This year’s Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) event and conference, which held at the World Trade Centre in Dubai, UAE, gave Nigeria the opportunity to showcase itself as strategic gateway for investment in Africa, during the African Investment Forum at GITEX 2020, while wooing global investors, reports Emma Okonji
The annual GITEX event, which commenced December 6, 2020, came to a close on December 10, with lots of opportunities for investments in Africa, as presented by Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami.
While presenting a keynote speech at the African Investment Forum in Dubai, Pantami said with about 1.3 billion, Africa accounts for about a sixth of the global population, second only to Asia in terms of continents with the largest population. “The United Nations has gone on to project that Africa will account for at least of quarter of the global population by 2050, with 50 per cent of these Africans projected to be below the age of 25 years. Africa has a massive geographical size that is almost the size of Europe and North America combined. It also accounts for a significant portion of the world’s natural resources, much of which are used for the manufacturing of ICT devices. For instance, materials like tantalite and cobalt are very useful in the production of laptops, batteries and other electronics; 71 per cent of the world’s tantalum comes from Africa while the continent meets 58 per cent of the world’s global cobalt needs.
Narrowing it down to Nigeria, Pantami explained that Nigeria had already positioned itself as the strategic gateway for investment in Africa, since investing in Nigeria gives investors easy access to close to 550 million people- 200 million from Nigeria, another 200 million West Africans and about 150 million Central Africans.
Investments in Nigeria
Pantami, while presenting the keynote address during the African Investment Forum, was able to convince a large global audience that investment opportunities existed in Nigeria, and that the country had since become a strategic gateway for investment in Africa.
According to him, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, with a 2019 GDP estimate by the World Bank putting Nigeria’s GDP at $448 billion. “Nigeria is part of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and it gives us access to the African continent covering an area worth over $3 trillion in GDP and eliminates tariffs on 90 per cent of goods traded across the continent. This is no doubt a unique opportunity for investors in Nigeria. With a population having an average age of 18.2 years, Nigeria is the 14th youngest country on earth, with close to 44 per cent of the population below the age of 15 years, according to the World Bank. Such a population of ‘digital natives’ can play a leading role in the global digital economy. Investors in our digital economy can be assured of access to a large pool of youthful and skillful employees at a more cost-effective rate than it would cost to engage employees in other parts of the world,” Pantami said.
In the area of innovation, Pantami explained that many Nigerians have made their mark through innovative solutions that they have developed. I will mention a few that relate to solutions that focus on enabling people to live normal lives in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Nigerian-trained Doctor is credited to have played leading role in the development of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Reports indicate that this vaccine is expected to pull in more than $8 billion in revenue by the end of 2021.
Another Nigeria developed Koniku, a device that uses artificial intelligence to create an electronic-nose that can ‘smell’ the COVID virus. A deal has already been signed by Airbus to deploy this solution on their aircrafts. Other non-COVID solutions include HopStop that was developed by a Nigerian and sold to Apple for $1billion.
In his good Will message, the Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said “Today, Nigeria is a leading destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa due to its vibrant emerging market, exceptional geographical position, diversified economy, young and eager labour force, and excellent quality of life and much more. Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria is expected to reach $220 million by the end of this quarter, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts’ expectations. This estimate portends an opportunity for investment in the Digital economy sector.
“Digital technologies are rapidly developing in diverse fields—including mobile communications, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoTs), and 3-D printing. We are now in the 4th Industrial Revolution and the world is experiencing the profound changes that new technologies bring to the way we live, work, interact, and do business.”
Nigeria Woos Global Investors
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, who spoke to global investors about investment opportunities in Nigeria, encouraged them to look the way of Nigeria in their investment plans.
Pantami, who led the Nigerian delegation to this year’s GITEX in Dubai, called on potential investors not to shun the golden opportunity of investing in the largest economy in Africa (Nigeria).
According to him, “The Federal Government of Nigeria has different policies meant to provide enabling environment of the investment community. The present administration President Muhammadu Buhari, has been working daily to provide solutions to challenges faced by the investor community. So far, by the end of 2019; when it comes to Ease of Doing Business, Nigeria climbed 15 points higher than previous year. Our target is that by 2025 we will be among the leading nations when it comes to Ease-Of-Doing-Business. Today, we are promoting online business registration, online visa processing, among other investment-friendly policies. Our regulatory focus is developmental in nature, especially in the ICT sector.”
Digital Economy Journey
Giving a trajectory record of the digital economy journey in Nigeria, Pantami said bearing in mind the importance of a digital economy, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, approved the request to re-designate the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy on the 17th of October, 2019. The change was officially endorsed by our Federal Executive Council on the 23rd of October, 2019 and the process of implementing a digital economy for the country began on the 24th of October, 2019.
“The re-designated Ministry was to focus on providing support for the development of Nigeria’s digital economy. We started by developing a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria. This document was unveiled and launched by Mr. President on the 28th of November, 2019. NDEPS provides a holistic and sustainable approach towards the development of our nation’s digital economy. It is based on the following 8 pillars: Developmental Regulation; Digital Literacy and Skills; Solid Infrastructure; Service Infrastructure; Digital Services Development and Promotion; Soft Infrastructure; Digital Society and Emerging Technologies; and Indigenous Content Development and Adoption.”
These pillars, according to the minister, outlined Nigeria’s approach for the development of the digital economy. The document, our plan and achievements so far are readily available on our website and social media outlets. I would encourage you download these and to take out time to go through them, Pantami told global audience during GITEX 2020.
He laid emphasis on three of the pillars such as Solid Infrastructure, Digital Services Development and Promotion, and Digital Society and Emerging Technologies.
The Solid Infrastructure pillar addresses the need to provide broadband access and data centres required to enable citizens to access the digital solutions that characterize the digital economy. When I assumed office as the Minister of Communications on the 21st of August 2019, the official broadband penetration figures stood at 33.72 per cent. It increased with the subsequent monthly figures from end of August 2019 to end of October 2020, where it stood at 45.93 per cent
Pantami made it clear that broadband remained a key component of any digital economy and it is not merely for entertainment. “Rather, empirical evidence has shown that it can help to significantly improve economic indices, create jobs and lift people out of extreme poverty. For example, according to a Report by Ericsson titled “How Important Are Mobile Broadband Networks for Global Economic Development”, 10 per cent increase in mobile broadband penetration results in approximately 0.6 per cent to 2.8 per cent rise in gross domestic product (GDP). In some countries, it increases the GDP by over 6 per cent,” Pantami said.
Citing the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020- 2025), Pantami said the document was developed to accelerate the growth of broadband connectivity across the country. The Plan was unveiled and launched by President Buhari on the 19th of March, 2020. The Plan is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90 per cent of the population by 2025.
“President Buhari also approved the designation and protection of relevant telecommunications infrastructure across the country as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and this supports the implementation of the Plan. In addition to these, we have addressed the Right of Way Issue (RoW) that had lingered for over a decade. These twin actions have effectively addressed the key areas of concern for broadband investments. We invite investors to take advantage of the opportunities in the telecommunications sector as outlined in our broadband plan. As we implement the Plan we are addressing policy, infrastructure, demand-drivers and funding issues to ensure its successful implementation. We are committed to supporting you to make it a mutually beneficial partnership,” Pantami told global audience in Dubai.
He said the Digital Services Development and Promotion pillar focuses on driving growth in the number of digital entrepreneurs in the country. We have a potential critical mass of innovative ‘digital natives’ that can provide the talent needed by any investor. These creative Nigerians can play a key role in the creation of digital jobs across all sectors of the country; jobs that are either based on or are dependent upon ICTs.
“Our Digital Economy Policy appreciates the importance of identifying and supporting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and it also focusses on encouraging many of these SMEs to go a step further by aiming to become Innovation Driven Enterprises (IDEs). The IDE-concept has been promoted by leading institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and these enterprises, no doubt, have great advantages. In contrasting IDEs and MSMEs we find that IDEs tend to have a global outlook while SMEs tend to start small and choose to remain local,” Pantami further said.
In Dubai, during the GITEX even, NITDA unveiled more plans on how to further strengthen startups in Nigeria.
NITDA’s Director General, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi said NITDA would further support the startup ecosystem to achieve success and for the growth of the country’s economy at large.
Abdullahi dropped the hint while fielding questions from TechEconomy.ng and other journalists at the opening of Nigerian Pavilion at the 40th edition of Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (#GITEX2020), which ended on Thursday.
‘Chiniki Guard’, a startup from Nigeria that uses AI product (application) to detect theft and prevent shoplifting, won $10,000 Best AI startup pitch at GITEX 2019.
In line with this smart move; displaying unwavering support to startups in Nigeria, NITDA again, provided opportunity for Nigerian startups to compete at the global stage.
Ten startups, drawn across the country, were offered full sponsorship to participate in the Global Future Stars (GFS), a major highlight of GITEX 2020 offering a veritable window for the country’s startup community to leverage international exposure, angel investors and mentoring.
Pleased with the innovation from Nigerian tech startups, Pantami said: “Even under COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian startups and the innovation ecosystem, have truly been brilliant. The startups are coming up with innovative solutions that help us to catch up with the new normal.
“During the lockdown, we organised innovation challenge whereby our startups came up with excellent ideas on the creation and production of ventilators, smart decontamination chambers and MyClinic App; all to contain the spread of COVID-19. Presently, the startups are trying to come up with innovative solutions to cushion the economic impacts and prepare the country for the post-COVID-19.”
Abdullahi further said that GITEX remained a big opportunity for the country to showcase her talented startups and learn from other countries what they are doing to prepare themselves for the post-COVID-19 era.
“Recall that the ICT’s contribution to the country’s GDP has been amazing. In the last quarter, the ICT contributed 17.83 per cent to our GDP; which is the most promising sector under this pandemic. So, the government is coming up with innovative policy to strengthen the ecosystem. We are working on the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Policy which will help us to create the ecosystem and an enabling environment; providing infrastructure for our startups.
“We are doing a lot in terms of capacity building to build the capacity for our startups as well as our citizens to understand and embrace the new emerging technologies so we can build a future where creativity will be substantially rewarded”, Abdullahi said.
Giving details of blockchain technology development in Nigeria, Pantami said the country was close to wide-scale blockchain technology adoption.
He said efforts were being made by the Nigerian government to provide frameworks, guidelines, standards and regulations towards wide-scale adoption of blockchain technologies in the country.
He said submissions from private businesses and professionals have reinforced the fact that blockchain technology, virtual currencies and digital assets have come to stay in Nigeria and globally.
This has triggered active participation of the Nigerian startups in the new ecosystem and value chain created by this technology, Pantami said.
The Minister, singled out education and financial sectors as those with immediate cravings to follow the steps of the Nigerian Customs Service blockchain technology adoption.
“Government’s role in Blockchain technology adoption is strategic. It requires that government at different regions should come up with policies to support Blockchain deployment. In Nigeria, we are already doing that.
“As a country, Nigeria is working towards becoming the leading nation in the Digital Economy. The Federal Government of Nigeria has developed a Digital Economy Policy that has eight pillars that crave for investments and Pillar seven which speaks about ‘Digital Society and Emerging Technologies’ and addresses issues around Blockchain Technology,” Pantami said.
TechEconomy.ng reported that the minister said that creating awareness matters a lot for the citizens and institutions to understand why such technology should be deployed, especially in the education sector where the integrity of a certificate paraded by a supposed student of an institution, must not be compromised.
When asked about the timeline with regards the wide-spread adoption of emerging technologies like the Blockchain, by the Nigerian market, the minister said: “Technology is becoming highly unpredictable due to the rapid growth. What I want to see happen with Blockchain is when it will dominate education, finance and other sectors especially where we need to save the integrity of documents and transactions and provide interoperability for seamless operations.
“My prediction is that Blockchain will be adopted across the world in the next few years. The future is that it will dominate every sector in no distant time.”
In his contribution, Abdulqader Ali of the Smartworld, said that for a business person, “he looks for solution that is secured and that is what Blockchain offers. You wouldn’t want to transfer or wire money via a channel that has been breached over and over. You look for alternative.
“Blockchain will have to disrupt a lot of industries. So, you can verify someone’s degree from any part of the world as Blockchain technology will empower you to do that.”
On setting global standard for Blockchain Technology, Ali said it would be difficult to point at a particular country as the leader on blockchain standards presently as each country has peculiar challenges they want to solve with Blockchain.
“The only way we can set standard is by tasking the leaders to understand the importance and give more credence to its adoption. Security is one big issue companies face today. A company with $100 budget, today, spends close to $80 solving security related challenges,” Ali said.