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ICT: Nigeria missed big opportunities for growth, Says Dr. Armstrong Takang

MID-last month, the e-Nigeria summit held in Abuja at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua centre with the theme, National ICT4D: Implications for Vision 20-2020, organized by the National Information technology Development Agency (NITDA). On the sidelines of the summit, Dr Armstrong Takang spoke with CyberLIFE.

Dr. Armstrong Takang, Chairman, National ICT4D Plan Committee

Takang was chairman of the National ICT4D Plan Committee, but runs his own firm, Alteq.ict, where he is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer. With over 15 years of worldwide experience in the provision of ICT consulting, project management and implementation services across multiple industry segments, Takang holds a Ph.D in Computer Science from the University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom. He also possesses a Higher Education Teaching Certificate (HETC) from the same university. In the interview below, Takang opines that we’ve missed some opportunities to use IT to develop. Excerpts:

What are your own estimates of our nation successfully implementing ICT4 Development, given our track records at such such things?

We have a unique opportunity right now to successfully implement the ICT4D, but a number of things have to be in place. The first one is leadership commitment. we also need to ensure that the leadership understands the extent of what is required and also how vital it is to implement all the other national goals and objectives that we have, such as the Vision 20-2020 and the Seven-Point agenda to be able to really position along other nations in the world. We really need to invest efforts and resources and put the right commitment to implement this.

From a wider perspective, what is your view of the entire ICT sector of the Nigerian economy right now?
I would like to make a distinction between IT and telecommunications. Clearly, ICT combines information technology and telecommunications; we actually made tremendous progress in terms of the vibrancy of the industry and the level of activities and number of people who are participating and the amount of money that is being spent in that sector. So, relatively, we have made tremendous progress in the last seven years.

The only bad aspect of it is that a lot of the revenues accruing in that sector are still being exported because the major areas where the money is being spent, which is the equipment and the people are all imported. So, as much as there is a lot of money going around, a significant amount of it is being exported.

In the area of information technology, we have not made much progress as telecoms. In fact, we have made very little progress. The bad aspect of it is that we have missed some great opportunities to take advantage of what has been going on to grow as fast as we have grown in telecommunications.

The good news, though,  is that there is a huge headroom for growth. In other words, if we get our acts together, do the right things, we will make a lot of progress.

Here is an area we stand to benefit a lot more in terms of building capacity, getting a lot more people employed and getting a lot more Nigerians and Nigerian companies to actively participate in that industry. Hopefully, we will be able to generate more revenues for the country.

You mentioned some missed opportunities. Can you be a bit more specific?
Absolutely, one of them is the issue of software development and the use of software to provide services, to automate processes and trying to use it to bring about efficiency, and the use of software to reduce wastage in both private and public sector and in manufacturing. That is one area of opportunity.

The good thing about that is that, there is a lot more dependent upon the human capital — the brain and the number of people involved in it is not less on the capital investment in terms of equipments. It has a lower barrier for entry.

You don’t need much money to get into software industry, as you would going about setting up an assembly plant for hardware. Also, the creativity of Nigerians means that we can do very well, if we have deliberate policy together that will allow us to go after that sector aggressively. Another missed opportunity is services — providing IT and IT-related services for outsourcing.

The ability to provide services where we can leverage on our large population and large number of youths and aggressively go out to the outsourcing market worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

We have indigenous capability in software engineering and development, but why are the local industries not using local software talents and why don’t you people (indigenous software engineers) advertise your work?
Most of us prefer imported products. That is just the bottom line.

Even the person in the village who cannot afford it wants the foreign brand. So, the mentality of people or natural instinct is the problem. That to large extent has affected the passion for locally made software. The second aspect of it is that government itself has to play a major role. We need to begin to protect our own.

The Americans do, the British do it, the Chinese do it. They give priority to their own. They ensure that priority is given to  their own locally made products. So, government need to step up to ensure that it gives priority to its own products. The third aspect of it also is that some of them do not even make effort to try and see if they can learn them.

The banks only learn cash flow. If they are given the basic training on that cash flow very well, they will be able to forecast that cash flow and learn what you are learning against. But when they don’t pay attention on learning the basics, then there is no way they can build capacity.

On advertisement, I agree with you that it has to be done as part of an aggressive programme to build capacity of the companies themselves and individuals so that the products will get the consciousness of the consumers, particularly where consumers are willing to patronise such products.

How do you access the future of this industry, from where we are now?
The future is very bright. There are two parameters. It is a vibrant ICT industry we have in Nigeria and unlikely to die anytime any day soon. The question is that “how ready are we as a nation. How ready are we as an industry, how ready are we as a people to give all that it takes to grow a vibrant industry out of that potential.

Industry that will contribute a significant percentage of our GDP. That is really the question. But if it about potential, they are limitless. The potentials are limitless since 1960 and 50 years after, we are still where we are.

Are we going to continue like this?
No we can’t. Let us be realistic. Don’t forget that in telecommunications, the players are smaller in number but are massive companies with deep pockets. How many GSM companies do we have? These few companies can be used to raise huge capital.

But in the information technology side, we have small and medium scale enterprises. But the aggregate of these smaller players is what is going to make the difference.

Therefore, if Nigeria wants to grow the IT industry, the issue of infrastructure, especially power  has to be addressed. It must also be ready to provide affordable band width to enable more people have access to the services.


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