The last decade has undeniably been an interesting one for the Nigerian technology industry. The desire to use technology to solve problems has grown steadily with a new culture of entrepreneurship, allowing businesses to transform how millions of Nigerians live in the digital age, and nowhere is this clearer than in the financial services sector. Fintech startups have been taking on banks and disrupting their legacy operations by offering digitally native products and services.
Although listed as one of the industries greatly affected by the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, the Nigerian tech space has surpassed expectations and has continued to make remarkable progress, raising hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, and the reasons for this boom are not far fetched. For the longest time, Nigeria’s economy was primarily supported by the oil industry, which made up 65% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Within the last two decades, the value of crude oil dropped significantly, from its highest peak of $147.27 in 2008 to $82.51 in 2021. This crash has significantly affected the earnings and revenue of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The lack of economic diversity and decreasing oil prices drove the Nigerian government to take out loans for its recurrent and capital expenditures. During this time, the diversity of economics became a focal point for investors in the country.
Despite the country’s dubious reputation as one of the most difficult countries for entrepreneurs to thrive, the tech industry continues to show immense promise. While population may not always be a benefit, having a big share of the population — which is predominantly made up of young people — is critical when launching an innovative venture.
The potential of technology in Nigeria is almost limitless (despite the country’s many limitations) as there are still a ton of problems to be solved and systems to be digitized. However, one thing that cannot be debated is the fact that Government regulations and legislation can make, shake or even break an industry. Who can forget the negative impact of last year’s Twitter ban — a ban which came just six months after another major shock to the local tech industry, when the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered banks to stop enabling cryptocurrency transactions. Looking ahead, it goes without saying that any regulations put in place should focus on stimulating and supporting the healthy development of local startups and other players invested in growing a sustainable tech sector!
Thus, with the upcoming General Elections just a few short months away, it becomes all the more important to assess and fully understand what each presidential aspirant has to offer Nigerians in this regard, and what their thought process is:
Higher up on Tinubu’s 7-point agenda is technology, which he aims to leverage by using modern technology for digital transformation and economic growth. In his recent Youth Day address, the former governor of Lagos also acknowledged and appreciated the Nigerian innovators powering the economy of African markets, acknowledging that they have created technology that has changed the lives of people.
Commending the likes of Michelle Elegbe, Tarebi Alebiosu, Aniedi Udo-Obong, Odunayo Eweniyi and Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, Tinubu noted that the innovators are playing an important part in developing the tech space. “Our nation has a fast growing reputation as the best place for tech entrepreneurship on the African continent. Our future is full of hope and excitement in part because of the work these men and women have done and continue to do. They are our ambassadors of hope,” he said.
Verdict: Not much has been said about the tech space in Tinubu’s available agenda, and what has been mentioned appears cursory and unclear. While it is all good and fine to use “modern technology for digital transformation and economic growth”, it would be more interesting to know exactly how that aim would be achieved. Because, more often than not, the political class may provide generalized solutions when the problems are quite specific.
Over the last two or so years, we witnessed the Federal Government clampdown on accounts of people dealing in cryptocurrency by banks under the auspices of the Central Bank of Nigeria, first freezing accounts of individuals involved in the #EndSars protests, then stretching to include fintech companies such as Risevest Technologies and Bamboo Systems Technology Limited for 180 days over alleged forex infractions. Moves such as this have made a number of Nigerian companies relocate their entire operations outside the shore of the country. What, for instance, will be done to address issues like these?
Perhaps more will be said on the matter in the coming days, as the pressure mounts in the buildup to February.
Atiku Abubakar has spoken on occasion about Nigeria’s information communication technology (ICT) market, which he described as one of the fastest growing ICT hubs globally, with the sector being a major contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He has also said that the journey to digital prosperity lies in the efforts of governmental entities to initiate, ideate, implement, monitor and allocate the right resources in the execution of digital initiatives for Nigeria.
Often citing his experience as former Vice President and Head of the Economy, he has been quoted as saying: “in February 2002, I inaugurated a 22-member Telecommunications Sector Reform Implementation Committee, aimed at increasing access to phone services for Nigerians, primarily through the GSM, and further facilitated all necessary licensing for the GSM to come into effect in Nigeria. This is an achievement I am entirely proud of and further reinforces my credentials as a digitally inclined leader, aware of revolutions that need to take place for our country to move forward and reach her full potential.”
According to him, he feels a responsibility to continue to support Nigeria and the young people of Nigeria, on its digitization agenda, a commitment which forms a core part of his campaign promise and delivery to the nation come 2023. He also recently called on the Federal Government to pass the Nigeria Start Up Bill into law in a Twitter thread which further outlines his views on tech.
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) August 29, 2022
Verdict: While Atiku’s supporters may argue that as a veteran presidential candidate who has had more time to think about issues, he will bring a world of experience to finding solutions to Nigeria’s woes, especially in line with technology. That being said, many others might argue that reminiscing on his alleged past glory does not automatically make him a technocrat nor necessarily mean that he will know how to handle present day predicaments.
Obi, on his part, has only spoken vaguely about his administration’s plans for the Technology space.
We will aggressively pursue increased contribution of ICT to overall economic growth & national development. -PO#POinToronto
— Peter Obi (@PeterObi) August 29, 2022
He also recently said that beyond their vital roles of sending foreign remittances back home, the diaspora was increasingly critical in advancing technology, skill transfer and trade and foreign direct investment for Nigeria.
“As we explore ways and means of tapping in on technology transfer from the diaspora, we will also explore ways of reversing the enormous brain drain that has been debilitating for our country,” he recently tweeted.
Like India, Nigeria, should be able to tap her huge Diaspora human resource to ensure technology transfer home. We will trigger every known technological and knowledge transfer initiators. Nigeria’s brain drain will be turned into brain gain. -PO#POinHouston
— Peter Obi (@PeterObi) August 31, 2022
It could be recalled that the Labour Party flag-bearer has been praised for his efforts in galvanizing technological development during his time as Anambra State Governor, and more recently, has opined that the local currency’s official exchange rate — currently pegged at just under N450 for every dollar — must be determined by market forces, attacking the two-tier exchange rate regime currently in use. In the same thread, Obi also touted the Nigerian fintech startup Flutterwave, which, despite its many troubles, has become a billion-dollar company. To ensure that more startups similarly succeed, Obi said his government “will create an enabling environment for our startups to thrive.”
We will enforce the legal framework protecting foreign investors and their indigenous partners. This is the only way to improve our business environment and tamper capital flight.
— Peter Obi (@PeterObi) September 4, 2022
Verdict: The focus for the tech ecosystem should detail a deliberate effort to constructively engage innovators and tech industry players and have their input in policymaking, which Obi’s tweets seem to touch on briefly. However, a fully-fleshed out manifesto or agenda would do better in giving citizens a more in-depth report of the party’s plans and indicate a deliberate intent not to criminalize industry, while punishing attempts to stifle growth — which is really what young Nigerians want at this point.