Opeke Seeks Executive Order for Technology Sector

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Funke Opeke
MainOne’s Chief Executive Officer, Funke Opeke

Emma Okonji

The Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Broadband Company, Ms. Funke Opeke, has raised the concern over government’s weak political will to promote local technology in the country, both in software and hardware development.

Opeke, who spoke recently in Lagos while delivering a keynote paper on technology and government’s support in Nigeria, said the federal government was yet to protect and promote local technology development in the country.

Citing the Presidential Executive Order that was passed to promote the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the country, Opeke said: “The president passed an Executive Order to say government will preferentially source from Nigerian owned companies, but we have not seen that take effect.

“Government policies directly impact the ecosystem through the creation of favourable terms, infrastructural development and the provision of incentives for high-growth start-ups, but we are yet to feel the policy impact on ICT in Nigeria,” Opeke said.

According to her, South Africa’s tech ecosystem remarkable growth was as a result of its strong government support with generous Research and Development (R&D) incentives for the private sector that can give tax relief up to 150 per cent of qualified spending.

“In South Korea, the governments led the growth of the tech ecosystem with well-constructed policies, a mix of protectionist economic policies and export performance supported local companies in becoming globally competitive firms.

“India’s tech ecosystem earns number four in the world due to strong government backing with friendly policies and free incubation hubs for entrepreneurs.

“It is also supported by a growing number of funds, angel investors, incubators, accelerators, event platforms and academic programs, which drives its growth,” Opeke said.

Opeke, therefore called on the federal government to stimulate growth in the Nigerian tech ecosystem and also impact on local innovation hubs in Nigeria by providing the necessary infrastructure, such as power, broadband infrastructure, good road network, as well as creating an enabling and conducive business environment for business zones and innovation hubs with a friendly tax regime.

She said there must be development and enforcement of effective policies that will not only protect local technologies, but also enable them to grow and compete well globally.

“Creating an enabling environment for the tech ecosystem will support the development of home grown technology.

“In this new virtual world, we see a lot of skilled services delivered into Nigeria virtually. You only have to do business with multinationals in Nigeria to recognise a lot of the work that powers these companies that are fuelled offshore.

“That implies they make money in Nigeria but do not contribute jobs here in Nigeria. This is a global phenomenon and the technology makes it easier to achieve such results.

“This is where government comes in. Incentives to have jobs here. Protection that has teeth for local companies, are needed to grow local technology in Nigeria,” Opeke said.

Quoting the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), which had in the past, said over $1 billion was spent yearly to import foreign software into Nigeria and many start-ups outsource software development to other parts of the world which is not a good use of the capital that they are able to raise, Opeke said such development could stop if the federal government was willing to support local technology in the country.

Addressing the challenges of local incubators, Opeke said: “There are not enough incubators and limited scale providing early-stage support to start-ups. Part of early teething problems start-ups face is access to market, finding customers for their product or establishing that potential customers need.”

She advised that there should be sector-specific accelerators in the ecosystem, not ones addressing all the same issues. She however commended financial institutions like Stanbic IBTC (Blue Lab) and Access Bank (Fintech Foundry) that are setting up accelerators for start-ups building products and services in the finance sector, that could also be useful to their overall business.