By Yomi Kazeem*
Mark Zuckerberg has just spent two days visiting Nigeria in a move that could signal more attention from Silicon Valley. That Zuckerberg chose Lagos as the destination of his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa would have been a surprise to some.
Indeed, some US investors and strategic partners have bypassed Nigeria because it’s often privately described as ‘tough’ and ‘opaque’ with poor basic infrastructure for electricity and internet, despite the population’s obvious dynamism and potential.
But it looks like Zuckerberg’s choice of Lagos is likely down to an influential team of predominantly Nigerian-Americans at Facebook.
As Techpoint, a Nigerian tech blog, reported, more than fifteen managers and executives of Nigerian background work with and around Zuckerberg at the world’s largest social networking site, occupying a range of high-profile roles. Among the most prominent are Emeka Afigbo, who handles strategic product partnerships for Facebook in sub-Saharan Africa and Ime Archibong, Facebook’s director of strategic partnerships. Back in May, Archibong and Afigbo led a Facebook delegation to launch the company’s Free Basics—a service that aims to help more people access the internet at no cost—in Nigeria. Afigbo, in particular, is said to be one of Zuckerberg’s trusted advisers on growing the company in Africa. He’s believed to have influenced Zuckerberg’sdecision to back Lagos-based coder training center Andela. Before Facebook, Afigbo and Archibong worked at Google and IBM respectively.
Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s head of public policy for Africa, is another prominent Nigerian at the company. She leads the company’s public policy work in sub Saharan Africa and has been involved in some of Facebook’s Nigeria-focused initiatives. Last year, she led a training initiative which saw Nigerian lawmakers schooled on how to use the social networking platform for effective engagement with their constituents.
Long-term, having a crop of young executives with Nigerian backgrounds in prominent roles at one of the world’s generation-defining technology companies could hopefully support even more local growth.