Code Plateau’s Ponfa Miri explains why the Northern state will become a go-to place for tech talent in Africa

Ganiu Oloruntade
For this instalment of Policy and Tech, we spoke with Ponfa Miri, Code Plateau’s Project Manager, about the program, its impact on the emerging tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria, and the future of tech in Plateau.

In 2019, uLesson, an Edtech startup, established its office in Jos, the Plateau state capital. The startup’s founder Sim Shagaya said he chose the city to avoid the stress and traffic of Lagos, Nigeria’s primary tech hub.

Before then, Plateau, the twelfth-largest Nigerian state and the country’s “Home of Peace and Tourism”, was known for many things but rarely about tech. In 2015, nHub — the first technology centre in Northern Nigeria — was founded in Jos.

Though uLesson would later move its operations to Abuja, the federal capital city, its presence in Jos had already shown the potential of the emerging tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria. In 2019, the Plateau State Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (PICTDA) launched Code Plateau, an 8-month full-time immersive boot camp designed for young people who want to kickstart a career in tech.

For this instalment of our Policy and Tech series, we spoke with Ponfa Miri, Code Plateau’s Project Manager, about what the program is doing differently, its impact on the emerging tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria, the future of tech in Plateau, among other issues.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What thinking led to the creation of Code Plateau?

The PICTDA DG initiated Code Plateau to empower young people with relevant tech skills. As the sole technology agency in Plateau State, we saw the need to ensure that young people are empowered with digital skills that will make them eligible for employment in the tech space.

The program started in August 2019 and had its first cohort that same year. But it didn’t hold in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first cohort, we test-ran the idea of an eight-month BootCamp. Later in 2021, when we started the second cohort, we decided to redefine the program to become more like a hackathon. We also reduced the initial eight months to three months to make it more intensive and educational. The tech skills we currently train on include data science, software engineering, digital marketing, blockchain technology, and UI/UX.

Code Plateau
Image Source: Code Plateau.

Read also: Tubosun Alake discusses government intervention and challenges of tech in Lagos

How exactly does the program work?

Code Plateau is presently a fully onsite program. The steps are simple: interested persons are required to apply, write the entrance exam and go through the verbal interview, and when they pass, they get selected for the onsite training. The Code Plateau campus’s physical facility houses lecture rooms, co-working spaces, offices, restaurants, a games arena, and relaxation spots.

We currently don’t offer virtual courses, but we are considering introducing online programs moving forward.

Based on our data, we have successfully trained about 1,800 young people across four cohorts. By the time we are done with the fifth cohort, the number will be over 2,000. We don’t have a specific number of participants per cohort because our acceptance rate depends on the number of people who pass the entry exam. One basic criterion we also consider is the possession of a laptop.

After the completion of the training, what happens to the participants?

As I said earlier, we reduced the duration of the boot camp from eight months to three months. There is an additional three months for internships. Most of our participants that are placed on internships get retained at their places of work. Moving forward, we are entering a partnership with organizations in the Nigerian tech ecosystem to get more opportunities for our participants.

Ponfa Miri. Image Source: Code Plateau.
What would you say is Code Plateau’s place in the emerging tech ecosystem in Northern Nigeria?

Plateau was the first state in Nigeria to establish a state-owned technology agency. In fact, Kaduna State emulated the PICTDA model. So Plateau is at the centre of the conversation around the Northern tech ecosystem. Code Plateau, in particular, has evolved over the years, and we have seen a high level of interest in our projects. We plan to partner with private players in the tech space to explore fields like NFTs, Web3, and blockchain technology.  

How is Code Plateau addressing the talent gap in the Nigerian tech ecosystem?

We are doing our best to address the talent gap in the Nigerian tech ecosystem, and our massive admission of young people into our program is a pointer to that. Some of our participants come with zero tech knowledge, and we provide them with the relevant skills and resources they need to secure opportunities in the tech space.

Knowing fully well the digital gender divide in the tech space, about 5 to 10 per cent of our participants are women because there is still low interest in tech from the female gender. Since the inception of our program, we have always considered the male-to-female ratio, and we have seen a huge improvement from where we started.

We also co-host and partner with the Yenbyen Fellowship to train only women in different tech courses. This year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day also recognizes the place of technology and innovation in creating opportunities for women.

Code Plateau Facility. Image Source: Code Plateau.
Why should any founder set up operations in Plateau State?

Our environment is very conducive, and the cost of living is very cheap here compared to places like Lagos or Abuja. Plateau is home for all, and our ecosystem here is youth-friendly.

Jos, the state capital, is the home of creativity in Africa. It will interest you that we have seen several young people come from Lagos and Abuja to be part of Code Plateau.

Read also: Temi Kolawole, MD Ilorin Innovation Hub says Kwara is the tech ecosystem to watch out for

How is the Plateau state government supporting startups?

Last year, we began to review some of the policies of PICTDA at an event organized by GIZ, the German development agency. It brought together all the tech companies in Plateau State, MDAs, and international organizations to deliberate on which areas of policies needed to be reworked.

The idea was to find ways of integrating startups and see how the state government could be an enabler. During that period, the Nigeria Startup Act was passed into law. Plateau State has already considered domesticating the Act. But no working document currently states what the state government is doing for the tech ecosystem. However, there are plans to address this.

How would you describe the future of the tech ecosystem in Plateau State?

Plateau will become a go-to place for tech talent in Africa because we have many young people who are acquiring tech skills. At Code Plateau, the idea for us is to attract innovation partners who can help plug young people into securing tech roles on a global scale.

With the bunch of tech talent in Plateau, I’m confident that we will attract investors and foreign firms to come here and set up outsourcing centres for young people. The future is very bright because quite a number of structures are being put in place to support the tech ecosystem.

Image Source: Code Plateau.

Read also: “We have no intention to establish new powers” -NITDA’s Yakubu Musa speaks on how the regulator is enabling the Nigerian tech ecosystem

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