President Bola Tinubu should reverse the needless waste of Nigeria’s foreign exchange on imported software as one of the strategies to achieve his administration’s digital economy aspirations, the nation’s leading software trade group says.
In his inaugural speech on May 29, President Tinubu says his administration will focus priority on the digital economy towards creating one million jobs.
“My administration,” Tinubu says, “must create meaningful opportunities for our youth. We shall honour our campaign commitment of one million new jobs in the digital economy.
ISPON: Between digital enslavement and digital economy
President Tinubu should enforce two key Executive orders to save Nigeria from “digital enslavement” and also unlock the possibilities of information and communication technology (ICT) as a key pillar of the digital economy, Mr Bimbo Abioye, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) President tells Technology Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday.
Abioye, who also heads Nigerian tech company, Fintrak Software, last week took office as the new ISPON President, also unfolds his plan for the leading software trade group in the country in the interview with Technology Times.
The first thing for President Tinubu to do is lead the charge in the local content drive in the software space by actively onboarding solutions that are developed in Nigeria.
“Already,” Abioye says, “previous administrations came up with two Executive Orders, 003, Executive Order 005, which were intended to make adoption of local content, software a pillar of the digital economy objectives. Unfortunately, those things were not seriously prosecuted. Those things were not seriously engaged. So processes on these Executives Orders, 003 and 005, by making them an Act of Parliament and stipulating punitive measures for ministries, departments and agencies that do not run in consonance with those proclamations, would help a great deal.”
Abioye says, “Now there is an increasing yearning for a digital economy in the country creating values digitally and enhancing our national revenue in the digital economy realm. But unfortunately, we are heavily reliant on foreign software, which means we will have to be paying heavily our hard-earned resources to import software in the digital economy realm. So it is more or else a form of digital enslavement which we must avoid.”
He places this in context when he explains that “for every time we import software, we are enriching foreign nations where those are coming from. So there is value leakage to foreign nations, and creating employment in those environments.”
On the flip side, Nigeria, which accounts for a growing youth population, of which he says a good number of them that have acquired tech skills are left with no job partly because of the growing dependence on foreign software and other tech products and services.
“Whereas we have teeming youth graduating in information technology programmes and software development courses and then they will have no job to do for as long as we continue promoting foreign software even when we have better alternatives in the country. So there has got to be a mental shift towards patronising local content. So that will boost the value system and the ecosystem. It will help in conserving foreign exchange earnings and it will boost employment generation, and the nation will be better for it,” the ISPON President says.
Despite what he calls Nigeria’s rising possibilities in the digital economy realm, the widespread dependence on foreign products and services, including software, has undermined efforts to promote the local tech industry.
“We favour foreign things at the expense of local content. We prefer importing, including software, even if those things will not work up to the expected service delivery level in our climes. We continue to pump money into foreign things and ignore what we produce. And so, what you do not appreciate will depreciate,” he explains to Technology Times.
On his watch as ISPON President, Abioye is confident that working with stakeholders across the private and public sectors, the software trade group will lead the charge to unlock what he calls digital economy “possibilities” for Nigeria.
Under these strategic alliances, he says, “There’s also the need to work with organisations like NOTAP (National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion), which are the bodies that approve foreign solutions or certify them for users for the purpose of foreign exchange sourcing and payments or settlement to withhold approval of such systems where local substitutes exist.”
Abioye says, “We are a player in the industry. I see where we have better solutions. Foreign things that do not work are still brought in, and we are paying dollars and dollars for them. That has to stop. The bleeding has to stop. That’s the second possibility there.”
The third one, “is to now also deepen the knowledge base by coming up with programmes that would increase capacity development in Software Engineering. That would involve working with ISPON, working with NITDA, working with Nigerian universities, number one to update their curriculum.”
According to Abioye, “We have a lot of curricula obsolescence. A lot of things that are being taught in universities today, are out of date and out of tune with technology and tools that are engaged in the development of solutions in the modern day today.”
The ISPON President says that to address this, “there is a need to work with the Ministry of Education to review the curriculum of these organisations, these universities that are offering information and communication technology as a course of study in their environment. And also for those that do not have those as a course of study, to look at technical colleges and universities and introduce information communication technology as a course in their curriculum.”
This, he adds, will go a long way to deepen capacity development in Software Engineering.
“And also, we are going to be working with stakeholders to review the status of ISPON in such a way to empower it to offer certifications and training programmes in software development such that Nigerians can be certified by ISPON as software practitioners and they can, of course, deepen the ecosystem,” the ISPON President says.
Abioye’s fourth key plan hinges on working with development and funding agencies like the Bank of Industry (BOI), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and National Sovereign Investment Fund to institute intervention funds for the software industry.
“Today,” he says, “we have the Bank of Industry supporting practitioners in Nollywood and other intellectual property development efforts in that realm. The software industry is a creative industry, and so such support should be extended to the software development industry. We have had prior engagements with the Bank of Industry on this before. We will strengthen that and the government also can help in making that happen.”
He explains, “We have some windows from the Central Bank but the criteria, I looked at it, in software development, we don’t invest in brick and mortar. We don’t invest in equipment or heavy equipment or things like this which oftentimes are used as collaterals even to secure such intervention funds from the Central Bank. The Central Bank needs to review its window for intervention in the software industry to make it accessible.
“So the window they have is inaccessible because they are useless for the ecosystem. So there is a need to review that. We will be working with them to offer some insight into how they can effectively support the ecosystem.”
ISPON, he says, will also be working to encourage entrepreneurship in the Nigerian digital economy. “We are going to be working actively with NITDA (National Information Technology Development Agency) to create programmes that encourage entrepreneurship in the software industry. And this could include providing access to funding to mentoring for startups and creating ecosystems that foster collaboration and innovation. We will work also with them and other stakeholders to create trust in products that are being offered in the digital economy.”
According to Abioye, “One of the critical elements of patronising software solutions is about trust in that system. Will it work? Will it deliver intended values, and what have you?”
Under this plan, ISPON will develop some form of certification. “We will come up with the certification programmes that would attest to the various software that are being observed in the ecosystem and they would indeed have been tested and certified to deliver the functionalities, you know, that they are supposedly developed to offer. So this will really strengthen the confidence of the consuming public and the implementing organisations to leverage local content. These are very fundamental steps that we are going to be taking.”
He says that the software group will come up with the National Software Summit, which will hold biennially to build, enhance and sustain the power of collaboration and partnership amongst software practitioners for national development and global competitiveness.
Under the Summit plan, Abioye reckons that ISPON will open “active engagement with both the public sector consumers and the private sector stakeholders regularly to showcase products that exist in the ecosystem, and that speak to diverse areas of their needs. This and many more things are that we are going to be seriously working in active collaboration with various stakeholders in the Federal Government agencies, and the Presidency and the private sector organisations and the other participants in the ecosystem.”