The recent controversies of Treasury Single Account (TSA) which have ranged on for weeks with the Senate submitting that the contract with Remita, a locally but globally acknowledged software solution by SystemSpecs be terminated, has brought to the forefront the need for us to reconsider our sincerity in boosting local content in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
There appear to be a contradiction as the Federal Government through the Ministry of Communications Technology is saying; on the one hand that it plans to enact enabling laws that will criminalize non patronage of indigenous ICT brands by government institutions and the Senate on the other hand is working on terminating the patronage of an indigenous ICT firm.
Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo had also promised that the federal government is ready to back up ICT development to enable local content development in the sector. He said the federal government is poised to set up the like of Silicon Valley in Nigeria in partnership with private sector firms.
The Minister of Communications Technology, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, says “Under my watch, Nigeria will not be a dumping ground for all forms of technologies. Local content development policy will be implemented to protect indigenous players in the industry and the ministry will galvanise right policies that will see to the need of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.”
Barrister Shittu, while promising local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) of government patronage and favourable policies, pointed out that with the 2014 estimated worth of $39.7 billion, and a forecasted $144billion by 2020, it is disappointing to still see foreign brands towering against local brands in market demand in Nigeria.
The call for termination of TSA contract with SystemSpecs will not in any way promote or encourage local competence; rather it will help to further discourage indigenous firms in the country.
Why after all of these promises by the federal government are we seeing the Senate going in the opposite direction? This recent event is indeed is a clear indication of why we have made very little head way over the years in boosting local content in the ICT, despite the fact that the issue has been on the front burner of industry regulators and policy makers.
Nigeria has continued to lose a lot to the dearth of Local Content in the ICT industry as can be seen from recent statistics, which are quite frightening.
Recently in his keynote address at the Local Content workshop organized by the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Abuja, the Minister noted that foreign brands have dominance of the $39.7bn in the Nigerian ICT market and the country was losing about $2.8billion annually to the continued importation of ICT hardware and services.
In addition, a recent document released by Business Software Alliance (BSA), the global body responsible for the advancement of the goals of the software industry, said Nigeria’s yearly losses to illicit trade associated with software are estimated at $513 million (approximately N82billion).
ICT development is Nigeria’s next hope after oil; oil and gas sector has failed to deliver the required value to develop the nation in the last 50 years, and this should challenge the government to resort to indigenous knowledge in ICT.
It is however, encouraging that there is a Local Content Policy in place and that the Federal Government wants to strengthen the local capacity of the indigenous companies and make them compete favourably with the foreign ICT companies.
The federal government has also disclosed plans for foreign OEMs to achieve 50 per cent local content instead of shipping in boxes or systems that have already been produced in other countries and to establish factories in Nigeria or partner with any local operators or by buying components of their systems that are produced by local manufacturers.
To achieve this, government must make available the basic infrastructure, such as stable power supply, to serve as nectar that will encourage investors to establish local assemblies for coupling of their CKDs.
Having the right operating environment in place would not only attract the investors to establish plants in the country, but also deepen a win-win collaboration between foreign firms and indigenous players.
The local Software producers and OEMs must also be ready to work hard to ensure that their products and services are globally competitive; they should brace up for new challenges as they can no longer afford to be complacent. The Local IT entrepreneurs they should ensure that their products meet international and acceptable standards and qualities; they should also consider merging in order to increase their capacity and improve the qualities of their products.
The Federal Government through its agencies should ensure effective monitoring and Compliance to ensure that local products and services meet globally accepted standards.
The generality of Nigerians have a high degree of apathy for local ICT hardware products, however, for encourage local content in the ICT sector, they should not see patronizing ICT locally made products as an act of patriotism alone but as an act to reduce capital flight, increase human capital and infrastructure development.
Enough of paying lip service to Local Content Development. It is time for enforcement. Let’s walk the talk.