One of my favourite iconic technopreneurs, Mark Zuckerberg, sneaked into Nigeria on Tuesday afternoon. His coming to Nigeria was like a coup. It was never heralded with any announcement or typical Nigerian hype when you catch a big fish. Zuckerberg is indeed a big fish. The co-creator of global social media platform Facebook is a gold fish and the global media would always trail his movement. It was therefore a feat by those who brought him to Nigeria that they were able to keep the prying eyes of the media away from his itinerary until he landed in Lagos, the Nigerian equivalent of Zuckerberg’s New York. Zuckerberg is a proud New Yorker otherwise known as the Big Apple, the state that makes America the commercial capital of the world but he now lives in California, the state where rich Americans prefer to live.
I particularly like that the Facebook nerd was carefully kept away from government encumbrances. It was strictly private sector initiative and this explains why his arrival was not politicized. I fancy that some fellows in one of the political parties would want to gain mileage with this by announcing ahead of his arrival that their party, as part of the ongoing transformation and quest to create jobs for the teeming Nigerian youths, is bringing the man who is one of the global job-creators using the instrumentality of social media or new media. I also envisage that they would have hoisted their dirty party flag along all the routes that Zuckerberg was pass in Lagos; send a cultural troupe to entertain and welcome him at the airport all for a big budget that would have added to the impoverishment of the same Nigerian youths and the enrichment of a few persons in the organizing ministry or parastatals. But none of these happened. The Harvard dropout arrived and went straight to where his interest is: the innovation hub in Yaba, Lagos.
Why Yaba? Well, the place noted for its trading buzz, home of Tejuosho Market, Railway Market and a plethora of ‘bend-down-boutiques’ (second-hand clothes market) has in recent years transformed to Nigeria’s Silicon Valley. Thanks to the vision of a few innovative Nigerians and the former Communication Technology minister, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, a creative cum innovation hub was founded in the Yaba axis of Lagos. It has become a nursery for App developers, software nerds and other precocious geeks in Nigeria’s emerging geekdom. There, wearing his trademark T-shirt, Zuckerberg met with all categories of content developers, from the young to the middle age.
At just 32, Zuckerberg has become a global fairytale. He is worth over $54 billion and rated as the youngest among the top 10 global billionaires. He presides over a company that started out as a campus experiment to share pictures among friends in a university community but which today has won nearly two billion converts around the world. A company the founders did not know how it would fetch them money except the joy and rhapsodic contentment that their product has connected a few friends, allowing them to share their pictures. That was the story of Facebook; created for the fun of it but has now become a cash cow. Same goes for Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the reclusive co-founders of world’s busiest search engine Google. They once said they started out not knowing that it would put money in their pockets. They were just okay being the creators of a platform which researchers and students initially used to document, share and access materials. Today, they are billionaires.
Lesson: all big things start small; never despise your days of small beginning and never make money the sole motive for starting a service-oriented venture.
Yet, Zuckerberg in Nigeria has other connotations. Nigeria is the biggest market in Africa. A good 16 million Nigerians use Facebook monthly, making her the largest Facebook market on the continent. South Africa is second with about 12 million while Kenya, an emerging ICT powerhouse in Africa has 4.5 million monthly users of Facebook. So, market size is an attraction for any business person including Zuckerberg.
Consider also that Nigeria has the content that the world is ogling after: Nollywood and Nigerian music. Nigerian movies and music have dominated the Africa space and have found their way into Europe and America. The authoritative and highly influential Washington Post in its August 19, 2016 edition dedicated a feature story to African music with focus mainly on Nigerian music. The newspaper paid special tribute to the legends of the nation’s music: Davido (David Adedeji Adeleke), Wizkid (Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun), the immortal Afrobeat maestro Fela, King Sunny Ade and William Onyeabor.
In his brief but eventful stay in Lagos, the entrepreneurial spirit in Zuckerberg has taken him round town, meeting and talking with different people and he has already formed his impressions about Nigeria. According to him, Nigerians have a good measure of entrepreneurial drive, it is there in your face; Nigerians are full of energy, innovative mind and tenacity. In his perception, Nigerians are natural winners; a people who want to make the most of every situation no matter how austere it is. I concur.
Our billionaire visitor came to our house in simple attire. He did not over-dress; he wore his typical T-shirt; no airs; he made himself accessible, was not surrounded by bouncers or a garrison of aides, stopped to answer questions, visited local vendors like Rosemary Njoku who started from selling things to people to now providing wifi services to her growing clientele of about 3000 people. He ate our food, making special mention of pounded yam with egusi soup and Jollof rice.
Zuckerberg did not hide his excitement about Nollywood. Perhaps, this must be one of his major take-aways from the visit. With the planned digital marriage between WhatsApp and Facebook to boost information sharing, content is key, a sought-after resource. Both Nollywood and Nigerian music are enough content to keep the social media space buzzing. Think of a properly structured digital marketing of Nigerian movies and music all over the world; think of using new applications to improve the production of our movies and music; and just imagine that the world is suddenly hooked on Nigerian movies and music then you don’t need any Nigerian government officials mounting the soapbox to mouth economic diversification, rebranding the nation or job creation and other clichés they have deployed over the years to fool the people but which they have not a single clue of how to execute.
Zuckerberg in sub-Sahara Africa for the first time and making Nigeria his first port of call was a damn good public relations stunt for the country long associated with bad publicity. Unfortunately, organisers of the brilliant ‘coup’ for reasons best known to them redlined the vibrant Nigerian media out of the show. Journalists were only allowed to cover the event via a live streaming of an interactive session Zuckerberg was having with entrepreneurs and developers. This is the dark side of the Zuckerberg visit and a very sore one at that. Covering such event via live streaming meant that journalists could not ask the man questions; the cream of Nigerian ICT reporters were quarantined at Eko Hotel to watch and report Zuckerberg’s town hall meeting with ICT entrepreneurs at an event centre barely 300 metres away from where the ICT reporters were kept. That is an insult and the organisers were simply shoddy here. If you redline journalists from having a front-row interaction with Zuckerberg, a man whose exploits were noised worldwide by the media, do you really have any moral right to look to the same media to publicise what was first and foremost a media event? The Yaba innovation hub that he visited would never have been known without the Nigerian ICT media telling the world about it. Zuckerberg, knowing the power of the media, never asked to be insulated from the media. That primitively cocky idea was wholly Nigerian. It’s in us. Mtcheeew!