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Nigerian startups sceptical of state’s sudden interest in ecosystem [Opinion]
The Nigerian government may have moved to get stakeholders in the country’s tech ecosystem on its side, but those in the ecosystem remain sceptical.
It follows a tour last month by the vice president Yemi Osinbajo of Lagos’s tech ecosystem, which was described by several experts in the sector as geared towards garnering the support of the sector for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking re-election next year.
Just months after it secured its latest funding of $325 000 investment from the GSMA, Farmcrowdy, Nigeria’s digital agricultural platform, was among the Nigerian tech startups that the vice president visited while in Lagos.
He also visited Paystack, Andela, Flutterwave, Venia Hub, Carido, Africa Fintech Foundry, Workstation, Muster NG, and the Co-Creation Hub (ccHub).
At each stop, the vice president’s messages was similar. He mentioned he was briefed by members of the delegation regarding the impressive work that the establishments he visited were doing and he acknowledged that these exploits are being done by young Nigerians.
Nothing concrete on Nigerian startups was announced or achieved except tags on social media and bragging rights at tech meetups – developer
He expressed that the government was interested in helping the ecosystem, and, as expected, each visit ended with photo sessions and selfies.
While some involved with the startups the vice president visited, lauded his gesture, others took issue with the predictable trends of the conversations, speeches and itinerary.
“They had a dedicated hashtag and more time was spent on taking pictures with the VP (vice president) than having frank conversations on topical issues. Nothing concrete was announced or achieved except the numerous tags on social media and bragging rights at tech meetups,” commented Nigerian developer Segun Adedayo.
The visit almost coincided with Buhari’s Lazy Nigerian Youth gaffe, which he made while answering questions at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster in England last month.
Jasper Jaja, a tech enthusiast and business developer, observed that several of the young tech stakeholders that the VP visited are among a group of techies that regularly complain about that policies of the incumbent administration are making it difficult for tech startups.
“[The VP’s visit] placed some of us who are very loud on [Twitter timeline] about the many things that aren’t going well in this country right in the presence of the vice president.
“All I saw were pictures of youths looking happy and fulfilled to breathe the same air as vice president Osinbajo,” he said.
Demola Olarewaju, a political analyst and strategist for Nigeria’s main opposition party the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), shares a similar view. He said: “It seems they gave our tech friends in Lagos another round of false hope with #VPTourOfTech again”.
But Chidi Okereke, Team Lead at Thisruption Communications, thinks otherwise. According to him, the visit was a kind gesture for the ecosystem. “Politics aside, it was impressive. Bare minimum but thoughtful things leaders can do to connect with their people,” he said.
From one controversy to another
While the VP was in Lagos, a minor oversight became a major talking point — that of gender insensitivity, since none of the startups visited was founded or headed by a female.
Mary Olushoga — founder of AWP Networks, an organisation that supports African women in technology — said the omission fed right into the familiar trend of the wide gender gap that had resulted in stakeholders that are consistently ignoring females in tech.
Perhaps she said, the vice president’s team was unaware of the existence of female-led tech startups in Nigeria. “It appears that women in the tech space might not be taken seriously and their hard work and efforts blatantly ignored,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Nigerian government in the startup space wasn’t the president’s gaffe nor the VP’s less consequential visit to Lagos. Rather it’s the strained relationship between the tech ecosystem and the communications minister, Adebayo Shittu — who has no background in tech.
It also came as no surprise to startup founders that Shittu was not part of the vice president’s delegation that was on the tour of startups founded and headed by young Nigerians. Likely, because just days before the tour he was on live radio casting doubt on the ability of youths to lead and be entrusted with responsibilities.
“Some people never learn but maybe another Adebayo Shittu will convince them in 2019,” Olarewaju quipped on Twitter.
Back to reality
A few weeks after the vice president’s tour of Lagos, reality has since dawned on the tech players.
The consensus was that nothing much has changed for the tech ecosystem which still has a list of yet-to-be-fulfilled promises made to the sector by the administration including some that were publicly made by the vice president.
Ifeanyi Ndiomewese, venture analyst at Techpoint, concluded that Osinbajo’s visit was simply a tour and nothing more.
“In hindsight, we’ve seen enough of the federal government’s conflicting position to know where it stands with ICT and the vice president’s visit did nothing to change that position,” he wrote.
But Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Nigeria’s fintech powerhouse, Flutterwave, who reportedly facilitated the vice president’s tour believes that the visit is a critical first step of a long journey for the government and the sector.
“I’m glad the vice president met lots of young people doing something to provide accessible education (Andela), Healthcare (Lifebank) and Food (Farmcrowdy) and ensuring people pay for them (Flutterwave). So, I’m sure the wrong impression will be corrected soon enough,” Aboyeji said.
Featured image: Turning Point Zone via Youtube