Nigerian art creators are leveraging the industry’s shift to NFTs to enhance their net worth, writes JULIANA AJAYI
Some half a century ago, artists formed part of Nigeria’s never-do-wells. Eventually, the paradigm shifted and art collectors, local and international, started looking the way of Nigerian creators. Not done, art went digital. Them raising the bar further, Non-Fungible Tokens were introduced.
NFT is a financial security consisting of digital data stored in a blockchain, a form of distributed ledger. The ownership of an NFT is recorded in the blockchain, and can be transferred by the owner, allowing NFTs to be sold and traded. NFTs typically contain references to digital files such as photos, videos and audio.
Today, Nigerian art creators leverage NFTs to increase their net worth, despite government’s crackdown on crypto currency.
While crypto currencies are fungible, which means they can be replaced and exchanged for the same unit in value – like trading one Ethereum for another, NFTs cannot be mutually interchanged, and no two NFTs are the same, giving them scarcity value.
With the global trend of digitalising access to real-time and universal processes, the need to fully tap into the unlimited potential of the Internet and the usability of this virtual space is atop the list of the world’s most needed engagements. In achieving this, the world has experienced a wealth of evolving inventions, many of which have redefined the outlook of what the future holds for global digitalisation and human interaction with the alternative space.
A number of these inventions have gradually opened billions of Internet users to several blockchains. Among these are the NFTs and the Metaverse, which are vital contributors to this ever-increasing engagement, as they are fast becoming economic drivers. Industries and governmental establishments are beginning to re-address their traditional outlook on products and services as a one-off process that only stirs interest in their customers.
Rather, the economic values of products and services have an interactive value addition for both parties; that is, both the company and the buyer of the product alternatively exchange value.
NFTs are patented units of data stored on the blockchain, a digitalised database replacing crypto currencies such as Ethereum, Bitcoin and Solara. The major difference here is the NFTs’ non-interchangeability, unlike other crypto currencies. With NFTs, one can buy or sell digital substances like artworks, tweets, virtual trading cards and images, videos, virtual real estate, records, etc.
The NFT market, as of 2021, was worth $24.9bn globally, with 42 per cent of Nigerians owning one or more crypto-related products or trading such. This, therefore, marks Nigeria as the foremost crypto-engaged nation in the world, but the story glides into a low when NFTs are concerned. There is a dire need for more Nigerians to engage in the alternative space the same way young artists, musicians, fashion enthusiasts, educators and organisations dig deep into the virtual space.
A typical testimonial was historically recorded in 2021 when Jacon Osinachi, a digital artist, auctioned series of NFTs at Christie, London. Another is the collaboration between ART X Lagos and SuperRare to host the first activation platform globally. The contribution of Michael Ugwu, a pioneer NFT art collector in Nigeria, also widens the scope. These are bits of what could be achieved aside the jaw-dropping turnovers that these art pieces pull in.
For Metaverse, the focus is on online users having real-life experiences through interconnected virtual and augmented environments. This level of engagement blends the physical and virtual realities in the sense that it connects to every aspect of human interaction. There is a sort of transition or escape the Metaverse provides for users that creates an alternative world for them and helps them stretch the full potential of the online space through technologies like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The closest we have to this experience is that of the gaming industry, the 3D experience. But the Metaverse provides even more.
Another boom that comes with the Metaverse is the integration of the blockchain and the Web3 experiences.
Metaverse, through the blockchain, helps users decentralise control of what they do in their various virtual spaces, which means that roles of tech giants are actively sidelined.
On the other hand, the Web3 secures the users’ absolute ownership and control of data and the maximum security that comes with encryption. This translates to users deciding when their data is to be used, seen and shared. The centrality of the Internet of Things also comes with Web3, which allows for smooth interoperability in the virtual space. The user is not only secured in terms of privacy but also made to engage in value addition and influencing structures of the companies through the help of NFTs and smart contracts.
NFT and Metaverse in Nigeria
Nigeria, as a country, is a potential benefactor of the boom and trending economic injections of NFTs, and the Metaverse opens the global world. The country’s massive young population agrees with this, but the thorn therein is seen in the under-exploration or redundancy that comes with adapting to the global technological trend. Several reasons are responsible for this, but still, few Nigerians have found their path in redefining the contributions of what the country tends to gain.
Some viral pictures of an elderly drummer, Ayangbele ‘Baba Onilu’, were taken by Adisa Olashile, a National Youth Service Corps member in Ibadan, who converted the pictures to NFTs and sold them for half a million naira.
Anthony Azekwoh, one of the most visible digital artists on the continent, also made huge gains from NFTs and has gone on to help emerging artists.
Oyindamola Oyewumi, a female ballpoint pen artist, came to limelight when she posted her picture of Charles Hoskinson, the co-founder of Ethereum, who later helped her put the picture for sale as an NFT. The list is endless, but the attention given to this easing opportunity is not leading to the needed adaptation necessary for Nigeria to build a wealth breeding digital space.
In addition to this, the goal of building a Metaverse is herculean in nature, considering the innate challenges attached to Nigeria’s reality, first as a physical entity before considering it to be a virtual conception. Unlike South Africa, which is drastically working at building the African Metaverse called the Ubuntuland, to amass the wealth of creativity, commerce and the economic strength of the crypto currencies, Nigeria is still contending with how crypto currencies further devalue the naira.
According to an article posted by the APO Group, many multinationals have begun to show interest in virtual lands. It is pitiable that having a Nigerian alternative virtual space remains a distant reality because the high cost of the Internet still burdens the nation. Despite the able population, the truckload of unemployed individuals put the Internet on a luxury list. With the Metaverse comes a need for this population to acquire accessory gadgets, which are unaffordable for average Nigerians who earn less than $1 daily.
The need for a 5G network is too tall for the crippling adaptation capacity of the Nigerian telecommunication space. Currently, the country is still transiting a large chunk of its population to the 4G network.
We have the issue of power supply ravaging this dream because Nigeria cannot generate the needed power to control daily transactions; therefore, accommodating the Metaverse is spiking the anguish of the average Nigerian.
Despite challenges, Nigerians Engage Global Virtual Space
Names like Delz Erinle and Niyi Oyewole, co-founders of Astra, a crypto-driven structure that amalgamates fashion and gaming, have made the virtual space necessary. The big dream is to create a multi-chained Metaverse that will allow for social events and Metacommerce. While social event hosting allows for the rent of virtual spaces, the latter plunges into creating an in-store shopping experience for users using wearable technologies.
For Idiat Shiole, a 3D fashion designer, the Metaverse has opened her to a kind of freedom that traditional and physical fashion cannot give her. Her desire is to create virtual fabric designs that resonate with her language and identity without the poking fear of stagnating commercialisation or acceptability. Music producer, Don Jazzy, also refused to allow the Nigerian disabling factor to dissuade him as he purchased some virtual land properties on Dentraland, worth $80,000 on average.
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