Interview With Sagar Onwe: The Possibilities of Programming are Limitless

Having gone to Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere in my interviews, I came home to Enugu and had a rich conversation with Sagar. Sagar or Sugar, as his babies call him, is a software programmer, a cryptocurrency monger; he is generally a tech guy, lord of gizmos and expert of gadgets. So we sat down and chatted about everything, from coding to bitcoin to start-ups to thirty billions. The interview is fresh despite the delay in publishing it occasioned by the passing away of my friend, brother and mentor.

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Hard Voices: I first spoke to you about this interview in December I think. And we are just having it now, seven months later. What has changed between you that I wanted to interview in December and this you I am interviewing right now?

Sagar: Alot man. Ranging from how I see the world, to career and relationships. Let’s say I am like an evolving universe. I have advanced my programming skills and better my view of how I see others.

Hard Voices: You studied software engineering. Software engineering in Nigeria. This is a great thing but also a painful one. Countless schools should be offering the course.

Sagar: Yes, but honestly our institutions have refused to move further with their never changing and rigid curriculum. I use to teach some computer science students in Esut. And you will be marveled at what lecturers teach these students. When they finally graduate, they become unemployable.

Hard Voices: I can imagine what they teach them. Now if we can’t even teach computer science which is more of hardware, any hope for us in the software angle like coding and programming?

Sagar: You got it a little bit wrong. A computer scientist should rightly be better than a software engineer. If taught rightly. Check the curriculum of India and UK…

Hard Voices: But that is not what is obtainable here. I know a department of Computer science which does more mathematics as it was created from the department of mathematics and mathematics lecturer just swapped to teaching it.

Sagar: Here in Nigeria?

Hard Voices:  Yes.

Sagar: You see that’s the problem. Our educational separation of concern is backwards

Hard Voices: I tried learning coding. CSS, HTML and the rest. They bored the hell out of me, I gave up. Everyone cannot be a coder. Not my calling. But for people who aspire to code, what would you advise them? Is there a short-cut?

Sagar: Hahahahahaha. To everything there is that’s worth doing, shortcuts are off limit. My advice though. Go for what you want no matter how long it takes. It’s never easy even with the passion because that’s what keeps you going. But when I have cooled off and come back to try it again.

It eventually works. Another tip. The computer is never wrong but you the programmer. So give it time, it will eventually sink. It was not easy for me as well and still not. I have seen days my code won’t work, for five days or more, and I will want to break my system into pieces.

Hard Voice: I could get grey hair before I get a grasp of it. Now that you mention coding, may I ask, is that one app you or your group of developers have developed or working to develop?

Sagar: Yes we have. For a company in Abuja. Veetu.com.ng. We worked on the windows mobile version. Then we did a portal for a church in Abuja but they have not renewed subscription for the year. Currently we are working on something big. An attendance management system, Okutime.com. We have done some other personal projects but the ones I mentioned here are majors.

Hard Voices: Great, real great. Now, you are the number one advocate of cryptocurrency like bitcoin etc that I know on social media. How would you explain cryptocurrency to a dummy? I am not saying I am a dummy but we are a legion here. You can never tell.

Sagar: Hehehehe. Ok, first, there is a perception which is unique to everybody. I will always tell anyone who wants to know about cryptocurrencies to go Google it because I might just give you an idea that might make you believe it’s not important. But to answer your question.

In a nutshell, CryptoCurrency simple means Internet money or digital money. It runs on the Internet network and allows millions of money transfer across the Internet without a third-party which is the bank within seconds or minutes.

It makes transaction easy and fast without going through protocols of the bank like limit in daily and international transactions. It’s a very large topic which I believe should be a topic for another day. Nevertheless if one wants to know why CryptoCurrency will take over the world. Watch silver and gold on YouTube channel. They have a series of talk about money and it’s history. It’s a good start.

Hard Voices: Is Cryptocurrency the ultimate? Or do we expect anything after it?

Sagar: Well, I can’t predict the future as regards to expecting another but one thing is certain, CryptoCurrency is going to take over the world.

Hard Voices: On Facebook, the other day, I referred, jokingly, to my neighbour whose heart might have been broken and I said I suspected you and two other of my guys as the breaker. Were you surprised that I saw you as a man who might break a lady’s heart?

Sagar: Hahahahaha. Most people think that too until you get to really know me. By knowing me, I mean spend time with me then you’d think otherwise. As my zodiac sign happens to be libra. I am 80% what that sign stands for.

Hard Voices: Beyond zodiac signs, is there anything in you that you think make people, from afar, think of you as the kind of man who might break hearts.

Sagar: I love hanging out with cute ladies even though we might not have anything intimate. So people tend to assume a lot of things based on that.

Hard Voices: You live and work in Enugu. Must one be in Lagos to succeed as a start-up?

Sagar: No, no, no. It’s a big no. I for one don’t believe in that. Though it gets really hard here to gain grounds but in no time you will start getting those big jobs that usually go to Lagos on bases of professionalism. I also hail from Enugu. Remember that saying about charity beginning from home?

Hard Voices: Is saying that charity begins from home a way of saying you don’t see your long-term future here?

Sagar: I do. No matter how big we get tomorrow, Enugu will always be our headquarters.

Hard Voices: You also said. ‘it gets really hard to gain grounds’. Have you faced any disadvantage of any sort because you do not live in Lagos?

Sagar: Yes. Most times investors believe that the best hands stay in Lagos. You have to do some convincing.

Hard Voices: If not coding, what art would you have taken to? Photography, like your friend Neec, or writing, like the pretender interviewing you?

Sagar:  I am a man who almost everything about creativity turns on. And I tell you there’s nothing that I’d put my heart to that I can’t learn. I have a long list of other artistic things I’d like to do other than programming. I love music, dancing, street photography, sound engineering, writing etc majorly things that gets me less bored and makes my head tick while my heart pumps blood at high rate.

Hard Voices: How lucrative is coding? Does it put thirty billion for the account?

Sagar: Hehehehe. Let’s be sarcastic for a moment. Do you believe that Davido has 30 billion in his account that’s his personal money? Wait sef, he did not even say if it’s dollar or naira.

Hard Voices: What is Davido?

Sagar: Hehehe. I will pretend for a minute that you are joking.

Hard Voices: Well, if this is your way of not disclosing how lucrative coding is, I must say it is working.

Sagar: Like I said earlier, I needed us to divert a little because I love to play too much. It rejuvenates me

Back to your question. Before I answer you let’s look at a little analysis. This is a list of products and number of years it took each to hit 50 million users…

Hard Voices: I also love to play but not so much when 30 billion is on line. Let’s see the list.

Sagar: Automobile – 62 years; Telephone 50 years; Electricity 46 years;  Television 22 years; ATM 18 years; Internet 7 years; PayPal 5 years; YouTube 4 years; Facebook 3 years; Twitter 2 years.

What does this tell you?

Hard Voices: It tells me that the time frame is getting shorter and shorter. Although I can’t find Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram on the list. But really, do you need fifty million users to blow? I don’t think Glo has fifty million active users, and I don’t think Adenuga is broke.

Sagar: Hahaha. I wouldn’t know as well even though I am a strong advocate for Glo ISP. But what I am driving at is the limitless possibility of programming and it’s coast keeping broadening by the day.

Imagine you sit in your room, come up with an idea of an application, build it and just a click away, put it online and people starts using it then your account starts pressing up. You don’t need to have someone in the military or government. Or even have marketing skills. Or wait at the reception. Just have an awesome idea and the skill to develop. That’s all.

Just a matter of time, 30 billion will be child’s play compared to what you will have but like I said it takes time and awesome idea.

Hard Voices: Now, you are really spelling it out in black and white. Good luck bro.

Now to my favourite question when interviewing eligible bachelors. Bia, when you go marry?

Sagar: This really got me cracked up. About marriage for me, it’s an institution I would prefer to gain admission into when the time is right mentally and financially.

Hard Voices: Are you seriously looking for admission? And have you met the admission officer?

Sagar: None of the above. First things first.

Hard Voices: What are the five to ten indigenous tech startups we should look out, that would help rewrite the history of tech industry in Nigeria? 

Sagar: Well, I know of two basically. Tech point and Okutime. I see this two companies doing something entirely new to the industry. Unlike those firms that go into the normal website building, branding, designs etc

Hard Voices: Thank you, Sagar, for sharing a piece of yourself with us. If, one day, I meet you in Bush Bar or Golden Royale pool side, I will buy you one bottle.

You can find Sagar’s start-up here

 

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Interview With Sylvanus Omoniyi: Everyone Loves Attention

Have you met Sylvanus Omoniyi? He is, among many things, a writer, broadcaster and trouble-maker. I cornered him the other day and we had a chat. Some chat. Grab a sack of pop corn.

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Hard Voices: This interview was delayed for several days because I was mourning the defeat of Hillary Clinton. What came into your mind when I asked to postpone the interview because of what happened in America?

Sylvanus: I think you are just wasting your time because you will gain nothing from that mourning. And to me, either the victory of Donald Trump or the defeat of Hillary Clinton has nothing to offer Nigerians. Most of you are just having sleepless nights over things that don’t concern you. I want to ask you, has America’s election reduced the price of rice in the Nigerian market? Has it reduced the price of condom? Has it even brought food to your table? Please, continue to mourn o.

Hard Voices: Well, whether we like it or not, the world economy is so poorly aligned that if American economy coughs it trembles. Again, we poor countries have usually looked up to America for assistance, acceptance, patronage and refuge, even. And Trump, a mad man is now in charge of nuclear weapons capable of annihilating the whole world. Maybe this last one should worry you.

Sylvanus: I’m not worried a bit. We’ll all die eventually. And something must kill a man. Not everyone will die a natural death, but no one prays to have a painful ending.

Hard Voices: What is it that particularly worries you? Something that keeps you awake at night?

Sylvanus: I have many of them: some unfulfilled dreams. They are numerous. I’m someone who likes a simple life. And to some extent, I’m materialistic. I have had a lot of failures in the past. And sometimes I’m afraid of the future. I’m sometimes worried about my incapability to help a lot of people. These and many other things make me worry.

Hard Voices: Talking about helping people, the other day you posted on Facebook asking for people’s account numbers. I didn’t think you were serious (and I still don’t think otherwise) but many in your timeline took it seriously, typing their account numbers. I laughed when someone typed his BVN as well. Did anyone get anything from that?

Sylvanus: Yes. I had thought people won’t take it seriously as well. I thought people won’t respond to it until I got about five hundred inbox messages of bank account details. I became worried because I’m not rich yet. At the end I was able to send N500 each to 50 people. It is a little sum, but I believe we should do whatever we want to do, no matter how small. That’s part of my contribution to humanity.

Hard Voices: 500 naira is a lot of money. Did you say you got 500 account numbers? Wow! Now what does this say about the Nigerian situation?

Sylvanus: It shows that many people need help but most are afraid to come out and say it. There are times I feel this way too. You know, you can’t just predict people’s reactions. You don’t know who is able to help you and who is unable. So, you try to hold onto your dignity. That’s why most people are always afraid to talk about their problems. So, once in a while, I think we should all think of how we can be a source of comfort to people without them asking.

Hard Voices: This preacher side of you is one that people are not familiar with. Some people think you are controversial. You agree with that. Some think you are an attention seeker. I don’t think you agree with this.

Sylvanus: I don’t think I’m controversial. I just like to speak from my heart. I speak as it comes to me. I like freedom of expression. On attention, I won’t deny it. I’m a great attention seeker. I like it when people turn their heads to my direction. It excites me. You see, everyone loves attention. That’s why you see so many people on social media. They can’t deny it. As long as you have a social media account, you are an attention seeker. We all have something that makes us happy. Anyone who does not love attention should deactivate their social media account and go back to the village.

Hard Voices: Haha. I see. And now that you have mentioned village perhaps you should tell us what village you are from, give us a little background on you.

Sylvanus: I’m from Alla, Isin Local Government in Kwara State. I attended a nursery school in the city. I can’t even remember the name of the school. Then I attended St. Benedict’s R.C.M Primary School, Idi-Ogun Adedire, Ife South, Osun State; Ansarul Islam LGEA School, Kuntu, Ilorin; Government High School; Kwara State Polytechnic, and Nesburg School of Business and Management, South Africa.

Hard Voices: Now let’s come home. Let’s talk about literature. Let’s start with reading. What are you reading right now?

Sylvanus:  At the moment, I’m not reading anything.

Hard Voices: As you are a writer I find that curious. Why are you not reading anything at the moment? Is there any problem?

Sylvanus: No problem. I have many work to submit. I’m writing for bloggers and I have some books to edit. They have to be delivered at the speculated time.

Hard Voices: You write for a living?

Sylvanus: Yes. And I do other things as well. I’m also into broadcasting.

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Hard Voices: Want to talk about it?

Sylvanus: I won’t talk much about the writing. I do ghostwriting and write for bloggers. I won’t talk about it for privacy reasons. On the broadcasting, I was a freelance broadcaster with Midland FM. Later, I joined Cruise FM, an online radio station that is still spreading its tentacles.

Hard Voices: Are these radio stations in Nigeria?

Sylvanus: Yes. They are in Nigeria.

Hard Voices: I ask because there are times I get the impression that you are in South Africa.

Sylvanus: No. I’m still in Nigeria.

Hard Voices: But you might want to talk about writing in general. As a creative writer what genre are you most into and why?

Sylvanus: Just like you said, as a creative writer, I write anything that comes to my mind. I write as it comes to me.

Hard Voices: I doubt if I can remember reading a short story you wrote.

Sylvanus: The fact is that I’m not a serious writer. I doubt if I can remember writing a short story myself. I’m more of a socialite than a writer. I just write for fun. I think there was a time I wrote a short story titled ‘The Californian Dream’. I don’t even know where it is now.

Hard Voices: You once said in Nigeria, any idiot can get an award. Will you say you don’t believe in awards? What awards most define your annoyance against awards in Nigeria?

Sylvanus: Nigeria is a jungle. We all know that. Except we don’t want to be honest. We reward mediocrity and ignore excellence. Anyone can get an award in Nigeria as long as they have money. We pander to nonsense in this country. The people that are stealing our billions and spoiling our country are the ones we deify. We worship money but we will always deny it. Let me stop here because I’m beginning to get angry.

And concerning the ones that define my annoyance: I have seen useless Nigerian politicians being honoured with awards. The latest one that sparked my outrage is the one of Chidinma Okeke. Tell me, in all honesty, what has Chidinma done to deserve an award? Because of cucumber?

Hard Voices: Who gave Chidinma an award?

Sylvanus: They just made the announcement. They are to give her on December 18, 2016. The organisers of Miss Diva Awards. You can read their nonsense here. I have nothing against Chidinma but I think the organisers of this award are stupid.

Hard Voices: Perhaps, but they are no more stupid than Nigerians who are practically shaming Chidinma towards suicide.

Let’s bring this award issue to literature. Some awards can be crazy; didn’t the Nobel people of Sweden give the Nobel Prize for Literature to a musician? But without awards, how can we judge literary excellence? With sales figures or critical acclaim? What makes a good book for you?

Sylvanus: No one is telling her to commit suicide. Anyone who chooses to commit suicide is a coward. A coward who is afraid to fight and win.

Giving a Nobel Prize for Literature to a musician is ignorance. They should call it another name. We can judge literary excellence with sales and critical acclaim, not by online votes or anything else. To me, a good book is the one that comes from the heart of the writer and which is free of grammatical blunders and typographical errors.

Hard Voices: How do you tell a book that comes out from the heart of the writer?

Sylvanus: There is always a kind of resonance that follows. You will feel it with your heart.

Hard Voices: What do you think of Nigerian literature?

Sylvanus: We are improving. There are great writers in Nigeria. I’m proud of Nigerian writers.

Hard Voices: Great writers but what about the readership, have we done enough as readers to encourage Nigerian writers?

Sylvanus: Not at all. Nigerians don’t read. We don’t have the time. We are always busy making money. And I don’t blame us. The government of Nigeria doesn’t care about anyone, so you are on your own.

Hard Voices: How will you rate Buhari After nearly two years in office?

Sylvanus: Buhari is a failure.

Hard Voices: What do you make of the education system in Nigeria? The other day, you were ranting about Covenant University. Few days back it was the turn of Nsukka.

Sylvanus: Education in Nigeria is a hogwash. You are expected to cram things and pour it on paper for some old lecturers who know nothing. The system is like a prison yard. They frustrate your life with everything. You struggle for everything. They believe you must suffer to succeed. For me, I don’t think it is necessary. It is idiotic to say people must suffer before they succeed. And we have been brought up with this mentality. That is why we sweat for almost everything in Nigeria.

And besides, I don’t think people should be defined by their grades. The educational system in Nigeria is fucked up. There are times the schools choose a course for you. You put in for one course and they give you another. How do they expect you to pass without cheating? I don’t blame people who cheat during examinations in schools. I don’t blame them at all because everyone wants to succeed. Nigeria has a long way to go. I hope the day will come in Nigeria when people will go to school and study based on their ability.

Hard Voices: Religion is one aspect I find your views quite entertaining. Describe your relationship with God.

Sylvanus: There are times I believe in God and there are times I don’t believe in Him. I think God is a confusionist! And those who belong to a religion don’t know what they are doing. They are the confused.

Hard Voices: What informed this belief? Are there background tales?

SylvanusWhen you look at the sufferings in the world, you will ask yourself whether God really cares. The truth is that there are times that God will leave you to sort yourself out. These days, I seem to believe more in myself than in any God.

Hard Voices: Koredo Bello sang a song with the major theme being ‘Oga Don Jazzy, when you go marry?’ A lousy music if you ask me. But the song raised a question many young men should be answering. Oga Sylvanus, when you go marry?
 
Sylvanus: Honestly, I don’t know when. I don’t know the exact time. Personally, a lot of things have to be put in place. I want the future of my children to be brighter than my own. I’m also someone who doesn’t like trouble. So I have to look well before leaping. Marriage is an eternal project. I don’t want to get in and regret later. I want peace and happiness.
Hard Voices: Have you seen her?
Sylvanus: Yes. I have seen her. And she has seen me too. We have seen each other.
 
Hard Voices: Who are your best friends on social media? Perhaps, in this era of Facebook subs and dissing, I should say allies.
Sylvanus: They are many. They are legions. I like realists. I like to befriend people who are sincere. People who speak from their hearts. There are too many hypocrites in the world.
Hard Voices: You seem to have found one in Olufunke Phillips

Sylvanus: Yes. That’s true. About Olufunke, she can never be wrong in my eyes.God knows I love her. If I come back to this world one thousand times, I will still love her as much. Olufunke is real. I’m naturally drawn to real people.

Hard Voices: If you have the power to resurrect someone from the death, who would that be?

Sylvanus: That would be my grandmother.

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