Kola Masha, the Nigerian entrepreneur drying up support for Boko Haram

Kola Masha is a Nigerian social entrepreneur and the founder of Babban Gona. He founded his firm in 2010 to bring jobs and stability to his home country. Worldwide, Nigeria is ranked among countries with high-security vulnerabilities.

The north of Nigeria is the hotbed of terrorist activities owing to the operation of Boko Haram and other bandits. Also, the Niger Delta area is another hotbed for homegrown insurgents. There are various reports about how economic factors drive disaffected people into radical groups.

Although religion is the major underlining factor in the operations of Boko Haram, economic factors cannot be downplayed. For Masha, the only way to make Nigeria secure again is to cut off the oxygen to radical groups: no jobs, no wages, and inability to feed one’s family.

After his studies at MIT and Harvard and working in leadership positions with top organizations, Masha decided to return to Nigeria in 2007 and contribute his quota to the development of Nigeria. He moved to a small town in Northern Nigeria that has experienced insurgencies and bombings to unlock the power of agriculture in addressing unemployment.

“Due to high demand for labor and low skill requirements, farming has the potential to create jobs and draw millions of young people into the sector,” Masha told Forbes.

Inspired by his U.S. grandfather, a small farm holder who was able to get out of poverty in South Dakota through the power of cooperatives, Masha established a similar model called Babban Gona, which means “Great Farm” in Hausa.

Babban Gona is dedicated to empowering small farm holders to transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming. Masha accomplished this by franchising thousands of farmer cooperatives across Northern Nigeria. “We deliver an integrated package of agronomic and financial training, farm inputs, and marketing services on credit to each cooperative, enabling its members to increase the productivity and profitability of their farm enterprise,” Masha said.

The company also disburses long-term loans to small farmers. Since the firm started operating, thousands of farmers have doubled their yields and tripled their incomes, thereby improving their livelihoods and that of their families.

“They can send more children to school, access improved nutrition especially for children and babies, afford mothers the funds to give birth in a hospital, and purchase home solar systems to ensure reliable clean power,” Masha said.

“In terms of education, a Babban Gona survey in 2016 showed that 90 percent of members were utilizing their increased net income to invest in their children’s education, by either sending more children to school or moving their children to a higher quality school,” he added.

Families who hitherto did not have electricity have leveraged their increased financial power to buy solar systems while others have opened shops to generate extra income, said Masha.

According to him, half of Babban Gona’s members are youths, who are making legitimate money through farming. Some of the youths were once members of insurgent groups. One such person is Saminu, who was once a rebel and is now making legitimate money after joining Babban Gona.

“We want to create a world where millions of hard-working young people like Saminu have options other than a life of crime and terror,” Masha said. “Given the opportunity, I know that these driven and ambitious young men will make the right choice. They just need to be given a choice,” said the social entrepreneur and recipient of a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

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