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Revitalising the Nigerian Economy Beyond Oil:

Prospects for a Thriving, Export-Driven Extractive Sector
October 2016

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2 days ago

Advocacy Report: Is Nigeria Neglecting its Knowledge Economy?

Unfolding events on the global economic stage show a radical shift from traditional business to Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The train is moving swiftly and is not about to stop anytime soon. While Nigeria is already playing catch up in this attitudinal and economic shift, there is hope for self-redemption if the country's leadership urgently creates the enabling environment for brilliant indigenous innovators that will aggressively advance its ICT sector.

The fortune of a society is a function of the quality of its leadership’s decisions. National legacies are founded on pro-activeness, innovation, solidity of vision and depth of mental substance to ignite true value. Therefore, nationhood becomes unsatisfying in climes where policy makers are not responsive to dynamism.

Nigeria needs re-imagined national thinking that will proactively advance its ICT sector and spur meaningful socio-economic sustainability in a post-oil world. The current crashes in global oil prices with attendant negative realities for Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy send ominous messages about the country's true economic health and long-term survival. Thus, Nigeria's heavy reliance on the oil sector has caused it to be distressingly unprepared whenever dynamics change, even if slightly.

Meaningful sustainability imperatives of our country’s economy in this emerging global reality depend on re-imagined economic policies and technological dynamism.

According to the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) of India, the ICT sector in India aggregated revenues of US$147 billion in 2015, where export revenue stood at US$99 billion and domestic at US$48 billion. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has quickly risen to this challenge and started the ‘Digital India’ project to give ICT a secure position in and outside India; Nigeria should act likewise. We need a departure from the status quo, because enhanced value is key to continued economic relevance in the emerging global realities.

As a country with the largest population and consumer market in Africa, Nigeria is one of the major procurers of ICT solutions in the world. Sadly, most of our public and private organisations are powered by imported software solutions, with a huge amount of scarce foreign exchange consequently lost to international companies annually for our national projects. One such case is the German BVN (Bank Verification Number) system being utilised by the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc.

The Office for Nigerian Content Development in Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) has revealed that the preference for foreign ICT products and services is causing Nigeria to lose over N1 trillion in foreign currencies annually. This is the real cost of Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) and Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) at the office of the Accountant-General of The Federation (OAGF) which are powered by foreign software companies, from Estonia and USA, respectively. Furthermore, Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS) at Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is powered by foreign software from Canada, while Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) is powered by foreign software from Germany and Real Time Gross Settlement [RTGS] platform at Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is powered by foreign software from Sweden. The list is endless.

It should be evident to all that Nigeria must first exhaust its indigenous ICT alternatives before sourcing for foreign solutions – and only if there are no local alternatives. Those who continuously create value generate wealth. If a country decides to unrepentantly choose a path of unbridled consumption of foreign values, it only leads to poverty. If Nigeria develops and patronises its indigenous ICT industry, the move will help the country to preserve its foreign reserves with the added potential of becoming a developer of local content of ICT, rather than remaining a consumer in perpetuity.

The development will also mitigate exposure to attendant issues of exposure to cyber-attacks and warfare, financial and economic espionage, and extortion in software pricing among other negatives. Meanwhile, experience has revealed that foreign brands are designed, most times, to meet the needs of people living in the locality where they are produced; therefore, when these products are imported to a different environment, 50% of the functionality is automatically lost.

In charting a meaningful course for the development of indigenous ICT solutions, the Nigerian government must take the lead. It should enact the right policies to galvanise the sector for enhanced value. The government should ensure that this new mantra currently headlining ‘Made-in-Nigeria’ is held true even in the ICT sector by guaranteeing that our cultural inhibition and disdain for things that are made locally is corrected. Aside from direct investment to stimulate growth in ICT, government needs to create incentives for indigenous players by protecting copyright, investing in solid Research and Development efforts, encouraging indigenous vendors and curtailing the national appetite for imported ICT solutions.

Admittedly, Nigeria has come a long way in ICT in comparison with where we used to be. Indigenous telecommunication firm Globacom, is one of our success stories. Registered as the fourth mobile operator in Nigeria back in 2003, Glo can be credited with the competition for consumer patronage in the industry, as well the significant drop in the cost of telecommunication services that customers enjoy today.

The revolution extends to payment services as well. We have moved from issuing handwritten travel tickets to using e-cards as payment at toll gates and other points of service. Also, we have birthed ICT companies that can provide locally manufactured software solution for national initiatives. SystemSpecs, the indigenous ICT organisation that developed the popular Remita readily comes to mind. The Remita innovation has made the implementation of Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy implementable in Nigeria and is 100% indigenous. Implementation of the TSA helped the Federal Government gather up to 3 trillion naira in the first quarter of 2016. What’s more, TSA enables transparency in government fiscal policies and better harmonises revenues from government MDAs which could otherwise have disappeared into mysterious wallets or remained redundant in fractured banking arrangements.

For developing Remita, SystemSpecs has won awards both locally and internationally, including the “Leadership in Technology” award conferred on the company on April 22, 2016 by the Africa Forum Scotland for using Remita as a tool for national and economic development. Accordingly, the continued celebration of Remita at home and abroad indicates Nigeria has a huge but latent potential to leverage on the ICT sector if indigenous technology entrepreneurs are supported with good governmental policies that truly empower the sector.

It is sad to write that as at the time of this report, the indigenous organisation that makes TSA possible in Nigeria through its Remita solution remains unpaid due to the Federal Government of Nigeria’s unwillingness to honour a legal contract it signed with SystemSpecs via the CBN. Yet the government continues to profit from SystemSpecs’ unpaid labour 16 months after and still counting. Could this be the case if Oracle or Microsoft were the ones involved? This kind of deliberate and irresponsible persecution of an industry that has huge potential to uplift the nation’s economy should be discouraged if this nation is to maximise the prospective of its ICT sector.

Our indigenous achievements are testation to the colossal potential that exists in the Nigerian ICT sector. The government should become more disposed to grooming its budding ICT sector and supporting indigenous innovations. It must carry out a re-appraisal of its legacy in the indigenous ICT sector. It has to take the lead and send the right messaging across in advocacy initiatives that will unlock the potential of an ICT revolution, by implementing strategic policies to empower the industry and creating the right platform to enable indigenous technology compete favourably in a market saturated by foreign ICT solutions.

Except the government begins to enable indigenous innovation and harvest the nascent potential in the sector, Nigeria’s ICT dreams may very well remain unfulfilled. The country stands the risk of remaining subject to the whims of foreign countries assuming its role in this respect. Something needs to give and the time for change is now, not some vague future.

The Nigerian government needs to approach the ICT question with all the sense of urgency it deserves with enabling policies, legacies and frameworks that will help unlock the crucial but latent potential of the sector.
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