Being a product manager at a fintech company means two things to Sodiq Idowu: endless strategic meetings with different teams to create value for the business and its customers, and dealing with the troubles of working from the most stressful city in Africa, Lagos.
Sodiq has lived all his life in Lagos, yet he finds the city troubling. For the engineering graduate who secured his job in his final year in the university, commuting from Epe on the outskirts of Lagos – where he schooled – to his workplace on the Island was particularly challenging, as he had to spend productive hours stuck in traffic, a daily ritual for most Lagosians — albeit with consequences.
As he puts it, “Tech bro-ing in Lagos is a struggle”.
Lagos loves tech
Lagos, thanks to its seeming potential and the many opportunities it offers, is no doubt the hub for technology in Nigeria and Africa. The old neighbourhood of Yaba, for instance, takes pride in midwifing many success stories in the Nigerian tech space.
Think of a listed company like Jumia, Africa’s largest e-commerce company and Paystack, the fintech acquired for a reported $200 million by U.S. payments giant Stripe. They were launched in Lagos within the past 2 decades.
Even, Africa’s leading payment technology company, Flutterwave runs its operations from Lagos.
But, Lagos, for all the good things we can say about it, is chaotic.
Notorious for its endless traffic jams and growing large population, Nigeria’s commercial centre is ranked the second-worst city to live in the world, just a little above Syria’s war-torn capital, Damascus. A study puts Lagos on the long list of cities exposed to extreme heat due to climate change.
So, it is hardly surprising that for tech bros, living and working in Lagos comes with a lot of problems.
Lagos is synonymous with traffic congestion.
Every day, Lagosians hit the roads as early as 4 A.M not because they don’t enjoy their sleep, but because it is what the city demands, due to its sweltering traffic jams.
Not only do commuters get to endure longer hours on the road before getting to their destination, but they also get to deal with the effects on their mental and physical health.
Tech bros aren’t immune to this daily struggle. Saheed Ibrahim, a software developer, works hybrid, meaning he has to go to work twice in a week. What is supposed to be a 30-minute journey from his Gbagada residence to his workplace at Victoria Island sometimes morphs into one of two hours, thereby affecting his productivity at work.
According to a 2018 report, Lagosians spend an average of 30 hours a week in traffic. The situation is grimmer because traffic congestion causes air pollution which exposes commuters to several health risks. And this study showed that spending hellish hours in the bus also results in a physical breakdown, mental stress and psychological effects.
“Living in Lagos is like living in bondage. Every fresh day comes with its own fresh troubles. The two times I go to work, I start my day by fighting for a space on the bus, then staying in traffic again. By the time I get to work, I am already tired and mentally checked out,” Ibrahim lamented.
Battered social life
If there is anything all tech bros would agree on, it has to be the demanding nature of their job. Though the tech ecosystem pride itself in offering great pay, flexible work condition and other perks, workers still have to face the pressure to work long hours, be consistently productive, and meet urgent deadlines.
These, of course, affect their social life, causing loneliness and relationship struggles.
For Kazeem Oladimeji, a full-time system analyst, his job demands that he works every day including weekends, forcing him to carry his laptop everywhere he goes.
“Because of my job, I haven’t had time to be my extroverted self [no more outings and parties like before]. In fact, I have been postponing my visit to my mum, and we both live in the same Lagos. I used to have a bestie but we haven’t bestied ourselves in a while,” he said of his situation.
Ayo Olosunde, a software engineer, says his romantic relationship is up and running, only because of his partner who understands the rigours of his job and the fact that he might not be the regular dotting boyfriend.
But Zipa, a brand/product manager, believes that despite the long work hours, striking a balance between work and personal/social life is one skill every tech bro should learn, adding that “time management and the power of delegation are important”.
Expensive living and bills
Kazeem says he spends about 21% of his monthly income on transportation alone, adding that by the time he makes the deduction of all expenses he incurred in the month, he’s left with a meagre 11% to himself.
However, his plight isn’t surprising. Lagos is ranked as the second most expensive city in Africa to live in, and among the top 20 globally.
The recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that the inflation rate in Nigeria hit over 20% in August, the highest figure since 2005. With inflation comes a high cost of living usually reflected in the soaring prices of food items, energy, transport and other household consumables. And when you add the rapidly increasing cost of accommodation in a densely populated city like Lagos, what you get is a sad situation.
“No matter how much you earn, you spend a large chunk of your income just to meet your basic. Not to talk of bills. Earn more, spend more,” a visibly frustrated Ibrahim told Technext.
Working in darkness
“Asides from government regulations, one of the biggest problems for Nigeria’s growing tech sector is electricity,” says Yusuf Balogun, a programme manager at a startup that trains exceptionally talented Africans in globally viable tech skills.
He isn’t wrong. In August, electricity workers shut down the national grid to press home their demands to the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), throwing the nation into darkness. Though the federal government intervened and had power restored, the power outage already took a huge toll on Nigerians – including tech bros.
“Whenever there is a power outage, I switch on my generating set so I can get back to work. Getting fuel, of course, amounts to additional expenses every month, but I have no other option. I can’t work in darkness, after all”, Sodiq, who now works remotely, told Technext.
‘We are not Yahoo Boys’
Chances are that every tech bro working in Lagos has had an encounter with men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the now-disbanded police unit which is notorious for profiling young people as internet fraudsters better known as Yahoo Boys.
Owning an iPhone or MacBook – gadgets commonly used by tech bros – automatically makes any tech-savvy young person a suspect.
Angered by the brutality and extortion of these rogue policemen, Nigerian youths took to the streets of major cities as well as the diaspora to demand the end of SARS, in what culminated in the #EndSARS movement.
But, not only policemen misconstrue tech bros with internet fraudsters.
When Bayo Ayinde (not real name), a product designer at a U.S.-based blockchain company, wanted to secure an apartment with two of his friends in one of the highbrow areas in Lagos, he thought it would be a straightforward process. Instead, it turned out to be challenging.
To his shock, the landlord — upon hearing that the potential tenants were tech bros — asked the trio to sign a ridiculous agreement to prove that they aren’t internet fraudsters. Recall in June, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) declared that landlords may risk 15 years in jail for renting houses out to Yahoo Boys.
Femi, a mobile software engineer at a payment solutions company, shares a similar experience. He recalled that his landlord had to go to his workplace to verify his claims that he wasn’t involved in an illegal venture since he doesn’t go to work every day, like regular 9-5 workers.
“It was really a bad experience for me. For someone to think of me in that manner (as an internet fraudster) was a hard pill to swallow. He (the landlord) didn’t say it explicitly, but I knew what he meant. More so, I never experienced such until I came to Lagos,” he said.
Remote work to the rescue
The tech bros Technext spoke to either work hybrid or fully remote — an arrangement, they said, offers flexibility. Working from home became a thing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which transformed the global work culture.
And, according to experts, the demand for remote work is on the rise.
Balogun noted that remote work reduces the incidents of police harassment and having to endure the traffic gridlocks that define Lagos.
But unlike his counterparts in the tech space, Joshua Uche (not real name), a frontend developer, believes that while the idea of working from home is appealing, it however results in mental health issues such as burnout, stress and feelings of isolation.
“Asides from the stress of waking up early to get to work early, the opportunity to interact with your colleagues at work other than your laptop is something I enjoy, being an introvert. The hours I spend on the bus to and fro to work [plus the many things I get to see on the road] help me stay calm,” he said.
As Lagos remains a major driver of technology on the continent, tech bros still have to deal with the multitude of problems of the ever-bustling city, resulting in tech talents leaving Lagos for other states in Nigeria, and even the country.
The big question, however, lies in the possibility of the tech ecosystem surviving outside its hub.
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