In the same week Nigerians woke up to news of the arrest of Abba Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police, over his involvement in drug trafficking, Flutterwave, a Nigerian-founded fintech company, announced it had raised $250 million Series D fund from investors.
While Kyari’s arrest by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) spotlights the bad image Nigeria continues to get globally as a result of corruption and fraud, Flutterwave with its record $3 billion valuation paints a different picture of a country with young people with bright minds rewriting the future. The rise of the Nigerian tech ecosystem, therefore, is not only demonstrated in the growing number of foreign investors’ cheques chasing innovative startups, but it is also a story of new sets of global ambassadors with a laptop and their creative minds and pushing the image of the country away from corruption and poverty.
Many years ago, the job of creating a positive image for the country was mostly shouldered by sportsmen and women. The prowess of the Super Eagles and sports, in general, used to be the counterbalance for Nigeria’s image of corruption around the world. As many Nigerians who frequently travelled out reported, the country’s default image ambassadors were sportsmen like Austin Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Rashidi Yekini, Chioma Ajunwa, to mention but a few.
But the dwindling fortunes of sports in the country over the years alongside a persistent rise in corrupt vices has meant that there was a gap waiting to be filled. Nollywood and the music industry for all their growing popularity have not been able to fill the void. This is why the growth of the technology ecosystem in Nigeria has become a bragging point for many government officials when chasing foreign investment abroad.
Ali Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, while speaking with BusinessDay in Saudi Arabia, during the LEAP22 Tech Conference, acknowledged using the popularity of the ecosystem in Nigeria to try to woo investors into the country. According to him, many of the investors are eager to come because Nigeria is now a model for tech in Africa. “When I came here, the first meeting we had they were surprised that today in Nigeria we have five successful unicorns and many are still coming,” he said.
On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, Pantami took the entire leadership of the Ministry of Communications and Communications including leaders of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to visit the offices of companies like Flutterwave and Treepz (former Plentywaka).
Collins Onuegbu, vice chairman of Signal Alliance Group, pointed out that Nigeria’s image laundering by the tech industry is driven by hard numbers; the amount of money raised by startups and the number of unicorns created. “Nigeria is a big market that has underwhelmed the world for decades. The new generation of startups is perhaps our hope that we can create a productive economy not based on a rent culture and corruption that Nigeria has been known for,” Onuegbu said.
Beyond the impressive numbers, there are also countries jostling to tap talents from the ecosystem. This is seen in the rise in the number of countries creating visas to lure startups, the number of international accelerators, and early-stage investors who are choosing Nigeria in their African strategy.