The 10 most memorable Nigerian tech moments of 2020

by | Dec 31, 2020

When we gave you our 10 most memorable Nigerian tech moments of 2019, we left you with this:

“It’s been a memorable year; we can only hope that 2020 will come with more unforgettable moments too.”

What we didn’t know was that we were going to get an early one as the COVID pandemic sure gave us arguably the most unforgettable moment this year. Unlike other years, the Nigerian tech ecosystem witnessed a type of disruption in activities that wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry.

So, as the year ends, we look at the ten most memorable moments in Nigerian tech for 2020 in no particular order.

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MainOne celebrates a decade journey building West Africa’s infrastructure

In 2010, Pan-African telecommunications service provider, MainOne, launched its operations with the private submarine cable’s commissioning on the West Coast of Africa.

Before its launch, Internet connectivity in West Africa was worse than it currently is —  characterised by massive bandwidth undersupply.

MAINONE 5

Funke Opeke (MainOne CEO)

MainOne came to solve that. And with a $240 million investment in 7,000 kilometres of submarine cable from Europe to West Africa, and over 1,000 customers later, the company is yet to solve the problem. 

That said, the company’s journey towards making the Internet accessible and affordable for West Africa,  as described by CEO, Funke Opeke, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Here’s what she told Techpoint Africa in a July interview.

“There have been high moments and low moments along the way, but we’re still here, and the journey is still meaningful and adding value.”

The tech ecosystem stakeholders rallied around during the #EndSARS movement

Police brutality in Nigeria has been happening for more than a decade. However, a series of new occurrences sparked a round of protests that began on Sunday, October 4, 2020.

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Starting in the nation’s commercial city of Lagos, these demonstrations spread across different cities and outside the country as diasporans participated. Similarly, with millions of #EndSARS, #EndPoliceBrutality, and similar hashtags, international media got wind of what was happening in the country.

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While this happened, the Nigerian government clamped down on the protests using various means. However, the stakeholders in the Nigerian tech ecosystem, who have had their fair share of abuse from the police, played their part in helping the cause.  

For instance, Citizen Gavel, a legal tech startup in Lagos, provided legal services for arrested protesters. Flutterwave, a fintech startup, was critical to the protests’ crowdfunding efforts. Similarly, platforms like Sendcash also facilitated crowdfunding bitcoin payments after the apex bank’s clampdown on bank accounts used by Flutterwave and organisations like the Feminist Coalition. 

With local media educating the public on how to bypass the Internet in the event of a shutdown to crowdsourcing protest stories, the ecosystem rallied around the #EndSARS movement in a commendable manner.

Paystack $200m+ acquisition by Stripe

Founded in 2015 by Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, Paystack was one of the first Nigerian startups to get into US-based seed accelerator, Y Combinator.

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Paystack founders: Shola Akinlade (CEO) and Ezra Olubi (CTO)

Coupled with the founders’ ingenuity, the startup acted unintentionally as Nigeria’s fintech poster child. In over five years, Paystack has been trusted by over 60,000 businesses in Nigeria and Ghana to help with payments. The startup has also become quite dominant, claiming to process more than half of Nigeria’s online transactions.

In 2018 when global payments company, Stripe, led its $8m Series A round, little did most know it was a precursor for events that would shape the tech ecosystem two years down the line. 

While questions around the startup’s next raise arose, rumours of an acquisition made the rounds; and when news finally broke that it was Stripe, it felt perfect.

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In a deal touted to open the floodgates of high-profile exits and opportunities for the Nigerian tech ecosystem, this was indeed a moment worth savouring.

Animation from Nigerian creators reached new heights

In December 2020, Nigeria’s first feature-length animated movie, Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters (LBMM) hit the big screens.

Following unsuccessful attempts by other feature-length animated projects, this was a sign of things to come for Nigeria’s animation industry.

Days later, the animation arm of Hollywood company, Walt Disney, revealed plans for 2021 and a collaboration with Kugali Media — a pan-African entertainment entity — was on its extensive list. 

Founded by creatives from Nigeria and Uganda, Kugali Media’s partnership with Disney will birth an adaptation of its comic book, Iwájú, a Yoruba term that roughly translates to ‘The Future’.  

As Oluwanifemi Kolawole, our Culture Reporter wrote, “while this increasing global interest may boost the morale of African scriptwriters, we could also see more renown movie studios working with indigenous filmmakers on globally accepted cinematic content.”

Big acquisitions by Nigerian startups

This year saw some Nigerian startups acquire different businesses hoping to drive their growth. However, unlike most of their international counterparts, the details of these acquisitions were kept under wraps.

In January, Paga announced it acquired long-term software partner, Apposit to hasten its expansion into Ethiopia and East Africa. Farmcrowdy also joined the fray acquiring Best Foods L&P to offer a more expansive livestock production and processing solution to Nigeria’s meat market.

In September, Nigerian-based recruitment company, Jobberman, acquired its top competitor, Ngcareers. That same month also saw newly founded automotive startup, Autochek acquire Cheki Ghana and Nigeria from its parent company, ROAM Africa. Co-creation Hub (CcHub) joined the list by acquiring Kenyan edtech startup, eLimu in October.

These acquisitions are a testament to the ecosystem’s maturity, and we hope to see more, disclosed or not. 

Despite the lockdown, Techpoint Build recorded a good turnout

In January, we announced that our flagship event, Techpoint Build, would hold between July 17 and July 19.

However, because of the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns, we postponed it till August 27 and 29, and this time, adapting to the current reality, it was going to be virtual.

As a Pan-African event, we had keynotes and panel sessions held by speakers from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa; they discussed critical topics centred around startups, innovation, and technology in the continent. We also had attendees from these countries and more, making a good turnout for an online event. 

Holding Techpoint Build 2020 despite the pandemic was indeed a proud moment for us.

Nigerian businesses thrived amid a plethora of government regulations 

As early as January, the Lagos State Government announced its plans to ban all forms of motorcycles and tricycles, including ride-hailing variants, in major parts of Lagos state the next month.

February came, and it was as stated. Despite the public’s pleas to reverse the ban and hopes that they would, their stance remained the same. 

According to Emmanuel Paul, our Corporate and Governance Reporter, the move came on the back of several regulatory hurdles faced by ride-hailing platforms in the country, “but will it really put the nail of these platforms, or could it be yet another scalable hurdle?” he asked. 

Some of these ride-hailing platforms managed to stay alive by making sharp pivots to logistics and delivery services. 

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However, it didn’t distract us from the onslaught of regulations on various businesses throughout the year.

In March, another regulatory move came stating that drivers of ride-hailing companies were expected to meet a series of requirements to keep operating. 

Two months later, a federal regulatory body, National Broadcasting Commission, joined in the action by regulating original local content on PayTV and streaming platforms. 

July saw the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) increase fees for logistics and courier services by 40%. Also, these players were instructed to remit 2% of their annual revenue to the organisation.

Nigeria’s apex bank made its move too in August via the Global Standing Instruction (GSI) policy allowing commercial banks in the country to withdraw defaulting loans from any account held by borrowers.

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This isn’t an exhaustive list of regulations made throughout the year, which shows the intent at which the government made it unbearing for Nigerian tech businesses and the public at large, to thrive.    

Jumia stands strong despite investors selling stakes in a rollercoaster year for the Unicorn

In one of the most memorable moments of 2019, Jumia, the largest eCommerce company in Africa, went public.

With many expressing optimism and others scepticisms about its IPO, 2020 was the year to look out for the Unicorn startup.

However, while its stocks fluctuated with each passing month, it was news of its long-time investors selling off their stakes that made the rounds.

In April, German technology investment group, Rocket Internet, sold off its remaining stake. And in October, MTN did the same, selling off its 18.9% stake.

What is remarkable is that despite these sell-offs, Jumia is currently trading at the $40 mark; it was trading between $5 and $6 this time last year.

The year of record-breaking pre-seed rounds

In April 2020, Nigerian API fintech startup, Okra, raised $1 million in a pre-seed round. The raise came after another fintech startup, Kuda, closed $1.6 million pre-seed in September 2019. 

Before Kuda, the Nigerian tech ecosystem rarely witnessed pre-seed rounds, and since 2017, only two startups raised such according to Briter Bridges. And rarely were these rounds large ones as the largest between this time was $100k. 

So, it was surprising that Okra and Kuda raised conventional “seed-like” amounts in pre-seed rounds. While the rounds looked like independent events at first, following events quickly dispelled that notion. 

Since Okra’s round in April, not less than eight startups have closed six-to-seven figure sums in pre-seed rounds. Mono, another API fintech startup, raised $500k; Autochek, an automotive tech startup that launched in August, even bested Kuda’s pre-seed round by raising a mammoth $3.4 million; and just this month, API super aggregator, OnePipe raised nearly a million dollars.

54gene and Helium Health raise eight-figure Series A sums amid a pandemic

With social distancing and lockdown rules in place, several healthtech platforms’ services allowed people to avail online consultations, treatments, and diagnostic tests.

Of such platforms included two that grabbed investors’ eyes to raise funding to operate efficiently.

In April, 54gene, a healthtech startup looking to solve Africans’ underrepresentation in genomics research, raised $15 million Series A. Helium Health solves data problems and provides telemedicine for healthcare organisations; it followed suit the next month by securing $10 million in a Series A round.

Not only did these investments come at the height of the pandemic, but they also arrived when the ecosystem’s healthtech space needed consolidation. In the past, healthtech startups rarely raised these large sums commonplace with their fintech or logistics counterparts.

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Both Series A investments, 54gene and Helium Health are heralding the next phase of growth for the country’s healthtech startups.

As we look at this year fondly, it is essential to note that while the Nigerian tech ecosystem experienced some ups and downs, none was as shocking as the dreadful news on July 15 – the day Gokada CEO, Fahim Saleh passed on.

A Bangladeshi-American entrepreneur, the late Saleh came to Nigeria to start Gokada, an on-demand ride-hailing and delivery startup that in its way, has helped solve transport and logistics needs while creating jobs for the masses.

Fahim Saleh

Late Fahim Saleh

In a horrid fashion, he left us, albeit with some good memories. He will always remain in our hearts and may his soul rest in peace.

Moving into a new year, we hope to witness more exciting happenings than unfortunate ones in our tech ecosystem. We’d like to know your thoughts on what you think is in store for 2021.

That said, see you on the other side.

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Endlessly amused by technology. @ulonnaya

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