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Reuben Abati: The Mark Zuckerberg Visit

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Mark Zuckerberg in NigeriaMark Zuckerberg’s two-day visit to Nigeria has done a lot for the country; it is a pity no government official or agency has tried to tap into the gains of that visit. He arrived at a time there was much talk about economic recession, concerns about companies folding up or retrenching staff, or international investors leaving the country in droves, out of frustration with the uncertainties in the system. Zuckerberg’s arrival raised our hopes: co-founder of Facebook and the 5th richest man in the world, sneaked into Nigeria to meet with developers and entrepreneurs and to discuss investments in Nigeria’s growing start-up ecosystem. And for two days, he went round the city of Lagos, visiting start-ups and interacting with young entrepreneurs.

The way Nigeria is often painted abroad, and in those travel advisories that foreign ministries issue, you would think Nigeria is such an unsafe place where kidnappers are permanently on the prowl. Zuckerberg helped to show the rest of the world that Nigeria is not so bad at all, and that something really exciting is happening here among the country’s young population. He had no bodyguards. He did not have to hire a lorry load of Nigerian policemen to keep watch over him. He trekked on the streets of Lagos, surrounded by a few of his hosts. On Wednesday morning, he jogged across the Ikoyi-Lekki bridge. He ate pounded yam, shrimps, snails (I thought they said he is a vegan!) and jollof rice (Nigerian jollof (!) not that one from Ghana). His visit went smoothly. More investors may well be encouraged to visit Nigeria too, seeing how confidently a whole $53.7 billion walked freely about in Nigeria, and he was not stolen or kidnapped.

Zuckerberg’s visit also provided great publicity for Nigeria’s emerging Silicon Valley, and the young entrepreneurs to whom Zuckerberg paid compliments. He has already invested in a Nigerian start-up, Andela, and he has made friends with other young Nigerians, the guys behind Jobberman and C-Creation Hub (CcHUB) and so many others. Zuckerberg cut the picture throughout his visit of a true inspirational figure. His simplicity and humility was impressive. He kept going about in a T-shirt, and interacted freely with everyone he met.

Many young Nigerians can learn from his example: the way some people whose biggest possession is a laptop sometimes carry their shoulders in the sky, if they were to be half of what Zuckerberg is, they won’t just claim that they are voltrons or overlords, they will look for more intimidating labels. But Mark Zuckerberg, who is just 32, shows that it is not all about money, or influence, character matters. There is no doubt that his hosts were also impressed with him.  And that probably explains the protest that greeted the attempt by CNN International and American artiste, Tyrese Gibson, to refer to the visit as Zuckerberg’s visit to sub-Saharan Africa. Young Nigerians kept shouting back that Zuckerberg is in Nigeria, not sub-Saharan Africa! They wanted the publicity for their country.

Inspired by Zuckerberg’s visit as the tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria’s Silicon Valley may have been, the Nigerian government should see in the visit, and the excitement that it has generated, the need to provide greater support for technological innovation in the country. There are many young Nigerians out there who are gifted, hardworking and innovative. They belong to the 21st Century. They are aggressive. They want to operate at the international level and become superstars. They have ideas. They are ready and willing. The basic thing that government owes them is to provide an enabling environment for their talents to flower. It has taken a few young men and ladies to bring Mark Zuckerberg to Nigeria. There are other young Nigerians doing wonderful things in other sectors of the economy who can save this country if they are given the chance. There is also a large army of untapped and yet-to-be-discovered talents, whose future we cannot afford to waste. Investment in education will help. Uncommon sense will make things happen.

Zuckerberg’s visit also did a lot for Nollywood. He described Nollywood as “a national treasure”. That statement should be framed and sent to every major agency in the private and public sectors in Nigeria. He may not yet have invested in Nollywood, but there was no doubt that the members of Nollywood and other celebrities who met with him appreciated their being recognized by one of the most successful young men of the 21st century. I watch Nollywood movies, but I don’t think I have ever seen those Nollywood stars who met with Zuckerberg smile that heartily and broadly – not even in the movies. The ones who did not bare their 32, were staring at the Facebook ambassador in that typical Nigerian fashion: “ah, see money, Mark, abi make I send you script make you sponsor?”

The way the visit went, if Mark Zuckerberg had wanted a Nigerian wife, or girlfriend, he would have been met at every turn with echoes of “Yes, Yes, Yes…come and hold something.” But he is already married. So, don’t worry, Priscilla Chan (Mark’s wife), your husband is safe, Nigerian ladies will only admire him, they don’t mean any harm, and they won’t initiate him into coded runs.  But of course you trust him – you know he is not Justin Bieber. But money is good oh. After money, it is money.Ha, Ori lonise, eda ko la’ropin o, Edumare funmi ni money…

Altogether, it was a great business outing for Zuckerberg and Facebook. Over 16 million Nigerians are on Facebook, it is the largest and most influential social media platform in the country; on a daily basis, over 7 million Nigerians log onto the website. Many more are on whatsapp, another Facebook acquired platform. With Zuckerberg’s visit, that number is bound to grow.  The strategic friendships and partnerships that he has been able to build is a demonstration of power and influence: Facebook is on the ground in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and he has taken that further by visiting Kenya – look beyond the T-shirt, this young American billionaire is building constituencies and spheres of influence across Africa; he is exploring new markets and staying ahead of the competition in a continent that many other investors may overlook, or desert for reasons of inconvenience.

As a business strategy, Mark Zuckerberg’s exploration of the African market is brilliant. It may be the subject someday of a Management, Leadership and Marketing Class. Businesses must innovate, innovate and innovate and the best way to do that is through people.  Nigerian entrepreneurs have a lot to learn in this regard: the mindset of the business leader is the soul of strategy. There are too many thermostatic leaders in the Nigerian business environment, and that is why at the slightest confrontation with hard choices, they close shop and run. Here is Mark Zuckerberg, in the face of proven recession, he wants to support start-ups and SMEs in Nigeria; at a time others are fleeing, he is coming into Nigeria and Africa. He is smart. Wicked problems in a business environment should inspire genius, change and innovation. That is what leadership is all about.

Beyond business and culture, there was a small political side to the Zuckerberg visit. The Facebook CEO had said Facebook will promote the use of Hausa Language, some reports indicated he had said he loves Hausa language, and then a storm followed, resulting in a hot, healthy spat between two friends, colleagues and brothers of mine, Femi Fani-Kayode(@realFFK) and Reno Omokri (@renoomokri), with one claiming that Americans are promoting Northern hegemony (John Kerry, now Zuckerberg and Facebook), and the other saying it is not a big deal, and in the exchange, we got some lectures about Nigeria’s ethnic and hegemonic politics.

On Wednesday at a town hall meeting, Zuckerberg more or less edited himself by saying “I am glad we support Hausa, and we are planning on supporting more languages soon.” He didn’t specify what those other languages are. I hope he knows Nigeria has over 400 languages and ethnic groups, and they all form part of the Nigerian Facebook community. He should tread carefully here, because I am not too sure Facebook can adopt Yoruba language before Igbo, or vice versa, without a social media war on its hands, and if Facebook chooses to accommodate the three major languages in Nigeria, it could be confronted with a major battle over minority rights on its platform. We are like that in this country, Mark.

But the difference is that Mark Zuckerberg is not a politician, he has voted only once (in 2008) and he doesn’t make political statements, except when business interests are at stake. Eyin boys, FFK and Reno, Zuckerberg doesn’t really care about the local fights we fight: he wants to create new markets and if promoting Hausa on Facebook will create more customers in that part of Nigeria, so be it. And in case religion is part of that politics, it doesn’t concern him either, he was born Jewish, but he is a self-declared atheist. If he worships any religion, it is the religion of Facebook. In Nigeria, he has Igbos, Yorubas and other Nigerians working for him.

He is interested in their intellect not where they come from.  One more thing: The Nigerian government snubbed him or did he snub our government? When he got to Kenya, he was received at the airport by the Cabinet Secretary of Information and Communications and later given a delicious lunch of fish, semo and soup, no Nigerian government official offered him common sachet water and yet he was here to create jobs and markets! We shouldn’t frighten him away with our politics! The good news, though, is that he is a humanist even if a secular humanist: End of story.

Thank you Marky, for the visit and for giving us a good story to tell.

14 Comments

  1. fee

    September 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I like you Reuben Abati!! You can write to save your life.

    Valid points in this write up and witty too!
    Thanks Mark for coming. We appreciate it.

    • Anon

      September 2, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      No body guards, no excorts, no sirens and he even walked on the mainland ——-Yaba ni ooooooooo.
      yet otedola girls wouldn’t walk around without a body guard and bullet proof cars

      What number is their dad on again on the Forbes ratings………….

  2. Jarret

    September 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Fine Points Reuben raised here. What I am gald about most is that he was safe while in Nigeria. He had no police escort, no security detail and refused a personal bodyguard. He was even freer than Most Lagosians.

    That’s huge and unheard of for a Dollar Billionaire (#5 Richest o!) coming to a new environment for the first time, talk more of Nigeria.

    Another was the fact that he came quietly, without fanfare and didn’t even visit any Political Or High Ranked Govt official. All he cared for was the emerging Entrepreneurail spirit brewing in the land and how everyone can mytauppy benefit from it. Nothing political, just business and social interests.

    Kudos to him. He could have bn anywhere in the world but he chose to visit us.

  3. Engoz

    September 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    To be honest, I’m so glad there was no government bridge. The Nigerian government is made up of senile, retrogressive animals. It was very strategic to cut out these retrogressive middlemen between foreign investors with genuine interests in Africa and the local people. Investors with genuine interests should directly contact individuals, especially young entrepreneurs. I know the Nigerian government will try to frustrate them, but soon we will tell them Nigeria belongs to us and not them.

  4. ElessarisElendil

    September 2, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    ” He had no bodyguards.”???? If you really believe that, I know a guy that lives on Jupiter.

    • Mr. Egghead

      September 3, 2016 at 3:31 am

      Exactly!
      The Zuck had bodyguards. They were just out of the perimeter being the professionals that they are.

    • daniel

      September 3, 2016 at 8:32 am

      Lol you’re right he has eyes on him. Top secret agents.

  5. MamaLee

    September 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Am Sure he had Bodyguards , just that they did not have to show there faces life we pride ours over here. he came for business and Nigeria is open for foreign investors right now, so ffk and Rino had better move on with their conspiracy theories.

  6. Kokoro Dudu

    September 2, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    His visit was a real boost to Nigeria. However let’s get this right – he had tons of security but they ensured they didn’t spoil the photo ops. Trust me, he would be stupid not to have!

  7. M

    September 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    I’m so happy for this visit…no men in Agbada..no “Your excellency” …no Nigerian officials jonzing Mark with the usual “Nigeria is an investors paradise” speech. Mark’s visit is one bright spot in this gloomy Nigerian socio economic environment( dollar vs low foreign reserve)
    A big shoutout to all the techies,nerds,geeks and entrepreneurs whose intellect, creativity and ingenuity give life a whole new meaning.

  8. letty

    September 2, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    I amg so elated that the gov’t wasn’t involved eith this vist. I think it was purposeful on his part. The gov’t is the reason the economy is in shambles. It’s about time relevant ppl like zuckerberg ignored them….narcissistic ppl. See what voting for a fulani ignoramus is causing Nigeria.

  9. lami

    September 2, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Thank you abati for this unbiased write up.

  10. Pisy

    September 2, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Can u guys see how simple dis guy is. If na Nigerian man there will be thousands of security and uncessary flashy cars and outfits. Infant a wealth nigerian man doesnt have time interacting with the average Nigeria not to talk about developing d community. We got issues man.

  11. Ebuka

    September 4, 2016 at 9:03 am

    I am just glad this guy was not kidnapped. This worthless filt of a nation can taint even a saint so am glad his interaction was minimal. Again thank god his visit was short or his illusion of a nice country would have disappeared.

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