Emma Okonji writes that the successive visits of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to Nigeria within a space of one week, speaks volume of the great talents among Nigerian technology startups
The Chief Executive Officer and Founder of social networking website, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, last week, made two successive visits to Nigeria, where he met with technology startups and government officials.
His visit was the first to Africa and he chose to visit Nigeria because he has heard so much about Nigerian technology startups and the fantastic apps they have been able to develop that address peculiar issues.
His first visit on Tuesday, took Nigerians by surprise because he landed at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos unannounced. From the airport, he went straight to Yaba to visit the Co-Creation Hub (CC-Hub) where he met with technology startups and young computer code warriors.
The CC-Hub is a private initiative centre where software application developers are trained and their ideas are nurtured over a period of time to address key societal issues.
Although the mission of his first visit was to meet with technology startups and encourage them, he was, however, surprised at the high level of technology skills displayed by Nigerian technology startups and computer code warriors.
Zuckerberg was quick to say he was blown away by the talent and level of energy of the Nigerian youth that he saw at the CC-Hub in Yaba, Lagos.
He spent quality time with technology startups and interacted freely and happily with them, during the first visit. He equally enjoyed himself during as he was seen walking freely on the streets of Yaba and jogging on the Ikoyi/Lekki Cable Bridge, without security personnel, because his first visit was without the slightest knowledge of the federal government and the Lagos State government.
Yes he was without security personnel like the police, but that was the visit he enjoyed the most because he was much freer with himself and he was able to go to places where he wanted to go and not where his routine schedule would have wanted him to go.
His surprise visit defied United States’ belief that Nigeria is a volatile place and unsafe to visit. The US had in several occasions warned its citizens not to visit certain parts of Nigeria, which it labelled unsafe for visits, but one of its own, Zuckerberg proved the country wrong when he visited the country without any form of security personnel around him.
His second visit, which was centered around Abuja, was an organised one with security personnel, where he met with President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and some Nigerian ministers in Abuja. He also used the occasion to visit the Aso Villa Demo Day in Abuja, which is a presidential initiative aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and innovation through the use of new and emerging technologies.
Zuckerberg’s first visit
Zuckerberg on Tuesday last week, made a surprise appearance in Nigeria, Lagos precisely.
Looking very cheerful but focused and simple in a T-shirt and jean trouser, with a pair of canvas shoes to match, Zuckerberg arrived Muritala 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.
At CC-Hub, he met with technology startups and young computer code warriors.
On the second day he had a question and answer session with technology startups in Lagos, which was transmitted live through telecast to a viewing audience made up of technology reporters. From there he met with Nollywood actors and actresses.
THISDAY gathered that the Facebook founder visited Nigeria because he has heard so much about Nigerian technology startups and he needed to stay with them and encourage them the more.
Again, Zuckerberg had to reckon with Nigeria because the country is the largest market of 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 kept increasing by the day. While addressing technology startups in Lagos, Zuckerberg announced that the population of Nigerians 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 the visit of Zuckerberg to Nigeria.
Excited about his visit, Zuckerberg said he specifically visited Nigeria to meet with technology startups and to share in their views 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.
He was in Nigeria from Tuesday to Thursday last week, before leaving for Kenya, where he visited Kenya’s i-Hub, a replica of Nigeria’s CC-Hub.
Zuckerberg’s second visit
Having left Nigeria for Kenya on Thursday last week, Zuckerberg had to return to Nigeria the following day to meet with President Buhari, and Vice President Osinbajo, before attending the Aso Villa Demo Day in Abuja.
In Abuja, Zuckerberg, along side the Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya and President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, commended all the participants at the Aso Villa Demo Day for their display of technology solutions.
In Abuja, Zuckerberg said his visit was inspired by the need to see what young Nigerians have done in terms of app development and use of technology.
Zuckerberg told President Buhari that he was in the country to promote the penetration of fast and cheap internet connectivity that would help people create online businesses and reduce poverty.
Buhari, who commended the simplicity of Zuckerberg, thanked him for sharing his wealth of knowledge with Nigerian youths, and inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Airtel, one of the major sponsors of the Aso Villa Demo Day initiative, endowed and presented cash prizes to the top three participants.
Ogunsanya congratulated the winners and reaffirmed Airtel’s commitment to pioneering innovation in the telecoms industry as well as seeking credible platforms to support the Nigerian government and the country’s youth.
Speaking at the event, Osinbajo congratulated all the participants, saying they are all winners. While lauding the country’s youth for their innovativeness, creativity, drive and entrepreneurial spirit, the Vice President said there is so much hope in what the young generation can do.
He also hinted that the federal government is currently exploring ways to cooperate with Facebook in the next few months.
What govt must do
Pleased with the visit of Zuckerberg to Nigeria, technology industry stakeholders have called on government to provide adequate support for technology startups in the country. They said government must see the visit of Zuckerberg as a wake-up call to empower technology start-ups, whom they said, needed funding to improve on their technology skills in apps development.
They also called on Nigerians to give priority to locally developed apps and patronise them in order to encourage apps developers who struggle all day long to develop viable apps, but receive little or no patronage from Nigerians and businesses operating in Nigeria.
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, 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.
“This kind of support and encouragement from Zuckerberg, should also come from the federal and state government,” a stakeholders stressed.