Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The global tech and social media giant, Facebook, has announced its readiness to open an office in Lagos in December. The announcement of the office, which would be the company’s second office in Africa, after the one in Johannesburg, followed a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
During the virtual fireside chat by Osinbajo in Abuja and Facebook’s Vice President on Global Affairs and Communications and former United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Nick Clegg in California, on Friday, the Nigerian number two citizen pledged the federal government’s commitment to improvement of the country’s technology sector and the digital economy.
According to a statement by the vice president’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, Clegg said he was impressed by Nigeria’s broadband goals and what the Nigerian government was doing to improve the digital sector.
He was quoted as saying, “Let me say how excited I am, on behalf of the whole of Facebook and all of our teams, of the emerging ambitions that we see in the broadband space in Nigeria, particularly with the economic sustainability plan led by His Excellency, the Vice President.
“What a huge pleasure for me to hear directly from the vice president about these ambitions.”
The statement said the Facebook officials involved in the chat revealed that the proposed office in Lagos would be the company’s second office on the African continent, adding that it would be part of its continuous commitment and on-going investment in Africa.
Facebook opened its first Africa office in Johannesburg in 2015.
Akande also said the Facebook officials noted that the move into Nigeria was aimed at supporting the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, disclosing that the office will formally commence operations in 2021.
He added that the Facebook Nigeria office would be the first in Africa to house a team of expert engineers building for the future of Africa and beyond.
Facebook was further quoted as saying that the “office will be home to various teams servicing the continent from across the business, including sales, partnerships, policy, communications as well as engineers.”
Akande said the chat focused on the digital economic pillar of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP).
The statement also said Clegg and other Facebook officials, including its Head of Public Policy, Africa, Ebele Okobi, would open the office in Lagos before the end of this year.
Akande stated that a federal government delegation, led by the vice president, comprising the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, had visited Silicon Valley in 2018. One of the issues that followed the visit, he said, was how global technology giants, such as Facebook, could have full representation in the country with a Nigerian office.
The statement said Osinbajo had during the chat emphasised the federal government’s focus on the digital sector, saying the sector is crucial to various aspects of the country’s socio-economic life, including education, e-commerce, social investments programmes, and activities of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.
“The NESP is our response to the economic crisis caused by the (COVID-19) pandemic,” the statement quoted Osinbajo as saying. He added, “Our focus on the digital sector is really because practically, everything we are doing centres around expanding our reach in the digital sector.
“For example, financial inclusion is critical for us because we are spreading and extending our social services, payment of cash transfers to the poorest and most vulnerable and other manners of such payment; and sometimes to the farthest flung places in Nigeria. So, we certainly need to expand our reach in order to do so. Of course, technology is critical to that.”
Osinbajo also disclosed that the federal government was collaborating with the private sector to fund, establish and expand e-learning and education platforms, and other areas of digital technology growth.
The vice president stated, “Practically everything is now being done remotely. Earlier on today, I did a virtual commissioning of the MSME clinic in Lagos, sitting in my office in Abuja. So, for us, the digital space is very important, which is why the focus was on the digital economy in the economic sustainability plan.
“We are led by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, which is the ministry fully devoted to all we do in the digital space. We have NITDA, an agency responsible for information technology (policy implementation); as well as the private sector.”
Osinbajo was said to have recalled the trip to Silicon Valley and Facebook campus in the United States in 2018, noting that the tour has helped to boost government’s digital drive, resulting in significant improvement in the country’s digital sector.
He added that as at 2019, the country had an investment of $377 million in technology sector, noting, however, that such investment is still meagre when compared to the size of the economy.
The statement added, “The tours were extremely successful. In Silicon Valley, Nigerian start-ups got a chance to pitch their products to tech sector investors; that was very good. In fact, before we left Silicon Valley, one of our venture platforms was able to sign a deal worth about $10 million with the Nigeria-US Council.
“Since then, we’ve seen tremendous activity post-trip. The visit helped in showing our seriousness about the technology sector, and also the entertainment industry. We held a few meetings also with the entertainment industry.
“As of 2018/19, we’ve gotten about $377 million in investments in the tech sector. Although, it still scratches the surface if one considers the size of our economy and country. But there were very significant gains, and I’m very happy to do that. I think we’ve started off a series of interactions that have been very useful and we will continue to engage.”
Osinbajo also said the country was currently collaborating with the African Development Bank (AfDB), which he said had “a $500m fund; at the moment, we are at the final stages, trying to bring that into existence.”
He added, “So, there is quite a bit of activity to ensure that there is access to funding, while we are improving the business environment and the environment for technology companies to operate.”