The huge financial losses to the Nigerian economy arising from the over-dependence on foreign and proprietary software, is nudging Nigerians towards locally developed software, writes Emma Okonji
In the face of dwindling oil prices on the international market, most forward-looking nations of the world are exploiting viable alternative presented by Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to develop their economies. The focus, which is now on ICT, is beginning to tilt towards software development, which has a history of fast-tracking economic development with minimal investment.
However, in Nigeria, the reverse has been the case in the past, where multinational companies, including home-based companies and even government agencies, relied largely on foreign software to the detriment of indigenous software, thereby causing Nigeria huge financial losses, aside capital flight. One major excuse that was readily given as the reason for patronising foreign software, was that indigenous software had never met international standards in terms of quality. But that scenario has now been proven wrong by Remita software that was locally developed by Nigerians working in a Nigerian software company called SystemSpecs.
Remita, which is a software package developed as an electronic platform that helps the government, corporate organisations, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and individuals make and receive payments easily, has turned out to become the major local software deployed by the federal government for financial remittances through the Treasury Single Account (TSA). Since the federal government engaged Remita software about a year ago, there had never been any known case of underperformance. Rather, the Remita software, which is locally developed, has made Nigeria proud by helping the federal government to block all financial leakages, thereby saving billions of Naira for the country on a monthly basis.
Remita has therefore proved to Nigerians and multinationals doing businesses in Nigeria, that there are lots of local software out there that are of high quality with international standard, but are facing rejection simply because they have indigenous roots.
Indigenous software giant, SystemSpecs, made its foray into Nigeria’s growing ICT industry with this goal in its sights. Little wonder that within a short space of time, the company is already doing Nigeria proud globally with the revolutionary changes it has made in the nation’s financial landscape.
The Managing Director of SystemSpecs, Mr. John Obaro, in 1992, left a fulfilling career in the banking industry to establish SystemSpecs. He started with a limited number of staff as a partner agent of Systems Union, UK. He had since grown to develop a firm that has become Nigeria’s foremost indigenous software house, with over 160 talented Nigerians from various backgrounds and disciplines. Today, SystemSpecs’ homegrown Human Manager Payroll and Human Resource Management software is a leading name among public and private sector organisations in Nigeria, while its flagship software Remita is credited with redefining Nigeria’s financial landscape.
Remita aggregates multiple bank accounts, giving customers the ability to perform the complete suite of electronic transactions. Major billers also find Remita a useful tool, since it offers multiple payment options, generates instant receipts and transaction reports
Before the President Buhari administration implemented the much-vaunted TSA policy, government agencies reportedly operated about 17,000 scattered and poorly monitored bank accounts. This bred a culture of corruption, manifesting in fragmented bank accounts, compromised revenue remittances and deposit dormancy. For years, the government’s attempts to adopt TSA were unsuccessful, as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) lacked the technological capacity to manage the retail aspect of the policy.
Remita software has been around for 10 years, with a view to revolutionising payment in Nigeria, said SystemSpecs Executive Director, Deremi Atanda, during a recent interview on CNBC Africa’s mid-belt programme Power Launch. “Somewhere along the line, the country wanted to implement a fiscal policy which required the support of payment technology. We got onto the scene and proved we could deliver. That actually marked the start of our involvement with a significant national initiative,” Atanda said.
According to him, although it took several years for government to recognise the potentials in Remita software, some Nigerians and organisations that honour technology companies that have contributed to the development of the country, had in the past recognised SystemSpecs through Remita software.
At the high-profile Titans of Tech awards held in Lagos last month, SystemSpecs beat notable competitors in the industry to emerge the ‘Pan African Software Company of the Year.’ Its brainchild Remita also received accolades as the ‘Most Revolutionary eGovernment Product of the Year’, while the company’s founder, Obaro, made the list of Nigeria’s Top 50 Tech Titans at the industry night.
At the June, 2016 CBN Cashless Card Expo, Remita came up for mention as the most efficient e-Revenue service, even as it emerged the ‘Best Software Solution of the Year’ at the Nigerian Telecoms Awards.
This steady stream of recognition is hardly surprising to ICT pundits. Nigeria is reportedly lagging behind in the global ICT market share, considering that the sector contributes over 10 per cent to the nation’s GDP and can potentially overtake South Africa as the continent’s largest ICT market with more investments. SystemSpecs is in the business of realising this dream.
On a global scale, SystemSpecs is also making giant strides. Earlier this year, the company was conferred the Leadership in Technology award by the Africa Forum Scotland to recognise its promotion of excellence, best practice and innovation, especially with its software Remita. The award was multi-pronged, since Obaro was also named a fellow of the Centre for African Policy, Development and Research, Scotland for his efforts at improving ICT.
Foreign and proprietary software
Following from the success recorded by most indigenous software, some government agencies that have patronised foreign and proprietary software are beginning to express regret over the huge financial loss they have incurred in such patronage.
The country’s national identity card project for instance had suffered so much from foreign and proprietary software issues that has affected the success of the project for ages.
Sources close to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) have revealed that the national identity card project handled by the commission under the previous management, may come to a halt, following huge debt incurred for using a foreign and proprietary software in running the card system. According to the sources, NIMC engaged the services of a foreign software company to use its software believed to be more standard than any locally developed software in managing the few cards that were produced and distributed. Unfortunately, the software licence deal was a proprietary software deal, which demands that Nigeria will continue to pay a certain amount of money to the foreign software company as long as the deal lasts, an amount that is said to be running into millions of Naira on a quarterly basis.
The inability of NIMC to maintain payment of the proprietary licence deal became a serious issue for NIMC, as the foreign software company had to withdraw all support services for the functionality of the software, a situation that rendered the identity card project almost useless.
It was gathered that the new management of NIMC is looking inwards into the direction of locally developed software that could be trusted to manage the country’s identity card scheme.
Local software developers have continued to blame NIMC for neglecting the potentials of local software, which they said are capable of rendering quality services any day anytime.
NCS’ position on local software
The President of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, has called on all government agencies, including multinationals and home-based companies to begin to build trust in local software. According to him, the big names in the global software industry today, started small from garages, and got support from government over the time before they were able to perfect their software solution. “If Nigerians begin to patronise local software, it will provide an opportunity for the developers to improve on their software and unless we begin to imbibe the culture of supporting local brand, the country will continue to depend on foreign products to the detriment of local products that could stand the test of time,” Aderounmu said.
ISPON’s position on local software
The Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) has blamed policy inconsistency in government circles for the neglect of locally developed software.
President of ISPON, Olorogun James Emadoye who raised the concern recently, cited instances of gross neglect of implementation of national policies.
He gave instances where government had in the past, issued directive that government agencies should patronise made in Nigeria products, including procurement of locally assembled computers and locally developed software, but expressed regret that the directive was never implemented.
He said the industry landscape for Software Nigeria is characterised by rapid change driven by technological advances, platform disruptions, and broader adoption of Information Technology (IT), as well as the emergence of fragmented yet critical multi-nodal, multi-play actors in the ecosystem.
Emadoye therefore urged Nigerians, including government, to consider patronising local software, which he said could deliver better services than the foreign developed software.
Now that Remita software that was locally developed has proved that local software could provide services of international standard, there is therefore the need for Nigerians to support and patronise locally developed software.