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Changing face of information technology in Nigeria

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As technology continues to evolve and the world becomes even more digital, questions are often raised regarding Africa’s role in this digital revolution. In 2017, research carried out by Internet World Stats showed that internet penetration in Africa is at a meagre 31%. Lower than any other continent. This is just one of the many data points that speak to our technological know-how (or the lack there of) in this part of the world.

The issues regarding the Nigeria’s ICT growth are well documented. From the cost of technological know-how to the use of internet for negative vices, Nigeria has trailed in comparison to other countries when it comes to the ICT sector, so much that the country is more known for internet fraud than for any noteworthy technological feat.

Though hundreds of universities offer information and communications technology as a course, it is a well known fact that a majority of the graduates of this course are ill-equipped for the real world ICT sector and do not have the requisite knowledge or skill set to properly contribute effectively to the sector, and the larger society.

However, in spite of these challenges, the technology industry remains one which has huge potential and has made considerable progress in the last few years. A good number of tech start-ups are slowly beginning to carve a niche for themselves and deliver impressive products and services. While we are still miles away from the standards and output of more advanced countries, the progress made in a relative short period of time is well-deserving of optimism.

The typical issues surrounding our lack of technological advancement include the lack of access to useful/quality information, the perversion of the medium for negative vices as well as a lack of policies that facilitate the adoption of technology. Other issues also include the cost of advancing one’s knowledge in this field, as recent survey by the Brookings Institution, shows that Nigeria currently has over 87 million people living in abject poverty.

A retrospective look at Nigeria and our relationship with technology indicates a very worrisome trend. Since the turn of the millennium and with the emergence of GSM, we as a country were introduced to the capacity of technology in a way that we hadn’t before. The mobile phone amazed Nigerians and peaked our interest in technology and we were excited not only at the possibility of a mobile phone but of the immense potential and opportunities that mobile technology presents. Since that time, we have seen mobile phones evolve and also witness a plethora of phone manufacturers enter the market, but in all of these, the Nigerian market has grown as a consumer market, not one which manufactures. Either in the hardware or software market segment, it is safe to say the country hasn’t broken new grounds in technology and this is evident for all to see.

Many may read this and point to the city of Lagos and reference tech companies which are creating disruptive products and causing a stir in the African tech space, but like most arguments about Nigeria, many fail to realise that despite its status as the country’s commercial hub, Lagos makes up only a tiny sliver of Nigeria. Other states (even those with big cities) have relatively little advancement in technology.

This is why MTN’s choice of Oyo State as the starting point for its ICT training series was particularly interesting. Ibadan, the capital of the state is the largest city by land area in West Africa and has the oldest university in the country. This translates to hundreds of thousands of young vibrant minds with huge potential. All too often we have seen brands concentrate their efforts in Lagos, in a bid to maximise the efforts of its projects and CSR initiatives. While this is not to be criticised, it is impressive that MTN has chosen this state to commence this particular initiative.

With a growing number of tech companies emerging from the south-western region, MTN recognises the need to champion the need for ICT training, especially at the grassroots level. This is a critical point to note as it has been demonstrated that the acquisition of these skills can greatly help in poverty alleviation, a significant social problem in Ibadan, and one in which the foundation is passionate about addressing.

The company has shown that its CSR initiatives are not only impactful but strategic, carefully considering the key deficiencies in our society and acting promptly to address these issues with impressively executed projects. To provide further credence to the ICT training, the services of Oracle, KPMG, IBM, DBI (the Digital Bridge Institute) were retained as the brand spared no expense in providing a truly insightful and meaningful learning experience.

It is not only MTN which has implemented such practices, as the last few years have seen some forward-thinking companies improve their efforts to support young promising talent in the tech space as well as focus their CSR efforts on sustainable development goals such as innovation.

Very few brands however have consistently championed the cause for information technology in Nigeria like the company has done. Since it began operations in 2001, the company has often extended its value proposition beyond its business and service offerings.

Remarkable CSR initiatives have become somewhat of a staple and its efforts have greatly impacted the country in the areas of health, economic empowerment, and education, courtesy of the MTN Foundation.

These core areas make up some of the most important aspects of any nation’s growth and our lack of commendable progress in these areas have been a cause of worry for many years. Since the turn of the millennium, the country’s progress has somewhat been in the direction of improvement in one area, which is then often overshadowed by steps in the opposite direction in another area.

With this in mind, the recent efforts of the MTN Foundation has seen the company take on the technology space and the challenge of the country’s future, as the MTN Foundation organised the pilot phase of an ICT and Business Skills Training on the 28th and 29th of June.

The event, which took place in Oyo State, saw the training of 500 youths over the course of two days at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.

To provide a little backstory, The MTN Foundation was established for the purpose of focusing MTN Nigeria’s efforts in terms of its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to help reduce poverty and foster sustainable development in country. In September 2004, just three years after its foray into the Nigerian market, MTN, after much consultation with economic experts, made the decision for a concerted effort in focusing their considerable resources under the three portfolio areas, Education, Health and Economic Empowerment.

This has led to CSR initiatives such as the MTN Scholarship Scheme, the MTN Medical Innovations Scheme, the MTN Music Scholars programme and a host of others.

These initiatives have been launched with the intent that the potential of a technologically advanced Nigeria, with a rapidly growing population is significant and thus, the need for technological minds equipped with the skillset and appetite to innovate cannot be over-emphasised.

An interesting twist to this story is that while it is common for brands like MTN to seek to diversify their CSR portfolio, making sure no key economic sector is left out, a singular focus on technology may just be the game changer for the whole Nigerian economy.

Dr. Okey Enelamah, Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, recently said that the tech industry is expected to provide over three million jobs and contribute $88 billion to the national economy by 2021.

With more people interested in technology and its real-life applications, Nigeria stands a credible chance of becoming an ICT world leader. The MTN Foundation’s latest efforts tackles the issue of technical deficiency in its core business and most particularly, the wider technology sector. The ICT training saw industry veterans provide useful and actionable instruction to half a thousand youths who were appreciative of the opportunity they had been presented with.

Over the years the company has been able to use its CSR initiatives to foster sustainable development in the country and has achieved an even spread across major portfolio areas. As an ICT company, MTN recognises the importance of the sector and is keen to provide opportunities for young minds to learn and impact the industry in the years to come.

The future of our nation lies in our youths, and as cliche as this may sound, it remains the truth. The foundation was on the premise that corporate organisations have a role to play in shaping our immediate environment for the better. This includes recognising the burgeoning potential in these young people and understanding that technology is one of the cornerstones of any thriving economy.

While it is too early to call, we remain cautiously optimistic that this training will be the dawn of a new wave of technological achievement in the region, and by extension, the country and it begins with these young, brilliant minds.


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