Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says that the Buhari administration is determined to support Nigeria’s technology sector and its growing digital economy.
Mr Osinbajo said this on Friday during a fireside chat with Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, Sir Nick Clegg. The chat focused on the digital economy facet of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan, NESP.
Mr Clegg, a former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and other officials of Facebook including Nigerian native Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy, Africa, had informed the Vice President about the tech giant’s decision to open a second African office in Lagos.
Mr Osinbajo reitereated that the digital sector is crucial in various socio-economic aspects of national life, from education, e-commerce, social investments programmes to the activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government.
He said: “The National Economic Sustainability Plan is our response to the economic crisis caused by the (COVID-19) pandemic. Our focus on the digital sector is really because practically everything we are doing centres around expanding our reach in the digital sector.
“For example, financial inclusion is critical for us because we are spreading and extending our social services, payment of cash transfers to the poorest and most vulnerable and other manners of such payment; and sometimes to the farthest flung places in Nigeria. So, we certainly need to expand our reach in order to do so. Of course, technology is critical to that.”
The vice president also noted that Nigeria is collaborating with the private sector to fund, establish and expand e-learning and education platforms, and other areas of digital technology growth.
“Practically everything is now being done remotely. Earlier on today, I did a virtual commissioning of the MSME clinic in Lagos, sitting in my office in Abuja. So, for us, the digital space is very important, which is why the focus was on the digital economy in the Economic Sustainability Plan.
“We are led by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, which is the ministry fully devoted to all of what we do in the digital space. We have the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), an agency responsible for Information technology (policy implementation); as well as the private sector.”
“As of 2018/19, we’ve gotten about $377m in investments in the tech sector. Although, it still scratches the surface if one considers the size of our economy and country. But there were very significant gains, and I’m very happy to do that. I think we’ve started off a series of interactions that have been very useful and we will continue to engage.”
“With regulation, we are dealing with uncharted territory, because quite a few of what we are seeing are entirely new. And I must say that the regulatory authorities have done quite a decent work, trying to grapple with the newness of some of what they are seeing… So, what has happened is that the collaborative efforts of govt and the tech sector, even the entertainment sector, worked on this. We had set up a technology and creativity advisory group; these are young entrepreneurs, innovators etc, who worked with us in the Industrial and Competitiveness Council to craft some of these regulations and to think through some of the problems,” Prof. Osinbajo said.
Mr Osinbajo said that the government was trying to work with practically everyone who is interested in the Nigerian digital sector. “By way of preparation, one of the critical issues for us is improving our broadband infrastructure. We’ve heard the exciting stuff that Facebook is doing, especially by way of subsea cable that is being launched but we also have a Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 recently launched by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy. There is a presidential committee which has just been inaugurated to work on this. These are broad objectives, and for us, creating that infrastructure is crucial, and we are happy to see the partnerships from Facebook and from some of the other tech companies,” said Mr Osinbajo.
“We’ve talked a bit about foreign investments in innovation in Nigeria, but more importantly, the work that the Bank of Industry is doing. The Bank of Industry has a technology fund. The Central Bank of Nigeria has also recently established a technology fund. Also, we are working with the African Development Bank (AfDB), which has a $500m fund; at the moment we are at the final stages, trying to bring that into existence.
“So, there is quite a bit of activity to ensure that there is access to funding, while we are improving the business environment and the environment for technology companies to operate,” he said.
Mr Clegg said that he was impressed with Nigeria’s broadband goals and the administration’s plans to improve the digital sector.
He said, “Let me say how excited I am, on behalf of the whole of Facebook and all of our teams, of the emerging ambitions that we see in the broadband space in Nigeria, particularly with the Economic Sustainability Plan led by His Excellency, the Vice President. What a huge pleasure for me to hear directly form the Vice President about these ambitions.”
During the chat, Facebook announced that it would be opening an office in Lagos, Nigeria, aimed at supporting the entire Sub-Saharan Africa. The company’s officials said that the office is expected to become fully operational in 2021. The Facebook Nigeria office will be the first on the continent to house a team of expert engineers building for the future of Africa and beyond.
Facebook’s officials said that the “office will be home to various teams servicing the continent from across the business, including sales, partnerships, policy, communications as well as engineers.”