3 ways to diversify Nigeria’s economy through digitisation

Off the back of a disappointing Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ministerial meeting back in June 2016, Cisco’s General Manager in Nigeria, Olakunle Oloruntimehin, proffered an alternative to oil dependence: to digitise their economy for sustainable growth.

According to him, OPEC countries’ failure to reach an agreement on oil production levels made it more crucial for oil-reliant countries like Nigeria to digitise their economies. “If Nigeria is to remain the largest economy on the continent, it will have to move to other modes of revenue generation and a viable one at this stage, is country digitisation,” he said.

Oloruntimehin believes that digitisation will not only diversify the economy and fast track the creation of jobs, it will also provide the platform for improved efficiency and transparency of government services by affording citizens engagement and visibility about what government is doing to improve services in a cost effective manner, drive innovative job creation, intelligent generate and distribute power, and ensure safety and security in the country, among others.

Country digitisation is the connection of everything that makes a country function optimally. It is connecting people, companies, devices, appliances, and homes by using digital technology to allow us to function optimally, smarter and more cost-effective.

“Nigeria could leverage technology to increase productivity and if it is to become a critical leader in the fourth industrial revolution, then the country will need to digitise,” Oloruntimehin said.

As it is, multiple stakeholders in Nigeria are not only accepting the idea of diversifying Nigeria’s economy through country digitisation; they are actually banking on it. This may why the government, through the office of Vice President Yemi Osibajo, said recently that it was working with organisations such as Cisco to establish eight innovation hubs in Nigeria all sharing Cisco’s innovative digital and collaborative technology.

The innovation hubs will be spread across, Lagos, Abuja and six other geographical regions in the country. Prior to this, however, many private citizens as well as previous government had set up countless of innovation hubs with the idea of creating more business opportunities, employment as well as building larger capacity for career growth in the country.

The fact is, according to those in the business, one of them Tomi Davies, who has been in the digital/tech business for more than 20 years in Nigeria, digitisation helps improve efficiency and transparency in all sectors of the economy and fosters growth in terms of development and advancement.

Sunday Folayan, CEO of General Data Engineering Services (GDES) and Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA) said digitisation would help create platforms that drive innovative job creation and provide a more suitable and innovative better buyer and seller format for the agriculture sector.

The issue though is that digital transformation in the public sector is particularly challenging, according to a McKinsey report, Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, however, by translating private-sector best practices into the public context, it is possible to achieve broader and deeper public-sector digitisation, the 2014 report said.

One of such ways is government-wide and agency-deep commitment to specific digital targets. It is not enough for the government to say it will improve digitisation in Nigeria; it must actually do it and be committed to seeing it through.

Establishment of government-wide coordination of IT investments will also work, but the government must be ready to work with the private sectors and those with the adequate knowledge of making this work. A case of putting round pegs in square holes is one of the reasons Nigeria’s development growth has significantly slowed.

And this brings me to another point, the government must be ready to hire and nurture the right talent. As McKinsey puts it, “digital transformations call for specialised skills that are in high demand and therefore increasingly hard to come by.” Nigeria is home to a large number of people with specialised skills in Africa. Data from competitions such as DEMO Africa show this clearly and it is about time that the government reached out to these young talents and nurture them, provide incentives (the United Kingdom government for instance actively seeks to attract talented individuals from the private sector by offering fast-track career opportunities for high performers according to McKinsey) to them as they collaborate with the government to diversify the economy.