In moving forward, looking back can provide useful pointers. What did 2018 teach Nigeria’s tech community? 2018 was undoubtedly a mixed bag (good, bad, ugly?) for the ICT sector in the country.
As we settle into the second month of 2019, it’s important to realize that growth, challenges and lessons are all part of the story. An honest look at the past keeps us grounded and focused on the present and the future.
Digital Economy on the Rise
Nigeria’s digital economy is definitely expanding. ICT is hugely important and contributing more than ever before. Technology keeps impacting lives and work, while at the same time evolving at a furious pace. Increased awareness means many more are coming online to tap into digital world opportunities and benefits. Nearly all spheres are experiencing greater digital adoption and application — in government, business and education.
Digital participation has become a requirement if one is to remain relevant and competitive. 2018 witnessed significant activity — some simply regular and operational to improve productivity.
On the other hand, some activities have been truly disruptive — changing value chains and birthing new forms of value and opportunity. Importantly, ICT has vital impact on GDP growth, service creation, employment generation and infrastructure growth.
Strength in Telecom
The market attractiveness of Nigeria continues to be a high point. Domestic and foreign investors are attracted by the potential and viability of the market, particularly through telecom, according to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) figures. Figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the last quarter (Q3, 2018) indicate contributions of Telecommunications and Information Services to GDP stood at N1.5 trillion.
The ICT sector successfully attracted $40 billion Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in 2018. Nigeria is still one of the biggest markets for ICT in the world considering continued growth in mobile and internet subscribers and users.
By December 2018, Nigeria had 172 million mobile subscriptions up from 147 million in January 2018.
Significant developments in other sectors, most especially the financial services sector have depended on connectivity provided by telecom and the development and application of new technologies. The contribution of the ICT sector to GDP and the boost in FDI are undeniable.
Expanding the Opportunity Space
Mobile and online trade, commerce and engagement continue to grow. Nigerians are increasingly adopting digital channels. They are continually tapping into the convenience provided to shop, to educate, do business, to engage on politics and attend to personal matters. Social media (Facebook, WhatApp, Instagram, etc) is not longer a “trend”.
In the urban areas, it is established and becoming more entrenched in everyday activities. Many are exploring ways of adapting and utilizing digital media and infrastructure to meet needs and open new doors. Young people and the informal sector, in particular use these platforms to reduce costs and logistics required to start and run physical businesses and open brick and mortar shops.
Shopping from the phone and the use of mobile to transact business and make and receive payments are becoming common place. The income opportunity space has certainly been widened. However, ethical concerns are arising as well. Responsible behaviour needs to be encouraged in the digital space.
There has also been greater cloud adoption by businesses and individuals to improve performance. The cloud is gradually becoming a standard for large corporations and small enterprises.
It’s simple — it drives cost down and drives efficiency up. In spite of initial security concerns, the migration to the cloud is unstoppable. Huge investments in the provision of local data center services in Nigeria are proof.
It is a measure of confidence in the Nigerian FinTech scene that a number of notable FinTech players have been able to attract significant funding. However, FinTech in general still has funding issues. Their solutions are however disrupting the financial sector.
With flexible and creative approaches, Fintech startups are opening up the financial services space and providing huge promise for the unbanked, the financially excluded.
Youth Impact, Advancing Local Content
Young people continue to inspire — a team of Nigerian teenagers emerged first in the junior division of the Technovation World Pitch Summit and the founder of a Nigerian NGO that empowers disadvantaged girls by teaching them how to code, was recognized as a global CNN hero in 2018. Tomisin Ogunnubi, a 12 year old secondary school pupil developed a Mobile Tracking app.
She represents the promise of Nigeria’s digital future. During the year, a young Nigerian also developed a programming language that allows programmers to code in Yoruba.
Tech startups contributed $101 million to the Nigerian economy in 2018 according to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
Some of other high points in 2018 were the setting up of innovation hubs by NITDA and agency’s implementation of Federal Government’s Executive Orders 003 and 005 which prioritize locally developed IT content in procurements by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“Executive Order 3 On Support of Local Content Procurement” was signed in 2017 while “Executive Order 5 for Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content In Contracts and Science, Engineering and Technology” came into force in 2018.
Adherence to the Executive Orders is critical as local ICT development is integral to sustainability and diversification of the economy. It would be naïve to ignore or underestimate the role of MDAs with respect to local patronage.
According to NITDA, the agency’s enforcement resulted in MDAs being more responsive to the Executive orders and the statutory guidelines for IT procurement. Significantly, compliance has resulted in increased patronage of locally manufactured IT products and services; and according to NITDA, over N13 billion has been saved.
Consistently, Championing IT Advocacy
2018 was a special year for the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS). For the premier and umbrella body of IT professionals and stakeholders in Nigeria, 40 years of Information Technology advocacy in Nigeria called for celebration and stocktaking.
Founded in 1978, NCS can be described as the initial catalyst for ICT expansion in Nigeria. The association started as a ground up and volunteer movement inside Nigeria’s tech scene at the time. NCS is today the acknowledged professional authority advocating for the development of an inclusive, globally competitive, prosperous and knowledge-based Nigeria.
Importantly, NCS advocated and worked with the Federal Government to establish major institutions such as the Computer Professionals (Registration Council of Nigeria) (CPN), the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Ministry of Communications.
Through its conferences, forums and activities, NCS champions Local Content Development, the Cashless and Fintech revolution, Digital Inclusion, IT in Government, IT for National Security, IT Education and the use of IT for productivity and sustainable development in all sectors. That NCS has been the driving catalyst behind the incredible and accelerated expansion of IT development and deployment in Nigeria is clearly not in doubt.
Certainly, the power of vision, consistency and commitment cannot be overemphasized. While the achievements of NCS are without doubt inspiring and visionary, the society still has a lot to do as a powerful ICT influencer and catalyst. It will need to build on established legacy. NCS should continually innovatively rethink, reinvent IT advocacy strategies to advance digital inclusion and development in Nigeria.
Quality of Service
While growth is acknowledged, there are still challenges. Transportation management is certainly an issue particularly in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital – it needs the attention of tech. And despite new initiatives, quality of service is still an issue in telecom.
Measures taken by NCC to address the issues include the setting of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), introduction of fines, ban on telecom promos, directive to stop automatic renewal of data services without prior consent of subscribers, introduction of Toll free complaint line amongst others.
Though broadband penetration has improved, there is a need to do more and better. Broadband penetration is integral to accelerating economic growth.
According to NCC, the minimum target of 20% broadband penetration based on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has been exceeded. Market competition and the increased deployment of LTE (Long Term Evolution) technologies have no doubt been contributory factors.
Since broadband penetration in Nigeria is largely mobile, facilitating the provision of backbone infrastructure is critical to achieving universal access.
Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) have therefore been licensed to lay fibre optic infrastructure in all geopolitical zones of the country. The process started in 2015 with IHS and MainOne licensed to lay metropolitan optic fibre for the North-Central, including Abuja and Lagos under the open access model.
Other Infracos licensed to provide broadband infrastructure based on this model are Zinox Technologies (South-East), Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited (North-East), O’odua Infraco Resource Limited (South-West), Raeanna Technologies Limited (South-South) and Fleek Networks Limited (North-West).
But licensing is one thing; effective rollout is a different animal entirely. Difficulties in securing Right of Way (RoW) approvals, multiple taxation, unilateral shutting of base stations, willful vandalism of telecoms infrastructure, and other challenges seriously militate against the progress of broadband penetration efforts. The national programme for Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to increase broadband penetration in the country was announced in 2018 to address some of these challenges.
As part of the programme, NCC is providing a N3 billion subsidy budget to facilitate speedy rollout of fibre by InfraCos throughout Nigeria. This intervention (four year) by the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competiveness Advisory Council aims to ensure there is broadband penetration in all geopolitical zones of the country and that all 774 Local Government Areas will have access to fibre connectivity within the four years.
States simply need to become Smart States. The challenges mentioned stifle digital growth in their domains. And in the absence of digital development, the states will lag behind. In the age of cyber that is akin to selling yourself into digital slavery.
Large segments of Nigeria’s populace are still digitally excluded, irrespective of rapid changes and advances in today’s technology enabled world.
Women, the elderly, individuals living with disabilities, people outside the formal sector, the poor and the rural populace are outside the digital loop. Due to societal divides, many are unable to seize digital opportunities and benefits to improve their lives and livelihoods. Policy actions are needed to prioritize Digital Inclusion as a driver for inclusive and sustainable development.
The overall level of national Cybersecurity coordination is low. Public awareness of cyber threats needs to be improved. As technology spreads rapidly within society, the Cybersecurity Advisory Council should work with NCS, Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and other stakeholders to raise greater awareness of cyber threats throughout the country.
Cybersecurity implementation should however incorporate privacy considerations and balance. Stakeholders need to work together to ensure the passing of Data Privacy and Lawful Interception laws.
Availability of cybersecurity expertise is a pressing need – there are some skill development initiatives. The Cybersecurity Challenge organized annually by CYSEC NG is a promising program.
However, due to limited impact and the need for direction, there is a need for a comprehensive human capital plan for cybersecurity in Nigeria.
In addition to improving the level of cybersecurity within Nigeria, it is important to adopt a strategic approach that entails being at the forefront of cybersecurity innovations; develop solutions, create jobs locally and seize global cybersecurity opportunities.
Nigeria’s ICT Road Map for 2017–2020 is currently being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Communications. The plan aims to ensure ICT becomes a viable foreign exchange that eventually replaces petroleum.
Nigeria’s Foreign Direct Investment in ICT of $40 billion in 2018 is still a little fraction compared to foreign investment in oil. There is a need for continuous evaluation and monitoring of the plan.
Nigeria’s ICT sphere certainly faces a mountain of challenges; however it has had tremendous positive impact on the economy and society. The private sector and government now depend on ICT for growth and development. Going forward will require better and more strategic leverage on tech. Only then will Nigeria become a truly digital and sustainable society. 2019 is already a new start.
Jide Awe, Public Policy Consultant on Digital Development, Founder of New Tech Connection, jidaw.com, nigeriacomputers.com and Chairman, Conferences Committee, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS). He writes from Lagos (Nigeria).