Over the last seven years, northern Nigeria, particularly the northeast, has been mired in a devastating insurgency dominated by militant sect, Boko Haram.
For a region already playing catch-up with the rest of the country on major indices particularly education and literacy, the danger of slipping further behind has been exacerbated by the insurgency, which has also seen two million people displaced.
In recent years, cities in southern Nigeria like Lagos and Port Harcourt, have made strides with several tech hubs set up and spawning a new generation of start-ups. The federal capital Abuja, which is located in the middle of the country and is close to the north, has seen startup hubs open up, but there have been next to none in the big northern cities—until now. To help the north bridge a widening gap, Ismaila Sanusi, a tech blogger and entrepreneur based in the northern city of Kaduna, has set up CoLab, an innovation hub and co-working space for techies and start-ups in the region.
Sanusi says the goal is to turn CoLab into ground zero for geeks in the area. “We have a bunch of talented people, randomly scattered about. Some have built interesting things but have no idea what to do with them, others have the skill to build, but haven’t built anything and some are just looking for the opportunity to learn,” he told Quartz. “The goal is to get all these people and more on the same wavelength and let them naturally grow into a force.”
Less than a month after its launch, CoLab has hosted a transparency hackathon in partnership with BudgIT, a civic accountability start-up formerly incubated at Nigeria’s best known tech hub, Co-Creation Hub (Cc Hub). Sanusi says CoLab has hosted around 400 people since launch.
Given northern Nigeria’s challenges, a thriving tech ecosystem focused on innovative ideas to solve the region’s issues can prove vital. “We’re particularly interested in the areas of education, health, payments and governance because we feel that these are areas that can make the most impact here right now,” Sanusi told Quartz.