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Nigeria Leads In Internet Penetration In Africa-NITDA Boss

Posted: Aug 2, 2016 at 1:34 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dr. Vincent Olaunji is the Ag. Director General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). In this interview, he speaks on the investment drive for the growth of the ICT industry, capacity-building initiative of the agency for youths as well as the level of preparations of the country for the forthcoming 2016 Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), among others.



What will be your assessment of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry?

I will say we are making progress, gradually. If you look at businesses in this sector, what we have now is far better than what we used to have about 15-20 years ago.

Investment in the sector has grown tremendously than what we had a decade ago. Today, regular internet users are far better than what we used to have a decade ago.

The level of awareness has also grown impressively coupled with effective deployment of ICT in both public and private sectors. Everything is far better than what we used to have more that decade ago and in the whole of Africa; Nigeria is now leading in terms of Internet penetration. As at the last count, the country had 98 million Internet users which is unprecedented in sub-Sahara Africa. So, if you put all these indices together, we can say that the ICT industry in Nigeria is growing.


As the highest ICT policy formulation and implementation agency in the country, what is your direction on local content development?

It will interest you to know that we have a full-fledged unit that is implementing local content development initiative in the ICT industry. That is Office of the Nigerian Content in ICT (ONC) and what we are trying to do with this office is to ensure that, one; we encourage actual production and manufacturing of ICT products and services and ensure standards in line with global best practices; ensure that our manufacturers have after-sales support services in case customers have issues with the products or services they are offering.

Having such supports centres in place will help them secure the confidence of Nigerians’.

Also, we need to be able to encourage Nigerians to patronise what our local companies produce because we have a population of over 180 people with a larger percentage of them being technology savvy.

So, whatever you produce here, you are sure of a ready-made market for you  but the standard is right in order to make sure the products and services are in line with global best practices.

So, by the time we encourage Nigerians to patronise what we have, the locally-produced brands will grow and we can even begin to export to other African countries and eventually, Nigeria can become the hub of ICT in Africa.

Also, we want to encourage Nigerians to be able to post solutions online so that people from other countries can test and buy. That is a kind of revenue earner for us. We grow the sector through what we upload, we grow the sector through what we produce locally and we also grow the sector through capacity building. We have a lot of potential in this country, all we need to do is to put them together, ensure that we scale them up to the standard and we are good to go.


Many people still perceive locally-produced hardware and software solutions as inferior to foreign brands. How do we conquer this ugly trend?

I think it is still all within awareness and advocacy. It is even getting better and for our players in this sector to ensure that the standard is perfect.

I tell you there are software solutions in Nigeria, for instance, that could be compared to any other foreign solutions from any part of the world. What we need is to perfect our game, ensure good standards.

The so-called HP, Sonny, Microsoft, Acer and other big names started like our local players and if their government had not encouraged them, they would not have been international brands that they are today.

Twenty years ago, any product from China and Taiwan were scorned at but today, the whole world is going to China, Taiwan and Singapore. It is because their governments created friendly policies, which provided an enabling environment for them to thrive and grow and that is why they are where they are today and that is what we need to do and that is what we are doing to say we want a policy that will drive our local contents .

We have the guidelines that will drive our local contents. We want to create the enabling environment for our people to be able to play at global level.


You earlier talked about capacity building to grow our local content.  Is this what you intend to achieve with the recent official launch NITRA-Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS)?

Exactly! The GIS is expected to achieve some very important socio-economic targets.  Indeed, the economic benefits are job creation, empowerment and revenue generation for our youths.

Today, our youths are roaming the streets. Many are graduates and are not employed. So, what we intent to do with this programme is to train them, let them pass through Internship for one year, we pay them stipends through the Federal Ministry of Finance in the first year and after the training we place them where they can work and also encourage some of them to start their own businesses.

We expect small businesses to spring up from this initiative and they would be able to employ people. So, instead of looking for jobs, they will now become employers of labour and by the time we continue, we would be able to contribute meaningfully to the economic development.

We are doing two more of the NITDA-GIS Internship scheme this year and next year, we intend to do three zones. We have started with Lagos and we intend to make it a continuous process. This is just a pilot phase to test how people would accept and make mistakes and learn from it, if any and to see the impact of the training on them, track the beneficiaries, mentor them, follow up with what they are doing and evaluate.

So, by the time we are able to do this after one year, we can then go nationwide and can even increase the number of beneficiaries.

So, just as you said, we are building capacity to support the economy. We have noticed there is a major gap in our educational system. Students also go to schools for theory with opportunity to be exposed to adequate practical.

Ideally, a computer or IT graduate should be able to do something in the area of software development, hardware maintenance and the web.

But that is lacking because the most schools don’t have facility for effective practical classes and that is why we are already providing IT infrastructure in institutions of learning, whereby after finishing from their regular classes where they teach them theory, they can go to those ICT centres we have provided to see, feel and use the facilities.

Also, we are working with the Ministry of Education, precisely, the Nigerian Educations, Research and Development Council (NERDC) and the National University Commission (NUC) to see how we can review and jointly develop our educational curriculum with a view to making our youths employable and bring them to terms with the current trends across the globe.

So, the issue of capacity gap in our education curriculum and the requirement of the industry. It is a major issue and we are collaborating with the players in the industry.


NITDA has been participating in annual Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), which holds in Dubai. Can you share with us the success stories of this annual participation for Nigeria?

GITEX is a global platform and biggest IT platform in the Middle East and we believe we want to really grow the sector in Nigeria.

We want to promote home-grown solution; we want to create market for what we have in Nigeria. There is a need for us to take our solutions to global platforms such as GITEX where we expose them to global market, whereby people that come from other countries can see our home-grown players and products, look at what we have in Nigeria and if possible strike deals with our indigenous players. For instance, two of the young IT entrepreneurs that we took to GITEX last year already had working arrangement with some companies in Malaysia.

This is possible on the basis that we took them to GITEX last year. This year, the main focus is on start-ups and in fact, we have a grant of N1 million available for start-ups from different part of the country depending on the kind of solution they provide.

So, what we are trying to do is to take what we have here to global platform. It is not only GITEX that we would be taking our start-ups to; we are making arrangement to take them to CeBIT in Germany next year; we are preparing to take them to CES next year. So, we want to spread the gospel to tell them that good things are coming out of Nigeria.


What is going to be the focus of the Nigeria Investment Forum, which NITDA is planning at the GITEX 2016?

The objective is tell the whole world that the story has changed in Nigeria; it is not about negative things, it is not about insecurity or cyber-security, but rather, it is about innovations and creativity of Nigerians, it is about the friendly investment climate and the whole objective is to attract foreign investors into the growing ICT market.

It is at this juncture that I want to appeal that yes, NITDA has been doing all these; the truth is that we cannot do it alone. We need the support of government and key private sector organisations to increase the advocacy that the investment climate is changing for better in Nigeria.


Finally, what level of collaborations does Nigeria currently have with GITEX?

Well, the relationship has been very cordial. You will recall that, two years ago, Nigeria was the official partner country to GITEX and since then their representatives have been coming to Nigeria to see what we can do in terms of growing the industry.

As a matter of fact, GITEX’s representatives were at our last e-Nigeria forum held in Abuja. So, the partnership has been good. But this year, we have not been chosen as official partner country, we are only going there this year, set up our pavilion, hold our investment forum by showcasing investment opportunities in Nigeria to the global community and expose our start-ups to global opportunities, all these are our efforts to grow our budding ICT industry.