One of the speakers at this year’s Social Media Week was Mr Cheta Nwanze, an engineer with a varied career in IT, the media and consulting.
On the Social Media Week panel, Cheta spoke on “Defining and regulating hate speech: impacts on audience needs and retention,” where he threw light on the Hate Speech Bill currently in the National Assembly and linked it with the advancement of tech and how tech has helped democratize the national discourse.
Nairametrics cornered him after his session at the event and had a chat with him.
Cheta is a co-founder of SB Morgen Digital, which he started in 2012 after leaving the Daily Times. Along the line, he founded SB Morgen Intelligence as a subsidiary of SB Morgen Digital.
SBM Intelligence, which works to present political and economic data to Nigerians in easy to understand ways, has become a household name in the country because of its popular ‘Jollof Index,’ although, Cheta claims to still be a techie at heart.
In this article, Nairametrics brings you insights from our interview with Cheta where we learnt about his work at SBM, why he started the company and the challenges he has faced running the business. Cheta also gives his opinion of the social media bill and what it could mean for Nigeria’s nascent tech ecosystem.
Last year, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, visited Nigeria, and there are rumours that Twitter may establish an office in Nigeria. For Cheta, this could be a good thing, except for the current government’s aversion to free speech blatantly displayed in its several attempts to gag the press, and the current bill in the National Assembly – issues that Twitter may be uninterested in grappling with.
His panel presentation at the Social Media Week dwelt extensively on how the muzzling of free speech in a country like Nigeria could harm innovation as many people in the tech and creative space are very expressive people. SB Morgen has teamed up with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa to produce advocacy materials such as this video to warn about the dangers of the social media bill.
Cheta is passionate about this because once at a radio program, he was sent off air for talking about a topic that top government figures wanted buried, and the radio station risked getting fined for hosting the topic.
SB Morgen prides itself on excellence in the implementation of several tech strategies that helps its clients and spawns three other companies, SBM Media, a media concern, SBM Relations, a PR concern and the jewel in the crown, SBM Intelligence, which is positioned as Nigeria’s best primary data gathering business. All four companies produce qualitative and quantitative reports, research and strategies executed by an impressive team of data engineers, scientists, analysts and writers.
SBM’s expertise covers a broad range of areas which include, but are not limited to, risk & strategy from early warning, global risks, exposure modelling to market evaluation, trend sustainability analysis and scenario planning.
According to Cheta, as a tech professional, SBM was the natural progression of his career which began as an IT professional after a first degree in Engineering from the University of Benin, and a Masters in IT from the UK. He returned to Nigeria in 2009 as the head of IT at the defunct 234Next newspaper, where he got his first exposure to the media and received journalistic training.
After the collapse of 234Next, he joined Daily Times, Nigeria’s oldest newspaper, which was undergoing a revamp in 2010. At Daily Times, Cheta oversaw a complete overhaul of the Dailytimes.ng website which was rebooted and relaunched under his watch. He also maintained and grew Daily Times’ social media presence and recruited and trained 12 journalists across all facets of digital media journalism over a two-year period.
When he left full-time employment at Daily Times to start SB Morgen, they became SB Morgen’s first client, and the company leveraged Daily Times’ extensive and unrivalled news archive to drive multiple contents across the paper’s print, digital and social media properties. This resulted in double-digit growth in social media exposure in six months, and a four-fold rise in social media following.
According to Cheta, a major challenge in the Nigerian media space is a lack of proper gathering, integrity and archiving. He pointed out the difficulty in finding archival material from any newspaper in the country from before 2011, which was the first project he worked on while at Daily Times, the digitization of the company’s archive.
“I left Daily Times because of disagreements with the owner on the tech direction that the newspaper would take,” Cheta said. “I am a firm believer in the power of Open Source technologies, while Mr Anosike [the owner of DTN] wanted to start making use of proprietary software.”
Despite their differences, after leaving, Cheta oversaw the transition of DTN as part of a rolling contract which included SB Morgen training DTN’s tech staff and managing their website.
It was while managing the DTN project that Cheta spotted a gap in data gathering which led to the birth of SBM Intelligence in 2015. SBM combined the disciplines of technology, research, geopolitics and economics, and has built a solid reputation for educating Nigerians. This has led to Cheta being quoted extensively in local and international media. This writer was surprised to learn that Cheta is an engineer.
On the challenges SBM has faced as the leading voice in Nigeria’s primary data gathering space, Cheta noted that these challenges are faced by every small business in the country, including power, reliable internet, and above all for him, reliable talent.
“The biggest problem with the talent pool in Nigeria is that it is broad but it is not deep,” Cheta said. “So as a result, we tend to look for interest and enthusiasm first, before we look at what the person already knows because we are almost always sure that we will have to train him.”
SB Morgen Digital and Intelligence uses principles, tools and techniques to create industry reports which focus on addressing the critical need for market data and big data analytics. Their best-known product, the Jollof Index, which has been consistently published since 2016, tracks food inflation by using Jollof rice, Nigeria’s best-known meal, as a stand-in.