By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, is a source of mixed emotions for its more than 20 million inhabitants. Many come to the city from the hinterland to pursue their dreams. Some succeed, some do not. But all suffer one grief or another from the city’s punishing traffic jams, noise pollution from ubiquitous standby-generators, and so on. Despite its shortcomings, Lagos is a city of great potential. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$136 billion in 2017, the city is already acclaimed to have the 7th largest GDP in Africa., (The state government believes it is the 5th largest in Africa and aspires to become the third largest by 2020, three years from now.)
Additionally, the Lagos economy is estimated to constitute about a third of Nigeria’s output and certainly earns the highest annual tax revenue of all 36 federal states and the federal capital territory; which is in excess of US$1 billion. Lagos leads Nigeria on a number of other metrics. It has the highest literacy rate among 15-25 year olds. It has the homes with the most mobile phones in Nigeria. More homes have a car or a truck in Lagos than anywhere else in Nigeria. By 2023, Lagos could have uninterrupted power supply if current efforts by the state government continue and are successful. State governor Akinwumi Ambode has staked his reputation on bringing this about. Private sector actors are being encouraged via a myriad of incentives to establish small power plants that need not plug into the national grid. This is no doubt helped by recent moves by the federal government to waive this necessity, particularly that of licensing to generate electricity. An individual or corporate body generating no more than 1 megawatt (1MW) of electricity does not need to get a license. Judging from these attributes, it is not an exaggeration at all to suppose the ambition of the government to make Lagos a smart city, is one that can be realised.
The technology sector in Lagos is perhaps the one area where the city’s potential is writ large. With little or no government support, savvy entrepreneurs built the so-called “Computer Village” in the Ikeja capital district of Lagos, where there is hardly an information and communication technology (ICT) hardware that cannot be found.  Today, Computer Village is adjudged the largest ICT accessory market in Africa. A planned relocation to a dedicated ICT park by the government has not been well-received.
But the city is also building capacity in software; organically at that. Lagos-based Andela trains programmers and facilitates their placement with software companies around the world. Such is Andela’s stellar reputation for excellence that American TV network CNN in June 2015 called it “the startup that’s harder to get into than Harvard.” There is also a budding tech entrepreneurship boom in what is called the “Yabacon Valley” in a district of Lagos called Yaba, where techies have been aggregating to create innovative solutions; currently mostly in e-commerce and payment systems. Global tech executives got wind of these developments and started paying visits. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, stopped by in August 2016. So did Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichal in July 2017. But it was Microsoft that blazed the trail, with its chief operating officer Kevin Turner visiting Lagos in November 2010.
Now the Lagos State government takes the sector very seriously; albeit in some cases (like in the relocation of the computer village from Ikeja to an ICT park elsewhere) not necessarily to the delight of operators in the sector. In January 2017, state governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced plans to transform Yaba into a major technology hub: “I decided to come here just for me to feel the state of things and to learn about your challenges. Our government is seriously committed to assisting entrepreneurs like the ones here to be able to be good startups.” Tech entrepreneurs in the Yaba cluster would be allowed access to the state’s 25 billion naira employment trust fund, for instance. Mr Ambode also announced plans to upgrade road and parking infrastructure in the area. Now the state government is working on initiatives to position the city as a place for technological innovation. Yabacon Valley has a robust broadband infrastructure, courtesy of the state government, for instance.
To be continued.
The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was specifically written for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies