At 4am on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was announced as Nigeria’s President-elect. While questions continue over the legitimacy of the elections, it’s worth reviewing Tinubu’s plans for the technology sector. It will let us know what to expect if his electoral victory stands.
In October 2022, the former two-time governor of Lagos State released an 80-page manifesto. His manifesto, which was presented by Future Africa founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, at a business summit in Lagos, has a dedicated section on the tech ecosystem titled The Digital Economy: Taking Advantage of The Fourth Industrial Revolution [pdf]. It also focuses on seven areas such as service provision and outsourcing, manufacturing, e-commerce, and blockchain.
Part of that section says, “A Tinubu administration will strive to create one million new jobs in the ICT sector within its first 24 months [by deploying] new technologies that can fast-track business growth and diversification.” While this might sound impressive, the question is, how?
Tinubu’s manifesto talks about implementing “policies that will train and build capacity among Nigeria’s large and youthful population” that will enable them to offer outsourcing services just as India has done. However, the question of infrastructure and who provides the access to training—private entities or the government—is left unanswered. Will the template for the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, which was established in 2016 by the one-term governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, be replicated at the federal level, or will the incoming administration design a new policy?
Government policies have made some startups in the country change their business model over time, such as how Lagos state curtailed the business of bike-hailing startups. The manifesto didn’t express how it would partner with states to ensure that its policies are not just federal, but statewide.
Another industry in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem that the Tinubu manifesto promises to develop is the e-commerce sector; by upgrading the transportation infrastructure in the country, which would benefit the industry. It however did not include how it plans to tackle external factors that challenge the extensive adoption of e-commerce in Nigeria.
The manifesto also states that the administration would champion tech manufacturing as it “presents another important opportunity for job creation in Nigeria”, adding that the importation of smartphones, which costs the country millions of dollars, would be substituted with “local assembly presented by the tech manufacturing sector”. Considering that Nigeria’s manufacturing production increased by 9.40 per cent in June 2022 over the same month in the previous year, while industrial production fell 10.5 per cent YoY in September 2022, following a drop of 3.6 % YoY in the previous quarter, tech manufacturing might be a game changer.
But this could be determined by the implementation of its broadband availability plan, a promise brought forward from one of the outgoing administration’s policies to ensure that the national broadband plan [pdf] delivers “broadband services to 90 per cent of the population” by 2025. However, it does not address how it would ensure it is affordable for the everyday individual, as Nigerians reportedly pay more for internet data compared to their African counterparts.
A departure from the policies of the Buhari administration, the Tinubu manifesto promises to “encourage the prudent use of blockchain technology in finance and banking, identity management, revenue collection and the use of crypto assets.”
“As part of our reforms, we will establish an advisory committee to review the existing regulatory environment governing blockchain technology and virtual asset services and, where necessary, suggest changes create a more efficient and business-friendly regulatory framework. We will also encourage the CBN to expand the use of our digital currency, the eNaira,” the manifesto reads.
In June 2022, the Nigerian Exchange Limited announced that it would adopt blockchain technology to settle trade across its platform in 2023. While government interference in the blockchain space has been minimal, the National Blockchain Adoption Strategy [pdf], developed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2020, provides a pathway to the adoption of blockchain technology in Nigeria.
Tinibu’s manifesto seems like what the Nigerian tech ecosystem needs and is plausible, on paper; there seems to be a lapse in the understanding of the space and how it can help improve the country’s economy. It is also light on the details of how it plans to fully embrace an inclusive digital economy. While some of these plans may spur employment growth, implementation, time, and scale could affect the eventual outcome. All this is left to be seen.