By Frank Tomori
The upcoming US-Nigeria Investment Summit offers an opportunity for Nigerian politicians, business leaders and diplomats to highlight the investment potentials in the country’s emerging Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry.
In recent years, ICT has become one of the most vibrant industries in Nigeria, and the reason is not farfetched. According to Statista, a global statistics company, there are approximately 76.2 million Nigerian internet users as of 2017; an increase of nearly 50 percent from the 2013 figure of 51.8 million. This presents a huge opportunity for growth in ICT as internet is the backbone on which Information Technology is built.
For ICT to thrive in any society, there needs to be a sizeable number of highly skilled people who can understand and use technology. In Nigeria, a boom in education has led to an increase in skilled manpower and a growing middle class. According to a recent Nielsen report, Nigeria has a rapidly-expanding middle-class population of over 42 million people. This has become evident in the entrepreneurship drive of its population and the increasingly significant role technology is playing in their lives. Millions of Nigerian youths are beginning to give-up formal employment to learn hands-on ICT skills like programming and networking, which has positioned them for better opportunities.
As Nigeria’s economy grows, the country becomes more globalized, and government policy drifts towards privatisation and deregulation, the role of ICT becomes increasingly important. Government agencies, large corporations and financial institutions are increasing their demand for ICT products and services to support their growing infrastructure. In-line with global standards, and to make operations more efficient and effective, governments at all levels are turning to ICT to make their processes seamless and pragmatic. Moreover, banks and other financial institutions want to keep their customers, attract more and secure their financial assets in an increasingly competitive market.
One area in the ICT sector experiencing a boom is Financial technology(Fintech). For years, Fintech company, Interswitch has been at the forefront of facilitating payment solutions as a gateway for debit cards in Nigeria. Its digital payment solution, Quickteller, facilitates online payments for all kinds of bills. However, new products have emerged in recent times. Big names in the Nigerian Fintech sector now include E-Tranzact, Paystack, Piggybank, Paga, and Remita.
Created by software company, SystemSpecs, Remita became famous when it was adopted as the gateway for the Nigerian government’s Treasury Single Account(TSA). The need for a more efficient fiscal management system and a more transparent financial process led the Nigerian government to embrace technology and Remita rose up to the challenge. Remita has processed over N8.9 trillion for the Federal Government, and it saves the government over $11 million monthly from bank charges. The TSA system has increased transparency and accountability, and blocked leakages at a time when the country is just emerging from a brutal recession. In-line with recommendations from the IMF, other African countries are seeking to implement their own TSA and they may look up to Remita as a tested tool to drive their own system. Recently, Remita has also launched a consumer version of its digital payment solution.
Another area of boom in the ICT sector is services. This includes software, infrastructure, and data warehousing. The demand for various kinds of ICT services has led to the success of Nigerian firms like Weco Systems, Maineone, and Computer Warehouse Group(CWG). Companies like SystemSpecs, Socketworks, and Chams have also provided software services such as payroll, identity management, human resource management, sales point, portals, etc for various government and private organizations. Austin Okere’s CWG is now a publicly listed company on the Nigerian Stocks Exchange(NSE) with branches in West, East and Central Africa.
Nigeria’s growing middle class has spurred a keen interest in internet shopping. Jumia, Konga, Yudala and Payporte are examples of large online shopping platforms in Nigeria, all selling consumer goods. They have developed out of Nigerians’ increasing penchant for the internet and mobile phone. Iroko TV sells a different kind of product; it gets consumers access to videos of Nollywood movies, at a token. Moreover, the huge gap left by millions of people who have been excluded from the banking system is being filled by simple mobile-based apps created by banks and Fintech companies.
This year’s US-Nigerian Investment summit will take place on the 21st of April 2018. in Washington DC. At the event, stakeholders are expected to highlight the many untapped investment opportunities in Nigeria for U.S. investors and companies. It is pertinent that the story of Nigeria’s emerging ICT industry be told. We need to tell the success stories of the indigenous ICT firms flourishing in Nigeria. The Americans need to hear the tales of innovation and solutions coming from Africa’s most populous nation. Nigerian diplomats and businessmen need to convince the Americans that innovation and creativity are in the upswing, and that the country’s ICT sector is ripe for investment.
Frank Tomori is an Ibadan-based social commentator