The surprise visit of Mark Zuckerberg understandably had many heads spinning. What is the world’s 5th richest man doing in Nigeria unannounced? Is it just because Nigeria has the highest number of Facebook users in Sub-Saharan Africa? Is it just because WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have conquered Nigeria, just like everywhere else in the world?
The headline figures are very impressive: Nigeria is already the most mobile country in the world, and 100% of Facebook’s 16 million users access it via mobile.
But those figures are not really the point. Nigeria is not just a consumer of technology, but has become, over the last few years, a country where its youthful population have begun to use technology to create solutions to problems in their society, and Zuckerberg’s arrival is a further recognition of that fact.
This shift began with the establishment of the establishment of the Co-Creation Hub in 2011, which became the ground zero for the Yaba technology ecosystem. The CcHub is a place that brings together techies – software developers, designers, etc – with those who have ideas to impact society.
One of the biggest and most influential examples of this is BudgIT, which pushes for transparency in public finance at federal, state and local levels. It began as the result of a ‘Tech In Governance’ meet up held in March 2011. The impact of BudgIT has been hailed by people like Bill Gates and Zuckerberg himself, and their current office is still located within Yaba.
— BudgIT Nigeria (@BudgITng) October 23, 2011
There are a host of other great startups. Hotels.ng is in its 4th year of success. Lifebank is a platform that connects blood donors with those who need it, saving countless lives in the process. Truppr is a growing exercise community led by CcHub’s co-founder, Bosun Tijani. In the payment space, there are startups like Paystack and more recently, Flutterwave.
All these startups are creating the kind of value that would interest men like Zuckerberg. This is not to say, of course, that Nigeria’s tech space has arrived by any means. This is another signpost on the journey that began 5 years ago. Many have toiled, publicly and privately, to build the Yaba area into a space that can be reckoned with.
When you build, from time to time you deserve to take a break and look at how far you have come, while getting ready to get back to work. For the next few days and weeks, the Yaba tech ecosystem will rightly bask in the attention and opportunities that Zuckerberg’s visit will bring.
It also helps that recently, Zuckerberg himself invested $24 million in Andela, a company dedicated to training an army of Nigeria’s youth to take their places in the digital future. The stated goal of Andela is to create the next generation of great founders and Chief Technical Officers in Africa, narrowing the gap between talent and opportunity.
Nigeria is more than just corruption and Boko Haram. Here, people have built things from scratch, triumphing over every difficulty and showing their creativity. It is this creativity that Facebook’s CEO has come to see for himself first hand, and there is little doubt that he will like what he sees.