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Nigerian Elections 2023: How rich tech bros will change the game

By Sam Adeoye 
09 April 2022   |   1:41 am
You know how we’ve become used to the fact that it will be grindingly difficult for young Nigerians to take over in politics? Well, maybe that is no longer the case.

Shola

You know how we’ve become used to the fact that it will be grindingly difficult for young Nigerians to take over in politics? Well, maybe that is no longer the case. As we can all agree, the one major fence that has cordoned the youth off from political power has been money. Just like anywhere else in the world, money controls access to power. If you’re not rich, you don’t have power. Money is why politics has remained such an extremely permissioned venture for millions of young Nigerians. But now, if you would please look at Shola Akinlade and Iyin Aboyeji—for example—you might begin to see how the youths of Nigeria would sooner than later grab a little of the political power that has eluded them for decades.

You see, Shola Akinlade is one of those people who are known as Tech Bros. They are tech founders and executives in their twenties to mid-thirties who have earned considerable notoriety, either for attracting massive media coverage for their revolutionary inventions, raucous antics on socials, or their bursting-at-the-seams bank accounts—or perhaps a combination of all three.

In Shola’s case, he is the co-founder of Paystack, the homegrown payment processor, which he sold in October 2020 to the American financial giant, Stripe, for over $200 million. That transaction effectively made Mr Akinlade an HNI (High Net-Worth Individual). And with his money, he has been thinking deeply about how to change his country, Nigeria. You do understand, of course, that changing the socio-political system of their homelands is what HNIs do, don’t you?

The first thing Shola has chosen to do is to start a football club.
On February 20 2022, Shola told the press that he had just launched Sporting Lagos. Although the authorities denied Sporting Lagos a slot in the top-tier Nigeria Professional Football League, leaving it no other option than to start in the Nigerian National League, aka Division Two, Shola isn’t discouraged. He promised to bankroll the enterprise for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll provide most of the financial investment necessary to get this off the ground and will entrust the full-time team to realise our bold ambitions,” he said, while quickly adding a proviso:

“I don’t see myself as someone that wants to run an NNL team,” he said. “We tried our best to get an NPFL team, but it didn’t work out. We are an NNL team for now, but we will not spend more than one season in the second division.”

Now, considering all the options open to him for investment, why would a twenty-something-year-old tech billionaire elect to sink his own money into a local football club?

In the context of access, politics, and power, it does make sense when you hear his rationale. After losing his dad in 2021, he went to spend a considerable amount of time with his 75-year-old mother. While there, his mind got to work.

He said, “For the first time in my life, I started thinking about what my life would look like at 75. The outcome of my reflection was a commitment to deepen my involvement in our community, which has given me so much.”

To Shola, one quick way to deepen this social commitment is to invest in sports. Plus, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to reproduce in local sports the sort of indisputable global success that some young Nigerians, including himself, have made in “technology, music, and cinema.”

In the meantime, you may see Sporting Lagos as quite the for-profit concern or simply as a social enterprise but, more than anything else, you should probably see it as Shola’s first step shot at a major political goal, as a supporter, coach or player.

This is why I say that.
Recently, in standard tech-speak, Shola tweeted that he and his collaborators were “creating a modern football club to incubate the next generation of Nigeria’s sporting talent.” Which is quite innocuous. But then he betrayed a grander agenda:

“We’re starting with a club but we have big ambitions,” he wrote. “Can we build an academy? Can we build arenas that feel safe, fun and inclusive?” Also, “Can we build something that lasts generations? And creates opportunity for millions? I think we can.”

So, there you go.
Shola is not the only Tech Bro with major ambitions to rewrite the political algorithm of Nigerian politics. Before him, there was Oloye Akin Alabi, founder of Nigeria’s first online betting company, Naira Bet. Alabi, who’d also come from lower middle-class beginnings, is currently a member of the House of Representatives. With resources earned from his tech business, he was able to afford the buy-in to play at the exclusive table of federal politics.

And then there’s Iyin Aboyeji, the other Tech Bro I named earlier. Iyin is the co-founder of the new financial juggernaut Flutterwave. Before that, he’d also co-founded Andela. These days, apart from his work with venture funds for African start-ups, Iyin is also building charter cities.

Theoretically, charter cities are self-sufficient urban layouts that are developed to not suffer the perennial problems plaquing typical African cities — problems such as traffic congestion, insufficient public infrastructure, and spasmodic power supply.

Since 2020 when Iyin first told the world about his premier charter city, Talent City, not much was heard of it again. It seemed he might have cooled off on the idea. Until January 2022 when TechCrunch, the online tech bible, reported this:

“Progress has been incremental, but Talent City has acquired land to begin construction of its first location: Talent City Lagos, a 72,000-square-meter plot of land located in Alaro City, a 2,000-hectare city-scale development area in the Lekki Free Zone.”

I may be cherry-picking here, obviously, but the current youth movement is steadily swelling, undeniable and irrepressible.
The young people who are gradually ushering in this new future of convenience and efficiency for the country are not only intelligent; they are also enormously cash-positive. And do they have the social currency to engage in the big-picture conversations that shape economic direction of the country? Do they now have the raw capital to participate in politics without having to seek permission from the old establishment? Yes. And yes.

Remember the Not Too Young to Run movement? It was quite the catchy advocacy campaign, wasn’t it? It was one part supplication, one part protest, and one part emotional blackmail. Too bad it didn’t suddenly reallocate election slots to younger people in the political parties. And why would it? Nobody doles out political influence; you’ve got to fight for it yourself.

Which is why the current changes are totally welcome. From fintech to agritech, from edutech to insuretech, from medtech to real estate-tech and even psychtech, tech is in the wheelhouse of the young. And incidentally, being good at tech often means they’ll make huge bank from it. At home and abroad. And when they make bank, they can make changes. The kind of changes that put them in charge.

Naturally, there are no assurances that the coming generation will automatically manufacture more efficient political leaders. Also, the current powers may choose to install resolute roadblocks that may slow down the vanguard—or perhaps, old and young may even collaborate, why not? But whatever happens, tech entrepreneurs as major challengers in the battlefield of Nigerian politics is a significant update to the country’s political system. How it will all shake out in the long run, we do not yet know; but I hope you’re ready.

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