Reenergizing the Digital Revolution in Nigeria
Yau Isa Garba
I have been an ardent visitor to the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) in Dubai, UAE. But I must confess that this is the first time I am attending the eNigeria summit. To say the least, I am impressed and reenergized seeing such a platform that is heralding our dear nation further into the digital era.
As the nation recognized the vital role of the digital economy and makes commendable moves to provide an encouraging atmosphere, summits like eNigeria are great platforms where digital industry leaders, academia and aspiring innovators exchange ideas. For the 2019 event, the theme “National Digital Economy” is well thought and appropriate. The booming IT sector in Nigeria indeed stands to benefit from the eNigeria summits.
For the IT sector in Nigeria, probably it has not been that promising. The government institutions spearheading positive change in the Nigerian IT industry are having the best leadership of all time. The man-in-charge, who has been tagged “The Digital Minister”, is a core IT professional, with impressive experience cutting across three continents. Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, now the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, and previously the Director General NITDA, began the transformative initiatives that are heralding information and communication technology in the right direction. Like a perfect storm, the ministry itself, and NITDA, which is the agency in charge of developing and regulating the IT sector, are steered by the best captains of all time. During the eNigeria 2019 summit, one constantly hears the NITDA family referring to their boss Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE, as the “Silent Achiever.” Undoubtedly, the new energy in the IT sector is a sign of the clear leadership championed by the “Digital Minister” and his mentee, the “Silent Achiever.”
The once ministry of communications has now been reenergized to take an even more important role, that is promoting the digital economy. The impressive contribution of 13.8% to the Nigerian GDP by the digital economy, now surpassing that by oil and gas, is a clear call that Nigeria must be serious about ICT. And pleasantly, that has been taking seriously by the government. The renaming of the ministry to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is apt and timely. And in my opinion, is glad tidings, especially to those in the industry.
One of the major activities in the eNigera 2019 was the unveiling of the new National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy. The clear and tangible pillars of the policy, for example, promoting digital literacy and indigenous development, will further strengthen government efforts in driving positive change in our digital journey. Such recognition of the role of ICT in the transformation of the country will boost morale and usher new energy that will bring about the much needed transformative power of ICT, and make Nigeria globally competitive in the technology arena.
NITDA has made an impressive effort in bridging the digital divide in Nigeria. Various interventions have increased digital inclusion all over the country. Commendable ICT capacity building programs have taken IT knowledge to even unlikely territories. With capacity building programs for women, the disabled, and widows, our digital literacy level is skyrocketing in all facets. ICT frontiers are open in even unlikely domains like agriculture. NITDA is taking ICT to the farms, an initiative which was once a distant dream. A recent pilot program tagged the “NITDA Smart Agric Platform” was unveiled during the eNigeria 2019 summit. Real farmers are now equipped with an innovative digital platform, thereby ushering an unprecedented experience for them. Such ideas will hopefully ignite a passion for the farming industry among young Nigerians. Another impressive step taken by the Minister is the plan to introduce school courses on emerging technologies like AI, Blockchain, robotics, and so on. That means strategically arming the younger generations with the right skills and tools for the 21st century. This is in addition to the Minister’s announcement of the partnership between the ministry and MIT on the Entrepreneurship Accelerated Program, targeting capacity building on technology entrepreneurship for Nigerians.
In the past, the ICT sector has received unfulfilled promises of support from the government. Now, with the game changers – the “Digital Minister” and the “Silent Achiever”, a pragmatic effort is underway to give full support for ICT innovation. New ICT innovation hubs are springing up across the country. Much needed equipment for high-tech innovation is finding ways to such hubs. Innovation paradise for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship is emerging all over the country. NITDA ICT innovation hubs are becoming one-stop shops for innovators. Rare facilities like PCB manufacturing equipment and 3D printers are installed in the hubs. Such efforts are unprecedented and commendable.
To further encourage innovation in Nigeria and increase local contents and manufacturing, the “Digital Minister” is an ardent defender of local contents. Lately, the minister issued clear directives to the ministry’s agencies to give preference to local contents while issuing government contracts, which is in line with the NITDA’s regulatory instruments for the promotion of indigenous content development in ICT. Such actions will encourage local innovation and manufacturing activities, thereby protecting local industries while they thrive.
Nations in their journey towards building technological capacity must at some point offer protection to their local industries, especially now that the capacity to innovate and manufacture is only in the hands of the advanced countries. Our local entrepreneurs are in dire need of the caring hands of the government. And with leaders who understand, and are also players in the field, the yearnings, aspirations, and hopes of the Nigerian technology entrepreneurs are being listened to, and are receiving much-needed attention. The number of startups and their innovative products and solutions exhibited in the eNigeria 2019 summit is a testimony to that. I believe we will see even more innovative products and solutions from more startups in the next summit, eNigeria 2020, God willing.
Yau Isa Garba (email@example.com), a tech entrepreneur, writes from Bauchi.