On the first day of the Digital Nigeria Conference organised by NITDA, a focus on how emerging technologies could propel Nigeria was the main theme, as speakers and panelists discussed how Nigeria could propel itself even further.
On Tuesday, the National Information Technology Development Agency, Nigeria’s IT regulatory agency, flagged off the 2023 edition of its annual Digital Nigeria Conference in Abuja. Calling the conference “a celebration of progress,” Nigeria’s minister of communications, innovation, and digital economy, Bosun Tijani, chose to celebrate how Nigeria has established its digital economy over the years and the validation of being the top destination for technology funding in Africa in his speech.
While Tijani acknowledged that there is still so much more to do in the telecommunications sector, he added that the sector was the highest-grossing in Africa. “Today, Nigeria is Africa’s top destination for technology startup capital. With about $5 billion invested in tech startups on the continent last year, we took 20% of that total investment. That’s just a glimpse of what is possible,” Tijani said. He attributed this progress to “progressives,” describing them as people “who have taken it upon themselves” to get Nigeria to participate in the global economy.”
In her keynote address, Funke Opeke, the CEO of Main One, a provider of connectivity and data centers across Nigeria, recommended that the government take a protectionist stance to grow Nigeria’s private sector. Referencing how other countries protected specific industries, Opeke said that the government needs to create a framework that will enable Nigerian startups to “grow in the light of global competition.”
“Protections are also critical for national security and economic stability in an increasingly cyber-enabled world; therefore, local technology domiciliation is important. When databases of critical importance to Nigeria’s citizens, such as voter information and government accounts, are hosted offshore, our country faces inherent risks. We are simply sending too much of our proprietary information, skills, and startup venture economy abroad, and we need to do more to retain our data here,” she said.
Nigeria and emerging technologies
The theme of the first day centered around how Nigeria can use emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to continue building on the progress that the Honourable Minister referenced in his speech. Speakers all shared how Nigeria and its startups could use emerging technologies to transform and bring innovation to Nigerian industries.
In a fireside chat, Kola Aina, the managing partner of Ventures Platform, a Nigerian VC firm, advised emerging tech startups to find relevant solutions for problems on the continent. He added that these startups tend to apply emerging technologies to create “cosmetic” solutions that might not be relevant to Nigeria’s market. Instead, they use these technologies to make their startups look exciting.
At another panel session, Oswald Osaretin Guobadia, a former adviser to the government on technology and the managing partner of DigitA, said that the government has yet to implement some of the policies created to help improve the adoption of emerging technologies. He gave the example of the Nigeria Startup Act, which was not yet implemented across the country and said that improved enforcement could help propel Nigeria’s emerging technology scene.