I came. I saw. I had a great time. And after meeting the people in Abuja, I’ve come to the conclusion that tech in Abuja is alive and well.
It was in November, and it sorta started like a joke. I was going to be at PIN’s internet intermediary liability workshop on the 14th, but was billed to arrive on the 13th. With an evening to kill, I wondered if there were any cool folks in Abuja that wouldn’t mind hanging out.
I tweeted my thoughts. Enspire’s Bankole Oloruntoba got in touch. Between us, we pulled in about fifteen honest-to-goodness geeks into one room with barely a day’s publicity.
Frankly, I wasn’t quite prepared for the number and caliber of people that showed up. Esther Agbarakwe is Nigeria’s foremost climate and environment advocate. Henry Okelue works with Galaxy Backbone. Bankole heads Enspire, an incubator that should become to Abuja what the CcHub is to Lagos. I met an OATT from the Abuja Technology Village (I forget his name), the Nigerian equivalent of Kenya’s Konza city. Dami and Geoffrey have built casual games for the iOS platform. A couple number crunchers from NOI Polls showed up. Dimgba Kalu, Century Favour, Emmanuel and more are web developers, programmers, security engineers. With Olamide, Spectra and Ese Walters in attendance, no thoughts of gender skew even crossed our minds. I was amazed.
Still, a roomful of technology inclined people gathered for an ad hoc drink-up isn’t exactly a technology community in the true sense. Some people ventured an explanation of why Abuja isn’t a buzzing tech hub. Their economy is structured around politics and government contracts. Most tech inclined people invariably set up businesses that are designed to bid for contracts. Or they work for these businesses. Innovation, startups and other generally “risky” and uncert ventures of that ilk aren’t particularly suited to the capital’s relatively high maintenance environment.
The second most popular explanation was Lagos. For obvious reasons, Lagos is a magnet for the attention of all that are remotely interested in Nigerian technology. Entrepreneurs, developers/techies and investors alike. Lagos’ appeal is the cause of a constant exodus of talent from the country’s other tech centers. The ones who resist the pull naturally feel excluded from the action.
Still not all can move to Lagos. Nor should all move, in my opinion. The above concerns notwithstanding, the vibes I got from our guests that Wednesday evening make me believe a tech community can take root in Abuja. Many of the people in that room were meeting each other for the first time. I myself had only met a handful before that day. And here they were, chatting animatedly to each other at the behest of some random Lagos tech blogger.
The Lagos technology scene wasn’t always the glamourous hotbed of innovation that has begun to earn it Silicon Valley themed appellations. The community didn’t always exist. The Co-Creation Hub is barely two years old. Before then, there were only pockets of interest, championed by brave and often singular pioneers. Sherrif Shittu with BarCamp, Francis Onwumere with Startup Weekend, Oo Nwoye with Naija Tech Circle and more. Some of these flares sputtered and died. But the giant flame now burns bright only because because people kept coming back to rub the sticks and blow on the tinder.
It might have taken a Lagos blogger to recognise the opportunity, but I am fairly confident that someone/people in Abuja with strong local incentives and boots on the ground can be the champions of a strong tech community in Abuja. As far as I know, Enspire’s Bankole Oloruntoba has accepted the mantle of tech maven and has been convening informal meetups. He can’t do it alone though. I’m counting on other techies there to rally round. Speaking for TechCabal, we also plan to do what we can. Just you wait and see.
— Nick Cavanagh (@njclicks) December 22, 2013
I love Abuja. It’s a nice quiet life with affordable transport, cool joints to hang out, and cool kids. Media Place where Bankole arranged for us to meet is totally rad. There were acoustic guitars all over the place and even a house piano that anyone could play. Then Spectra took me to Salamander to eat these amazing chocolate pancake crepes at 11pm. This is (part of) the life as I imagined it. Given the right motivations, I would totally ditch Lagos to live in there.
It was great meeting all of you guys. TechCabal will be back, bigger and better, in 2014.