Mark-Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg flanked by his Nigerian team watch children display IT skills during his visit

Emma Okonji writes that the surprise visit by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to Nigeria last week, will awaken the spirit of creativity embedded in Nigerian apps developers who had in the past, longed for local and international recognition

Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, last Tuesday, made a surprise appearance in Nigeria, Lagos precisely, without prior publicity or any grand reception, even though it was his first visit to Africa and Nigeria was the destination of first choice.

Looking very cheerful and simple in a T-shirt and jean trouser, with a pair of canvas to match, Zuckerberg arrived Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos on Tuesday afternoon with his pretty wife, Priscilla, and headed straight to Co-Creation Hub (CC-Hub) in Yaba, Lagos, without the presence of security personnel.

Cc-Hub is a private venture initiative, managed by young Nigerians, where technology startups develop ideas that are turned into technology solutions to address immediate and long term challenges. Inside CC-Hub, ideas are nurtured, incubated and solution developers are guided and sponsored, until their solutions are ripe for commercial marketing.

Aside CC-Hub, Zuckerberg met with technology startups on the second day of his visit, and had a question and answer session with them, which was transmitted live through telecast to a viewing audience made up of technology reporters. From there he met with Nollywood actors and actresses. Throughout his short stay in Nigeria, Zuckerberg was focused on technology startups, even though he had some fun while jogging on the street of Lagos.

Why Zuckerberg visited Nigeria

THISDAY gathered that the Facebook founder visited Nigeria because he has heard so much about Nigerian technology startups and he needed to encourage them. Also, Nigeria is the largest market for Facebook in Africa in terms of population and value for the Facebook platform. Nigeria had few months ago, recorded 16 million Facebook active users, and the number keep increasing daily. While addressing technology startups in Lagos, Zuckerberg announced that the population of Nigeria on Facebook has grown from 16 million to 18 million, still maintaining its position as the largest market for Facebook in Africa. He further explained that the total number of Facebook users globally, was close to two billion.

Aside his personal interest to meet with technology startups in Nigeria, THISDAY gathered that Facebook’s Director of Global Product Partnerships, Ime Archibong, who has direct link to Nigeria, was also instrumental to Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria.

According to Archibong, “When I came to Lagos back in May this year, I was really struck by the energy of the tech scene in Lagos, and by how many of the developers were building relevant apps. As someone with strong links to Nigeria, I have been trying to expose Mark to this ecosystem for a while, and I am very excited for him to be able to come to Nigeria to meet some of Nigeria’s top entrepreneurs and apps developers.”

Excited about his visit, Zuckerberg said he specifically visited Nigeria to meet with technology startups and to share their experiences about various software apps they have developed to address immediate and long term challenges in the country.

“My visit to Nigeria was primarily based on meeting with the technology startups, having heard so much about their zeal for fantastic apps development,” Zuckerberg said.

Impact of Zuckerberg’s visit

During the visit, Zuckerberg assured Nigerian technology startups and the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria of Facebook’s support that will enhance easy access and connectivity to the internet.

Zuckerberg who made the pledge in Lagos while addressing technology startups on the second day of his visit, said supporting SMEs in Nigeria and Africa is key to economic development because SMEs drive economies, and that Facebook has created 16 million free pages on the Facebook platform for SMEs business globally.

“Nigeria currently has 18 million people on Facebook, that interact and do different kinds of online businesses, among them are SMEs and Facebook is willing to support them to populate their numbers and provide easy access to connectivity and the internet,” Zuckerberg said during the question and answer session he had with startups and software developers in Lagos.

He however challenged the Nigerian government to reduce cost of internet access, and to create more access to internet for her citizens, as well as raise awareness campaign on the benefits of the internet, especially for rural dwellers.

He called for infrastructural development on the African continent and challenged software developers to focus more on local content in building Apps that will address specific needs.

Some of the developers who spoke with THISDAY, said they were excited about his visit because it will encourage them to develop more apps of international standard. The developers who lamented the lack of sufficient support and belief in locally developed software by Nigerians, said the visit would explain better the high standard that Nigerian Apps are made of, which they said, was among the reasons why Zuckerberg had to visit Nigeria. They called on Nigerians and multinational companies doing businesses in Nigeria, to believe in locally developed Apps and encourage Apps developers to do more.

Places visited

The first port of call during Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria, was the CC-Hub, where he met with some developers and minors that were doing various forms of computer coding. He was pleased with the designs created by the code warriors and encouraged them to do more.

At CC-Hub, which is located in the busy area of Yaba in Lagos, Zuckerberg was seen walking on the streets of Yaba, having fun, while admiring the roads and the people. The next day, he had questions and answers session with technology startups and the session was telecast live to other viewing centres. Later in the day, he met with Nollywood actor and actresses, where encomiums were poured on him. Aside walking on the street of Yaba, Zuckerberg was also spotted jogging with few associates on the Lekki Cable bridge.

Hosted by Buhari on Second Visit

In a surprise return to Nigeria last Friday, Zuckerberg visited the State House Abuja where he held a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Details of their meeting and his other itinerary in Abuja were not out as at press time.

About Zuckerberg

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is an American programmer, internet entrepreneur, executive, and philanthropist. He is the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and co-founder of social networking website, Facebook.

Born on May 14, 1984, in White Plains, New York, to the family of Edward Zuckerberg, Mark developed an interest in computers at an early age. At 12 years, he created a messaging programme he named “Zucknet.” To keep up with Mark’s burgeoning interest in computers, his parents hired private computer tutor David Newman to come to the house once a week and work with Mark. Newman later told reporters that it was hard to stay ahead of the prodigy, who began taking graduate courses at nearby Mercy College around that same time.

Zuckerberg enrolled at Harvard University. By his sophomore year at the ivy league institution, he had developed a reputation as the go-to software developer on campus. It was at that time that he built a programme called CourseMatch, which helped students choose their classes based on the course selections of other users.

He also invented Facemash, which compared the pictures of two students on campus and allowed users to vote on which one was more attractive. The program became wildly popular, but was later shut down by the school administration after it was deemed inappropriate.

Zuckerberg and his friends created a site that allowed users to create their own profiles, upload photos, and communicate with other users. The group ran the site—first called The Facebook—out of a dorm room at Harvard until June 2004. After his sophomore year, Zuckerberg dropped out of college to devote himself to Facebook full time, moving the company to Palo Alto, California. By the end of 2004, Facebook had 1 million users. Today Fecebook has close to two billion users globally, with Nigeria alone constituting 18 million on Facebook.

About tech startups

Technology startups are young Nigerian men and women who have flair for technology and who can turn ideas into technology solutions, to address social and economic challenges of individuals, organisations and communities.

They have developed software applications that address specific challenges across several sectors of the economy, which include health, transport, sports, banking, oil and gas, among others.

Some recognised technology startups in Nigeria include, Jobberman, Balogunmarket, and Truppr.com.

Jobberman is Africa’s largest jobs website and Nigeria’s number one recruitment website that keeps people informed about the latest jobs in Nigeria. It offers vacancies and recruitment opportunities to job seekers in Nigeria and other African countries. Owned by Opeyemi Awoyemi and Lekan Olude, both of them decided to do something about the high unemployment rate in the country by creating a website with the largest catalogue of jobs in Nigeria, from where people can browse and apply for jobs relevant to their disciplines, which have been uploaded by employers.

Balogunmarket is a website created by Nigerians, that enables people to order things directly from Balogun market in Lagos, which is one of West Africa’s biggest market, using WhatsApp. The market traders supply the goods and the eCommerce team handles the logistics from their fulfillment hub located in the middle of the market, where they provide free photograph, tagging and last-mile delivery services.

Truppr is a social tool that provides sports lovers and fitness enthusiasts alike with an easy way to find local fitness partners while on business trips, holidays or in a new city. The app was designed by a young Nigerian, who also runs the CC-Hub.

Other technology startups have developed solutions that address drug dispensing and stocking, weather issues, traffic issues, school management, church management and revenue collection, among others, and the solution are numerous, while the developers are seeking for financial support to grow the business. Zuckerberg’s visit, no doubt will spur such expected growth.