Inside Northern Nigeria's emerging tech ecosystem
Despite the high rate of poverty, illiteracy, and insecurity in the North, the emerging tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria will become a viable location if it is enabled.
Oftentimes when you see Northern Nigeria in the media, it’s rarely about tech. Most of the news comes with gory images from Boko Haram’s attack in the North-East; bandits kidnapping travelers in the North West or farmers-herder clashes in the North Central.
Many components contribute to the disrepute of Northern Nigeria, one of them is illiteracy. Lagos' literacy rate is 92%, according to The Economist. Meanwhile, Kano is grappling with 49%; and in the north-eastern state of Borno, where the insurgency is on the high, it is 15%.
Not to mention a large number of out-of-school children living below the poverty line with their parents in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the region but is that all there is in the North?
Perhaps, more tech investors started hearing about the North [for the sake of this piece, let’s exclude Abuja from the North] when Sim Shagaya made Jos, Plateau state the operational base of uLesson in 2019.
Prior to uLesson’s arrival, nHub - the first innovation hub in Northern Nigeria, was pioneering tech, innovation and entrepreneurship in Jos since 2015, while CoLab, another innovation hub in Kaduna has started leading conversations and actions around tech since 2016.
Unfortunately, the visibility was not only short-lived but it also left a bad impression on the Northern Nigeria tech ecosystem uLesson said it left Jos “to develop for and distribute to the African market, we have to move to a city with better regional flight connections and to which we can more easily attract the talent we need”.
However, since we have written about that in the past, our focus now is not the edtech startup’s departure, but on the emerging tech ecosystem in the North.
Despite some of the challenges mentioned in the next paragraphs, there are communities building in the North, especially in Kaduna, Plateau and Kano.
Segun Oruame, Founder of Qitech Technologies — a technology hub mentoring startup founders in Northern Nigeria said “individuals are trying to build startups and also train talents; look at nHub in Jos, CoLab in Kaduna and many others, these companies are trying but it often seems as though they are building against the tide”.
For Johnpaul Nwobodo, Co-Founder of Elesaro, a crowdfunding startup based in Jos, "the tech ecosystem in the north is still at a growing phase. However, it lacks a strong sense of community and venture capital funding,”
“Most startups in the ecosystem are currently bootstrapped. Just a handful has proper funding. Abuja and Kaduna seem to have a better tech community when compared to other northern states [this is why Abuja has been excluded in this conversation].” he said.
“The presence of startups like Sudo in Kaduna is evidence of growth. However, there is this gap that exists in community and collaboration” - Johnpaul Nwobodo
Ishaka Idris, the Program Manager of Google Developers Group, Keffi believes that the region is coming out of the loop but he also said that cultural barriers that limit social interactions affect the ecosystem, especially when it has to do with ladies.
When benjamindada.com enquired to get insights on the availability of talents in the ecosystem, Nwobodo said, “the majority of them [his friends working in tech] are working for companies that are based outside of the Northern region. Some of them work for companies in the U.S and Germany. Why? Probably because of the remuneration that they gain. There is a presence of talent, however, these talents are yet to channel their resources on building from the North.”
“Northerners are embracing tech”
In October, Idris was in Kano to attend the 2021 DevFest with over 300 attendees, and later in November, he will be in Maiduguri, Borno state for another DevFest, this is just two out of various DevFest events he is leading in the North: “I usually travel around Northern communities, and I must say that our people [referring to Northerners] are embracing tech; not only software developers but digital literacy. In a near future, we will have a viable community”
In Plateau state, David Daser, the founder of nHub Nigeria and the Director-General of the Plateau state Information and Communication Technology Development Agency recently said that over 500 young people are participating in the 2021 cohort of “Code Plateau”— an eight-month software development and digital marketing immersive boot camp focused on human capacity development and job placement.
Related Article: Kaduna Technology City: a glimpse at the future of tech ecosystems in Africa
The governments need to be an enabler
Even though there are government initiatives like “Code Plateau”, Idris said that lack of government support is a limitation, his submissions are similar to that of Oruame who said, “for the ecosystem to thrive, the government needs to be an intentional enabler.”
How can the government be an enabler? “maintain a functioning infrastructure - airports, power and security are at the top of this list,” Nwobodo told Benjamindada.com
Currently, Kaduna and Plateau state governments have shown commitment through various initiatives but a lot still needs to be done. Bashir Sheidu, the Executive Director of nHub Foundation said that private-public partnerships can be explored to solve issues of power, internet penetration, brain drain and infrastructure.
“If these challenges are solved, Northern Nigeria will become the tech hub of Nigeria. We have a lot of potentials that are bottled up because of all of these,” he said.
Final thoughts - Go North!
After engaging with a few young people in tech across the North, I am confident that if given the opportunity and resources the North will be a viable ecosystem like the South. In all of these, education plays a vital role, from breeding talents to sensitizing the government and the populace on the importance of technology and entrepreneurship.
Seeing that Lagos can be decongested and entrepreneurs and tech talents move to a region with a low cost of living and zero traffic jams, the North seems to be a good expansion strategy except for insecurity.
Lagos and friends cannot leave the North behind. Nigeria is only as strong as its weakest link. - Stephannie Adinde
Recently, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Co-Founder of Future Africa encouraged tech startups operating in Nigeria to have a "Northern Nigeria strategy” even though it came under criticism and I do not think its bad to create initiatives to support this emerging ecosystem.