Every system has its core pieces, the nuts and bolts that hold it all in place. For Nigerian tech, it is the 20 names on this list that play a huge part in building the ecosystem and helping it run.
The 20 most important people in Nigerian tech
In Africa, Nigeria’s tech ecosystem is the most talked about. This is not unexpected -- Nigeria is both Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation; its tech ecosystem is also considered by many to be the continent’s north star.
We considered three factors: the impact of their work and positions, their influence within the community, and how integral they are to the evolution of the ecosystem. They are all divided into 5 categories: Founders/Entrepreneurs, Media, Policy, Investment and Community Forces.
Some of the names on this list control companies (and groups) whose infrastructure power the ecosystem, while some of them are more oracular figures, the ones who help make sure the system’s stories are not lost in the whirlwind of time. Some of them pour their money in to the tune of millions of dollars, and some help make sure the government fully understand what’s going on. Then there are those who are doing so much, it is impossible to put them in one box.
1. Mitchell Elegbe - CEO and Founder, Interswitch Group
Mitchell Elegbe heads Nigeria’s biggest and, perhaps, most important payment company, Interswitch, founded in 2002 long before the age of tech startups and the craze surrounding them. Interswitch was founded and grew during a time when there was almost no infrastructure or technology to support electronic payment in Nigeria.
However, in 16 years, Interswitch under Mitchell has embedded itself deeply into Nigeria’s financial services industry -- handling payment switching and processing transactions for banks, telcos, and many of the biggest companies around the country, and the daily lives of Nigerians -- allowing them pay bills, transfer money, and buy airtime online when there was no one else doing it.
More than Mitchell’s role is Interswitch is his influence and reputation as one of Nigeria’s most astute businessmen. Calm, charming, courtly, and connected, he has mentored many other company founders and helped build several other thriving businesses.
2. Jeremy Johnson - CEO and Co-founder, Andela
No singular company has been more influential to the development of tech talent in Nigeria than Andela, for which Jeremy is co-founder and CEO. Andela takes young Nigerians who necessarily do not have software programming skills but have a strong interest in learning, trains them, and builds them up into world-class developers.
For its work in the Nigerian ecosystem (and now across Africa), Andela has received international recognition, including a $24 million investment from Mark Zuckerberg.
Many of the rockstar developers Nigeria has produced recently have passed through Andela. It has inspired remarkable success stories, and lifted hundreds of young people out of poverty.
At Andela, Jeremy calls the shots and over the years, he has appeared in the White House and before the US Congress.
3. Tayo Oviosu - Founder/CEO, Paga
The story of Tayo and Paga story is one of the biggest positives in Nigerian tech. Currently servicing over 11 million users and generating millions of dollars in recurring revenue, Tayo’s company has defied the odds and succeeded where many others have struggled and failed.
4. Shola Akinlade, Co-founder/CEO, Paystack
After the era of e-commerce, payments became the in thing, and Paystack, founded by Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, has been one of the superstar companies, growing year-on-year in revenue and user base and processing over $20 million monthly.
You can find Shola speaking at international entrepreneurship forums and having deep conversations with the people responsible for making policies that shape the financial services industry.
5. Gbenga Agboola - CEO and Co-founder, Flutterwave
Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has established itself as the payment company upon which payment companies are built.
Platforms like Uber, Booking.com, and Transferwise all use Flutterwave to process their payments. What makes it so integral is that it is not your regular payment company. It is the processor that powers your regular payment gateway, and Gbenga Agboola, formerly of Access Bank and one of the brains behind PayWithCapture (a payment product built upon the Flutterwave API), heads the company, having taken over from Iyin Aboyeji (another entry on this list) in October 2018.
6. Sim Shagaya - Serial Entrepreneur and Investor
In 2014, Sim Shagaya was named one of Forbes’s most powerful men in Africa. Over the years, he has established himself as a father figure to many Nigerian tech entrepreneurs, having successfully founded prominent e-commerce companies like DealDey and Konga.com, where he is currently chairman, and digital advertising company, E-motion.
Sim is one of those people that is ever ready to help, a character trait that has been chronicled by several entrepreneurs like Printivo’s Yomi Ojo and IrokoTV’s Jason Njoku.
7. Bankole Oluwafemi - Editor-in-Chief, Techcabal
Bankole Oluwafemi started blogging on Techcabal.com in 2013, long before Nigeria’s startup ecosystem became what it is today. Over the years, Techcabal grew from just a blog into a full-fledged digital publication and Bankole earned a reputation as one of the most influential and most connected people in the system. It’s almost impossible for any important story to break or develop in the Lagos startup scene (the hotbed of Nigeria’s tech ecosystem) without him knowing first.
8. Adewale Yusuf - CEO, Techpremier Media, and Publisher, Techpoint Africa
A lot happens in the Nigerian tech ecosystem -- deals, acquisitions, hiring and firing, the rise of one developer community here and the rise of another community there. In the last 3 to 4 years, no local media platform has done a more thorough job of reporting the goings-on in the ecosystem than Adewale Yusuf’s Techpoint.
What started as a blog has grown into a full digital media company, complete with video, events, and community building offerings. What makes Techpremier Media’s CEO Adewale and the publication, Techpoint’s roles so important, apart from the work done reporting the Lagos ecosystem, is the conscious effort to cover tech development across the rest of Nigeria.
Techpoint has toured the north and south of the country, covering the underreported regions and talking to those who would ordinarily have been forgotten and overshadowed by the Lagos ecosystem hype. Adewale and Techpoint are working hard to remind the country, the continent, and the world that there’s more to Nigerian tech than Lagos.
9. Omobola Johnson - Senior Partner, TL Com and Former Nigerian Minister of Communication
Dr Omobola Johnson served as Nigeria’s minister of communication from 2011 to 2015. Once her tenure was over, Dr Johnson did not disappear into the shadows or maintain a stranglehold on politics as most do. Instead, she channelled her energy and resources into helping mold policy and create an enabling environment for innovation to thrive in Nigeria.
Dr Johnson has been instrumental to the federal government’s acceptance of the role young tech entrepreneurs and the ecosystem will play in the future of the country. As the minister of communication, she famously had a hand in Andela’s foundation in Nigeria. She remains relevant in tech circles, appearing at events and in boardrooms, making deals and moves to solidify the rise of Nigeria’s startup ecosystem.
10. Iyin Aboyeji - Serial Entrepreneur, and Co-Founder, Flutterwave and Andela
Up until October 2018, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji was the CEO of Flutterwave, one of the most integral payment companies in Nigeria. He resigned his role to focus on his family and play a role in influencing the policies that shape Nigeria’s tech ecosystem.
Before he co-founded Flutterwave, Iyin helped build Andela into one of the biggest talent companies for software developers in Africa. In less than 10 years, in Flutterwave and Andela, Iyin has helped build two of the most important companies in the Nigerian ecosystem.
He has proved his dexterity as an entrepreneur, now he is taking on the challenge of governance and politics because there’s the need to “fight for a new Nigeria” and help lift people out of poverty and into the middle class.
Iyin’s goal now will involve interacting with political figures, using his voice and influence as an ecosystem leader to shape the policies that will either make or break the future of Nigerian technology.
11. Seun Onigbinde - CEO and Co-founder, BudgIT
How do you hold to account a government that is largely disregarding of the wishes of its people outside election seasons? How do you check a government prone to propaganda and, sometimes, misinformation? How do you get a citizenry more interested in data and objective criticism of their elected officials?
These are the questions Seun Onigbinde’s civic startup, BudgIT, is doing. BudgIT tracks government budgets and data and presents them to the public in visually engaging formats. So far, using research, data analytics and visualisation tools, Seun has proved to be a thorn in the government’s side, reminding the people in power that the citizens are watching and that they will not be silent.
12. Gbenga Sesan - Founder, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
Gbenga Sesan is Nigeria’s most prominent digital rights activist. He has spent years advocating for the protection of digital rights and playing instrumental roles in the government’s understanding of the Internet in Nigeria.
From 2006 to 2008, he served on President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 26-man task force created to restructure government institutions and organisations in the telecommunication and Information Technology sector. From 2012 to 2013, he was a member of the Presidential Committee on Roadmap for the Achievement of Accelerated Universal Broadband Infrastructure and Services Provision.
Mr Sesan is also the founder of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, a social enterprise created to that build ICT-enabled support systems and advocate for digital rights to improve the lives of underserved youth.
13. Kola Aina - Founding Partner, Ventures Platform
Kola Aina is one of Nigeria’s leading startup investors and ecosystem builders. He is the founding partner at Ventures Platform, an an early-stage growth fund that has backed companies like Paystack, Mines.io, Kangpe, Wifi.com.ng, Piggybank, and Printivo, among many others.
But apart from his work as an investor and managing an accelerator programme, Kola Aina plays a vital role trying to shape policy through Ventures Platform. Located in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, Ventures Platform is strategically positioned to help startups while staying within a earshot of the people who make the policies that determine whether the startups thrive or fail.
14. Bunmi Akinyemiju and Kunmi Demuren - Founding Partners, Greenhouse Capital
On one hand, Bunmi and Kunmi head Greenhouse Capital, a local venture capital fund that is now focusing on building women-led companies. On the other hand, they are CEO and Executive Director, respectively, of Ventures Garden Group, a company that, in part, provides the aviation technology that tracks flights to and fro Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed Airport, storing crucial data in the process.
Also, not many Nigerian VC funds have invested as much money in local startups as Greenhouse Capital, having raised $40 million for 15 startups including Max.ng, Prepclass, Flutterwave, Mines.io, and CcHUB’s Growth Capital Fund.
15. Maya Horgan Famodu - Founder, Ingressive Capital
As important as local investors are to the ecosystem, foreign investors also play a crucial role and Maya is the one person who knows how to catch their attention. Call her The Bridge or The Plug, anyone is fine.
She founded Ingressive to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley investors and the Nigerian tech ecosystem. Ingressive also hosts community building event, bringing together tech talent and interested parties and providing a support system for them to learn and grow.
Maya featured on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list for 2018.
16. Aniedi Udo-Obong, Program Manager, Google Nigeria
In his capacity as Google Nigeria’s program manager, Aniedi has open the door for Nigerian developers and technical talent to international opportunities. Playing core roles in the execution of Google DevFest events in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa, pushing for more Google Developer Experts from Nigeria, and getting more Nigerians to attend Google’s big I/O events.
17. Juliet Ehimuan - Country Manager, Google Nigeria
Juliet heads the Nigerian office of one of the world’s most powerful and most ubiquitous companies, and that puts her firmly on this list. Google, in actuality, is everywhere. When it’s not working to get more people on the Internet, it is supporting startups and nonprofits in the ecosystem through its Google Launchpad programme.
18. Bosun Tijani and Femi Longe - Co-founders, Co-creation Hub (CcHub)
When Mark Zuckerberg arrived Nigeria in 2016 to tour the tech ecosystem, CcHub was his first destination. Founded by Femi Longe and Bosun Tijani in 2010, the iconic tech hub in the heart of Yaba, Lagos has become, for many, the symbol of how far the Nigerian startup ecosystem has come.
Femi and Bosun started CcHub when very few people had any idea what the Internet could do or what it meant to found and invest in a tech startup. Through sheer grit, resilience, strategic thinking, and a passion for community building, the duo have embedded themselves deeply into Nigerian tech folklore, with their story similar to the stuff of legend.
With Femi and Bosun at the helm of its affairs, CcHub has become the icon of tech investment, startup culture, and policy development. When they are not mentoring founders and developers, they are deep in discussion with policymakers, helping them navigate the complexities of the brave new world.
If you are a visitor, your trip to Lagos’s budding ecosystem is incomplete without meeting these two and checking out what is happening on 294 Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba.
19. Mark Essien, Founder/CEO, Hotels.ng
Behind some of the biggest talents in the Nigerian tech ecosystem is Mark Essien’s Hotels.ng. Through its internship programmes, Mark’s startup has helped groom many of Nigeria’s best software developers. He also opens his company’s building in Yaba up for regular community meetups and small events, for free.
Mark uses his influence as one of the ecosystem’s earliest success stories to foster collaboration. He also lends his voice to social and economic issues, both directly and indirectly related to the tech ecosystem.
20. ForLoop Africa - Developer Community
ForLoop Africa is the largest developer community across the continent. The community was founded by a group of software developers and tech professionals, led by Ridwan Olalere, Prosper Otemuyiwa, Ire Aderinokun, and Christopher Nwaba, in 2016 in Nigeria, but it has spread across Africa, as a platform for people to share knowledge, connect with each other and grow and create opportunities to advance each other’s career.
Alongside Andela, Devcenter, and Hotels.ng’s Internship Programmes, ForLoop is one of the biggest contributors to the growth of technical talent in Nigeria and Africa.
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