The emerg­ing gig econ­omy in Nige­ria

The gig econ­omy has al­lowed com­pa­nies and or­gan­i­sa­tions to get the best tal­ent they can af­ford for projects with­out hav­ing to fully em­ploy them, thus sav­ing them money.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of the In­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy all over the world has had a great im­pact on the modern work­force, giv­ing rise to the gig econ­omy. The way peo­ple work and the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the work­force have al­ways been con­tin­gent upon the tech­nolo­gies avail­able and the de­gree of col­lab­o­ra­tion re­quired to work.

Evo­lu­tion of work

In hunter-gath­erer so­ci­eties, work didn't re­quire great spe­cial­i­sa­tion and con­sisted of sim­ply gath­er­ing what was avail­able. Re­search shows that most hunter­gath­er­ers worked for be­tween three to five hours daily, and such work was con­fined to their ter­ri­to­ries. When the Agri­cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion took off, the struc­ture of work changed. Most peo­ple worked from dusk to dawn ev­ery day, ex­cept on their sa­cred days (Fri­day, Sab­bath, or Sun­day, de­pend­ing on one's re­li­gion).

With the ad­vent of the First In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, work was mech­a­nised, spe­cialised and cen­tralised. Peo­ple had to leave home daily to work for public or pri­vate em­ploy­ers for fixed hours.

Prior to in­tro­duc­tion of the stan­dard­ized tim­ing for work set by the gov­ern­ment, peo­ple sim­ply got up when the cock crowed to work and stopped work­ing when the sun be­gan to go down. But with in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, peo­ple changed the way they worked and adapted to the pat­tern most of us are fa­mil­iar with today.

There's a new rev­o­lu­tion go­ing on today of which we are slap-bang in the mid­dle. It is the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion that has led to com­put­er­i­sa­tion and the in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity of things. This has opened up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for how we work. It is this new rev­o­lu­tion that has spawned a whole new so­cial phe­nom­e­non – called the gig econ­omy.

Also known by other terms – such as the shar­ing econ­omy; the on-de­mand, peer, or plat­form econ­omy – the gig econ­omy refers to the sit­u­a­tion where peo­ple take jobs, mostly short-term, and ex­e­cute and de­liver over the In­ter­net. In the gig econ­omy, tem­po­rary po­si­tions are com­mon­place and or­gan­i­sa­tions con­tract in­de­pen­dent work­ers for short-term en­gage­ments.

It is not un­usual to find a soft­ware project, for ex­am­ple, hav­ing pro­gram­mers from Be­larus, de­sign­ers from Kenya and project man­agers from the United States, all work­ing re­motely. As an ex­am­ple – WriteRack is a Nige­rian project, with In­dian pro­gram­mers, and some staff liv­ing in San Francisco, US.

The gig econ­omy is al­ready re­cast­ing the shape of ad­vanced economies. The num­ber of gig or on-de­mand work­ers in the United States is ex­pected to nearly dou­ble in the next four years. That means 9.2 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are ex­pected to work in the gig econ­omy by 2021, up from 3.8 mil­lion last year, ac­cord­ing to com­bined re­search by In­tuit and Emer­gent Re­search. The new face of work has been un­der­pinned by the rise of star­tups like Uber and Airbnb – mam­moth, colos­sal money-spin­ners that unashamedly ad­ver­tise them­selves as the fu­ture of work. A McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute sur­vey found that up to 162 mil­lion peo­ple in Europe and the United States – or 20 to 30 per­cent of the workingage pop­u­la­tion – en­gage in some form of in­de­pen­dent work.

Nige­ria is not an ex­cep­tion to the gig econ­omy. In­creas­ingly, many peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the young, par­take in it. The jobs that are mostly as­so­ci­ated with this econ­omy are those in ICT, de­sign, writ­ing, etc. They are of­ten jobs in­di­vid­u­als take on out­side their tra­di­tional 9-5 jobs.


There are a few ad­van­tages to this re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of global em­ploy­ment. For one, it has al­lowed peo­ple to build al­ter­na­tive in­come streams by max­imis­ing their earn­ing po­ten­tials. In the­ory, peo­ple are in­creas­ingly able to use their free time on projects they other­wise would not be able to work on be­cause of lo­ca­tion and time con­straints.

The sys­tem has also en­abled peo­ple to build in­comes from ca­reers other than the ones they are em­ployed in. Of­ten­times, the ex­tra in­comes are from hob­bies. For ex­am­ple, a lawyer is able to dou­ble as an on­line colum­nist and con­trib­u­tor for news sites through the In­ter­net.

Lastly, the gig econ­omy has al­lowed com­pa­nies and or­gan­i­sa­tions to get the best tal­ent they can af­ford for projects with­out hav­ing to fully em­ploy them, thus sav­ing them money. Smooth FM, a top ra­dio sta­tion here in La­gos, as an ex­am­ple, has two reg­u­lar hosts, Ro­tus Odirri and Tega Ono­jaife, who are not mem­bers of staff, but es­sen­tially run the sta­tion's busi­ness and sports desks, re­spec­tively.

This abil­ity to 'ca­reer-task' and jug­gle sev­eral job roles al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously, has quickly turned into one of the dis­tinc­tive mark­ers be­tween mil­len­ni­als

and the gen­er­a­tions be­fore them, where the lat­ter could only work on one job at any given time, as any other job re­quired their phys­i­cal pres­ence.


But what are the chal­lenges that this new and grow­ing sys­tem faces in a coun­try like Nige­ria?

The work­place has al­ways been per­ceived as both a seat of per­sonal and, in some cases, na­tional iden­tity. It has also been a site of ex­ploita­tion, up­heaval and shame. The in­dus­try that un­der­pinned the rise of modern so­ci­eties in Western Europe and North Amer­ica in the nine­teenth cen­tury was of­ten in­hu­mane and flat-out deadly. The twen­ti­eth-cen­tury pal­lia­tive – a cor­po­rate work­place of rules, hi­er­ar­chies, col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, trip­li­cate forms and HR – brought its own un­fair­nesses.

These labour is­sues have not been sorted out in Nige­ria. As of today, Nige­ria is still an em­ployer's mar­ket. While gig­ging fur­ther re­flects the per­pet­ual op­ti­mism of con­tem­po­rary times, the op­por­tu­nity cost of tak­ing back own­er­ship and con­trol of one's time and des­tiny – and its at­ten­dant so­cial ef­fects – re­main un­cer­tain.

Gig­ging has also been at­tacked for not guar­an­tee­ing the le­gal rights of the work­ers who, in many cases, are less ea­ger par­tic­i­pants in the sys­tem than some of its fer­vent ad­vo­cates would want peo­ple to think. Thus, the shar­ing econ­omy's most ar­dent ben­e­fi­cia­ries, the tech­nol­ogy star­tups that re­quire a steady sup­ply of cheap labour, have rather in­fa­mously clam­oured for their work­ers to be classed as “in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors.” Part of the rea­son for this clas­si­fi­ca­tion is to avoid pro­vid­ing their work­ers with the most ba­sic of em­ploy­ment rights, such as paid hol­i­days and the min­i­mum wage – costs which are sure to shrink their bot­tom lines.

There are also ques­tions of work ethics and the ca­pac­ity of young work­ers that are of­ten un­able to prop­erly ar­tic­u­late and plot the tra­jec­to­ries of their ca­reers. The McKin­sey sur­vey, ref­er­enced above, also found that, while de­mo­graph­i­cally di­verse, in­de­pen­dent work­ers largely fit into four seg­ments: free agents, who ac­tively choose in­de­pen­dent work and de­rive their pri­mary in­come from it; ca­sual earn­ers, who use in­de­pen­dent work for sup­ple­men­tal in­come and do so by choice; re­luc­tants, who make their pri­mary liv­ing from in­de­pen­dent work but would pre­fer tra­di­tional jobs; and the fi­nan­cially strapped, who do sup­ple­men­tal in­de­pen­dent work out of ne­ces­sity. A mot­ley bunch of these sorts of work­ers with dif­fer­ing in­ter­ests and ex­pec­ta­tions from the shar­ing econ­omy, cou­pled with tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion that is spawn­ing in­creased au­to­ma­tion and the rise of ro­bot­ics, presents a unique set of chal­lenges for gov­ern­ments, em­ploy­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als try­ing to map and shape the fu­ture of work.

Cost-ben­e­fit propo­si­tion

De­spite these chal­lenges, it is im­por­tant to note that in the new gig econ­omy, busi­nesses cut costs and save re­sources in ar­eas such as ben­e­fits, of­fice space and train­ing. Busi­nesses also have the lee­way to con­tract ex­perts, who might other­wise have been too ex­pen­sive to hire on a full­time ba­sis, for spe­cific projects.

From the per­spec­tive of the free­lancer, a gig econ­omy can im­prove work-life bal­ance over what is ten­able in most jobs. Ide­ally, the model is pow­ered by in­de­pen­dent work­ers select­ing jobs that they're in­ter­ested in, rather than those in which peo­ple are forced into by pick­ing up what­ever tem­po­rary gigs they can land be­cause they are un­able to at­tain em­ploy­ment.

The gig econ­omy in Nige­ria is only bound to grow in leaps and bounds as the use of In­ter­net deep­ens and young peo­ple are com­pelled to get cre­ative due to the cur­rent eco­nomic con­di­tions. How­ever, the wider po­lit­i­cal and so­cial con­sid­er­a­tions add an un­wanted layer of un­cer­tainty to the fu­ture eco­nomic land­scape.

When it comes to the new econ­omy, it's fair to say that we are only just get­ting started here. Cheta Nwanze is Head of Re­search at SBM In­tel­li­gence.

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