How the Government Can Leverage Technology to Reposition the Nigerian Economy
It is no news that technology is transforming every facet of our everyday lives – the way we live, work and relate. It has also become evident that this inevitable change is here to stay. Unfortunately, while modern societies consistently implement strategies to keep up with the pace of technological advancements and harness its huge potential, Nigeria still lags far behind in this area.
Even though we have witnessed efforts by the government to drive ICT in the country, so far, the impact of these moves has been far from encouraging. The reason for this sad trend is not farfetched– ICT policies and projects just like other government undertakings in the country are poorly planned and implemented.
The goals of the 2012 National ICT policy remain largely unrealised till date. In the same vein, the 3-year ‘Nigeria ICT roadmap for 2017 -2020’, which was developed to aid the implementation of existing ICT policies as well as boost various sectors of the Nigerian economy, leaves very little to hope for. Already, the missed timelines in the ICT roadmap has become a huge source of concern – Broadband penetration remains low, unemployment rate is at its peak, amongst other burning issues.
Yet, ICT remains an essential tool for national development, and it is pertinent that we get it right. It is, therefore, time for the government to re-strategise and prioritise policies and projects that can have a far-reaching effect and help the country take major leaps in its technological strides. Some key areas that require the immediate attention of the government include;
Promoting Private Sector Participation in Technology
A good starting point will be for the government to focus on enacting laws and policies that encourage the participation of the private sector in the tech space. The colossal failure of many national ICT projects is a strong indication that the government alone cannot drive positive socio-economic change through technology.
Yet, encouraging individuals and businesses to contribute to the much-needed ICT drive in the country is a responsibility that rests on the government and also one that should be taken seriously. Today small businesses and startups have become the powerhouse for many economies, creating job opportunities for a growing population. Here in Nigeria and even globally, there has been a recent rise in IT startups for self-evident reasons.
However, the business climate in Nigeria still does not support the growth of startups in general. There has been a high rate of tech startup failures in Nigeria and the frustrations of doing business in an unfriendly environment play no small role. This trend must change if we must attain any real progress.
This is why it is vital that the government plays its part in ensuring that IT startups can thrive for the good of the society. One way that the government can achieve this is to subsidise technology. How can this be done? The government can support the tech ecosystem by waiving tax for the first three years of operation for new IT startups. This incentive can go a long way in fostering the startup culture in Nigeria by giving budding entrepreneurs more leeway to explore and experiment with their ideas.
Also, to ensure that many Nigerians can readily purchase and utilise technological products, the government must make moves to reduce the cost of acquisition of these products by waiving charges and import duties on them. This is important because if we are looking to build a technological reliant nation in the near future fuelled by inventions and innovations, then the people as a whole must learn to appreciate the beauty of technology by using these products.
Additionally, effectively implementing the one window trade system which allows for a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-regulated regulatory requirements can also result in an increase in the adoption of tech products. Eliminating the usual hassles experienced by traders in completing their import or export process is another step in the right direction.
Investing In Efficient Project Management and Evaluation Tools
Every failed national project directly translates into a waste of valuable time and resources that could have been put to better use. Sadly, we can boast of more failed projects than successful ones in Nigeria, thanks to bad governance and poorly executed contracts. It has, therefore, become necessary for the government to seek out more efficient ways of reaching its aims, and electronic government procurement processes is one of such ways.
E-procurement involves buying and selling products and services over the internet or other information and network systems. Transacting over e-procurement platforms offer great benefits for the public sector such as, cost and time and savings ensuring faster and cheaper processes, as well as improved transparency which can tackle the menace of corruption.
One form of e-procurement that should be explored to promote trust and reduce the cost of executing government projects is ‘Smart contracts’. A smart contract is a computer program that can facilitate, verify and enforce the negotiation of a contract digitally without the influence of third parties.
The result is a more secure and transparent process that is traceable and irreversible. Smart contracts can be used to exchange anything of value and is gaining wide usage in different in different industries and areas.
To catalyse growth in the country, we must explore and invest in new ways to curb human inefficiencies. The public sector must begin to think of innovative ways of exploiting technology to render services to the people. Smart contracts may be the answer to the Nigeria’s procurement problems.
Efficiently Harnessing Data in The Digital Age
Like they say, data is the new oil –-in fact, it is the lifeline in the digital age. However just like with Nigeria’s crude oil, if we can’t process raw data and harness it for the benefit of the nation, then we are on a path to doom.
The real value of data can only be realized if it is extracted, refined and channelled to areas where it can impact critical decisions in real time. Data then can be a key driver for socio-economic growth, playing a massive role in crucial areas such as security and crime prevention, disease tracking, urban planning and governance in general. This is why it remains bothersome that Nigeria still does not have a centralised citizen information database.
BVN registration, Voters registration, NYSC registration, SIM registration, Job applications– different government agencies and other organisations engage people in different data capturing processes that record the same data over and over again. Still, this sad happening is not only a waste of resources, but the data collected is mostly inaccurate as there is no sync between the different databases.
Clearly, there is no real benefit in collecting inaccurate data or storing data in ways that do not allow for easy analysis. Hence, the need for a unified database system cannot be overemphasized, and the government must quickly rise to the task of ensuring that public data is efficiently captured, refined stored and managed.
Provision of ICT Infrastructures
The internet is becoming as important as the air we breathe, and it is not hard to see why – it has become a vital part of our everyday lives. However, the internet is still a luxury for many Nigerians, the cost of data remains high, and the speed of internet connectivity is far from optimum.
Yet with the continuous rise of IT startups, more and more businesses are beginning to rely greatly on the internet. This, in turn, means that many of these businesses will struggle in its operations. Beyond businesses, good internet facilities can enable limitless opportunities for all. Clearly, the dearth of ICT infrastructures in the country is a key hindrance to socio-economic growth.
To change our story, real efforts must be made to improve broadband penetration in the country. The repeated failure in the proper implementation of the National Broadband Plan, the five-year strategic roadmap (2013 – 2018) initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, must be tackled once and for all.
In the telecommunication industry, for example, more competitors have seemingly proved to be counterproductive. Due to the fact that there are multiple players sometimes up to ten, aiming to provide the same service – Fibre Broadband – eventually, they end up overlapping their duties and sometimes even accidentally destroying each other’s infrastructure. However, this points to a much deeper underlying issue, the elimination of the National Carrier in place of private indigenous companies – this has proved to be the greatest err of the telecoms industry.
NITEL could have instead occupied the role of the traffic warden, where all other players operate under it by leasing its fibre cables, while it concentrates on overseeing the backbone of the industry. It is as shocking as it is astonishing that the biggest telecom company in Nigeria does not entirely own any single building, not even its head office. Things have gotten to the sad point where apart from their operational funds, they see no more need to keep their money in our local banks. While they claim to carry out dozens of Citizen Social Responsibility Programs annually, the effects of these so-called projects cannot be seen or felt in the entire industry. Furthermore, the Nigerian Tech companies are nothing but a tool for publicity that they clench to only when they see the need to, not forgetting the astronomic price they charge businesses for their often-underwhelming services.
It is also equally important for governments to provide the enabling environment for telecom operators in the country to thrive. Inadequate power supply and excessive taxes are major problems that affect players in the telecom industry. In the end, for the country to make any real progress, there must be massive improvements in the current state of our ICT infrastructures, policies, laws and regulations.
Similarly, our youths stand a chance to benefit greatly from quality basic education which will at the same time spur them to do great things in the technological scene. This alone can empower thousands of young people by providing decent job opportunities for them right from the four corners of their room. Also, ensuring that technological products remain affordable, waving away the cost of registration for ICT tech startups, abolishing taxes that are associated with several governmental organisations, and subsidising solar and renewable energy will also go a long way. The government has to try and ensure that we have as close as possible to a level playing field to at least genuinely compete for products and services with other countries globally. Only then may we be able to justify that there is strength in numbers and use our population to our own advantage, by harnessing the vast potential that lies in our massive local market, the West African market and the entire African region.
Critical Improvements In the Country’s Educational System
There will be no real growth in the technology sector and even in the nation at large; if we keep sidelining the roles, our educational institutions should play in the grand scheme of things. Academic institutions are meant to be the home of innovation; schools are supposed to be the knowledge houses that fuels the inventions of the business world.
Unfortunately, the poor educational frameworks and institutions in the country make this a distant reality in Nigeria. Largely, student research in Nigerian Universities plays no role in the socio-economic growth of the nation. The collaborative learning environment that a school presents, as well as a large army of young individuals that can be groomed to be nation builders, remain under-utilised.
This must change and change fast too. Our schools must be made to assume their place in national development. This can only be achieved by putting the right systems in place and ensuring that the efforts of students are channelled towards solving real-world problems that can be beneficial to society.
Hence the government must play a role in forging healthy partnerships between schools and private businesses aimed at facilitating relevant research and development. This is one sure way for schools to stay in tune with the challenges of the world beyond and contribute to the problem-solving process.
Also providing the necessary resources to facilitate learning in schools has remained a massive problem over the years. There should now be a focus on investing in virtual rather than expensive physical infrastructures. Schools must learn to take advantage of cloud technology, Virtual reality and other useful technologies that can improve learning outcomes. To aptly put, it is time to implement a roadmap that actually works.