By Ebuka Nwankwo (OPINION)
It is important to preface this discourse with this footnote: I wasn’t a fan of former President Jonathan and his team while they were in office. Many of us loved Buhari – the presidential aspirant – to pieces.
Having made this clarification, it is heartwarming to see the seed sown by Jonathan’s team sprouting. The vision pursued by Mrs. Omobola Johnson, former minister of telecommunications, has now been noticed by one of the world’s most important figures in ICT, Mark Zuckerberg.
All through her tenure, the former telecoms minister argued passionately about the billions of naira that was leaving Nigeria – and is still leaving – as fees to foreign software companies. She believed Nigeria had the capacity to develop and nurture ‘software code warriors’.
With Jonathan’s support, Mrs. Omobola Johnson set up two ICT incubation centers to develop Nigerian youths – one in Lagos and the other in Calabar. She encouraged software contests among youths: on one occasion, the winner of the first prize got N2 million.
This gesture not only rekindled the passion of youths in ICT, it also impressed in their minds that there was a big future in the ICT space.
She didn’t stop there. As minister, she visited Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) frequently. It is not surprising that CcHub was the first place Zuckerberg visited yesterday. In fact, in 2012, on her birthday, she met young developers in CcHub to intimate them of her vision to take software development in Nigeria to the next level.
And in 2013, she visited again, with an important venture capitalist, Tony Elemelu. And of course, that visit resulted in more young and euthanistic Nigerians getting grants for their start-ups. At that point, start-ups like BudgIT, Efiko and Naijateenz were already getting the support they needed to survive from Jonathan’s government. Jonathan, through his telecoms minister, gave them all the support they needed.
Enthusiasm and passion awakened by the minister and her team has, today, attracted Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg says he is in Nigeria to learn and take back to California. Interesting, isn’t it?
One thing is clear: Jonathan and his team believed in the youth. They didn’t just celebrate the youths because their numbers could influence elections, but because they truly believed in their potentials.
In the words of Jonathan, these are the people who will take “Nigeria to the moon’’. Zuckerberg’s visit reaffirms the strength of Nigeria’s human resources. A resource, many believe, has not been properly harnessed because of the quality of our educational institutions. But Nigerians are resilient and could be enterprising, if given the right atmosphere.
Many young people tell me that they learnt nothing from their Nigerian professors at the universities. Probably, they delved into the pursuit of the kind of knowledge being celebrated by Zuckerberg today because of their resilience and hunger for knowledge. Today, there are some mass communication graduates who you could confuse for computer science graduates.
Also, the business dimension of Zuckerberg’s visit should not be ignored. With over 16 million users, Nigeria remains Facebook’s biggest market in Africa. There is no doubt that the business intends to grow this market. So far, the company has launched many products in the Nigeria. I hope Zuckerberg gets all the support he needs when he visits the president. [Reports say he is likely to visit President Buhari before living Nigeria].
And, the $24 million investment in a Nigerian-born company called Andela, whose first business premises was a stone throw from CcHub’s, by the Zuckerbergs sends some important messages. One, many tech companies of this nature, such as Jobberman and BudgIT, have the capacity of impacting enormously on Nigeria’s economy by attracting huge foreign inflows. The country badly needs such inflow of dollars. Two, the founder(s) of Andela might have been inspired by Omobola Johnson’s strategy. Andela is actually a coding school which trains young people and passes them on to big companies – a model similar to what the former information minister was spearheading.
Credit should be given to former President Jonathan for taking on board, and encouraging, a very competent and knowledgeable woman.
Ahem, one little confession: I didn’t think this amazon knew what she was doing while she was pursuing her dream for software development in Nigeria. This is a topic for another day. Apparently, the lackluster performance of some her colleagues beclouded her achievements.
On a final note, it’s important that President Buhari continues from where Jonathan’s government stopped. The first step should be to encourage and compel MDAs, and even Nigerian banks, to use local software, whenever they are available, for their operations. This would save Nigeria from massive capital outflows- Nigeria spends over N400 billion naira yearly as software fees to mostly Indian and European companies. I want to believe Adebayo Shittu is on this case!