President Buhari signed Executive Order 5 today. It was not a typical one: this one has meat and bone. Simply, the order is designed to give local companies preference in public procurement of science, engineering and technology components. In other words, governments would be required to choose local companies like ATB Techsoft, SystemSpecs, and CWG over foreign behemoths like Microsoft and Oracle provided the local companies have competitive products that could match the foreign ones.
The Executive Order is expected to promote the application of science, technology and innovation towards achieving the nation’s development goals across all sectors of the economy.
The president, pursuant to the authority vested in him by the constitution, ordered that all ‘‘procuring authorities shall give preference to Nigerian companies and firms in the award of contracts, in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007.’’
In the proclamation entitled ‘‘Presidential executive order 5 for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology,’’ the president also directed Ministries, Departments and Agencies to engage indigenous professionals in the planning, design and execution of national security projects.
This is a real deal, and in a way Mr. President is challenging local companies. Yet, there is really nothing new in this Order if you read the Public Procurement Act 2007 where MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) are expected to be biased to local companies. Unfortunately, we are not necessarily there. And without the capabilities, MDAs have loopholes and waivers to award contracts to foreign companies.
Former president Obasanjo tried the same strategy on laptops and computers, mandating government units to buy from Omatek, Zinox and others. Within months, the MDAs revolted. Just like that, waivers emanated on issues of quality. Yes, they became liberated to spend our money on HP, Dell and Lenovo.
Would this time be different? Possibly, if Mr. President has followed up with at least $250 million commitment to R&D funding specifically structured for growing private technology companies but administered by commercial banks. That is how he can make the Orders stronger, by having a clear roadmap to nurture local kings that would take advantages of them. I am very confident that if Mr. President promises that Nigeria would shop local, and provides that support, our entrepreneurs would be encouraged to meet the needs.
It is slam dunk: government is the largest customer any sector can have in Nigeria. If it commits to buy say local software, most local software companies would blossom through revenue growth. That would create a virtuoso circle as they become better by having resources to improve their products.
Executive Order is great; you have ceremonies. But they do not move electrons and atoms, or how they are arranged to make great technology products. The great Order for Nigeria is funding the pipelines to make the innovations happen. Why? Markets decide the best value and even governments want better deals. If Nigerian companies cannot deliver, any policy would fail. But where we do deliver, governments would congregate. We need to fund science, engineering and technology: yes, Executive Order would not fix the abysmal state of our university system.
Make a great Order: provide 24/7 electricity in all university labs. And within five years, we would see greatness out of Nigeria. That should be the Executive Order 6. I am confident Mr. President would pursue that.