When it comes to technology usage and adoption, Nigeria has always been at the front, but the question is what percentage of the technology is produced locally? This has been bothering government and stakeholders alike for years, but without conscious efforts at implementing existing policies, the country may forever remain an ICT consuming nation that it is, SAMSON AKINTARO reports
Earlier this month, the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, spoke about the challenges inhibiting the growth of information and communications technology (ICT) in Nigeria and he specifically pointed at apathy for indigenous products and services as a major one.
According to the minister, this challenge is seriously affecting the business of local IT players in the country, from hardware to software and to services. That, however, was not the first time top government official would lament over the problem that is as old as the nation’s ICT industry and it is worrying that despite the agony of local players and the huge losses being incurred by the country over massive technology importation, there has not been any solution.
ICT consuming nation
With over 180 million population and diverse culture, Nigeria is a veritable market for any product or service and with that, it is not surprising that the best of technology products from around the world always find their way into the country.
Indeed, there is no latest technology anywhere in the world that a Nigerian is not already using and this is why billions of dollars is leaving the country every year on ICT importation.
According to the Director General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr. Isa Panatami, Nigeria spends $2.8 billion yearly on importation of ICT products and services.
Products being imported include telecommunications, audio and video, computer and related equipment; electronic components, software and a number of others.
Corroborating NITDA’s view, the Director General of National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, Dr. Ibrahim DanAzumi, also recently declared, though conservatively, that 90 per cent of technologies being used in Nigeria are imported.
Not long ago, the office for Nigerian Content Development (NCD) in ICT also declared that the preference for foreign ICT products and services was causing Nigeria a loss of over N1 trillion in foreign exchange yearly.
Despite the fact that the issue of local content and over dependence on foreign technologies have always been at the front burner for years, there seems to be no clear-cut policy to change the situation except for a few government statements and directives that end up disappearing through the airwaves.
However, speaking in Lagos recently at the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) annual dinner, Shittu expressed optimism that with part of the Executive Orders signed late last by the Federal Government focusing on local content in ICTs, things would begin to change.
According to him, the ministry through the Council of Heads of ICT in Federal MDAs had examined the Executive Order 003 where stakeholders in the ICT met, brainstormed and proffered steps and solutions at domesticating the ICT local content initiative in Nigeria.
“In the same token, at the 5th National Council on Communication Technology (NCCT-2017) in Katsina, the council adopted the policy of optimising ICT local content and empowering local businesses in the sector and also approved the establishment of computer After-Sales- Services centers in MDAs and After-Support- provision for staff in service level agreements” the minister said.
Shittu said the issues of local content needed to be elevated to such a serious level to save the nation’s economy.
“What more can be economic sabotage, if actions that cause massive loss of jobs and massive loss of foreign exchange are not redressed. The National Assembly given the Executive Orders has the impetus to fast track the enactment of a holistic law on local content. Such a law should, among other things, criminalise breaches of the local content policy of the nation.
“The ministry through NITDA is ready to provide guaranteed order for the local products and the private sector must ensure quality of service and products. We are totally committed to the implementation of the Local Content Program and the Executive Order on Local Content.”
The local content policy and the Executive Orders came in to promote domestication of technology, using indigenous capacities and resources and to encourage patronage of locally–produced ICT products and services. This initiative is expected to lead to the development of skills in the country and lay the foundation for local production of critical components such as software, which is farmed out for import.
Implementation is key
Policies similar to the Executive Orders being touted are not new in the country but implementation has always been the problem. Indeed, the Federal Government at a point, through the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, wrote a letter with Ref No SGF/OP/1/S.3/VII/795, to head of civil service commission, ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government on the need to patronise made in Nigeria products, including procurement of locally assembled computers and locally developed software.
Unfortunately, that was never implemented. Currently, NITDA is also battling with the MDAs over its new directive that they should seek approval from the ICT regulator before embarking on any IT project, with a view to weighing local options for such projects.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Programmos Software, most of what Nigeria has had in terms of ICT local content policies are mere political statements that are never implemented.
“Most of the time, we are quick to make those kinds of policy statements but we actually don’t have what it takes to implement the policies. Many past governments, ministers had ventured into this but I think we have failed government institutions in Nigeria and these actually have failed the country.
“We would have been better than we are if government policy statements are being implemented the right ways they were thought of before now. It is easy for a minister to say he is getting MDAs to use local software, but then, it is not easy for him to act when the opposite is being done by the MDAs. Nobody enforces it when somebody has done contrary to the government’s policy statement” he said.
Quality as target
With policies and implementation in place, Nigeria may still not make any headway with local content in ICT without quality local products and services up to the foreign standards that Nigerians are used to. This is why local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are encouraged to always meet international standards.
According to Amos, the reason many Nigerians would go for foreign phones or computers, when there are locally produced ones, is because they believe the foreign ones are of better quality. The Programmos boss, however, canvassed a synergy between Nigerian technology companies and foreign players to be able to get foreign exposures that will also impact on their local products.
“The Nigeria ICT industry should be coordinated in a manner that they can actually identify those so called big hub players, let’s say from Asia, US, and Europe, if the industry could position itself in a manner that players in Nigeria can offer from a network of professional services from these key hub players, they would be able to enjoy international exposure.
These include opportunities of best practice in their operations and business relations in Nigeria and by that you realise that these kind of footprints would encourage that if I have a foreign company, say from India, wishing to do one business or the other in Nigeria, such company would obviously be pointed to at least one or two local companies before that business can be done,” he suggested.
Beyond consumption of ICT products and services, Nigeria needs to establish herself as a technology nation and the road to that, according to experts, begins from government by first creating the enabling environment for local businesses to thrive.
Again, it is believed that if government, as the biggest spender in the economy, decides to patronise local ICTs alone, then the local industry will in no time spring up and compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. It goes without saying that serious implementation of existing policies on local contents would play a major role driving local content development in the ICT industry.
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