Otigba has been a powerfully disruptive phenomenon. The market forces in there helped to democratise the sales of technology products in Nigeria. They discovered the power of media advertising early and took the competition from the streets of Ikeja to the newspapers. Listing prices of computer products in the Nigerian dailies had a profound effect on the industry as a whole. The entrepreneurs at Otigba sensed the boom that was coming after cybercafes became ubiquitous in Nigeria and positioned themselves for it. They found cheaper sources for products and the technology industry benefited from it as a whole.
Like the other major markets in Lagos, Computer Village at Ikeja did not just serve Lagos. It was a hub for people looking for products from all over Nigeria. Advertising in the newspapers made that happen, and it is what accelerated the growth of the market.
Otigba is more than the competition. It is also about collaboration and apprenticeship. The purest form of the Igbo apprenticeship model I have witnessed was at the Lagos Computer Village. My friend, the ex-banker, Charles Mezu – who is the founder of Palette computers, decided to remain in Victoria Island to serve the high-end market but his younger brothers gained “Freedom” from him to set up their shops in Ikeja and thrived. These were not ignorant or jobless young men but people with postgraduate degrees from the UK. They discovered the power of aggregation that Otigba created. They had seen that the future of Nigerian technology was not in Victoria Island, it was going to be determined by the market forces at Otigba, and they decided to play a role in it.
The greatest benefit of Otigba to Nigerian technology was in the area of mobile phones and mobile technology. The GSM companies once again lost the monopoly of mobile phone sales to the entrepreneurial traders at Otigba. They not only sold the devices, but they also built a repair industry around it. Companies like SLOT standardised their product and service offering from there and began to scale. Otigba created and shaped them, and in turn, they defined the mobile phone market.
From outside, the chaotic streets of Otigba look like any other commodities market in Lagos, but they are much more. They are pioneers of Nigerian technology. The traders there are the closest to the pulse of the Nigerian technology product consumer, and that is why the Asian technology Majors do not joke with that market. Otigba is the gateway into the mind of the average Nigerian technology product consumer.