Lagos is the headquarters of Nigeria’s tech sector, and despite the harsh regulations therein aside, this sector continues to thrive because of the abundance of opportunities and potential it offers. A Lagos suburb, Yaba has nurtured and grown many tech startups like Paga, hotels.ng, Konga, Andela—a few of these companies are unicorns, others are on their way to a $1 billion valuation.
Thanks to the workers who oil the machinery of the sector, popularly known as "tech bros."
Yaba is touted as the Silicon Valley of Africa because of the multitudes of tech companies situated there, including the software giant Microsoft, and the attraction it gets from investors, particularly those who are interested in the growth of the Nigerian tech ecosystem, but amidst the bougie tech ecosystem, renting houses in these community has been a nightmare that many tech bros always dread.
In all honesty, there are other sides to Lagos that are not as bougie as the tech sector. Lagos has recently been named the second worst place to live on earth after war-torn Syria.
A 2021 report by Financial Derivatives Company (FDC) Limited, led by renowned economist, Bismarck Rewane, stated that persons who are 55 years of age or older and are residents of Lagos State have spent almost 7 years of their lives in traffic. In its 2022 outlook, the FDC noted that, on average, Lagos residents spend more than 1,000 hours in traffic annually. The time spent is greater than that spent by London commuters in traffic. The standard of living in Lagos is highly expensive, and the perennial flooding makes living in Lagos chaotic, but how chaotic can it be with renting houses as a tech bro in Lagos?
Seven attempts, on luck
Ekene* worked remotely as a backend developer with a fintech company in Lagos. In the first quarter of 2022, his work in the office became tedious, which meant he needed to be in the office or closer to the office, so he had to relocate to Lagos.
“For the first three months, I searched for an apartment in Lagos; it was hellish, to say the least,” Ekene said over a video conversation. "The first landlord I met said he doesn't rent houses to young boys; at the time, I was 24." I'm not sure what that means because, where I grew up, landlords preferred renting to single people over married people. It was a friend who explained to me that they don’t rent houses to most young boys because they suspect them of being fraudsters (popularly known as Yahoo boys). I was downcast because we can’t deal with policemen who profile us and still deal with landlords.” Ekene managed to smile as he explained this.
Ekene, however, managed to find a house after the seventh attempt. That was after he persuaded the man by showing him his workplace identification card, bringing two of his coworkers, and explaining that his job requires him to not go to work every day. You may think that Ekene’s case is frustrating, but Bella’s experience is worse than that of Ekene.
“No husband. No house!”
Bella*, a UI/UX designer at a crypto company in the UK, described the day she met the landlord of the apartment she planned to rent as the most embarrassing day of her life. She had concluded with the landlord on everything pertaining to the house.
"It was a smooth conversation, but when I finally met him, things changed. He shouted when l greeted him. I didn’t know what the problem was, but the man was angry with me over something l had no idea of," she narrated. "Young lady, where’s your husband?," he asked me while he pretended to look for my husband."
"I’m not married, sir,” I said quietly. “I thought that saying it quietly would mellow his heart and have him rent the house to me, but it didn't.” He told one of his daughters to get him a document, and he pointed it out to me that he doesn’t rent his house to single ladies.”
Bella told me she had to lie to her present landlord, saying that his husband is based in the UK, and a fake video call was used to convince him.
“I’m not a fraudster”
“The first-day l met my landlord, he called me a fraudster. He asked what l do, and l told him I'm a freelance developer. He immediately realized it had to do with computers and concluded I was a yahoo boy. His brother had to vouch for me before he could give me the house. I'm still in shock about the profiling,” Jide* said. His face still showed he was still disgusted with the experience.
These are a few of the many harrowing experiences that tech bros go through in Lagos to rent an apartment. The experiences include instant profiling to apparent refusal to rent apartments with no evidence that proves that they’re engaged in any form of criminality
The landlords have their reasons
“I stopped renting my apartments to single young men after the EFCC raided my house in Victoria Island and some boys who were into internet fraud were arrested,” 65-year-old Mr Okon* told me via a phone conversation. “When they were packing in, they said they were into tech and all of that, but little did l know that they were into fraud. I no longer rent to young, single guys because the trust has been breached already,” he concluded.
Mr Okon’s defence is a little different from Mr Awoniyi’s defence. For Mr Awoniyi*, he rents his apartment in Magodo to single young men and women, but you must provide evidence of what you do and go the extra mile of swearing an affidavit to be on the safe side.
“Yes. You have to swear an affidavit that you’re not a yahoo boy because l don’t want to be dragged into EFCC or police wahala on the day of reckoning,” Awoniyi said.
However, these landlords' actions stem from the age-old stereotype that young boys and girls who move with sleek tech gadgets and drive posh cars are involved in fraud. The height of that profiling by Nigeria was what led to the #EndSars protest of 2020. This profiling extended to the landlords, and the EFCC declared in June that any landlord who rents houses to yahoo boys risks 15 years in jail.
The way forward—proptech startups?
Refusing to rent and discriminating against tech bros from renting houses isn't the solution because they'll rent a house by hook or by crook when the situation becomes unbearable. With the help of proptech companies like VENCO, SmallSmall, Estateintel, Spleet, the proper approach to renting apartments and houses to the right people will be taken. First, verify the potential tenants' identities and occupations. This way, you can ascertain if the potential tenant is really who they say they are.
An affidavit isn’t a bad idea. It keeps you, the landlord, on the right side of the law if, unknowingly, your tenant turns out to be an internet fraudster.
Profiling and stereotyping aren’t the solution, but the above approaches can be taken, and the harrowing experiences that tech bros go through when renting houses and apartments would be reduced to the barest minimum.
Alex Omenye is a Nigerian writer and tech enthusiast. He writes about tech, politics, pop culture, and everything else that affects young Nigerians.
- *Names have been changed to protect the identities of the subjects.