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