First Published 14 April, 2024

Nigeria still has structural challenges holding it back from winning in AI. But all hope is not lost yet.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to add $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030, boosting countries’ growth by 25%. Where does this leave Africa? So far, nine African nations—Benin, Egypt, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Senegal, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Tunisia—have drafted national AI strategies, representing only a handful of African nations eager to thrive in the area.

A good AI policy must clearly outline governance practices around data collection, management, protection and storage. Data protection is the foundation of solid AI policymaking, however, only 36 out of 54 African countries have established formal data protection regulations.

A third of African countries do not have data protection laws. Chart by Stephen Agwaibor, TC Insights

The introduction of AI has both benefits and risks. AI could worsen overall inequality, a troubling trend that policymakers must proactively address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions. It has the tendency to fuel misinformation via deepfakes and use creators’ works without attribution. This is the reason government institutions around the globe are introducing or revising policies to regulate some of the risks that AI poses, ensuring a saner society that will benefit all.

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At the moment, Nigeria is putting together its own AI strategy. This is not the first time it is doing so. In 2022, the then minister of communications and digital economy, Isa Pantami, put together the first National Artificial Intelligence strategy draft, a 190-page document, which was eventually not acted upon. It remains to be seen what plans Pantami’s successor, Bosun Tijani, has for the strategy document. Meanwhile, Tijani recently invited 120 AI researchers and practitioners to Abuja, to co-create a comprehensive national AI strategy. The meeting is set to happen between April 15 and 18.

The Nigerian challenge

The great challenge with building AI is infrastructure, one that Nigeria doesn’t have. For AI to work, it needs the following elements: compute, data and manpower. None of these three are easy to get. Despite boasting of over 400 startups, Nigeria is still lacking skilled AI researchers and data analysts. Recently, a researcher faulted the ministry of communication’s desire to train 50,000 persons in AI, stressing that that number is still inadequate for the numerous use cases Nigeria could exploit with the technology.

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Drawbacks like this are the reason why many Nigerians are not optimistic about the growth of AI in the country. Tijani has been criticised for getting his priorities all wrong. Still, some optimistic AI experts argue that despite some of these challenges, AI can thrive in Nigeria.

Some use cases

There are many use cases for AI in various fields like finance, national security, healthcare, criminal justice, transportation and smart cities.

A low-hanging fruit for AI models in Nigeria revolves around customer care, healthcare, edtech and lending. Many banks and fintechs have easily adopted the chatbot function as auto responders, which seems like one of the easiest features to adapt. AI can work in medical diagnosis, collating medical histories and predicting the possibility of an ailment. In lending, AI is great at determining whether a lender is creditworthy or not. AI can also predict the right educational outcomes in teaching and scoring.

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The importance of assessing Nigeria’s (and by extension the continent’s) readiness for AI is so that we can avoid a consumerist approach to the technology. AI represents an opportunity for Africa to rise and take ownership of advancing the technology. With a population of millions of young people under 30, there is a lot that Africa can do beyond just relying on InstaDeep as the poster boy for anything AI on the continent.

Joseph Olaoluwa

Senior Reporter, TechCabal

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