Editor’s Note: For a number of years, Nigeria has been planning to catch up with other countries in the areas of digital and data economy. From the federal to the state governments, policies have been made and still being formulated towards the right ecosystem for the economy. In this piece, Dr Olusola Sayeed Ayoola, the founder of the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Nigeria, speaks with our analyst. Looking at some of the early outcomes of policies and programmes of the governments, he believes that Nigeria has what it takes to compete with other countries in the world.
Tekedia: A lot has been said about digital and data economy in the developed world. The discussion has recently entered developing countries, especially the emerging economies such as Nigeria. What does it take be a digital and data economy?
Dr Ayoola: As you know, a digital economy refers to an economy where most of the economic activities use digitized information and knowledge as key factors of production. To be a digital and data economy, three keys things have to be in place; first, you need to have a digital core. This includes supply and support of physical technologies such as semiconductors, processors, data infrastructure, or simply every technology that enables and gives access to the internet and makes human life easy. Secondly, you need the digital product and service providers. These are our online vendors, fintech and mobile payments, e-commerce, social media among others. Lastly, there are digital applications. Businesses and individuals use products and services of digital providers to carry out their business activities. These, in turn, produce data, a vast meaningful amount of data, which then leads to improvement of services and better business inferences. Nigeria has all these 3 layers in place, we saw a 50% increase of mobile internet users from 2015 to 2020 (42.84 to 99.05 million users).
Tekedia: Looking at the Nigerian government policies and programmes in the area of information and communication technologies in the last 10 years, how would you describe the country in terms of digital and data economy?
Dr Ayoola: The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy last developed the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy in line with directives from President Buhari. This at least shows a national commitment to building a strong digital economy. Nigeria is a developing country. In terms of digital and data economy, I’d say we’re growing steadily, although we could leapfrog like China. I believe we will. Last month or so, we saw a Nigerian tech start-up sold for $200M, and in the coming years, more tech start-ups would sell. According to a McKinsey report, fintech investment grew by 197% in the last 3 years. Github just released a statistics, that showed Nigeria as a top code contributor, ahead of China. Nigeria has a brilliant, resilient, innovative, entrepreneurial, and young population. We are steadily catching up to the rest of the world.
Tekedia: Several reports and researches have noted that digital and data economy cannot be attained and sustained without knowledge economy. Considering various issues in our socioeconomic and political leadership would you say the country is really ready for digital and data economy?
Dr Ayoola: Well, I think the digital economy has started already in Nigeria. Yes, we still have gaps in our knowledge economy, but that is changing gradually. In the last five years, Nigeria has seen a big rise in educational/knowledge-based programs. Companies like Andela, RAINigeria, etc are bridging that gap. Fintech are now taking inclusion seriously and doing almost everything possible to understand and help the unbanked. So yes, we are ready and already in a digital and data economy.
Tekedia: For years, Lagos has been known for centre of information and communication technologies when one looks at the place of Computer Village. However, in our research, we discovered that the foundation of computing was laid in Ibadan in 1963 not in Lagos. What made Ibadan city losses its place? What do you think stakeholders need to do to return the city’s past place of being the first in terms of initiatives and programmes?
Dr Ayoola: Stakeholders should organise programs/events that educate and empower its young population (primary, secondary and tertiary institutions) to be a match in the global world. For instance, the Lagos state government organizes programs such as CodeLagos, Art of Tech Lagos among others. They should also look to partner with organizations that offers these educational services like Coursera, RAINigeria, Google, Microsoft etc. They should also support organizations that already provide these kind of educational service within the state.
Tekedia: What advice do you have for parents and students on the need to embrace digital and data economy?
Dr Ayoola: The best time to be a part of the digital economy was yesterday, the next best time is now. Train at RAIN, develop your capacity today. The universities can only do much, you have to give yourself the best available opportunity. This is what RAIN presents.