As a bedrock for national survival and development in a rapidly changing world, information technology (IT) has become a vital tool and solution to address various socio-economic issues. There is a need for Nigeria, like other countries, to develop and strengthen its IT ecosystem by building capacities in infrastructure and technological skills for the growth of the nation. The country had embarked on the initiative long ago but still not at the level expected of a nation aspiring to be among those to be reckoned with in terms of technology. Nigeria’s information technology is ranked second following South Africa within the African continent; it is still ranked lower among the countries of the world.
Growth of IT
It is on record that the electronic digital computer made its first appearance in Nigeria in 1963, in connection with the analysis of the 1962/63 national census data. In the 10 years between 1963 and 1973, the total computer population in the country stood at 20-25, with six or so of these being associated with multinational companies. By 1977 the total number of installations had grown to around 70. It was by this time that many universities, government departments, and parastatal organisations, including the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Federal Office of Statistics, as well as many banks and commercial firms, began to show interest in computers. Up to 1977, there were only three computer vendors in Nigeria. They were JCL, IBM, and NCR, and all three were the local subsidiaries of overseas computer manufacturers dealing almost entirely with mainframes and minicomputers.
In 1977, the government promulgated the indigenisation decree, which set apart some categories of industrial activity exclusively for participation by Nigerian nationals, while stipulating a minimum of Nigerian interest in others. One of the three original vendors, IBM, did not want to comply with the decree, choosing instead to pull out of the country. The decree produced two other important effects. First, there was an influx of indigenous vendors in the computer business. Secondly, the keener competition in the industry led to more aggressive marketing policies. As a result, the number of computer installations in the country rose sharply. Whereas 39 computers were installed in 1975-1977, 1978-1980 witnessed the addition of 197 new installations. There were 149 new installations in 1981-1983 and a further 99 in 1984-1986.
The necessity for a national Information Technology (IT) policy became more obvious after the participation of the Nigerian delegation in the first African Development Forum on the Challenge to Africa of Globalisation in the Information Age held in Addis Abba in October 1999. As a result, a national workshop on the National Information and Communication Infrastructure was held in Abuja in March 2000. In parallel, professional bodies including the Computer Association of Nigeria (COAN), the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN) and the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPN) submitted draft IT policy proposals. More efforts followed and culminated in the production of a master plan for the development of a nation- al ICT programme “ICT 2000” during the term of Chief Ebitimi Banigo as Minister of Science and Technology. In the policy, it was stated that the nation would endeavour to develop globally competitive quality manpower in IT and related disciplines.
The objectives of the policy include: developing a pool of IT engineers, scientists, technicians, and software developers; increasing the availability of trained personnel; providing attractive career opportunities; developing requisite skills in various aspects of IT; to develop made in Nigeria software to earn foreign exchange; and to develop domestic computer components. The strategies were making the use of IT mandatory at all levels of educational institutions through adequate financial provision for tools and resources; developing relevant IT curricula for primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. Such curricula will be based on the appropriate national syllabus at the selected level and other global certification syllabi, to tie into key elements of the government’s Universal Basic Education (UBE), the proposed digital virtual library scheme, related educational initiatives, and others.
Indigenous IT industry
Nigeria imports virtually 80 percent of all its IT equipment, and a diversity of firms exist to supply, service, and maintain the imported equipment. There are, however, problems associated with poor vendor performance and the high cost of computing equipment. Local manufacturing was under discussion, there were agitations for the development of indigenous IT production.
There were over 200 registered companies in Nigeria offering a broad range of computer-related services. Most of them were set up between 1977 and 1982 to take advantage of the indigenisation decree and the then- prevailing economic boom. A partial survey conducted in 1986, involving 47 computer companies, showed that 88 per cent of these were vendors; 79 per cent were consultants; 70 percent offered training services; 68 percent had maintenance facilities; and 45 per cent offered bureau services. There is a lot of overlapping as many firms offered three or more services. However, some local investors have gone into different aspects of local IT production mostly the software while a larger quantity of the hardware, and the infrastructure are still imported. Meanwhile, the business environment has been challenged by various factors, although experts say there are still huge opportunities for business expansion in Nigeria despite the challenges.
A report of the Equinix 2022 Global Tech Survey indicated that about 73 percent of IT challenges are attributed to cyber security which is the most feared attack on the IT business in Nigeria, while security breaches and data leaks take 68 per cent. For the survey, 100 business leaders in Nigeria were interviewed about the opportunities and challenges their organisations are facing and their plans for the future. The report identified huge huge opportunities for Nigeria’s IT businesses to weather the storms and successfully expand into new markets and reach new customers. The survey revealed that 54 per cent of respondents are planning on expanding in an existing country in the next 12 months, 34 percent into a new region, and 33 percent into a new country.
93 percent of IT leaders in Nigeria said enhancing customer experience is a priority. However, several potentially limiting factors were identified by businesses when it came to global growth including concerns and challenges in supply chain, cyber security, and staff retention and recruitment.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has identified infrastructure as the bane of IT in Nigeria, additionally, the report of Equinix Survey stated that Nigeria’s IT ecosystem was plagued with various challenges. No fewer than 55 per cent of the respondents said their business was plagued by global supply chain issues and shortages, while 50 percent specified the global microchip shortage as a threat to their business. There remain significant concerns around cybersecurity in Nigeria. Ensuring expansions are supported by resilient digital models is business-critical, particularly at a time of increasing volatility and emerging global threats. As part of their digital-first strategies, 85 percent of respondents in Nigeria confirmed a key priority is improving cybersecurity. 88 per cent said complying with local market data regulations is critical, while 85 per cent highlighted the need to future-proof their businesses. According to IT specialists in Nigeria, the most feared threats were cyber- attacks (73%), security breaches, and data leaks (68%).
The shortage of IT experts is another challenge identified by the respondents. Despite having one of the youngest populations and workforces in the world, 58 percent of IT decision-makers in Nigeria view a shortage of personnel with IT skills as one of the main threats to their business. The survey showed that among the most common concerns for businesses in Nigeria are candidates with the wrong skill sets applying for jobs (56%), pay and compensation (49%), changing expectations around ways of working (41%), and the retention of current talent (38%). Additionally, In Nigeria, the most in-demand tech employees are those with skills in areas such as AI/machine learning, data analysis, cloud computing specialists, data protection, security software development, IT technicians, and security analysis, the report stated.
To help grow their businesses, 77 percent of IT leaders in Nigeria said they plan to move more business functions to the cloud including business-critical applications and security functions. Hybrid cloud models were the preferred approach for 36 percent of respondents in Nigeria, although 18 per cent still rely on a single cloud provider; only two per cent are not using the cloud at all. Forty per cent of the respondents said they plan to facilitate global expansion plans by deploying virtually via the cloud, with over a quarter (26%) 21 percent among IT decision-makers in Nigeria doing so using a bare metal solution. Meanwhile, 47 per cent globally (46% in Nigeria) said they expect increased spending on carrier-neutral colocation solutions to facilitate the planned rise in digital deployments, while even more (59% at the global level, 70% in Nigeria) said they intend to increase investment in interconnection services as they plan to progress digital transformation and build resilience.
More than half of IT leaders in Nigeria (64%) said they are accelerating their company’s digital evolution because of the Covid-19 crisis. Indeed, over half (64%) confirmed that their IT budgets have increased as a direct outcome of its legacy an insight into the now broadly acknowledged necessity for robust digital infrastructure to pivot to evolving business needs in an instant. Furthermore, almost three- quarters of respondents (73%) believed the technology changes and investments implemented during the pandemic are here to stay. Commenting on the situation, the Managing Director, MainOne, An Equinix Company, Funke Opeke, said: “The acceleration in digital transformation in Nigeria reinforces the need for businesses to have access to single points to interconnect locally. “Increased speed of connectivity, increased flexibility of connectivity, and reduced cost of connectivity were identified by IT decision-makers in Nigeria as the most beneficial aspects of interconnection. MainOne provides a rich interconnection ecosystem that allows customers to connect each other to multiple telecoms networks, and Cloud, Payment and Content Providers in a single location.’’
While there are opportunities for IT businesses to grow in the country, addressing the challenges associated with the ecosystem will accelerate the promotion of the indigenous IT industry.