Fourth industrial revolution: Nigeria’s next phase of growth?
Basking in the euphoria of 58 years of independence, one critical part of Nigeria’s economy that has performed creditably well is the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/ telecoms sector.
Currently contributing about 12 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sector was adjudged a ‘Star Performer’, at the last rebasing exercise of 2014, which put the economy’s worth at $510 billion.
While much might have not been achieved in the core ICT sector, especially in hardware and software sub-sectors, the telecoms sector could be said to have done a bit better, though still bedeviled with challenges.
The liberalisation did not only opened the sector, it encouraged both local and foreign investments.
The telecoms sector’s worth is currently put at over $70 billion, owing to the notable contributions of firms including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile.
Others, which have played critical roles in the performance of the sector includes MainOne, Zinox Technologies, Jumia, Spectranet, and Konga, to mention a few.
The contributions of the Computer Village, Ikeja cannot also be wished away easily. Considered as the largest IT market in West Africa, available statistics estimate that transactions worth N1 billion are traded daily in sales, repairs and services of computers, phones, gadgets and technology accessories with over 20 million in monthly sales.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said the Computer Village contributed about two per cent to the GDP in 2014.
Despite these data, the hardware sub-sector continues to struggle and the software industry faces acceptability challenge.
The telecoms sector battles poor quality of service and subscribers anger, almost on a daily basis.
The industry’s major enemies remain the state governments, which see operators as ‘cash cows’.
This is in addition to poor and obsolete infrastructure in the country, especially eratic power supply.
These challenges have contributed immensely in the slow pace of investments into the sector.
No wonder, Nigeria still has about 200 access gaps and about 40 million of her populations still cut-off from any form of telephony services.
However, one, must mention that from about 400, 000 NITEL lines in 2001, Nigeria has surpassed the 100 per cent teledensity mark with over 240 million connected lines of which 160 million are active.
As at August, there are over 100 million Internet users, with 26 million Facebook users.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), puts broadband penetration at 22 per cent with plans to hit 30 per cent by December 31.
While experts have commended the contributions of the industry thus far, they however, regretted that opportunities that abound in the first, second and third industrial revolution, which should have placed the sector and indeed Nigeria at par with some leading economies were greatly missed.
They decriedthat these gaps have impacted the growth of the sector and the economy of the region, making it largely a consumer nation.
To move the ICT/telecoms sector forward, they stressed that it would be a tragedy for Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries to miss the fourth industrial revolution.
The fourth industrial revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as Blockchain; Internet of Things; Machine Learning; Artificial Intelligence; Driverless car and Augmented Realty, among others, would dictate the pace of development among nations.
In the words of the President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, Nigeria may miss big in the revolution, if there are no adequate preparations.
Teniola said: “Yes, if we collectively remain in silos in both thinking and execution.
Yes, if we continue to retain status quo and finally avoid making the necessary decisions to embrace all technological forms in the way we transact all our businesses, engage with government and build an educated workforce capable of leveraging the technology that exists.
“Overcoming these challenges and by working collaboratively, then we can catch-up and leapfrog into the 4th revolution, It is a journey we should all begin and embrace.”
He stressed the need for collaboration that will lead to innovation through local content development.
From his perspective, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, noted that the country’s global e-Readiness Index status pointed to this challenging fact.
According to Uwaje, “a case in point is registered by the information that our ICT spend is not only abysmally low, but 80 per cent of it is regrettably import-centric and consumer based – leading to the sofocation and stagnation of Local Content Innovation.
“Therefore, 20 per cent of local IT spend will not speedup our ICT e-readiness status nor lead to meaningful engagement and competitiveness in 4th Industrial revolution space.”
Uwaje said there was need to consciously focus on developing not less than five million ICT Innovation capacities ancoured on Software – with special emphasis on clean energy, e-Knowledge education, sustainable health, e-Government, AI, robotics, digital security, platforms, among others, as Nigeria’s population growth aims at 400 million in 2050.
Senior Director of Privacy, GSMA, Boris Wotjan, told The Guardian that apart from huge revenue losses as a result of obsolete infrastructure, the country risked being cut off from the global technology eco-space, adding: “The fourth industrial revolution presented a huge opportunity for Nigeria and other African countries to leapfrog into the global technology ecosystem.
The region’s ICT ecosystem has improved greatly, but this can be consolidated if attention is shifted to next revolution.”
Wotjan called for massive investments in infrastructure and upgrade of existing facilities across the country.
He advised Nigeria and other SSA countries to introduce policy and regulatory frameworks for improved ecosystem and come up with digital inclusion strategy that would aid connections to rural areas, stressing the need to develop digital skills for the revolution and ensure data privacy.
Head of Mobile for Development, GSMA, Yasmia McCarty, charged governments across the region to embrace sustainable global digital development plans.
McCarty said for the development to be impactful, “as much as the private sector will be willing to invest, governments must create an enabling environment for growth.”
She appealed to governments in the region to escalate mobile Internet, stressing that Africa should lead in the adoption of new technologies for leveraging.
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