The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has shared a progress report on its efforts to support startups affected by COVID-19. In a document dated June 10, but shared this week, the federal agency said it has activated a number of recommendations to offset the worst of the pandemic.

The document was shared following a TechCabal report that showed the agency has been slow to respond to the pandemic. On April 1, NITDA set up a special committee to assess the damage caused by the virus and how it could support tech companies.

The ten-member committee chaired by veteran investor, Tomi Davies, submitted its report 48 hours later. Dubbed Tech4COVID-19 report, the committee focused on four areas: business continuity, startup funding, government policy and support for tech hubs.

Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the Director-General of NITDA, acknowledged receipt of the report by April 8 and promised to “prioritise”.

Two months later, TechCabal reported that implementation has been slow.

However, in the recently disclosed document, NITDA says it has taken different steps to support the tech ecosystem since April.

Tech hubs have been among the worst hit by the pandemic. Their business models require people to physically co-work in their shared spaces and access a number of physical facilities. But lockdown in Lagos caused a dramatic, yet temporal drop in patronage for hubs. The growing adoption of work from home by white-collar workers is also steering away those who traditionally work remotely at tech hubs.

To support tech hubs, the Tech4COVID-19 committee suggested bailout funds. It also recommended a three-year national startup voucher program “to stimulate demand and absorb supply for hubs and co-working spaces.”

NITDA is yet to create any bailout fund. However, it said the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has “directed all parastatals under the Ministry to immediately set up an Innovation Research Fund.”

It has also developed “technology innovation and entrepreneurship schemes targeted at implementing” the committee’s recommendations. A portal for hubs to register and benefit from the schemes went online in April. NITDA did not disclose how many hubs have registered so far.

NITDA is also working to assist all tech startups with funding. It said it has written to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Industry (BoI) for funding consideration to tech companies.

Regarding national policy support, Tech4COVID-19 recommended tax breaks and exemptions to tech companies. The committee also suggested tech adoption by government bodies to reduce the need for physical contact. Reduction in the price of internet data was a popular recommendation by the committee.

In response to these, NITDA said it has created a National Outsourcing Strategy [PDF] since May to “aimed at delivering 1 (one) million jobs in Nigeria by 2025.”

Meanwhile, tax breaks and exemptions have not been implemented. It is also not clear to what extent the government has digitized its processes. A cursory look shows little progress has been made.

For cheaper internet data, Pantami has directed NITDA to work with the NCC and telecom companies on “Zero Rating Educational Content.”

Abubakar Idris Author

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