Some days ago, I put up a new page where I explained why I wanted to add interviews to the blog. There are few interviews on blogs that discuss the path hese young people took to their present occupations and the challenges they faced. See more information about this on the interview page. Today, we meet Su’eddie Agema.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema is an editor, publisher and development worker. He is the team leader of SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative, a Nigerian charity and Executive Director at the SEVHAGE Publishers imprint of VERSHAGE enterprises. He blogs here and here. He is @sueddieagema on Twitter and Instagram. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, there has been an increase in crime rate and the perpetrators are mostly youths whose excuse bear an undertone of resignation because there is no job for them, what do you have to say about this?
There is no excuse for crime, at any time. Things might be difficult but it is the difficulty of the times that should inspire and propel us to think deeply and innovatively. There are jobs everywhere but the major problem is we refuse to think out of the box. We have to learn to always think out of the box and look for problems to solve. Once you solve any problem, you will be sought after. Once you are sought after, you will be paid. The major flaw most of us have is impatience. We only look at the travails of the second and forget that there is a second later, a tomorrow that we have to work towards. Things might be difficult but if we set our hearts to it, we can triumph over the second, over the season and make the future to count.
Can you tell us what led you to go into the business you are currently in?
I became an editor and publisher largely because of a dissatisfaction with the state of editing and publishing in the country. I love books and I love to see well told narratives packaged right in the form they deserve. It is often disturbing to read a book of potential or grace littered with mistakes that could have been done away with or in a package where you would weep. So, I wrote proposals for collaboration with some publishing houses and also did work for some. Sadly, those proposals were turned down and so, in the end I decided to get into the business. On the other hand, going into the development sector – which is not business – was borne largely out of a desire to help change the society through what means we could, legitimately. We had been doing different services but generally without a formal structure. Eventually, we decided to go ahead doing what community service we could but under a proper name. Thus, SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative was born.
Is your course of study in anyway connected to your current job?
Yes, they are. I studied English for my first degree and you get the idea of how it would affect editing and publishing.
Would you say what you do is profitable?
Yes, it is profitable on many fronts. While for a start, publishing is not mega bucks inclined (we make bucks though), especially when you are not directly into educational books, there is a lot that happens on the other front where you are affecting lives and changing futures. What greater profit? There are those books that put a big smile on your account’s face too.
How does it help the Nigerian economy?
When we publish books, they are sold and the authors make money for them. The turnover for them is usually different. We have some clients who have sold up to two thousand copies of their books. Now, imagine that we published the entire work at say, six hundred thousand naira. The author on her part will sell each book for a minimum of a thousand naira, or more. That means the entire books will go for two million naira. What is the profit? One point four million naira. Is that good or what? But on the other hand, our publishing house works with different editors, writers, graphics designers and people who we commission. We pay them. There are those who volunteer; those ones learn skills. Need I mention again that when you read those books that we publish, vistas are opened and doors opened to help people earn? So, if you look at it on the overall scale, we are affecting the GDP in diverse ways and still yet, looking for more ways to see how we can play our part to do more.
Do you think the young ones have a role to play in shaping the economy?
Young people? Yes, young people have shaped the economy in a million ways and are still doing so still. We are the energy force of our society in every sector. Go to the streets, we the ones hustling, the drivers, the motorcyclists, the conductors driving you from here to there. We are the leaders of several companies, not taken too serious but working away our youth in order that figures would match and monies would be made. There are a select few of us who have dared to start businesses or lead organisations and associations, taking bold decisions in trying times, conserving and building and doing so much more.
I guess I have answered that to some point already, no? Check the GDP of any nation, it is largely a factor of the strength of their youth. While in some nations, like ours, you have mainly old people in positions of decision making and as leaders of industries, there is a breaking of that stronghold. But even when we are not in those sectors that we can directly play to change the economy or shape it to our tune, we are working in diverse ways to see how to do things that will turn the tides around. It takes a little survey of any industry to make sense of it. The beautiful part of this is that most of these young people shaping the economy have done so through grit and hard work without waiting for the heavens to simply come and give them the grace to move.
Do you think everyone should be an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is a personal decision and not everyone has the ability to swim the murky waters – if I can borrow that phrase – of business. There are also others who can’t run businesses and who would rather follow than lead, who would rather be paid then pay. If you force them down that path, you would get tragedy on your hands. But considering I think that everyone should have enterprising skills, I would say not everyone should be forced to be a FULL TIME entrepreneur but if anyone has a flair or entrepreneurial skill that can be fully utilised, please, go ahead and be one!
Do you agree that people have enterprising skills?
Yes, people should have enterprising skills as it will help keep them alive. Money is a big necessity for life, living and relationships. If you don’t have it, or know how to manage it, you are in sooooo much trouble. So, it doesn’t matter if you are working, own a business or are jobless. You ought to have some idea of enterprise so you don’t become a burden to yourself and everyone around. Plus, it helps to pave a leeway in case you need to make a run.
What is your long-term vision in your quest to improve the economy through your business?
On the publishing front, we are seeking ways to make books more profitable so that writers can make a living off their books – to some point, at least. As we expand, there will be more opportunities to staff who would earn. We are working to ensure that at some point, we would work with some people, including some of our published authors, to do empowerment campaigns on many fronts including education and finance.
What can you say to those who have dreams but do not have opportunities to live their dreams?
Life is too short to wait for opportunities which might – or might not come. We always have available options which we can fashion to become what we want. Remember that saying; when the preferable is not available, the available becomes the preferable. Don’t let your dreams die, pick them and make the most of it.
Please tell us how you got the funding to start your business.
Savings started largely from my savings – meagre as it was. Maybe it wasn’t up to ten thousand at the time. I also solicited clients from all around and kept on working from what we got. So, as clients paid for their work, we kept on. We didn’t really wait till we got funds. There are projects we hope to do and there are places we want to get to. There are times when carrying out certain projects are even an issue. Key thing is we have kept on moving on, using what strength we have, not waiting for any funds from anywhere. Scratching the earth like the chicken, and hoping that somehow, we will get the worm to eat. When we don’t, we smile but go on praying the grace of heaven upon us all.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
That is too big a question that I am not sure I can simply just start answering in one breath. Naturally, the Nigerian economic climate is harsh and publishing is not one of the topmost choices of business for any sane person. We have issues of distribution of books across the country and also, the rising cost of paper occasioned by the increasing dollar exchange rate – the falling Naira. Paper is imported and so, naturally we have to pay in hard currency for it. There are also other minute issues but the key thing to challenges is not celebrating them but seeking ways to overcome them.
Do you think you are at that point in your business where you can accept interns if they want to learn from you?
Easily, I can say YES. An emphatic YES. We can accept interns and have accepted interns. The beautiful part of our work is we can have interns working from any place as long as they are ready to work, and are accessible especially via phones. Having the internet and a computer is a bigger advantage. So, yes, we have rooms for interns in different departments from editing to general writing, secretarial duties, blogging and the like.
Finally, what advice would you give to African youths?
There’s are a million things to say to us, African youths. Key thing is we have a future that we shouldn’t compromise. We can be a source of development and change in our societies and environment. We don’t need to wait for anyone to kick-start our journey to success and uplifting our society. The time is now, the activity is what you can do in this second to bring a change. As our President, Muhammadu Buhari would say; CHANGE begins with you. Change begins with me. We are CHANGE.