On Tuesday 7 December Equinix Inc. the world’s digital infrastructure company, expanded into Africa by acquiring MainOne, a West African data centre and connectivity solutions provider, with a presence in Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire for $320 million. While it is Equinix first investment in Africa, it Funke Opeke’s last laugh on an idea many people thought was crazy in the beginning.
Born in 1961 to father Lawrence Kayode Opeke who was the first Nigerian Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, and her mother, a retired teacher who headed several catholic private schools, Olufunke Olayemi Opeke grew up in Ibadan the capital of Oyo state although she is a native of Ile- Oluji, Ondo state in Nigeria.
Opeke finished her secondary school at Queens School Ibadan, Oyo state, and obtained a Bachelor’s and master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University and Columbia University respectively. She often talks about being the only female student in her engineering classes which is not far from the truth as it is in many Nigerian universities where the engineering faculty is dominated by men.
She began her career in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the United States as an executive director with Verizon Communications’ wholesale division in New York City after graduating from Columbia University.
After 20 years working in U.S. telecoms, Funke Opeke returned to Nigeria in 2005 to take on the role of Chief Technology Officer of MTN Nigeria.
When she noticed the low internet connectivity in Nigeria, creating a solution seemed unachievable and too ambitious, but not for Opeke as she turned her engineer’s eye towards the ocean, raised $240 million in funding, and laid 4,400 miles of fiber optic cable from Nigeria to Portugal and started what we all know today as MainOne, West Africa’s leading communications services, and network solutions provider.
This brought in big business as it created an estimated 800+ business-to-business customers, including major international technology enterprises, social media companies, global telecommunications operators, financial service companies, and cloud service providers.
Nigeria’s Internet presence, which was long mostly linked with scams, is now a thriving place for foreign commercial opportunities, thanks to Opeke.
The MainOne Chief was named one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech by Forbes in 2018 for her efforts in sparking internet adoption and was also recently named one of the Top 10 Women to Watch in the Data Center Industry by Data Centre Magazine.
She credits Fola Adeola, founder of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) as a mentor being the first person she met with her idea of MainOne and has supported her ever since even though he initially thought she was overly 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.
“I am not overly sensitive, I just do what needs to get done. I cannot apologize for being a woman, it is who I am,”- Funke Opeke.