Yaba Leading Nigeria To Tech Greatness

The mention of the city ‘Lagos’ sparks many things in many people’s ears. From the endless all-round, 24/7 nature of its inhabitants to the commercial vibrance it promises even the most average businessman, it is the hub of ‘creatives’ and their creations.

At the heart of one of Africa’s biggest commercial epicentres and Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos lies a co-creation hub that has caught the eyes of one of the world’s hero of technology, Mark Zuckerberg. Yaba, which houses the Yaba College of Technology and the University of Lagos has enjoyed massive attention recently with the Co-creation Hub.

In 2013, it had no more than 10 Co-Creation hubs but that figure has since multiplied to 60 in just six years. It is home to progressive technology startup for travellers, Hotels.ng, and is also the host community for the digital labs of foremost Nigerian institutions, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd, and Stanbic IBTC, the local section of Africa’s biggest lenders.

Chimdindu Aneke, program manager of platform partnerships for sub-Saharan Africa at Facebook, which last year launched a hub space in the neighborhood said “Lagos, like other major cities such as Nairobi and Accra, is at the height of this exciting expansion in innovation across tech, with Yaba quickly finding itself at the center,”

And rightfully so, the Nigerian government, spearheaded by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo saw some prospects in the future of the Yaba as a hub of creations, ensuring the establishment of a creation hub right at the heart of the mega city.

Fola Olatunji-David, the head of startup success services for Google Launchpad Africa that started a development boot camp in Yaba in 2017, said Lagos has a “buoyant, characteristic ‘anything-can-happen’ feel,” fed by growing entrepreneurs seeking to bridge the huge gap in the socioeconomics of the Nigerian classes of humans with Google technology.

Yaba At The Heart Of A Technological Turnaround

Yaba’s gentle yet assured rise into the spotlight started from the lowest rungs of Nigeria’s daily life. Armed with daily hustlers who are relentless in their approach to life and their belief in tech as a cornerstone, the community was bolstered by a grassroots movement that worked to be seen as a gateway to greatness, lobbying for support from a government not immediately sold on economic benefits of technology.

The group’s first success came in 2013 when, anchored by the Co-Creation Hub, which now manages a space for Facebook and partners with Google to run programs, it reiterated its desire to the authorities to waive taxes for a company, MainOne, that agreed to lay Yaba’s internet infrastructure.

“That was how Yaba was conceived: to demonstrate the power of people being connected and the socio-economic impact that would have,” said MainOne’s regional executive for West Africa, Kazeem Oladepo.

Impressed by what is being pushed out to the world from Lagos, a man who knows the city like the back of his palm, Osinbajo pushed for the construction of a bigger project for the discovery of tech talents, to position the city, and indeed Nigeria for the greatness the future promises. This is part of the Nigerian government’s efforts to demystify the nation’s reliance on petroleum as its major source of export wealth, and also drive job creation maximally.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg

In April last year, Lagos hired the global consultancy company Accenture, and in July Osinbajo was with local start-ups to Silicon Valley as the state announced it was launching a project to develop the Yaba cluster. By August, the government purchased 30,000 square meters of land around Yaba to expand the area that it hopes will create more than 250,000 jobs.

Osinbajo said technology is the future of the nation as it continues to shift from an oil-dependent economy to one that’s looking towards tech as a big source of wealth in years to come.

“In the past, Nigeria’s billionaires were traders, and oil and gas moguls,” Osinbajo, who heads a technology council, said in a September speech. “But in the next few years, billionaires from Nigeria will be techies.”

Ido Sum, a partner in venture capital fund TLcom Capital LLP, which runs an office in Yaba, described Lagos, home to of over 20 million people, with a huge part of that population, youth, as the “go-to place for tech in Africa.”

“If you are hungry for Africa investment, it is becoming clear that Lagos is one of the first places to go,” said Sum, who’s been investing in the continent for eight years. TLcom has three of its five investments in Nigeria, including Kobo360, headquartered in Yaba and described by Sum as Uber for truck drivers.

A large number of local entrepreneurs often see the often physical and technical challenges of the city as an opportunity.

According to Bloomberg, ‘Lifebank’, which connects blood banks to hospitals in poorly mapped areas of Lagos, bases its entire business on overcoming problems — both in delivery and communications.

“These are the problems locals can solve best,” said Lifebank CEO Temie Giwa-Tubosun, who plans to expand her business to Ghana and Ivory Coast or Senegal by 2020.

Yaba, Lagos, and Nigeria is working to be well placed for the coming opportunities to be amassed from technology described by investors as the ”next billion users”. This, however is challenged by a rather slow internet penetration in the country, although, sizeable improvements have been recorded lately, according to latest NCC figures. The commission said the number of internet users in Nigeria in March has grown to 115.9 million.

Surprises are springing and the man who ignored challenges to take the big step is also still in wonderland as to the fast pace of progression in Yaba.

“Yaba’s surpassed my expectation of what it could achieve,” said Bosun Tijani, a leader of the grassroots movement and co-founder of the Co-Creation Hub that’s incubated startups such as Lifebank. “It has given the tech community in Nigeria an identity and made people in every part of the country believe that technology is possible here.”

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