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Innovation, entrepreneurship key to Nigeria’s digital economy drive—Minister

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The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Panatami Thursday in Abuja, averred that Nigeria’s quest to digital economy will largely depend on the strength of digital innovation and entrepreneurship programmes.

Explaining more during the unveiling of the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (NDIEC), the minister said “a successful digital innovation and entrepreneurship programme will support us in the development of our digital economy and this is exactly want this Centre aims to achieve.”

According to him, “Our journey towards the development of Nigeria’s digital economy commenced with Mr President’s approval of our request to redesignate the Ministry of Communications as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.  This approval was given on the 17th of October 2020 and was endorsed by the Federal Executive Council on the 23rd of October, 2020.The implementation of the Digital Economy mandate commenced on the 24th of October, 2020.

Following the redesignation of the Ministry, we developed a National Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria (2020 – 2030) and this was graciously launched by Mr President on the 28th of November, 2019.  The Policy outlines our vision for the development of Nigeria’s digital economy, based on the following 8 pillars of the National Policy.

High speed and affordable Internet connectivity serve as catalysts for innovation and they stimulate the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This inspired us to develop a Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025).  Again, Mr President unveiled and launched the Policy on the 19th of March 2020, in his characteristic commitment to Nigeria’s Digital economy.  This support has motivated us and has led to significant developments in the sector.

For instance, the growth of the sector resulted in an increased contribution of ICT to Nigeria’s GDP, reaching an unprecedented value of 17.83% in Q2 ‘2020 according to National Bureau for Statistics.  We have also recorded an all time high broadband penetration since the redesignation of the Ministry.  When I assumed office on the 21st of August 2019, the official broadband penetration figures stood at 33.72%. It increased with the subsequent monthly figures from end of August 2019 to end of November 2020, where it stood at 45.07%. We also succeeded in obtaining the commitment of the State Governors to peg their Right of Way charges to a maximum of N145 per linear metre, resolving an issue that had lingered for over 7years.

In addition, we have also experienced great success in the development of other aspects of our digital economy.  Over 120,000 Nigerians have benefited from our online digital skills program, with over 80,000 of them receiving one form of certification or another.  This is even without taking the physical trainings into account. We have developed over a dozen policies aimed at providing the right environment to enable entrepreneurs to thrive in the sector. We are also developing National Policy on Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which this Centre and many other centres all over the country will implement.

The groundbreaking ceremony of the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre is another giant leap towards the development of our digital economy and diversification of our country’s economy.  The Centre will be based on the ‘live, work and learn’ concept. The activities of the centre align with 6 out of the 8 pillars of our National Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria.  These include Pillar #2 (Digital Skills), Pillar #4 (Service Infrastructure), Pillar #5 (Digital Services Development and Promotion), Pillar #6 (Soft Infrastructure), Pillar #7 (Digital Society and Emerging Technologies) and Pillar #8 (Indigenous Content Development and Adoption). We are also developing National Policy on Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which this Centre and many other centres all over the country will implement.

Our National Digital Economy Policy appreciates the importance of identifying and supporting Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs) and it also focuses on encouraging many of these SMEs to go a step further by aiming to become Innovation Driven Enterprises (IDEs). The IDE-concept has been promoted by leading institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and these enterprises, no doubt, have great advantages. In contrasting IDEs and MSMEs we find that IDEs tend to have a global outlook while SMEs tend to start small and choose to remain local.

IDEs also generally require more capital than SMEs and tend to integrate innovation more into their activities more than SMEs. However, they can have a far more significant impact on the economy than the SMEs can. To further illustrate this, imagine the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a nation of IDEs. A 2015 Report notes that such an ‘MIT-nation’ would have been the world’s 10th largest economy, with gross revenue falling between the GDP of Russia ($2.097 trillion) and India ($1.877 trillion)!

I currently lead an Abuja Massachusetts Institute of Technology Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT-REAP) to accelerate the development of home grown IDEs in Nigeria. We are adopting MIT’s proven frameworks on accelerating innovation to create localized strategies for developing and sustaining enterprises driven by innovation. That same IDE-approach will be utilized in this Centre.

As part of our policy, I earlier directed the Director-General of NITDA to include the National  Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre in the proposed budget of the Agency.  The National Assembly graciously approved the request.  There are several benefits that Nigerians will enjoy from this Centre and I will mention a few of them.  The Centre will:

  1. enable Nigerians to acquire cutting-edge technological skills;
  2. enable Nigerians to participate in the development of hardware, software and emerging technologies;

iii.        create an innovative ecosystem;

  1. create a unique platform for technical skills (programming), soft skills (social interaction), entrepreneurship (starting and operating a business) to focus on the promotion and development of ICT, including smart energy solutions to drive ICT;
  2. nurture new ideas and develop an inquisitive perspective to support in the creation of employers of labour;
  3. support in the promotion and development of ICTs, including aspects of advanced applied research; and

vii.       allow startups to accelerate and experience innovations at scale, through customized visits, design thinking sessions and co-innovation workshops to create a highly collaborative and immersive environment.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, for honouring our invitation. I invite State Governments, the Organized Private Sector, Foreign Multinational Companies and High Net-worth Individuals to follow this example of the Federal Government and develop ICT innovation and entrepreneurship parks according to minimum standards NITDA will set, popularize and promote.

The Minister commended the Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, for his great effort towards the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy. NITDA’s role towards the digital innovation and entrepreneurship initiative is pivotal.

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