BUSINESSDAY: “40 UNDER 40: Gbenga Sesan, CEO, Paradigm Initiative”

By Funke Osae-Brown for BusinessDay

Gbenga Sesan grew up in Akure. He saw a computer for the first time ever during his third year in secondary school, but he never had access to it until another three years. His inability to satisfy his curiosity about computers was a very big challenge to him. Instead of getting discouraged, he made up his mind that not only was he going to touch a computer, he would also teach others how to use it.

He recalls, “I was determined to prevent the kind of embarrassment I faced each time I tried getting closer to the ‘magic beast’. Instead of getting frustrated when I was told that computers were not for people like me, that I was too small to understand, I determined never to back down until the tool became a valid force for my personal progress.”
Three years after he was kept away from computers, Gbenga graduated from secondary school and thought it was a good time to get started on computer training. Though his parents initially felt it was too much money to spend on “something that will not earn you a bachelor’s degree and a good job”, his persistence would not keep him away from computer school.

“I enrolled and graduated with the best feeling any human being could have,” Gbenga recounts nostalgically. “I was connected to my dreams and I knew it.”

Eight years after that first encounter with a computer, he met James Sotomi who gave him the opportunity to do his fourth year industrial attachment in his company, Neural Technologies Limited. While there, Gbenga garnered enough experience to start him off in his career. By the year 2000, he had completed his first task of helping people use Information and Communication Technologies for development.

“I organised a training session on website design with a friend, Ogemdi, and about sixteen young people graduated from the training course with a glow similar to the one I had some five years before then. Maybe I’m impacting my generation,” he says proudly.

Now a member of the United Nations Committee on ICT/Youth and an Ashoka Fellow, Gbenga is a social entrepreneur who is quick to express his passionate belief in the potential that Information and Communication Technologies holds for developing economies. “Each time I consider what Nigeria and Africa keep losing as we clamour for wealth from mineral resources while ignoring the potential benefits of investing in the Information Society, I am inspired to take another step towards helping the situation in my own little way.”

Maybe that explains why the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) put it this way in 2003: “Nigeria…appointed a youth as an Information Technology ambassador…and while he has no personal computer himself, he holds the dream of helping over 4,000 young people learn new ICT skills within his two-year tenure.”

After working for 6 years, Gbenga resigned on February 13, 2007 to start Paradigm Initiative Nigeria as a vehicle of connecting young Nigerians with ICT opportunities. “Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) is a social enterprise that connects underserved Nigerian youth with ICT opportunities, with specific concern about the ill effects of unemployment and cybercrime, among other vices that limit the potential contribution of young Nigerians to the nation’s economy. Having worked with government, civil society, private institutions and international organisations including the United Nations, PIN has set standards in ICT education, telecentre support, ICT applications in rural areas, and other ICT interventions in Nigeria.

PIN’s projects include; Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria, and TENT (Techie. Entrepreneurial. Nigerian. Talented). PIN is not a traditional business in the sense of profit and loss; we are a social business that reinvests 100 percent of income into our projects.”

Gbenga explains that PIN services underserved youth primarily. “We also serve partners who provide us with technology-related tasks that generate income towards the sustainability of our projects. Our primary clients are young Nigerians who may otherwise not have the opportunity to improve their livelihoods. For example, is a model that we have designed to create better livelihoods – through ICT opportunities, entrepreneurship training and short-term internships – for young people in Nigeria’s underserved areas. Ego, like many other young people in Nigeria’s most popular slum, was not sure of what tomorrow held for her. Now she works at the Visa Section of the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos, thanks to her participation in the project.”

Another project participant grew her business of N2,000 by over 2,000 percent after the training.

The challenge of cybercrime in Nigeria is very close to Gbenga’s heart; hence he is creating awareness through a social campaign that involves sensitisation workshops in selected schools, annual one-day events and a rehabilitation project. The task of redirecting the energy/skills of these at-risk youth, he says, involves working with PIN partners, Microsoft and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to retrain the youth on how to use their passion and skills to develop a legitimate career in technology.

Break-even for Gbenga means sustainability, and he is fortunate to have been able to achieve that. “But even with that, the task of growing our earned income – from consulting and other assignments – to 70 percent of our annual budget is tough in an environment where the cost of completing such tasks can shoot up with policy changes.

We had projects running through into 2012 that we had signed MoUs for, and no thanks to the January 12 economic shake-up, we took some beating with our final numbers. Our work focuses on developing Nigeria, so we take the harsh environment as an opportunity to prepare our students for the reality of becoming entrepreneurs or managers in Nigeria.”

So, what has been sustaining PIN? “Results,” he says. “Each year, when we look back at the number of people who have come in contact with our projects – and who are much better for it – we look forward to doing more. With excitement, even. Our Q2 report (attached) shows a reach of over 6,000, and we look forward to improving on this for the new quarter. The reward of hard work is more work, and in our case, more (exciting) work.

When asked what’s his next big move is, Gbenga answers matter-of-factly: “In December 2012, PIN will host the first edition of our Techie. Entrepreneurial. Nigerian. Talented (TENT) Gathering. With official figures from the Nigerian government on unemployment at 24.9 percent and a minister revealing that only 10 percent of graduates get decent jobs two years after graduation, we have often imagined the opportunity to reverse the trend of producing job seekers and producing employers of labour instead.

Imagine what the best of today’s young Nigerian code-spinners and ICT gurus-in-the-making – those who are exposed to the technical, business and leadership requirements of ICT and innovation – can contribute to Nigeria’s economy, tech businesses operating in Nigeria and the businesses that these young men and women build. TENT, as PIN’s response to this huge need, is based on analysis of the current circumstances and our team’s experience with national and global best practices spanning a period of over 10 years – and over 30 countries.”

VANGUARD: “My teacher said computers not for people like me – ‘Gbenga Sesan”

By Gift Gabriel for Vanguard Newspapers

Federal Government College, Idoani, Akure had just received two sets of computers and Gbenga Sesan, who was in his third year, was too excited to try his hands on the devices. “Sorry, you can’t understand how to use them because they not for people like you”, a teacher rebuked him.

There and then, the seed of interest was sown in Gbenga who therefore decided to not only learn to use computers, but also teach the skill to others. That dream came to reality ten years later when, in 2001, he was appointed Nigeria’s first ever Information Technology Youth Ambassador.

Today, Gbenga’s work is built around the use of ICTs in socio-economic transformation such as job creation- focusing on underserved groups, through his organisation known as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria  (PIN). He is our Inspirational Icon for today!

Curiosity established
What he considered most embarrassing about his rebuke was that two other students whose father was a professor in one of the federal universities were allowed to use the school’s newly acquired computer sets because they already knew how to use them. No one seemed in anyway ready to show young Gbenga Sesan how to explore the computers.
With the curiosity already established, immediately after secondary school in 1994, he got enrolled in a computer training school before going to study electronic & electrical engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University .

To perfect his computer skills, in his third year when he was to undergo his industrial attachment, he chose to work with Neural Technology Limited, a Lagos-based firm where he was also able to acquire skills in website designing, amongst other advanced skills.

Reaping begins
“When I returned to campus, I was really excited about teaching others, and I started teaching website designing to students for two thousand naira. For the first 12 students I taught, I was able to pay for my accommodation and a few other needs. After that, I got involved in departmental politics, and became the Chairman of our Electronic Club because of my agenda which they knew was to teach computer skills”, he says.

By the time he was graduating from the Obafemi Awolowo University with his degree in electronic & electrical engineering, Gbenga had become a computer veteran!

Just after graduation in 2001, he participated in a competition, emerged the winner, and was, therefore, appointed the first Information Technology Youth Ambassador for Nigeria. The idea behind the competition was to discover young Nigerians who grew up in Nigeria, understood technology, and could compete with anyone from anywhere  in the world.

What a feat for Gbenga who was once told that computers were not for people like him!

As fate would also have it, one of the tasks given him was to travel around Nigeria, teaching people how to use the computer.

“In fact, when I was invited to the Federal Government College, Idoani, after my presentation, the same teacher who had told me I didn’t know how to use computers was actually the one who gave the vote of thanks!”, he satisfactorily says.

Aiming higher
With such glory, many would have become complacent, but not Gbenga! He saw it all as the beginning of greater things, and has, since then, continued to strive towards excellence. Over the years, he has been trained at the Lagos Business School, New York Group for Technology Transfer, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and Santa Clara Universities. He also holds a diploma in software application, certificate in venture management and certificate in project management from the Lagos Business School.

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
After his National Youth Service, which he did at the Junior Achievements of Nigeria, he continued working with the body which was spearheading a project called Lagos Digital Village(a project which corresponded with his dream) with young people until 2007 when he resigned to focus on something he had started online- Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, PIN.

“PIN works in the space between youth, technology and improved livelihood. We basically train young people for an improved livelihood. For example, we currently have a project in Ajegunle, Lagos, in which we train people in technology and entrepreneurship, connect them with internship opportunities, and, as much as possible, get them to begin work with their skills”, Gbenga explains.

“The point is that we can’t keep waiting on government to create jobs because government itself is very busy trying to sort itself out! In ideal societies however, governments don’t create jobs; the private sectors, especially the small and medium enterprises, do! Governments help with enabling environment for business growth.
ICT and national development

“If you look at the ICT readiness index of countries around the world, and you compare it to their GDPs and growth, you will find a 100% correlation. It makes things faster, and increases attention on intellectual capital more than on below-the-ground mineral resources. Nations, particularly in the gulf region, have used their mineral resources to improve their human capital development, such that they are now benefitting from human capital. Nigeria can take a cue from that!”

Nigerian Telecom Sector Report (June 2012)

Data is king and numbers don’t lie. However, any researcher or data lover will tell you how hard it is to happen upon some much-needed data in Nigeria. I’ve often had to use multiple primary sources to get data, which should already exist, for reports and research work around the Nigerian technology space. This explains why, for example, the number of Internet users in Nigeria is still a subject of debate. According to Wikipedia (quoting the International Telecommunications Union), there are now 47,143,356 Internet users in Nigeria. Many industry experts disagree, and the fact that there’s no trusted local source where such data can be verified doesn’t help.

One would expect the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), which now sits on more money than it needs to host press conferences, to keep such records but please don’t hold your breath. Now that the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, whose ministry supervises NITDA, has announced plans for Nigeria’s Internet penetration (e.g. growing broadband access from current 7% to 35% by 2017), it is hoped that NITDA will be put under pressure to measure this. Whatever we can’t measure can’t be improved, as it’d be difficult to even know when we have truly made progress – except we want to continue playing the inaccurate guesstimate game.

All hope isn’t lost for data in Nigeria’s ICT sector though. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), another agency with the same Ministry of Communication Technology, keeps an impressive record of industry data – from investments to subscribers and more. Having worked with both NITDA and NCC in the past, I can give NITDA free advice about something NCC does and they don’t – focus on numbers. NCC has economists and researchers who focus on getting these numbers out and NITDA can do the same, if they want to. The former excuse used to be about money, but with NITDA Act’s provision (signed into law by the president as far back as April 24, 2007) for a National Information Technology Development Fund (NITDEF), let’s hope NITDA turns a new (good) leaf. NITDEF is a tax-deductible levy of 1% of profit before tax to be paid by telcos, ISPs, pension managers, banks and insurance companies with annual turnover of N100 million and above.

Back to NCC and data, the June 2012 data for telecom subscribers shows a continuation of growth for GSM companies but decline for CDMA service providers – and near-death decline for Fixed (Wired/Wireless) service providers. That’s why the announcement of a merger between Multi-Links, MTS and Starcomms didn’t come as a surprise to industry watchers. We wish CAPCOM all the best with the $200 million from core investors. With a teledensity of 73.12, there is the temptation to assume that Nigeria’s telecom sector will soon inch closer to saturation but that isn’t the case. With a popular multiple phone ownership culture in Nigeria (a step that was taken to make up for the poor quality of service from providers but has since gained status symbol), the real teledensity would be better calculated per user – and not per SIM card. Thankfully, the recently concluded SIM registration exercise will throw up the accurate number of users (telecom subscribers) in Nigeria, and we can have a more realistic teledensity. I won’t be surprised if it’s closer to 40 than the current 73.12.

From the June 2012 data released by NCC on their website, Nigeria had 136,041,999 connected and 102,369,999 active (used in the last 3 months) phone lines as at June 30, 2012. Of these, there are 133,715,146 connected mobile lines and 2,326,853 connected Fixed lines. 101,855,094 or 76.17% of the connected mobile lines are active while only 514,905 (or 22.13%) of the connected Fixed lines are active. When you break mobile down into GSM and CDMA, it’s easier to see that while 81.66% of GSM lines are active, only 26.57% of CDMA lines are active.

Compared to the previous month (May 2012), month-on-month growth for the various telecom services shows a trend that industry watchers have seen over the past few months. Connected GSM lines grew by 1.29%, connected CDMA lines grew by 0.91% and connected Fixed (Wired/Wireless) lines grew by 0.07%. The total number of telephone lines in Nigeria grew by 1.19% for the period. The numbers for active lines paint a better picture: GSM grew by 0.78% month-on-month, CDMA recorded -4.75% (~5% drop is a whole lot; no pressures, CAPCOM), Fixed (Wired/Wireless) takes a -5.17% hit but the total number of active phone lines in Nigeria increased by 0.55% in June 2012. GSM service providers increased capacity by 4.37% while CDMA and Fixed (Wired/Wireless) didn’t bother.

I took a good look at the industry players to see what market share looked like as at June 2012. For the Fixed (Wired/Wireless) segment of the market, does it surprise you that only 58,750 Nigerians use NITEL lines? Before you call NITEL the worst, note that some 80 people use WiTEL (pray, tell). Of the 16 Fixed (Wired/Wireless) service providers, Starcomms is the market segment leader with 191,816 lines (37.25% market share) even though they suffered a huge decline of -26.19% between Quarter 1 (Q1) and Quarter 2 (Q2) of 2012. Visaphone, which controls only 5.21% of the market segment, and is only 6th in terms of market share, recorded a much higher quarter-on-quarter growth with 4.72%. The industry segment bronze medalist, 21st Century Technologies, with a 13.75% market share grew by 0.96% within the same period. The new player, CAPCOM, now controls 55.17% of the Fixed market (based on June 2012 numbers) with 284,082 active lines managed by the merged Starcomms (industry segment #1), Multilinks Telkom (#2) and MTS Ist Communications (#7).

In the CDMA segment of Nigeria’s telecom market, Visaphone rules (well, as at June 2012) with an impressive 68.56% market share. However, they were not immune to industry decline as at end June 2012 as they lost 2.72% (quarter-on-quarter) of their active subscribers. Multilinks and Starcomms, now part of the new CAPCOM (which seeks to become Nigeria’s biggest retail broadband operator) controlled 14.87% and 13.44%, respectively, of the market. Starcomms lost 34.45% of subscribers between Q1 and Q2 2012 while Multilinks lost 22.7%. The 4th player, Reliance Telecoms (Zoom) controls only 3.14% of the market and lost none of their 111,077 subscribers between Q1 and Q2 2012.

In the GSM corner of the Nigerian telecom ring, MTN continues to lead with 43.93% market share (as at June 2012) and they improved subscriber base by 0.67% between Q1 and Q2 2012. Globacom grew their number of subscribers by 5.47% during the same period and has a market share of 22.36%. Airtel grew subscriber base by 6.56% and is number 3 with 20.16%. Though Etisalat holds only 13.29% of the market, their continued strong growth may worry earlier entrants. Between Q1 and Q2 2012, Etisalat recorded an impressive 9.52% growth. There are not many Nigerians that have active MTEL SIMs (258,520 did as at June 2012), so the only industry segment loss of -0.26% by MTEL doesn’t come as a surprise.


This piece has been featured in Technology Times, TechLoy and OTekBits.
Images and data courtesy of Nigerian Communications Commission

Vacancy: Content Managers

A fast-growing Nigerian Internet Portal is looking for talented content managers.

Does the following describe you?
– Age: Between 20 and 27
– Experienced Internet user
– Experience of working with desktop software (MS Windows, Internet browsers, MS Office, Image editors)
– Basic knowledge of HTML
– 2+ years work experience with computer
– Good writing skills (English)
And… a strong desire to be a part of something new, exciting, and super-fast!

Working conditions:
– Working in Lagos office or from home (good Internet connections is required)
– Salary NGN 50,000 per month
– Flexible schedule
– Immediate resumption

Contact @gbengasesan for application details.

Internet Speed: Global Download Study


Nigeria: 104KBps

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria currently has a broadband penetration rate of 7%. The NCC is working with the Ministry of Communication Technology and stakeholders to grow this to 35% by 2017. With 47,143,356 Internet users as at the end of 2011, 28.43% of Nigerians have access to the Internet (ITU data). That makes Nigeria the leading African country in terms of the number of Internet users and 10th globally.

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I Remember Ojota!

Few days after Ojota was overtaken by military men whose deployment will remain a mystery, as with some things Nigerian, I returned to breathe in the air. As I alighted from the car, a friendly voice said, “be careful sir,” but I wasn’t looking for trouble and it was bright enough for me to avoid any surprise. I walked into the Gani Fawehinmi Park while the new guards of the historic square kept busy few meters away.

Climbing to the summit where Gani Fawehinmi’s statue overlooks the park – which will remain a Freedom Park regardless of how smart history editors are – I felt the rush of emotions as my mind replayed how Nigerians disproved the twin theories of resilience and disunity. I posted a tweet and walked away, to join a meeting that was convened to discuss how Nigerians must seize the moment.

Ojota got the most attention during the January 2012 #OccupyNigeria protests because of the unbelievable numbers that grew inside and around the square each day but anyone who had the rare opportunity of joining more than one protest would understand when I say that the principle of organised chaos was at play. Don’t believe a lie, it wasn’t a group of elite young people who wanted to take over, or a group of political tools; it was indeed an expression of disgust at years of misrule.

I attended Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, so I am no stranger to protests. Anyone who joins protests knows that things don’t need much to get ugly. Throw in the sheer size of the crowd at Ojota and the continuum of inclination, and you’ll appreciate how everyone came armed with the same weapon – anger. For some reason, the anger wasn’t abused, and the police(wo)men who stood guard will tell you about the conversations and supply of cold drinks to help quench the common thirst.

Ojota was different. First, there was the multiplication of information. Pockets of people gathered to discuss the real issues. While Abuja kept trying its best to wrap the protests in unfair political colours, true citizens continued to discuss the ignorance and wickedness of a government that was bent on deceiving citizens through misinformation. Now we all know that over N2.6 trillion was spent on fuel subsidies in 2011, even though the lies started at N1.2 (more than 50% discount on the truth). There were also the leaflets and endless drama – all revealing a new level of awareness by citizens.

Then, there was the meeting between social media and street movements. What started with online rants moved on to the streets; a total departure from what the pundits had predicted. There was the popular exchange of tweets that started with few people asking where to meet at Abule Egba and ended up with crowds catching up with each other until about 2,000 people arrived at Ojota to join the protest. Tweets also ended up on placards; who can forget the N1 million for breakfast, N1 million for lunch and N1 million for dinner placard that brought tweets about the Presidency’s almost N1 billion meals’ budget to life.

The media machinery was at its best, as if to announce to New Media channels that it was also alive and in active duty. Outside Broadcasting (OB) vans dotted the Ojota landscape and one of them beamed live images to citizens who could – or would – not join others in Ojota, or anywhere else. I took advantage of these vans to capture pictures (,,,, and videos (,, that will remain exhibits of how people put to rest the oft-repeated lie that Nigerians would never stay on the streets for too long.

Sadly, people died. They shouldn’t have. I remember a chat with a member of this government that had me raising my voice as if to inform him of what he wasn’t aware of. Many episodes of probe drama and committees later, the lives that were lost cannot be reversed. For a nation whose president is quick to respond to mere inclusion on a coveted list but slow to comment when lives are lost in their numbers, there is the fear that human life is not very high on our list of valuables. But then, one hopes that the depth of our humanity will not be lost to the shallowness of abandoned hope.

At the many Ojotas across Nigeria, hands were joined in solidarity. Ojota was the new facebook as old friends ran into each other and people spent hours on the same site. Anyone who heard the huge crowd sing the national anthem would be a proud Nigerian. The hovering helicopter, which many assumed was a property of the state, also attracted waves of united uproar. The solidarity was probably one of the reasons why the numbers grew; each person returned, strengthened by the beauty of unity.

Each day, as news filtered in about possible compromise by the Labour Union, voices were raised as if to say the negotiations had only one option – outright reversal. Of course, negotiations always have trade-offs. How the discussions between government and the Labour Union ended was shrouded in so much drama, and public outcry was scary. Thankfully, threats against the leaders of the union died natural deaths, though there are talks of the bigger threats – by the State – that brought them to their knees. One day, an insider will write a book about the negotiations. Hopefully, it won’t be one of the history-bending books that Nigerians are forced to accept as accurate representation of history.

Hmmm, some scary things happened online. Who would have thought that the private mobile numbers of hyper-protected public officials could be freely available for retweets? And the false reports too – those recycled pictures, Blackberry broadcasts, forwarded eMails and text messages that only sought to take advantage of uncertainties. As social media channels were used to share information, organise crowds and report activities, they were also available for propaganda from both sides of the divide. After all, social media is just a tool, and it doesn’t take sides.

The same social media channels announced the arrival of the military on the streets of Lagos. Many people trusted a democratically elected government not to desecrate the beauty of people’s rightful protests but Abuja would have none of that. Security excuses were given, leading one to wonder why the same sense of urgency was not applied during earlier incidents that saw the loss of lives in Northern states of Nigeria. Pictures of stern-looking troops took over social media as some of us made our way towards Ojota on Monday, January 16, 2012. Even policemen complained, as one of them asked, “na war we dey fight?”

On Tuesday, January 17, as Temi and I took some time off to celebrate our wedding anniversary and her birthday, we couldn’t help thinking about the events of the days just before the 17th. Nigeria came to a standstill. Many were upset that issues such as Boko Haram’s continued attacks were not met with as much anger as Abuja’s rude hand that touched pockets but I am of the opinion that many factors – including insecurity, government waste (which still continues) and government’s insensitive lie about fuel subsidies – led to the commencement of the protests.

There were many people who came to Ojota because they wanted N65 or nothing, but there were tens of thousands who could afford any pump price increase but hoped Nigeria could use the reset button to correct the errors of Abuja, especially around the cost of government. There were as many reasons as people at Ojota, but the direction of the various shades of anger was clear. Have we learnt from the experience? History will judge. But memories linger.

Each time I use the Ojota route and see the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park again, I remember the days when freedom came calling. Democracy is work in progress, and freedom is not a static destination. In fact, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. One freedom-to-express after another, the unfair relationship between the governed and the governing will get better as citizens learn to go to the polls with their eyes open and senses intact. I remember Ojota, with pride.


This piece appeared in the July edition of Y! Magazine.

Digital Evidence and Signature Now Admissible in Nigeria

In a series of tweets earlier today, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) focused on the new provision for the admissibility of digital evidence and signature in Nigerian courts, and more. Read them below. Follow @pinigeria and let’s get the conversation going.