The Role of Funke Opeke in Nigeria’s Digital Economy Rebirth

The Role of Funke Opeke in Nigeria’s Digital Economy Rebirth

Her last name ‘Opeke’ struck my interest. Who bears such a name? A name only used to describe a damsel, with so much beauty and brains? Then I made my findings.

What I found about this woman of substance, amused me. In 2018, Funke Opeke made the Forbes List of World’s Top 50 Women. She was aged 59, then. Forbes Magazine wrote “After 20 years working in U.S. telecoms, Funke Opeke returned to her native Nigeria and commenced correcting that country’s connectivity problems. The former Verizon executive joined public telecoms company NITEL and learned satellites were just part of the problem.

So, in 2008, she turned her engineer’s eye towards the ocean, raised $240 million in funding and laid 7,000 miles of fibre optic cable from Nigeria to Portugal. Big business quickly followed. Online banking, booking services and retail websites helped build what is now Africa’s biggest economy. Nigeria’s Internet presence, once associated mostly with scams, is now a growing space for international business opportunities. It’s a change for which Opeke is often credited”.

Funke Opeke can best be described as a quiet achiever, a woman who has made an indelible mark, doing business in a male-dominated industry, with no dint of blemish to her name.

She describes herself as an overtly sensitive person, who just does what needs to get done. I grew to like her and she became one of my favourite Women of splendour, Nigeria has ever produced.

The second I read about her, a lightbulb went off in my head and I felt as though she was one of the first people to really achieve her kind of feat and to accurately toe the line in which she has dreamt of.

After years of working with MTN, Nitel and Transcorp, Funke Opeke felt there was a need to stand-out and provide what others are lacking. Moving back to Nigeria, Opeke started MainOne in 2008, when she noticed the low internet connectivity in Nigeria. MainOne is West Africa’s services and network solutions provider. The West Africa’s first privately owned, open access 7,000-kilometer undersea high capacity cable submarine stretching from Portugal to West Africa with landings along the route in Accra (Ghana), Dakar (Senegal) in 2019, Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) in 2019 and Lagos (Nigeria).

Her desire to add value to her home country birthed Africa’s biggest cable company. After pledging all her savings, facing more challenges of raising capital for the start-up cable business, carrying out in-depth foundational works, feasibility studies, business plans, and technical plans, Main One Cable Company became more tangible. In 2015, her company started operations of MDXi reputed to be Nigeria’s largest Tier III Data Center, also extending a submarine cable from Lagos into Cameroon. Her achievements are a source of inspiration to many. Funke is the inventor of Mainstreet Technologies, the developers of MainOne cable, a leading provider of network solutions in West Africa.

Her achievement has brought her to the lime-light, made her a role model to many academically, career-wise and basically every other aspect of life. She has taught women-folks never to feel overlooked in their choice of career.
An Alumus of Queens School, Apata-Ganga, Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria, which has equally produced sterling achievers like herself, Opeke apparently grew up in the city with brown roofs, under the strict supervision of a Father, who was the first Nigerian Director at Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, CRIN and a Mother, who was a Teacher.

Funke Opeke is a native of Ile- Oluji, Ondo state, and was born into a family of 9. In addition to being the first indegineous Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, her father, late Professor Chief L.K.Opeke, won the World Cocoa Gold Merit Award. He was one of the directors of Cocoa Industries Ltd, one of the major companies in Nigeria in the 80s. He was also a member of the first Senate of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo state where he was the Dean, School of Agriculture & Agricultural Technology. Her mother, a retired teacher, headed several Catholic private schools. An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you would say. Their tutelage must have moulded her into who she is today and prepared her life for the tasks ahead in life.

Opeke obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria and Columbia University, New York respectively. After she graduated from Columbia University, she followed with a career in ICT in the United States as an executive director with the wholesale division of Verizon Communications in New York City. In 2005, she joined MTN Nigeria as Chief Technical Officer (CTO). Thereafter, she served as adviser at Transcorp and Chief Operating Officer of NITEL for a brief period.

Prior to her return, Ms. Opeke was the Executive Director of Verizon Communications Wholesale Division. She played a huge role in the acquisition of NITEL by Transcorp, as she was the one who advised Transcorp on the acquisition of NITEL and briefly served as the interim Chief Operating Officer, post-acquisition of NITEL.

Being a woman, thriving in a predominantly man’s world, Opeke once said, “I cannot apologize for being a woman, it is who I am”. Being the only female in her undergraduate engineering class prepared her for this”.

Ms. Opeke named Fola Adeola– the founder of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and chairman of MainOne – as one of her mentors. He was the first person she met with her idea of MainOne and has supported her ever since even though he initially thought she was too ambitious in terms of what she was setting out to do. According to Ms. Opeke, Fola Adeola’s support gave credibility to the MainOne brand at its inception.

Olamide Adeniji is a member of the Editorial Board of TheScript Newspaper