African Country #5 Nigeria: Hustling from Yaba to Makoko

Most Meaningful Experience: Hustle, Innate in the Nigerian culture from the streets of Yaba to the slums of Makoko, is a desire to improve their well being and lives. Its the country of hustle.

Travel Tips

        Lagos is infused with energy. Wake before sunrise to experience the hustle as people get to work well before the break of dawn.

        Check out the live music scene at Hard Rock Café on Victoria Island.

        Tour the Makoko Community and learn about Kindle Africa’s projects empowering women

        Hear Femi and Shun Kuti (sons of Fela Kuti) perform at the iconic Africa Shrine on Thursdays and Sundays

        Sample the local specialties of jollof rice, efo-riro and moi-moi (bean cakes wrapped in banana leaves). The spicier the better!

I’ve spent more years working in tech than I care to count, with a focus on planning and building my multinational software development company. My partner and I built this company from the ground up, including hours and hours of meeting with investors, flying around the world to present technologies and finding new developments to integrate into our platform and product list. Tech was my niche.

When I eventually decided to leave my company to travel, I wanted to use the skills and experience I’d developed to establish more meaningful experiences and deeper connections along the way. That’s what led me to Nigeria.

Just recently, Mark Zuckerberg invested $24 million in a startup called Andala – a workspace and training center for engineers. That investment ignited my interest in the region. What’s going on in Africa that’s caught the eye of one of the biggest players in tech today?

I had already done some work with Team4Tech in South Africa and loved educating others about something I knew inside out, so wanted to find more opportunities to teach about tech. That’s how I came across MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology), which takes on volunteers to help young entrepreneurs develop their startup businesses in Lagos. I was hoping this would give me a solid introduction to Nigerian business models but I ended up getting much more than that. 

The weekend I arrived in Yaba (a suburb of Lagos that’s home to Nigeria’s very own Yabacon Valley), I rented an Airbnb from Tayo. He was a recent returnee from the US who has (of course!) a background in tech product management and is putting together a company aimed at fixing one of Nigeria’s leading causes of death.

Tayo explained to me that the leading cause of death for both locals and tourists in Nigeria is not malaria or crime (as you might assume) but traffic accidents. There are 33.7 deaths per 100,000 people every year in Nigeria due to vehicle collisions. Tayo’s startup aims to counter this by reducing insurance rates in Nigeria and enabling drivers to avoid aggravated traffic areas.   

Yaba is a bustling city packed with street-side stalls, kekenapep (three-wheeled motorbikes) zipping by and hawkers selling anything and everything from containers on their heads. In addition to being home to the University of Lagos, its colorful streets and old buildings house around one hundred start-up companies. No tech aficionado would believe anything could exist in the middle of all that chaos, but they do!

After a few days in Yaba, I moved to a work-friendly, long-stay apartment at Dolphin Estate on Victoria Island to begin a week’s work with a handful of start-ups associated with MELT. Dolphin Estate is a closed community that integrates both middle class and lower class housing, and is infused with a calm and quiet energy. As in the rest of Lagos, I felt very safe here and went for a few runs, as well as having breakfast at a cafe called Terra Kulture that featured a local art exhibition.

Towards the end of the week, Tayo suggested we check out the Makoko Community, a nearby slum. His newest Airbnb guest, Jovan, had been working for Architects Without Borders and was keen to go. We met up with Olafunmi who runs an NGO called Kindle Africa, investing her own time and money to develop vocational schools for girls and women in slums like Makoko. Women often take most of the brunt in these places, with limited opportunities to leave, so Olafunmi is equipping them with the skills to find work and become more independent.

On Saturday morning we trekked out to Makoko and were given a grand tour of the community before taking a rarely-offered boat ride through the floating town. Makoko is considered one of the poorest slums on earth and after experiencing it first hand and seeing the tangible results of Olafunmi’s school, I vowed to help with her fundraising goal of $50,000 for its development. If you want to learn more about her school projects, check out www.kindleafrica.com and see the video Jovan made of our experience below.

After visiting Makoko, Jovan and I went to grab a bite at the E-Center shopping mall. As we sat there eating grilled chicken and watching Arsenal play, I felt like we could be anywhere in the world. It’s then that I got a text from Joba asking if I wanted to come to a wedding! Why not?

Joba had studied law in the UK and like many returnees, he wanted to make a difference in Nigeria through his startup xvolve.com. Joba was introduced to me through Femi who I met in Mozambique (see Mozambique post). Although we didn’t know each other terribly well, I was touched by his kindness – not only inviting me to a wedding but bringing me tailor-made Nigerian clothes to wear! The wedding was considered small by Nigerian standards (only around 300 guests!) but still featured famous local DJs, a mosaic of strobe lights and the best food I’d had so far.

As I mingled with the guests, I thought how Nigeria had felt so much safer and hospitable than I was cautioned about. People were friendly, trustworthy and enterprising, seeking ways to build companies and help Nigeria develop from the ground up. The hustle and bustle was infectious, and I left for Benin a couple of days later feeling more motivated than before.

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