybrid of work is finally here. With HR becoming more agile and digital, successful companies in Nigeria, especially those concerned with thriving within a pandemic and post-pandemic economy, are now more focused on outcomes than activities. Rather than investing time in the urge to appear ‘busy’ and ‘hardworking’, companies allow talents to deliver excellence and improve corporate value amidst limited operational costs. Many are asking questions such as: What are the tasks that can be done more productively remotely? What are the types of work we need to be together to do? What trainings will be necessary to support our A-players for the new culture? How does our culture need to evolve in line with hybrid working? How can our workplaces be more collaborative?
Even with the arrival of the vaccine in the country, limited access remains a hurdle for many Nigerians. This still places COVID-19 at the front and centre of many corporate decisions in 2021, even while many European countries, the United States and other first-world countries begin to re-open their economies. HR and People Analytics teams will become essential in sustaining financial growth for many businesses.
A consequence of a year defined by viral disease, lockdowns, social distancing and unrest has become pivotal in determining the socio-economic direction of many countries, including how young people have chosen to plant and nurture the green shoots of change in themselves and their communities. COVID-19 has significantly influenced the entrepreneurial engagement of major businesses and even young employees. With the pandemic, the unwavering desire to make things better has never been so apparent, especially in terms of newer and effective entrepreneurial business models and approaches.
The sociological reaction to such change has inspired a spate of creativity and innovation never recorded in years.
So, while the market has struggled through a pandemic, the need for survival grows stronger among Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), leading young entrepreneurs to shift their business approach, invest and adapt to the “new normal”.
The pandemic has also given rise to new nano-entrepreneurs, with many young Nigerians seeking new ways out of the financial crisis. According to the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN), the number of micro-enterprise companies nationwide is 41,469,947 – but this fails to account for the informal nano-businesses that are labour intensive and exist in most homes.
These businesses often possess no flashy business plans or five-year expansion forecasts, have limited structures, the fewest business registrations, and do not even own bank accounts. They exist as startups – from individuals producing and selling face masks and shields in local communities to local taxi startups turning into grocery delivery companies. Their innovation is often incremental but essential for survival. These new-born entrepreneurs have become more opportunistic, pivoting their businesses and redirecting existing knowledge, skills, people and networks to new needs that have emerged in their communities.
Honing the home office
Many businesses and home workers initially managed a temporary setup to remain productive during the lockdown, with companies leveraging opportunities to stay afloat during the crisis. Lockdowns and social distancing measures have forced workers out of offices and into their homes, working on dining tables, sofas, beds, and dedicated home offices for a lucky few. While it is not a new phenomenon, working from home is now the subject of much debate.
Since the pandemic, these temporary setups have become more sophisticated spaces in their home from which to work as the permanency of the new working situations settles in. Although in Nigeria, working from home does have its challenges, especially with an epileptic power supply and an inconsistent internet connection, many have gotten over the boredom that arose from the sudden change and are demanding for an effective work-from-home policy from their companies. For companies, it has become less stressful, less expensive, and useful in cutting operational costs.
For those who spent last year testing the procedure, including many already preparing for the second phase of lockdown measures as COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise, the home office has become a permanent feature.
Even before Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted in November 2019 that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!)”, the scale of adoption in the country had proven to be impressive year-on-year. With a double inflation rate, the Naira devaluation and a younger, excited and rising generation with a wider exposure to global financial transactions and wealth-generation, it became easy to understand that Nigeria would be the future of cryptocurrency on the continent. Bitcoin trading volume was already growing at 20 percent per year. In 2020, there was a 30 percent trading spike, with over 20,500 coins ($451 million) traded and a 137 percent increase in new registrations in Nigeria. In May 2020, the country had the highest trading volume in Africa at $7.2 million in one week. By December 2020, Paxful, a leading peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace, reported that Nigeria had become the world’s second-largest Bitcoin trading volume – trading 60,215 Bitcoins in the last five years, or more than $566 million.
Cryptocurrency is increasingly being used in Nigeria to transfer money within and outside its borders. The scale of adoption is further driven through its wide usage during the #EndSARS protests, with large Nigerian diaspora populations and local activist groups raising funds in cryptocurrencies (the Feminist Coalition raised $155,000 in Bitcoin, 40 percent of their $387,000 total). This is supported through the SEC Regulatory Acceptance, Diaspora Remittance Payments and Naira restrictions by the Central Bank. Applications like Cryptofully also enable remittances from anywhere in the world to any Nigerian bank account using bitcoin and will enable the use of cryptocurrencies to pay bills, purchase items, and transfer money.
Nigerian tech startups are fully ready for the world
Last August, WorldRemit made the largest investment ever in an African technology startup: The London-based company paid $500 million to acquire Sendwave, a remittance company that allows people in Europe and North America to send money to seven African countries and Bangladesh. In October 2020, U.S. payment giant Stripe paid $200 million for Paystack, a Nigerian payment-processing company. It might appear to be a long time ago, but it is a big deal. More importantly, the Paystack agreement was seen as the model: a truly African company, founded by two young people from Lagos, attracting attention from global giants. It is not a coincidence that there has been a glut of deals focusing on African Fintech.
Responding to the banking challenges in the country, Fintechs are faster to market while possessing smaller and more agile teams, and are ready to support Nigeria’s financial inclusion drive and on-going digital shift. Chaka and Bamboo offer investment in international stock markets; startups such as Carbon and Renmoney provide loans; CowryWise and PiggyVest offer higher interest rates on savings while OPay and Interswitch’s Quickteller provide banking and USSD services. These Fintech companies in Nigeria were not immune to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with many experiencing the usual pain of loan defaults, low debt ratios, and low profits in the medium term. But more Fintechs are developing enhanced brand propositions across the value chain to address pain points in the banking sector, especially through mergers and acquisitions as evidenced through Snapplify, Autochek and AfricaSokoni, Paga, Farmcrowdy making startup purchases recently. It has made tech insiders optimistic that 2021 could be the year for more global acquisitions and partnerships.
We just want to have fun
The nightmare is over. Maybe not, but we can act like it. The global pandemic defined the year 2020, shocking the world into a standstill. It terrified many who would prefer to explore the world, as many countries announced travel restrictions, grounded planes, closed borders and ordered mandatory quarantines. But as more and more countries are opening up, although this comes with several requirements and a not-so-easy cost as health and safety protocols to allow people to travel safely and confidently, there is already a strong urge among many Nigerians to live 2021 a little differently.
Travellers are keen to travel but feel restrained. Most cultural institutions remain indefinitely closed, including libraries, art exhibitions, museums, film and television productions, theatre performances, concert tours, zoos, music- and arts festivals, events and performances were cancelled or postponed. As the year begins, there’s a rising optimism with the vaccines now available, and travel intent climbs. People will now prioritise travel in new ways that allow a connection and authentic experience that acts as a salve for the sense of deprivation in 2020, both in leisure and business settings. As travellers desire something more original and authentic, consumers are spending more and focusing on the visceral aspect of travel connections. Traditional travel advisors have also become more relevant as travellers seek clarity on the travel experience, and global booking platforms are set to evolve to better merchandise inventory for up-selling flights, accommodations and tour activities.
Skills are the new currency
Even before the pandemic, the era of linear career paths as the number 1 form of professional growth came to an end. As the global workforce acknowledges a changed world, therefore a changed job market, Nigerian companies are investing in learning to keep employee skillsets – and employees – agile throughout their careers. With younger workers who are also keen to experiment different roles while growing and rising within an organisation, learning, career and internal mobility, and skills and technology enable personalisation to create a thriving marketplace for talent. With the pandemic increasing the focus even more on internal mobility, the rise of the ‘talent marketplace’ will gather pace in 2021. The shift to focusing on skills is changing strategic workforce planning, thereby placing HR in a truly culture-defining role within the organisation.
As the function rapidly reinvents itself to meet the organisation’s lofty expectations, employees must become more digital, more agile and more data literate to deliver greater business value. Moreover, HR should play a crucial part in helping leaders create transparent, inclusive, diverse and psychologically safe workplaces built on trust, equity and a sense of belonging.
Local providers, Spectranet and Swift, were the first to launch 4G LTE service in 2013 although their services remain limited to certain cities. MTN Nigeria became the first large GSM operator in the segment following the acquisition of a 10-year licence for the 2.6-GHz spectrum in June 2016. Although the higher-frequency spectrum has a shorter range and propagation ability, it has greater throughput. The operator also gained access to the lower-frequency 800-MHz spectrum by acquiring Visafone, a CDMA radio system operator. Nigeria’s 4G LTE coverage took off in 2014 after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) licensed South African firm, Smile Communications to provide mobile broadband services via 800-MHz 4G networks in select urban areas. Other GSM operators, Globacom and 9Mobile, entered the 4G market by repurposing exiting spectrum allocations for their new services.
The telecom industry will require massive investment to deploy 5G networks, including buying spectrum, upgrading core network software to 5G and installing millions of small cells. In June 2020, the Nigerian Ministry of Communications and the Digital Economy directed the NCC to start working on a 5G policy that would include contributions from a wide range of groups from the Ministry of Health to consumer advocacy groups. So far, telcos’ investment decisions have been cautious, and participation is expected to be slow and gradual. But with the rising market competition to be the leading brand for internet connection and data usage, there will be a serious race on which telco will be the first to scale 5G.
The 5G rollout is expected to transform any industry that relies on connectivity, not just mobile connectivity. The global economic potential for 5G is expected to create $13.1 trillion worth of revenue as well as 22 million jobs by 2035.
Mask on, mask off (Fashion I)
Remember the Nigerian celebrities who turned up at the AMVCA wearing jewelled face masks, amid the coronavirus pandemic – and many of them defined it as a way to make a statement for social distancing rather than to prevent the spread of the virus? Good times, wasn’t it?
Now, the most popular article of clothing most likely to be associated with this period is the face mask, that humble piece of cloth that has come to represent both its vaguely apocalyptic vibe, and the ingenuity of brands and individuals to turn that into something fun and self-expressive. No one really knows how long we will be required to wear masks, but they have become a symbolic part of our lives and have even been turned into fashion accessories. Businesses typically design personalised masks with brand logos, colours and other representation of their visual brand identity. Heads at several runways in 2020 were adorned with latex balaclavas to rhinestone head wraps, with both big and small retail brands are creating masks as fashion statements.
As an item that has grown to become a culture statement, the face-mask as a fashion statement may survive the pandemic.
The digital runway (Fashion II)
With the pandemic disrupting global value chains, leading to factories closing their doors, border closures and travel restrictions, technology has become a lifeline for Nigeria’s fashion industry. While the fashion calendar’s future appears uncertain, creative designers are now challenged to leverage innovative means to overcome amid a health pandemic and an economic depression. Fashion designers focus on creating top of mind awareness using digital channels by hosting web-based VLOGs with scheduled programming and participating in live and recorded virtual fashion shows. At the Lagos Fashion Week, a series of live-streamed and virtual conferences began in April 2020, driven through Woven Threads and its #StayHome Live series. The event engaged its audience with small virtual events in conversation with industry experts and stakeholders from across the continent. From December 10 – 12, the Arise Fashion Week held virtually. Again, many Nigerian designers are using social media and video streaming to continue to unveil new collections mostly via lookbooks and virtual runway shows.
Without having a catwalk of pavements to present curated outfit combos on, fashion enthusiasts are also grappling at indoor-wear seams as an output for creativity. With Instagram pages dedicated to working-from-home wear and a rising popularity of hashtags, social media is becoming a curated haven of fashionable face masks, matching loungewear and colourful slippers.
As Nigeria hunkered down in various stages of COVID-19 lockdown, the scramble among schools, institutions and brands to arrange distance learning and keep students engaged began. For many families that could afford excellent internet connection and mobile devices, a tablet and Zoom became the go-to solution for teachers attempting to bridge the gap between a physical classroom and a fully online education. For the majority of children, it also meant WhatsApp classrooms and radio lectures. Almost a year since the pandemic, the necessity of remote education remains.
In partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, Data Science Nigeria and Malezi created a platform for underprivileged children to access quality education through multi-channel platforms for the next one year. Through the Eko EXCEL project, pupils attending the 1,016 public primary schools in Lagos State have begun getting MP3 devices to boost learning at home. Nigeria has also entered a partnership with Israel through Innovation Fellowship for Aspiring Inventors and Researchers (i-FAIR) to improve E-Learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has already insisted Nigerian universities are not ready to re-open in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving students at home for over a year – a period that also covers a long strike. And as more students and families feel comfortable with remote learning, more demand for teachers will arise. This could create a new class of gig workers: teachers. If that will mean a better education for students and wholesome working conditions for teachers remain to be seen.
The more you know about digital privacy and data harvesting…
For years, government surveillance of private citizens has been a privacy issue, with many pointing at several companies and systems that make citizen surveillance possible. One of those companies is Circles, a surveillance firm that reportedly snoops on calls, texts, and the location of phones around the globe. Two things that stand out about Circles is that its products can work without needing to hack your phone. An investigation by Nigerian online newspaper, Premium Times found that Bayelsa and Delta states’ governors purchased systems from Circles to spy on their political opponents. In Delta State, Premium Times reports that the system was installed at the “governor’s lodge,” and operated by the governor’s employees, rather than police. In Bayelsa , the governor reportedly used the Circles system to spy on his opponent in an election, as well as his opponent’s wife and aides.
Nothing digital is private any longer: Social platforms are collecting, marketing, and selling our data. While much has not changed due to limited information on its recent terms and conditions, the certain drip-drip of WhatsApp information-sharing and rising third-party user engagement has further interested social media activism and data privacy which will also drive more need for action on user protection.
More than ever, telemedicine will make the difference
For Nigeria, telemedicine isn’t new. Eleven years ago, Lagos State University launched a pilot project that provided an interactive electronic mode of teaching, research and provision of medical services by lecturers, students and patients. Its efficiency and cost-savings also encouraged other Nigerian universities to consider partnerships with IT companies that provide telemedicine infrastructure. Video conferencing, an integral part of telemedicine, also allowed medical professors in Indian universities to present research findings to their Nigerian counterparts and medical students, and vice versa, while academics from both countries deliver lectures.
But for millions of Nigerians, telemedicine is a new concept. A pandemic, growing population and abject lack of medical infrastructure have created a high demand for healthcare services and a huge market for telemedicine to thrive in. In the current fight against the COVID-19, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reveals telemedicine as the best method when physical visits are unnecessary to avoid overcrowded spaces and increased exposure to potential infections. In addition to this being critical during a pandemic, telemedicine also reduces the strain on healthcare systems in many ways. Furthermore, it also reduces healthcare costs, with an increase in the efficiency of care delivered to patients while reducing expenses associated with inpatient care and transportation to other locations.
Just last May, Helium Health secured a $10 million investment from a Series A funding round, co-led by the UAE’s Global Ventures, with the startup now offering a comprehensive suite of technology solutions, including electronic medical records and telemedicine, as well as administration and financial management. Founded in 2016 by Adegoke Olubusi, Dimeji Sofowora, and Tito Ovia, Helium Health has successfully highlighted the importance of health tech in Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked its telemedicine solution, with around 360 hospitals signing up in the three weeks since launch. Evercare Group, a healthcare delivery platform that operates hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic facilities across Africa and South Asia, also launched a telemedicine platform called Ecare in September 2020. When stakeholders are rethinking their attention and investment in healthcare, Lagos-based startup Healthlane, which assists its users in gaining access to quality and affordable healthcare services, secured a $2.4m investment from the London-based venture capital firm Digital Horizon. With the new funding, the startup revealed its intention to repeat the success of “Ping A Good Doctor” by building an ecosystem of medical services based on existing offline infrastructure. The startup also added new features such as calling a doctor at home, gaining access to test results and prescriptions, telemedicine, and ordering medicines with delivery to the startup’s solutions.
According to a report by Fitch Solutions, healthcare expenditure in Nigeria is predicted to reach N5.6 billion by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 8.35 percent year-on-year. This is up from an estimated N 5.3 billion in 2020. By 2021, healthcare spending is estimated to make up 2.94 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the government is expected to spend N1.5 billion by 2021, the private sector will spend N 4.3billion in the same period. Governments at federal, state and local levels have been making healthcare in remote rural areas their focal point over the years so as to enable citizens in both rural and urban areas to have equal access to medical services and clinical healthcare. Among other things, this will improve the quality of healthcare in rural and outlying areas, lower costs of delivering healthcare and give remotely placed physicians the opportunity to consult over any patient’s case.
There is no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year for Nigeria’s healthcare sector, and the pandemic has put additional pressure on a hugely stretched and under-resourced system. But it has also opened up a chance for systemic change in a broken healthcare system.
Content, data wars, and the influence of Gen Z
One in every four Nigerian is a Gen Z – those born between 1995 and 2010, and their parents mostly fall within the Baby Boomer (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1964 -1980) age groups. The oldest in this generation will be turning 25 this year, and while some have already joined the workforce, a significant number of those with tertiary education will be graduating and looking to find jobs soon. They were born during the dot com era and were raised on technology. They witnessed the rise in conversations about gender equality, sexual orientation equality, shared family responsibilities, and collective volunteerisms. While the millennials are known for ditching cable for online streaming services, the Gen Z was never connected to the cord in the first place. Instead, Gen Z users are attracted to social platforms, including YouTube, and newcomer TikTok, which has led to entirely different viewing behaviours and content interests, evolving media consumption trends which are essential to note. That shift away from traditional TV and the shorter clip-style presentation of YouTube – has led to a whole new approach to video content. At the same time, it is also seen the rise of ‘vloggers’, an entirely new category of celebrity.
TikTok has also seen a significant rise since 2019, and the majority of its growing audience is within the Gen Z age range. The popularity of its short-form video format has brands taking notice, which is now leading to new approaches designed to cater to this market. What works for the app is mostly the same as the similar short-form predecessor, Vine: quick, fun, DIY-style content that aligns with trends and memes. Creativity within the medium is highly encouraged by the TikTok community, who engage and follow little-known video creators and turn them into TikTok stars. As the platform evolves, we see the rise of these TikTok influencers who post original content. The company now also has a catalogue of its vetted influencers that brands can partner with.
Over the past two years, telcos have consistently invested in creative telco ads and slogans showcasing various deals for data bundles in Nigeria, as each service provider tried to claim the lion share of Nigeria’s Internet population. The stiff competition has also caused repeated reduction in data price, and the rapid spread of 4G technology. On the flip side, many users have complained that data seems to be draining more rapidly, and the cost of accessing the Internet is still relatively higher than in other countries. Nigeria is still faced with poor internet quality, with a recent survey conducted on 4G services showing that Nigeria ranked 75 out of 77 of the countries surveyed in terms of 4G speed. The 4G networks enjoyed today are light-years from the 3G that kicked off the mobile data revolution at the turn of the millennium.
Video is at the centre of this shift in content creation – and by extension, data usage. TikTok was the most used app of 2020 and was more popular among Generation Z, as it heads towards 1.2 billion active users in 2021. This was followed by WhatsApp at 600 million installs, followed by Facebook with 540 million installs, Instagram with 503 million, and Messenger with 404 million. For telco service providers, the shift represents a treasure trove, as the new generation also tend to be heavy users of both data and voice services with data service trending upwards. In all, demand for better internet quality will continue to rise, and GSM companies will continue to jostle for market share.
But the shift in the consumer market demands for a newer approach in internet service delivery.