Against the desire of information communications technology (ICT) companies in the country to be offered the job of supplying 500,000 computers to empower Nigerian youths in the federal government-sponsored NPower project, some staff in the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have taken the unpatriotic option by offering the job to a foreign firm.
Some members of the Certified Computers Manufacturers of Nigeria (CCMON), the umbrella body of indigenous computer manufacturers, had raised the alarm of a surreptitious move by some persons in the vice president’s office to shut out indigenous firms in a major ICT programme of the federal government. They had argued that giving the job to local firms to handle was capable of lifting the status of local computer makers. The group accused the office of Vice President Osinbajo of orchestrating a plot to award the contract to a foreign firm through its Nigerian proxy.
The CCMON members familiar with the project said it was possible that both President Muhammadu Buhari and the Vice President may not be aware of the clandestine move to award the job to a Nigerian front that has no assembly plant. They revealed that in view of the present harsh economic climate, some members of CCMON have started retrenching their staff because they were not producing at full capacity, adding that giving a job of such magnitude to their members would have helped to mitigate the huge losses being incurred by the indigenous assemblers and therefore halt the job cuts. They called on President Buhari to investigate the matter.
A competent source said the process ended effectively last Tuesday after which three firms, two members of CCMON and the other a non-member but which represents Samsung of South Korea in Nigeria, were shortlisted in the pre-qualification process. It was further revealed that the South Korean firm was chosen against the hues and cries of local firms that such patronage of a foreign firm would further promote capital flight and worsen the dire economic situation in the country.
The CCMON members alleged that the bid process was structured according to the specifications of Samsung, the South Korean company, adding that bidders were given only two working days to produce all certifications and necessary documents to support their bids. They also wondered why local software developers were not visibly involved in the project.
The NPower programme is an ambitious project of the President Muhammadu Buhari government in which it hopes to buy 500,000 computers for 500,000 unemployed graduates it is about recruiting and deploying to schools and other sectors.
The Office for Nigerian Content in ICT as well as the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) have voiced their preference for patronage of local computer manufacturers in the course of executing the project, arguing that it will not only arrest capital flight but also help to create jobs within the country.
Presidency sources said three firms namely, Brian Systems, Zinox and Softcom, were shortlisted in the bid process. While Brian and Zinox are members of CCMON, the third company is said to be fronting for Samsung of South Korea.
And to make matters worse, the Samsung front has no assembly plant in Nigeria.
The implication of this, according to the source, is that no jobs would be created in Nigeria while the economy of South Korea would be highly reflated at a time the nation is going through the strain of scarcity of forex.
One of the CCMON members was said to have won the bid process on pricing but was schemed out of the project.
Industry persons had warned that some people in the vice president’s office were hatching a plot to award the contract to the agent of the foreign firm which has no known pedigree and experience in delivering critical jobs of this magnitude.
The plot to award the contract to a foreign company against the on-going campaign of the Buhari government for Nigerians to patronise local manufacturers has enraged some indigenous firms.
A chief executive of an indigenous company (name withheld) which was not short-listed in the bid said he was not bothered by the fact that his company did not make it in the bid process but he did not hide his disgust at the news that the promoters of the NPower project ever contemplated awarding the contract to a foreign company.
“It will be a disaster and disgrace to the reputation of President Buhari if the office of the vice president goes ahead to involve a foreign company in a project in which there are qualified and certified indigenous companies who can effectively deliver world class products and support services. Giving the job or any part thereof to a foreign firm will only help to grow the economy of that country, create jobs for its youths while the Nigerian economy continues to shrink with attendant job losses. Whoever that is scheming to involve a foreign company in the deal is an enemy of Nigeria”, he said.
The federal government’s Npower project seeks to empower and engage Nigerian youths and build a new legion of technology-savvy Nigerians.
Vice President Osinbajo while promoting the programme recently at a forum said that “the key to change and our future prosperity lies in innovation and is critical to our development”.
He said that government would be establishing an innovation fund this year which would deploy significant resources for the aim of creating opportunities for the youth to access fund for innovation and entrepreneurship.