Nigeria Can Leverage on ICT to Diversify Economy, Says Minister


Emma Okonji

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelemah has stressed the need for the private sector to key into government initiatives by leveraging on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to boost economic diversification in the era of crumbling oil boom.

The minister, who spoke in Lagos at the BusinessDay Technology Conference, with the theme ‘Beyond Oil: ICT As a Viable Alternative’, stressed the need for diversification of the Nigerian economy from over dependence on oil, through ICT initiatives.

According to him, technology has made it easy and cost effective to reach out to a large number of people. One of the focus of the Buhari government is to ensure that all government programmes that have been launched are implemented to reach out to millions of Nigerians. In the past, government programmes have mainly been driven on a pilot phase and at the end of the day, not many people benefitted from it because it was seen as pilot programmes.

“So technology has a key role to play to ensure that government reaches out to a large number of audience, using ICT tools,” the minister said.

He explained that earlier this month, the federal government launched a presidential innovation competition from which will emerge, 50 talented technology ideas from people that will be matched with mentors for financial support as well as presidential recognition.

“ICT had always played important roles in supporting the government major reform projects in establishing an institutional culture of transparency in corporate finances. The Bank Verification Number (BVN) initiative was implemented in 2015 to serve as a biometric database for all bank holders’ accounts. From that initiative, government as able to detect over 40,000 ghost workers in the federal payroll, thus saving billions of naira monthly and that is just part of what ICT is doing for government,” Enelemah said.

He reiterated that the primary engine of growth in ICT is the private sector, adding, government’s role in this regard is to be an enabler of technology growth by creating the right environment for technology related businesses to thrive. “Government’s role is to set out clear and consistent policy to create a space for funding and investment, the minister added.

“This is why at the top of our five-fold agenda of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, lies the ambition to create an enabling environment for industry, trade and investment. So we want to be known a ministry of enabling environment for ICT businesses”, he stressed.

According to him, once government is able to create the enabling environment, all stakeholders in the private sector, including international and local investors, will play their own roles.
There are impressive number of technology companies that are using disruptive technology to drive development in the ICT sector, from commerce to healthcare, to education and agriculture.
Government, he said, would continue to cut down on bureaucracies and bottlenecks that have made cost of infrastructure high in the country.

He explained that a number of state governments have taken the initiative and they have started reducing the right of ways fees for telecommunications operators, in order to speed up development and business expansion.
The ministry is currently creating a presidential initiative that will bring the federal government, state government, and the private sector together to ensure that the business environment reforms are jointly and uniformly implemented across the country, he assured the gathering.

Presenting the keynote paper, Senior Lecturer, Lagos Business School, Doyin Salami, who was represented by a technology professional and lecturer at the school, Olayinka David-West, called for increased broadband access at affordable rate, to enable ICT drive full technology development in the county.

Managing Director, Rack Centre, Ayotunde Cocker, called on ICT entrepreneurs to help existing businesses to crate solution that will help disrupt the old way of doing business, such that current businesses will be delivered on real time basis.
Publisher/CEO, BusinessDay, Frank Aigbogun, organiser of the forum, said ICT should be seen as the pillar of development in the country, and a viable alternative to oil, since oil, which Nigeria hitherto depended upon, is beginning to crash.