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Leveraging tech space to oil Lagos economy

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Governor Sanwo-Olu addressing some of the start-ups during his visit to some innovation and technology hubs in Lagos … recently

The Lagos State government has engaged a higher gear in its bid to bolster technology development and bring youths up to speed in technology entrepreneurship. With substantial cash backing already on the table, as well as partnership deals with Facebook, Google and homegrown clusters in Lagos metropolis, the new adventure will be worth the while economically. BENJAMIN ALADE reports.

As the saying goes, whatever has a beginning must have an end. Perhaps, one of those transient entities with an expiry date around the corner is crude oil. Though a mainstay of some economies around the world, oil is fast losing its appeal to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy, with innovations in wind, solar, biofuel and electric cars all lined up as ready alternatives.

However, with the loss in demand comes the loss in mega earnings – a major worry for oil-dependent economies.

Saudi Arabia, just like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a city built on petrodollars. The government, which has one of the largest oil reserves globally, is fast thinking of life after oil; opening up to non-religious tourists for the first time.

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The austere kingdom has said it is opening up to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

The new visa programme for citizens of 49 countries, including the United Kingdom, and the United States, which was announced by Saudi tourism officials, was quickly followed by a Twitter campaign exhorting users to @VisitSaudiNow.

As part of the scheme, which promises to deliver a visa in seven minutes, female tourists will be exempted from wearing the all-covering abaya robe, but will be required to dress “modestly.”

The United Arab Emirates, apparently thinking of a world without oil too, is leveraging on technology, with clear-cut strategic visions and institutional frameworks.

This includes the creation of the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the Emirates Scientists Council; the Ministry of Artificial Intelligence, and the Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence.

Lagos Opts For Tech Prominence
MUCH like Dubai, Lagos is also mulling what happens when the oil receipts stop. Under the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration, the economic nerve-centre of the country and the fifth largest economy on the continent is reshaping developmental policies to anchor on technology and its development.

The state is shaping the future by planning to build a robust, prosperous, and sustainable economy, as well as a successful development model that meets the competitive demands of the global economy.

Specifically, the state government has concluded plans to embark on the construction of the biggest technology cluster in West Africa.

The tech ecosystem, which will be sited in Yaba, is being developed in collaboration with Facebook and Google.

Sanwo-Olu made the disclosure when he toured two major innovation and technology hubs within the state, accompanied by members of the state’s executive council, including the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Hakeem Fahm, and the Special Adviser on Innovation and Technology, Olatunbosun Alake.

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The tour took the governor and his team to Venia Hub in Lekki, and Impact Hub in Ikoyi, where he met startups in the ecosystems for a roundtable discussion on expanding funding opportunities and infrastructure development.

The mega cluster facility is part of the THEMES agenda under education and technology, which focuses on the expansion of technology infrastructure, and the tech space to accommodate more startups.

For Sanwo-Olu, technology and ‘the big data’ are “the new oil” for Lagos megacity to exponentially generate wealth and jobs for its young population, while also leveraging in raising the status of the state to attain the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Indeed, there is a general expectation that the global economy will be predominantly shaped by the unprecedented knowledge and technological innovations that the world is experiencing today.

The global economy is witnessing the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, with key features that include 3D Printing, the Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, Robotics, Cloud Computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI), as well as other developments. The major challenge here is that the transformation that the world is experiencing in knowledge and technology is just the beginning.

KITE, Smart City, For All
APPARENTLY in tune with the task ahead, and the demands that it entails, Sanwo-Olu said the Yaba Technology Cluster – a centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (KITE), would be a free zone that would allow the growth of funding and financing for innovative ideas generated by entrepreneurs in the tech industry and FinTech space.

“Technology is the new oil and the basic element for the Fourth Industrial Revolution globally. As a state with a massive population of young people, we need to play a major role in the development of technology, which is an enabler to leapfrog into rapid socio-economic growth. We take technology as an important deliverable in our government’s development agenda.

“For us to make a lasting impact in the tech industry, we said to ourselves that we needed to build the infrastructure to support the sector. We are building a tech campus on a 22, 000 square metres land in Yaba, which we christen K.I.T.E. We are working with global brands in the tech space, such as Facebook and Google, to deliver this important technology hub.

“We are currently laying 3,000 kilometres of metropolitan fibre optic cables across the state to drop reliable and fast Internet connectivity in homes and workplaces. These are part of the infrastructure required as backbone for the tech industry to flourish, and to empower our young people in the space to take their businesses and ideas to the level of stability.”

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Aside from the infrastructural initiatives, Sanwo-Olu said that the state government has been providing support for startups through the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF, and the Lagos State Science Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC), which provide grant opportunities for innovators and tech researchers.

The governor disclosed that two out of the 20 start-ups ideas supported through LASRIC, last year, had secured patents for their innovations and were ready to transform into fully-fledged businesses that would create jobs.

Sanwo-Olu spointed out that the state government’s intervention in the technology space was about creating opportunities for the future, and providing platforms to make start-up businesses thrive.

He said: “The visit to your ecosystems today is for you to be assured that this government is not sitting back in taking steps to ease access. We fully understand the role, which technology plays in our lives and how technology is important to any society that wants to be relevant in the coming decades. We are happy to be building the capability for Lagos, so that we can compete with other developed cities in the world.”

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Fahm, the commissioner for science and technology explained that the programme readily aligns with the ongoing laying of 3, 000 km fibre metro network cables and broadband infrastructure across the state, which is part of the government’s comprehensive smart city programme aimed at running a 24-hour economy in Lagos.

Earlier on, Fahm had said that the broadband infrastructure rollout was to ensure rapidity in commercial activities and provide instant access to healthcare, government services and social connectivity, noting that the optics fibre would help the government to also improve security through inter-connected technological tools.

The high-speed Internet connectivity that will come from the metro-network cables, Fahm explained, would be used at homes, schools, healthcare facilities and government’s offices for improved service delivery, stressing that the infrastructure would also boost e-commerce activities and empower innovation start-ups.

He said: “The unified metro fibre project, which the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu kick-started, is a multi-year smart city programme in which we are installing 6,000 kilometre fibre optic cables across the state in two phases. In the first phase, which started last year, 3, 000km of fibre optics cables are being rolled out within the metropolis.

“The plan is to drop high-speed Internet connectivity into all communities within the state and extend it to our public schools, institutions of learning, health centres, and all government offices and parastatals. We will also be using the digital infrastructure to enhance security and safety, as we will be installing security cameras in public places. This will also be deployed in our operations to achieve efficient traffic management.”

Support For Homegrown Clusters, Tech-savvy Youths
DURING the visit, Sanwo-Olu had a roundtable discussion with some of the startups to communicate the state’s effort and how better the government could properly channel its interventions in the sector.

Some of the startups – Uwana Energy, GRICD, Agrohuskwares, Gasmonkey among others – had the opportunity to present their business models and innovative solutions to the government’s team.

The engagement also opened the governor and his team to possible areas of intervention, as most of the startups appealed to him to create loans and grants opportunities for them to achieve optimal productivity in the tech space.

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The Executive Secretary, LSETF, Teju Abisoye, said the agency had been providing support for over 38 partner hubs across Local Government Areas (LGAs), and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the state, stressing that the objective of the funding was to support startups from idea to exit stages.

The Commissioner for Tourism and Culture, Uzamat Akinbile Yussuf, commended the governor for his support to the Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative (LACI), Creative Lagos, and her ministry.

Yussuf informed beneficiaries of the programme that the state government has very high expectations from them, adding that it was the confidence reposed in them that led to them being sponsored to the Del York Creative Academy. These beneficiaries are from across the 20 Local Government Areas (LGASs), and the 57 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) of the state.

President, Del York Creative Academy, Linus Idahosa, said the governor’s vision to develop young people through the creative industry would yield bountiful dividends in the not-too-distant future.

Idahosa lauded the state government for its commitment to training more persons in successive programmes, especially those that could not secure admission into the first cohort of Creative Lagos.

It is certain that the race to Lagos catching up with Saudi Arabia or Dubai in economic development is still ahead, but that post-oil economy through technology and innovation has started.

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