Yes, developmental gaps remain very huge, despite the abundance of human and natural resources, Nigeria is blessed with. So many factors, including poor leadership, mismanagement, corruption, nepotism, are responsible for this lacuna in the country’s growth.
Many of these identified challenges have continued to plague the economy as a whole, with none of the sector’s spared. Despite this, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has remained relatively stable.
IT is not yet uhuru for the ICT sector, as it still has many grounds uncovered. Today, Nigeria still has deep access gaps, where some 25 million people have no access to any form of telephony services. However, through regulatory interventions and policies, the sector opened up, where some 289 million lines have been connected, of which 199 million are active. This is a quantum leap from the meagre 400,000 lines offered by the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) between 1985, when it was established and 2001, shortly before the telecommunications revolution that birthed GSM operators including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and 9Mobile.
It is interesting to note that while many sectors of the economy have been battered as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria’s telecommunications and information services sector remains upbeat as an enabler of economic growth, with N2.3 trillion or 14.30 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
In 2015, telecoms contribution to GDP stood at eight per cent, and has grown significantly quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year, to reach the current milestone of contributing 14.30 per cent to GDP in the Q2, 2020.
Today, it could also be said that the online space has provided opportunities for many Nigerians to do businesses. The Nigerian Communications Commission’s (NCC) statistics showed that 147 million Nigerians are on the Internet. It must also be mentioned that investment in the sector has neared $80 billion.A consuming nation
However, Nigeria is still largely a consuming nation. Currently, yearly importation of IT solutions used in Nigeria is put at over $2 billion. The country’s hardware sub-sector is 80 per cent foreign-dominated.
The country’s technological prowess is still abysmally low. For instance, on the Global Innovation Index (GII), Nigeria has consistently in the last seven years ranked lowest, and had not fared better even before then. In the 2019 GII, Nigeria ranked 114 out of 129 economies. A year earlier, it ranked 118th.
Nigeria was missing among the innovation achievers in Africa, whereas five countries, which emerged in terms of innovation relative to their level of development, from sub-Saharan Africa included Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar.
The GII study said Africa’s largest economy performed below expectations despite the level of economic development in the country.
The report on innovation ranking noted that Nigeria performed poorly in the areas of political and operational stability, government effectiveness, ease of resolving insolvency, general infrastructure.
Playing low amidst huge capacity
Tracing Nigeria’s development in the tech space, the Chairman, Mobile Software Company, Chris Uwaje, said at a time like this, maturity demands that “we clothe ourselves with the audacity to emit the truth in us. If I were to act as an IT Professor engaged to access and score Nigeria (as an Informatics Student, passing through the tutelage of digital transformation), my score will be 49.1 per cent! Nigeria eminently deserves to have an equitable global rating of above 75 per cent. Reason is not because we can’t attain the 80 per cent score line, but we doggedly refused to apply meritorious strategy to attain the desirable mark as a global contender in the global ICT/Digital Hall of Fame, and ability to create technology wealth, through scientific knowledge adventure.”
He stressed that Nigeria is not yet where it is supposed to be technologically, and cannot realise her earthly mission by placing “physical file carrying job at the top” and technology at the bottom.
Uwaje, a former boss of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), said currently, the country has adequate ICT/Digital Economy policies and objectives. “What is now rapidly required are: first, retooling the national workforce and the education and knowledge administration ecosystem, and ensuring that the Education-Tech sector receives 18 per cent of the national budget.
Secondly, establishment of Knowledge Parks with capacity of 10,000 people per region, for accelerated tech-mastery of research in science, technology, engineering and mathematical entrepreneurship. Thirdly, creating Innovation Hub clusters for the fusion of multi-disciplinary skills for the preparation of 4IR, and the intensity of Artificial Intelligence and Machine to Machine future of work.”
Need to refocus
From his perspective, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the ICT sector has demonstrated tremendous growth over the last three decades, and especially since the liberalisation of the telecoms sector in 2001.
Teniola said various OEMs have deployed many different ICT solutions and from the ubiquitous ATMs to the mobile phone devices, BVN and WiFi equipment. He added that the country is gradually seeing the acceptance of Cloud Computing, Edge Computing, Data Analytics and Data Science with AI into the way and manner people shall live, work and play.
At 60, he said Nigeria is open to many possibilities, and it is a great opportunity to digitally transform its economy in preparation for the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Weighing how well the country’s tech sector has performed thus far, Teniola said that really depends on so many things. “If we are to compare our current progress in the ICT space from 1960 and we pick on the phenomenal growth of the telecoms sector and its contribution to our GDP in 2020, then no one could predict that this sector could contribute more than Oil & Gas over the last three years. It is a testament to the importance that ICT plays in our economy and the unrealised potential of data, information, connectivity and technology to the development of our nation,” he stated.
He also noted that the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-25, and the Nigeria Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, speak a lot to where the country is, and formulate policies and strategies to what needs to be implemented over the next five to 10 years.
According to him, Nigeria needs to focus on executing these in a timely manner to be able to achieve the set targets so that it can meet the SDG 2030 goals already set out.Surmountable challenges
On major challenges facing the sector, Teniola noted that over-reliance and concentration on the Oil & Gas sector has meant that to date innovation and development of the ICT sector has been a low priority for the government, and hence left to foreigners to dominate the sector. This has led to a skills gap in the telecoms sector, and a private sector-led drive that is incoherent in the level of development across the states and local government.
“The financial sector has led in the adoption of ICT after the telecom sector, and there are other sectors that are just beginning to leverage the potential and some that are still yet to understand what they need to do to begin the journey. The government needs to create an enabling environment that supports indigenous companies to become unicorns that creates mass employment and wealth for the unemployed youths,” Teniola noted.
To the Chief Executive Officer, Jidaw Systems, Jide Awe, there have been advances in Nigeria’s tech sector, but there is still a long way to go.
Awe called for more serious and in-depth attention on emerging technologies through education and other critical sectors, adding that to compete and thrive in the 4IR, Nigeria needs to start investing and building capacity in the emerging technologies – academia, research, industry, entrepreneurship, youth and strategies.
According to him, an environment that enables ICT development and innovation is absolutely critical. “Further, the government cannot do it alone. Synergy and collaboration with the private sector, the ICT sector (industry and services), academia, research, civil society and young people is the way forward.
“There must also be synergy within government. ICT’s greatest impact is in the non-ICT sectors. Policies and projects in such sectors should involve sector stakeholders (e.g. farmers and extension workers in agriculture, etc), and also be in line with digital transformation goals of the country,” he stated.
The Jidaw Systems Founder also noted that building the digital economy in terms of growth in digital adoption and application has been significant, while the digital transformation of banking and finance has been notable and impressive – mobile banking, online banking and other fintech solutions are now a reality.