From Fighting Depression To Amassing USD 2 Mn Fortune: The Zed Farmer’s Extraordinary Journey

Nzekwe Henry October 23

When Maria Zileni Zaloumis called time on her medical career which put her in the same theater as some of the very best doctors in Australia in favor of a return to her home country, Zambia, where her future seemed bleak at best, it did feel a lot like a fall from grace.  

But fast-forward a few years later, though, and the one-time nurse is well on her way to becoming the very symbol of resilience, hard work, determination, and dedication to goals amongst female entrepreneurs. The Zambian entrepreneur can be said to represent a rare breed of individuals who have remained unfazed in the face of overwhelming challenges and kept their gaze on the prize in spite of the numerous spanners thrown into their works to derail them.

Until she truncated her career in the medical field and returned to Zambia to care for her ailing father, Zileni walked shoulder to shoulder with some of the best medical practitioners in the world — cutting her teeth in the field of cardiology. However, her descent from top-notch medical personnel to a housewife who hardly possessed any recognizable stream of income and who was suffering from domestic violence was as swift as it was baffling. But in spite of these setbacks, she emerged; perhaps, not entirely unscathed and unscarred, but in one piece and kicking too.

Having exorcized those demons, thirty-three-year-old Maria Zileni Zaloumis, A.K.A ‘The Zed Farmer”, now holds the reins at Tuzini Farms Limited as its CEO. She is now considered something of a reference point for female entrepreneurs who have battled through thick and thin and established themselves at the top of their respective fields. If a change in position from a celebrated medical personnel in a foreign land to a farmer back in your home country sound like a fall from grace, did any rule book ever say one can’t be a successful nurse and then a successful farmer too? Well, that’s the story of The Zed Farmer.

Everyone expected Zileni to pursue a career in law having been born into a family in which both parents were lawyers. The urge to become an attorney was quite appealing and almost irresistible. And a career in law did seem like a no-brainer to her initially as she left Zambia for Australia in 2003 in pursuit of a law degree after completing her primary and secondary education at Nkwazi, Mpelembe, and Lake Road School respectively. However, she opted to enroll in a Nursing school instead of what seemed like a last minute decision. This eleventh-hour turnaround may not have exactly gone down well with her folks, but Zileni had always had a mind of her own. And to further underline her conviction in her chosen path, she also went on to obtain a postgraduate degree in Cardiology in the same country — leaving no one in doubt as per her aspirations and ambition.

She became a practicing nurse soon afterward, and heart surgeries were her specialty. She worked side by side many renowned heart surgeons in Australia for a long time in what was a storied medical career. She returned to Zambia briefly back in 2008 where she tied the nuptial knot with her ex-husband before the couple returned to Australia. And that may have been the last semblance of peace, quiet, happiness, and tranquility she knew before things began to go south.

In 2015, she made the painful decision to call time on her medical practice and return to Zambia when it became evident that her father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease had taken a turn for the worse. This marked a significant turning point in her life as she abandoned her glowing medical career in Australia to offer a helping hand in the care of her beloved father who was also battling amnesia due to the condition.

Being a retired attorney and until the bout of Alzheimer’s, Zileni’s father was a small-time farmer himself. But now ravaged by the disease, his productivity and indeed, his life were now threatened. And this weighed in heavily in her decision to return home in the company of her ex-husband. But there was to be even more tragedy as she lost her child not long after the return to Zambia.

This was to be the harbinger of things to come as her once happy marriage soon suffered a meltdown. In 2016, both parties went their separate ways having had the marriage legally dissolved in a divorce.

This was a trying period for Zileni as she battled the emotional trauma of a lost child, an ailing father, and a failed marriage — enough to break just about anyone. But she was cut out of a different kind of material. Where caving in and crumbling under the sheer weight of the setbacks seemed like the easy way out, Zileni was willing to dig in and fight. And so far, she appears to have done so with aplomb.

With only a 40-hectare farm, a bedridden father, and a helpless mother, Zileni almost lost it as her world seemed to have been ripped to shreds around her as nothing seemed to make sense anymore. As if being jobless was not bad enough, she was also divorced and devoid of any stable income source, with the only glimmer of hope being the revised salary she still got from Australia since she had not resigned outrightly but only taken a leave of absence on a sympathetic note.

Her first foray into agriculture may have begun by “accident” in 2016 as she is known to relate it to when a patch of tomatoes was left for her to tend to by her mother who was embarking on a trip that would keep her away for a while. She is also known to associate the growth witnessed by Tuzini Farms Limited with that unintended gift from her mother which went on to transform obstacles into opportunities.

Now gifted with 40 hectares of farmland, Zileni was determined to make the most of it — and that is precisely what she did. She started by improving the infrastructure on the ground to maximize the farm’s productivity. And she soon began to reap the dividends as it wasn’t long before the farm started yielding substantial returns — in an income range that may come across as wishful thinking with everyday jobs.

Things got even better not long after as Tuzini Farms Limited soon became the go-to produce source for some chain stores including Choppies and Food Lovers. She is known to have supplied these retail outlets for a while, but local markets such as Soweto are often mentioned in the same breath as where she made a fortune — and this may have something to do with the attractive price packages in these local marketplaces.

Broccoli, spinach, and cabbage are amongst the various crops she grew in her first year but she was determined to put Tuzini Farms Limited on the map with tomatoes, and since she was also passionate about cultivating this particular crop, considerable effort was put into growing it. Having learned of the importance of specialization in her line of work, she left no stone unturned in making sure that the farm stood tall amongst its peers in the area of tomato production. Zileni is known to attribute the remarkable feats she has achieved as one of the best-performing commercial farmers in Zambia to hard work and perhaps a mixture of misfortunes which turned out to be blessings in disguise.

Situated in Chisamba which is 10 miles to the northern part of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, Tuzini Farms Limited is believed to currently boast a team of over 60 workers with over 40 women on the roster. The farm is also known to open its doors to local youths who are on vacation from school to keeping them engaged and helping them earn some money in preparation for the resumption of school. The workers at the farm are known to also benefit from a weekend literacy program through which many of them hone their reading and writing skills. At only 33, Zileni is now considered one of the most successful farmers of the new era in Zambia. From the farm’s proceeds, The Zed Farmer is known to also cater for the needs of kids who are being cared for by the Mwachikoka Baptist Church in Lusaka.

The young female entrepreneur entered the annals of history when became the youngest individual to ever sit on the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) board. And it wasn’t long before she again ripped the history books when she was voted into the esteemed position of Director of the ZNFU — becoming the youngest ever individual to occupy that position in the process.

In addition to being at the helm of affairs at the farm, she also serves as an ambassador of such initiatives as the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative and African Pride Insurance. She also holds the office of the National Chairperson for Fruit and Vegetables under the ZNFU — which are just a few mentions of the numerous capacities she serves in and many roles she plays to give back to society.

Having steered the farm away from troubled waters through her informed leadership, around 300 boxes of tomatoes are believed to be produced by Tuzini Farms Limited on a daily basis, boasting an average of approximately USD 500 in daily revenue. The farm is also known to currently be the go-to source for tomatoes for Freshmark (SHOPRITE) stores throughout Zambia, as well as Masala market in Ndola, and Chisokone market in Kitwe, which is considered one of the biggest markets in Zambia. Tomatoes from Tuzini Farms Limited are known even to go as far as the Kasumbalesa border post. Through her entrepreneurial efforts, Zileni is believed to have built for herself a net worth that is currently around USD 2 Mn.

Zileni augments the farm’s famed tomato cultivation with livestock farming as the farm is believed to also rear close to 40 cattle for beef. Plans are also believed to be currently afoot to diversifying into onion farming and some other areas. And having acquired two other farms christened; ‘Tuzini 2’ and ‘Tuzini 3’, presumably to that effect, it would be quite interesting to see how it all pans out given Zileni’s pedigree of turning ailing projects into cash cows. A move of this nature can be thought even to create more jobs for a considerable number of individuals.

While fluctuations in the price of tomatoes are known to pose a challenge to the business as it makes it difficult to project income for the coming month and plan accordingly, the “Tomato Queen” remains resolute in her drive to empower people and reduce the unemployment rate by enabling job opportunities for people.

Going forward, Zileni intends to venture into farm produce value-addition by processing and sun-drying tomatoes for export. Green housing over 50 hectares for the cultivation of organic ginger and avocados for the export purposes is also believed to be one of her future prospects. The young entrepreneur also hopes to impact and empower farmers in Zambia through the establishment of a countrywide scheme for exports; a move that could well do a solid to the Zambian economy.

Although she still takes medication to deal with intermittent bouts of depression, her story can serve to encourage individuals who are caught up in a similar mire that dreams can be achieved, and lives can be impacted in spite of the condition and setbacks. The remarkable journey of Maria Zileni Zaloumis from the School of Nursing at the Australian Catholic University and her over a decade-long presence at Wesley Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, to hugely-successful Tuzini Farms Limited in Chisamba, Zambia, does prove that there is always a way if just the right amount of will is mustered.

Students In South Africa On Entrepreneurship & Startups: A WeeTracker Exclusive

November 16

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Egyptian Startup Fakahany Secures USD 700 K Seed Investment From Endure Capital And Angel Investors

Nzekwe Henry November 16

Cairo-based farm-to-door fresh produce eCommerce platform, Fakahany, has raised investment of USD 700 K in a seed funding round led by Endure Capital, who are also joined by angel investors.

Fakahany was established a year ago by the duo of Waleed Khalil and Ahmed Attia. The former also happens to be a partner at Endure Capital. The eCommerce platform makes it possible for users in Cairo and Giza to order fresh farm products like fruits and vegetables via its online platform and mobile applications for both Android and iOS. The startup is said to have its warehouses where it stores fresh produce sourced directly from partner farms.

According to Ahmed Attia, Co-Founder of Fakahany, the startup is focused on filling the void between farms and customers, as well as optimising the intermediate processes. This makes it possible for the startup to provide customers with some of the best quality produce at their doorsteps, thus, offering good value for money.

The startup appears to have witnessed significant growth since its launch, and this can be attributed to the impressive level of demand in the market for its services; a feat which the company claims has seen its revenues grow tenfold over the last one year.

Egyptian startup

Waleed Mohamed Khalil (CEO Fakahany) via LinkedIn

“We chose this vertical understanding the challenges of working with fresh produce and perishable goods. However, the great calibres that we have and the collective industry experience within our team has allowed us to build a powerful eCommerce platform and sturdy operations that enable fast growth and a seamless experience for our customers,” commented Waleed Khalil, Co-Founder and CEO of Fakahany, with regards to the development.

Tarek Fahim, General Partner at Endure Capital who lead the investment round, noted that continuous optimisation, automation, and vertical were required for sustenance in today’s business environment. He also suggested that the investment in Fakahany was borne out of confidence in the high and consistent growth which the startup has shown in such a short time while expressing belief in the ability of the startup to continue in its upward growth trajectory.

The investment is expected to be channelled into further developing the technology of the platform, as well as expanding its team, reach, and offerings. Details bordering on equity agreements are yet to be disclosed at this time.

From Selling Flip-Flops to Raking Millions in Revenues – Even War Couldn’t Break His Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Here’s the thing about humble beginnings; they are not some sort of wriggle room for the justification of mediocrity, or an excuse to settle for less. If anything, they are only a reflection of the starting point; they do not ultimately define the future of any individual.

Humble beginnings are just what they are; the beginning, the starting point — no more, no less. Not the end. And in between the beginning and the end, every individual has a choice to make between sitting on the fence and sulking over everything that is not right or taking that leap. The end is largely a function of that choice.

It’s easy to lament poor background and blame it all on the lack of opportunities for never really hitting the heights, and perhaps even justifiably so. But it does pay to view the scenario from a different perspective. Privations and hardship are undoubtedly tricky spots to get caught up in, and it’s easy to align with the popular view which attributes those to an impoverished life.

But doing a one-eighty can also reflect privations and hardship in a different light. They can also be viewed as an indication of the type of effort that would need to be put in to improve the situation, as well as a suggestion that life accomplishments have as much do with the ability to keep the prize within sight in spite of the fog as it does the decision to attempt any venture in the first place. And sometimes, it’s all about perspective. Some individuals epitomise, embody and personify this view more than others, and Fomba Trawally; one of the wealthiest men in Liberia is one of such individuals.

Having suffered untold tragedy with the demise of both his parents at an early stage in his life, the Liberian businessman had to do a number of odd jobs and petty trades to get by on a daily. At some point, he even resorted to walking considerable distances, wheelbarrow in front, selling bathroom slippers in different neighbourhoods in various parts of Monrovia.

And as if that was not difficult enough, he was also affected by the war that ravaged parts of Liberia in 1989. Rocked by the violent unrest, Fomba Trawally and family had to flee their home country and stay away for up to three years. When the violence died down, and the war came to an end, he made the return to his homeland. Upon his return, Fomba decided to start a small business even though all he could lay claim to by way of personal funds was a meagre USD 200. Fast-forward several years down the line, and the former wheelbarrow hawker now runs a company whose value is believed to run into millions of dollars.

But how could he have pulled off such a remarkable feat from such a disadvantaged position? Perhaps taking a trip down memory lane to how it all began, could reveal some answers.

Fomba Trawally, Source: BBC

Fomba Trawally was born in 1971 to poor parents in Liberia. He completed his elementary education at Voinjama Public School where he had first enrolled in 1975. He also joined Kataka Training School for his secondary education in 1981.

Kumba Beindu, Fomba’s mother, is said to have toiled day and night to fend for her children in the absence of her late husband. Getting them fed was hard work enough, let alone putting them through school. But somehow, she managed both, even though it required back-breaking work more often than not. She sold pepper and other farm produce, and it was from this small business that Fomba’s mother met the needs of her children.

Now, young Fomba was going through life one day at a time despite the privations with the future offering the only glimmer of hope, and then things took a turn for the worse. Kumba Beindu, the single surviving parent and the sole beacon of hope for Fomba and his siblings, passed on sometime in the 1980s and everything pretty much went downhill from there.

It was a very difficult time for Fomba, and his siblings as the demise of the sole breadwinner of the family left behind a huge void to fill. Before the tragedy, Fomba had had high hopes of going all the way to college, but those hopes were dashed with the death of his mother. Being the eldest in the family, Fomba had to step up to the plate and handle the baton that had been shoved into his unprepared hands at a tender age. To fend for siblings who now looked up to him, Fomba quit school and took to selling bathroom flip-flops in a wheelbarrow. He trekked several miles through various neighbourhoods in Monrovia, marketing and selling his wares. Daily income was small, but it was enough to take care of his siblings.

But that was not all he had to deal with.  Just when it looked like things were beginning to attain some semblance of stability, Fomba and his siblings soon found themselves fleeing their home country for The Gambia when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. They lived as refugees for three years before returning to Liberia when some semblance of peace resurfaced in 1992. During his time as a refugee in The Gambia, Fomba still busied himself doing odd jobs and petty trading.

Having returned to Liberia with around USD 25 in personal savings, Fomba opted to make a foray into business. And his choice of business can be said to have been a clever one. It appears Fomba’s brief spells in business both home and abroad had worked him into some kind of aptitude. Back in Liberia, Fomba Trawally identified a market opportunity which turned out a diamond in the rough.

It was the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, and the country was in a rebuilding process. The war had left a lot of ruins in its wake, and many people had had virtually nothing by way of personal belongings. There was an urgent need for footwear in the capital city, Monrovia, as a good number of people were trudging the streets barefoot. Fomba decided to start importing cheap slippers and shoes which he would sell to the many people that were beset by the situation. But with USD 25.00 in his pocket, that was never going to happen.

He began to source for funds, but in a country that was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war, it was going to be anything but easy. He did get some luck when a friend of his lent him the sum of USD 120.00 in addition to his savings, but that was still a long way off from what was required. But he decided to get started regardless.

Now armed with around USD 145.00, he established his business which he named Kumba Beindu and Sons as a tribute to his late mother in 1992. Within one year, the company had grown significantly to amass a value of around USD 3 K, which was quite a staggering sum at the time. The business expanded to include cosmetics, toiletries, and plastics as part of its products.

Gradually, the business gathered steam, and by 2005, it had become a very popular name in Liberia. An astute businessman, it wasn’t long before he diversified his trade and established three retail stores selling imported items like paper and cosmetics in Liberia. This was made possible by the networks he built in countries like China, U.S., Turkey, and Cote d’Ivoire, from where he imported those items. But he wasn’t going to rest on his oars as his next move proved he was anything but done.

In 2010, Fomba Trawally launched his next project which essentially saw him switch from importer to manufacturer. Fomba established National Toiletries Incorporated, which is considered Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory. The company became fully operational in 2013, and it produces four different kinds of products: baby diapers, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper.

In a conversation with CNN, Fomba revealed that National Toiletries Incorporated supplies products to over 1,500 businesses in Liberia. It is also known to have spread its tentacles abroad with exports to neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Revenue in excess of USD 600 K is said to be grossed by the company on a yearly basis.

But it would be wrong to think all of it is coming easy. Running a manufacturing business in Liberia — a country yet recovering from a civil war that left an estimated 250,000 people dead and destroyed much of its infrastructure and economy — is not without its challenges. In the CNN interview, Fomba cited power as a major concern.
“Number one, we don’t have the power or energy in our country at this time — we’re running on a generator,” said Trawally. “You tell anyone that I’m running a factory as big as this only on a generator, they’ll tell you that you are crazy,” he added. Unreliable power and the shortage of infrastructure, coupled with high energy costs and a lack of skilled labour, are all major problems for entrepreneurs doing business in Liberia.
Fomba Trawally, who currently serves as CEO of National Toiletries Incorporated, was recently honoured with the 2018 top African International award at the 9th edition of the Africa Economy Builders, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Mr Trawally, widely considered one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of Liberia, was honoured in recognition of his immense contribution to Liberia’s economic growth.

Fambo Trawally (2nd from right) at the 9th Edition of Africa Economy Builders; Source: LiberianObserver

In another interview with BBC, Fomba Trawally reiterated that young entrepreneurs do not always need a lot of capital to start with. “It doesn’t cost you USD 1 Mn to start a business,” he said.

“My advice to my other friends around the world is that you should be encouraged and believe that you can do everything with the little you have. My mother started with five or 10 US cents which is nothing today.”

The remarkable feat pulled by Fomba Trawally is made all the more impressive by the fact that it is coming from a country whose population hovers around just 4 million people. Throw that in with the idea that all his accomplishments have been achieved in spite poor upbringing and the numerous rutabagas life hauled his way and it becomes evident how much of an impact can be made by just about anyone even in the face of militating challenges.

 

Features Image Courtesy: CNN

CoinAfrique Welcomes New Stakeholder – France’s Media Group Trace

Andrew Christian November 15

According to a publication that broke yesterday, Senegalese mobile classified platform CoinAfrique has given an undisclosed stake to Paris-based media group Trace, making it the third deal to be reported from the Senegalese startup.

CoinAfrique is reported to have developed what is held to be one of the first mobile marketplaces for Francophone Africans, having operations in no less than 15 countries across French-speaking Africa. The startup was founded and launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, by duo Matthias Papet and Eric Genetre.

The comments from the CoinAfrique arm of the development, according to the founders, informs that the deal is a confirmation of the strength of the startup’s growth model, also highlighting the avenue to bring about a pan-African francophone leader in the classifieds industry.

While the amount of the investment remains undisclosed, reports have it that the Senegalese startup will latch on to the audience of Trace TV to publicize CoinAfrique’s services to a wider Francophone market in Africa. This African service company currently has 400,000 active monthly users, and concerning this investment, it aims to level up the number to 10 million by 2022.

The narrative from Trace points that the undisclosed investment into the Dakar-based classifieds startup is in a bid to help the enterprise shoot up in terms of development. Oliver Laouchez, who is co-founder and CEO of Trace noted that CoinAfrique has already proven its worth, and with the potential displayed, the Paris-based media company is excited to concert efforts to the Senegalese startups’ development.

According to Oliver, Trace’s stake conforms to its investment strategy in mobile and digital service. It also is in line with the organization’s intention to bolster entrepreneurial initiatives that have significant positive effects on the African continent.

This is not the first of CoinAfrique’s feats, as it has raised € 2.5 Mn in April and sold a 15 percent stake to Investisseurs and Partenaires just last month. The startup was also among the 20 startups selected to join World Bank’s XL Africa program.

This information was first covered on Ventureburn.

Why The Next Bunch of Billionaires in Nigeria Will be Tech Startup Founders

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Imagine it’s 2030 and a Nigerian social media platform, or perhaps, a Nigeria-owned instant messaging platform, which boasts nearly a billion users, is threatening to blow everyone else out of the water, giving the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp a run for their money.

Also, imagine the said Nigerian tech-enabled platform is gathering momentum faster than any other on the continent because of a certain African appeal which puts it in a unique position. While all these may have come off as wishful thinking at best not so long ago, it is not exactly far-fetched at this point in time given the tech-inspired revolution that appears to be imminent, if not already upon us.

If sports were the topic of discussion, it could be said that young Nigerian techies are on a hot streak as they appear to have hit a purple patch. Tech-driven startups are springing up in various parts of the country and there has been a flurry of tech gadgets and concepts all put together by Nigerian innovators. These tech entrepreneurs appear to be breaking new grounds in a sector of the country’s economy that has hitherto been largely ignored, and it might not be long before gold is struck.

And the Nigerian government could, in fact, be said to be banking on just that! The country’s economy has been heavily reliant on oil for far too long. With the global oil market suffering a blow that it is yet to recover from which brought oil prices crashing down in recent times the clamour for the diversification of the Nigerian economy has only grown louder.

From various indications, the Nigerian government appears to have awakened to the potentials of tech and plying that route may well serve up that much-vaunted economic boost. Investing in tech at this point in time does seem like a good way to go as the country hopes to bolster its finances and improve the lives of the citizenry by not only developing home-grown tech-driven solutions that cater for some of the country’s immediate problems but also by exporting some of these Nigerian tech-inspired products to the world. And this could prove a gold mine.

If the tech revolution does come to fruition in Nigeria, the history books will be incomplete without any indication of who the players were, what informed the move to tech, and how it all came about. And even though other details seem bleak at best at this point, it could be said that some are doing more than others to give the country a future that is entrenched in or entwined with tech which seems like the way forward these days anyway.

Also Read: Meet The Nigerian Women Who Developed These 5 Amazing Apps We Use Today

Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, appears to be throwing considerable weight behind locally-developed technology and innovation in the country, as a way of breaking the oil monopoly, or perhaps, the oil-agriculture duopoly.

While crude oil prices have plunged downhill from over USD 100.00 per barrel to a price which currently hovers between USD 40.00 to USD 60.00 —  pushing the country back into the economic mire that it was just beginning to wriggle its way out of — Prof. Osinbajo can be said to have been busy charting a new course for the country as a way out of the slump. And what appears to be a campaign on tech and entrepreneurship might help to heal the country’s haemorrhaging economy.

It is on record that Nigeria’s Vice President has paid numerous visits to tech and innovation hubs across the country. On such visits, the VP is believed to have picked the brains of experts, as well as forged partnerships, with a view to establishing a number of government-owned tech hubs. And it didn’t take long before those efforts began to pay off as a number of government-backed hubs began to pop up in strategic locations across the country.

Prof. Osinbajo first unveiled the North-East Humanitarian Innovation Hub in Yola, Adamawa. During the launch, the VP remarked that the newly-opened hub will support innovative solutions to the humanitarian challenges bedevilling the country’s troubled North-Eastern region. According to him, the private sector and the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), were to collaborate with the hub on the project.

Next up, he hinted at the proposed establishment of the South-South Innovation Hub which will be launched with a view to developing scalable solutions in such areas as education, tourism, environment, as well as the oil and gas sector. The South-East and North-Central Innovation Hub were to follow suit and these will be dedicated to solving problems associated with finance, governance, commerce, and agriculture.

See More: Nigerian Economy Is Growing And You Will Start Feeling It Soon

With these in mind, it could be surmised that these hubs are intended as mediums through which problems peculiar to each of the six geopolitical zones in the country can be addressed. The partnership with the private sector appears to be intended as a move that will ensure the sustainability of those hubs.

Fast forward a few weeks down the line and Nigeria’s number two citizen touched down on the ancient city of Benin, the capital of Edo State. During his visit to the state, he commissioned the Edo Innovation Hub; an edifice that has the capacity to host over 25 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies, as well as the facilities to cater for the training of people and residents on various ICT-based skills.

Prof. Osinbajo is known to have also paid visits to a number of hubs located in both Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and its undisputed commercial hub; Lagos. Perhaps the highlight of it all came on 23rd June 2018 when he headlined the inauguration of what could be considered Nigeria’s largest tech hub yet in Lagos.

In what came to be called Vibranium Valley, the VP unveiled a tech hub that could drive Nigeria’s technology growth and export of innovations. Vibranium Valley is home to as many as 30 tech companies while also boasting the capacity to accommodate 50 more. The innovation hub is owned by the Venture Garden Group (VGG) and it occupies the very grounds of the once famous Concord Printing Press of Nigeria, established by the Late M.K.O. Abiola; a national icon.

“It is about technology, it is about innovations, and tech innovation is all about highly-skilled people, entrepreneurship spirit, and a supporting ecosystem of government, investors, mentors, and global collaboration,” Prof. Osinbajo fondly remarked at the opening of Vibranium Valley.

“In the past, Nigerian billionaires were traders, oil and gas moguls; in the next few years, billionaires from Nigeria will be techies. This government is taking this phenomenon seriously, demonstrated by our innovation hub plans and ease of doing business initiative,” he explained.

Quite conscious of the fact that a considerable amount of the Nation’s youth is unable to act on brilliant ideas because of the dearth of capital, the VP appears to be steering the government in the path of supporting such enterprises both financially and otherwise. Thus, creating an environment that supports the proliferation of innovation. “We believe it is our role to provide the environment where innovation can thrive, so, we are including technology startups and businesses in our list of businesses eligible for pioneer status and that means tax holidays,” he stated further, at the unveiling of the mega tech hub.

As part of the VP’s efforts which have already resulted in the establishment of three state-of-the-art government-supported technology hubs in the country, plans which will see the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry work on intervention funds and loans for technology startups are also believed to have been set in motion.

The VP is known to have also hinted at the willingness of the administration to play a regulatory role as he intends to champion the creation of an Innovation and Technology Advisory Council to harness and foster the creativity and innovative ingenuity of young Nigerians, as well as accelerate the growth of the country’s tech sector.

Although the country’s Industrial and Competitive Council is already tasked with shouldering some of those responsibilities, a move of that nature could be interpreted to imply that the interest in fostering technology and innovation in the country has intensified in recent times and the VP appears to be not only a figurehead but also an ardent believer in the campaign.

It does make for an even more interesting narrative when some thought is given to the idea that the VP was also at the center of a recent announcement which suggested that Nigeria’s ongoing digital identification of all citizens and legal residents on a harmonized platform will be the largest database in Africa, and only second in the world to the Aadhaar of India.  

Prof. Osinbajo is known to have also hinted at the ability of the said project to unlock a lot of opportunities in different sectors when he delivered the keynote address in the “Technology As A Catalyst Conference,” which was held in Lagos recently.

In the latter parts of his keynote, the VP revealed that the “E-government Master Plan” had been approved by the Federal Executive Council. This project is expected to see the National Information Technology Development Agency collaborate with Galaxy Backbone to implement the interoperability framework that would provide a shared platform for the benefit of ministries, departments, and agencies. Throw that in with the rest of his posturing as of late and it might be concluded that the VP is on some kind of personal mission to spark a tech revolution in Nigeria.

There is undoubtedly a large amount of work left undone on this front as it is not entirely out of place to describe these recent moves as baby steps at this point in time, but they may yet prove the all-important springboard to the giant leaps that will need to be taken in shaping Nigeria’s tech future.

And it will be quite interesting to see how this pans out given that the country’s general elections are due in a few months. Will the current administration be returned to the office to continue the revolution, or will the tech scene be shunted out wide with the coming of a new dispensation? Well, that sounds like one for the voters to decide come 2019. In any case, we do know someone who is doing his bit to support technology and innovation in the country, and it remains to be seen whether that proves successful in the end, or just another effort in futility. Either way, the history books will surely be written.

 

Feature Image Courtesy: The Eagle Online