Infrastructure for a new future
The government sees the IT sector as the bedrock for its economic and social programs, and believes that private sector partnerships should march hand-in-hand with encouragement of the creativity and entrepreneurial skills found among Nigeria’s 120 million-strong population
The Nigerian government is concentrating on raising standards in health, education, social security, and transport
The decisive re-election of President Olusegun Obasanjo will drive forward a policy initiative unveiled in his first term of office: the development of the Nigerian information technology industry.
Nigeria has strong ambitions to become an IT-literate country that can hold its own in the global economy. The government has established a National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA), with the aim to launch communications and weather satellites. These satellites will carry a wealth of prediction equipment and remote sensing technology that can scour isolated parts of the country for signs of fire or flood.
Professor Turner Isoun, Minister of Science and Technology, says: Weve provided the framework, and now were prioritizing IT partnerships in the private sector.
The government has signed an agreement with the UKs Surrey Satellite Technology for the launch of satellite equipment. Professor Isoun says: Nigerias satellite program is an essential national information infrastructure, the bedrock for the implementation of all our major programs for food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development.
Turner T. Isoun
Minister of Science and Technology
The Minister points out that satellite remote sensing will enable land with agricultural potential to be pinpointed, and help the search for offshore oil. Satellites will also be used for data communication, to broaden the scope of the health and education sectors.
The first made in Nigeria computers are already being produced by Zinox Technologies, a joint venture between Stan Tech of Nigeria, Mustek of South Africa, and Alhena of France. Professor Isoun says: When foreigners see that were taking successful steps forward, I believe theyll be attracted here. Our 120 million population represents a big market, particularly for telephones and computers.
And theres the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a market of 250 million people. If Nigeria takes off, then other countries in the ECOWAS region will follow. Its very important that Nigeria provides the leadership.
Professor Isoun says foreign interest
in developing IT in Nigeria is increasing. Under the USAID initiative, the
Bola Ige Center for IT resources is being established.
Our policy emphasizes the backbone of IT infrastructure: think of telephones, V-Sat, and broadband, he adds. These are all areas in which we need more investment. A good example is telephony we only have about 483,000 lines.
The number of mobile telephones, however, has already superceded fixed-line telephony, particularly since the introduction of Global System for Mobile technology (GSM) . Nevertheless, there is a vast market still to tap in cellular phones. The same is true for computers the government plans to introduce computers to around 30 million pupils in the countrys secondary schools.
Charles Ugwuh, President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), says Nigerians are ready to go into joint ventures with foreign partners. But although he welcomes the development of IT, he is equally concerned that Nigeria should manufacture goods, rather than import them. Were focusing on making our raw materials available in a way that will deepen the industrial development of the country.
The investment were putting into direct consumer items may be beneficial in the short term, but may not be in the long term. So, manufacturers are looking for products that will help the economy take off and will create incentives for small-scale industries to show their enthusiasm, creativity, and entrepreneurial skills. The problem at the moment is that investors are more interested in the oil sector than any other. Investment is needed to open up other areas as well.
The government offers a range of incentives for investors because it knows that it must attract the private sector, and at the same time, concentrate on the basics: health, education, social security, and new roads, says Mr. Ugwuh.
As far as privatization is concerned, sometimes we take three steps forward and five steps back. But gradually we are moving forward, and I think Nigeria has a bright future, he adds.
We have to sell that vision of the future to those who can bring not just capital, but the vital know-how, discipline and organizational skills needed to position ourselves as a world player. It is not enough just to have raw materials, weve got to try and change our attitude toward development, and focus on other things like hard work and quality production.
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