Discussants at the just ended eNigeria 2014 have charged government on the need to reinforce the local content theme as a way to encourage innovation and expand the portfolio of offshore earnings as the price of oil, the country’s main economic mainstay, shrink by over 40% in the global market.
Organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), eNigeria is the flagship conference of the government IT clearinghouse. Participants at the three day conference concluded that a strong local content policy backed by law was imperative to driving innovations.
The NITDA is already working to get a legislative framework for its local content policy at the National Assembly. It has also opened a Local Content Unit as a first step to ensuring adherence to the policy on ICT across sectors.
This year’s eNigeria theme: ‘Creating market opportunities for indigenous ICT products and services’ was designed round harnessing the country’s potential to grow local capacity in the production of hard/software which is still largely dominated by foreign solutions.
“In the financial service sector alone, over 80 percent of the operators are serviced by offshore solution providers,” said one participant in Abuja where the conference held. More than 450 participants attended the event. All agreed that a large untapped market exists for Nigeria youth to feed with innovative solutions.
Specifically, Dr (Mrs) Wunmi Hassan, in a presentation titled ‘Breeding Technopreneurs for Transformation of Nigeria’ said technopreneurs are those who take up the ICT challenge and become employers of labour.
She said for Nigeria to be transformed, the country needs to produce many technopreneurs that will not just innovate, but come up with innovations that will address peculiar challenges of the country. This, she said, is the only way to develop local contents as being clamoured for. She added that anybody that is going to innovate must ensure that such innovation is marketable, saying the key to that is to come up with innovations that will meet people’s needs.
Though she identified lack of capital as the major challenge of startups in Nigeria, she expressed dismay that despite the numerous funding opportunities such as TetFund, USPF, NITDA Fund, Ecological Fund established by the government to address the challenge of funding for startups, nothing has changed, as access to the above listed funds have been rather difficult for tech startups.
Other speakers at the event also corroborated this view, urging the government to make the funds easily accessible. They also called for a renewed effort at strengthening local content through policies that will encourage Nigerians to patronize locally made products. But to achieve this, they said the government must also establish standards and ensure that such standards are complied with by all producers. They also called for collaboration between the private sector and the government in setting the standards.
The Chairman, House Committee on Information and Communication, Hon. Shehu Gusau had earlier in his goodwill message urged the minister of Communication Technology, Dr (Mrs) Omobola Johnson to use her office in ensuring that foreign companies dealing on ICT products in the country are not just bringing in finished products from abroad but investing in the country and developing some of their products locally. By this, he said more jobs will be created for Nigerians and more ICT products can be produced in the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan in a presentation made on his behalf by the minister of Communication Technology, Mrs.Omobola Johnson said two years after he created the Ministry of Communication Technology, the ICT industry had started contributing more than 10 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
The president said local content office that will oversee the integration of local content in the nation’s Information and Communications Industry will soon begin full operation.
“The Office of Nigerian Content Development in the ICT, the vehicle to ensure judicious and sustainable implementation of local content policy is close to being fully operational,” he said.
Also, Mr. Peter Jack, the director general of National Information Technology Development Agency, organiser of the event, believes ICT holds the greatest promise for achieving the transformation agenda of the present administration because of the enormous potential to drive other sectors as well as for job creation.