This year’s edition of the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), like the previous editions of the giant IT event holding annually in the Arabian city of Dubai, was another rendezvous for IT geeks, innovators and investors.
The week-long event for this year held from October 14th to 18th and organisers said over 400 innovators exhibited their talents, with some 400 speakers speaking on revolutionising technologies for across platforms in the huge exhibition arena. They discussed contemporaneous and future technologies in Artificial Intelligence (AI), security, blockchain, innovative business and finance, and smart cities.
There were the giant names in the field, from Google to Microsoft, Alibaba and Reddit, displaying and acquitting the geek rendezvous of latest from their stables.
Countries from across the world also participated to showcase their advancement information and communication technology. These include giants like Russia and Germany, as well as fast-developing ones like the United Arab Emirates itself. The latter made a big showing of its ambitious Expo 2020 vision of making Dubai technology smart city.
Nigeria is among the countries with tangible presence. While innovators participated from many countries, not too many have a presence of government, which is an important element for an event where investors desire direct interactions with policymakers.
Coordinated by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the Nigerian delegation comprise of officials from NITDA, the agency responsible for IT policy formulation, development and regulation; members of the National Assembly, officials from the National Communications Commission (NCC), the government-owned Internet infrastructure company, Galaxy Backbone, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA), and IT entrepreneurs.
Another interesting feature of the Nigerian team is the participation in the GITEX Feature Stars programme, an opportunity to showcase IT start-ups. For this, Nigeria selected and sponsored six start-ups to the exhibition, for an opportunity to mingle with the rest of the world and, possibly, secure partnership and funding opportunities.
The six were selected following what NITDA called a rigorous process, earlier in the year, in which some 400 pitches were received from all over the country. The six finalists that made it to Dubai were selected each from the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
A few other Nigerian It entrepreneurs were also at the event by themselves, to reap from the prestigious gathering in terms of possible partnerships and buy-ins.
The director general of NITDA, Isa Pantami, rationalised the participation of Nigeria at the event. Speaking on the opening day, Mr Pantami, a computer scientist himself, gave a tripartite rationale for the official participation by the country.
The presence, he said, will give the opportunity to sale Nigeria as an IT market to interested investors in attendance. Nigeria and its tech entrepreneurs would also come learn from what others are doing to advance peer learning. The third reason is for the country delegation to sale what Nigerians are doing in the IT world, as well.
“We come to GITEX with startups, that is to showcase the young innovators we have; how our youth are coming up with good ideas in ICT. So, if you come here you showcase the potentials you have in Nigeria, you will get some world-class ICT companies that are willing to support your start-up,” he explained.
For investors, the NITDA mission was to unveil to them the new policies and other advantages that make doing business in Nigeria attractive.
“Recently we have had many policies on ease of doing business. You can register a company within 24 hours, you can get visa on arrival, we have tax holidays in ICT, so these are some of the things we try to explain to potential investors in order to come to Nigeria and invest,” he said.
A pavilion was therefore set up for Nigeria where officials from NITDA, NCC, Galaxy Backbone and entrepreneurs interacted with investors and other visitors to the pavilion who came with enquiries.
One of such visitors was Mr Amer Khan, a Pakistani solution provider who is into data management. Mr Khan already has some level of business interaction with Nigeria, including with electricity distributors Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company and Kano Electricity Distribution Company.
Mr Khan said Nigeria has great potentials as an IT investment destination, not only because of the huge market, but also because the country has a resource-base of IT savvy young people. He said his firm defended on some of these resource in developing its software. Nigeria, Mr Khan said, has a bright feature not only as consumer but also as IT producer.
Then comes the Africa Investment Forum, on the third day of the exhibition. Nigeria was the featured model at the well-attended side event which attracted developers and investors.
Two panel discussions were held to get investors acquainted with the IT policies and competitive advantages of the Nigerian market. First was a panel of experts majorly from NITDA who discussed opportunities and areas of need that tech investors can explore. The next panel was that of experience-sharing, with entrepreneurs sharing their experiences on doing business in Nigeria.
But this was not before the NITDA boss, Mr Pantami, lay a solid foundation, and giving a broad overview of the Nigerian investment climate, in his keynote address.
He said Nigeria sits at a vantage position on the African continent, nad has the largest share of the continent’s 1.2 billion people.
“Nigeria is a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa. Our country is strategically located between West and Central Africa, and this gives investors easy access to close to 190 million Nigerians and another 200 million West Africans. Investing in Nigeria can provide access to 150 million Central Africans. It also gives you access to one of Africa’s largest economies with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) valued at $405billion USD in 2016, according to the World Bank,” Mr Pantami explained.
He said, with the decision of the federal government under the Muhammadu Buhari administration to diversify the economy away from the single source of oil, it has evolved a number of policies to encourage non-oil sectors.
He cited as outcome of that diversification, the exit of Nigeria from economic recession, through the implementation of the administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), leading to 0.83% growth in the economy, from the -1.58% recorded in 2016.
The Information and Communication GDP, he said, grew by 11.81% in Q2 2018, up from 1.58% in Q1 2018 and -1.15% in Q2 2017.
Aside the population and economic growth advantages, another parameter that Mr Pantami said would be of considerable advantage for IT entrepreneurs is the exposure level of Nigerians to information and communication technology.
“A ready pool of young ‘digital natives’ awaits investors in our ICT sector. With a population having an average age of 18.2 years, Nigeria is the 22nd youngest country on earth. The youthfulness of our population is an asset and the fact that many young Nigerians are ICT enthusiasts even makes it better. Investors can be assured of accessing a large pool of youthful and skilful employees at a fair-price, more cost-effective that engaging employees in other parts of the world,” he said.
Mr Pantami reminded his audience that Nigerians are a very innovative people, with several stories of innovation across the globe that have the imprint of Nigerians.
“HopStop, an online city transit App acquired by Apple for a whopping $1billion, was owned by a Nigerian-born entrepreneur.
“In August 2018, a team of Nigerian teenagers won the first place in the junior division of the Technovation World Pitch Summit that took place in Silicon Valley. A Nigerian entrepreneur also developed Mekamon – the world’s first gaming robot, with the special ability to customize the gaming bot to perform personalized functions. He got a dream deal with Apple pricing each unit at $300 and putting them in nearly all their stores in the United States and the United Kingdom,” he said.
NITDA, through the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE), according to Mr Pantami, is focussed on identifying and supporting promising Nigerian startups in the ICT space.
“The activities of the OIIE have enabled the ICT startup innovation ecosystem in Nigeria to grow at a remarkable pace. One of our startups- Genie Games- won the 2nd position at the keenly contested Startup Movement Competition at GITEX 2016. Two of our startups (Arone and Max) were semi-finalists at the GITEX 2018 startup competition.”
NITDA, the director general said, is implementing a roadmap that is aimed at transforming Nigeria into a knowledge-based society.
“The 7 key pillars of our roadmap are IT Regulation, Capacity Building, Digital Inclusion, Digital Job Creation, Government Digital Service Promotion, Local Content Development & promotion and Cybersecurity,” he said Nigeria welcomes investment in any of the priority areas.
And to ease off bottlenecks of investment, he said, a Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) was established in July 2016 to improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria. In addition to this, an Executive Order 001 was signed in May 2017 with the aim of improving business climate in the country.
“As a result of the ease of doing business initiative, Nigeria now ranks 145 out of 190 countries in the 2018 Doing Business Report, the World Bank’s flagship report, (up from 169/190 in the previous year’s report). Nigeria was acknowledged as one of the top 10 most improved economies in 2017. We aim to be in the top 100 of the World Bank’s ease of doing business by 2020,” Mr Pantami said.
In August 2017, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) published the list of 27 new industries eligible to enjoy the pioneer status incentive in Nigeria. Companies investing in these sectors receive tax holidays for three to five years. Some of the sectors include E-commerce services, Business Process Outsourcing and Software development and publishing.
Mr Pantami noted that Nigeria currently has only seven local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who can collectively only meet 20% of the local demand for computer hardware by government alone, not to talk of the entire country.
“We are interested in investors willing to establish world class Original Design Manufacturing (ODM) factories in Nigeria to guarantee quality components for local assembly”.
An Indian phone manufacturing company, Lava, is among the companies that indicated interest in exploring the Nigerian market.
Speaking to journalists, the Africa manging director of Lava, Vikram Parmar, said his company is launching its mobile phone brands in Nigeria in November.
He said Nigeria is one of the important African markets being targeted by the company this year, with Nigeria and Kenya joining three other countries already reached by Lava.
Lava, with Egypt as its Africa headquarters, is expanding to six African countries.
“We know that African market is a value-for-money market. We know people are facing difficulties because good phones are very expensive and those that are cheap don’t give the needed quality. We are giving customers very good quality at reasonable price,” he said.