The term hustler has been reinvented so many times in popular culture that it is now synonymous with an enterprising nature, an ability to do whatever it takes to be successful.
Nigerians in particular stand out on the continent as being particularly entrepreneurial. There’s a certain flair and dexterity which Nigerians seem to possess when it comes to making money. In this profile I meet three Nigerians: filmmaker Chika Anadu, musician BREIS and barrister Tunde Okewale who have used their talents and skills to break boundaries and push forward in the age of enterprise.
Chika Anadu is a writer and director whose first feature, B for Boy, world premiered in First Feature Competition at the BFI London Film Festival in 2013, where it received the jury commendation. It also won the Breakthrough Award at the 2013 AFI Film Festival. Her passion for film gave her the courage to self-fund her first feature film with the help of her family, which shows a true hustler’s spirit in and of itself.
I asked her what the definition of ‘hustler’ was. Straight up she exclaimed, ‘Anyone with a “never say die” attitude with regards to their work and job!’
BREIS (Brother Reaching Each Inner Soul) has toured internationally and shared the stage with artists such as Angie Stone, Big Daddy Kane, Omar Sosa, Dele Sosimi, Tony Allen, Nneka and Kim Burrell. Growing up in both the UK and Nigeria has not only influenced BREIS’s sound (hip hop, jazz and Afro-beat fusion) but has influenced his perseverance in an industry that is notoriously challenging.
For BREIS, the term hustler has undergone a transformation. ‘In the past a hustler was always associated with the streets and drugs but nowadays anyone who is ambitious, determined, thinks outside the box, knows how to network and makes things happen with little to no resources is considered a hustler.’
Determination is clearly something that has made a true impact on the progress of each one of these Nigerians. Barrister Tunde Okewale is a great example of this. Tunde was raised on a council estate in Hackney, East London. The eldest of four children, he was the first person in my family to attend university and obtain a degree.
During his studies, Tunde undertook part-time jobs in order to support his family. His academic studies suffered, and he obtained a 2:2 in his undergraduate degree. Though many people tried to convince him that he wouldn’t make it, he eventually qualified as a barrister, and obtained tenancy at a major Chambers, a demonstration of his ‘hustler’ spirit.
‘A hustler has often been the type of individual that I am often asked to represent in court. Yet, ironically, it’s a word that I believe encapsulates the entrepreneurial spirit that many, if not all of today’s industry leaders, have had to possess in order to be successful and influence their respective sectors. I believe the word describes an enterprising individual who is determined to realise a worthy ideal or goal,’ says Tunde.
I wanted to know how each of these enterprising individuals have had to ‘hustle’ to get to where they needed to be in life because, in spite of the challenges, they still make it look easy.
When BREIS finished university he wanted to focus on his music but without a regular income he had to work part-time. Eventually he quit his 9-5 to deliver rap and poetry workshops in schools and joined a group, Urban Griots, that put on a monthly open mic event. By networking with other artists and promoters, he began to build his own brand identity doing shows and touring internationally.
In 2007 he set up his company, ‘Student of Life’ and created the Hip Hop Literacy and Rap Science programme that was sold to schools. He wrote and self-published an interactive rap book and sold over 3,000 copies by himself. ‘Essentially I created my own career out of nothing and I’m grateful to God for the ability to do it. I’m back on my music hustle now and have decided to focus on taking over Nigeria. I released my single, The Right Person, a few months ago and it was really well received. I’m building on that foundation and there’s still so much more to do.’
Chika feels that her journey is still ongoing. ‘I’m not even close to where I want or need to be. But I’m on the path. It has taken hard work, patience and a PhD in stubbornness and perseverance.’
Despite Tunde’s initial academic setback he continued to engage in community work and was invited to deliver a workshop for the Greater London Authority. This led to him becoming a director of the charity and was awarded a meritorious scholarship to attend bar school. ‘During my career the people from the community that I lived with would come to me when they needed legal guidance. I used this to build relationships with solicitors by referring them to high profile cases which led to steady work.’
No matter where you are in the world you will always find a Nigerian who has found a way to capitalise on their situation. So what is it about Nigerians that gives them the edge when it comes to enterprise?
Tunde paints a picture. ‘From the moment you arrive in Nigeria, the entrepreneurial spirit can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted and felt. Entrepreneurial spirit is as prevalent as the lack of jobs while the rise in poverty leaves few options for the Nigerian people. This manifests itself in a culture of service, to the extent that efforts are made to capitalise on almost every social interaction and/or exchange.’
I think that Nigerians are blessed and cursed with a mammoth amount of self-confidence.
For Chika it comes down to confidence; ‘Perhaps it’s because we as Nigerians don’t know better than to jump in head first into whatever we decide to do? No, I think that Nigerians are blessed and cursed with a mammoth amount of self-confidence. We know that come what may, we’ll succeed because it’s what we want. I don’t know why that seems to be a general Nigerian trait but I’m always grateful for it when I’m out there hustling.’
BREIS believes it’s the struggle that makes Nigerians hustle. ‘When the struggle is real, you have no choice but to be enterprising. Too many of us grew up with our parents having to be enterprising and we’ve probably learnt from them. Also some cultures within Nigeria are obsessed with wealth and looking good, so we do what we have to in order to keep up appearances. It’s one of our most powerful and disgusting traits.’
The highly-skilled and talented ‘hustlers’ need to invest their skills in Nigeria.
As a member of the diaspora in the UK many would argue that things are easy with regards to conducting business, career development compared with Nigeria. I asked Tunde, BREIS and Chika if the UK really does provide a good enough environment to allow members of the diaspora to thrive and what Nigeria needs to do in order to keep talent like themselves engaged with growth and development.
Tunde focused on the need for Nigeria itself to provide a better place for diasporans to thrive, ‘The highly-skilled and talented ‘hustlers’ need to invest their skills in Nigeria and assist with the development of the nation’s infrastructure. Africa is not poor, the continent is one of the wealthiest in terms of natural resources, especially valuable minerals and commodities such as oil, gas and timber. Nigerian leaders – and, crucially, business leaders – need to ensure they create an attractive environment for returning skilled expatriates’. From his experience the UK provides opportunities for financial stability but the money needs to go back. ‘There is the issue of the money that members of the diaspora generate abroad does not always get back to Nigeria, it just stays in the UK. Perhaps the simplest solution is the reinvestment of wealth and talent back into Nigeria.’
BREIS on the other hand sees Nigeria as a place of opportunity. ‘Things are still difficult in Nigeria and there are many factors that can work against you. If you don’t study the system, you won’t survive. Nigeria is its own organism. It works how it works even when it doesn’t look like it possibly could. Back here in the UK I think the way to flourish is to adopt that hustler mentality. First you have to believe in your product or service two or three times more than you already do. Be able to talk about what you do with anyone at any given time, no room for shyness. Most importantly put the necessary work in (this is the hard part). Create opportunities for yourself and partner with those who can assist you. Most importantly I think looking outside of the UK is key. There’s a lack of genuine ride or die support in the UK. We tend to acknowledge people and claim them once they’ve made it big elsewhere. I call it the Floetry or Idris Elba effect.’
Things are most certainly not easier in the UK for anyone in my field of film and TV production.
Chika is candid about the lack of support for diverse talent in the media and creative sectors. ‘Things are most certainly not easier in the UK for anyone in my field of film and TV production. Things are just much better structured in the UK. But that’s not necessarily always a good thing because you have to work within the system or you won’t work at all. But in Nigeria you can create independently and earn a living that way. Neither system is perfect. I think Nigeria would benefit financially from having a better structured and better-run industry, and the UK would benefit creatively from being less rigid and therefore more open to those that are outside of the “old guard”.’
Finally I wanted to know what made these ‘hustlers’ passionate about their work. I asked these hustlers if they were working for a legacy or for money. Their answers may surprise you.
Chika is honest with me, ‘I’m not making any money yet, so for now it’s a passion for visual storytelling. When the money starts coming in, I’m sure I’ll be very pleased with it but money will never be THE motivator for me.’
‘I was very fortunate as most of the people I grew up with are either dead or in prison. I grew up in a strict African family and it was decided by my parents that I would become either a lawyer or a doctor,’ Tunde responds matter of factly. ‘Personally, I had ambitions to become an athlete.
‘I am focused on leaving a legacy as I believe in equal access to justice for all.’
‘My parents were strict but very supportive. Having someone supportive pushes you and helps makes the difference between a life of crime and the life of a lawyer.’
‘I am focused on leaving a legacy as I believe in equal access to justice for all and I believe that those who do not have the means to pay for private representation should have the same standard of representation as those who do. Criminal law is not as lucrative as other fields, indicating that money is not my main motivation.’
‘I know that I have words, songs, ideas that can positively transform a person.’
BREIS also wants to make a difference. ‘I know that I have words, songs, ideas that can positively transform a person so I want as many people as possible to experience that. That’s part of my legacy and I’m committed to that. But I also know my worth and the value in what I bring to the table; so yes, I definitely want to get handsomely paid for it too.’
All so different and yet all so similar in their common purpose to succeed and see Nigeria thrive, these ‘hustlers’ are the future of Nigeria and the future of the voice of the diaspora in the UK. They prove that regardless of circumstances or barriers anything and everything is indeed possible, although one has to give credit to that Nigerian ‘hustler spirit’ that really gives them the drive to make it happen!
Follow Chika on Twitter @filmchika
B for Boy is now available on Netflix and iTunes.
Follow BREIS on Twitter @MrBreis
The Right Person is available to download from iTunes
Follow Tunde on Twitter @UrbnLawyer
Check out more at tundeokewale.com