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EDITORIAL: Setting the technology agenda for South East Governors

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South East Governor should invest in technology

  • Lead ‘us’ not into digital irrelevance

  • Human capital development & broadband or nothing – respondents

Can five States with almost no differences in cultures, traditions, languages, political systems, and levels of economic development act in concert to expand their collective potential?

That is the question professionals from the South Eastern Nigeria have been wrestling for decades.

Today, we believe the answer could become yes, if the leaders (in the various government houses) share ambitious vision for cooperation. It is high time the region moved from ‘road construction and salary paying’ Governance mentality. Do not mistake it; constructing roads and paying salaries must not be neglected, but if the State Governors fail to create a knowledge-based economy to tackle tomorrow’s challenges, this region might become digitally irrelevant and economic dummies by 2023!

Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano

Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano

Technological advancements do not ascent to ‘autonomous communities’, rather ‘partnerships’.

By tomorrow, in Imo State Hon. Emeka Ihedioha will take over the reign from outgoing Governor Rochas Okorocha; in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu States the case is different as the Governors – Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, Engineer David Umahi and Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, are returning to office for the second term. Anambra State is on another level altogether as Governor (Chief) Willie Obiano has since commenced the second leg of his administration.

We believe the Governors of South East Nigeria have a golden opportunity to make the region digitally relevant. Yes. This is an era where (knowledge) competition is stronger than before.

Ebonyi State Governor, Engineer David Umahi

Ebonyi State Governor, Engineer David Umahi

We are not unaware of Governor Umahi’s drive to establish science school at least in every local government of the State; Governor Ugwuanyi’s agenda to equip schools with science tools and Governor Ikpeazu’s quest to ensure Aba artisans are well trained on leveraging technology to enhance their crafts.

In Anambra State, there is a DigiPreneurship program meant to expose young people to opportunities in the digital economy and other technology driven initiatives. In Imo State, there is a ‘Technology-enhanced Learning (TeL) Centre’, which is an innovative Public-Private Partnership initiative between Imo State Polytechnic and NetPro International Nigeria Limited, among others.

Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpazu

Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu

But, the fourth industrial revolution – Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Software-As-A-Service, Internet of Things, BlockChain, etc., which has given birth to connected cars, homes, clothes, health tracking technologies and which has seen drones competing with humans in logistics, security, health and other sectors; they do not happen like in ‘shifting cultivation’; rather a trajectory to endless chain of technology progression.

Obviously, economies that play big in these areas will control wealth more than an Oil Sheikh can comprehend. That is why the Chinese are unperturbed with America’s ‘outburst’ against Huawei. They have what the world ‘needs’ which is 5G technology. America may decide tomorrow to pump money into R&D for 6G; at least the Chinese is a leading force in that area for now while other economies are playing catch-up.

Enugu State Governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

Enugu State Governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

South East Nigeria of today is playing catch-up in the area of technological development. There is growing restlessness among the youths for entrepreneurial empowerment but sadly there is little or no incentive from the State Government to develop world class training institute, technology incubators and accelerators where Startups can receive funding and mentorship to create the solutions of tomorrow. No doubt, there exist different private driven platforms currently squeezing water from stones, but if care is not taken their palms will begin to pill-off due to harshness of the stones.

From South/South East South Angel Network (SESAN) investing in the young startups, to Oluaka Institute of Technology (Owerri) RAD5 Tech Hub (Abia State); Genesys (Enugu); DevAmplify (Awka) and IEP Business And Tech Hub (Ebonyi), amongst others; these are private-driven initiatives that struggle to put this zone on the Nigerian and global innovation map with little or no government support.

Imo State Governor (incoming), Hon. Emeka Ihedioha

Imo State Governor (incoming), Hon. Emeka Ihedioha

Consider this: “YCombinator, the world’s biggest Technology Accelerator has created companies with not less than $50billion in value. Zhongchiang District in Beijing has created companies with value of over a $100billion. The TelAviv tech corridor in Israel has created tech companies worth billions of dollars creating solutions that have made them the darling of Silicon Valley”.

Come back to Nigeria, Lagos State has remained the leader in this light; shinning the light for other South Western State, by maintaining a functional organisation for the management of common economic interests, inherited from the former states in the former Western State.

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Just the other week, MainOne announced plans to construct 2,000 kilometres of fibre optic cables across Lagos in the next three years; a project that will cost N25billion not dollars! MainOne has an InfraCo licence for the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for Lagos just like Zinox Technologies was ‘given’ the licence for South East Nigeria.

Already, the Lagos transition committee has accepted input from MainOne for ‘digital Lagos’ initiative.

Maybe, we need to put a call across to Chairman of Zinox Group, Chief Leo Stan-Ekeh to know if any State in South East Nigeria has shown interest to work with Zinox in laying fibre optic cables.

With a population (estimate) of 40 million and land density of 400/km2 (1,000/sq mi), there is no reason an accumulation of 5 States – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, cannot break grounds for the young entrepreneurs to thrive or should we wait until they all migrate to Lagos before acting?

South Eastern Nigeria population pressure is indeed on the increase. Analysis of the migration data shows that the South East is a zone of strong net migration, with some 15% of persons born in the zone resident outside the zone and only 5% of the residents of the zone coming from outside the zone.

Enextgen Wireless

The zone contributes significantly to the population of all the major cities, industrial and market centres in Nigeria.

The number of those migrating is rising, such that the South Easterners in Diaspora are becoming a major force in the politics and economy of the other zones and the world at large.

Develop the human capital; provide us with broadband – respondents

We conducted a random sampling of opinion on this subject; the respondents share similar opinion that broadband is the way out:

The founding Managing Director/CEO of multiple-award winning technology solutions provider, InfoGraphics Nigeria, Mr. Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, believes that is not rocket science: education reform with focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering) pervasive broadband, tech-driven SME accelerated development and incentive-rich cluster formation, are areas Your Excellences should not treat with levity.

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Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu

Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu

In Mba-Uzoukwu’s words: “The problem is not the WHAT, it’s the HOW which is based on two things – an informed, pragmatic, empowered and sustained implementation of a human capital strategy and political will.

“Not a single one of the Igbo states has demonstrated an understanding and commitment to doing this in the past twenty years. While Lagos has grown despite itself, it is clear that it is the private sector that has closed the gap on both these components not the government

Mba-Uzoukwu who is one of the pioneer leaders of Society of Igbo Professionals (SIP) and the Vice President of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) added that “With a weak to dormant professional sector, and a business sector that is largely mercantile in the Igbo states (even if diversified and powerful outside of the Igbo states), the region is unable to close the gap which Lagos State is able to hide behind the activities of the private sector.

Fibre broadband cable

“A clear example is human capital. Despite growing it’s population from 9 to 18m in the past quarter century, Lagos State has added only ten schools to Basic Education and two to tertiary. While its schools provide for less than 50% of total enrolment in basic education, in tertiary education, all four institutions (including the federally-owned Unilag) boast a paltry 140,000 students.

“So, where does the human capital that drives its economy come from? The other states of Nigeria from where human resources migrate to Lagos, and the private sector education in schools, and/or trains/ upskills in course of employment”.

The Founder at Sasware Nigeria and also Founder and Executive Vice Chairman of Signal Alliance Limited, Mr. Collins Onuegbu, re-echoed the issue about broadband, thus “They should work on a 100% broadband coverage of the region.

Collins Onuegbu

Collins Onuegbu

“Broadband is the underlying infrastructure for technology. Providing fast access to the Internet allows for services from transportation, commerce, financial services, education and health”.

Another respondent and the Vice President, Nigerian Women in Information Technology (NiWiiT), Mrs. Priscilla Okechukwu, also said, “My wish for the South East Governors to focus on: Reviewing the educational curriculum in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions to embrace recent technological advancements for learning in line with the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

“Policy should be put in place where teachers in primary and secondary schools will be trained and equipped with knowledge of ICT; so, computer aided learning in schools will be implemented.

“Policy should also be put in place for security in the States. A security app can be installed on phone, in case of emergency, security personnel and agents are contacted.

Pixaweb Technologies Limited

Chief Executive Officer of Pixaweb Technologies, Priscilla Okechukwu

Mrs. Okechukwu who doubles as the Chief Executive Officer of Pixaweb Technologies, added, “For technological development, I am suggesting a technology for refuse disposal, an alert system that will be attached to the waste bin, when the refuse get to the brim a message is sent to the refuse disposal agents to come and do pick up. There is need for proper refuse disposal. Most of the streets in South-Eastern States are littered with refuse. This is unhygienic to say the least.

A Nigerian creative industries entrepreneur and Chairman of Dragon Africa, Obi Asika, also said it would be great to see the State governments of the South-East enable broadband, “this will drive business, grow a digital economy, provide new jobs and enable education. It is time for the East to have some clear goals and training 100 thousand software engineers across the zone, training 1m with digital skills and soft skills will produce immediate and measurable benefits.

Obi believes there is need to ‘rebrand the East:

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Obi Asika

Obi Asika

“It is also important that we begin to see some strategic actions and thinking about connected infrastructure for the region and enabling better security for all, the east needs to be rebranded and promoted through destination marketing to bring Igbo, Nigerian and global investors to the region, in order to do this money and people must feel safe.

“It is also time that the South East Governors invested and promoted the soft power of the East, our culture, theatre, movies, music, dance and literature have long been world class; we must develop more museums, venues, cinemas, theatres and facilities for the creative economy, when you visit our cuisine and our markets you can see the enormous wealth that we sit on and allow to lie fallow.

Obi who is also a leading voice of SIP added that “It is time for the governments of the South East to invest in the creative industries and sports. We have unique talents and advantages and a huge domestic and global market ready for our products”.

Another multi-award winning media professional and co-founder at GoDo.ng, Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr. “CFA,” understands the pains Startups are passing through in this region and how these can be tackled; he suggested that South East Governors are not taking enough advantage of the opportunities available in today’s digital era.

CFA who is doubles as a Director in Founder Institute made three recommendations for the States:

“Make education a priority – this means increased funding for the sector.

Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata "CFA"

Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata “CFA”

“Cancellation of Right of Way charges. RoW has become a torn in the flesh of some sort. It is important for the incoming Governors to understand that taxes forgone through RoW will come back as good economic returns and possible income taxes.

“Improved Support/Funding for Startups. It is sad that startups from the zone have to leave for Lagos to become viable. I urge the incoming team to work with existing innovation hubs while ensuring that startups located in the region are better supported and funded”.

Conclusion

His Excellences, your citizens are breaking grounds in other climes, contributing to the technological advancements of other regions. They also crave to come home and contribute to the economy of the region, but your economic policies are seemingly uninspiring and anti-digital economy. To say the least, no South Eastern Governor appears to be under the bondage or tutelage of Godfatherism or Godmotherism! So, what is the problem!

Funds? You have more than enough to invest. Work for your people before it is too late.

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@TechEconomyNG connects past-present-emerging technological impacts on Businesses, People and Cities. All Correspondence to: [email protected]

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