There are a lot of arguments between building Yaba as a tech cluster in Nigeria versus letting each region (or state) have its own independent tech cluster. Over time, I’ve been trying to develop my opinion on this, and have supported different versions of this.
However, my opinion has firmly been fixed on the idea of building up Yaba as the primary tech cluster in Nigeria. Let me explain.
First of all, I am obviously not from Lagos, and have only been in Lagos since 2013. So I have no vested interests, no family, no property and no ties to anything in Lagos. So I’m neutral on that front.
Let’s look at the arguments piece by piece:
Point 1: Does it even make sense to have a single cluster versus multiple different clusters?
Yes it does. People improve by exchanging ideas. Every time two coders speak to each other, they both go away better coders. The same holds for all of the people required to make startups work: designers, digital marketers, executives, sales people, finance people, etc.
The more they meet, the better they will get.
Physical clusters help that. There is more meeting of people, both by design and by chance. Think of all the developer meet ups (e.g the Laravel meetups). Are better coders not being created out of that? Imagine those coders were distributed across 6 different locations in one country and could not access each other?
Clusters help improve technical talent.
Also, people with startups, small or big, get to meet other people building startups. This interaction is helpful for recruiting, fundraising and partnerships.
The more often these interactions happen, the better the startups will get. I never heard nobody said their startup failed because they had too much information.
Imagine OgaVenue stayed in Benin. They would not have met any of the investors they currently have. What investor will travel to Benin to do a seed deal? A lot of their fundraising effort is because they are physically close to where financiers and partners are.
Both points say the same thing: Constant and repetitive meetings between all the people involved in the technology and startup eco-system will rapidly improve the chanced of this fledgling industry working.
If we’re going to cluster, why in Yaba, and not perhaps in the entirety of Lagos or in 3 different clusters (Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos). Why not in Ikeja, why not in Lekki?
Though there are many answers, in reality all those locations are about the same. There are advantages and disadvantages of each location.
One could argue for or against each of those locations, but in reality, it does not matter because practically it will all work out to the same thing.
The real question really is — why not all of Lagos instead of just a single district?
Answer — it’s all about the narrative and the concentration of effort. It’s easy for Governments to understand ‘Yaba’ as the tech capital of Nigeria. It’s easy for foreign supporters to understand it. It’s easy for people across the country to understand it. Because there is clarity, investment and improvement and support comes there for the tech industry. E.g if Lagos Government wanted to put free internet somewhere, they would go to to the ‘tech area’. If the U.S wanted to build a bridge to Silicon Valley, they would do it in Yaba. When a16z wants to open an Africa office, they will come to Yaba.
What we end up with is a single small district where us in tech have large influence, and where we can shape the direction it goes in. A physical place where people can go to look at as a representative of the African tech industry.
A capital of a state is not where everyone in the state lives. Yaba is to be the tech capital, not the place every single tech company is. That is not physically possible, for many reasons.
Right now, the alternative to Yaba is not another place, it’s actually nothing. When we say “no yaba as the tech district”, we are actually giving up our control of the tech story. It will become diffuse and unclear — there will be Tinapa Tech City, a Kaduna tech hub, some media companies in Lekki, a few scattered startups in Ikeja. There is no clarity where or what this tech thing is. Our force is diluted.
People need to see to appreciate. Yaba will be the place they can see. Not just the external parties, but also young people interested in tech. They should go to one district and be inspired to do what we are doing.