• Tech professionals set agenda for 2019
• Call for re-thinking of ICT policy frameworks
By Prince Osuagwu (Hitech Editor)
The Nigeria Information and Communications Technology industry may have fared well in 2018. At least, the statistics say so.
The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu recently claimed that the industry attracted increased Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, from $32 billion in 2015 to $40 billion in 2018.
The number of active telecoms subscribers also increased from 148,70 million in August 2015 to 162.05 million as at September 2018, representing an increase of seven per cent.
Continuing in same positive trajectory, teledensity rose from 107.67 per cent in August 2015 to 115.76 per cent in September 2018, thus recording an increase of 2.47 per cent.
The country also attained and even surpassed the 30 per cent broadband penetration target it set for itself in 2013, hitting 31 per cent at the end of December 2018.
However, despite all the enviable strides, industry practitioners still believe there are loopholes to plug and a disruptive future to contend with.
They imagined that since technology is fast becoming the bedrock that will power new economic growth, gloating on statistics without strong sub-sector supports and a virile advocacy body/environment, would only leave the country with a silo approach, which will be suboptimal to challenge the future.
Looking for ways forward for the ICT industry in 2019 and beyond, enthusiastic industry practitioners including Director- General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, former Chairman, Africa ICT Alliance – AfICTA and CEO, Kontemporary Konsulting, Mr Jimson Olufuye, Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, Secretary, Governing Board, Association of Information and Communications Technology Local Content, ICTLOCA, Mr Adebunmi Akinbo and President of Centre for Cybersecurity Awareness and Development, Dr Bayero Agabi spoke on different ideas that could sustain the giant strides already made and position the country solidly against a looming disruptive future.
Re-thinking advocacy in ICT sector
Founder, Computer Warehouse Group, CWG Plc and the Ausso Leadership Academy, Mr Austin Okere, kick-started the call at the 40th Anniversary of Nigeria Computer Society, NCS recently, when he advocated the re-imagining of the society to align its visions and activities in conformity with global standard of ICT advocacy groups. NCS is the umbrella body for all practising computer professionals in Nigeria.
Okere as the keynote speaker at the event threw a salvo that startled industry stakeholders when he said NCS, may cease to exist in the next 10 years if nothing is done now to re-imagine the society.
According to him: “Just 17 years ago, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85 per cent of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared, and they were bankrupt.
“This may happen to our Association in the next 10 years – even if we don’t see it coming. Kodak was not the only casualty. There were also Sony and Fuji who made tons of money selling cameras and films; especially films. We have always loved our pictures and you can ask Facebook and Instagram what their successful business model is based on.”
Today, the flash of the mobile phone signals a picture, but in those days the photographer just continued flashing away even when he ran out of a film, just to keep the crowd happy. It is rather ironic that the geometric growth in photography was negatively correlated to the fortunes of these photography giants. As we tend more towards a knowledge-based economy led by technology, the fortunes of the NCS seem ironical to be negatively correlated. The issue seems to be an ardent aversion to embracing change and innovation.
When the destructive Polaroid technology was invented to bypass the paper film, these industry leaders ensured its swift death by studiously ignoring the innovation. What they did not see coming were the tech companies who would eat not only their breakfast but also their lunch and dinner as well.
“The likes of Apple and Samsung neither use paper films nor Polaroid paper. With them you just seamlessly click away and take as many pictures as you like, and you can even customize the pictures to look much more beautiful or handsome. Sometimes you have to disrupt yourself to emerge a better and more effective you. We have to learn to unlearn and relearn,” he added.
Okere said that the inevitability of innovation and change is that what worked perfectly many years ago may not work today and certainly not tomorrow.
He also cited the cases of Uber and AirBnB which disrupted the taxi and hotel industries respectively, adding that a more significant disruption is certainly coming by way of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Cognitive Computing.
Apart from realigning the foundation vision of the society to be robust enough to stand the test of the fourth industrial revolution, Okere advised the group to avoid relying on its past glories because things have changed and come to where neither age nor size guarantees relevance. “In those days, we used to say that the big fish will eat the small fish. Today, it is the fast fish that eats the slow fish.”
He said some of the advocacy that could make NCS more relevant would be championing the campaign for Original Equipment Manufacturer, OEM, Partners of local companies to shoulder their own tax burden than leaving it all onto the local partner, even though the major part of the deal goes to the OEM. The local Partner is therefore left with a huge withholding tax burden on his meagre margin and is chronically cash-strapped, leading to anaemic growth if at all.
Another advocacy point could be campaigning for the OEMs to accept their portion of payments in local currency, as currently happens in Kenya; so that the local company is not left alone to bear the exchange risk.
Cybersecurity must be of importance
For President, Centre for Cybersecurity Awareness and Development, CECAD, Dr Bayero Agabi, with the digital economy becoming the main economy, the issue of cyber security and concern for personal data cannot be of less importance.
“Therefore going forward, for nations like Nigeria, cyber security must be of major importance. To ensure a protected and trusted growth of our nation and businesses, drivers of the economy and businesses must humble themselves to unlearn and relearn new skills for driving new enterprises in this new age. For Nigeria specifically, we will recommend a Cyber Security and Innovation Commission to monitor, provide skills and harness talents that will become the cyber warriors of the nation.
“The skills of yesterday have become redundant; literates of yesterday have become today’s digital illiterates while thriving companies of yesterday can no longer compete today. The meaning of this is that we have to reinvent our skills, education and knowledge.
“This is not to say Nigeria is not doing anything but the idea is that we should ensure that data harmonization committee must be funded to complete their work and their recommendations adopted. More so, the Data Privacy Bill should be given accelerated hearing now at National Assembly.
Investing in human capacity/skills
Also responding to what the ICT perspective should be in 2019, DG, Delta state innovation hub, Dr Chris Uwaje said that the only sure way to gain entry into critical ICT-sustainable wealth creation, national security and future survivability, is to invest in people.
Uwaje contended that winner nations in ICT development ecosystem will be those who significantly increase their ICT spend in Infrastructure, R&D, Innovation and Discovery.
World Bank report 2017-18 shows that Nigeria is in gross deficit in ICT investment in skills development in the IT/Software Ecosystem. This leads to the miniaturized structure, capability and capacity of Nigerian ICT firms – especially the Software Sector and makes them grossly inadequate and under par.
Advising the government on how to harness ICT potential in 2019, he said: “Going forward, two critical things become imperative: Declare a state of emergency on ICT and show strong political will by establishing the office of the IT/ICT-General of the Federation with mandate to focus on Software technology development. This will incorporate the creation of a standard e-Government academy to retool the civil service and critical National workforce.
“Again, establish a brain-gain diaspora enclave, an innovation and discovery tech village lab, with capacity to house a minimum of 100,000 IT Nerdes of locals and diaspora techies. This requires setting a budgetary framework to ensuring that 10% of the National budget is allocated to ICT development in the next 10 years. The benefit of this strategy is that the return on investment will translate to increased ICT contribution to GDP by over 50%, apart from the job creation and massive employment that would follow it”
Declare telecom critical national infrastructure
Although the industry did very well in 2018, despite the challenges in the operating environment, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo believes that: “As we move towards a fully digital economy our sector will continue to be the driver of critical infrastructure required to achieve the needed digital inclusion across the country.
We are quite excited about Mobile Money and we look forward to deepening financial inclusion as our members participate in the Payment Service Bank which is very critical towards financial inclusion for many Nigerians without access to financial services.
In order for the industry to thrive, we are urging for the President to declare Telecommunications a critical national economic and security infrastructure and accord our sector and infrastructure the needed protection in that regard.
Improve on existing policy frameworks
In the views of former Chairman, Africa ICT Alliance – AfICTA, Jimson Olufuye, in 2019, ICT would continue to drive the economy.
However, it is just appropriate to focus and improve on the policy frameworks that have powered it thus far.
He listed key policy documents that are due for update to include:
*The Broadband Policy which realised its set target by the end of last year. He called on the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, to improve on the document to ensure commendable future achievements.
* The broad ICT Policy document: He said the document is crying for a review and the request must be yielded to position the country among the greats.
*Executive Orders (EO): He advised that the policy framework needs to incorporate the specific use of ICTs to drive operations of MDAs including procurements. The improved EO should mention the need for standard data security, protection and archiving procedures.
Key also is the need for an ICT driven framework for compliance monitoring that is open, transparent and verifiable in line with the Open Government Partnership principles.
Local content should be key to growth
Still on policies that would position Nigeria’s ICT ecosystem to global standard from 2019 and beyond, Secretary Governing Board, Association of information and Communications Technology Local Content (ICTLOCA), Mr Adebunmi Akinbo said: “In the ICT Sector, Local Content should be regarded as the cornerstone to the growth, development and sustenance.
2019 should be an opportunity to channel attention and resource on harmonisation of information to stop capital flight, looking at internal development of structures and systems that benefits our corporate existence.
Education should see State Sector Scholarship on issues from nano-tech to space-tech. Such fields should create a fellowship with mandate to maintain State-Tech Laboratories on Research and documentation.
Business should be encouraged and sustained with focus on waiver and support for product consumption by MDAs.
Policies should be given priority. The need to ensure a strong Public-Private-Partnership that will adhere to issues around knowledge transfer, adherence to guidelines and transparent procedures and regulations that foster productivity is key.
We should not misplace our priority considering that we have the professionals but lack a platform to exchange and execute acquired skills.
If we follow these perspectives, the educated generation can sustain the new drive to innovate and consume what is created and export as the supposed giant of Africa” he added.