They are calling it Yabacon Valley. I promise you, that’s not my fault.
But the SV-esque naming trope is not what I’m talking about right now. Rather, I’m talking about the inexorable transformation that is currently creeping up on what is indisputably Nigeria’s hottest (because people will never accept that it’s the only) technology cluster.
Pictured above is a typical Dominos Pizza and Coldstone Ice Cream combo at the intersection where Harvey road bisects Herbert Macaulay Way. It opened last week, I heard. When we walked in, the place was teeming. It was so full that we couldn’t find a place to sit and eat our frozen confections. A classic if you build it they will come scenario.
I pulled out my phone, thumbed the Snapchat app, and composed a snapstory about how Yaba is slowly but surely gentrifying (this was on Saturday morning, and snaps only last 24 hours, so it’s disappeared now), because of the convergence of strategic geography, educational institutions, infrastructural improvements, a private-public led broadband rollout pilot on the Herbert Macaulay strip, all of which are beginning to have the magnetic effect of pulling tech startups into its orbit.
Along with the companies come the people that work there to live there, causing office and residential development to increase, and property prices to spike. That’s not all. Aspirational-type business establishments and services are springing up to cater to the new bourgeois population, and are tearing down the old decrepit buildings that line Herbert Macaulay from Jibowu to Adekunle to create the beginnings of a post-modern middle class town. It’s pretty, but ugly to watch as well. The people of lesser economic means who used to occupy these spaces are slowly but surely getting pushed out.
At least that is what it looks like to a 20-something who moved to Yaba/Surulere in 2012 while these things were only just beginning to happen. I actually wrote about my optimism for Yaba becoming Nigeria’s Silicon Valley way back then, but with no historical context to help shape my opinion. One of my elders on Twitter saw my tweet via Instagram about the subject and pointed out that to those standing on his side of history, what is happening in Yaba is actually better described as a renaissance. A reclaiming of its lost glory. Unfortunately, history isn’t taught in Nigerian schools, so most people my age and younger wouldn’t know this.
Whichever side of history you’re on however, it doesn’t change what’s happening. Yaba is about to “blow”. And like I was telling one of the Dozie brothers, owners of the growing Cafe Neo chain that has been contemplating expansion to the Lagos Mainland for a while, and the increasingly no-brainer choice of Yaba as the first touch point, I believe that the biggest drivers of this trend — tech companies, innovation hubs, real estate purveyors, broadband champions, and more — need to be self aware about what is happening and do their part with a conscience.
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