Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Options for Growing Local Content in ICT

IN our recent history, especially since return to democratic civil rule, certain catch words, phrases, and slogans have assumed front burner usage especially when public officials spew forth rhetoric about what the problem is with Nigeria, and how to solve them.

One of the most common of such phrases in the political arena is "moving the nation forward,"but the users of this phrase seldom pause to look and see whether we are moving at all, or in which direction - forward, backwards, or sideways, like crabs.

In industry, the current one is "local content", which assumed prominent usage, first in the oil industry, and came about as a result of the desire to make Nigeria and Nigerians acquire the necessary technological know-how to industrialize. Local content came after "technology transfer", yet another phrase which did not get us anywhere, as no country in the world was willing to transfer its technology to us. Looked at deeply, it would seem that "local content"might get us where we want to go faster, only if we strategise properly with it.

For years, we have consumed, and are still consuming electronic products from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, China and other tiger economies of South-east Asia. At a time in this country, fake, or sub-standard electronic products are dubbed "Taiwan", while local equivalents are snobbishly rejected as "Aba-made."

Then we continued buying imported products, sub-standard as they were then, and in the process, through our continued patronage, they assumed the requisite production proficiency. Nowadays, products from Taiwan are no longer regarded as "fake" as they once were, but "Aba-made" remains "fake" till tomorrow!

What am I saying? Through our preference for imported products, the local content of other nations have become global products, commanding respect in the world's export markets to the detriment of our own. If we had continued to buy Aba-made products, I am sure Nigeria would not find herself in the economic doldrums she is in now.

In the ICT arena, the same issues hold sway. Banks, insurance, oil and gas and other sectors of the economy, including governments and the ICT sector itself are consumers of foreign ICT products, despite promises and potentials of indigenous start-ups.

Enter any government office, and what you see staring you in the face are foreign ICT brands sitting prettily on desks of officials, while our OEMs struggle to stay afloat. If we are to raise the level of local content in the ICT sector, it must begin with a deliberate, conscious and sustained patronage of indigenous ICT products. In the national interest, we may need some coercion (legislation, incentive, etc).

I am sure we have enough software developers in this country whose services can sustain various levels of operation in all the sectors of the economy. If banks, for instance, opt to use local software for their businesses, they obviously would be saving the country billions in forex, while simultaneously growing local expertise.

The Buy-Nigeria directive issued by President Goodluck Jonatham just before last year's elections should provide an equable platform through which local content can be raised in the ICT sector. All we need is a little more zeal, less greed, and more focus on the national need.

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