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Five students’ groups won a cumulative $12,000 from Tech Challenge Ogun, a technology innovation competition organised by the Ogun State government in 2018.

However, four years after the winners were made to smile to the cameras, holding dummy cheques of their prizes, they are yet to receive the cash.

Michael Blaise did not sleep for several nights leading to 6 and 7 September, 2018 after Tech Challenge Ogun, a platform for competition on technology innovation, selected his team and nine others from a pool of over 60 applications to compete for a $5,000 grant.

Therefore, to perfect their idea, pitch and prepare for the presentation to the judges, Mr Blaise and his team worked all night. Members of the team, including Kingsley Amaechi and Owoloabi Damilola, are 100 level students of Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED).

Mr Blaise’s love for tech made him frequent the TASUED Tertiary Institution (TTI) Hub, where he learnt computer programming alongside other tech enthusiasts. It was at the hub that he heard about the Tech Challenge Ogun. Sheriff Onanuga, the head of TTI Hub, tasked students at the hub – including Mr Blaise – to come up with ideas that solve problems and put in for the challenge.

When Mr Blaise pitched ‘Campus Help’, a platform that matches skilled students with persons who require their services, the mostly-senior students at the TTI hub thought it was not viable. So, they presented him with another idea – ‘Hello Gas’, a platform where people can order for gas refills and have it delivered to their homes. The precocious Mr Blaise went ahead to pitch both ‘Hello Gas’ and ‘Campus Help,’ but only the latter eventually made the shortlist of the top 10 ideas.

Building Ogun State Tech Space

It was 2018 and Nigeria’s tech eco-system was peaking with indigenous startups raising over $178 million in 166 deals and two-times that amount –$377 million– in 2019. But the bulk of these startups are located in Lagos – a phenomenon that remained up till 2022 with 88 per cent of the country’s startups concentrated there.

After hosting a successful Tech Summit Ogun, sponsored by the state government in January 2018, Verve Tree, a tech hub in Ogun State and organiser of the summit, decided to organise the first ever Tech Challenge in the state. The plan was to develop the capacities of students to develop startups.

Co-founded by Ayoola Olaniyi, the Special Adviser on New Media to former Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, Verve Tree invited applications from students of tertiary institutions in the state to compete for $5,000 for the best startup idea. Mr Olaniyi, who had previously worked in one of Nigeria’s biggest tech hubs, Co-Creation Hub (CC Hub) in Lagos, saw a potential for creating a similar hub in Ogun State to help founders incubate and share ideas.

By August 2018, 10 ideas had been selected from the pool of over 60 pitches – all from students of tertiary institutions in Ogun State, he announced. In September, the 10 teams converged on the Youth Development wing of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, to present their pitches before a panel of judges.

The night before the finals, Mr Blaise recalled typing computer codes throughout the night with his teammate, Mr Kingsley, while the third partner stayed up praying. The next morning, as the team watched others present their pitch, they shivered.

“When it was my turn to present, I was so nervous. It was my first time pitching. I was praying so much that the judge noticed and told me to calm down,” Mr Blaise recalled. “When I was done, I went back to my seat still praying.”

Winners wail

At the end of the event, five winners emerged and Verve Tree announced a cumulative $12,000 USD as the prize for the winners.

Smart Teller, developed by Ogunwande Oluwole, a student of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) was the overall winner with a $5,000 prize. Farmers Pride, developed by Godsstar Azamuzie, a student of Covenant University, got $3,000 as first runner-up, while Abdulahi Monsuru won $2,000 with Health.ng as the second runner-up.

Ebubechi Ezenwanne, another student of Covenant University, emerged the third runner-up with $1,000 and Michael Blaise’s Campus Help emerged as the fourth runner-up, also winning $1,000.

However, four years after the winners smiled to the cameras, holding dummy cheques of the prizes won, three of them confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that they are yet to receive their cash prizes.

Mr Ogunwande, the overall winner, said except for the dummy cheque he took pictures with at the event, he was yet to receive a dime from the organisers.

“It was in the news. We took pictures with a big check but didn’t get anything after,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

Another winner who didn’t want to be named said he waited for the organisers to reach out but they never did. He said he was fed up with telling family and friends he had not received the funds even though they won’t stop asking.

“They (the organisers) said they would contact us immediately concerning the funds since they have our contacts,” the person told PREMIUM TIMES. “We reached out to them numerous times. At a point another group chat was created, still nothing came out of it.”

Before Mr Blaise gave up, he sent multiple messages to Verve Tree Hub’s Twitter account but got no response. The Twitter account is currently suspended. “Now, I’ve lost hope. I have moved on,” he said.

Organisers speak

When PREMIUM TIMES approached Mr Olaniyi, he said the cash prizes were supposed to be disbursed by the state government but the government never did. Even though in government, Mr Ayoola said he reached out multiple times to get the funds but his efforts never materialised.

“The state government was supposed to be the one to pay and we tried back and forth writing but at some point I lost hope. Every other thing that was supposed to happen came from our own part (Verve Tree Hub),” he said in a telephone conversation.

Both the Chief Press Secretary to the current Governor of Ogun State, Kunle Somorin, and Special Adviser on ICT, Dayo Abiodun, said they were unaware of any such partnership with the government.

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