How to Deepen Nigeria’s Tech Ecosystem

Without an enabling legislative and policy framework, Nigeria’s Tech ecosystem will be running in cycles. Technological Innovation comes not by chance but by deliberate creation

There’s no doubt about the fact that the tech ecosystem is now what it was a few years ago in Nigeria. There has been progress to a reasonable extent to what the tech scene was as at 2010.

Investment into Nigerian start-ups for example has increased quantitatively. The attention of Mark Zuckerberg, YC Combinators, 500 Startups and a host of portfolio investors in Nigeria is more than a symbol of recognition.

Of course, the argument whether what we have can be effectively called an ecosystem definitely exists. We seem to be fixated on the numerous positive activities on the startup scene and might be comfortably using that as a metric for our definition of what our technology ecosystem.

From a standpoint, the wave of technology globally, especially since Facebook has been the influx of investment in startups. We seem to be getting a fair share of this wave. Why then should we be bothered about what the proper definition of our ecosystem is or whether our ecosystem has all the proper pillars that should drive technology?

From another standpoint, we also seem to be fixated on the existence of what is on the surface (startups, IT deployment companies and of course, the revenue) with little care about what should be beneath all of that (broadband infrastructure, intellectual property, technology transfer, R&D). The real issue here therefore is, we become ‘deployers’ of innovation instead of creators.

A reality check for example is ‘what percentage of the investment that comes into Nigeria goes to software development startups compared to Internet-as-an-enabler startups?’. To achieve sustainable progress in technology and innovation as a country, we have to address the foundations of our ecosystem.

Infrastructure — Botswana’s information network has an all-digital microwave coupled with a fibre optic system. For Nigeria’s population, what can we boast of right now?

Human Capacity — Our universities are yet to key into this technology wave that we are aware of. Fortran is still be taught in universities and we have somehow assumed that polytechnic students/graduates can’t acquire technology skills. Capacity development that is currently being carried out is now even focused on technical skills with little regard for the non-technical skills needed to innovate.

Enterprise Environment — What does doing business look like in Nigeria? How will the “Nigerian” factor affect the efficiency of technology based innovations? To what extent do entrepreneurs have access to credit and financial services for the execution of their inventions?

Legislation & Policy — This is what I am particularly concerned about. Holistic technological innovation does not happen, especially in a developing economy without an orchestrated attempt from an institution with the monopoly of force that can make it happen.

To put this in perspective, here is an Act of Congress of the United States as far back as 1980 — The Stevensons-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980. I have duplicated it here

The Congress finds and declares that:
(1) Technology and industrial innovation are central to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of citizens of the United States.
(2) Technology and industrial innovation offer an improved standard of living, increased public and private sector productivity, creation of new industries and employment opportunities, improved public services and enhanced competitiveness of United States products in world markets.
(3) Many new discoveries and advances in science occur in universities and Federal laboratories, while the application of this new knowledge to commercial and useful public purposes depends largely upon actions by business and labor. Cooperation among academia, Federal laboratories, labor, and industry, in such forms as technology transfer, personnel exchange, joint research projects, and others should be renewed, expanded and strengthened.
(4) Small businesses have performed an important role in advancing industrial and technological innovation.
(5) Industrial and technological innovation in the United States may be lagging when compared to historical patterns and other industrialized nations.
(6) Increased industrial and technological innovation would reduce trade deficits, stabilize the dollar, increase productivity gains, increase employment, and stabilize prices.
(7) Government antitrust, economic, trade patent, procurement, regulatory, research and development, and tax policies have significant impacts upon industrial innovation and development of technology, but there is insufficient knowledge of their effects in particular sectors of the economy.
(8) No comprehensive national policy exists to enhance technological innovation for commercial and public purposes. There is a need for such a policy, including strong national policy supporting domestic technology transfer and utilization of the science and technology resources of the Federal Government.
(9) It is in the national interest to promote the adaptation of technological innovations to State and local government uses. Technological innovations can improve services, reduce their costs, and increase productivity in State and local governments.
(10) The Federal laboratories and other performers of federally funded research and development frequently provide scientific and technological developments of potential use to State and local governments and private industry. These developments should be made accessible to those governments and industry. 1here is a need to provide means of access and to give adequate personnel and lending support to these means.
(11) The Nation should give fuller recognition to individuals and companies which have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of technology or technological manpower for the improvement of the economic, environmental, or social well-being of the United States

Asides this, There is the Bayh-Dole Act of 1986, the National Competitiveness Act of 1993 and the Civilian Technology Development Act 1993 and many more of such with repeals and ammendments.

Since 1999, there have only been five bills in the National Assembly on Technology or Innovation and only one has been passed in the Senate, the others have not even passed first reading.

This single bill. the National Research and Innovation Bill sponsored by Sen David Umaru of the APC, which was passed 6th of July, 2017 in the senate says this of the expenditure of its funding

The Foundation shall apply the Fund established under section 17 of this bill to -
(a) the administration of the foundation
(b) the performance of its functions
©the payment of emoluments and entitlements of members of the council, and the members of the Board of the Foundation
(d) the payment of personnel, overheard, allowances, benefits and other amdinistrative costs
(E) the cost of mantaining the head office, field offices and operating the DIrectorates and other interventions concerning the Sectorial Innovation Councils
(f) the training of members of staff of the Foundation
(g) the pulbication and promotion of research and innovation results from public and private sector research and development institutes
(h) the support of national research, innovation and development bodies and for the payment of contributions to international organizations to which the Foundation subscibes
(i) undertake any expenditure in connection with all or any of the functions of the Foundation under this Bill

In simple terms, our government needs to catch up! While countries are dedicating a fraction of their GDP on R&D, the singular bill that goes addresses technology in this age of digital revolution chooses to spend its funding on paying salaries, training and overseas trips.

There’s so much, yet so little that the private sector can do. Holistically, there is no blueprint on human capacity development for the millions of unskilled unemployed youths, nothing on infrastructure, nothing on the business environment for technology oriented businesses, nothing on technology transfer in case of Federal Government funded research and patents, no incentive whatsoever to innovate.

This is our reality, going to 2050

It is crystal clear that without an enabling legislative and policy framework, Nigeria’s Tech ecosystem will be running in circles and the interested players in tech in Nigeria need to start paying attention to this fundamentals. Without this basic foundation, all that is been built right now are castles on sand.