As a tech reporter, I’ve had a front-row seat to the explosion of digital services in Nigeria. I’ve seen gig work companies expand rapidly over the last decade, to take advantage of the country’s population — the largest on the continent. But it’s not just about the big numbers: it’s in the stories of individual people who’ve had their lives changed that I’ve seen how transformative this shift has been.
While the gig work model certainly has problems, it’s hard to deny its impact and that it is making a real difference to the ways people live and work. Here are four ways I’ve seen the gig economy disrupt life in Nigeria.
Freelancing platforms connect Nigerians to international employers
In 2016, I met Tope at a cybercafé in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos. He was a data analyst — the so-called sexiest job on the planet — but he couldn’t find work inside the country. And yet, each day, I’d find Tope sitting in the corner, intensely tapping away at his laptop. Despite having no decent jobs on his resume, Tope secured work from clients in the United States and Canada as a freelancer on Fiverr. When converted to the local currency, his freelancing income was more than five times Nigeria’s minimum wage at the time.
Tope is one of many young, digitally savvy Nigerians who are making a living from clients all around the world through freelancing platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and Toptal. It’s a natural fit: English is a native language here, labor costs are (relatively) low, and the country’s blossoming tech industry means there’s an army of people developing skills needed by companies around the world.
This disruption has even triggered worries about a talent shortage in the Nigerian tech ecosystem in recent months, with companies trying to retain workers amid a global scramble for tech talent.
Ride-hailing means a better commute
While ride-hailing firms famously clashed with authorities when they were introduced in developed markets, it’s a different story in Nigeria. Public transport is underdeveloped, dominated by rickety buses where passengers are squeezed tighter than sardines in a can. And if you were rich enough to hail a cab? Congratulations: You were sitting in a decades-old car without air conditioning. It all felt like a bunch of bad options.
Ride-hailing changed transport dynamics in Nigeria. It gave riders who could afford it a decent experience, at last. And it meant that someone who had already paid the steep price to own a car could also earn a steady income. There are an estimated 9,000 ride-hailing drivers and over 250,000 rides a month in Nigeria now, and that number is expected to only climb.
It’s true that ride-hailing is still a pricier option, and so it still contends with Nigerian realities like low household incomes. And no matter how good the ride is, there’s nothing it can do about the traffic in Lagos. But it definitely offers a better commuting experience, and that’s very valuable to many working folks today.
Bike deliveries are formalizing an underground industry
While working on a story a few weeks ago, I met Benjamin, who told me he’s been driving his motorcycle for a decade. He started as an okada — a Nigerian term to describe ferrying passengers on motorbikes — driver. It’s a thriving informal industry that’s cheap and cuts through the traffic in Lagos. But it’s also illegal and seen as a rough and dangerous line of work.
Enter gig work companies. Drivers like Benjamin joined bike-hailing companies, embracing it as a chance to turn their underground profession into a formal one. They looked the part, too, with uniforms, helmets, and other safety equipment. Many of them even embraced smartphones for the first time. They were effectively doing the same job as before, but now in a formal, organized way … well, until the government cracked down and banned bike-hailing.
But a good number of them, like Benjamin, found a new solution: deliveries. Bike-hailing platform Gokada was one of the many that made a quick pivot to logistics, asking their drivers to carry deliveries instead of passengers. It was a win-win: companies found a willing supply of trained drivers with bikes, and drivers found a willing market for their services.
Short-term rentals are threatening the hotel industry (and could transform real estate)
Last October, I was planning a short trip to Abuja when I noticed something odd: the process of booking a hotel was a mess. Beyond spotty Google Maps reviews, there was no real way to know the quality of rooms, and making a reservation online didn’t guarantee that the room would actually be reserved.
So I switched to Airbnb. There were plenty of pictures of each apartment, and prices were sometimes lower than even budget hotels. I ended up booking a cozy apartment just 20 minutes away from the office of the Nigerian president. (No, I wasn’t in Abuja to meet him.)
Short-term rental platforms are threatening Nigeria’s hotel industry, which has lagged behind its counterparts around the world in providing modern amenities. But that’s not the only industry ripe to be disrupted by Airbnb (and local rivals Muster and Spleet). They’ve extended their short-let models to longer terms, allowing landlords to list their properties and collect monthly rent digitally. It has huge implications for the Nigerian real estate market, because house hunting here is just as broken as hotels are.