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Senator Ihenyen: Enough of soap making and basket weaving learning centres – Here’s the IDEA

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Senator Ihenyen: Enough of soap making and basket weaving learning centres – Here’s the IDEA

by Senator Ihenyen

As tempting as taking on the PDP break-up is this week, I will be leaving that to the Tukur and Baraje factions of the crumbling ruling party to worry about; and the APC to, at least, have a momentary celebration over it while it lasts. I only hope it lasts beyond 2015. ASUU has also been on my mind lately. But I will also leave that to the students to continue to pray and protest over, and the Federal government to keep messing up with. I am focusing on how ICT enterprises in Nigeria can become the engine of wealth creation, job opportunities and real economic growth.

When the IDEA (Information Technology Developer Entrepreneurship Accelerator) Board was inaugurated earlier this year, I had seen it as one of those “business as usual” activities of government. But with some of the achievements of the Board so far, and its importance to the Nigerian economy, I believe it deserves some attention.

It is not just the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson’s disclosure that the Federal government has created a national portal that will provide all government information in a single window that I am talking about here. It is also not about the Federal government’s e-governance drive which is sure to improve efficiency as far as services by government ministries, agencies and parastatals are concerned. I am more concerned with the use of ICT to grow the economy. We have seen how the Nigerian telecommunications sector has remained one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. It has been largely a function of policy, strategy and effective regulation, unlike what we find in the oil sector for instance.

Our continued over-reliance on oil revenue cannot sustain the level of long-term growth and development that we need to attain Vision 20:2020. That is why any policy that will provide the strong framework for the purpose of providing the enabling technological environment for the growth of Nigerian entrepreneurs in the area of technology must be seen as a great step in the right direction.

Mrs. Johnson had inaugurated the Governing Board of the National ICT Incubation Programme. Tagged ‘IDEA,’ the programme was initiated to help Nigerian entreprenuers in the ICT sector to establish successful businesses. The interesting aspect is that the benefiting entrepreneur need not have developed the ICT idea into an enterprise. A business plan would do.  It must be promising enough to be built into a successful enterprise with venture capital and structural support. This is mainly through an ICT incubation system since such new enterprises are expected to operate through incubation centres. So far, there are two of such centres in the country, one in Lagos, and the other is located in Tinapa, Cross Rivers state.

It may be that the success of IDEA so far is largely due to the pedigree and commitment of the members of the Governing council. From the ICT sector to the banking sector, and the social and public concerns, its membership cuts across various aspects to most probably ensure the level of synergy that such innovations need to thrive. They include Mr Adedotun Suleiman of Arian Capital, Pius Okigbo Jr. of Infosoft, John Obaro of Systems Spec, Teemu Kiijarvi of Nokia, Wiebe Boer of Tony Elumelu Foundation, Osayi Alile Oruene of Fate Foundation, Vincent Olatunji and Aristotle Onumo both of NITDA,  Juliet Anammah of Accenture and Mohammed Balarabe of Fidelity Bank.

The idea is to create business incubators that will stimulate innovation, provide operative facilities and space for these ideas to start small, get started, and its market tested for the purpose of attracting investors for long-term growth and expansion. In this way, these start-ups can grow into successful companies and create jobs for Nigerian youths.

This is especially so since IDEA focuses on early stage business ideas that have the potential of having a large social and economic impact in Nigeria. From what I have been able to gather from their website and some of the start-ups they are working with, business ideas that are highly scalable, and require minimum investments to develop are their targets. And of course, to make the Nigerian ICT sector realise its full potentials towards providing the much-needed economic development through wealth creation and job opportunities, it has to be a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement.

We have seen what Foundations such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation has been doing, in partnership with Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), Nigeria’s first open living lab and pre-incubation space. CcHub is designed to be a multi-functional and multi-purpose space where work to catalyse creative social tech ventures are carried out. So far, ICT entrepreneural start-ups such as the popular Jobberman and Jumia have been two of the beneficiaries of this ICT partnership. Cc Hub is based in Yaba, Lagos, a gradually developing Silicon Valley as it were.

In the same vein, the Jim Ovia Foundation in ICT has also unveiled an initiative to assist software start-ups in Nigeria. The aim of the Foundation is to provide the missing link in the knowledge capacity development space in Nigeria in relation to sofware capacity and development. With its annual ‘Prize for Software Excellence, the hope is to be able to attract more Nigerian youths to the world of digital entrepreneurship. The Prize is awarded in conjunction with the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON).

Other ICT-powered start-ups include iROKOtv, the world’s largest online distributor of Nigerian movies; and Konga, one of Nigeria’s largest online shopping website and retailers, which has been experiencing tremendous growth since July 2012 when it was launched, with over 400,000 visitors monthly. It’s CEO, Sim Shagaya was recently honoured as the Entrepreneur of the Year at the CNBC/All Africa Business Leaders Award in West Africa. He also owns DealDey, a GroupOn clone in Nigeria.

In a global village, ICT arguably provides the best opportunities for both local and global entreprenuers. This global dimension can perhaps best be appreciated when one looks at JUMIA, the leading online retailer in Nigeria. The retail company was first launched by Rocket Internet, the German e-commerce startup incubator started by the Samwer brothers. Recently, it raised $35 million in fresh funding from Millicom to expand in its domestic market and move into a new 90,000 square foot warehouse located in Lagos. To be shared with its partners Kaymu, Vamido and hellofood. JUMIA started with just three employees to build up an e-commerce platform in Nigeria. According to Raphael Afaedor, co-founder of the 4th most visited website in Nigeria, “Now, we have more than 500 employees and offer Nigerian’s youth great opportunities to work in one of the leading e-commerce companies in Africa.” Like many other successful companies, JUMIA is also entering exclusive partnerships with global technology brands such as Dell, Nokia and Intel to enable it provide new products with affordable prices.

With the current drive by the Federal government to achieve economic diversification by paying attention to such areas like tourism, agriculture, enterpreneurship and others, the development of an ICT-driven “knowledge economy” is crucial. This is the time to stimulate entreprenueral innovations in ICT towards the realisation of a knowledge economy driven by a new generation of ICT entreprenuers in Nigeria. Through PPP, the government needs to establish more IDEA incubation centres in the country, working closely with such bodies as the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the Jim Ovia Foundtaion in ICT, the Cc Hub and of course, venture capital partners.

We have seen how ICT continues to drive new global brands. Microsoft, Google and Facebook for instance have continued to record financial growth, creating wealth, job opportunities and limitless possibilities. Indeed, other African countries have not also been sleeping. In Kenya for instance, the government has initiated a project, Konza Technology City, dubbed “Africa’s Silicon Savannah”. It is planned to promote Business Processing Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES) as industries for wealth and employment creation. The target is to create over 20,000 BPO/ITES jobs in the Medium Term Period (2015) and over 100,000 by the year 2030 while sustaining an annual GDP growth rate of 10% over the next 18 years.

With Africa still having the world’s lowest Internet penetration rate at 13.5 per cent according to the latest Internet World Stats, Nigeria still remains the largest with over 45 million people on the Internet. This is a huge potential market for ICT entrepreneurs with online sservices and products. I strongly believe that with the right policy framework and infrastructural support, Nigerian entrepreneurs are very capable of building global brands and becoming some of the biggest employers of labour in the country. And please, enough of soap making and basket weaving learning centres for unemployed Nigerian GRADUATES. ICT is key.

Senator Ihenyen is a lawyer and an author. When he is not in court, he is researching the law. When he is not researching, he is writing. When he is not writing, he is working on the next big idea or managing a youth NGO. When he's not doing any of these? He's busy contributing on politics, policies and current affairs on The Scoop because it's the smart thing to do. Disclaimer: Senator is Senator's given name even though Facebook doesn't believe and so shortened the name to 'Sen' on that site. Unlike those who bear the name as a title, Senator has never accepted the millions of Naira which they receive as allowance - not like he's ever been offered though.

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