Emma Okonji writes that the proposed Abuja Information Communication Technology Park, an initiative of the federal government, will attract real investment opportunities for the country if properly executed
The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, last week, at a business roundtable forum organised for industry stakeholders in Lagos, triggered discussions between government and the private sector over the planned establishment of a National Information Communication Technology (ICT) Park inside the Abuja Technology Village.
Although it is a government initiative to establish the ICT Park, such initiative has already won the hearts of foreign and local investors who are operating in the country’s ICT sector and they have indicated their interests to invest in the ICT park, which is expected to open up investment opportunities for the Nigerian economy.
The establishment of the park according to Shittu, would further facilitate digital capacity building for immediate employment, entrepreneurial skills development, job and wealth creation, designed to promote the digital economy in an era of disruptive technology through effective regulations.
Having conceived the idea to establish a National ICT Park, where talents will be trained in line with global digital transformation, government has deemed it absolutely fit to bring in the private sector to drive the initiative, while government which has ‘no business in business’, will create the enabling environment with the right policies that will enable it thrive.
It is on the premises of this that the Minister of Communications sold the idea to ICT stakeholders who gladly accepted the views of government to invest in the project and also drive its implementation.
According to the minister, developed countries of the world have embraced ICT to develop their economies and Nigeria can learn fast from them.
The initiative is to set up a very massive ICT Centre, where global players in ICT will have spaces for research and development, where annually we will invite the entire world to come to Nigeria and exhibit the latest development in the ICT world. The initiative will allow Nigerians to key into the various facets of innovations in the ICT world and we need both the international and local investors in ICT to invest in the National ICT Part project so that we can have an ICT Centre similar to what we have in Barcelona, Spain, Dubai World Trade Centre, among others, where ICT exhibitions are held annually.
The gathering of the private sector in the ICT space to the business roundtable, is to sell the idea to them and encourage them to invest in it.
“One advantage that Nigeria has is about its large population and ICT is a service industry that thrives on the large population of its end-products,” Shittu said.
Again, the initiative is to expose Nigerians to modern ICT development and to bring the industry and the academia together in the same environment to boost innovation in research and development.
At the business roundtable with the minister, the private sector, however, raised their concerns, which they asked government to address in order to actualise the dream of setting up a massive ICT Park that will create innovation in the digital age and also boost the Nigerian economy.
The Abuja Technology Village
One key factor that will support the planned establishment of the National ICT Park, is the Abuja Technology Village, where the National ICT Park will be located. Addressing ICT stakeholders at the business roundtable, the Managing Director, Abuja Technology Village, Ms. Hauwa Yabani, said National ICT Park, as projected by the federal government requires large expanse of land and that the Abuja Technology Village is capable of providing a vast land that will meet the needs of the ICT Park. According to her, the Abuja Technology Village is a Science and Technology Park initiated in Abuja to serve as a catalyst for the desired transformation of Nigeria as a knowledge-based economy.
“It is strategically located between the Abuja City Centre and the International Airport, adjacent to the African University of Science and Technology. The Park enjoys special economic zone status that stands it apart from its competitors, the focus centre being energy, minerals, ICT and bio-technology, designed to accommodate over 140,000 people when fully developed,” Yabani said.
She added that the centre is divided into three broad components: Facility Development, Enterprise Creation and Free Zone Administration. For the facilities development, she said over 85 per cent completion of high primary infrastructure had been achieved, containing 133km of telecommunications ducts, 56km of electric cable network, among others. For the enterprise creation platform, an inspire incubator has already been established, which provides an environment for the creation and growth of technology focused ideas and businesses. The final component, which is the free zone administration, establishes working relation with all, government organisations,” Yabani added.
Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, who was represented at the business roundtable forum by a director at the agency, Mrs. Fallilat Jimoh, said there is no close correlation between innovation and research, and stressed that the planned establishment of the Abuja ICT Park would change the old narrative and reposition Nigeria in the global scheme of things in the technology space.
“With the mandate of NITDA to implementation the country’s ICT policies and coordinate general Information Technology (IT) development in the country, it will fully support the planned establishment of the Abuja ICT Park,” Pantami said, adding that NITDA is currently implementing a roadmap that will help transform Nigeria into a knowledge-based society, through IT revolution, capacity bulling, digital inclusion, digital job creation, government digital service promotion, local content and service security. He said the initiative would drive ICT skills development among Nigerian youths and the Abuja ICT Park would further provide avenue for ICT skills development for Nigerian youths.
Having embraced the federal government’s initiative to establish the Abuja ICT Park, industry stakeholders, however, raised some concerns about unstable government policies, which they said, could scuttle the idea if appropriate measures were not taken to address the issue of government policy summersault that has oftentimes grounded potential business plans.
Stakeholders present at the business roundtable stakeholders’ engagement forum, lauded the initiative, but cautioned against policy summersault and inconsistency in government’s willingness to executive national projects that will benefit the masses.
Chairman, SmartCity Plc, Mr. Ademola Aladekomo, said Nigeria truly needed a national technology park with full facilities where people could work, live and play, with lots of technology incubators and accelerators that are relevant to the people. He, however, advised that government must allow the private sector to run such national park, with little of government intervention, since government has no ‘business in business.’
“ICT Parks are products of society needs and the proposed Abuja ICT Park should be seen in that light to make it successful,” Aladekomo said.
Former Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, said Nigeria needed such national ICT parks to align with the global fourth industrial revolution, but, however, stressed the need for consistency in government policies that will drive national projects that will benefit the masses. “Government must believe in the strength of ICT for national development, and as such, create the right enabling environment for businesses to thrive,” Ndukwe said.
Managing Director, Rack Centre, Mr. Tunde Coker, said the planned Abuja ICT Park would help Nigeria to further develop her technology capacities that would attract the right foreign direct investment (FDI). He said ICT could impact up to 90 per cent of economic growth, with reliable data centres that underpins technology development in Nigeria, adding that government must make data centers that are located in Nigeria to become globally competitive, since demand for data centre operations is on the increase, with technology evolution and big data explosion. He equally stressed the ‘ease of doing business’ in Nigeria and advised that government must strengthen the policy for the ‘ease of doing business’ in order to attract more foreign and local investments.
The Director, ICT, Federal Ministry of Communications, Mrs. Monilola Udoh said the concept of the ICT Park would enhance smart living and digitalised lifestyle of Nigerians, designed to fill the technical skills gap of university graduates, where software developers would be trained and re-trained.
Assuring stakeholders of government’s commitment to the National ICT Park, the minister promised stakeholders of less government interference in the implementation of the ICT park, despite the it was initiated by government.
“It has been noted that ICT parks will continue to play a central role in nations’ economic development. This ICT park is envisaged to house clusters of technology companies in the city or near universities—help to nurture fledgling technology industries by building pools of both native and evolving talent. ICT park will promote the growth/acceleration of existing technology-based companies, facilitate the growth of SMEs, attract large national and international companies, thereby attracting inward investments, create world-class world-scale physical facilities and proactive support services in a controlled environment that is safe and secure,” Shittu said.
“It will also encourage spin-off firms started by researchers in universities, thereby promoting and helping to commercialise academic researches and strengthen the university’s association with the park. Therefore, Nigeria’s ICT park as envisioned by the Ministry of Communications, focuses on either achieving commercial success or fostering the development of local talent,” Shittu added.
The project is part of government’s preparation for the fourth industrial revolution, which is predicted to happen globally in the near future. The establishment of the center will encourage investment in the ICT sector and complement the proposed ICT university, which will also produce the required skilled manpower for Africa to partake in the fourth industrial revolution,” Shittu said.
He added that the most innovative and creative countries around the world leveraged the possibilities of ICTs in bringing about social, economic and political advancements for their people. ICTs have brought about huge disruptions in traditional economies, boosting GDP growth in some and causing massive job and wealth creation in others. You may not be unaware that ICT park enables a concerted leap into the digital age by creating a dynamic environment in which local talent is incubated, cultivated, and shared. ICT parks are best tested and trusted institutional mechanisms to address the needs of technology-intensive, knowledge-based SMEs globally. ICTs are essential in driving entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth – and they are essential in the 21st century, to getting a job and keeping a job.
“Therefore, the proposed nation’s ICT parks will be able to serve as prime drivers in the nation’s diversification efforts. Over the past five years, oil revenue has allowed the nation to start a number of large development projects intended to spur growth in non-oil sectors in order to diversify our economy and lessen our dependence on oil. The need to create a more sustainable socioeconomic environment for our teeming tech savvy youth to cross fertilse their ideas have come to the fore,” the minister said.
Nigeria needs to build strong interface between the academia and the industry, and we want industry participation and synergy on this project that will be of immense benefit to the ICT ecosystem, be it the student community, the academia and the industry. The ICT Park will help to bridge the practical skills gap that exists between the academia and the industry. I must confess that the ICT Park projects is capital intensive, hence the need for industry stakeholders to partner Ministry of Communications to establish the project,” the minister said.