February 22, 2024

NITDA and burden of inclusive tech development in the North

NITDA opens entries for 2021 Innovation Challenge


NIGERIA, tagged as the Giant of Africa, has a lot of young people, and it is becoming famous globally for having a growing population and lots of talented people in technology. 

Being the lead agency for developing and upscaling the technology landscape in Nigeria, the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, has been investing a lot of resources towards impacting tech knowledge and skills, especially among youths, and these efforts have yielded significant results.

As a result, many young Nigerians now have better skills and knowledge courtesy of the tech courses being offered by NITDA in collaboration with Coursera and other development partners. No doubt, this move is gradually making Nigeria a hub for talented tech savvies around the world, and this continues to provide a stable foundation for the younger generation to grow and develop.

Despite the high rate of people engaging in tech today, there is a wide gap between different parts of the country. While some places in Nigeria are doing well with technology, however, the Northern part of the country is lagging behind. Realising this prompted the NITDA and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, along with several other stakeholders, to stress the urgent need for accelerated intervention to drive development in the Northern innovation ecosystem.

The NITDA Director General, Malam Abdullahi Inuwa Kashifu, said: “We need to do something for the Northern ecosystem. In Northern Nigeria, and Nigeria in general, our biggest opportunity is the large and expanding market we have. In Nigeria, we have a young population; more than 60 percent of our population is under 25. This means they are digitally native. This also means they know how to use technology, and if we have any technological way of solving problems, the population will embrace it and use it.”

Meanwhile, due to its larger percentage of population, Northern Nigeria ought to be considered when seeking opportunities for tech talent development. Nigeria has a population of 226.2 million people, with the North accounting for 68.67% of this population. Therefore, the Northern part carries over half the population of the country and has the potential to produce a high yield in human capital in tech, just as the country has produced generally. Building more tech talent in the North will help to increase this number significantly.

However, several factors hinder Northerners from thriving technologically, and one significant aspect is the issue of illiteracy. Lagos boasts a literacy rate of 92%, as reported by The Economist. In contrast, Kano is struggling with a rate of 49%, and in the North-Eastern state of Borno, where insurgency is prevalent, the literacy rate is as low as 15%. Tech illiteracy is often worsened by limited access to education and employment opportunities, making it challenging for individuals to develop digital skills. Simultaneously, prevalent insecurity disrupts educational institutions and discourages investments, creating a cycle that perpetuates tech illiteracy.

Another factor contributing to the low participation of the North in tech is poverty. Poverty in Northern Nigeria often translates to limited access to essential resources. Quality education, the latest gadgets, and a reliable internet connection are not easy to come by due to economic challenges. Many people in the region struggle to afford the tools and resources needed to learn tech skills or be part of the digital world.

This lack of resources is especially noticeable in education. There aren’t enough programmes that create awareness of how paramount it is to attain tech skills in today’s world, leaving many without the knowledge needed to join the tech world. Closing this gap is crucial to helping people gain the skills required to participate in the digital world. More so, a large number of out-of-school children live below the poverty line and have no means to even attain a basic education.

Another factor worth noting is insecurity. Oftentimes, when you see Northern Nigeria in the media, it’s usually not about technology. Instead, the news often highlights distressing stories, such as banditry, kidnappings, or clashes between farmers and herders. The issue of insecurity stands as a formidable obstacle to the region’s active engagement in the field of technology. One major consequence of insecurity is the disruption of educational institutions. Schools often become targets, depriving many individuals access to consistent and quality education and also discouraging investors from investing in the region. 

The absence of a stable learning environment limits the development of crucial tech-related skills, creating a significant barrier to entry into the tech sector. Addressing challenges such as insecurity, poverty, and illiteracy in Northern Nigeria would undoubtedly lead to a substantial increase in tech participation in the region.

Moreover, considering the North’s strong inclination towards agriculture and business, the introduction of technological tools tailored to these sectors could serve as a catalyst, encouraging and igniting an interest in technological innovations among the Northern population. This not only helps them overcome challenges but also sets the stage for a future where Northern Nigeria becomes more connected and tech-savvy.

With NITDA’s giant strides towards technology improvement in northern Nigeria and the whole country at large through the establishment of the ICT and Digital Skills Centre, Nigeria will surely continue to remain a leading centre for tech innovations in Africa.

Agaka, a corps member, wrote from the PRNigeria Centre in Kano