Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Innovation and Technology, Mr. Tubosun Alake, spoke to journalists about the state’s plan to create job opportunities and boost Nigeria’s economy through technology empowerment of citizens. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
How do you intend to use technology to create job opportunities and in achieve your mandate as Special Adviser to the Governor on Innovation and Technology?
My mandate is to promote technology innovation in the state and my team has looked through different areas of concern to the state and we are coming up with technology innovation to address those identified areas of concern. Among the broad agenda of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu led Lagos State Government, technology is the pillar on which all other pillars sit. Technology drives all sector of the economy, be it sport, education, health, agriculture among others, and the state is keen at implementing the use of technology innovation to achieve results in all sectors. To achieve our mandate through the use of technology innovation to drive all sectors of the economy, we designed the Art of Technology Lagos Event that was hosted in December last year by the Lagos State Government, in conjunction with Eko Innovation Centre, where the government committed N250 million to drive technology innovation in the state. The event was designed to bridge the gap between government and the tech innovation ecosystem. The essence is to bring together, technology savvy youths in that ecosystem and government in order to co-create technology solutions that will address immediate challenges in the state. The idea is to create job opportunities for Lagos citizens and to enhance the Nigerian economy. From that event, we came out with four main pillars that are contained in our innovation master plan for the state, which include: Access infrastructure, funding and talent development, and these are the broad areas we are going to empower.
We understand that 80 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the state is driven by the private sector, and if government empower the private sector, it can create more job opportunities for the people.
What is the state government doing to address the issue of access to data and infrastructure in the state?
The state government is embarking on a 3,000km metro fibre project in the state that will commence this year. That will be the first phase of the project. The second phase will also cover another 3,000 km metro fibre optic cable that will be laid around the city of Lagos. The first phase of the metro fibre project is starting first quarter in 2020 and all arrangements have been made to ensue the successful take-off of the project this year. We have engaged a number of implementation partners that will execute the project. The state government will soon release a document and a network route map that will show the areas that the metro fibre will pass through in the first phase of the project. Aside opening Lagos to innovation with the fibre optic cables, we are going to provide ducts infrastructure in the state, which will reduce the cost of deployment for other fibre operators. The intention of the state government is not to take the entire fibre market in the state, but to provide duct infrastructure where other operators can plug in and provide broadband service to the people, without spending money to lay their own metro fibre cables, thereby reducing their cost of operation. The intention of the state government is to empower the private sector to get to market faster. By the time we complete both phases of 600,000 km metro fibre and duct infrastructure, it would open opportunities for technology innovation and growth in the state. As soon as the first phase of the metro fibre cable project is completed, we will be connecting healthcare centres and public schools with broadband connectivity that will provide unlimited access to internet. It will facilitate technology innovation and learning in schools and it will also promote efficient communication facilities in the healthcare centres.
Again, the state government is looking at the software developers’ space in order to empower young software developers. The idea is to have an assembly line of top-notch software developers who will be developing software applications that will address individual, organisational and state challenges. To achieve this, we have come up with the Open Government Initiative Platform, which is an open source environment that will develop a software ecosystem for local software development in the state, where government can fund complex software products that will drive innovation in the state.
Lagos is at forefront of technology innovation, but most government projects are abandoned and left in the hands of the communities after few years, without funding. How do you intend to revive abandoned projects?
In terms of sustainability of projects in Lagos, the state government is already addressing that. What happens is that some of those projects were not properly scoped at the design stage and the continuity plans were not put in place. It is for this reason that the state government is coming up with a master plan to address the challenges. In the new master plan, the state government will be working with private sector who will monitor the progress of the projects after completion and handing over to the communities. The essence is to ensure proper and continuous funding of such projects. There are some projects from the last administration, which we are currently re-scoping because the projects are good from the onset and would benefit the people immensely.
Lagos government came up with the idea to build smart cities in Lagos that will be driven by technology. How far has the state gone with the project?
The smart city project plan is ongoing and the state government is currently partnering the private sector to achieve that. We have the monitoring team that is in place to drive the smart city project for Lagos State. The planning has been ongoing and we need to get it right.
What is the idea behind the recent mock-up drone that was designed and displayed by the state government?
Drones are tools that will be used by the Lagos State Government for its Geographic Information System (GIS) project for the mapping of the entire landscape of Lagos. This is necessary because land administration is critical to the Lagos State government, since the mapping makes land administration much easier and efficient. With mapping, those in the Ministry of Lands and Survey, will be able to have idea of the entire landscape of Lagos and also know the government reserved areas and the areas that are available for sale to the public. Apart from land allocation, mapping helps to know the land topography and the soil type, which will guide property developers on the capacity of building structure that could be erected in certain areas. So, the drones will help in the mapping and digitilasation of the state. In case of outbreak of any disease, be it airborne or waterborne disease, the drone could be used in detecting it easily for prompt action. The same goes for emergency security issues and disaster recovery. The drones will be of great help for the evacuation of people and property from emergency sites. Drones can be used in the e-commerce sector for the delivery of goods purchased online and drones could be of great assistance in delivery essential items in the healthcare system. So the drones are part of the larger GIS project for Lagos State that will make land administration, emergency services, Police services and health services across the state, much better.
Having analysed the importance of drones to Lagos State government, what is your take on the planned licensing and control of the use of drones in the country by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)?
Although I have not seen the document for the planned licensing and control of the use of drones by the NCC, but I think licensing and control of the use of drones by NCC, is a welcome development. This is true because there are different used cases of drones, which vary from countries to countries, and that is where the need to license and monitor the use of drones by government is important to avoid cases where people will abuse the use of drones. But in as much as I support the idea to license and control of the use of drones by government, I also think that the licensing and control should be industry friendly so that businesses can run properly in an efficient manner.
What is your view about the current Right of Way(RoW) challenges in the state?
The issue of RoW has always been a challenge between state governments and telecoms operators to seek permission on RoW to expand their networks and infrastructure. I have a private sector background because I came from a private sector, and now that I am in the public sector, I understand the feelings of both sectors. There is this belief around the telecoms sector that state governments see the telecoms sector as a cash-cow that they should milk from, but that is not the thinking of government. In Lagos for instance, the government sees telecoms as critical source of infrastructure for the state that needs smart regulation so that telecoms operators do not take undue advantage of the citizens, hence the need for balancing. The Lagos State government, through its agency, the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Authority (LASIMRA), has been equipped to enforce regulation and compliance of mast installation and digging of roads for the laying of fibre cables by telecoms operators. LASIMRA has the mandate of Lagos government to smartly regulate telecoms mast installation and the installation of other telecoms infrastructure in the state. Telecoms operators are profit oriented and they focus on their business of providing uninterrupted telecoms services to the people, and I think there is need for regulation of their activities in the state. With the new management of LASIMRA, I believe they will grant RoW to telecoms operators to enable them expand their networks and infrastructure in such a way that it will not hinder network expansion that will address poor service quality, and at the same time, it will not inconvenience the citizens that are expected to benefit from the telecoms services.
There are cases of fibre cable cut during road construction in Lagos State, which often lead to disruption of telecoms services. What is the government doing to avert such situation?
Cutting of fibre cables during road construction is an issue of concern to Lagos State government, and the major cause of it, is indiscriminate digging and laying of fibre cables by telecoms operators. If the operators do not have permission to dig and lay their cables, most times they embark on indiscriminate digging and laying of cables and by the time roads are constructed, the cables are affected. What we have resolved to do going forward, is to factor in the construction of infrastructure ducts along side with the design of road construction so that telecoms operators can plug their network cable to the nearest duct to provide connectivity service to the citizens, without digging again and without building their own ducts. With the dig once strategy, cables will not be damaged during any road construction and maintenance.
It has been the plan of the Lagos State government to relocate the Computer Village Market in Otigba, Ikeja to a Katangoa, a suburb of Lagos in order to address the congestion issues in the market. What is the current development?
The Computer Village, which is the largest concentration of computer and accessories in the whole of West Africa, is an ecosystem of its own with beehive of computer trading activities. It currently has congestion issues and its planned relocation is ongoing. It is part of the greater Lagos plan and when relocated, it will further open the market to more business opportunities.
Previous government in Lagos planned hotspot in some locations to boost internet access, with plans to extend to several locations across the country. To what extent has the initiative been expanded to reach other parts of Lagos?
It is true that the previous government established hotspot in some locations, with plans to extend it to more locations in the state, but the current administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu had since realised that we have experts in the field of hotspot provision and we have decided to partner them on the project to provide hotspot in different locations in Lagos. The plan is that through the partnership, we will allow the hotspot experts to manage the hotspot and we are already talking to big players like Google and telecoms operators on the hotspot project. Even though it will still be government financed, but we believe the experts will better manage the various hotspot location.