Nigeria’s Creative Sector in a Time Warp: The Past, Present and the Future – Femi Balogun

Nigeria’s creative sector holds tremendous potential to unlock the country’s economy and provide increased employment opportunities for young people. The projections are promising – the sector is expected to be worth over 6 billion US Dollars by 2021. At the same time, WizKid and Burna Boy’s recent wins at the Grammy is indicative of this potential. But, there is a prosperity narrative about Nigeria’s creative sector that is yet to be written.

People who write and comment about the creative sector have continued to express optimism about the promise and prospects inherent in the sector. For instance, the country’s media and entertainment market is anticipated to be the fastest-growing across the globe and the sector is said to be the second largest employer of labour in Nigeria after agriculture. However, the sector is plagued with myriads of challenges making it difficult to contemplate its prospects. 

The biggest question therefore is, how do we negotiate the accumulated challenges that have continued to bedevil the sector with the current opportunities that exist while also contemplating the future of the sector? Using Tunji Larner’s theory of the Nigerian history, Nigeria’s creative sector can be described as being a time warp where we have to simultaneously deal with the problems of the past, a compounding of opportunities and challenges of the present as we contemplate the future; leaving a begging question, are we ready for the prosperity ahead? 

For one, Young people have been described as digital natives, but COVID-19 has exposed the digital divide that exists amongst the country’s young population. A lot of this is rooted in poverty and the gaps in the educational system but it is also compounded by informality, the lack of essential skills, insufficient funding, the gender gap, a backlog of analog reality, and a derogatory mindset about creatives. Informality and the lack of structure within the sector has perpetuated piracy and reduced the investment potential of the sector. Similarly, the complex nature of the value chain remains a deterrent for investors as assessing risks and projecting gains is problematic.

Nevertheless, recent trends such as advancement in technology, the fourth industrial revolution, increasing internet and mobile penetration as well as urbanization and an increasing youth population presents a unique opportunity to revolutionize the creative sector and accelerate the industry’s footprint on the global stage. Advancement in mobile and internet penetration is already demonstrating useful possibilities, such that in the wake of the pandemic, creative industries were able to take advantage of technology to innovate in an attempt to remain relevant and sustain growth

However, the sector is stretching itself as it attempts to simultaneously deal with current and past problems while also trying to take advantage of recent trends. For instance, while urbanization appears to be advancing growth and consumer expenditure, creating jobs for an increasing youth population of over 100 million presents its own challenges. The problem in this regard is wicked because of the digital divide that has exposed the back of Nigeria’s analog reality – many young people cannot afford a smart phone let alone purchase data. At the same time, there are gaps in curriculum that socializes young people into the world of work, especially in relation to digital and soft skills. 

The good news is that, the creative sector holds the potential to create jobs for young people. Our estimates suggest that the creative sector currently employs about 4.2 million people across five industries including Media, Entertainment. Beauty and Lifestyle, Visual Arts, as well as Tourism and Hospitality. Our projections also suggest that the creative sector can potentially create an additional 2.7 million jobs.

Where will these jobs come from? One might ask. They will be from the highly specialized roles such as videography and animation; generalist roles such as project managers and accountants; tech creative roles such as digital marketing and the sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs); and creative enabled jobs such as tour guides and housekeepers.

To make this happen, the creative sector will require substantial investments in skills development, prioritize regulation, improve working conditions for women while also supporting the sector with funding and enabling a business environment that supports innovation. Investment in skills development through the inclusion of soft skills and digital skills into the curriculum presents an opportunity to solve the skills gap and reduce the backlog of an analog reality. 

From our findings across the 5 creative industries, we found skills gaps in areas such as cinematography and videography, project management, marketing, customer service, graphic design and sewing. There is also significant demand gaps in roles such as project management, marketing, editing, sewing, writing and social media marketing.

Interestingly, we also found that although certain social settings may limit women’s career aspirations to certain roles like teaching and nursing, the creative sector provides an escape route for women to find new expressions in the way that they think about work. Hence, supporting the sector through a gender-responsive policy focused on leveraging women’s interests while addressing women-specific needs will be helpful. This is because the creative sector provides more opportunities for women due to low barriers to entry, entrepreneurship and work flexibility. Yet, working conditions remain vulnerable and volatile due to informality. 

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