Country Manager for Intel Nigeria, Mr. Olubunmi Ekundare, spoke with Emma Okonji on the growing trends in the country’s technology ecosystem, and the need for Nigeria to embrace new technologies. Excerpts:
Can you give insight to the country’s technology ecosystem and the role of Intel in developing the ecosystem?
The technology ecosystem in Nigeria is diverse and evolving. As Information Technology (IT) penetration continues to deepen in the country, the number of users of the technology devices and solutions are also increasing. So whichever angle people may want to look at technology development, they will discover that the technology ecosystem is actually growing in Nigeria.
On the part of government, more government activities are now online, making it easier for the citizens to access government information easily, unlike what it used to be in the past. Today we have more foreign technology-based companies coming to invest in the country, and we also have more home-based technology companies springing up in the country. Nigerians are becoming more technology savvy and all these underscore the growth of technology ecosystem in Nigeria.
A quick survey of the volume of foreign direct investments in the country in the past few years shows that such investments were more from technology companies. So as the technology ecosystem is evolving, more developments are expected in this regard, to further boost the ecosystem.
So what are the indices that led to the growth of the technology ecosystem?
One thing that is outstanding in the contribution to the growth of the country’s technology ecosystem is the availability of broadband capacities in the county, through the landing of submarine cables from Main One, Glo 1, Sat 3, and MTN West African Cable System (WACS). All these cables that had their roots from far away Europe are now in Nigeria and they have increased the availability of broadband capacities in the country, and broadband is the key driver of technology development.
With the availability of broadband, more people now have access to the internet and other forms of technologies that are driven by broadband. The best way to have access to technologies is through broadband, which provides access to the internet, and with the internet, people can comfortably sit in any location in Nigeria and connect the whole world with the click of the computer button.
Again, the growth of technology companies in the last few years, has greatly contributed to the growth of the country’s technology ecosystem. American companies are very good technology companies and most of them like General Electric Company (GE) and Microsoft, are here in Nigeria, investing in the technology growth of the country. Intel is also here in Nigeria investing in the technology growth of the country.
Intel has been in Nigeria for some time now, and we just moved into a new office which is an indication of growth and expansion in Nigeria. Technology companies from China like Huawei as well as companies from other developed countries are in Nigeria and they are contributing immensely to the growth of the country’s technology ecosystem.
You mentioned availability of broadband as one of the indices for the growth of technology ecosystem in Nigeria, but Nigerians are yet to benefit from it because of the high cost of bandwidth. What is your take on this?
Yes, for now cost of bandwidth appears still high, but as time goes on, we will begin to experience downward slide in the cost of bandwidth in this country. One good thing is that there are broadband cables in the country, which has resulted in increased bandwidth, even though much of the bandwidth capacities are still at the shores of the country.
Bandwidth availability means a lot to the Nigerian economy. It will increase and improve productivity in agricultural produce, because farmers will sit in their farms in any part of the country and sell their products without leaving the farm environment. This is because information on farm produce is already uploaded in the internet and people all over the world can see the farmer and also locate the farmer.
Those that are interested in buying the goods will know where to go and make purchase orders. The farmers too can make online purchase of fertilisers and farm tools, without leaving their farm environment. These are some of the benefits that come with bandwidth in the area of agriculture, and this also has ripple effect on other areas of the economy like education, medicine, e-commerce, among others.
Today we have Jumia, Konga and other e-commerce platforms where Nigerians do shopping online and all these are as a result of availability of broadband. Before the landing of submarine cables, Nigerians were not able to have easy access to the internet, but today the story has changed and with some little more time there will be influx of bandwidth in this country and the cost will definitely reduce.
Software development in Nigeria is still at its infancy stage. What must be done to grow the local software industry in the country?
Software development is a major driver of economies globally, and most of the advancements in developing countries of the world are software driven. A good example is the Facebook that has presented a global platform for social networking, and it is software based. Software services are critical in economic development. In Nigeria, we need a strong software industry and we are beginning to develop that sector of the economy.
Intel for instance is supporting the government to develop software hubs for the country. The Ministry of Communications Technology has set up software incubation centres in Lagos and Calabar, where people are trained in software development. This was how developed countries of the world started and we are beginning to learn the ropes. The idea of incubation centre is to train people who will in turn develop software that can be commercialised in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.
In spite of government efforts to make Nigerians believe in the efficacy of locally-developed software, Nigerians still patronise foreign software. What is your take on this?
One thing we should not forget is that the software sector is an evolving one, just as technology is evolving. Nigerians may still be in love with foreign software because they have long been patronising it and it will take some time for them to drop the foreign software for the local software. They still look at standard and quality and these are people that have heavy investments and will not want to compromise on standards and quality of the kind of software that drives their business. What government is doing is to lay the foundation by developing policies that will help the growth of the software industry, and the expected change will not happen overnight, but will take a gradual process. There are Nigerians that have developed banking applications that are of standard but Nigerian investors are yet to buy into it and that is what the government is trying to change. There is need to redirect the orientation of our people to begin to believe in locally developed software.
Recently, the Ministry of Communications Technology launched the Techlaunchpad initiative, aimed at training Nigerians that will develop local software that could be marketed within and outside the country. Do you see government achieving this objective?
It is a fantastic idea and I strongly believe that government will achieve the objective. In the first instance, what government is trying to do is to create a forum where people could develop local software with international standard and quality. What the project needs, is support from government and the private sector.
Software development is all about finding an appropriate place and bringing in people that will share ideas on how to develop marketable software. Once the basic things are put in place, then the possibility of achieving results will be very high.
Intel has been in Nigeria for quite some time. What is its role in technology development in the country?
Our role is basically in the area of enabling the technology ecosystem of the country. As a technology company, we always believe that individuals will advance technologically, when the ecosystem is growing. The truth is that economies and individuals cannot grow in isolation. So our focus has been in helping the ecosystem to grow. In order to achieve this, we do a lot partnership with government, corporate organisations and individuals. The incubation hubs we have earlier discussed in the course of this interview are practical examples of our involvement and role in supporting technology development in the country. We also partner local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to develop their products and we organise training for them. In the area of education, Intel has done so much for Nigeria.
We have been involved in several technology training for teachers and we are also involved in several entrepreneurial trainings in the country. We have carried out entrepreneurial training for National Youth Service Corps members over the years, while they were in their camping grounds. Recently we organised training for medical Doctors and currently we are working with the Ministry of Communications Technology to further develop technology in Nigeria.
What specific impact has Intel created on the Nigerian economy?
Intel has impacted so much on the Nigerian economy and I can give you classical examples on that. For instance we are currently working with the federal government to extend personal computer (PC) penetration among students in the country. We partnered Sterling Bank and some OEMs to drive the initiative even among Nigerian workers.
PC penetration in the country is about 3 per cent, which is very low and Intel is worried about it, just the same way the government is, and that was the major reason we had to work with government to deepen PC penetration and the result is coming up, as more students and workers now have PCs of their own to work with. For PC penetration among students in tertiary institutions, we have 12 universities on our pilot scheme and we plan to extend the number to accommodate more universities.
Intel is known for the design and manufacture of micro chipsets in driving technology development. How has the company been able to sustain this over the years?
Chipset design and manufacture is a core business of Intel and we have been doing that over the years. In the last five years, the federal government, through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has been implementing the school access programme, designed to enable students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have access to computers that will help them in their studies, and Intel designed the micro chipsets for that project. One of the devices that our chipset is driving with that project is the Plasmic PC, which has long battery life and can withstand hot and dusty environment. It is water proof and rugged to withstand any form of handling by the students. These are some of the technologies that Intel imputed into the PC and Nigeria happened to be the first country in the world where the PC was tested, and five years down the line, government is still implementing the project.
Telecommunications growth in terms of voice telephony has been very tremendous in the country, but that cannot be said of Information Technology (IT) in terms of software and hardware. Why the gap?
It is all about government setting the right policies and enabling the right environment. The major reason for the gap is in the level of IT infrastructure in the country, which is still very low. For us at Intel, our efforts in deepening PC penetration also largely depend on the availability of broadband in both the urban and rural communities and this is part of the infrastructure dearth I am talking about, and government has to do something fast about improving the level of IT infrastructure in the country.
In spite of the low level of IT infrastructure in the country, the usage of Information Technology in itself is still low among Nigerians. Why is it so?
This is what I am talking about. The usage of IT is currently being hampered by the low level of IT infrastructure. If the infrastructure is available, it will increase usage. The first thing that must be done is to increase the level of IT infrastructure in the country, and it will impact greatly on its usage. Access to IT infrastructure should spread across the country, and this is key to development.
So what positive impact can Nigeria boast of in IT development in recent times?
There has been some remarkable development in IT in some areas of the Nigerian economy, which I think the government can be proud of. In the area of IT penetration for instance, there has been a remarkable improvement. Most government activities are now online and this is a shift from what it used to be before now, where everybody who has something to do with government must queue up in government offices.
Today that scenario has changed and people can now access most of the government information online. Again the activities of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the West African Examination Council (WAEC), are now online and candidates do no longer flock JAMB and WAEC offices to get exam forms or even check results. All these are done online. The area of PC penetration is also improving and the cost of bandwidth has reduced from what it used to be before the landing of the several submarine cables that we currently have in the country. All these are areas of improvement that have impacted IT development in the country.
The Nigerian Computer Society (NCS) is collaborating with government to drive job creation through the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). What is Intel doing in this regard?
Like I said earlier, our focus is to grow the technology ecosystem in the country, and we are still doing that. We are interested in job creation through the use of ICT and we have been involved in several partnerships and training programmes that are geared towards self empowerment and job creation.
Technology is evolving from 2G to 3G to the Long Term Evolution and today the world is talking about cloud computing. Is Nigeria actually ripe enough to embrace these technologies as they evolve?
There are lots of things we are doing in Nigeria that looked like we are leapfrogging in embracing different technologies as they evolve, but that is not to say that the technologies we had already embraced are no longer useful to us. The truth is that most of the technologies we already have, like the 2G and 3G, have not been fully utilised to their full potentials, but because technology is evolving, they become cheaper and better as new technologies come into play, and Nigeria cannot be left behind new technologies that are evolving by the day.
In the area of cloud computing, I will say yes Nigeria is ripe enough to embrace it, and I say this because most of our sectors in the economy are highly developed and they need the cloud computing technology to run their services and store their big data in the cloud. The issue of security risk in cloud computing has been raised, but the fact is that technology developers are not sleeping, and they are also working on security measures to guard against hacking and all of that.