The Federal Government appears to have discarded its plan to create thousands of jobs through the establishment of technology hubs.
While representing President Muhammadu Buhari at an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) forum in Abuja mid-2016, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had unveiled the plan for two ‘super hubs’ in Lagos and Abuja, and six others across the country by the end of 2017.
Regrettably, the initiative, 19 months after it was announced, exists only on paper.
“Each hub will be designed to produce relevant innovative technology solutions to a wide range of business, commercial and government problems. For example, alternative energy solutions, creative technology, public services delivery in health, education and government processes, import substitution, among others,” said Osinbajo.
The vice president even disclosed that many major technology companies were partnering the Federal Government for the provision of infrastructure and opportunities at the hubs.
“We intend to create a reservoir of human capacity in technology that can be exported internationally. Nigeria could lead India as a market for technology and innovation talent,” he had said.
When The Guardian contacted the Senior Special Adviser to the President on ICT, Lanre Osibona, on the matter, he asked for some time to gather information. Three weeks later, he has not got back to the reporter. He did not pick his calls either or reply to text messages. Laolu Akande, the spokesman for the vice president, also promised a response. He had not done so as at press time.
An ICT or technology hub is a space where technologists gather to bounce ideas, network, programme and design, and bring their ideas to fruition for economic benefits.
A hub can establish a minimum of 10 startups and a maximum of 20 in about five teams each. This means that 20 startups multiplied by five teams each would create about 100 jobs. Multiplying 100 by the eight hubs planned by the Federal Government would yield 800 jobs.
Checks on the Nigeria ICT Roadmap showed that the Ministry of Communications targeted the creation of over two million jobs by 2020 through the establishment of the hubs.
The Federal Government, however, seems unwilling to pay adequate attention to the potential of technology for the economy, triggering concern among industry watchers.
They expressed dismay that the nonchalant posture is coming at a time the country’s ICT sector is attracting the attention of the world’s biggest technology giants like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.
They bewailed the failure of the president to see opportunities for productivity gains, cost saving and reduction of inefficiencies. They also decried the absence of pointers in his 2018 speech suggesting his readiness to leverage technology in addressing healthcare delivery, citizenship engagement or the revamp of education.
“The establishment of innovation hubs is a prerequisite for current and future competitiveness and survivability. This, in my opinion, was why the Federal Government decided to establish eight hubs across the nation in 2017. Regrettably, the mission was never actualised,” said Chris Uwaje, Director-General of the Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHUB).
He stressed that nations must be re-tooled to meet the challenges of emerging, high-skilled and ICT-driven societies; they must establish new development strategies and responsive institutional frameworks and sustainable models.
He explained: “From the 100 startups that would emerge, not all would make it. It might just be 50 per cent, that is half of the 100. And if their solution is very good and meets market requirements and need, that might lead to the employment of about 500 people in the minimum. At that stage, they are still small-scale enterprises, which means that if they weather the storm and become marketable, the employment generation could run into thousands.”
He revealed that in India, a minimum of 1,000 people work in an ICT environment, compared to Nigeria’s 155. This, he noted, proves Nigeria is lagging behind.
“There is a need to put in place a national and state innovation development fund. It is through this that innovation would be adequately developed,” he said.
Disturbing data from the Nigeria Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS) show that about 325,000 students are in computer science departments in tertiary institutions across the country. “When they graduate, where will they go?” Uwaje asked, adding: “Government must be responsive to some of these facts on ground.”
Telecoms expert and Manager at MainOne, Temitope Osunrinde, said that to achieve the “global economic competitiveness targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan,” the Buhari administration must look not only at rail, road, gas and power; it must also focus attention on fibre line (broadband), the fourth rung of a modern economy. This, he said, would lift innovations emerging from ICT hubs.