Organisations in the public and private sectors spend an average of $2 billion (about N598 billion) to import Information Technology hardware into the country annually, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has said. Acting Director General of NITDA, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, disclosed this on the sideline of this year’s national conference on IT and national security organised by the Nigeria Computer Society, in Abuja.
He noted that while the penchant to import IT products and services from abroad has continued to grow, the development has resulted in lack of patronage for hardware manufacturers licensed by government to produce IT in Nigeria.
“The total percentage of local hardware contributed to the total IT consumption in Nigeria annually is just about seven per cent, while the remaining 93 per cent is contributed by foreign technology firm. As such, $2 billion is spent annually to import hardware into this country,” he said.
Olatunji explained that over the years, Nigeria, unlike other countries that have had to leverage technology as a way of diversifying their economy, has been a mono economy, relying on oil for over 70 per cent on its foreign exchange earnings. He lamented that Nigeria currently has between six to seven computer assembly plans to serve a population of over 180 million, yet, there is no patronage.
Olatunji said: “What we need to do lies in the area of more awareness creation and standardisation.
“One of the problems that has led us as a nation into the current economy recession is our overdependence on oil. However, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) presents a veritable alternative to oil.
“Other countries such as Singapore, Indian and Malaysia and so on, have been able to leverage technology to leapfrog their economy, creating a lot of local original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), giving them incentives and making them learn from their mistakes and improve upon them before becoming national and global brands and that is why we believe the ICT is the way to go,” he said.
However, Olatunji said in an economic recession such as the one Nigeria is currently in, the need to develop human capital was essential, stressing that NITDA, in its capacity, has focused on deepening human capital investment.
“Already, NITDA and the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, have been holding discussions with the OEMs to ensure that they are better positioned in terms of production quality and perception by looking at what their problems are and designing appropriate policies to resolve their problems.
“Also, to bridge the skill gap towards diversifying the economy through technological development, NITDA has created two initiatives: Office for Nigeria Content in ICT (ONC) and the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE),” he said.
According to Olatunji, there are some 21 IT innovation hubs scattered across the country trying to develop ideas and products in the ICT sector, but lamented that they have been found to be faced with a trilemma of lack of proper coordination, funding, efficiency, all of which are affecting their performances.
He said that NITDA was in discussion with government at all levels, especially at the federal level, to make sure that expenditure in the public sector is directed at patronising locally-developed IT products and services.
“We have, indeed, called on ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that it may soon get to a level that we have to start criminalising patronage foreign ICT products and services in exercising their procurements activities, especially in areas where there are local alternatives that could deliver the same functions as the foreign counterparts,” he added.
Other areas listed by the NITDA DG, where the agency is working towards leveraging technology for as a springboard for economic development is by training less-privileged people by empowering them with IT knowledge and tools; driving the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) market worth N300 billion in Nigeria as well as the Graduate Internship Programme (GIP), being run in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance to encourage IT startup development.
Aside existing 21 IT innovation hubs in the country, NITDA said it was working with the office of the Vice President, to create additional 12 innovation centres across the country with two each in the six geopolitical zones.
While he said this would be run on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, Olatunji maintained that the government will incentivise the scheme.
One area, through which NITDA is promoting capacity building, is in the area of giving scholarship in areas of ICTrelated capacity building. “Over 300 Nigerians have benefited from NITDA Scholarship programme.
To scale up capacity building in the ICT field, we have increased the number of beneficiaries of our scholarship programmes. Currently, we are now targeting 111 candidates for Masters programme, with three per state, while 37 will benefit from our PhD programme, each from the 36 states of the federation and federal capital territory, Abuja.
“Overall expectation is that in the next four years, we wan to create about 10,000 jobs that will provide part of the critical mass of capacity needed to really turn around the fortunes of Nigerian economy to a point that we are able to reduce dependence on oil revenue and reduce capital flight in the country through increased local production of ICT products and services backed with robust patronage,” he added.
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