Five women who have changed the Nigerian technology narrative

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By Oluwatobi Opusunju and Chinedu James

It’s women’s day! The technology sector is male-dominated but it is not entirely masculine. In Nigeria, the technology industry is still largely male dominated but an increasing number of women are finding their game on the turf. They are at the forefront, initiating and implementing decisions altering the direction of the ICT sector for good.

The good news also is that an increasing number of female are enrolling for tech and innovation courses; and it is predicted that more than half of the gender that would make up enrolment for computer and allied courses in the universities by the turn of the decade will be female. Reason: a greater number of the female-gender are increasingly finding it reasonable to make career choices within the knowledge industry.

Currently, the margin between women and men in the sector is still very wide. Industry watchers say the ratio of men compared to that of women in the sector is tilts around 80-20%. But the gaps are closing very fast, particularly in urban centres where awareness on equal opportunities across genders is higher.

According to one study, by 2020 there would be about 1.4 million computer science related jobs. Much of that will be handled by men, but with encouragement of the female gender through policy frameworks, more women will have their careers within the ICT circle.

In commemoration of the International Women’s Day, March 8, IT Edge News has carefully selected five women who, in spite of the seemingly apparent odds against women in tech, have become a shining light and contributed immensely to the growth and development of the technology industry in Nigeria.

Florence Seriki

Although gone to the world beyond, her legacy and contribution to the growth of Nigeria’s tech industry still lives on. Florence Seriki was the founder of Omatek, Nigeria’s first indigenous computer manufacturing company established in 1987.

She was known as a trailblazing entrepreneur whose entrepreneurial dexterity in the technology space put Nigeria on the global map long before the activities of the ‘Yabacon valley’ denizens.

Mrs. Florence Seriki won a good number of laurels, in recognition of her contributions to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Nigeria and Africa at large. She won the Young Entrepreneurship Award of the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce in 1992 which earned her the title “Africa’s Bill Gates in the Making.” She was also a recipient of one of Nigeria’s highest national honours; Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) by the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration.

In 2015, she was also recognized as the IT personality of the year at the National Information Technology Merit Awards organised by the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS).

With over a hundred and fifty national and international awards and recognition, Omatek was named the IT Amazon of Nigeria.  In 2008, Omatek also became Nigeria’s only publicly quoted computer manufacturing company with Florence Seriki listing her company on the Nigeria Stock Exchange.

Her zeal and passion for the industry pushed her to produce IT tools massively for the Nigerian Government Computer Assisted Program under the CANi Computer acquisition Program for Nigerian Civil Servants as part of the efforts to re-engineer the public service for more efficiency

Through Omatek and her ingenuity, Seriki created massive youth employment and empowerment in the Nigerian technology industry as well as enabled technology transfer and increase in local content development.

Her demise last year, March 3rd remains a great loss to the Nigerian tech space.

 

Omobola Johnson

Omobola Johnson’s immense contribution to the industry resounds beyond the ICT sector. In 2011, Johnson was appointed Minister of Communications after 26 years of service in Accenture. She entered the public sector as a minister with deep insight of the industry and an awareness of how policy and strategies could up the game for the country’s tech agenda.

As pioneer head of the country’s communication technology (ComTech) ministry, created as part of the transformation agenda of the Nigerian government, she set a new pace in stakeholders engagement and brought into the ministry and advance thinking in policy and action formation once unknown.

Under her watch, Nigeria launched and consolidated her entry into the satellite communication industry with NigComSat-IR, to complement the series of fibre connectivity, backbone infrastructure initiatives designed to deepen broadband penetration in the country now put at 22%.

The ministry under her watch also deployed more than 700 personal computers to secondary schools in the first phase of School Access Programme (SAP) while about 193 tertiary institutions in the country had internet access in the Tertiary Institution Access Programme (TIAP) and 146 communities had access to Community Communication Centers deployed around the country.

Since she left office in 2015, she has extended the turf for startups and currently she is the Lead General Partner for TLcom Capital, a venture capital firm based in Nairobi, Lagos and London. Since 1999, TLcom Capital has been investing in telecom, media and technology (TMT) companies in Europe, Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). TLcom Capital raised a $40 million seed fund for African startups in 2017.

Omobola has always be on the vanguard of promoting ICT innovations in Nigeria. She midwifed the establishment of Idea Hub Yaba, Lagos when she was ComTech minister.

 

Funke Opeke

Funke Opeke is synonymous with MainOne, a communications infrastructure services and data management company with footprint across West Africa. She is the founder and CEO MainOne to close the connectivity gaps in the sub-region and since its launch, MainOne’s rising profile is being closely associated with how Nigeria and rest of West Africa is steadily closing the connectivity gaps.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronic & Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University, a Masters degree at Columbia University in Electrical Engineering, Opeke joined MTN Nigeria as Chief Technology Officer.

Her vision to address the problem of low internet connectivity in Nigeria started inspired her in 2008 to launch MainOne. The company has gone through the learning curves and growth turns to become one of Africa’s leading communications services and network solutions providers.

MainOne is a 7,000km undersea fibre optic cable from Portugal to Nigeria and cost over $240m. An astute sense of vision with belief has guided her approach to build a team of investors and technical partners into a company that is redefining connectivity beyond Nigeria and the ECOWAS region.

MainOne drives the economy across sectors: banking, e-commerce, online booking agencies, etc. Even most importantly, MainOne is the backbone of Nigeria’s startup ecosystem in Yaba. It is doubtful if there would be a Yabacom without affordable broadband connectivity from MainOne.

 

Nkemdilim Begho

Founder and Managing Director of Future Software Resources Limited, Nkemdilim Begho is one of a few Nigerian women who have traversed the Nigerian tech industry, to make a pool of vast cross sectors experience.

Begho has been involved in various research projects, such as the Wazobia Linux initiative, the EGovernment Interoperability Framework, NITDA Open Standards Framework, as well as the deployment of e-commerce and e-portal solutions in the Nigerian public and private sectors.

A recipient of many awards including the Jim Ovia Prize for Software Excellence as well as the Etisalat Prize for Innovation, she is also currently one of the Board Members of the World Summit Youth Award since 2010.

Juliet Ehimuan

In Nigeria, she’s the .Google Gem.’ Juliet Ehimuan heads Google’s operations in Africa’s largest Internet community, and saddled with the responsibility of representing the company in all its business development projects and partnership opportunities in the region.

While she leads, Google Nigeria has launched a series of innovative products and services aimed at building the online ecosystem in Nigeria through a three-pronged strategy which are to drive initiatives for more availability and affordability of internet to the average Nigerian user, facilitate local content development and build capacity in the teeming Nigerian youths.

Before joining Google, Ehimuan was the General Manager, Strategic Business Units of Chams Plc where she led and formulated strategies for Chams Strategic Business units.

Ehimuan has vast experience with top global tech companies having also worked with Microsoft UK for six years managing Strategic Projects for MSN Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA); and then as a Business Process Manager for MSN International covering 11 subsidiaries worldwide.

She has won numerous awards for her contribution in the tech industry. She was the recipient of the National Information Technology Merit Award’s ‘IT Personality of the Year’ in 2012. She also received the Microsoft “Ship-IT” award for successfully launching the new MSN online subscription business in the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

She is also a pioneer member of the Academic Computer Network for Developing Countries sponsored by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy in 1995 which resulted in a campus wide area network at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife.


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