Mr Yemi Oshodi, Chief Executive Officer at Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL) has told Technology Times that Federal Government need to enforce Nigeria local content laws to promote indigenous technologies Nigeria.
[quote font=”georgia” font_size=”22″ font_style=”italic” align=”left” arrow=”yes”]The ICSL CEO also identified perception gap as a major challenge for indigenous tech companies that needs to be closed by articulating and selling the Nigerian growth story to foreign investors.[/quote]Oshodi says that his call becomes necessary as indigenous technology companies still walk a tight rope with convincing “everyday Nigerians” that their products can compete favorably with rival global brands.
The CEO of ICSL, a key player in the Nigerian Internet services space, believes that government, as one of the top tech spenders in the economy, can pave the way to change this perception through the enforcement of policies that promote local content through the Office of National Content (ONC).
Government has set up the ONC as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to enforce compliance with the regulatory Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in information and communication technology (ICT).
For the ICSL CEO, enforcement of these laws will help develop a truly indigenous ICT industry for wealth creation in the local economy through the implementation of the ONC Guidelines.
”Let me first commend Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications. He has done a remarkable job in pushing for local content especially in the IT space but the enforcement I guess, needs a little more tease because we see a lot of these government contracts being awarded to foreign firms” Oshodi tells Technology Times in an exclusive interview in the Lagos office of ICSL.
According to him, there is now need for the IT implementing agency to make reference to the sections of the NITDA Act, 2007 which empowers it to enforce the local content policy and “come with penalties for violations thereto.”
The ICSL CEO also identified perception gap as a major challenge for indigenous tech companies that needs to be closed by articulating and selling the Nigerian growth story to foreign investors.
”A lot of people believe that local companies are not as good as their foreign competitors, which clearly is a failed notion. Even the foreign competitors here use local workers and so a lot of the foreign companies come with big reputations obviously and very large balance sheet which is another handicap we have here”, he says.
According to Oshodi, ”we have local content laws but I think the effective monitoring and the effective enforcement of those laws is probably not where it should be.”
”When you look at what other countries have done with local contents, the two areas that come to mind are India and China and if you look at what the Indians have done, they have taken local content to the next level. Indian now is exporting automobiles. Most of those ‘Okadas’ you see on the streets of Nigeria are either from China or from India”, Oshodi adds.
According to him, Nigerian policy makers need to introduce tax incentive for IT companies as investors are still plagued by tax issues, which he wants the government to look into.
”We should stop playing politics and get serious. These are things that have been tried in advanced countries and has worked so I think we should adopt same or even do more in Nigeria.”
When asked some of the local market opportunities he saw that gave him the confidence that his company will succeed Oshodi tells Technology Times that ”it’s more of a global market than a local market opportunity.”
He says that “technology business globally is expanding rapidly and we wanted to bring that to Nigeria. Nigeria is a clean sheet of paper. We don’t have the infrastructure that most other countries had set up, so it provides quite a large opportunity for new entrant to enter the market and obviously connectivity for over 180 million people is going to be a very huge task and it’s going to be something that you are going to need a variety of funds to handle. So that market in itself provides significant opportunities. That’s why ICSL ventured into the space”.
Commenting on some of the stellar achievement of the tech company the ICSL chief tells Technology Times that ”our milestone achievement is actually continuing to be built. We have achieved what we would consider to be decent success. Virtually every major financial institution in the country is a customer of ours and we have some significance government customers.”
[quote font=”georgia” font_size=”22″ font_style=”italic” align=”left” arrow=”yes”]According to Oshodi, “the technology is not complex. Over 93 million Internet subscribers in Nigeria I would say the bulk of them are accessing the Internet through handheld devices but we see the future as a future of hyper connectivity where everybody is connected everywhere with everything.”[/quote]The ICSL CEO says that the Nigerian technology company is driving several initiatives to deepen Internet access in Nigeria as he says that ”we have a number of ideas that we are going to be putting forth. But obviously for some reasons, I don’t think I want to totally go into the specifics of those right now. But we are working with a number of stakeholders and a number of initiatives that if they come to flourish, would significantly increase broadband access for the masses actually, not for the elites. We are looking at things that with the right structure and the right set up, provide broadband to the masses.”
Oshodi says that ”basically, what you would see if you are travelling abroad is Wi-Fi in public places; Wi-Fi in certain areas; metro-type Wi-Fi. These are the types of initiatives we are working on.” But he wants industry stakeholders, both public and private, to increase collaborative efforts that will make broadband more available across Nigeria.
”With the foreign exchange challenges we have in the nation as it is today and the equipment that will be needed for this sort of endeavour, you can understand why this initiative is not moving at the speed which one would expect.
“There are no special consideration set asides by the Central Bank of Nigeria that I am aware of where telecoms companies can get preferential foreign exchange treatment. Therefore, the economics even of a public private partnership become extremely important and this is where agencies with budgets like NITDA, USPF come into play because they have budgets that can handle some of these projects and these are the organisations we would be reaching out hopefully to work with to put some of these structures into place”, the ICSL CEO adds.
”Being that the larger chunk of the population is in the cities, we are going to need some of these state governments to partner with private enterprise to bring connectivity to the masses”, he says.
According to Oshodi, “the technology is not complex. Over 93 million Internet subscribers in Nigeria I would say the bulk of them are accessing the Internet through handheld devices but we see the future as a future of hyper connectivity where everybody is connected everywhere with everything.”
Gazing into the future of the tech company the ICSL CEO tells Technology Times that “”we see ourselves significantly extending our footprints outside Lagos. We are very entrenched in Lagos. We own over 24 base stations. Our network stretches from Badagry to Epe and from Lekki to Ikorodu, from Lekki in the South, Ikorodu in the North, Badagry in the South and Epe in the East. We are 100% Nigeria. We don’t even have a single foreign worker. Everybody here is Nigerian. This network provides significant services to our customers in Lagos, so the idea that a Nigerian firm cannot do it is obviously a failed notion.”
According to the ICSL CEO, ”going forward, we want to build on the successes we have achieved in Lagos and expand our footprints outside Lagos. We have already begun very late steps in that direction. We have offices in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Abuja, Kano, we have points of presence in those cities, and we are opening up in Owerri Park.”
According to him, “we are looking at one in Kaduna also. We are also looking at boosting businesses in all these areas. Right now, we just have presence there and we are doing business there but we see a couple of this place as areas where we can do business especially in the South-South and South East.”