Zuckerberg and Nigeria’s Silicon Valley
Sufficed literature has already been written about the unannounced visit of Silicon Valley’s top shot, Mark Zuckerberg to Nigeria. Zuckerberg was ranked a staggering 6th place in Forbes list of world richest men in 2016. At 32, Mark was the youngest in the top 90 and more than 20 years younger than anyone in the top 10. Only Lukas Walton of Walmart, ranked 99th is younger than Mark in the entire top 100. Mark is your poster boy for sending home the message that age is nothing. His rise and rise in the global social media space will forever be secured but with only three decades of his life spent, it boggles the mind what feats awaits the former Harvard student.
Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria has gotten so much airtime, and rightly so. Though he arrived without the usual pageantry, the moment word went viral that he was somewhere in Yaba, Lagos, the rest was history. The visit has been acclaimed by many social media experts and political pundits as a welcome development for our nation economically and technologically. As Reuben Abati puts it, ‘Zuckerberg helped to show the rest of the world that Nigeria is not so bad at all, and that something really exciting is happening here among the country’s young population’. It is apt to stress that that excitement, though a creation of the younger generation, is also slowly but surely sweeping through the older population. It is fantastic that Mark choose Nigeria in his first ever Africa voyage, but why wouldn’t he. According to internet live stats, in 2016, Nigeria’s internet users have climbed to 86.2 million, that is 48 million more users than it was in 2010. 86.2 million users translate to 46.1% of Nigeria’s total population using the internet. Zooming in further, 16 million of that number visit Facebook every month, that is 4 million more than South Africa’s 12 million users per month. This puts Nigeria as the number one highest Facebook users in Africa. On this evidence, Mark’s visit to Nigeria was only a matter of when than if. However, the timing was perfect. Bedeviled by an economy in comatose and a citizenry in sheer frustration, it was a needed distraction for all, and in some sense, a renewed hope for some. While that reprieve will be temporarily, the big question will be ‘what does his visit mean for us going forward’?
It is well chronicled that Nigerians are some of the world’s finest minds. There are about 18 Nigerians in reputable positions plying their trades in Facebook. This list includes Chukwuemeka Afigbo, who joined Facebook from Google. There are also Ime Archibong, Ebele Okobi, Nmachi Jidenma, Lawrence Aderemi and the delightful Morin Oluwole among others. To put into perspective, all of these guys are less than 40 years and are making a case for the emerging Nigeria Silicon Valley.
There is no gainsaying that the future is digital and the revolution in the social media space will be yet mind boggling. While the conventional manufacturing and energy industries will remain huge employers of labour, it is the social space, if well harnessed that will largely curtail the nation’s alarming unemployment numbers (Key word here being curtail). However, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. All stakeholders must begin to give the social revolution more support than mere lip service. In a nation where constant power supply is still a tall dream and effective network bandwidth is still a teething problem, it will take a while to cover some mileage in this space. More than ever before, today’s youth in Nigeria requires an enabling environment, the kind that allowed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to thrive with their innovations. However, the signs suggest that the nation’s leaders are either living in the dark ages or are just inept to do what is required here. The nation’s minister of science of technology is 64 years old, while the minister of youth and sports is 52. The point here is not that these men are not patriots who are willingly to give their best in service to country; truth is they might indeed be great servants in the quest to see that Nigeria succeeds. The crux of the matter is that there is a default and emerging mindset needed to drive such ministries but with men like Ogonnaya Onu and Solomon Dalong, who are already cast in their ways, you won’t get that. Without sounding like a broken record, if the right ideas and most suitable people are injected into those two ministries alone, there is no telling what they can achieve.
Having said all that, the buck doesn’t entirely stop with the government and those in authorities, there is the glaring and sacrosanct role the youths must play. Without mincing words, there are already trail blazers in Nigeria’s social and digital revolution space. Like her or loathe her, Linda Ikeji is a great inspiration. Her blog has been adjudged one of the most visited on the continent, and while her indulgences might be in the realm of the luxurious, it is truly no one’s business. Beyond her largesse, what is salient is that she has shown that it is possible to thrive in that space in this part of the world. Same can also be said of the more reserved Seun Osewa, who began Nairaland in March 2005. Today, the platform is extremely trendy among youths. Indeed, as Abati noted ‘Zuckerberg’s visit also provided great publicity for Nigeria’s emerging Silicon Valley, and the young entrepreneurs to whom Zuckerberg paid compliments.’ There are great tech entrepreneurs that are blazing the trail in Nigeria, and their stories must be told.
However, there are still a vast number of youths who will need to wake up from their social media slumber. For too long, we have been labeled a consumer nation, well equipped in the business of using than making. This sad trend can be said for a majority of youths who visit the social media space. It is not enough to be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and all social media platforms there are, there is a need to shift the mindset and reset the conversation to how we can begin to create. It is this mindset shift that has led to the emergence of the likes of online shopping platforms, Konga and Jumia. Let no one be deluded, Nigeria’s social media space is still a virgin one begging for more novel and ‘out of the box’ ideas. We might never attain the ingenious level of the United States Silicon Valley development, but one only needs to look no further than platforms such as China’s Alibaba (e-commerce one stop shop) to know that we can have more home grown e-platforms that will not only be successful at home, but can also be exported to the rest of the world. Alibaba's consumer-to-consumer portal Taobao, similar to eBay.com, features nearly a billion products and is one of the 20 most-visited websites globally. Jack Ma, who is the founder of Alibaba is reported to be worth over 20 billion dollars and is the world’s 33rd richest man. The time is now for Nigeria’s youths to get dissatisfied with just being on all possible social media platforms and start thinking creation in that space.
Make no mistakes about it, the future is technology, and that is exaggerating the obvious. According to Forbes list of 2016, 7 of the top 13 richest men in the world made their fortune from technology, social media and digital related platforms. This list includes Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg LP and of course, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Enough said!