BY EBELE ORAKPO
Dr. Ope Banwo is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Afrinet Business Solutions, an outfit that provides internet business solutions to businesses in Africa and non-African companies doing or seeking to do business in Africa using the power of the internet.
Banwo is an attorney, author, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and internet business consultant. In this chat with Vanguard, Banwo says he is passionate about empowering youths through the provision of tools, resources and connections.
According to Dr. Ope Banwo, he graduated from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1985, at the age of 20 among the top 10 in the class. In 1986, he was called to the bar after which he went on to get his master’s degree also in law from the University of Lagos.
He graduated top of the class in 1988 and then travelled to the US in 1995. In 2013, he got his PhD. He worked at Arthur Andersen and while there, he sat for the Chartered Accountancy exam and qualified.
Because of his deep conviction that the internet holds the key to Africa’s unemployment problem, Banwo decided to develop internet business solutions for the continent. He said: “What I have been passionate about in the last one and a half years is developing internet business solutions for Nigeria and Africa because I believe that one of the biggest solutions to unemployment in Nigeria is training people on how they can employ themselves on the internet and also helping companies to maximize the power of the internet.
Going online now is the in-thing and companies that are not on the internet will be left behind in the next three to five years. So a year and a half ago, I more or less took a semi leave of absence from my law practice (I only go for trials on Court of Appeal cases) to focus on developing solutions for companies on the internet.”
First internet summit:
“We have several initiatives that we have started because I love to innovate. We did the first internet summit last year, the African Internet Business Summit, which took place in November and next month, I will be launching the first internet school in Africa – American Internet Business School in Lagos.
It is the equivalent of Lagos Business School but for internet businesses where people can go online and learn different aspects of internet business like how to do social media marketing, reputation management on the internet; customer management, how to sell products and services on the internet.
People can get certification in these different areas and many of the companies employing people to manage their social media or sell online, do not have trained people so we are setting up that school to provide capacity-building for individuals as well as companies on internet business-related subjects. We are partnering with foreign professionals who are experts in this field to provide the curriculum, the training etc. and then we put it online and people can register as students and take courses and get certified.
To encourage internet businesses in Nigeria, Afrinet instituted two awards. “We feel that one of the ways to develop internet business in Africa is to start to recognise people who are doing great in internet business. So we are organising the first dot.com awards in Africa, Nigeria dot.com awards in November. The idea is to honour people in different areas of internet business like the best bank online, best newspaper online etc.
We brought together internet business professionals from within and outside Nigeria to do research online to get us the best in different categories like entertainment blog, news blog, best newspaper, best internet service provider, best insurance company online etc., about 25 categories. We will then narrow down to the best four or five in each category and the public will vote.”
There are two awards in each category – one is called Viewers’ Choice. Here, the candidate with the most votes from the public wins regardless of whether he is number one in terms of visit or not. In other words, the person that the public voted as number one based on their experience. Then there is the Practitioners’ Choice award ie by the African Academy of Internet Business People.
They will critically look at all the finalists and pick the best based on criteria we will give them. They will also come up with their own winner so each category will have two winners. Of course, it is possible for one person to win both awards but one will be based strictly on voting from the public while the other will be based on technical evaluation by the technical crew.”
We also organise periodic trainings for youths. I just concluded a freelancing course at Ajah, Lagos for unemployed youths because I believe that government should focus more on training the youths. If you can provide training that will cost little or even free training like I did, and the average person can learn how to do freelancing online, they can get to the point where they can be making $500 to $600 monthly in less than six months so they don’t need to apply for jobs.
“There is this man I trained at our summit last year, now, he is making more than $4,000 – $5,000 on the average every month, just doing proofreading online for people all over the world. So rather than complaining and waiting for government to create jobs, people can go online now and get jobs from all over the world. Today, you can stay here and get clients from Bangladesh, Australia etc., so you can employ yourself with minimal training at minimal cost to the government. Government should focus more on training people to be self-employed online.
I feel that is one of the biggest solutions to unemployment among the youths because anybody can go to a cybercafé and learn how to do legitimate business. Anybody can get a laptop and employ themselves; they don’t need to go complaining about Jonathan and unemployment in the country just because they have submitted applications everywhere for non-existent jobs.
If they can take three or six months to learn legitimate businesses online, they can be liberated and that has motivated me as I see people who have been unemployed for four, five years starting to earn their first $100 online. I am not saying that people will become millionaires overnight, that is a myth, you have to work hard to get there but I believe that the average person can become self-employed and can make N50,000 to N80,000 a month within three months of learning this business. That is why I am committed to internet business capacity-building in Nigeria. I feel the Press can point attention to this area, organise free seminars.
“It is not all about making money for me because I believe that as you grow, our business will also grow and that is why I do a monthly free training.