The Nigerian economy is taking a beating left right and center, just because of one reason – there is an oversupply of crude oil to the world. This has forced oil prices to dip in and out of all time lows. At a point there were fears that oil prices will fall below the $20 per barrel mark.
There is currently a forex crisis in Nigeria. It has left the Central Bank scrambling to put checks and controls in place to slow down our thirst for the greenback and other hard currencies. This is to save our foreign reserve from depletion. The Governor recently told Nigerians to brace up, that this rough ride was going to be for the long haul.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
So what can Nigeria “invent” that will open new channels of sustainable foreign exchange, in the quantity crude oil used to give us?
Today is the best time to begin to think about that, think outside the box. This applies to both the government and the governed. This is the time for the smart ones among us to come to our rescue. Our situation might be that blessing in disguise that people normally speak of, our chance to diversify our economy and our thoughts and exert ourselves to attain the God given potentials that oil made us get too lazy to reach.
While our intercessors intensify prayers and dry fasting (as we are wont to do), let us consider what we have lying, latent, under our noses – Information Technology.
I will like to use India as case study, a country similar enough (as an emerging economy), in this piece. India has a foreign reserve of over $340 billion USD as of the end of January, 2016(Wikipedia).
From the list of India’s top ten exports, it is almost obvious that an absence of oil will not affect the economy much. The country is so diversified it cannot be jolted very seriously if one commodity decides to go rogue, like crude oil has done in our case. They have managed to maximize their potentials in many ways and have learned skills that have made them a force in other ways.
Let us take India’s “dexterity” in Information Technology for example. That is the main focus of this article.
Between 2013 and 2014, India exported IT products and services with a value of about $71billion USD(Business Standard). This is about 3 times the value of Nigeria’s foreign reserve(Nigeria has a little over $28 billion USD as of today). They exported software, consultancy, and Help Desk/Call Center services.
The deliberate investment in technology education that birthed the many technology parks scattered all over the country have proven to be key. Europe and America now depends on India for so many of its outsourced technology services needs.
Why not Nigeria?
Nigeria with a population of almost 200 million, 70% of which is reported to be under 30 years old(according to EIE.ng), and an infrastructure base slowly waking up, could very easily make some well needed forex outside oil, from IT. We advantaged over India in some respect which we can leverage, if we can find the will.
Take for example the exportation of Call Center services. We already have the technology available to use, both proprietary, and open source that was built locally (See Callbase).
All we need now do is train the army of unemployed graduates to be agents, teach them basic, to intermediate, IT skills that will enable them understand the technologies they might have to support. Europe and America is India’s biggest market. We can also play in that space and overtime bite a good chunk of the cake for ourselves.
Come to think of it, we speak better English than the many Indian Call Center agents we have listened to. We know our people can grow an accent within a matter of minutes, something Rajiv might struggle with. Nigeria also has the advantage of being on a time zone closer to Europe and America than the Indians.
This argument might have so many assumptions embedded in it, but we have to start from somewhere. We need to begin to encourage the acquisition of IT skills. Nigerian youths have shown they are smart enough, a little structure in their learning could unleash giants.
This is where technology parks and incubation centers come to the party.
CCHUB has shown that one could actually make space available, provide the necessary infrastructure and knowledge base(physical and digital libraries), and watch as Startups begin to blossom.
Imagine if we replicated CCHUB Yaba, all over Lagos (the nest of Nigeria’s internet bandwidth) and all over the major cities of Nigeria? It just means Lagos will not be the only technology hub, Onitsha, with its plenty skilled hands in making crude technology, could become a big one too. Not to mention Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Akure, Yola, and Abuja. The list is actually endless.
A world where incubators are as plenty as barber shops, is a world that encourages startups to blossom, and blossom into blue chips. Then in turn drive the economy.
Investing in accelerated infrastructure is key. More cable landings are needed. More last mile is needed. Hopefully more Infraco licenses will be given and things will begin to happen. “Yaba” needs connectivity to function.
I hope someone is reading.
“Yaba” indeed has the potential to be the next Bonga, if only we can find a government with the vision, and thirst to leave a lasting legacy, big enough to carry the weight of such an ambitious attempt at diversification.
I am a techie who wishes Nigeria gets weaned off oil, and in “Yaba”I trust.
*Yaba is the location of arguably the biggest incubator in Nigeria. It represents the hope of a technology driven resurgence of Nigeria.
Featured image by T. Obi - CcHub, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria, CC BY 2.0,