Nigeria is indeed an interesting country. Here is a country with a large population of young people and high unemployment rate, yet those in authority act as if everything is alright or, in many instances, paint pictures of a bright future.
The Aso Villa Demo Day/GEM grants is a sad reminder of how a country takes delight in dashing the hopes of young start-ups. I remember when I first heard about the Aso Villa Demo Day in 2016, I felt it did not make sense and the price money of N3m to each of the three winners made me wonder what the person who came up with the idea was thinking.
Consequently, in a 2016 piece on this column, entitled ‘Expanding Aso Villa Demo Day project,’ I asked, ‘beyond the media hype, Public Relations and glitz of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and Mark Zuckerberg, gracing the grand finale; what really is the value of Aso Villa Demo Day to this ecosystem that is still very much in a struggle mode?’
Here is an excerpt: “I believe we can achieve better results if the fund spent in organising the grand event at the seat of power was spent on smaller events through already established pipelines (hubs and similar initiatives) in various states or zones. This is likely the type of strategy that will generate more sustainable results for us in the long term than awarding prize money to a lucky few.”
Be that as it may, I was impressed when news filtered in that the Federal Government was going to support a number of those who pitched at the event with the Growth and Employment Project grant.
This, for me, was a good development. Surprisingly, the list of AVDD start-ups to benefit jumped from 30 to 81 in total. This master move by the government gave doubting Thomases like me a shut-up-your-mouth sign.
However, if reports filtering in now are anything to go by, they are proving us right because many of the beneficiaries now believe that they were simply being set up for failure. Yes, they got the first tranche of the grant a few weeks after the announcement and went ahead to create extensive plans.
Some ordered new equipment while others hired new workers hoping that the other tranche would come soon. Sadly, days have turned to weeks and weeks to months. All they keep getting is, ‘we are working on it’.