The Yaba Effect

States that do not follow Ekiti’s example remain myopic about “the value-add of broadband access,” says Gbenga Sesan, tech entrepreneur and digital rights campaigner. “[It’s] either because they have no clue how digital opportunities add to their internally generated revenue or because they are not here for all that development work.”

For evidence of what’s possible, these states can look to Madagascar, the country with the fastest internet speeds in Africa, which has grown into a global digital outsourcing outpost for the Francophone world, creating an industry of nearly 250 business processing and outsourcing companies which employ over 10,000 people.

But there’s another example closer to home: Yaba, the old Lagos neighborhood, known for its late colonial-era architecture, which is now regarded as the birthplace of Nigeria’s modern-day tech industry.

“What turned Yaba into ground zero for tech startups was a decision to zero-rate charges and Main One laying cable directly to Co-Creation Hub,” says Iyin Aboyeji, founder of Future Africa Fund, in reference to the decision by the Lagos government to waive right of way charges for a 27 kilometer internet cable project in the area in  2013.

Yaba, Lagos’ startup ground zero.
Yaba, Lagos’ startup ground zero.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

Even though a Co-Creation Hub count showed that around 60 tech startups were based in the Yaba area within 12 months of the internet project (up from less than 10 previously) Bosun Tijani, co-founder of the hub, insists the impact of the project scaled beyond Yaba. An overarching benefit, Tijani explains, is that in fostering Yaba’s success story, the internet project allowed the cluster serve as a catalyst for innovation and startups elsewhere across the country. “It is one of the things that you can point to that unlocked the startup movement in Nigeria,” he says.

As Nigeria looks to deliver on its latest broadband plan, a key part of its success will lie in convincing state governments of the obvious economic benefits of playing the long game of capital investment rather than seeking short-term gain. “After the cost of people and rent, the next big cost most tech companies face is the cost of internet,” Aboyeji says. “If you’re reducing those costs, you’re opening up your state as a place where founders can build companies.”

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