POLICIES, TRENDS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN NIGERIA’S TECHNOLOGY SECTOR

All Protocols duly observed.

I want to thank the organisers of this event for inviting me to speak in this memorable occasion. What is obvious today is that in order to solve our unemployment and underemployment problems, more events like these and more companies like Ascentech Solutions need to emerge in our country. Thank You!

I will be speaking today on policies, trends and opportunities in the technology sector. For the past five years, technology has played a huge role in the economic life of our nation and the industry continues to see progress being made. Nigeria for example leads the African continent in the share of FDI that goes into the technology sector. A report by Partech Ventures puts the figure at N366.8 million dollars raised by tech startups on the African Continent with Nigeria taking N109.37 million dollars, approximately 30% of the entire funds available on the continent.

Even though this data does not cover the value of the productivity going on within the sector, it is safe for anyone to infer that as far as economic activity and career opportunities are concerned, the technology space has something to offer. But there is a need to begin with a holistic understanding of where the industry is and where it is going. Since we are talking about your career, you want to be sure that the industry you are settling with has a great future, so that you don’t end up becoming irrelevant as typists are today.

To understand any sector in my opinion, the policy environment is a good predictor of where that sector is and where it is going. This cartoon my Mike Asukwo captures my thoughts on this.

The progress of the technology industry in Nigeria has largely been in spite of government’s absence of drive or direction in the sector and easily, the technology industry in Nigeria has begun to take the same path as Nollywood — growing organically into a pool of talent and innovation across the country. You can safely assume that this trend is responsible for the chart you saw above.

A typical example of this policy challenge is broadband penetration in the country. Despite setting a target of 30% since 2013, our broadband penetration levels have stagnated at 21%.

NCC, the government agency responsible for licensing infarcos have promised to lease out 5 others to which 60 companies have applied since last year. Nothing is yet to be done on that.

The companies that already have licenses are yet to proceed with any investment in any of the areas where they have licenses. The government is not asking why! When you ask, what you will find is that there is no singular agreement as to the charge to be paid for Right of Way to lay fibre cables across the country. The federal government wants a N500 charge for every metre. The state government wants a separate charge of its own too and of course, the local government wants its own charge too.

Mrs Funke Opeke of Mainone will willingly tell you that the broadband available to Nigeria right now is not even been utilised more to 10% of its capacity.

Here by the way is an headline in 2012

Mrs Omobola Johnson, then Minister of Communications Technology giving announcing Right of Way guidelines after inaugurating a committee

Here is another headline in 2014

The Nigeria Communications Week published a report stating the frustrations of companies that already had licenses to lay fibre cables.

Here is another headline in 2016

This is from a lawyers.ng and a final headline in 2018 from Business Day Newspaper

I must sincerely apologize for boring you with newspaper headlines, but we, especially the government must understand how far our industry is and what we must do in order to leverage on the immense possibilities that broadband penetration and access to internet gives to our economic growth.

According to UNESCO, for every 10% increase in broadband penetration, there is a corresponding 2.5% increase in the GDP of a country. This is too large to be ignored.

You might be thinking how does this affect you, a typical example is the recent downsizing by the e-commerce giant konga.com that saw them sack 60% of their workforce. This might sound too simplistic, but with a penetration rate of 21% across the country and a business model that requires internet penetration to get to customers that need to buy, the size of the market shrinks. Of the 21% internet penetrated potential customers, only 5% have more than 500,000 in their accounts, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Now this is just one policy area — Broadband. This attitude towards policymaking is replicated across board when you consider other areas. So let’s start with a plea, a demand, a protest, anything to the government asking them to wake up on policymaking in the technology sector.

Trends and Opportunities

While this is going on, this is what you must know as an individual as far as the current trends and opportunities go.It is far easier to raise seed capital today for your startup than it was yesterday than it was two years ago. The earlier chart I showed captures FDI into Africa.

There is also a rising profile of local investors in Nigeria looking to invest in startups and technology companies. So I will be assuming that you belong to one of two categories.

(1) Someone who has an idea and is looking to pursue it and

(2) Someone who is looking to work in the startup space.

So, how do you get in?

Community

There are communities you have to join and meetups you have to attend. Every week, there are networking opportunities within the startup space that when you attend gives you close contacts with people you can run your idea with or people who are working on their projects that you can work with.

There are also learning communities where you can pick up a technical skill almost for free. These communities will arm you with technical knowledge needed in the technology space that you can leverage on to make yourself more productive.

My firm Founding Networks will be hosting a meetup next week Saturday at Civic Hive in Yaba and I have lost count of those who have gotten engaged on projects via these meetups. I hope I am permitted to invite you to that.

Incubation Hubs / Co-working spaces

Incubation hubs have sprang up within the country and Lagos especially with each offering different packages for startup founders and their folks. If you are the kind that is working on a startup, you want to check these out. These hubs offer you almost everything you need to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, their business model is hinged around finding the next zuckerberg, so you can go to them and save them the stress of having them come look for you.

Government

Without prejudice to my earlier stance on policymaking in Nigeria, the Lagos state government under the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund has a department called Lagos Innovates. They are offering opportunities for people interested in technology and innovation especially related to startups. Their website is lagosinnovates.ng. You will be doing yourself a favour by visiting their website and checking which opportunities apply to you.

Traditional Technology Companies.

If you have a technical skill, this is where you want to be looking at. If you don’t have, you can start from leveraging on these learning communities that I mentioned above in getting a technical skill and then coming back to engage traditional technology companies. They offer technology solutions to companies, institutions and government.

Beautifully, they are also beginning to invest in startups that align with their core competencies. Sidmach Technologies for example, the folks who designed and manage the JAMB, NYSC, WAEC portals have investments in two startups that I know of. Getting through to this space will need you to network within a couple of organizations, two of the most important being the Nigerian Computer Society and the Computer Professionals of Nigeria. Their representatives will both be present at our meetup this Saturday.

Because of my time, I will be developing this piece more broadly to cover a couple of industry spaces I did not cover in this speech, so you can check my page on medium.com/judeferanmi

I wish you all the best. May God Bless You and Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Jude Feranmi

Cofounder

Founding Networks

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Jude Feranmi

Jude Feranmi

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A Man For The People! || Founding Africa || Fmr. National Youth Leader for @KOWA_NGR || Technology X Politics || Innovation Researcher