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Tech hubs without assisting telecoms to grow broadband counter progressive—Okeke

Abuja based lawyer and consultant in MSMEs, Mr. Celestine Okeke has faulted the way and manner government is going about establishing Technology Hubs without providing the needed key facilitator which is affordable and effective broadband across the country.

He said the federal government has not done what he ought to do to assist or encourage telecoms and internet service providers deliver affordable broadband “even in cities and not to talk about rural areas”.

Business Hilights recalls that two month ago in a Lagos media roundtable, the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta revealed that all the seven zones of the country has gotten their Broadband Infrastructure Companies (Infracos) licences.

However, checks across the federation show that majority of the Infracos are yet to begin delivery operations due to high and varying charges slammed by states and local governments on Right of Way (RoW).

RoW is the right given to Infracos to dig and lay optic fibre cables along the roads and necessary streets to deliver broadband penetration.

Only recently, the Minister of Communications claimed during a courtesy visit by members of Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) to the NCC that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has secured understanding with all states’ governments in cutting RoW charges.

In an exclusive on Channels TV monitored in Lagos, Okeke queried “How do we grow our own tech system in Nigeria that is currently dependent on knowledge from UK, from US, from china and India or anywhere? How do we grow our infrastructure so that we don’t have to depend on broadband that is not penetrating as much as it needs to penetrate?

Tech hub 22
Participants at the NG_Hub space in Lagos, the new Facebook Start Accelerator programme, a deep-tech focused research and mentorship-driven initiative. Photo: Business Hilights

He said “Here in Nigeria, cost of internet is growing daily. Ghanaian tech hubs are doing better because cost of internet in Ghana is cheaper. Remember, that is why Google recently opened the most innovative hub in Ghana.

“How do we take care of the fundamental before we start building the tech hub. I tell you, you hardly find the type of tech hub we have today in places like India, like the ones we have here in Nigeria, it has gotten to an extent where I can seat back in my house and maybe I need to learn a software language, what I need to do is just to go to YouTube for two, three, four hours and I can afford it, it is not expensive.

Explaining more on the exploitative tendencies of tech hubs driven by many of the foreign firms and interests, Okeke averred that “In Nigeria here, you need to sign up for one tech hub that is funded from somewhere else. The knowledge that you are getting there is managed and controlled and most times they can’t even work on you because you are more like an employee to the tech hub”.

“So we need to address the fundamental, get back to the education curricula, watch out for latest developments in physics, electronics and new ideas in mathematics, rebuild the foundation so that a guy who is in his 100 level, 200 level in the university studying a science related course should be able to take the basics of ICT and be able to on his own, innovate things.

“But if our policy now is to continue building these tech hubs it means, we are only addressing the supply side. Where would the supply come from? How many of our graduates will study science related courses and on their own and think towards innovation in ICT without depending on getting some support from the established tech hub.

“So, government is doing more but they need to go back and address the issue of education and the level of our channel of education from the age of ten, so that I can in my own play around with the knowledge that I have gotten.

Okeke added that “Somebody told me that in some universities in Nigeria, they still teach this computer science with the same hand outs they used since 6, 7, 8 years ago and that’s not profitable, It won’t pay us. We need to address why and what we need to do to get our science and computer students to begin to learn the new trends before we begin to build tech hubs.

“So we need to go back to the foundation of why we are not growing in ICT in Nigeria. One of it is our standard of education in Nigeria across many universities in Nigeria as we speak today, people who study computer science, electrical engineering still being taught knowledge that were used 10 to 15 years back. And the bulk of those guys that are doing well in IT today are those who are getting support from foreign sponsored organisations in Nigeria.

“Now, the question is if I get a US company to fund a tech hub for me in Nigeria, where would the work go to, it will go to places defined by the sponsors.

Why would they do so? This is because they are the one financing further knowledge for these graduates those who have little knowledge outside of this foreign sponsored organisation are people that are able to on their own, get this knowledge.

So, technically speaking, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Google and the rest of them are not here for charity.

“The tech is like an end. There is a means to get to the tech hubs and that means is to see that the education in Nigeria is turned around to be able to give us the basic knowledge, and then the cost of internet still needs to be addressed because what it costs on stay on You Tube for 6 hours in India is what you would pay for staying on YouTube for 20 minutes in Nigeria.

“Exchange rate, naira value, everything put together is not encouraging. So by the time you see the guy in India, he can stay 12 hours learning one skill on YouTube pays so little, but try it in Nigeria and your data runs out in one day, so the alternative for you is to go sign up to a tech hub funded from a foreign source, the knowledge is not ours and the profit from it is not ours.

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