Domesticating Information Technology through GITEX

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The annual Gulf Information Technology Exhibition, which held recently in Dubai, has become a platform to further drive the frontiers of Information Technology domestication in Nigeria, writes Emma Okonji

Nigeria, through the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), has over the years, keyed into the annual GITEX technology week as a platform to further drive technology development in Nigeria, while emphasising on local content and IT domestication.

This year’s GITEX technology week, which ended recently in Dubai, gave Nigeria the opportunity to address its local content and IT domestication drive, designed to save the huge sums spent on the importation of foreign technology solutions that could have been developed in Nigeria, using local contents.

Worried that over N720 billion leave Nigeria’s economy annually through the importation of IT equipment, solutions and services, the Nigerian delegation to this year’s GITEX Technology Week 2017 held at the Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai, used the opportunity to woo investors into the country, emphasising that more incentives would be given to investors willing to domesticate their technologies in Nigeria.

From software to hardware, the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) had recently released statistics, declaring that 90 per cent of IT products and services being used in the banking industry, for instance, are foreign while local vendors are not patronised.

Being the highest IT policy formulation and implementation agency in the country and Nigeria’s representative at the annual GITEX technology week for the five years running, NITDA has continually called for technology domestication as one of its cardinal objectives, which it reiterated at this year’s GITEX, especially where 10 Nigerian technology startups were also provided with the opportunity to pitch their ideas to prospective investors.

Drive for IT domestication
Rather than just woo potential investors to come into the Nigeria’s IT industry to invest, NITDA took it upon itself to impress it on the investors who visited the Nigerian Pavilion and the African Investment Forum organised at this year’s GITEX that localising or domesticating their IT products and services in Nigeria, would not only make the companies to be treated as Nigerian companies with a lot of incentives coming their way, such an approach to attracting Foreign Direct Investment, but would also be beneficial to the nation’s economy, making it a win-win investment model.

The Director General of NITDA, Dr. Isa Pantami, who led the Nigerian delegation to this year’s GITEX said: “More than 50 per cent of what potential investors needed to assemble products towards localising and domesticating their IT investments can be sourced from Nigeria.”

Pantami, while addressing potential investors at the African Investment Forum, organised by NITDA, in collaboration with the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), emphasised the need for investors to have it in mind that they would need to localise their IT products and services, saying Nigerian IT market offers greater investment opportunity with high return on investments.

Wooing foreign investors
The investment forum, which took place on October 11 at GITEX, was an exclusive feature of the event, facilitated by Nigeria and which served as a platform to highlight not only ICT investment opportunities in Nigeria and Africa, but also to discuss and explore the startup ecosystem.

Investors from United States, Germany, Indian and many other countries from within Africa and Nigeria, came in their large numbers to the forum with some subsequently indicating investment interest in Nigeria.

At the forum, investors were able to witness first-hand, some of the most innovative startups in Africa and hear about the IT developments in the region in the field of Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, drones and many more.

With senior level speakers participating from government organisations including Ministry of Communications Nigeria; NITDA; National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC); Nigerian Computer Society (NCS); Nigeria Internet Registration Association of Nigeria (NiRA); Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat); Galaxy Backbone and lawmakers, the African Investment Forum, was an opportunity for investors to gain in-depth understanding about the developments in the African region, future prospects and what this would mean for business between their countries and the African continent, especially Nigeria, being the largest African market.

The NITDA boss called on the global investment community to consider Nigeria a worthwhile investment haven for IT business and a place where they can source a lot of component for localising their technologies, stressing that “we need companies that will think globally and act locally.”

He told a large audience of investors that there was an enabling environment created by the Buhari administration’s Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PBEC), for businesses to thrive in Nigeria.

He debunked all the misconceptions about doing business in Nigeria especially in the area of security of life and property, stressing that the problem of insecurity has been fought significantly and that investors have been having safe business operations contrary to false information on the internet.

At the forum, the President, Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, however, explained that coming to Nigeria to invest would require investors thinking of domesticating their IT products and services by opening a manufacturing assembly plant or physical office in the country.

“We have enormous human talents in Nigeria and the kind of investment we need is from those who are willing to build manufacturing plants in the country. We are tired of importation especially when you could manufacture all of your IT products in Nigeria,” he said.

The untapped potential

At the forum, Pantami unveiled the huge untapped potential in the Nigerian ICT market, buttressing his positions with relevant statistics.

According to him, ICT sector contributed 11.27 per cent to the total nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2017, stressing that while investors are guaranteed better returns on investment, Nigeria will also benefit by boosting its (GDP) contribution from IT through such investment.

While offering the investors insight into the potential of the Nigerian economy, Pantami said towards increasing the broadband penetration in Nigeria to 30 per cent by 2018, the country has developed a comprehensive National Broadband Plan (2013-2018)

“We see a good potential for growth in the sector and we are creating an environment that can significantly increase the sector’s contribution to the nation’s GDP. As such, this is a good time to invest in our ICT sector and we invite you to partner us in this season of growth,” Pantami said.

Showcasing Nigerian startups

The investment forum, which took place on October 11, was an exclusive feature of GITEX and it served as a platform to discuss the current startup eco-system in Nigeria and Africa at large.

NITDA used the occasion to showcase the 10 technology startups from Nigeria, sponsored to the conference by the agency, through its subsidiary, Office for IT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE). The startups were on hand to showcase their innovative IT solutions to foreign investors, who immediately showed investment interests in some of the startups.

The startups, which include Nicademia, SIX, Tattara, Accounteer, Beat Drone, Cloudoria, Dropque, MyPadi, Ward Monitor and MTK E-Learning, outstandingly represented Nigeria at the event, which is a global rallying ground for funding startups and exposing innovators to mentors and venture capitalists.

According to Pantami, NITDA’s OIIE had searched for talents among startups and supported them towards developing the startups ecosystem.

Addressing the investors, the NITDA DG said: “The activities of the OIIE have enabled the ICT startup innovation ecosystem in Nigeria to grow at a remarkable pace. One of our startups- Genie Games- won the 2nd position at the keenly contested Startup Movement Competition at GITEX 2016.

“Many Nigerian startups have also won plaudits from home and abroad. For example, HopStop, an online city transit App acquired by Apple for a whopping $1 billion, was owned by a Nigerian-born Entrepreneur. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, visited Nigeria last year and had very complimentary things to say about the quality of ICT talent in the country. His foundation also provided $24 million funding for Andella, a Nigerian company focussed on building world-class software development teams.

“Konga.com, a Nigerian e-commerce company, attracted over $65 million funding in 2014. Also, out of a record-breaking total of $366.8 million raised by African startups in 2016, investments in Nigerian startups had the largest share of $109.4 million.

“These investment stories underscore the viability of the Nigerian startups and the capacity of Nigerians to conceive ingenious ideas. We invite you, our potential investors, to take advantage of this massive talent pool as you invest in Nigeria,” Pantami added.

Legislative support

Corroborating Pantami’s views and passion for developing technology startups from legislative perspectives, House Committee Chairman on Information Technology, Mr. Onawo Ogoshi and Senate Committee Chairman on ICT and Cybersecurity, Mr. Abdul-Fatai Buhari, said the Nigerian government, through the two legislative chambers, has been creating an enabling legal environments to ensure higher returns on investments through a number of legislations-backed initiatives to guarantee less risks on investments.

Senior Special Adviser to the President on Information and Communications Technology, Mr. Lanre Osibona, who moderated the panel discussions at the investment forum, added that government was working towards ensuring that the ease of doing business in Nigeria is enhanced for existing and potential investors.

Both the Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone, Mr. Yusuf Kazaure and the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Communications Satellite (NigComSat) Limited, Ms. Abimbola Alale, said there is abundant infrastructure in Nigeria even as they stressed that their investment would also be needed in such area as telecoms infrastructure segment to help deepen the huge bandwidth capacity lying largely untapped at the shores of Nigeria.

The strategic plan

This year’s participation of Nigeria at GITEX has been eventful given the quality of engagement that the country’s delegation had with investors, especially with the African Investment Forum, where investors from different countries indicated their interests to coming to Nigeria to invest. But analysts have said that a lot needed to be done by NITDA in the area of strategic planning that will facilitate a follow up with the potential investors so as to sustain the expected inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) into the industry as well as ensure proper IT domestication, going forward.